Math was never my best subject. That being said, this is my ninth year as a homeschool teacher, and I have had plenty of experience choosing math curriculum. From my wealth of experience, I wanted to share my thoughts on how to choose a homeschool math curriculum — without any personal bias.
1) Understand the Methods
There are two main methods of teaching math: Spiral and Mastery. Many people will tell you one way is better than the other, but I have found that like most subjects, it all depends on how your child learns.
Spiral Method curriculum programs present a concept in a lesson, then move on to a different concept in the next lesson. However every problem set will have review questions from past concepts. As you go on, the lessons will go back and review previous concepts. The theory here is that you introduce a concept to the student, then you keep coming back around to it (spiraling) so that the student gradually understands and grafts it into their math knowledge. Spiral Method curriculum would include most of your traditional math textbooks: Saxon Math, Abeka, BJU Math, Horizons, Alpha Omega, and Teaching Textbooks, for example.
On the other hand, Mastery Method focuses on teaching a concept and staying on that concept until it is presumed to be mastered. Many times an entire book will center on one concept. The theory here is that a student will be immersed in that concept until they will never forget it. Mastery Method curriculum would include Math-U-See, Singapore Math, The Key To… Series, Video Text, and others.
Each of these companies ranges in its use of spiral and mastery methods: For example, Horizon Math (for the younger grades) moves along much quicker than Teaching Textbooks or even Saxon, which are both also spiral method.
Then there is Life of Fred Math, which we love at our house. Life of Fred uses humorous stories to illustrate math concepts in real life, so that students will learn to “think” mathematically. If you or your child think math is boring, then Life of Fred is meant to be the antidote.
In my opinion, Life of Fred doesn’t fit into either of these categories: It jumps around in no particular order, just like life, and I have yet to see it spiral around. I have heard many people say that Life of Fred is not a stand-alone math curriculum, whereas others staunchly say that it is. In my opinion, here is where the difference is: If your child can learn a concept without having to review it, then Life of Fred can be a stand-alone curriculum. However for most students, review is necessary. We have used Rocket Math to master math facts, for example.
2) Understand How Your Child Learns
My younger daughter (who is now a homeschool graduate) would have done well with the mastery method, but I didn’t really understand it when she was a student. She needed the confidence of completely understanding a concept before she was ready to move on to the next. On the other hand, my fast-moving son would have been bored to tears with the mastery method. He hates it when I explain something to him that he already understands. So the trick is to figure out how your student will learn best. Once you have that figured out, then you can choose a curriculum with more focus.
3) Don’t Worry About Making Changes
My son Joel (who is eight) learns math concepts fairly quickly, so our current curriculum choice (Rocket Math and Life of Fred) is working for him. However, I am still unsure that he would remember a concept he learned once three months ago. We will continue to use Life of Fred because it is so much fun and really shows how math is useful in every day life, but I will probably add another curriculum once Joel has finished mastering his math facts.
I will probably add a Spiral Method curriculum such as Saxon Math curriculum. I think Joel does need the review, but he also gets bored and turned off by staying on any subject for too long. With that in mind, a Spiral Method curriculum will be more likely to keep him engaged.
What have been your biggest challenges with homeschooling math? Do you prefer a particular method over another? What curriculum has worked for you? What are you looking for most in a math curriculum? Let us know in the comments below!