How we homeschool math (Part One)

My husband has a PhD in math and teaches math classes for homeschool students. My mother is retiring this year after a career as a high school math teacher. As you can imagine, there is a big focus on math at our house and we are enthusiastic about talking math with other families. Frequently, friends and acquaintances ask what we use for math.  I know when people ask that, they are typically talking curriculum, so I will detail that in this post. But for us, curriculum is only part of the picture. This year, with our first-grade age daughter, we wrote out some goals at the beginning of the year:

  • fostering an appreciation for math
  • working on math reasoning and the understanding of relative amounts, ratios, and relationships
  • improve fluency and speed of basic calculations
  • start working with manipulating larger numbers both in her head and on paper
  • exposure to math beyond her current understanding.

To accomplish these goals, we spend some time with formal math texts and even more time with games, books, toys, and conversations. We also host a monthly math club for young children. In terms of curriculum, we are going through Singapore 2A and 2B this year and gradually working our way through Beast Academy level 3, and playing around with Khan Academy’s K-2 math.

We use Singapore for extra practice with basic math skills. Our daughter already knows the general 2nd grade concepts from conversations, games, and real-world experiences, but I wanted her to have extra practice. I frequently hear my mother (the high school math teacher) lament that her students haven’t mastered basic elementary-level concepts. I don’t want my kids to struggle with basic mathematical fluency later. I feel Singapore is helpful with foundational concepts and practice. We use the Standards Edition workbooks a few times each week, skipping around to whatever she feels like working on. We didn’t feel the need for the textbooks or the instructor’s guide at this level. They might be helpful for parents less comfortable with math, though.

We occasionally let our daughter use Khan Academy online, maybe once every week or so. I think that Khan Academy can be helpful for extra practice problems and can probably lead to improved performance, but I am not sure it is the best method for improving mathematical understanding . We also limit screen time at our house, and there are so many non-electronic resources for learning math, so we don’t use Khan Academy too much at this stage.

Beast Academy is simply awesome. I think it is the absolute best math text and workbook series for elementary-aged children who are strong in math and who don’t require a lot of drill. My daughter loves it, and so do I. Beast Academy is put out by the Art of Problem Solving folks. I had heard my mathematician husband rave about the Art of Problem Solving so I was thrilled to discover Beast Academy. Their website states, “Beast Academy will provide a full, rigorous, and entertaining curriculum for aspiring math beasts in grades 2-5.” There will be 3 levels, corresponding to 3rd-5th grade math. Only Levels 3 and 4 are currently completed. At each level, there are four comic book guides featuring lovable monsters. The guides are chock-full of amazing information. Reading these feels a lot like spending time with a fun-loving, skilled professor who knows how to give the next hint or just the right information to stretch your thinking and build toward higher-level understanding.

Along with the guides, there are practice books with problems, puzzles, and games. BeastWorkbookIt in no way feels like a typical math workbook. The problems can be hard, and force even me to think.  Each problem in Beast Academy appears to be included for a reason, and the accompanying workbook is not just extra practice, but rather extends concepts and understanding. There are not excessive similar problems like there can be in some workbooks.  Beast Academy may be overwhelming or confusing for a less math-oriented kid or parent. But we love the format and the approach and are eager to continue with them for future grades. The books are pricy altogether ($108 for the whole level 3 set), but math is fundamental, we have 3 children who will use them, and they are an amazing resource, so I don’t have trouble rationalizing the purchase. I highly, highly recommend them. Some of our less formal math activities are described in How We Homeschool Math, Part Two.

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