Category Archives: Math

Helpful Changes

Last year I made a few changes which helped me streamline as I’m adding children, but not hours, to my life.

  1. Instead of scheduling a 36 week school year, plus 3 weeks of exams, I scheduled a 30 week school year. Each 10 week term is divided in half with a “project week” and ends with an exam week. I added the project week because I always have ideas for fun activities and outings during the year, but in my head they take away from “school” days and put us “behind” so it’s hard for me to actually take the time to do them. By scheduling a week for activities, it helps legitimize the activities in my head. It’s mostly a mental thing for me, but it gave me more freedom this year. We did a big collaborative painting one week. We went to the zoo and a museum several times…and didn’t do school when we got home. The last term, we shipped Kids Tres and Cuatro off to their FL grandparents and they had a 10 day project week of kayaking, swimming, fishing, making slime, building styrofoam boats, having tea parties, playing at the beach, and launching rockets. Kids Uno and Dos had less fun–they spent their week helping me with some organizing and cleaning, but they did a lot of reading, some weaving on a new loom, and going to 7-ll for Slurpees. 🙂 Exams don’t take us a full week, but scheduling a week for them gives me more mental flexibility. As far as planning…books and curricula divide just as nicely by 30 as they do by 36. Imagine that! Overall, decreasing my school year by 6 weeks eased a lot of pressure on me to fit everything in, so I’m keeping that schedule for next year.
  2. I started the year with 4 kids using Ray’s Primary, Intellectual, and Practical Math as their main math curriculum, supplemented by Miquon, Strayor-Upton, and a couple living math books. Within a week or so, I was going nuts trying to keep over a dozen math balls in the air. And the teacher key for Ray’s is horribly incomplete; instead of just being able to flip a page and check the kids’ work, I frequently had to work the problems myself because the answer was not in the key. I just do not have time for that! So I ended up putting the Year 3 and 5 students in Strayor-Upton (which is written to the student and has a full answer key), supplemented by Miquon or living books twice a week and doing Ray’s Intellectual orally twice a week (to keep up their mental math skills). The Year 2 and Year .5 still did Ray’s Primary or Practical with me every day since their math is still all oral. But I limited their lessons to 10-15 minutes daily, which kept my time very manageable, and kept them alert through the whole lesson. The Year 2 also had Miquon 2 days a week, and I Love Math weekly. So the math year ended much less frantically than it began. I’m definitely keeping that format for next year.
  3. The other positive change was how I laid out the schedules for each term. Luke kindly reformatted them for me so they are easier to read (his word processing skills are much more current than mine). And instead of scheduling every single box to check every day or week, we made some more open-ended boxes. That gave my box-checking mind more breathing room. As I plan 2018, I think I’ll use even more open-ended schedules (more logging and less scheduling). I feel like we have a good handle on a Charlotte Mason lifestyle (outdoor time, nature study, art, music, living books and things, practical skills, etc.) and instead of planning everything in advance, I can just fill things in as we do them as part of life. Serendipity meets Type A, or something like that. 🙂
  4. Finally, in looking for other ways to streamline, I calculated that I spend about 20 minutes each night writing next-day lists for 4 kids. I think I can get that down to 5-10 minutes if I template a to-do list, print it, and fill in the relevant bits for each kid. As much as I love lists, I’d rather spend less time writing them…and more time blogging about them 😉

How We Do…Math


That was my homeschool math experience.  😦 I guess I liked it early on, when there were speed drills, and counting M&Ms that I got to eat, and pennies that I got to keep…but fast-forward a couple years, and math was the most misery-inducing subject imaginable. I finished homeschool knowing I was horrible at math, and had to take an intermediate algebra class at the community college before going on to Algebra 101 or whatever it was….and I almost laughed out loud when the sweet professor told me I was good at the class and should go on to higher math! No thanks….but it was amazing what a difference it made having a professor teach me concepts, and having tutors available to help, rather than staring at a workbook page and trying to figure out problems that didn’t come out right no matter what I did. This is not meant to reflect poorly on my parents; homeschooling options were a lot more limited in the ’80s and ’90s than today!

And Ambleside Online, like most un-boxed homeschool curricula, leaves it up to the parent to choose a method for learning math. So, when it came to our children and math, I had two goals: They will not be afraid of math, and they will have a strong foundation in math so they can choose STEM careers if that’s the direction they want to take. And I decided that math would be one of the core elements of our homeschooling (along with writing and reading). So I started sorting through all the options; good old process of elimination. A Beka–bad memories. Saxon–maybe, but so many years of workbooks. Singapore–very interesting, but still a workbook…maybe later. Math-U-See and Math Mammoth–weird names 🙂 An abacus based curriculum a friend gave us–I couldn’t figure out the abacus before Kid Uno started kindergarten 😦 Ray’s–hmmm, that looked promising! A hundred year plus track record, inexpensive, non-consumable, compact (one little book for 2 years of school), all mental math and no writing, lots of manipulative practice, teacher intensive…It has been a good fit so far. Teacher intensive is important for reading, writing, and arithmetic, in my opinion. I discovered the Eclectic Manual of Methods about halfway through the Primary book, and it has been a great help in knowing how to use Ray’s. (BTW, the manual also contains teacher instruction for the McGuffey’s Readers, as well as other vintage books). So Ray’s is our main math source. We do it daily, usually a lesson or half a lesson. Kid Uno started when she was about 6. We first worked through the Addition section, and then the Subtraction section, using beans or marbles or matches for each problem. Then we went back through both sections, alternating addition and subtraction problems, and she answered them without using manipulatives, unless she got stuck on a problem.

But I also wanted to have the kids learn things from different angles; that way, if one approach doesn’t click, hopefully they won’t get bogged down and discouraged. So I started looking into some supplements. Life of Fred looked interesting. I bought the first couple elementary books, and Kid Uno loves LoF (she likes the stories and the questions) and I enjoy reading it. DH thinks it’s weird; obviously, he must have a different sense of humor! 🙂 I know some people use it as their main math, but I like it as a supplement…we read it once or twice a week, and I love how it introduces “advanced” concepts so naturally, and it just feels like a lighthearted approach. It is spendy, so it’s definitely the frosting on the cake. If I had to drop anything based on budget, LoF would be the first to go. Miquon is our other supplement, which Kid Uno does once or twice a week. It’s a very novel approach for me, so there is a little bit of prep involved before I hand her a few pages to complete. I definitely need the Lab Sheet Annotations–I don’t think I would understand how Miquon works without it. I haven’t used their other two books for teachers. I like that it gives her a bit of practice with writing and reading math problems, and how it covers math topics with a less straightforward approach than Ray’s. It also fills in some gaps (telling time, measurement, geometry). And although it’s consumable, it’s cheap enough that I don’t mind buying it for each child. Our final supplement is living books–there are some fun math books out there. Life of Fred fits in this category, and I also bought the I Love Math series, and some Anno books, and a few of the Young Math series. Our library has some random good options, too. Kid Uno picks whichever book she wants, and reads it for about 20-30 minutes once a week.

So far, so good! With Ray’s, Kid Uno covered Addition and Subtraction in Year 1, and I anticipate her working through Multiplication and Division in Year 2, as well as the measurements and other miscellaneous topics at the end of Ray’s. I plan to work through the Intellectual and Practical books after she finishes the Primary. According to the Manual of Methods, they are supposed to be used simultaneously, not subsequently the way Mott Media shows them.

She worked through a good chunk of the Miquon Orange and Red books; I think she’ll finish the series by the end of Year 3. And we will probably just keep reading through the Life of Fred series.

I also have Kitchen Table Math which I read and liked but haven’t really used. Maybe I’ll do some of it with the younger kids. Three or four different math approaches have been more than enough for me to juggle. 🙂 Ruth Beechik’s The Three R’s and You Can Teach Your Child Successfully: Grades 4-8 have been really useful resources for me, and they include a scope and sequence for each grade, if that is important to you. There are plenty of other resources out there for those of us without a strong background in math who might be a bit intimidated at teaching it to our kids!

After the kids complete the Ray’s series, I’m not sure what to do….maybe Singapore? Maybe Khan? We have a couple years to decide. Meanwhile, Kid Uno and Kid Dos are counting the money they just earned selling lemonade at the park 🙂