Imagine you’re at a beautiful gourmet food store. As you wheel your cart past glistening grapes and baskets of freshly baked ciabatta, you come across a table with samples of 24 different kinds of artisanal jam.
Every flavor you can imagine is there: strawberry, apricot, and some you’ve never even heard of. You try a few samples and the smiling salesperson hands you a coupon.
Do you think you’d buy a jar?
What if there were only 6 samples on the table?
In 2000, psychologists actually tried this. One day, they put out 24 types of jam. Another day, they put out just 6 kinds.
People were more interested in the larger display of jam. But when it came to actually buying the jam, the people who had fewer choices bought ten times as much jam as the people who saw 24 samples. And they were much more satisfied with their choice!
The problem? Psychologists have found that having too many choices leads to “anxiety, regret, excessively high expectations, and self-blame if the choices don’t work out.”
This holds true whether we’re talking about jam or jobs or jeans—or even homeschool math curriculum.
We have a tremendous variety of homeschool math curricula available to us. (In fact, Rainbow Resource now carries nearly 50(!) math programs.) With so many choices available, no wonder we often have the nagging feeling that perhaps there is something better out there.
If you’re wondering about whether you should stick with your math curriculum, I’ve put together a quick 5-question quiz to help you decide. It’s not scientific, but I hope that it will help you think through what’s working and not working about your current math curriculum so you can make a good choice for next year.
To take the quiz, just grab a pen and jot down your answer to each of the questions. You’ll find the scoring guide at the end.
Question 1: Time
The “right” amount of time for a math lesson varies a ton, depending on the curriculum, age of the child, and child’s general speed. (After all, if your child is a slow-poke at getting her shoes and socks on, she’ll probably be a slow-poke at math, too.) 45 minutes might be far too long for an active first-grader, but just right for a studious fifth-grader.
How much time does math take each day?
A. It’s a little more time than I’d like, but we’re making it work.
B. We spend a reasonable amount of time on math each day.
C. It feels like we’re doing math ALL DAY LONG!
Question 2: Parent Support
Unless your child is very responsible and independent, you’ll need to spend some time actively teaching math most days. Well-written teacher’s manuals can make a huge difference in how confident you feel as a teacher.
Does your curriculum equip you to teach well?
A. My curriculum has some good ideas, but I could use more guidance.
B. My math program provides a lot of support. I feel well-equipped for daily teaching.
C. What teacher’s manual? My math program doesn’t provide much help, and I feel like I’m always winging it.
Question 3: Math Tears
Even if your curriculum is a perfect fit, there may be some occasional tears and frustration. (Especially if you have a child who’s prone to be a little dramatic anyway!) But frequent crying and tantrums are a sign that something isn’t working.
How often does your child cry or get very frustrated during math?
A. Once a week or so. Usually, math time goes okay, but sometimes he loses it.
B. Very rarely. He’s usually pretty happy during math time.
C. Almost every day. I get tense just pulling out the workbook because I know what’s coming…
Question 4: Progress
When children are thriving in math, they understand both the “how” and the “why”. They solve problems confidently and understand conceptually why the steps they followed make sense.
How do you feel about your child’s progress in math?
A. She’s doing okay. She gets most of the problems right, but I’m not sure how well she’s really understanding the material. OR She understands the concepts, but she makes quite a few mistakes when solving problems.
B. She’s doing great! I’m pleased with how well she’s understanding concepts and solving problems.
C. I’m really worried that she’s not understanding math well and that she’s getting behind.
Question 5: Happiness
Math lessons aren’t going to be everyone’s idea of a good time. But even if math’s not your favorite subject, it shouldn’t be something you dread. Programs that use games, real-life examples, or hands-on activities can help make math time more enjoyable for everyone.
How much do you and your child enjoy math on a daily basis?
A. Neither of us love it, but it’s fine.
B. My child and I both look forward to math time.
C. Math time is my least-favorite part of the day.
Mostly As: Try some tweaks.
Your math curriculum may not be working perfectly, but it sounds like it’s getting the job done. Even if it’s not perfect, there are a lot of advantages to sticking with a program. You and your kids don’t have to waste time and energy getting used to a new book, and you don’t have to worry about your child missing topics as you switch from one book to another.
Rolling up your sleeves and tweaking your curriculum may make it work better for you. These “tools” will help you customize your curriculum to make it a better fit for your family.
If math is taking too long, try crossing out repetitive problems. Are there any components of your math program that don’t seem to benefit your child (and that you could skip)? Could your child do some of the problems orally or on a whiteboard rather than writing everything out on her own?
But if you’re facing constant tantrums or major worries about your child’s progress, it may be time for a change. (If that’s the case for you, see “Mostly Cs” below.)
Mostly Bs: Hooray! Your math curriculum is working well!
Your math curriculum sounds like it’s a great fit for your family. Don’t worry about those other 49 math programs out there and enjoy learning math together.
Mostly Cs: Run, don’t walk, to the nearest homeschool convention or bookstore.
Yikes, it sounds like math is just. not. working. for your family. A new curriculum could make a big difference in restoring some peace at math time (and helping your child understand math better, too).
If the thought of making a change makes you feel nervous, check out my article about the potential benefits of changing curriculum (and ways to overcome the challenges).
And if you’re not sure where to start in choosing a new curriculum, take a look at my homeschool math curriculum reviews and buying guides to help you get started.
Sometimes, your family may be excited to try something new and exotic…but other times, everybody will be happiest with plain old grape jelly. I wish you well as you discern the best homeschool math curriculum choice for your family!