Quiz: Is It Time for a New Math Curriculum?

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?

Time for a New Homeschool Math Program Jam

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.

Scoring Guide

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?

If you need more teaching guidance, brush up your skills by joining my Quick Wins newsletter or checking out my course on teaching elementary math.

If your child needs more practice, try adding some math fact games or practice workbooks.

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.

Time for a New Homeschool Math Program Get one

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!

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  • Tara Vos says:

    For the last 2 years I’ve had 3 kids in 3 different math curricula. At the time I was making math choices it seemed right to make individual curriculum choices to best fit each child, but it was a bit much for me as the teacher. Next year I add a 4th child and I was already feeling a little dizzy! ? It was hard to keep track of who had what skills-some math was mastery & one was spiral.

    We reevaluated math last month and 2 of my students were not progressing as both they and myself would like. We are switching everyone to either MUS or Math Mammoth next year (4 kids & 2 curricula.) We are all excited about it.

    • Kate Snow says:

      Good for you for stopping and evaluating, Tara! I hope MUS and Math Mammoth end up working beautifully for you!

  • Jillian says:

    Ah! See, I’ve been bouncing around between Saxon Math and Life of Fred with some non-textbook exercises. Life of Fred is working well, but I can’t seem to let go of Saxon – it’s like C’s and B’s split doe the middle – he HATES the drill and kill but learns the concepts REALLY WELL with it. And it’s pretty hands off for mom, which is key when you’re juggling a lot of kids!

    I’ve considered scrapping it all (although we’ll never stop Life of Fred) and trying Singapore. I want something Saxon without SO MUCH drilling and maybe with some color for my visual learner. **sigh**

    What’s a homeschool mom to do??

    • Carla says:

      I am interested if you get any advice here. We are doing Saxon also and after starting with abeka this is a much better fit, however like you it’s alot of drill everyday. And we seem to move kinda slow through it. I also would like it to be a little more fun, and interesting. I have thought about adding something to it but then it would take us even longer to get through the book. I haven’t really tried life of Fred, how do you add that in and not spend all day on math?

      • Valerie says:

        Life of Fred is great. I use it as a one lesson a week thing.. but in reality sometimes I won’t touch it for a month and then we do 4 lessons in a row or do a whole book in summer. It’s very flexible and perfect for enrichment in my humble opinion.

        • Jillian says:

          I have done it daily, once a week, take a long break and come back to it – it is indeed very flexible and we just love the story. Even working through the problems at the end of each chapter is more fun, despite actually being tougher Math than their regular curriculum.

    • Colleen Wachob says:

      I have never used Saxon, but I have a child for whom math (with both horizons and math u see) used to be all c answers on the quiz. She did not do well with drill and repitition. I think God has matured her heart in the last two years, so I won’t give curriculum all the credit, but Singapore works very well for us. I answered the quiz with lots of Bs, which seems miraculous. Singapore is so interesting; concepts are taught and repeated, but always in new ways and with critical thinking required. If your child is bogged down with repition and a boring presentation, Singapore might be a great fit.

    • Kate Snow says:

      The excessive practice is definitely both a plus and minus of Saxon. Like you said, Jillian, it really forces kids to master the procedures…but sometimes it makes them hate math at the same time. Life of Fred sounds like a perfect way to supplement Saxon with some fun and lightness.

      Singapore might be a good fit for you. (And if you’re thinking about it, I have a full review over on my site.) It’s pretty independent, and the manipulatives and pictures are great for visual learners. But if you want to keep things simple and stick with Saxon, you might just try crossing out some of the problems to make it less repetitious. (I know that may sound like heresy, since Saxon emphasizes doing ALL the problems–but I firmly believe that one size does not fit all, and that Saxon just has too much drill for some kids.)

      • Jillian says:

        Thanks! We do actually do less – one kid does the evens and the other does the odds. I’ve been thinking about Singapore for a while now, though and have friends that really like it.

  • Our math curriculum is working FABULOUSLY, Kate! 😉 (We’re following her Preschool Math at Home and can’t rave about it enough!)

  • Denise says:

    Having done Saxon with my older students, I now see them struggling for a more complete applicable understanding of higher mathematics. My children, who do higher math levels, struggle to understand why the problems work out the way they do. This is something they are frustrated about. My daughter’s college professor suggested I switch to something different for my younger children. Would Singapore math be something I should consider? Will this bring math off the page and into real world situations so that their math studies prove more useful to them and allow them to think through more complex math without a math book in hand?

    • Kate Snow says:

      Yes, Singapore math emphasizes a thorough conceptual understanding of math, along with plenty of practice to become automatic and fluent at solving problems. It has a lot of challenging word problems, too.

      • Jen says:

        Kate,
        Would you give this same response about Math Mammoth?
        Thanks!

        • Kate Snow says:

          Yes, Math Mammoth is also a thorough, conceptually-oriented program that really requires kids to think and understand math. It’s not quite as heavy on word problems as Singapore Math, but it’s still very strong. (You can check out my full review here.)

  • Valerie says:

    Do you recommend a math curriculum for kindergarten or skip the curriculum and do games ? Then start in 1st grade with a curriculum?
    My second son will be starting K next year and with my first I DID use a curriculum for K but now I wonder if it was not necessary since most of it was all repeat in the 1st grade book and or could be easy picked up from “life”.

    • Kate Snow says:

      I do recommend doing some simple, hands-on math with kindergartners so that they’re ready to hit the ground running in first grade. It’s certainly possible to make up activities yourself…but it depends on whether or not you’ll be able to do math consistently without a planned-out curriculum. Personally, I’m much more likely to make subjects happen when I don’t have to decide every day what we’re going to do, so I used a formal math curriculum with both of my kids when they were in K.

  • Kristel says:

    My oldest started in Saxon, it didn’t last long though we quickly switched to Singapore, it got the job done but she never enjoyed it. She finished Singapore & is continuing on in Teaching Textbooks. Math is still “not her thing” but she is excelling at it without Any complaint Win!
    My second oldest is very kiensthetic we started in K with Rightstart Math it is amazing! We will keep with it till we finish in a few years then take the placement to finish up with Teaching Textbooks.

  • noreen says:

    You overlooked the “D” answers! Math goes too fast, isn’t challenging, is boring, etc… We needed to alter and add curricula in order to speed up to meet my son’s needs.

    • Kate Snow says:

      Very true, Noreen! Our kids are definitely not one-size-fits-all (or three-sizes-fits-all). 🙂

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