When I was researching homeschool curricula, I made charts to compare my top three or four choices for history, math, writing, spelling, and grammar. Lately I’ve been working on sharing my comparison of math curricula, starting with Saxon, then ABeka Book (ABB), Singapore Primary Math (SM), and finally Math-U-See (MUS).
Making a decision about which curricula to use for our homeschool was a difficult decision. My decision was made harder by the cost of international shipping. In order to save money on shipping, we planned to buy all of our homeschooling items for the next four years during our furlough and ship it together. Most homeschoolers only buy a year at a time, so the pressure is not so great if they change curriculum. But whatever I chose needed to work for me for four years.
I narrowed the choices down to four companies that meshed well with our family’s needs and philosophy of education and made a comparison chart for those companies. I compared their prices, descriptions, strengths, and weaknesses, as I perceived them, based on what I saw or reviews I had read online. Then I chose, and I’ll try to describe here how I came to my decisions. Warning: This will probably bore anyone who is not in the same position I was in, choosing between similar curricula; but for the small group of people like me, I hope this helps.
All four curricula are recommended by The Well-Trained Mind; all but ABB were in the “top 101 picks for homeschool curriculum” for Cathy Duffy. But I find I am highly motivated by price. In fact, in almost every subject, I ended up choosing the cheapest of my choices at first. Eventually I was able to move past that mental roadblock of price and allow myself to purchase curricula outside of the lowest price bracket–though price is still highly motivating to me. 🙂
That to say, that when so many choices look similarly good, I usually go with the cheapest. For price, Saxon is the highest priced curriculum for lower grades. The others are all around $100 per level (depending on what you’re adding)–unless you take into account MUS’s missionary discount and SM’s price through My Father’s World (my choice for history curriculum) without extra supplementation, extra books, or manipulatives, in which case MUS and SM are half the cost of the others. The consumable workbooks for additional students are cheapest through SM. If I went with SM, however, I would probably want to buy the extra books, such as the Home Instructor’s Guide, the Challenging Word Problems, and maybe one of the extra practice books, which would put it at a comparable price with ABB. This factor helped to draw me toward MUS.
I fairly quickly cut out Saxon as an option. I may still switch over to it for high school math, but I was turned off by price and by its teacher-intensive nature. I still remember the daily “meeting” section from when I was in school! And Saxon is so very school-ish. After seeing how many excellent programs are out there geared for the individual homeschooling students, I shy away from curriculum that feels like it was made for an entire class. Then after the math meeting time, there is still new instruction and worksheets to be done. It seemed too involved, too much, and too expensive; on top of that, it seemed to be a toss-up as to whether I’d be pleased or not. There are several cheerleaders and nay-sayers for Saxon.
Next I cut out ABeka as an option. I was given a free TM for Kindergarten, and that’s why I used ABB for Kindergarten. I was very happy with the continual review and drill, the open-and-go daily scripted lesson plans (super-helpful for a newbie!), and the colorful workbook pages. They have a thorough scope and sequence. Even though the ABeka Kindergarten program overall was excessive in the handwriting department, I was thankful for the extensive practice in writing numbers in ABB’s K math with their “Numbers Tablet” workbook. My other math programs don’t include that.
I wanted to look at some programs, however, that included manipulatives–either base 10 blocks or an abacus to make the concepts more concrete; I felt I was regularly using flashcards or a workbook or quickly grabbed items to “explain” math. (I continually read non-ABB users critiquing ABeka for its lack of conceptual development in math. I usually brushed off that critique; but now that I have used both MUS and SM, I do think that critique is somewhat valid.) I also didn’t see myself continuing with ABeka math into upper elementary. Further, you can’t order only the math instructional DVDs by themselves (to my knowledge), and since I didn’t want the other subjects included in the group of subjects sold with the math DVD set, I didn’t think I could make it very independent as the kids got older. This is a very minor point though, because I am willing to take the time to teach elementary math without or alongside of a DVD.
Now I had narrowed my choices down to MUS and SM. Because of the DVDs and discount, I leaned toward MUS; because of the rigor and advanced approach, I leaned toward SM. (For both SM and MUS I could also buy metric versions if I wanted.)
I had read so many raving reviews of SM and how wonderful it was at teaching mental math. I liked its price and cute colorful textbooks. I was concerned however, that if my children were not naturally good at math, they might struggle with what some described as a more abstract program. MUS, though not having quite as many 5-star reviews as SM seemed to have, also seemed to be the least critiqued. This is all based on my experiences, of course.
Mainly for this reason–that MUS seemed like it would work well for a struggling math student as well as for a gifted learner–I chose MUS. I was afraid of getting stuck with the “best” program for logical thinking (SM), but find it not clicking with a less-than-average math student, and I’d be way over in Africa unable to change it for a few years. I also liked the DVD aspect of MUS. It gives my kids another teacher for an important subject, outside of me all of the time. They enjoy Mr. Demme, the lessons are helpful and build on one another logically, and in the future my older children may be able to watch them independently while I am teaching younger children. (This is an important factor for moms of big families to think about!) Oh, and I loved MUS’s discount for missionaries! All this to say, that MUS seemed more “doable” for both mom and kids than SM.
I chose what seemed best for us, considered price, and plan to stick with it unless it doesn’t work for us up through algebra, when I will reconsider our course for high school. End of story, right?
No! Because math is so important, I kept reading and worrying over it. I bought the blue series from Math Mammoth for supplements. Then I got SM’s levels 1-4 just in case. Then I taught MUS’s Alpha level, followed with a review using SM’s levels 1A and 1B. Here was my experience.
At first I sorely missed ABB’s scripted lesson plans telling me exactly what to do every day and for how long. I missed the colorful workbooks. But I applied ABB’s constant drill to MUS and made sure my son was reviewing his facts daily. I was happy when my son was able to work at his own pace with MUS’s mastery program, rather than being held back to a traditional scope and sequence; and I began to see lightbulb moments while he worked with the blocks. The way the concepts were explained in MUS was more careful and logical. We were learning, and yet I felt we were saving time as well.
SM was more difficult for me as a teacher. It was even more of a change from ABeka’s word-for-word scripts. The TM was a little overwhelming, and I needed to prepare ahead of time to know how to teach a concept or if any game pieces needed to be copied or other illustrative pieces gathered. SM seemed to move very quickly at some times and move slowly at others. It leaves the mastery of facts completely up to you as the teacher. It teaches and reviews concepts very well, but outside of instructing you at certain points in the curriculum to stop and make sure they have learned all addition facts up to 10, for example, the facts practice and memorization is up to you. This may be more difficult for a mom new to teaching to start with. It will not be a problem for an experienced mom, perhaps one who is coming from a scripted program and has an idea of how to do it herself.
Also I did feel that SM introduced some topics too early. In level 1B, SM introduced multiplication and division. We skipped those lessons, since we were just using this program as a review for MUS. However, people have taken issue with MUS’s order of introducing skills as well.
I did want to address here one critique that I’ve heard some people say about MUS. Some say they can’t imagine learning about only one topic all year! My response is that it’s not like that. MUS will label the Beta level as being about subtraction for instance, but there are lots of other topics covered in that level, which you can see on their website from the lists of the lessons. Also, because it is a mastery program, you will move at your child’s pace. So far, Caleb has finished a MUS level in less than half of a year, though I imagine Gamma will take a little more than half of the year.
And that brings me to one more point. 🙂 Often homeschool moms run two math programs. You don’t need to, but sometimes they are worried that a program doesn’t cover xyz as well as another curriculum, so they’ll supplement or review with another curriculum. Sometimes different children in the same family need different math programs. If you need to do that, do it! I am not sure if I will keep using SM as a review program or go with something like Beast Academy or Life of Fred; but I do know that I would like to have something to use after each MUS level for Caleb, since he seems to be quick at math. I’m just not sure I want it to be a full program. So the research goes on!
Basically, if at all possible, pick whichever math program you think is best for you and try to stick with it. It seems that some of the gaps come in math from too much changing of math programs. I am really going to try to stick with MUS, but if any of my children have difficulty, I do have SM sitting here.
Happy curriculum hunting to you! If I forgot any relevant points about these math curricula, let me know. It’s getting late and I’m tired… 🙂