So, I’m homeschooling my second first grader (Did that make sense? My second son has reached first grade) and we’re on our FOURTH math curriculum. Actually, our curriculum-hopping spanned second grade as well. Kind of embarrassing considering that I was an education major and all!
Along the way, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions:
- No curriculum is perfect.
- Early math is best learned through a balance of both practical life experiences and book work – some programs focus on drill and others focus on building number sense and thinking skills. I think that you need both.
The other day, it dawned on me that first grade math can be summed up with a fairly simple list of skills, and most of the skills can be learned through regular life. Here is what I came up with. Keep in mind that I am not a school administrator or a curriculum writer – just a mom who has used a whole bunch of math programs!
Basic Skills for First Grade Math
- Count to 100
- Write and recognize numbers to 100 (A list I read online said 999, but none of the math programs that we have used have gone up that far in first grade)
- Place value for the ones and tens columns
- Skip count by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s
- Recognize shapes
- Recognize left and right
- Ordinal numbers – 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc
- Learn the days of the week and months of the year
- Tell time to the half hour, then to the quarter hour and minute
- Count money
- Add without carrying and subtract without re-grouping
- Read basic charts and bar graphs
- Basic fractions – half, quarter, third
- Measuring with both standard and non-standard units
Saxon Math: We started with Saxon 1st grade in Kindergarten for both Aidan and Gresham (I think that Saxon runs slightly behind). Saxon uses an approach called an “incremental approach.” This basically means that in each lesson, your child will learn a little bit of new material and will review several different concepts – counting by fives, identifying shapes, and a few addition problems, for example. The parent notebook tells you exactly what to say and do during the lesson. The lesson part in the parent notebook includes hands-on activities, and then there are worksheets to complete.
Pros: Easy to use, covers everything that your children need to know, prepares children for standardized tests. I really like the Saxon “Meeting Book.” We are currently using this for Gresham. Every day, he gets out his math meeting book and fills in the date on the calendar and records the weather on a bar graph. So good for first graders!
Cons: Learning is disjointed because the concepts are presented in such little pieces. I feel like the kids never get to really delve into a concept and master it. It’s also fairly boring, especially if your child does not need a lot of review. Here is a good review with some more thoughts on Saxon and concerns with the program. The more I have thought about it, I think that my main problem with Saxon is that it has not been a good use of my children’s time. They do not need to “color the circles red and color the triangles yellow.” That doesn’t teach anything about shapes! That teaches how to fill in worksheets and take standardized tests. I don’t want them to be unable to fill in worksheets or take standardized tests, but I don’t feel like we need to work on those skills every day.
Math-U-See: I didn’t finish 1st grade Saxon (his kindergarten year) with Aidan because we were both so bored to death. During the summer, I tried to figure out what to do for first grade! I decided to try Math-U-See. We borrowed the first grade Math-U-See and went through it quickly before staring second grade Math-U-See partway through his first grade year. Aidan enjoyed watching the DVD lessons for Math-U-See, and the hands-on approach was helpful for teaching borrowing and re-grouping. We still have the Math-U-See block set, and they are hands down the best manipulatives for teaching adding and subtracting!
Pros: Good for the visual and kinesthetic learner. It’s very different from other approaches, so if your child is struggling with one curriculum, it might be worth it to try Math-U-See, especially if you can borrow the parent book and DVD and just buy the student workbook. I like the manipulatives, because unlike cuisenaire rods, each unit is marked on the longer rods. One activity that I loved from M-U-S was building a 10’s fort. The child uses the blocks to build a tower with all of the ways to make 10 (a 2 block plus an 8 block, etc.) Very visual. The Math-U-See website has a great online drill program that you can use for free without buying their curriculum! We use it all the time.
Cons: Not comprehensive enough – does not give enough attention to time, money, and measurement. In the higher levels, the numbers get really huge. For example, instead of moving on to new material, the second grade book has students adding and subtracting 4 digit numbers (and I think it even went up to 5 digits). This gets tedious for young children. Only one new concept is introduced per week, which was not enough for Aidan. Every workbook page is the same (not the same problems, but the same skills) for a week.
Horizons: While I was going through 2nd grade Math-U-See with Aidan and realized that it was not comprehensive enough, I started supplementing with Horizons 2nd grade because some friends had given us that curriculum. Horizons might just be my least favorite math curriculum!
Pros: Like Saxon, Horizon will get the job done. Your children will learn math. They will be prepared for standardized tests.
Cons: The parent book was my biggest complaint. There are way too many learning objectives for each day. One or two of them would be new, and then there would be up to 5 review objectives. I felt like I couldn’t glace at the book and see what we were supposed to be learning that day, and for a busy mom, that just doesn’t work! The homework was also pretty long.
Making Math Meaningful: (from Cornerstone Curriculum) A friend introduced me to Making Math Meaningful from Cornerstone Curriculum, and I decided to give it a try. I ordered the second grade book for Aidan to use in his 2nd grade year even though we had already completed second grade Math-U-See.
**Quick Side Note: Although we started with 1st grade math in kindergarten, we did not stay a grade level ahead. I have received advice from veteran homeschool moms to not get too ahead in math, even for “smart” kids. Even really intelligent kids are not often developmentally ready to do abstract thinking (Algebra 1) earlier than 8th grade.
Making Math Meaningful is really different from other math curriculum. Since this post is about first grade math, I’ll focus on the first grade level.
Gresham’s first lesson was about equal and not equal. He cut paper strips out of his workbook and compared the lengths to see if they were equal or not equal. He learned how the write the signs and write expressions like A (paper strip A) = D (paper strip D). (For comparison, Saxon first grade lesson one is on counting to 10.)
We did activities with pouring water to see if different containers were equal or not equal (compare a tall thin glass with a short fat one – it blows their minds at that age!). Gresham built a Duplo tower that was “equal” to his favorite toy shark:
I noticed that Gresham was starting to recognize equal and not equal in real life – “Look, this stick is equal to that stick!” After several days of practicing equal and not equal, Gresham learned about greater than and less than. For that concept, one of his activities was to play a card game. We made two sets of cards numbered 1-10. Each player would lay down a card at the same time, and would take turns placing a greater than, less than, or equal sign between the two number cards. Gresham loved it! Math is fun when it feels like a card game! He is currently learning about adding and subtracting at the same time – I’ve never seen an approach like this, and I really like it overall.
Pros: Making Math Meaningful is a bargain at $45 for both the student and parent books. I didn’t buy their manipulatives because we have such an assortment of stuff from our zillions of math programs! Making Math Meaningful teaches kids number sense, logic, and to really think. It has a lot of real life application and hands-on activities. In the upper elementary levels (Aidan is doing 4th grade right now), it is strong on teaching kids to choose the correct operation in a word problem.
Cons: MMM can be too abstract at times. Abstract thinking is a developmental thing – not an intelligence thing or an instructional thing. That being said, Aidan cried over one abstract concept in 2nd grade, but when we came back to the exact same concept in third grade, it was no problem. It is also too light on drill – I love the thinking skills, but kids need to have their math facts memorized. To remedy this, I’ve been supplementing with Rod and Staff math. Their math is very affordable at about $15 for the student textbooks (you don’t need the parent book), and it’s good math with a classic approach. I spent about $60 total to purchase two complete 4th grade programs for Aidan, and when MMM gets too abstract or he needs more drill practice, I pull out Rod and Staff. Gresham has been doing mainly MMM, but I’m getting ready to order first grade Rod and Staff for him.
Update April 15, 2013: After using MMM for all of first grade, I really like it! It’s tough at times, but develops really good thinking skills. I still recommend supplementing with additional drill.
Whew! Congratulations if you made it this far!
To sum up, my current plan is to use Making Math Meaningful with Rod and Staff as a supplement for both Aidan and Gresham (and Owen and Jonathan when they get old enough) through the elementary years. When we get to junior high, we’ll see where we go from there!
- Don’t be afraid to scrap a curriculum that isn’t working.
- If you don’t like how your curriculum presents a concept, scrap that lesson and do it your way. You’re the parent, and you know how your child learns the best!