homeschooling - math · reviews

A Few Math Reviews

I admit it: I hate, no, I despise math! This strong dislike began when I started learning the multiplication facts in third grade. Our Christian school had a skeleton crew, so drilling and practice wasn’t enforced with regularity. I also failed to memorize addition and subtraction facts until I was much older…like, when I started teaching my oldest child to memorize them! There were plenty of opportunities to apply myself and learn math better over my educational years, but I decided reading and writing would be so much more fun! So, that’s what I did.

Enter, homeschooling.

When I began teaching our daughter, who is now entering the 8th grade, I used a packaged curriculum which was more advanced in math than what I had used as a youngster. By the fourth grade, I was worn out! We had to drill constantly with this program! Not just addition and subtraction, but also multiplication and division! There were a zillion steps to teach for each math concept, visuals galore and then I had to have other manipulatives besides! Felt animals & shapes, counters, number flashcards, felt numbers, coins and on and on. Then, there were papers to grade and tests to administer.

Exit, exhausted mom and sad daughter.

I began searching for something else, something better, and preferably affordable. I searched, and searched. I’ve tried many math programs over the last nine years of my homeschooling career (Hey! I have a career!), and I thought I would share them with you in the hopes that it might help other moms who hate math as much as I do.

Allow me to say here that drilling is necessary for the mastery of basic math facts. There’s no way around it. However, there are other ways to do it besides spending half an hour flipping cards or reciting facts aloud. There is an app available for the Kindle Fire (and other electronic devices, too, but I use the Fire) that is a flashcard program. It can be set for all four operations. It cost me a dollar. It’s been the best dollar I’ve ever spent. There are also worksheets that can be purchased or printed that are designed for timed practice. These are excellent options which will free up the busy mom of one, or ten!

So, without further ado, here are the programs I’ve used, in the order in which they appeared in our classroom.

Abeka 
Overview: This is a great program for the mom who enjoys being with their student during the entire math lesson. They have detailed lesson plans that tell you exactly what to say, what to do, what to think. Okay, not what to think. Just checkin’ to be sure you’re awake, after all, this is a post about math! 😉 They have diagrams and examples and step-by-step instructions on how to introduce the new concept. There may be a song, poem or motions to teach your child.
Each day begins with the speed drill (1st grade and up). Next, practice flashcards. After that, teach the lesson. This may include a game, or an object, or just chalkboard work. Often, the plans encourage you to use objects. This is great, but time consuming. Lastly, your child does the workbook pages. This is one page for Kindergarten, two for first grade and above.
What I liked: The lesson guides were very clear. My daughter mastered her facts quickly and we felt very smart because we were advancing at a nice pace. It was very thorough.
What I didn’t like: The amount of time I had to be there to watch over her or help her. As she progressed, and as I added children, the time I spent teaching math consumed my life. The workbooks are not self explanatory. Also, the books do not review very well. You may learn a new concept in lesson 47, review it till lesson 54, then not see it again until lesson 108.
Summary: Because I couldn’t afford the cost of a mental hospital, I decided to see what else was out there.

BJUPress
This was my first attempt at moving to a curriculum that gave me more free time. Boy, did I blow it! BJUPress is very much like Abeka! In fact, aside from a few terms that were different (they use the term “re-grouping” when Abeka used  borrow and carry, for instance), they were exactly like them! The teacher must explain every lesson. They also have lesson guides, but I found them harder to follow than Abeka’s. I can’t give a decent review because when I realized what I’d done, I sold it all on Ebay! (I had purchased it used, thank the Lord!)

ACE (School of Tomorrow)
Overview: Each grade consists of twelve workbooks, called PACEs. The student sets a goal of pages to complete, each PACE should take about 3 weeks to complete. The student reads the instructions in the PACE, does the problems, scores said problems and that’s that. Well, that’s supposed to be how it works.
What I liked: The independent way in which the work could be completed! I loved that my children could take the pace, read it, do it, grade it and leave me completely out of it.
What I didn’t like: The tears from my children. The way they came to me for help all. the. time. The way I couldn’t follow their instructions, and being weak in math, couldn’t really help them. I could see the answer in the key, but not always the complete solution.
Summary: The children’s overwhelming discouragement, along with my own, forced me to look for greener pastures.

Math-U-See
Overview: The raves that I’d heard over this program made it a logical choice. There is a DVD with a short lesson for the parent to view and then teach to the student themselves, or for the student to view on their own. They have these awesome blocks to illustrate the concepts. They build, step-by-step. Each year focuses on one operation. For instance, first the student works on addition. This would probably be first grade, but can be done any year. The books are named after the Greek alphabet rather than grade level. Next is a book on subtraction, then multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, etc.
What I liked: The fact they could watch the lesson and then do the problems. The lessons were very quick and easy, which made my children happy. The younger ones loved the blocks…to play with them, that is. 😉
What I didn’t like: My one child who is good at math was bored! Both of my older children didn’t want to use the blocks. Even my first grader didn’t like them, viewing them as “one more thing to do”. The children grew bored doing the same concept over and over even when I let them move on when they’d mastered a concept. A few of the teacher’s lessons were very confusing. I’d watch them over and over and still didn’t get what he was saying. The same was true for my daughter. Did I mention I was poor at math? Yeah, I thought so. This might be why I didn’t understand a few of the lessons.
Summary: I was blessed to get some of these books for free from a friend, and I happily passed them on to others who can benefit from their use better than I.

Saxon DIVE CD
Overview: This is a traditional program. It does not rely on the teacher to explain the lessons, but that is probably the best way to do it. This program builds incrementally, much like Math-U-See, but reviews more than any other program I’ve tried. I tried to teach the lessons myself to my 7th grader, but quickly became bogged down. That’s when I purchased the DIVE CD. It was a life saver! The teacher explains each Saxon lesson and then the student does the problems in the book. The titles for the books are a bit confusing. The last number in the book name tells you the grade. So, Saxon math 8/7 is the seventh grade book. 5/4, or 54 is the fourth grade book, and so on.
What I liked: The constant review of previous lessons! Why learn so much math if you’re not going to use it consistently? The teacher for the DIVE lessons is very through and easy to follow. I also like that they do a timed speed drill sheet each day.
What I didn’t like: There are a lot of problems in each lesson. It often takes my daughter (doing the 8/7 book) three hours to complete a lesson – viewing the CD and working homework. The grading is often tedious, as well. There are 30 problems, and it’s not uncommon for them to have 3 or more problems within a problem. Bleck.
Summary: The jury still out on Saxon. As of now, I’m planning to go forward with it.

Life of Fred
Overview: Meet Fred Gauss (rhymes with “house”), a five year old college professor, who teaches math like no one ever has. Stanley Schmidt, Ph.D., has written an entire math curriculum which is a story. A story with math problems included. We see Fred use math in his everyday life, and we learn why he’s using it, too! It’s truly a unique curriculum. The author is hilarious! Honestly, I love reading his books just for the humor of it. They are hardback books that can be re-used over and over. For more information, go HERE.
What I liked: The cost – books range in price from $16 – $39! That’s cheap! I liked (really, really liked) that my daughter wanted to do the book. She finished the Fractions book in a little over a month. I stopped using Fred for a while, because it didn’t feel like work, so it couldn’t be any good. (Yes, that was my reason. Math must be hated. It must be loathed. So, this couldn’t be math!) I was wrong but wouldn’t know it for a while. It happened like this:

My oldest daughter struggled with fractions for a long time, that’s why I paid the $19 for the fractions book from Fred. She worked it. She loved it. I thought I’d wasted my money. Then, we switched over to yet another curriculum (from above list). She worked fraction problems – long, drawn out, complicated, made-her-mother-want-to-cry-just-grading-them kind of fraction problems! And she never missed one. Ever.

I said, “Wow! You are a pro at fractions! I’ve never been good at them and I’m intimidated by them even today. I’m so proud of you!”

Her reply? “Life of Fred.”
Me: “What?” (said in shock)
Lauren: “Life of Fred. He taught me fractions, that’s why I know them.”

Wow.

What I didn’t like: Not a thing.
Summary: We use Fred periodically, but not solely. I may change my mind on that, however. My daughter is now struggling with decimals, so guess what we’re doing this summer? 🙂  I’m planning on using the Apples book with my Kindergartener and second grader this year, just to see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted. 🙂
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3 thoughts on “A Few Math Reviews

  1. My children attend a Christian school that uses Abeka. They both struggle with math. I have been trying to find something to help us work on math skills during the summer. I will have to check out Life with Fred. Thanks for posting this.

    Have a great day!!

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  2. Wow! Sounds like you've tried about everything out there! So glad youve found some things that have worked well. I've also heard good things about Teaching Textbooks. I enjoyed reading this. Great idea to supplement with Fred.

    Ava

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  3. Due to my health, we had to put our boys in our church's Christian school for this last semester. I was homeschooling a 5th grader using Saxon, a 2nd grader and Kindergartener in Abeka. Add a toddler and I was exhausted before I even got up. My sons are begging me to homeschool again and even wanting to do school over the summer to ensure they will be ahead. I think we'll try Life of Fred. I didn't realize it had elementary books too! Thank you for the excellent reviews!

    Like

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