You Mean We Have to do Math Too? (Part 1)

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Yes my friends, even though I talk a whole lot about great books, art, music, and all that fun stuff here, the sad news is that we do, indeed, have to do math too.  I say that a little tongue in cheek, of course.  Math can be fun.  Or at least that's what I've heard.  And my 12 year old certainly seems to think so!  We have tried a LOT of different math curricula over the past 10 years, so I thought I would give you a quick run-down of what we've done and what we do now.  Keep in mind that I was not trained in a professional teaching school, so I'm probably not going to use all the right "technical" terms for the different approaches to math.  I'll just give you my insights, observations, and honest opinions!

The Early Years: Real Life and Little Workbooks

I've used pretty much the same approach for all my kids early on (except for one, more on that later!)  We don't do a whole lot of math before about age 10.  They do lots of measuring, counting, helping with household chores and building projects with dad.  Then I typically have them do a page or so in a basic grade-level math workbook, mostly because they want to "do math" like their older siblings.  They don't usually spend more than 10-15 minutes on math per day from the ages of about 5-7, and maybe 20 minutes at the most from about age 8-9.  We've mostly used Bob Jones math workbooks, only because my mother in law had a bunch of them leftover from her classroom when she taught at a Christian school.  Free is nice!

Saxon Math: Where everyone begins...and quits.

Ok, maybe there are a few folks out there who manage to make it all the way through the Saxon sequence.  But since we've been homeschooling I've heard the same story over and over: "We started with Saxon because it looked so thorough and challenging, but we switched to something else because everybody hated it."  Indeed, Saxon is extremely thorough and challenging.  I believe a student who makes it all the way through high school with Saxon will be very well prepared for any future math study, technical careers, etc.  We started off with Saxon 54 around age 10 (per the Well Trained Mind!) with my oldest.  It was ok for about a year.  Then things got really busy, we moved, had more babies, and I couldn't keep up with checking all his work.  Long story short, my son ended up having to repeat about half of Saxon 65 because he wasn't "getting it" at all, and the lessons took him so long and were so tiresome for him that he developed a pretty nasty distaste for anything math.  But, not being one to give up easily, I continued having him use Saxon all the way through Pre-algebra.  He was scraping by, but not fully understanding everything, and certainly not enjoying it.  Not even a little bit.  (To be continued in the next section!)

My second son, however, did pretty good with Saxon.  He is naturally inclined towards math-y stuff and enjoys lots of number-crunching.  Even so, the Saxon lessons did get a little tedious even for him sometimes.  (Also to be continued in the next section!)

Math Curriculum Win #1

Back to my oldest son.  It was April 2016, so he was 13 at the time.  He had recently finished Saxon Pre-algebra and I was getting ready to have him begin Algebra 1.  But as I wandered through the aisles of curriculum vendors at the Cincinnati Great Homeschool Convention, a booth caught my eye.  They had stacks and stacks of these funny-looking books with black and white pictures that looked like they had been created on somebody's home computer.  Despite the lack of visual appeal, something about it drew me in and I started talking to the lady running the booth.  She introduced me to the Life of Fred series of math books.  I thumbed through a few of them and read a few chapters.  That's right, read a few chapters.  Now you're speaking my language!  Life of Fred teaches math through the eyes of a six year old, [6 inch tall] math professor at Kittens University.  And he is funny!  On a whim I bought the second Pre-algebra book (there are 3 of them) for my 13 year old, and the first book in the elementary series, Apples, for my 5 year old.  

Why pre-algebra again?  Well, a few reasons.  I knew my son wasn't fully "getting" everything from Saxon pre-algebra and I didn't want to launch him into Algebra without being fully prepared.  Also, Life of Fred covers more than a typical math program, so they recommend doing some review if you're switching to LOF from another program.  Plus, the second LOF pre-algebra book is also combined with Biology, which my son is really interested in, so that was a big bonus!

When I brought the book home I gave it to my son.  After the first lesson, he was all smiles, telling me about the funny things Fred did, making little sketches of Fred in his notebook, and eager to do the next lesson.  It was a SUCH a relief.  He has now finished the first Pre-algebra book and is about 8 lessons into the second one, Life of Fred Pre Algebra with Economics.  He still likes it, and is still making good progress.  I also think it's pretty cool that the book combines math with a "real" study of economics; according to their website it's actually enough for a complete introductory Economics course.  He just finished What Ever Happened to Penny Candy? for his Ambleside Year 7 reading, so between the two books I'll feel very comfortable giving him a credit for Economics on his transcript!

And as far as the elementary series goes...they are just plain fun.  My 5 (now 6 year old) loves it.  We just started the second book, Butterflies.  We actually ended up using these in our Morning Time because everybody wanted to hear the story!  We read the lesson together during Morning Time, and then I work just with my 6 year old answering the lesson questions later on.  

I've heard many people question whether Life of Fred is really enough for a "complete" math curriculum.  The verdict is still out on that for me for the elementary series.  My 6 year old still does a little work in a more "traditional" math workbook too.  We sort of alternate between the two.  But their upper level books are definitely enough.  There aren't a ton of practice questions, but the questions require some serious thought, and often multiple steps.  And they do cover more math "topics" in greater depth than other math curricula I have seen.

More Math...Coming Next Time!

I'll continue telling you all about our math curriculum journey in the next post, including what we do with our "wild card" child and what we do to challenge our kid that loves math!  

In addition, my free Curriculum Checklist is ready for you to download!  If you're new here, simply subscribe to Full and Generous Life by entering your email in the sidebar or at the bottom of the page and you will receive directions in your inbox.  If you're already a subscriber, you can just enter your email address again and you'll get the new link.  (Don't worry, you won't get multiple copies of every blog post because you subscribed more than once!)  There are lots of ways you can use this resource.  I designed it to work specifically with the Ambleside Online curriculum, but you could also use it to help you plan any living book-style education.  If you are designing your own curriculum, use it to help you make sure you've "covered all the bases".  Or use it twice each year: once at the beginning to plan what you intend to do, and once at the end of the year as a record of what you actually covered (because plans often change!)  I find it helpful just to see everything listed out on one page for each student!  Please note that this may or may not be enough "formal" record keeping depending on your state's regulations.  Here in Michigan we really have no requirements for record keeping, reporting, etc.  But you may need to do more, so make sure you are informed.  I know this will be a handy resource for your homeschool!

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