The plethora of curricula available to homeschoolers today is dizzying. While wading through the options and recommendations, I eventually made charts of my top three to four choices for history, math, grammar, writing, and spelling to narrow them down. I thought I’d share my research with you. I hope it helps save someone else time!
Some of the curricula that I’m reviewing I have not seen in person or used. The thoughts shared here are my own personal thoughts based on what I’ve read. I noted price, description, and what I perceived to be the weaknesses and strengths of a curriculum based on our philosophy of education, users’ reviews, and practical aspects of our family.
If you are researching curricula, Cathy Duffy’s site is helpful to succinctly describe how a specific curriculum works. For actual user’s reviews, look on The Well-Trained Mind forums or Homeschool Reviews.
Today I wanted to begin sharing my personal curricula comparison chart for math. Math was one of the most difficult subjects for me to choose. It seems so scary because of differences in learning styles, as well as its importance; and I planned to buy for several years ahead of time in order to ship over here all at once to save on shipping. I was afraid I would buy several years of a curriculum that wouldn’t work out well for us.
Based on my personal history and having read The Well-Trained Mind, I began my search into math curricula with these four choices: ABeka Homeschool (ABB), Saxon Homeschool, Math-U-See (MUS), and Singapore Primary Mathematics (SM). In my short homeschooling career, I have already used each of these with the exception of Saxon (which I grew up with in elementary school). Of the three I have used–ABB, SM, and MUS–I used Singapore the least and MUS the most.
I’ll start this comparison with my thoughts on Saxon’s math program, since I know that one the least. 🙂 I also want to make the disclaimer that I have only a rudimentary knowledge of what “spiral” vs. “mastery” mean, with even less of an ability to make a distinction between spiral and “incremental.”
Much of this is straight off of Cathy Duffy’s website reviewing Saxon math. Her site was invaluable to me in comparing math programs.
The courses for Math Intermediate 3 and up are very different from the Saxon program for K-3. Typically for the upper levels, starting with Math 54, the second of the two digits indicates the grade level usage for average to bright students. The first digit indicates the grade for students working a little below level.
Homeschool kits include a non-consumable Student Edition Textbook, either an answer key or solutions manual, and tests with their answer keys. Some student books are hardcover and some softcover. For some high school courses, solutions manuals are available separately. There are no Teacher Editions for the Saxon program since each lesson in the student text provides the explanation of the concept to be learned.
I have heard of several supplementary helps you can purchase to use Saxon while outsourcing the teaching component on the high school level, such as DIVE DVDs.
Each lesson (in 54 and higher levels) includes an introduction and explanation of the new concept, examples and practice problems, then a set of problems that not only reinforces the new lesson content but also reviews previously-learned concepts. Parents might help students work through the beginning of the lesson, but most students will be able to work through lessons independently. Parents need to check daily assignments and tests, ensuring that students are understanding what they are learning. The program requires virtually no preparation time.
Math 54—This textbook should be appropriate for most fourth graders and those fifth graders who lag slightly behind grade level. Among topics covered in Math 54 are addition (review), subtraction, multiplication (up to multiplying a 3-digit numbers by a 2-digit number), division (up through dividing by 2-digit numbers), time, measurement, money, area, perimeter, fractions, mixed numbers, arithmetic algorithms, geometry and measurement, negative numbers, powers and roots, two-step word problems, decimals, averaging, estimation, patterns and sequences, statistics and probability, and Roman numerals. Saxon also sells Basic Fact Cards, an optional set of flash cards for working on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division that might be useful at this level. The program has a script for the teacher to follow and the use of manipulatives to teach concepts. Levels K-3 all use manipulatives—e.g., bear counters, MathLink Cubes, geoboard, tangrams, etc.
For levels K-3, each day’s lesson begins with “The Meeting” where parents direct discussion and activity related to time, temperature, money, counting, patterns, and problem solving. After “The Meeting,” a new concept is introduced (usually with manipulatives) and previously taught concepts are reviewed.
- This is a Cathy Duffy “Top 101 Picks for Homeschool Curriculum” for levels 54 and up. “Hugely popular among homeschoolers, largely because it works so well for students working independently.”
- Uses the “incremental method.” I believe it also uses a tight spiral, constantly returning to concepts previously learned. This could also be a weakness depending on your student’s (and your) learning style.
- Works best for students who do not need manipulatives and who tend to figure out mathematical concepts without a great deal of explanation.
- Also good for those who like “brain teasers” like troublesome time-rate-distance problems.
- Inexperienced home schoolers can follow the script and feel confident they are covering everything that would be covered in a classroom.
- The program does a good job of developing mathematical thinking.
- Manipulative-based learning builds a strong conceptual foundation.
- Students are drilled on basic math facts with the goal of mastery by the end of 3rd grade.
- Systematic and simple to teach.
- Provides help for home schoolers via email, web, and (800) phone number.
- Used by My Father’s World (my history choice) with MFW lesson plans and with Dive CD for seventh grade through high school.
- 30 years of proven success.
- Not strong on teaching concepts.
- Expensive price and too much time.
- Artificial classroom-type presentation that they could acquire naturally just being with parents. (This is big to me.)
- Two sessions and two sides of worksheet are too much for home schoolers. Busywork.
- Works only if parent takes job of teaching it seriously. Not a self-teaching program. Must explain the concepts thoroughly or child will be confused—text alone won’t do the job.
- Takes too much time with unnecessary instruction, like weather, etc., in the math meeting.
- Makes some kids (and parents) cry. (This could probably be said of almost every math program, but it does seem to be said more about Saxon’s K-3 levels than others.)
Comments or Modifications:
Once a concept is introduced it is not dropped but is incorporated into the mixed practice that students encounter every day. In later lessons, the concept is developed more fully. Over time and through repeated exposure to a developing concept, students gain understanding and mastery. Unlike traditional chapter books where one content strand is taught and fully explained over a few consecutive lessons, Saxon has students work with a concept many times over the course of study. (Note that some students prefer this approach while others would rather have the entire concept fully explained all at once.)
At levels Math Intermediate 3 and above, Saxon Math has a “rules” orientation in its presentation, more like A Beka’s rather than a hands-on conceptual orientation like Math-U-See. Saxon’s own primary grades program is more conceptually oriented than these upper levels. In a very simplified nutshell, that means that younger Saxon students use manipulatives to see what actually happens when they multiply, while older students generally memorize the rules and facts for multiplication.
The K-3 program tries to cover a plethora of math related concepts in keeping with the new math standards accepted and promoted within the government-controlled educational system. That is not to say it is a bad program, but it does spend a lot of time covering topics children pick up quite simply on their own or with minimal amount of instruction. For example, children are taught in math lessons how to identify the weather, morning, afternoon, evening, night, days of the week, seasons, and months. The program does teach traditional math skills but at a slower pace than programs such as A Beka, Horizons, or Bob Jones, most likely because it is trying to accomplish so many other objectives from the national math standards.
For example, regrouping for addition is introduced in three lessons in Saxon Math 1 Level 1, but Level 2 does not return to the concept until the middle of the year. This is slower progress on this vital concept than in programs such as A Beka’s or Alpha Omega’s. On the plus side, the incremental approach which Saxon uses at upper levels is still very evident in the early levels. Children review previously learned concepts continually, while adding new learning in small segments that build upon each other.
My personal thoughts:
Saxon appears to be a fine choice from level 54 and onward. It seems to be favored by lots of schools, and it’s suggested by Veritas Press and My Father’s World (for 7th grade and up). Some schools and companies suggest using it even a grade earlier, for example, they use level 54 in 3rd grade.
I have heard the most negative comments from fellow homeschoolers towards Saxon’s K-3 math programs over other math programs, such as calling it “the crying math.” I think the teacher-intensive nature as well as the incremental approach would drive me a bit batty now that I’ve tasted other programs. Saxon’s lower elementary programs are not desirable to me, but I may switch to Saxon for high school.
1st—Homeschool kit $113.
Homeschool Teacher’s manual $69.70.
Meeting book $15.90.
Manipulatives kit $68.00. (Also need to purchase manipulative kit-CD. The Well-Trained Mind says not, but have to read ahead to prepare if not.)
Level 65—HS kit $93.10.
DIVE CDs $49.90.
Tests & Worksheets $24.00.
Solutions manual $30.00.
The kit + DIVE CD = $144.45. (*For an example of how the discount would affect the prices, it’s $108.39 at Christianbook.com for this set.)
The My Father’s World Saxon 8/7 set is $120, which includes paper textbk, tests & wkshts, solutions manual, MFW daily lesson plans, DIVE CD.
*All of these prices are about 30% cheaper at Christianbook.com.