This is the third installment in a series of articles about homeschooling preschool and early elementary school – sometimes referred to as the early years.
I want to stop and address one thing before we move on in this series. The ideas that I share in this series are what has worked (and not worked) for our family. The things that have worked for us may not work for your family. And this is totally and completely normal. All families are unique and it is your job to figure out what works best for your family. Please take the ideas that I offer and use what works for you and your children ignoring the rest.
I attended my first homeschool convention 5 months pregnant. I remember wandering through the endless vendor hall paging through the countless math curricula on display. I was intrigued by programs like Life of Fred (literature based!), Math-U-See (video teaching!) and Right Start (hands-on!). I was overwhelmed! It felt like I needed to make the right decision.
I simply could not envision how I would practically implement any of the programs as a new homeschooler to an energetic rising 5-year-old, a passionate 3 ½ year old and a baby slated to be born in August – right as we would begin our home education journey. To top things off, we were on the cusp of becoming full time entrepreneurs. We had a lot going on in our lives.
I found most math programs to be dry, boring and unimaginative. They were either lifeless single color pages of drill and kill problems or they lacked the hands-on application that I knew would be pivotal to my children enjoying math. Most of the curricula I paged through at that first conference lacked fun and engaging word problems with opportunities to play and problem solve. Others were so complicated that I had a hard time keeping track of the many books and manipulatives. I left that conference empty-handed.
After a lot of online searching, the only curriculum that met my expectations for play, inventiveness and rigor was Beast Academy by the Art of Problem Solving. The problem was that at the time it did not start until level 3 – which, as I understood it, was pretty advanced for the average third grader and better suited for the average fourth grader.
I had made a deal with myself early on in our homeschooling journey that I would not follow a curriculum, book or ideology that I was not excited about implementing. I knew that if I didn’t like a program, we would not use it regularly enough to justify the expense and shelf space. It would instead make me feel guilty and like I was failing. The curriculum would not be my master.
I had learned this lesson the hard way by purchasing curriculum to “try it out” and then realizing that it was not right for us or that my children were not developmentally ready. In my over eagerness I would purchase resources that I knew deep down would not fix the actual problems we were facing. Other times, we were simply having a bad day or a bad week and I was trying to course correct with a new program.
So I gave up and instead took a good look at our situation. Matthew had a keen interest in numbers, science, engineering and art. When I looked at the list of kindergarten-readiness math skills as well as the skills a kindergartener was “expected to master”, he already had them down. He had learned everything he needed to know in kindergarten before the age of 5 without a math curriculum or “formal instruction”. I felt that anything we would do over the next year would simply be icing on the cake. This is what I would tell myself on repeat any time that doubt would creep in or anxiety would rear its ugly head.
Around this time, I joined Read Aloud Revival membership. I didn’t know very many homeschoolers and wanted to find support and community in my new profession. In the membership forum there was an extremely active thread discussing natural learning in math. The discussion included several books and resources as well as ideas of ways to make math meaningful. Finding this thread felt like an answer to prayer. It was in this discussion thread that I found the Natural Math community and immediately ordered all of their books.
Between the Natural Math books along with several math picture book lists I found online I felt better able to build a play- and interest-based math curriculum. We began using these books alongside a few manipulatives and games that I had purchased. I also included a great deal of time cooking and baking in the kitchen.
I had embarked on this homeschooling journey to give my kids a unique education, tailor-made for who they were as unique individuals. I wanted to do things differently.
This was not an easy decision. It honestly, provoked a lot of fear and anxiety. To squelch the anxiety, I did what I always do in situations like this – I turned to books. These are some of the books that formed the basis of our curriculum and help to change my own thought process:
- Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
- The Three R’s by Ruth Beechick
- Sonlight Preschool and Pre-K book lists the math- and science-centric books were especially helpful.
- Family Math for Young Children I took this out from the library so many times that I finally bought it!
- Family Math this book is a sequel to the previous book on this list. It includes an incredible number of activities for the whole family including math games, application and play.
- Five In a Row the guides include math application ideas for each book!
- Natural Math books and forums offer many wonderful ideas to add to your math time with your kids, each book covers specific ages and topics of interest. They have a wonderful infographic on their website that explains the books that are best for your children and interests.
- Denise Gaskins books specifically Let’s Play Math for changing your ideology surrounding math education and Math You Can Play for games and play ideas.
- Bedtime Math I absolutely love this series of books and we used it almost every day in our kindergarten morning time.
These resources helped to shape our homeschool in kindergarten through second grade. I leaned heavily on Ruth Beechick’s work when it came to teaching math. Her writing helped to give me much needed confidence to move away from the curriculum and follow Matthew’s curiosity as well as what to cover at each developmental stage.
Last year, in second grade, we bought the Beast Academy level 2 curriculum. We are going through it slowly, as interest and stamina improve. We still implement many of the ideas that I talk about in these posts, as we do really enjoy playing with math versus simply learning about math. I plan to write more about our experience with Beast Academy and how we use it in our homeschool in a future post. If you are looking for more math inspiration, I regularly post videos to my Instagram stories and save them in my Math highlights so that you can see what of this looks like when it is being put into practice in our home.
What does your dream math curriculum look like? In a perfect world, how would you teach your children math?