I take it back, Rod & Staff math!

So earlier this year, I posted some criticism of Rod & Staff math and it possibly being too easy and repetitive after my son completed Math-U-See Primer.  Was this a mistake!

Rod & Staff is kind of boring and needs to be tweaked and supplemented to make it interesting, but it is a very solid and slow building program perfect for someone my son’s age.

After being initially disappointed by Rod & Staff Level 1, I purchased the Horizon’s curriculum.  While I did like it enough, I thought the program was geared towards a normal aged 1st grader (i.e. age 7, not 4 1/2).  Within the first 20 lessons or so, children are already being asked to begin memorizing math facts through 20.  My son was good at doing these problems on the number line, but I wasn’t about to have him start memorizing his facts through 20 before having them down through 10.  I had reviewed the placement information on the Horizons website and it definitely put him at the 1st grade level, but perhaps it has to do with the age.  1st graders are usually 7 and doing a full day of school and have more time to learn, where he just did school for an hour or so 3 to 4 days a week.  So I stopped the curriculum and got Mammoth Math!

Everyone raves about Mammoth Math and I definitely see the strength of the program.  There were parts of it my son really enjoyed and so far we are through page 50 of Level 1 in the middle of addition fact 9.   But I could see that he was starting to dread math and shut down, when he initially liked it!  I think there were a few things at play.  One….Mammoth Math is kind of boring in its own way: many problems on a page, little colors, not geared towards 4 year olds.  Second, it seems that half of the problems were solving for the unknown.  I have no idea how this concept works for other children, but my son, who seems to catch on to math well, seemed to grow fatigued by the constant having to count and count again to figure out the unknown, and switch his brain from regular addition which he is still mastering.  I think by the end of it he was actually beginning to see the merit of memorizing math facts so the problems would stop being so tedious!  In any case, it was mostly the near constant solving for the unknown and his dread of it, that made me say on Friday, “Phineas, you said Rod & Staff was too easy, but now you have seen a really hard program, would you like to go back to Rod & Staff and maybe go back to this one when it can be more fun?”  He gave a relieved, “Yes!”   The other thing I think that was a play is his young age, while he completed all of the prerequisites for the challenges of first grade math, he might not be ready maturity-wise or development-wise to charge ahead in math (he is now 4 years, 10 months) and may need more time to just stay at the level he is at with small jumps in difficultly.  That is why we are going back to Rod & Staff math…and I couldn’t be more relieved!

Through the recommendation of some other homeschool moms, I am going to try supplementing with a free online curriculum called MEP that will add the conceptual  and “fun” component to math that Rod & Staff is lacking.

Well, there you go…hopefully our math journey will help someone else make a curriculum decision!

Remembering Why I’m Homeschooling…

monk-on-canalBeing a new homeschooling mom, I had no idea how easy it was to get lost amidst all of the curriculum choices and start to lose sight of why I wanted to homeschool in the first place.

If anyone had asked me in the last couple of years why I wanted to  homeschool my son, my answer would usually be a polite way of saying that I wanted to protect my son from worldly, liberal values.  (Especially when we lived in California…Thank you God for bringing us to Northwest Arkansas!).

Academics or his future career was actually a small factor for me.  I simply wanted his soul to be properly watered and immersed in the Orthodox Christian lifestyle.  And I still do…but then you take a mom, who hasn’t had a job for almost 5 years and give her a focus other than her son (even if it has to do with her son) then you’ve got a mom who has started to lose focus and is spending way too much time researching and debating between curriculum! And for no reason really.  My son is completely on track…I almost forget my son is technically in his “Pre-K” year, but we are doing work for K/1st grade.   And besides, what I think might be right for him in six months, will probably change by the time we get there.

I’m not sure what it is for other homeschool moms, but looking at homeschool curriculum is a lot of fun for me!  There is so much to read and learn about…different approaches, different options.  Even thinking about working in education someday when my son no longer has need of me for his teacher!   Even so…I could probably not look at curriculum again until May and be just fine.  Additionally, reading other homeschooling blogs and such is the nearly the closest thing I have to community.  There are no other homeschooling moms at my church and my Classical Conversations group does not talk curriculum very much.  (Or at least not with me since my son is only 4.5 and looks 3…and I always get told “at that age…you don’t really have to do much.” It is unusual to be homeschooling an only child, most of the children my son’s age are the youngest in a larger family and haven’t started academic work too much yet.)

I felt that we “needed” to start formal homeschooling early, kind of like when we “needed” to start potty training when my son was almost exactly two and started routinely taking his diapers off in his crib.  My son is strong-willed and intense, and has two parents that have been dedicated to him since birth.  As an only child, this means no other siblings to share with, to fight over activities with, to have to go along with another activity for, etc.  Try as we might, we cannot replace the tension caused by a sibling competing for parental attention.  (Due my son’s unique personality, it might be better this way and how God intended it…seeing as how he is still an only child…but it can be tough!  If you would like to read about my journey with secondary infertility, it can be found on my other blog.)  It just started to seem that allowing him to do nothing but mainly play for his 14 waking hours a day was not good for his soul anymore is his particular situation.  Our formal homeschooling time is basically a time where he gets focused time to learn he is not in charge!  I told a friend the other day that homeschooling him in this way was our antidote to spoiling.  An exclusively Charlotte Mason/un-school approach for younger children sounds great for a larger family, but not for our intense, strong-willed only child who would only love to call the shots all day!

Then there is the practical side of it.  As mentioned, I have an amazing and kind,  yet somewhat challenging and draining only child.  I have been doing some reading on the overexcitabilities of giftedness.   There is one type called psychomotor overexcitability that often gets confused with ADHD.  Seeing that ADHD runs in my family, my son could have both!   Maybe I think if I just find the right balance of curriculum that moves at just the right pace, everything will calm down a notch…but I need to remember that it won’t.  Its just how it is!   Sometimes I can see that it would be great to just put him in front of a math computer game and let him run with it…but we are pretty committed to low-tech in our house, until he is 7 or so.

But I digress…see how easily it happens!

I am blessed and grateful that God has allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom.

I am blessed and grateful that I live in a country that allows me to homeschool.

I am blessed and grateful that my son’s world is small for the time being and his values and the natural order of God’s creation are being firmly imprinted in his soul in his most formative years.

I am blessed and grateful that I can spend breakfast time with him…and lunch time…and snack time.

Does it really matter if I have the perfect phonics book?  Does it really matter if he learns to read words with the “nk” ending in January or in March or even May?

Does it really matter if my math course is incomplete and I have to remediate a couple of parts later on?

No, it does not.

What matters is that my son knows the Commandments and strives to follow them, that he learns that he honors God when he does his best work, that he learns to call upon Christ, the Theotokos and the Saints throughout his life, and many more.

This blog post is a reminder for myself.

I will still have curriculum reviews on this site because it is fun, but I needed to remind myself not to lose focus!

 

When a schedule isn’t working…

calendar-151591_960_720So my son and I have been doing the same homeschool schedule since around September.  It seemed to be really working for us and I LOVE routine!  I could have kept this routine for a really long time!  But it occurred to me today…perhaps his reluctance and “bad attitude” at the beginning of school this week isn’t just him being “lazy” and “difficult.” Perhaps the schedule is just no longer working for him for valid reasons!

Here is what we were doing:

Breakfast, Brush Teeth, Morning Prayers, Short Play Time, School Routine

School consisted of:  short prayer, My son writing date on white board, Reading at least one Saint life from Prologue of Ohrid, Bible memory verse, Reading, Phonics, Break, Math.

I really liked the idea of putting our spiritual life first and I think we still should!  With my son’s particular personality, however, I have noticed that by the time we get to reading, phonics, and math he is already tired from the first activities because they seem to require a different kind of focus that is harder for him.

I really liked the idea of teaching my son discipline (doing something daily even though it isn’t “fun”) and writing the date on the board seemed like a great idea!  And I still think it is….But, and this is another blog post altogether, my son may have different needs than I expected and I may have to change my expectations and our schedule.  When we first started the date thing, he was fascinated by the calendar, learning how the date was configured, learning to write numbers, copying words, there was so much new!  Now he gets it.  Writing the date in Semester 1 paid off and now he seems really unmotivated to continue.  One of the many reasons we are homeschooling is because I do not think my son would do well in a traditional classroom setting, at least not at this age.  So I might as well take advantage of homeschooling and be more accommodating!  So while I really hope I am not surrendering, I decided to replace date writing with handwriting practice in our new McRuffy Press Curriculum.  And I will probably make handwriting last so I can go play piano if he feels like taking a really long time on this though distraction!  We will still learn about the “calendar” but it will be sprinkled in occasionally rather than every day.

So after deciding this, it got me thinking even more.  What could I do so that when our “homeschool” starts my son can be immediately engaged in work, which is actually less tiring for him that trying to be still and listen.  So I brainstormed some ideas, talked them over with my son, and he seems to really like the changes.  We will see how it goes on Monday!

We will now try to do our school prayer right after his morning prayer rule.  We are Orthodox Christians so he now says with me, (or stands with me while I say) the Trisagion Prayer, Our Father, Creed, and Patron Saint Prayer daily.  We will now say the school blessing prayer as part of his morning prayer rule, before I finish the other Morning Prayers.

I also asked my son if I could start reading the Saints Lives during breakfast instead of during school and he really liked this idea!  I also like that we are incorporating this into our daily life now regardless of if we are doing school.

Lastly, I told my son, “We have removed the date portion of school, moved the morning prayer and Saints Live, what do you think we should do about the Bible Verse?”  I honestly wanted an idea!

It was my son’s idea do this during lunch.  I am a little skeptical but we will see how it goes. Instead of doing this in our “classroom,” I am going to print our memory verse large on regular paper and tape it to a cabinet while we read it together.  We usually do two days of repeating the verse three times, while discussing any context, and then a third day of playing a memory game with the verse. ( Like erasing words continually until the verse is memorized.)  Now that I will be typing and printing out the verse, I can cut out the words and have my son arrange and paste them onto construction paper.  He loves to paste!

I hope our new routine works out!  Change is hard!  Not to mention our new math curriculum isn’t working out and I am waiting on the new one to get here, and we are starting a new language arts curriculum from McRuffy Press also on Monday!

Thanks for reading!

Review of Rod & Staff math

classifieds-50399-0-19727500-1483465617_medCertain parts of Math-U-See Primer were difficult to get through, but I have to admit that it was well worth it.   My son memorized way more addition facts than I thought he would and can easily write his numbers now, with few errors.  The hardest part about Math-U-See Primer was all of the number writing for skip counting, but it really paid off!

We started “Semester 2” yesterday and I pulled out the Rod & Staff level 1 we had ordered. Unfortunately, I just don’t think its going to work for us.  Even though its supposed to be for Grade 1, it really seems like its for children who have no experience or very little experience with math.  The problems start out so easy and the book moves so slow!  The lesson plans in the teacher’s manual are pretty pointless for a homeschool environment for a child who already understands numbers and math conceptually.  After Math-U-See Primer, I thought I would start him at Lesson 15 in Rod & Staff, but then saw that he was ready for Lesson 37.  So even with that, it moves REALLY slow.  The curriculum spends like a week on each “Fact Family.”  That might be fine for children who are just learning math, but Grade 1?  I will just be skipping around lessons so my son can cover the core, useful content and then we will transition to Horizons Math which I have read is more challenging. (And if that doesn’t work, maybe Singapore, and then back to Math U See?).  So with that said, I think Rod & Staff would be an awesome curriculum for a non-math inclined child who enjoys mastery, repetition, and requires the lesson plan provided to understand the math fact taught.  (My son and I are both kinesthetic learners…so he just wants to get right to working on the problems to learn the new thing and I totally get it!)

One thing I do like about Rod & Staff is all of the extra worksheets they provide.  Since they are “extra” I am able to gauge where my son is using them, without having to use the actual workbook pages for that.   I’m not sure how typical this is or not, but after we put my son to bed around 7:45/8:00pm, he stays up for about 2 hours and will often “work” on something and sometimes it is math worksheets.  (Sometimes it is making cards for people…could be anything!)  I like that I can give him a stack of worksheets to take to his room…well, we have done this the last two days at least!

So overall it seems that ordering Rod & Staff Math was a homeschoolers beginners mistake!  We will definitely do some of the curriculum, but after that I’d rather just reinforce his math facts with flash cards once a week, while using math lessons that are more challenging and fast paced.

My review of Math-U-See Primer

mathusee

I think the main reason I chose to start with Math-U-See for my son’s math curriculum is because I loved the name.  Calling a textbook “primer” makes me think of a one-room schoolhouse in the 1800s.  The second reason is because it has a great reputation online – people seem to really like it or they don’t.  I think I may fall into the “don’t” category.  Before continuing with my review, I wanted to note that I did not buy anything else other than the Primer student workbook.  When we needed manipulatives, I just used things around the house.

Primer is the first workbook available from Math-U-See and is often referred to as the “pre-school,” and sometimes “kindergarten,” workbook by people online.  One issue with that is that it does start out that way but the early lessons go very fast if a child has already mastered counting that they will soon be doing math that is a stretch for a pre-schooler.  My son is four and four months and definitely math inclined.  The book moves so quickly that my son is already working on math problems like 100 + 300 and most recently solving for the unknown!  (As in blank  + 3 = 7) Am I wrong or is this stretching pre-school/kindergarten math?  I would at least think this would be towards the second half of kindergarten so the first half of the book should take more than 6 weeks to get though, right!

They do say on the website that Primer is supposed to be a ‘gentle introduction to math” so mastery is not necessarily the goal.  Perhaps it could have been easier if I had watched some of the videos, but I just did my best to explain things to him.

Here are a few other things I didn’t care for in Math-U-See:

  • It is not a complete curriculum for the year.  There are 30 lessons which at most take a week to get through.  (However, the rest of the year could be spent in review or moving to a new level.)
  • I’d rather have the lessons just be the suggested work for one day, rather than a whole section. It’s motivating to complete one lesson a day, or to be getting through a chapter, and demotivating to spend a week on one lesson.  So I’d rather the lessons be called “Chapters.”
  • I have not seen the other levels, but Primer did not include enough worksheets  for mastery, or near mastery, for some of the harder concepts.  I feel a curriculum should provide enough work for an average student to gain mastery.  Skipping extra problems because you don’t need them is motivating (we did this earlier on in the lessons) but having to get extra problems because the curriculum does not provide enough is demotivating.
  • My son is motivated by math problems written traditionally, which he somehow sees as real math, and is less motivated by how Math-U-See writes some of their problems.
  • The Primer level is marketed for pre-school/kindergarten age but requires A LOT of handwriting in the skip counting sections, so math has become for us number writing practice and math practice.  On one hand this is a good thing, but it has caused some frustration to my son.  Two lessons from now, he will be skip counting 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s at random and having to write out all of the numbers himself.  He is mentally there but I am dreading keeping him motivated to write it all out!  I try to only correct him if he writes a number backwards, completely illegible, or reverses the numbers in a two-digit number, otherwise we wouldn’t get anywhere!
  • I’m not interested in a program that requires watching a DVD for it to work well…on top of that, I don’t own a DVD player.

Good things about Primer:

  • The workbook is already 3 whole punched and the pages are easily taken out.
  • It is a good “introductory” math worbook as far as conceptually understanding addition, skip counting, etc.
  • It has been useful in teaching the one’s place, ten’s place, hundred’s place etc.. My son can read any number up to 999 after using this book (with errors at times of course, but he understands it.)
  • Each lessons ends with one or two fun pages that motivate my son to continue with the standard practice and review pages.

So, with all that said, in nine more lessons of Math-U-See Primer, we will take a week off of math (if my son wants to) and then start with Rod & Staff Level 1.  (We will probably skip the first 10 lessons or so…).  I am also planning to order the first CLE Sunrise and Sonlight Horizons workbooks for supplementation.  We’ll see how this new plan goes!

Hope this review of Math-U-See Primer helps someone!