We leaned heavily towards a Classical Education for our homeschool, with an emphasis on reading great books and learning from original sources rather than textbooks whenever possible.
However, Scott and I both love math and science and believe math is really the foundation for science in the early years so I spent a lot of time
researching obsessing agonizing over how best to teach our children math.
The curriculum that resonated most with me is Singapore Math, also known as Primary Mathematics.
We loved many things about it:
- The math is very concrete in the early years.
- It is mastery-based, much like the Suzuki method of musical education. That means you stick with a concept until you master it and then as you move on, you continually review what you have already mastered as you learn new topics. Many other programs are “spiral”, meaning that you are constantly switching topics and you come back around to each one periodically. In my opinion, moving on before you master something in math may be appealing to kids but it leaves holes in learning and causes frustration down the road as other topics build on something you haven’t mastered.
- The pages are engaging and the examples are very visual early on but they are also straightforward and uncluttered compared to other programs I saw. I have little patience for textbooks that have notes in the margins, idea bubbles and ‘did you know’ boxes sprinkled everywhere. I want the core concept laid out clearly and logically.
- One potential drawback with this program is that it requires the instructor (me) to be very comfortable with math. But, I am comfortable with math, and actually I’m passionate about math so I’m glad that the explanation and extra teaching comes straight from me. I think learning from a passionate teacher beats straight textbook lessons any day.
- It’s relatively inexpensive. There are 2 textbooks for each level, $12 a piece and they can be reused from child to child. There are two workbooks for each level, also $12 a piece and those will get used up each year. There are lots of recommended manipulatives but they can be purchased inexpensively from any education store, they double as great preschool toys and aren’t actually essential to the lessons. We bought ’em though: double-nine dominoes, counting discs, unifix cubes, a bucket balance, a hundred chart, and a base 10 block set.
Implementing Singapore Math
We opted to start Mackenzie in 1A at the age of 4 1/2, and we skipped the kindergarten books because she was already really solid on everything covered in them. Truthfully, there were very few new concepts for her in 1A but I knew she hadn’t yet mastered the topics so it was definitely worthwhile to complete it all. I didn’t buy the instructor’s guide and instead just taught using the textbook and whatever objects made sense to illustrate the concepts.
I also added in their “Challenging Word Problems level 1” book to tackle as we finished each concept, and we like it. Update 10/13/13: We did work through this book but found it to be a bit frustrating for our 4 year old who didn’t have enough cultural context to understand some of the problems. We didn’t opt to get level 2.
I adjust the pace to suit our schedule and her understanding. Sometimes that means blowing through 10-15 workbook pages in a day, but more typically it means doing the 2-3 recommended pages and then playing a math game. I consciously slowed her down to a mastery pace because she’s eager to see every new thing all at once. Right now we’re in the middle of a solid month off, just doing math facts and whatever math comes up over the course of a day.
I am a firm believer in memorizing math facts. I grew up doing Kumon packets at home on Saturday mornings and I believe that mastering the basics early on had a huge impact on my love of math and science later on. I just didn’t struggle like so many classmates did in more advanced math simply because they made computation errors and I didn’t.
My mom purchased most of the kumon packets (10 sheets per packet, 20 packets per level for ~6 levels) when we were kids and kept them for the grandkids. She was missing some early packets but I easily replaced them by typing up addition facts and printing and stapling. Although many people go to Kumon centers and pay weekly for the privilege of using the program, at its core it’s really just math facts repeated over and over again until you complete them with speed and accuracy.
I remember my siblings, especially, complaining about how boring it was to complete their Kumon packet on Saturdays but I also remember them all being excellent in math. 🙂
At my core, I’m a bit of a tiger mother when I’m convinced something is important and worth doing. Lots of worthwhile things are boring, especially at first. Kumon builds character!
We planned on doing a few sheets a day and building up slowly over time to 10 pages once a week and 5 pages on the other school days. Each page has 8-10 questions. It’ll only take 5 or 10 minutes a day and so far she likes it because she gets to use a timer and a dry erase marker. 🙂
We currently do about 5 pages a day, 3 times a week. I have her do each packet all the way through three times before we move on to the next one. So far we haven’t had any accuracy problems and by the third time, she knows the facts very well… any slowness is always due to being 4 and easily distracted so the timer is just used for her enjoyment and for my reference. Update 10/13/13: I no longer have her do each packet 3 times. Once is enough! My own mother wisely pointed out I was a crazy lady. Mackenzie now, at 5 1/2 can breeze through an addition packet in less than 10 minutes and does one full packet three days each week.
I make the sheets reusable by slipping a plastic sheet over each before she works on them with her dry-erase marker. Updated 10/13/13: I make these covers from cutting report covers in half
We sometimes complete kumon orally. My daughter is 4* and very strong-willed and if I think sitting down and doing kumon on a particular day might be a battle I’m not willing to fight, I just say we’re going to mix things up and do “PE Kumon” or “Clean-up Kumon”. Every fifth problem, I’ll have her do 10 jumping jacks, or race to the couch and back… or pick up 4 toys or put away all her clean socks, etc. That way she gets her daily dose of math facts in, painlessly.
*I don’t think all 4 year olds need to do Kumon! But I do think if a child is doing first-grade work (simple addition and subtraction), that’s a great time for them to memorize addition and subtraction facts. Young children are great at memorizing and if they understand the underlying concepts, memorizing the facts empowers them to fearlessly apply math all over the place.
I also LOVE logic, analyzing patterns, and visualizing math applications. So, our “math” (and our play) in homeschool includes lots of other games/tools. I’ll blog about our favorites soon.