Math is one of those subjects that tends to cause struggles for homeschool families.
The sheer number of math curriculum companies and titles out there don’t help. It may seem “everyone” is using a particular curriculum and it is producing such gifted, wonderful scholars, and isn’t that just what you want your kids to be? Don’t beat yourself up. Math is the leading cause of insanity in homeschool moms.
You knew that, right?
Changing to a certain curriculum almost never is THE answer. It’s just not that easy. So what’s the difference in these math programs, anyway? There are two main sequencing styles among curriculum publishers: Mastery and Spiral.
Mastery-based programs tend to focus on a topic or a set of topics for a period of time, and then move on to others. Some programs break them into chapters. Others break them into worktexts, where they complete 10 worktexts in a school year and each focuses on a different topic. One in particular takes on a topic for the entire school year.
Throughout these programs there is some review, possibly a “Cumulative Review” toward the end of each unit, but the main focus is on moving forward through the topics. Mastery-based programs include:
- Alpha Omega Lifepacs
- Bob Jones Math
- Keys To…
- Math Mammoth Blue Series
- Khan Academy
- Modern Curriculum Press
- Developmental Math
Spiral teaching programs have review built into the daily lessons. The lessons will have a focus of one or two new concepts, and there will be problems for students to work out from the current lesson. There will also be other problems pulled from previous lessons so that there is constant review. No topic is left alone for long.
Spiral programs include:
- Christian Light
- Teaching Textbooks
Which method is best?
That depends entirely on your students. Some kids need to have time to focus on just one concept at a time, until they fully grasp it. Once they do, they are ready to move on.
The nice thing about math is that it is progressive. One concept builds upon another, and another, until they have reached higher math and are using all of the previous concepts to work at a higher level.
The struggle comes in when the program moves too fast through the concepts. This is where you need to know your child’s learning style.
Does she take a long time to understand concepts? She may do better with a program that works through with mastery in mind. Does she require a lot of review? A spiral method may be just the thing.
On the other hand, some kids struggle with “jumping around” from concept to concept so much and some just don’t like so much review.
Sometimes you have a child that needs both.
When working with a child that needs lots of time to master concepts, but tends to forget things if left too long, there are practice books and online programs you can use to keep her skills sharp in between. When used for a short time but consistently each day, there should be no loss of skills between units that use them. Xtra Math is one of our favorite sites for skill practice.
What about gaps?
Honestly, there will always be gaps, no matter which curriculum you use, or what school they go to. Gaps are invitable because there is no way to teach EVERYTHING that is available to be learned. The key is to be consistent.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter what curriculum you use. (Gasp! Blasphemy!) Pick one and stick with it. Eventually they all cover everything your kids will need to learn. It’s the moving from one program to another that leaves the biggest holes.