I thought I might talk a little bit about what we do in our homeschool.
Let me preface by saying that I’m not trying to dictate what you should do or imply that other curricula aren’t any good. These are just the things I have found that work for us.
Math is a favorite in my house for some reason. It was always my most hated and dreaded subject all through elementary, high school, and college. I vividly remember math in first grade. We were learning basic counting and addition. On a ruler. So the “teacher” (you’ll see why I use the quotes in a moment) would tell us to add 1 + 2 and we were supposed to add on our rulers. The only problem was that she didn’t explain quite how to add. So I would put my little index finger on the 1 and count “1, 2” starting on the 1. Which meant that my answer to 1+2 was 2. I never was told what I was doing wrong – just that my answer was wrong. With that as my foundation, I was convinced that math was hard and I couldn’t understand it.
Now Ladybug, on the other hand, just gets math and always has. She loves it. If she could choose just one subject to do in our school, it would be math. But she’s not a workbook sort of kid. She will not do workbook pages. Period. So I knew that I had to find a more interactive math program for us. I not only found one…I found three. Here’s what we use.
Classical Conversations. I love the skip counting songs. They’ve helped ME enormously and I can see the light beginning to glimmer in Ladybug’s eyes that this is actually multiplication (which she is desperate to start). When Ladybug started CC, Sunshine was two and a half. She picked up those skip counting songs right away and knows most of them my heart now that she’s in CC. Even Cookie is starting to sing along now, too! I think songs always help make learning fun. I have lots of things to say about CC, but I’ll save that for another post.
Math-U-See. I found MUS by pure happen chance. When I began homeschooling Ladybug at age four, we did lots of dot-to-dot for math and read stories. But as she was approaching five, I felt that I needed curriculum. So my mother-in-law and I headed to a homeschool vendor fair. We walked in, were overwhelmed, and pretty much decided on the first math program we saw that included manipulatives. We wrote it down so we could come back to it later and continued to walk around the exhibit hall. The MUS table really shouldn’t have caught my eye. The rep was on the phone (with a school district electing to use MUS for all their students, as I found out) and there was only one other homeschooler looking at what was on the table. But one of the videos was playing and the books and blocks were out. My MIL and I stopped to watch a bit of the video and look at the blocks. We were immediately taken with it. Other manipulatives we had seen were just the blocks of various sizes but, to us at least, no real way to tell how much each block was worth. The MUS blocks have the squares on them so you know exactly how much each block is worth. At that point I knew I had found my math curriculum. When it arrived at our house, Ladybug was so excited to have blocks to play with, she didn’t even realize she was doing math (that actually would have made them even more appealing to her). My kids also insist on watching the DVD lesson with me which helps all of us to understand the material. They like answering Mr. Demme’s questions and seeing if they’re faster than the kids on the video. We’re on our third year now and loving the hands-on approach to learning.
Life of Fred. I had never heard of this book series until a few months ago when a dear friend starting talking about it on Facebook. It sure sounded interesting. If she liked it, that was good enough for me. So I did a little research and decided to try it out. If you’re not familiar with this series, here’s the gist. Fred is a five year old math professor at a fictional university in Kansas. He lives in his office with his doll and has all kinds of adventures. Some ordinary, some crazy. But every adventure requires some sort of math skill. At the end of each chapter of his story, the student gets to “play” along and answer some math questions. Ladybug only ever wants Fred. We went through the first two books in one week. I couldn’t get her to stop! We’re now in the 4th book (Dogs). Here’s a sampling of what we’ve learned so fa: reading an analog clock, learning the different between whole numbers, natural numbers and integers, addition facts, subtraction facts, and some simple algebra (if x+x=18, what is x?). We’ve also learned about animals, crooks, art, astronomy, and alphabetizing among other things. It all fits together somehow. Apparently the author of the books was a math professor and his students were constantly asking when they would ever use these math concepts in real life. So he decided to show them. The Life of Fred series begins with basic elementary school math (addition, subtraction, etc) and continues up through high school (algebra, geometry, trigonometry) and college (calculus, statistics, linear algebra). Even though you may not be aware of it, you are using your math skills all the time. At least that’s what I’ve learned from Fred so far. That and Fred is not a good artist.
We use all three every week. That may seem a little scattered or disorganized to you. But it’s working for us so far (in the interest of full disclosure I should say that we are in week 2 of this school year so things may change). We practice our CC songs during our review time at home in preparation for our classroom day. With Ladybug, we usually do Life of Fred one to two days per week and MUS two to three days per week. Sunshine only wants to do MUS right now so she does math two to four days per week depending on how quickly she’s caught onto the concept. If we need longer, we take it. If she gets it, she plows through the workbook pages and takes her test.
So that’s math at our little school.
One additional disclaimer. As someone who considers herself to be a classical homeschooler, I realize that most people don’t see Math-U-See and Life of Fred as fitting into the classical model. And to an extent, I believe they are correct. MUS and Fred are not focused solely on memorization in the grammar years. But memorization is a key component in both programs which continually review facts and concepts learned previously. And, as much as I love the classical model of schooling, I also believe that you need to use what works best for your student. After all, isn’t that one of the reasons that we choose to homeschool? My kids (at least my oldest) needs interactivity – more than songs – to drill that information into her head. If I can find different ways to tackle it – with songs, with blocks, with stories – why not?!