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!

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Review of Alpha-phonics, etc

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What can I say about Alpha-phonics?!  It’s been an amazing program for teaching my son how to read.  We started the program when he was around 4 years and 2 months on Lesson 1. I had never taught anyone to read before, and I thought, well “here it goes…let’s see what happens!”

To my surprise, he started learning to read almost immediately! He already knew the letters and their sounds for the most part, so it was just a matter of him understanding how to blend them all together, all of the rules, etc.  There were times earlier on where I had to really struggle with him to do the lessons (they aren’t particularly colorful or fun) but we persevered and I could tell that it was working very well.  The hardest lesson to get through of the whole book was definitely Lesson 14.  It contains 5 pages of C-V-C “words.”  However, they are not all words, but syllables rather that could all be part of words.  We had to split this lesson over a whole week back then.  Some people might not appreciate that the child is reading nonsense words, but I really think this lesson helped prepare him for seeing all sorts of letter combinations while reading.

My son is now flying through the lessons and will sometimes complete two a day.  Since we started, we have only done this 3 days a week, or 4 if Classical Conversations is not in session.  8 months later we have about 35 more lessons to go and my son is reading at an early second grade level.  (I have figured this out using the Scholastic Book Wizard tool and entering the books he is reading on his own.)

For many of the earlier lessons, I wrote them on the white board.  It made the long lists of words more approachable for my son.   Sometimes I would let him erase the words after he read them…we would try different things to keep him engaged and focused depending on the day.  Also, sometimes as I wrote his reading lesson on the board, he would write one for me on other the board from one of his other phonics books (we have two small ones instead of one big one…way cheaper!).  So he would practice his writing for the day while he thought he was actually just playing! At this point, he is often reading straight from the book and putting dots by the words he has read and this gives him a sense of accomplishment.

I cannot recommend Alpha-phonics highly enough.  It has given my son an amazing start in his reading and language arts journey.  Next up for us is beginning All About Spelling in his first official homeschool year – Kindergarten!

My review of Math-U-See Primer

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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!