Math Curriculum – Singapore Math and Kumon

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.


counting discs


unifix cubes

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.

Kumon

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!

Implementing Kumon

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.

More Math

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.

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About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Curriculum, Homeschooling, Life as we know it. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Math Curriculum – Singapore Math and Kumon

  1. Anita says:

    We started with Singapore this year thanks to your recommendation. You did the right thing skipping the Kindergarten book with Mackenzie. I went ahead with the Earlybird level for Charlotte and I’m sooo bored! (Just to be clear, Charlotte LOVES it, I’M just impatient to get to something she doesn’t already know.) I decided to coast through it anyway, because I don’t mind if she begins her study of mathematics with the perception that it’s something she’s good at. I suppose I’m also giving her the chance to get used to the textbook format and how to follow directions. Anyway, so far, so good!

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  2. denise says:

    Great idea to use plastic covers over the kumon books to re-use them.

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  5. Mike says:

    Great blog! I was wondering where would I be able to purchase the actual kumon booklets? I have the bigger workbooks but I thought it would be nice to have the little booklets for my son.

    Thanks,
    Mike

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    • darnelle says:

      I have seen then @ Barnes & Noble

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    • beanland says:

      Hi Mike,

      Sorry for the delayed response. I don’t believe the packets are available to purchase, unfortunately. My mom acquired the ones I use more than 20 years ago. 🙂 The surprising thing for me was that although the kumon program is so successful, the packets are incredibly simple. It’s just repetition of basic math facts again and again to improve speed and accuracy. I’m sure there are many different ways to achieve that same end. Best of luck!

      -Anne

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  6. Hi Anne,
    I am curious where/how you store/organize all of the school/play supplies? Are the worksheets kept in the plastic covers in a binder or do you keep them loose? I’ve been studying your reading and math posts. We are trying to evaluate what/when to start. Being a nerd at heart I loved most of the math activities, so I am anxious to get started with my 3.5 year old.
    Glad you guys are doing so great!
    -Julie

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    • beanland says:

      Hey Julie,

      Good to hear from you. My main concern with organizing and storing things is with how accessible everything is. I want my children to see it so they want to use it, but I also don’t want them to get it out without asking because that has a tendency to create an awful mess. 🙂

      I will try to do a post on it at some point, but generally everything is in clear plastic bins, kept on the upper shelves of bookcases. For things like pattern blocks and tangrams, I have Mackenzie initial each completed puzzle page as she works through a book. That’s a trick I learned from my mom. That allows us to keep track of where she is and gives her a sense of progress but still leaves the book useable for younger siblings.

      -Anne

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  8. Heather Quayle says:

    “Bright children should start school at six, says academic
    Formal schooling should be delayed by at least 12 months because an over-emphasis on the three-Rs at an early age can cause significant long-term damage to bright children, according to a leading academic.
    Dr Richard House said that formal schooling should be delayed until six to allow children to develop naturally.”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9266592/Bright-children-should-start-school-at-six-says-academic.html

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    • beanland says:

      Hi Heather,

      Thanks for stopping by. I have read similar comments made by Dr. House before, but seeing an article linked here on my blog nudged me to go do some more research. I looked at his published articles and the synopsis of his latest book and don’t see any peer-reviewed publication that supports his comments. I also did some quick searching in the field of early education. While I did see some data that suggests early education can result in better social and academic outcomes in economically disadvantaged children, I didn’t see anything that said learning math at the age of 5 would make you more likely to die sooner (which is what Dr. House implies). Certainly I may be missing the wealth of research Dr. House says is out there, but until I see it, I’m not inclined to take his assertions at face value.

      I’m no expert but since this is my blog and you’re commenting on the way I’m educating my daughter, I want to be clear on my own opinion:
      – Creative, open-ended play is absolutely important to people of all ages, particularly young children. My kids spend hours every day making up games and stories together. I need to be better about sending them outside to play, though! 🙂 One of the things I appreciate about homeschooling is that the “sit quietly at your desk” time can be pretty short even while learning lots of things!

      – I don’t think parents should feel an urgency to start their children on formal academics, particularly if doing so separates them from their children. I’m not a fan of extensive preschool, or full day kindergarten, for example. I am a proponent of giving children an excellent education. I am not married to any certain timeline for doing so.

      – Every child is different, and that’s something all the data in the field can’t accommodate for. One thing I love about homeschooling is that I can adapt it for each of my children. My five year old now understands congruent angles, line segments, rays, and parallel lines because she saw me reviewing these topics, asked me questions and then spent an hour thinking about them and working out problems. Do I think every five year old should do the same? No. Do I think I damaged my child for life by answering her questions and feeding her curiosity? No.

      – Just because a child CAN be taught to do something, I don’t think it automatically follows that they SHOULD. While I don’t tend to agree with the sweeping generalizations made in the article, I do think that you have to carefully consider your motives for introducing academics and also the possible outcomes.

      Thanks again for stopping by. I always appreciate the chance to consider other opinions!

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      • Annie says:

        Have you look at Montessori education? My children did it since they both were 3 and by 4 they were reading by 5 they were doing complex addition and substraction and my daughter will be doing division and multiplication her last year since she will be 6. Kumon and Singapore are so close to Montessori that I honestly think they just copied the concepts and expanded on them. Montessori is such a great overall education and parents are so involved that I will recommend it to anyone. Socially it is great since they have to grow in classrooms that are 3-6 years old, so they learn from the oldest and they teach the youngest in different parts of their lives. Really a totally different approach.

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      • beanland says:

        I have read some about Montessori and it is an interesting approach. I’ve heard rave reviews similar to yours from multiple parents. In looking into implementing the principles at home, however, I found the activities were very time and/or money intensive to create/buy and set up. Since my first child grasped basic mathematical concepts just using cheerios at the kitchen table (and then later Primary Mathematics), that was a more attractive route to me than researching and making lots of specific manipulatives from scratch or buying them pre-made at a high price. It just didn’t seem like a good fit for our family situation right now, but it’s something I’d consider strongly if I was looking for a preschool or charter school. I’m glad to hear it’s worked so well for your family!

        On Fri, May 30, 2014 at 7:35 PM, Adventures in Beanland wrote:

        >

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  9. Fatima says:

    Anne,

    If we start on Kumon with the child, is there any advantage / need to learn from Singapore Math as well? Are they teaching different topics?

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    • beanland says:

      Kumon alone is not enough, in my opinion. Kumon is a tool to help memorize math facts, but it doesn’t teach concepts at all. Singapore teaches concepts very well, in a few different ways to help things “click”. Hopefully that makes sense!

      -Anne

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      • Fatima says:

        Thank you! So Kumon for the facts. Then I think it be a good idea to start on an Earlybird Kindergarten book along with starting Kumon.

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      • beanland says:

        I think it depends what kumon level you start at. They have 3 very early levels (5a-3a) that involve tracing lines and counting, etc. Those would probably mesh with the early K Singapore books. Personally, I would/will wait to start kumon 2A until after starting Singapore 1A. I skipped everything before those because my daughter had learned about numbers, counting, etc. just from everyday life. I am sensitive to requiring “busy work” of any kind and the Singapore K book would have been that way for my daughter.

        Anne

        >

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  10. Fatima says:

    Phew! Anne, this is getting complicated 🙂
    Would you have time put together a list of Kumon and Singapore books in order? Just the kindergarten level, I can go from there? Or some pointers on how to infer these?
    I am looking at Kumon (7A-2A, A, B) and Singapore (Earlybird Kindergarten Mathematics A & B, Primary Math 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B).

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    • beanland says:

      Hi Fatima,

      Yes, it can seem complicated. I’m not sure there is one “right” way to do it. My approach is to do the following:

      – At the preschool and kindergarten level, just teach number understanding. “Cheerio math”, it’s sometimes called because it is really just simple counting, adding and subtracting with manipulatives. Those can be spoons as you’re unloading the dishwasher together, shirts as your folding laundry, slices of oranges, or anything. Teach numbers as a part of life.

      Two specific things that have been worthwhile: I have cards with the numerals on them and we sometimes match them to piles of things. “3” goes with the pile of three cheerios, etc. One day I laid out cards from 1 to 100 in a grid and my daughter and I found the patterns (12, 22, 32, 42, etc.) just to give her a look at the big picture of how our number system works so she thought about things as having a base 10.

      – When they’re ready, start with Singapore Book 1A.

      – Once they’re going on that and you’re sure they understand what addition IS, you can start Kumon 2A, which drills addition.

      From there, I just try to do 20 minutes a day of Singapore math because that seems like a good pace for us. I do Kumon 3 days a week, ~10 minutes at a time and we just go through the packets in order.

      I’m not sure if that helped or just confused you further, but that’s what we do! Keep it simple. Kumon just helps them master the facts… singapore and your own teaching will cover the concepts. And preschool and kindergarten level workbooks are usually unnecessary, in my opinion.

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      • Fatima says:

        Hi.. Forgot to reply to your response. In a holiday here, but will read through what you wrote when we start maths. Thank you!

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      • katrina says:

        my own thoughts are that you could avoid Kumon by doing the Kindergarten B book. I found the book gives lots of practice in adding and subtracting within 10, plus teaches adding a single unit to 10 or multiples of 10 (eg 10+6=16). So by the time the child gets to the 1A book they already have a grasp of number bonds (1A essentially becomes repetition of the math facts\number bonds) and they are ready for the mental maths required in 1B (eg if adding 18+6 they know 8+2 = 10 so can borrow 2 from 6 and likewise have memorised that subtracting 2 from 6 leaves 4). Hopefully my garbled writing makes sense ! ultimately I agree with you though, you don’t need to purchase any book or math program (eg kumon) to teach number bonds and could just start 1A when ready .

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  12. Jenny says:

    Hello, just wonder if u have compared the Singapore math “Extra Practice” and “intensive Practice” with Kumon practice worksheet.

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    • beanland says:

      I haven’t, but that would definitely be interesting! I haven’t written about it yet, but we finished Singapore 2A and 2B in ~7 months, and I had my daughter do all the questions in the textbook a second time for “extra practice.” That worked out great! 🙂

      On Sat, Jun 14, 2014 at 7:28 PM, Adventures in Beanland wrote:

      >

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