Virtual Curriculum Fair- Math and Logic: Patterns and Reasoning

This is the second week of the Virtual Curriculum Fair hosted by Homeschooling Hearts and Minds. Today’s topics are math and logic.

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I’m going to tell a little story about math curriculum in this post.

Once upon a time, there was a mom who wanted to have the best ever in all curriculum. She was also very easily influenced by the curriculum that others loved. And when she met homeschool friends who loved their math curriculum, she found herself longing to use the same curriculum. This resulted in changing the math curriculum for her children multiple times. And her children are left with a little math whiplash and quite a bit of math confusion.

We began our homeschooling adventure using all ABEKA curriculum including ABEKA math. I had used ABEKA when I taught in a private Christian school, and it was the curriculum I felt most comfortable with.

As I became more comfortable homeschooling, I began to look at some other options. I found myself really loving the Charlotte Mason methods of education, and we moved away from so much structured curriculum to more living books. I began to look at our math with a critical eye also. I didn’t feel as if the kids- my two oldest then- were really understanding the concepts of what they were learning. They could memorize the process, but they didn’t really understand why they were doing it.

A friend of mine had gone all out with Math-U-See about this time. She loved it and gave me glowing reports. We ended up going to the homeschool convention with her that year, and  I came home with Alpha and Beta booksand DVDs and a kindergarten book along with a full set of the manipulative blocks.

I was sure that this was the answer to all our math issues, and we began the next school year happily working on Math-U-See.

Unfortunately my love didn’t last too long. Charles hated the mastery approach. Unlike some traditional math books, Math-U-See doesn’t present information in a cyclical manner. Instead the child works on a topic until mastery. So in the first book, there is only addition and subtraction. And that’s all they cover. It drove Charles crazy. He also never liked the DVDs. (In Math-U-See, there is a DVD with a teacher that is supposed to be a part of each course.)

The other problem I began to notice was with Kathryne. She was getting into a little more advanced science reading, and there were math concepts that she needed for science that she had not covered yet in math because she was still working through the mastery driven books.

So, I began to take a look at a math program I was very familiar with just because so many homeschoolers seemed to use it-Saxon Math .

There were many things I liked about Saxon. I liked the cyclical approach. I liked the review. I liked the fact practice. The only thing I didn’t like- and had been warned of by other homeschoolers- was the rote practice. I did often adapt by having the kids do the odds or the evens and not have to do every problem.

The other curriculum changes I had made were, I still think, for good reasons. However at this point, I made a bad decision.

Charles did not like math. It was too rote, too much laborious practice. I listened to his complaints and, instead of teaching him perseverance, I began to look for something else.

I had heard of Life of Fred before. It’s a math program often mentioned in Charlotte Mason homeschooling circles. Last spring I began to take a serious look at Life of Fred .

Life of Fred is very different. The books aren’t grade leveled. There are ten elementary books. There is are three intermediate books. There are five books in what they consider the “prealgebra program.” And there are four high school math books along with extra practice books. Life of fred also offers some advanced math that they consider university level.

The books are not like workbooks. They are stories centered around a kid named Fred who is a university professor at the age of five. All sorts of interesting things happen to Fred, and as he lives life, he uses math. As he uses math, the kids get to practice math concepts on their own. There are never long pages of problems to work. Instead there are small sections throughout the reading called “Your Turn to Play” which contain 1-6ish problems. The kids are supposed to solve the problems- either in their heads or on paper and then check the answers by turning the page.

I was drawn to them because they seemed to make math so relevant. They made math fun. I hated math and my kids- especially Charles- were beginning to hate math. So I took the leap.

I bought the elementary set for Ashlyne and Rachel with the plan to start at the beginning and move as quickly as we could, so that they would cover up to the approximate level that they should be. I bought prealgebra and algebra for Kathryne and Charles.

We all started out great. The kids enjoyed the stories. We had fun supper time conversations about math. Math was relevant. It was meaningful. It was fun!

And then trouble struck. Toward the end of the second prealgebra book, Charles began to struggle with a lack of understanding. And there was a problem. Because this wasn’t a workbook, I couldn’t look back at example problems. And when I thought that he might be understanding, there weren’t any extra problems to practice. He had already done the one problem of that type in the “Your Turn To Play.”

We stumbled along. I tried to find websites with videos to help explain. I found lots of material at Kahn Academy. It’s a little difficult to navigate, but there are so many great teaching videos, and it’s all free! We made it through the fall. About a month before Christmas break, Kathryne started the algebra book. And then it all fell through.

There were so many concepts she didn’t understand. I didn’t understand them because I didn’t have many problems to look at. I couldn’t find problems for her to practice. I couldn’t find videos to teach the concepts. The extra book we had purchased that supposedly had complete answers didn’t really seem complete, and studying the partial answers didn’t seem to help.

I’ve reached an impasse. I have no homeschool budget right now. And Kathryne cannot complete Algebra using the Life of Fred book. Charles is also ready for algebra now. I’m even beginning to struggle with the way they explain things to Ashlyne and Rachel in the upper elementary books. The way some things are presented has been very confusing, and I’m having to do math with them every day, so I can try to make things more clear.

So, to scrape by, I’ve bought them each Spectrum Algebra . I’m not extremely happy with this. Spectrum is a great review book. We’ve used them before. But it is not really a complete course. So I’m hoping it will get them through and make them ready for at least Algebra 1 next year.

And then this mama has learned her lesson. We are going back to Saxon, and we are staying there. There is no math that I am going to love perfectly. There is no math my kids will love perfectly. But we can use what works.


Logic is much easier to talk about (and not nearly as lengthy.)  Kathryne is doing Logic as an elective this year. It’s recommended by My Father’s World. I’ve also done a little logic for Kathryne and Charles together over the last few years, but Charles isn’t doing it this year because My Father’s World doesn’t recommend it for 8th grade.

Kathryne is currently using The Fallacy Detective and The Thinking Toolbox. She is liking both of these, and I read The Fallacy Detective out loud to both of them a couple of years ago, and they both enjoyed it.

The study of logic also is wrapped up in all of our discussions. Because we’ve read logic together, we can anazlyze arguments we hear. Discussing- lots and lots of discussing- is the best way to help kids think logically in my opinion.

I know this post has been a little lengthy. I decided to share it all because I think wanting to get the next best thing is a trap that we often fall into as homeschoolers. I hope that my experiences can help someone else to not make the same mistakes I’ve made.

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