What About Math?

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There are, apparently, a lot of math-phobic people out there because math is another subject that is worrisome to homeschoolers and would-be homeschoolers. Math is one of the few subjects for which my family uses formal curriculum. When choosing a math program, it is wise to first attempt to determine if your child learns better with a cyclical style or a mastery style.

Cyclical Style Math Programs

Cyclical style math programs continually introduce new concepts while practicing formerly introduced, but not yet mastered concepts and reviewing concepts that have been mastered. Cyclical style programs offer a lot of daily variety and allow students to move on to concepts that may be easier or more enjoyable for them while still allowing them to practice concepts that are proving more difficult to master. An example, from Horizons Math 1 would be that on a given day, a student might be introduced to the concept of subtraction, but he would also work on telling time, counting money, fractions, adding three single-digit numbers and adding two two-digit numbers.

Two examples of cyclical programs are Saxon Math and Horizons Math. My family uses Horizons. Both programs are good, solid math programs. Horizons is a bit advanced compared to Saxon. From our personal experience, Horizons is nearly a full grade level ahead of Saxon. One of Saxon’s strong pros, for the math-timid, is that it is completely scripted for the parent.

Mastery Programs

Mastery programs focus on one concept until it is mastered and the student is ready to move on. This type of program does not allow for much variety, but is well suited to the student who works better when she is able to focus on a single concept until she understands it. Some examples of mastery math programs are Math-U-See and Mastering Mathematics.

Another math program that I feel I must mention due to its immense popularity among among homeschoolers is Singapore Math. I have not used or seen Singapore, personally, but have heard excellent reviews about it.

How else can I teach math?

Math is all around us. Many people choose to teach math, with or without the aid of textbooks, through living books, much as they would teach history or science. I was so afraid of math, at first, that this was a foreign concept to me. However, an excellent website Living Math helped me to see that math is all around us and the teaching of math can easily be incorporated into every day life. I still like to have the safety net of a math curriculum, but I now also incorporate math across our curriculum, as much as possible. I also look at games, books and other fun ways to introduce living math as having as much importance to learning math as textbooks.

We do like to use games as much as possible. We made a board game for ourselves several years ago. You could use an existing game board, such as Candy Land or Life, or you could make your own game board as we did. We just drew and colored as many one-inch squares as we could fit, path-style, on a posterboard. Then, we made cards out of cardstock (index cards could be used). The cards had addition problems (and later subtraction) with no answers. The players would take turns drawing cards and the answer would determine how many spaces forward they moved. Sometimes, we’d play with a variation in rules — players had to move back the number of spaces equal to the anwser to the subtraction problems. The first player to reach the end of the path is the winner.

Bingo is another great way to practice math concepts. You can put number words in the squares and use the numeral for the call card — or vice versa. You can put answers to addition, subtraction, multiplication or division problems on the bingo cards and use the problems as the call cards. Most of this can be done as a memory/matching game, as well.

There are many card games that you can play for math. In War games, each player draws two cards and either adds, subtracts or multiplies to get the answer (determine the operation to be used prior to beginning). The first player to get the correct answer wins all the cards in that turn. The player with the most cards at the end wins.

Sums of Ten is one of our favorite games for elementary students. From a standard deck of cards, you remove all the face cards (except the ace) and all the tens. You place face up, one each an ace, two, three, four and five. Then, each player is dealt five cards. To play the cards in your hand, they must, when laid upon a discard pile, equal ten. For example, a nine can be played on an ace because 9+1=10. Then, an ace can be place on that nine. A player’s turn continues until he can play no more cards in his hand. Then, he draws two cards. The first player to play all the cards in his hand wins.

There are many comercially made games available, as well as those you can make yourself.

What about teaching upper-level math?

Algebra. Trigonometry. These words strike fear into the hearts of many homeschool moms. I must confess that I am not there yet with my own children and these were not strong subjects of mine when I was a student. However, there are several options for teaching these higher level math courses. The most obvious option is learning alongside your student. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned in the areas of history and science with my children already — and the oldest is just entering sixth grade! I feel confident that math is another of those areas in which we can learn together.

Other choices are tutoring, homeschool co-ops, classes specifically for homeschoolers (often taught by teachers or former teachers), dual-enrollment at local colleges or universities, and even student teachers/tutors at local colleges and universities. Homeschoolers are a creative, inventive group of people! We don’t have to let the fear of upper level math dissuade us from providing a solid education for our children. Check your area homeschool support groups or homeschool newsletters for options in your area.

Some of the math programs that I’ve heard recommended among homeschoolers for upper level math are: Saxon, Math-U-See and Lial Algebra. I have recently heard wonderful things about Teaching Textbooks, which is what we plan to use, beginning with Pre-Algebra.

Recommended Reading

Games for Math by Peggy Kaye

Read Any Good Math Lately? by Whitin and Wilde

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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