Friday, July 18, 2014

Math: The Forbidden Subject

In my post about planning for a new school year, Allyson mentioned in the comments that she was using math workbooks for her two school-aged kids. I rarely talk about math on my blog for two reasons:

One, it's a little boring.  Don't get me wrong.  Math was one of my favorite subjects when I was in school.  It's logical and straight-forward, but talking about history and literature is a lot more fun!

And two, I'm intimidated by discussing math because it's taken me years to find a book or curriculum that fits our family and what we finally settled on is a little unconventional.

{The links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, but opinions are always my own.}

Here's our math story:

When Gavin started school, we chose Making Math Meaningful, a math curriculum known for its thorough introduction of math concepts.  The program is slow and methodical, focusing on having the child understand why they are doing what they are doing before they actually do it.  We flew through the kindergarten book, skipped the 1st grade book (because Gavin learned the concepts on his own during the summer) and then grumbled through the 2nd grade book before finally throwing in the towel.

The problem was that math came easily to Gavin and all the extra steps were frustrating and tedious to him. 

I started asking around to see what math programs other families used and loved, but I was hesitant to spend big money on another curriculum we might have to abandon.  We  keep our homeschool budget low and I was not prepared to pay $50-$100 for a math curriculum. That year we settled on Kumon math workbooks.  Each book focuses on a specific topic in a specific grade level so we were able to pick and choose based on Gavin's needs. 

These workbooks served our needs for a year, but Gavin did tire of the repetition. We were glad when we could switch to Saxon math textbooks when Gavin entered 5th grade.  Saxon math textbooks are largely self-taught with students reading the lessons on their own and doing the problem set that follows. We began with Saxon 65and plan to continue with this program until Gavin graduates highschool.

So far, so good, right?

We didn't find elementary math we loved (or even liked) with Gavin... and now Maddie and Owen were in need of a math curriculum. Though they are two years apart in age, they are on the same grade level for math.  After hours of research and much agonizing, calculating, and frustration I asked myself this question:

What is my ultimate goal in teaching elementary math?  This is what I wanted them to be able to do:
  • count by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s
  • add and subtract while understanding the process
  • understand and work with simple fractions
  • be able to tell time
  • be able to count money
  • know how to solve story problems

All of those things could be taught by the kinds of workbooks you can pick up in the grocery store.  Any skills that were omitted, I had the skills to supplement on my own.  We weren't talking algebra.  We were talking first grade math!

That realization took the pressure off.  We started with a consumable book by School Zone, First Grade Big Workbook, and the kids loved it!  (The workbook covers many other skills besides math, but at $5.49 for the entire book, it was worth it even if we only did half of the pages.

After the second grade workbook, we switched to Math Basics Grade 3 (also by School Zone) which was a little pricier, but included a CD-ROM with games and review lessons.  After completing Total Math, Grade 4 last year, Maddie and Owen are now ready to begin Saxon maththis year while Ben is starting the cycle over!  It's his turn to use First Grade Big Workbook!

What curriculum, books, or program to you use to teach math?


  1. This sounds a lot like what we've decided to do. Emahry and Jonathan will both start the year with a first grade workbook I picked up at Sam's Club. When they finish that midyear, we'll look at moving into the second grade version. We're also using a few free apps on our iPad and the addition/subtraction practice at

  2. My kids love those grocery store workbooks...and for the early years you really can't beat them.

  3. I used to use Math-U-See. Now we just use workbooks until 3rd grade and then we use Teaching Textbooks. We just use the cd's on the computer and don't use workbooks at all. We like it very much the kids have been doing well with it!


  4. My comment disappeared.

    I'm looking at the school zone book for Ada for 2nd grade and the Total math 3 for Maygen for 3rd grade. Both were going to use TT but Ada just said she prefers workbook math. I'm sure at some point we'll plan to go back or just stick with TT but I wondered if you had a website were you could really view the inside of the workbooks.

    Any other thoughts or info on the workbooks would be much appreciated!! Thanks!!

  5. I often go to to look at samples of books if Amazon does not have a preview. I checked for both of the books you mentioned and Rainbow Resource does have a few pages of each, though it's not much. Christian Book Distributors also has a few pages of the School Zone 2nd grade book (

    Amazon has the best prices and if you shop carefully, you can sometimes find "used" copies that have no markings. My kids love that the workbooks are colorful and have pictures. I love that we can skip around and only use what we need.


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