"What Math Curriculums and Materials Have You Used?"
Our Experiences with Math

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September 2006
(*Updates to this article can be seen below the article itself.)

I have been asked so many times about what math we've used with our children that I've finally decided to write an "article" about it so I can save my poor fingers from having to type it all out again in email!

Please take into account that these are our "personal" opinions and in no way are we telling you what will or will not work for you and your children, but rather what did and did not for ours.

First a little background. I am NOT a math whiz. I never liked math in school and embarrassingly ended up in the "stupid kid's" class during elementary school (Title I). Part of that was due to the fact that we moved around a lot when I was young so I missed some very basic foundation skills. You know, things like: how to add without using your fingers or what are we really doing when we multiply(?). You just CAN'T miss out on a basic in math before moving on to another skill set! I became "branded" and labeled by the school and was decidedly math "phobic". When other kids asked me which subject I hated, my answer was always without any hesitation, "MATH!". I stumbled through up to the 2nd semester for 2nd year Algebra and then quit. I had had enough with something I really didn't like and never really understood. Math was a foreign language I just couldn't speak.

Fast forward many years. Now I have children and I'm homeschooling them. I have to teach them....MATH. OH YUCK! How am I going to do this? What am I going to use? How can *I* possibly help my kids to be successful in this "hated" subject AND get them to be GOOD at it and *gulp* even like it?

I was in a position that many homeschooling parents find themselves in. I wasn't any good at something I needed to teach and felt understandably overwhelmed by the task ahead. I had no clue as to what to use or who to turn to. It was just me...and a big stack of catalogs. That was over eleven years ago.

Fast forward again, to the present. I have a twelve year old son who is going to start Trigonometry in a month. He's won a trophy in a Math Counts competition. He LOVES math. He likes figuring out mathematical puzzles and doing math problems and reading books about math. Is this really MY child?

I have another child who is concurrently taking Algebra II and Geometry together (to prepare for the PSAT next year). She doesn't like math, but she understands it. It isn't her gift, but she certainly doesn't count on her fingers!

I have yet another child who is learning how to multiply and divide and do fractions. I'm sad this is the last time I'm going to be teaching multiplication and division facts. *Sniff*! It's really true! I'm going to miss what I once hated. I like math. I understand it. I enjoy figuring out the problems. Is this really ME? LOL. Yes, homeschooling has a way of doing that. It can not only change your children, but it can change YOU.

So what in the world did I use to get me and my children to this point? We've actually tried all sorts of curriculums and materials and all of them didn't work out. Some things that worked for one child turned out to be a total flop for the other. I'll try to cover all of the major things we've used and let you know what we thought about them. The following section of the article will not cover all items we used or tried or what we used for very "early" math. A lot of that was "natural" learning and a combination of items best left for a future article. :-)

One of the things we first started out using was Saxon. Saxon math was in just about every homeschooling catalog at the time and everyone seemed to rave about it. It appeared to be the quintessential math program for homeschoolers. So I bought it and the big package of manipulatives that were needed and plunged in. I ended up using levels K through 7/8 . My oldest however started with the 2nd grade level. She had already used Calvert's traditional textbook for 1st.

I liked Saxon. I loved how the lessons were "scripted". I loved the manipulatives. I liked the "daily meeting" where we did calendar work, patterns and so on. I thought the idea of spiral review was great and would reinforce everything my children were being taught. My kids flew through the material and scored very high on "standardized" tests. I was thrilled with our apparent success.

When we got to the higher levels of Saxon though I started to notice something. If my kids did math out of a "different" workbook or were presented with a "real life" math problem, they were stumped. I'd hear things like, "What do we do? Do we multiply or divide or??" I started noticing blank stares for most "higher level" type of math related thinking. How could my bright children be acting so...dumb? My daughter started missing more and more problems. She started disliking math and getting frustrated. What used to be a fun part of our day became a part of the day beset by tears and grumbling. My son kept flying along, but those blank stares during real life math were troubling. Something wasn't working.

I got online and started asking some questions and doing some research. I read an article written by a student who had used Saxon and was just starting college. I listened to other experienced moms about math programs and higher level math and so on. Something started to dawn on me. My kids could DO math, but they didn't UNDERSTAND math. That's why, when they were getting to the higher levels of Saxon, they were getting bogged down and couldn't apply their learning anywhere but on their worksheets which were "formulaic". I knew we were going to have to use something else. This isn't to say that Saxon doesn't work for other families, it just didn't work for ours.

I discovered Math-U-See. Math-U-See turned out to be just what we needed. My kids could SEE and understand why we did this or that in math. Later we discovered Singapore. That was also a blessing. Singapore makes you THINK. It stretches a young (er old, in case of mom's) mind with terrific word problems. Later still, for a younger child, I found Miquon. He got to use THREE math programs all at once. O. K. maybe that's a little nutty but he's GOOD at math and he likes it. Miquon was terrific for teaching things in a concrete and exploratory way that are sometimes left for the older grades. We also, as we progressed, found Video Text and most recently Teaching Textbooks. Sprinkled in between them all we've used supplementary workbooks like : From Here to There with Cuisenaire Rods, Exploring With Pattern Blocks and more. As you will see from the chart I've included below, some programs were better suited for my math gifted son and others for my daughter (who doesn't care for it much at all).

I can't pinpoint exactly what has helped us be successful with math as it's been such a combination of things, but Math-U-See got us going on the right track and the other programs helped fill in the blanks where Math-U-See didn't meet our needs exactly (no one math program ever will). I have found in the present moment that Math-U-See is not as rigorous as I need it to be for my math gifted son or easy enough to understand anymore for my "math hating" daughter, so they are moving on to yet another curriculum in the near future. I am in the process of writing detailed reviews for each of the programs so you can really see what worked for us and what didn't in each of them as well as what "we" consider to be strengths and weaknesses.

Hopefully my sharing this will show you that while math can be overwhelming for some parents to teach, you CAN be successful. If you aren't good at math, your children can be! The great thing is that there is curricula out there that can help make math hopefully more enjoyable and at least understandable. Sometimes you just have to throw out what you are using and try something new. Sometimes just hearing from another parent who's been there can help! I hope you can see from our experiences that one curriculum definitely doesn't fit all and hardly any homeschooler progresses according to some predetermined chart. That's the beauty of homeschooling. We are free to use what works for us and our children at whatever pace our child's ability and understanding allow for.

Now my problem is: what am I going to use past Calculus if my son continues at his current pace and is ready for more in just a year or two? How can I get my daughter to "like" math? Anyone out there been there and done that? *Smile*.

Update 9-20-06: Please read my daughter's article on Teaching Textbooks. We've never seen her so excited about math! I guess one of my questions above is answered (how do we get her to like math?)!

Update 2-3-07: Our oldest son scored high enough in the Chapter Math Counts competition to make it to the state finals!

Update 2011: My daughter did extremely well in her college intermediate algebra and statistics classes! She didn't just do well, she enjoyed them.

Update 2013 - My daughter has successfully tutored homeschooled high school students in a variety of math levels for several years to make money for her college classes. One of her students was able to get into a prestigious private school based on his test scores.


What we used math tables (updated through 2012):

(Sometimes I really like to see what other parents have done, even if I don't do the same. It's helpful and gives me ideas and is just fun to look at.) The following tables do NOT include supplementary workbooks and literature based math books we've come across. You can read about some of those in our math supplements sections.

Emily -Doesn't like math. This table is approximate. We homeschool during the summer so some levels "overlap grades" or progress at faster-than-normal rates per grade.

Emily started K at 5 and turned 6 at the very END of K.

1st grade: Calvert traditional textbook plus cheap workbooks from Wal-mart, etc.
2nd: Saxon 2 and 3
3rd: Saxon 3 and 5/4
4th: Saxon 5/4 and 6/5

5th: Saxon 8/7 but ditched it in the beginning for Math-U-See Intermediate concurrent with Singapore 4

*Note: even though she was in 6th grade we started her back with MUS intermediate to build up early foundation skills. As a result she progressed very quickly. Going back and doing "baby" problems wasn't embarrassing because we homeschool and there is no one to "compare" to. My kids understand the important thing is KNOWING the material, not what level you're at or what grade you get. If you fail, then learn from your mistakes and keep working on whatever it is until you're terrific! Putting our daughter "back" via MUS was one of the best math decisions we ever made.

6th: Math-U-See Intermediate concurrent with Singapore 5

7th: Math-U-See Advanced concurrent with Singapore 6
8th: Math-U-See Algebra I
9th: Math-U-See Algebra I (took this again as she needed more time to own the material) Don't you love how homeschooling lets you work at your child's pace?!

10th: Teaching Textbooks: Geometry and Algebra II (Math-U-See while waiting for the other texts to arrive). *She decided to take both geometry and algebra II this year because of the PSAT next year.

We found that Math-U-See was no longer meeting / matching her needs and learning style in the higher math levels.

11th: Update: Pre-calculus through Chalkdust. We'd like to use Teaching Textbooks but it's not ready yet.

**Update: Chalkdust turned out to be too difficult for her. She decided to use Math-U-See's Trigonometry (classic) without the DVD's.

12th: No math by her choice. She is taking dual credit classes at the local jr. college and will be taking math through the college.
Update: Emily graduated from homeschool and earned pyschology and international studies degrees (and also got a TESL/TEFL Certificate) while earning the distinction of being "Student of the Year" on her campus! She was very successful in her college math classes and also successfully tutored some homeschooled children in high school level math courses. She taught jr. high and high school classes in a private Japanese school and is currently preparing for homeschooling her future children while living full-time in Japan. She is involved in Christian ministry with her Japanese husband.


Bear - Is gifted in math. This table is approximate. We homeschool during the summer so take that into account with progression levels.

Bear started K at 5 and turned 6 during the middle of the 1st semester.

K: Saxon K (was too easy), Saxon 1 and 2
1st: Saxon 3 and 5/4
2nd: Saxon 5/4 and 6/5
3rd: MUS Intermediate concurrent with Singapore 4 and 5
4th: MUS Advanced concurrent with Singapore 6

5th: Algebra I (MUS and Video Text) -He thinks that Video Text is a better program. He says it's more advanced and gives better explanations.

6th: Algebra II (MUS, Video Text) , started Geometry (MUS) + MUS honors Algebra II book, + MUS geometry honors book

Math Counts practice materials

7th: MUS Geometry (finishing up - took him approx. 3 months total), Continuing with Video Text (as review), starting MUS Trigonometry until we can find a more rigorous program for higher level math. -Please note that Math-U-See is an excellent curriculum but it is no longer "challenging enough" for him for "higher math".

He will also probably be doing his sister's Teaching Textbooks programs "for fun".

Update: Our son loves Teaching Textbooks just as much as his sister. Read his sister's review! He has stopped using Video Text in favor of TT. He has informed me that he's learning a lot of topics that were not covered (or covered in enough depth) in Math-U-See. He also finds the presentation much more engaging than Video Text.

8th: Chalkdust pre-calculus.

10th: (he skipped a grade):
Summer and 1st semester: Thinkwell Calculus, Life of Fred Calculus,

2nd semester and summer: Life of Fred Statistics

11th: Art of Problem Solving Books, Linear Algebra (a free textbook we found online)

This is Bear's last year in school because he will be graduating early.

Bear graduated and is currently retired from the Army, works on military helicopters, has a degree in the auto mechanics field, and is earning a degree in business.


Otter - Doesn't like math (sometimes). We homeschool during the summer so take that into account with progression levels.

Otter started K at 5 and turned 6 at the very END of K. He was held back in the 3rd grade.


Singapore 1A, Miquon the Orange Book, MUS Alpha (parts of)

*Note: with my youngest you will see that we only use "part" of MUS. That just means he didn't need as much of the student or extra practice pages because of all the other math he worked on concurrently. He actually prefers Miquon and Singapore over MUS, so MUS has been more of a "supplement" rather than the "meat" of his math.


Singapore 1B and 2A, Miquon the Red Book, MUS Alpha and Beta (parts of)


Singapore 2B, 3A, Miquon the Blue and Green books, MUS Beta (part of) and some of Gamma.


Singapore 3A, 3B, Miquon Yellow, a little bit of MUS, a little bit of Singapore

Update: We've totally ditched MUS. Our youngest just wasn't getting or enjoying MUS. I guess every kid is different! Singapore was becoming too difficult too, in some sections, as he just wasn't ready for certain topics like long division (but he still likes the program).
It's like he hit a brick wall in math.
After doing some research we found RightStart math and decided to give it a try. While we go through the RightStart transition lessons we're not doing any other program.

3rd (2nd year):

We have held our youngest back due to some academic difficulties. Some of his difficulties have bled over into math, such as retaining multiplication facts and reading through word problems. He is continuing to only use RightStart math (level D) and doing well with it.

4th grade:

Summer and 1st semester: Right Start Level E
2nd semester: Teaching Textbooks 5 and other supplements for variety.

5th grade:

Teaching Textbooks 5 (finishing up), starting Teaching Textbooks 6 with Singapore math and bits of this and that as a supplement.
Mid year Otter stopped using TT6 for awhile and started using Life of Fred Fractions with Singapore as a supplement. When he hits a wall, it helps him to work with a different program for awhile. Otter really likes Life of Fred. He LOVES the story component.
He also used Mammoth Math Fractions 1.

6th grade:

Main program: Teaching Textbooks 6

Supplements: Mammoth Math Fractions 2, Life of Fred Fractions, MEP year 6 (just a few pages), Right Start Intermediate (started out good but turned out to be a huge time hog so we set it aside)

7th grade:

Holt Mathematics 2 (with lots of extras via a schedule I made) as well as Singapore 6 A. We are also working with Exploring Algebra and Pre-Algebra with Manipulatives, Hands on Equations and ETA's Hands on Standards Math for grades 7-8. Otter is also working through the Key to workbooks (Key to Fractions, Key to Decimals and Key to Percents).

This year we are working with a lot of hands-on activities to help Otter really understand pre-algebra concepts. He has a difficult time with abstract math and so we're taking our time with lots of concrete lessons. The Key to workbooks have been great because they focus on only one topic at a time and have lots of pictures that break down each concept and make it easy to understand.

8th grade:

Otter is still needing extra time with pre-algebra concepts so we are continuing to take it slow and steady. He finished the Life of Fred Pre-algebra books and is doing math review through the Practical Arithmetics series. We are also continuing to do hands-on math activities.

High School: Bear used a variety of math programs through high school. One of the most successful programs for him was Khan Academy which allowed him to progress at his pace in a non-linear manner (he dabbled in various math tracks via that website simultaneously).
Otter graduated and is now involved in the law enforement field as a career. :-)

Those are my thoughts and some of my experiences with math.

Links to the curriculums mentioned:

Apex Learning: They offer online AP level math classes. You can preview the first chapter of their AP statistics course online for free.

Art of Problem Solving : An excellent site for those who want to go above and beyond regular math "curriculums". There are online classes to help students prepare for math competitions and more. They also offer excellent books on problem solving.

Centre for Innovation in Mathematics Teaching : This U.K. site offers free online PDF math practice books, lesson plans, and copy masters for grades 1 - 6. These are high quality math programs with attractive graphics, easy to understand lessons and great practice problems.

Chalkdust :Chalkdust offers DVD based math courses. You can watch samples at their website or order a sample CD.

Khan Academy - One of the BEST free resources for complete, interactive math programs.

Life of Fred math books by Polka Dot Publishing: Engaging "living math" books with lots of humor and engaging stories. See our review here.

Math-U-See : A hands on math that helps you see and understand the "why" behind math. Math lessons progress in a "natural" order.

Miquon Math : A hands on math curriculum for the younger grades that encourages exploration. This is not a "by the book" curriculum. It's also great for exploring math concepts that aren't typically covered until more advanced grades. For example multiplication is explored in the first grade, but it's so concrete that it's easy to understand.

RightStart Mathematics : I wish I had researched RightStart a long time ago. I really like this program. "Practice is provided with math card games, minimizing review worksheets and stressful flash cards, presenting a variety of repetition, and creating hours of fun learning math facts and concepts. Understanding and problem solving are emphasized throughout the curriculum."

Saxon Math : A math curriculum that has a hands on element only in the younger grades. We thought it was too "formulaic" and dry (for us).

Singapore Math : An excellent, rigorous math curriculum that encourages higher level math thinking. Makes kids think "outside" the box at times.

Teaching Textbooks : A great looking curriculum with each and every problem's solution explained in detail (no more wondering: "How did they get that answer?"). Has animated computer lessons and a text. Good for a variety of learners and has great, easy to understand explanations.

VideoText Interactive : Explains concepts with NO short cuts. Very visual (DVD's). A great algebra program but it didn't work for our daughter.


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