Making Wise Curriculum Purchases: Math

Math is one of those areas where we tend to struggle. Our frustrations in this area tend to stem from one of a handful of problems:

  • A particular math curriculum just doesn’t seem to fit a particular child.
  • There are too many activities associated with each lesson.
  • Our child is not “getting it.”
  • The material is very dry and repetitious.
  • We are worried the math program we are using isn’t “the best” one out there.
  • The material goes too fast or too slow.

There are a wide variety of schools of thought about what makes a “good” math program. But the answer is usually not found in the tools used but in the tutor’s ability to provide the child with what he needs to move forward. That boils down to two moving parts — teacher and student.

If you don’t like or have confidence in the materials you are using, it really will not matter what great label they wear. You will not find them to be the best materials out there.

On the other hand, if the great book you are using are not serving your student, if the text is not meeting him where he is and providing him with what he needs to move forward, then it isn’t a “great” book.

The Problem in a Nutshell

When my oldest was first starting out, I was (thankfully) unaware of the magnitude of the options out there. So teaching Kindergarten math was very simple — I taught her what I knew based on what she knew. She already knew her numbers and could represent them with objects, so we covered counting to 100, telling time on an analog clock (which includes counting by 1s, 5s, 10s, and 15s), and adding by 1s and 0s, among other things.

But by the time we were ready for first grade, I had the big guns ready to go. The curriculum we went with kept us both very, very busy. She did learn. But there was a busyness and repetition that were very overblown. The next year we went with something simpler and more colorful. That went very well. After purchasing the same material for the next grade — lo and behold we were doing the same thing over again only adding a few more digits to the problems! (I am a firm believer that if we know how to add 10s we can add 100s, and that isolating place value as a concept to be taught in young grades is ludicrous — but all of that can wait for another day.)

Hopefully you can see the problem: There is NO magic bullet. There is no math text or math program that is going to work exactly as it is in every situation you will face. Once we accept this idea, it is much easier to move forward.

  • Pick the best — the one that matches you and your child.
  • Stick with it unless there is a major problem.
  • Adjust the text to fit the child. (For example, if he gets it, he may not need to work the next 50 problems doing the same thing.)

What You Really Need — The Early Years

For the younger years you really don’t need a math program at all. If you are brave enough to wing it, you can pull the concepts to be learned from a typical scope and sequence and make sure your child knows those.

An Easy Start in Arithmetic by Ruth Beechick will get you started. It includes teaching suggestions from the early years to first grade through third grade. By using this book as a guide you can teach the concepts mentioned in a variety of ways — free of pencil and paper until your child is writing well.

Beechick Basics

An Easy Start in Arithmetic by Dr. Ruth Beechick
Targeting parents of children in grades K–3, this title explains how children learn math — progressing through manipulative, mental image, and abstract modes of thinking — and then provides a course of learning and suggestions for teaching math for each grade. Excellent tutor for the homeschool handy-mom. (Can also be purchased as one of The Three R’s.)

If you are not quite that brave you can use one of the free online math texts that cover the same things in a more formal way, such as Arithmetic for Young Children by Horace Grant.

One of the things that really needs to be focused on is memorizing the math facts. As when playing a favorite piece of music, you will not have the freedom to work the problem if you are hindered by a focus on the simple mechanics. Memorization makes the simple mechanics second nature.

And Beyond

At some point you’ll be ready to jump into a math program. Some books focus on calculation and drill at the expense of learning the math concepts. Others focus on the math concepts while not spending nearly enough time on calculation and drill. The truth is you need both. (Engineering schools are full of unfortunate students who weren’t given enough drill — almost as many as those who do not understand what they are calculating!)

Because of the way concepts are divided up between grades these days, with very few exceptions, it is best to complete the math program you start. Just don’t forget, you are in control. You have the option to adjust the lessons as necessary to help your student get the most from them.

Additional Resources

Index to Math Reviews
These reviews at will help you make a wise choice!

Beechick Basics

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully by Dr. Ruth Beechick
This book provides everything you need to teach your children all subjects grades 4–8 for those who understand “it is the child you are teaching, not the book.” There are 114 pages devoted to teaching arithmetic that cover developing an interest in arithmetic, the principles of teaching arithmetic, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division teaching concepts, and grade-level guidelines for grades 4–8. While we strongly advocate teaching math at this level in a sequential way, you’ll find concepts here that will help you bend the book to fit the child!

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