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.
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 recently shared an intro to these math reviews along with my review of Saxon, so today I’ll just give my thoughts on ABeka’s math program.
Here is ABB’s description of their 1st grade math workbook:
“Using delightful themes and full-color illustrations, Arithmetic 1 presents concepts in an orderly manner, building on prior learning and including consistent year-long review. Concepts include counting, writing and reading numbers, place value, addition and subtraction, money, graphs, measurement, time, temperature, and fractions. Applications to real world situations and daily Thinking Caps stretch students’ thinking ability. The 342-page workbook is perforated and includes classwork and seatwork pages for every day based around themes of the zoo, ocean, farm, and springtime.”
Much of this is straight off of Cathy Duffy’s website reviewing A Beka math. Her site was invaluable to me in comparing math programs:
“This text  is a challenging math program, strong on computation skill development. Expanded explanations with illustrations are an improvement over earlier editions. There are more story problems, previously one of the weak areas in A Beka math. In keeping with the math standards, there is more work with graphs. One lesson deals with probability, a topic included in the national standards, but not one that really needs to be addressed at this level of math. (A Beka deserves credit for limiting time spent on this topic.)
“In addition to the above topics, Arithmetic 5 continues on through multiplication and division of both fractions and decimals. It reviews and expands coverage of place value, basic operations, Roman numerals (rarely taught in other programs!), measurement, graphs, and introductory geometry. At the end of the book are supplemental sections with more problems arranged by topics (e.g., multiplying fractions, story problems), homework “review” problems for every other lesson, and reference handbook.”
- Christian (I don’t think it is necessary to include verses in your math program; but if you’re stuck choosing between two secular programs and one Christian, and all programs seem equal to you, why not support a Christian company with your money?)
- Students with ABeka “know math.”-Well-Trained Mind
- “This text  does an excellent job of reviewing previously taught concepts…” -Cathy Duffy
- “Explanations within the student text should be adequate for average to above average students to do most of the work independently, which makes this a very efficient option for many families.”
- “This text is a challenging math program, strong on computation skill development. Expanded explanations with illustrations are an improvement over earlier editions. There are more story problems, previously one of the weak areas in A Beka math.”
- “Time-tested and well-used.”-Well-Trained Mind
- Scripted teacher’s manuals.
- Evaluations and speed drills are available for purchase.
- Colorful workbooks.
- “Many new concepts are explained without demonstrations with manipulatives… uses some manipulative demonstrations for concept understanding, although not nearly as extensively in programs such as Math-U-See.”
- “The text  includes some work with graphs and charts, but word problems and concept development are still weak in comparison to most other math programs.”
- “Provides too much drill. Pick and choose among problems so the child won’t be overwhelmed.”—Well-Trained Mind (If Saxon math is called the “crying math,” then ABeka is the “drill and kill” math.)
- Use of lots of supplementary flashcards to purchase.
Comments or Modifications:
Cathy Duffy says ABeka’s basic philosophy is “emphasizing rules, memorization of facts, review, and drill.” Here’s more of her review:
This curriculum [1st grade] best suits the Perfect Paula and Competent Carl learning styles. It can work with other learners who need more hands-on experiences by supplementing with Cuisenaire® Rods or other manipulatives.
As with the rest of the A Beka Book math program, this book  is a little more advanced than some other math programs. However, other math programs are moving up to A Beka’s level of difficulty to meet the more challenging national math standards. The pace of Arithmetic 4 is similar to some others such as the Horizons Math 4.
The text includes some work with graphs and charts, but word problems and concept development are still weak in comparison to most other math programs. Supplementing with manipulatives and/or problem-solving books might be helpful to overcome these weaknesses. It is still not a course that stresses conceptual understanding such as Math-U-See, but with this latest edition, A Beka continues to improve in this area over earlier editions.
It should work well for students who are generally good at math and like to work independently. The worktext format is easy to work with—instruction and examples are built into the student book. Also, students appreciate not having to copy problems. You will probably want the Teacher’s Edition…”
The Well-Trained Mind says, “The program is comprehensive and drill-intensive. As we’ve noted before, don’t try to do all the problems. You must pick and choose among the ABeka lessons as well if you want to spend one day per week doing real-life math, as we suggest.”
My personal thoughts:
I have used ABeka’s preschool and kindergarten math. Just to summarize and repeat a lot of what I’ve already quoted from others, my main impression of ABeka is that it is a strong, well-ordered curriculum. I plan to share more thoughts in the future explaining what I chose to use and why. For now, I’ll just say that I’m glad I used ABeka for kindergarten for both phonics and math, as it helped me know as a teacher how to incorporate regular drill into other curricula that didn’t include it.
ABeka is a strong spiral program and seems more advanced than other math programs. At 3rd or 4th grade, you may be a grade ahead of other math programs. However, I do feel that they rely too heavily on memorization and not as much on conceptual understanding and thinking through challenging problems. At first, when I heard that critique from others, I ignored it. But now that I have also used Singapore and Math-U-See, I see that that is a weakness in ABeka’s instruction. Now that I have taught with Math-U-See, I could apply how MUS teaches concepts with base-10 blocks and place value to ABeka; and I think that would make a great program.
1st—Child Kit $22 (arithmetic book and tests/speed drills); Parent Kit $83.40 (Curriculum, tests key, drill cards set A, and charts and games)
Add $15.75 for subtraction or addition flashcards. Add more costs for upper grades for other charts, keys to tests, and the teacher editions if you want the answers.