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Choosing a Math Curriculum

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This is probably one of the most hotly debated subjects in the homeschool world. I have actually seen people argue over what constitutes a full math curriculum. Before teaching homeschool I had no idea there was even a choice in the type of math curriculum you could teach. As it turns out there isn’t just a type, but multiple types.

Types of Math Curriculum

These include the following:
Spiraling
Mastery
Conceptual
Procedural
Living

Within, these types are subtypes as well. As a parent it can get very confusing. So, to keep it simple, I’m only going to discuss these main types today.

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Mastery

Mastery is the idea that the child will learn the concept they are being taught completely and thoroughly before moving on to the next concept. They would learn addition only and then subtraction.

This would work great for a child struggling to understand things at a more rapid pace. It allows you to take more time on the concept until it is completely understood. The downside to this type of math is that the child does not get exposed to other concepts until later.  If you decide that you want or need to go back to a public education, it may be difficult for the child.  They will struggle to do concepts that they have not have been exposed to yet.  An example of this is the Math U See curriculum.

Spiraling

Spiraling is the idea that you take chunks of concepts and teach them in a more fast paced manner. You would teach the ideas in successive order. Then you would “spiral” back to the original idea and reteach the concept again at a later date.  An example of this is Saxon Math.

 

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This works great for children who are bored easily and get concepts at a faster rate. The child would learn smaller chunks of different information at the beginning of your school year and then relearn it again to retain the information. What I have found to be problematic in some curriculums is that sometimes the spiraling gets a little confusing and sometimes it can even get boring depending on how far back or repetitive the spiraling goes.

Conceptual

Conceptual is the idea that mathematics will be taught in a tangible manner. It uses hard or real ideas to make the math more concrete. You will see lots of things like manipulatives being used. Manipulatives that the child can see, touch and use. There will be lots of word problems for real life situations as well.

Conceptual math is really loved among educators. It gives the child a real foundation to understanding math not just in the beginning, but as they continue to get into harder concepts. The only downside is time. It is not an “open and go” curriculum. You will need to spend some time teaching the concept first.  An example of this is Singapore Math or Beast Academy.

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Procedural

Procedural math teaches a procedure. It shows you the algorithm or formula how to do the math and then the child will be able to complete the concept again and again. Procedural math is good at teaching how to organize data, and always get the correct answers.

The downside is that the child can complete the problem, get the correct answer from the procedure, and still have no idea how they got to the answer. They may not have an understanding of the concept, even though they can do it. This can cause issues later.  

Procedural math is best taught after the child fully understands the conceptual part of it.  This will prevent the problem of only knowing how to do a problem and not why you do it.  While neither conceptual or procedural is wrong, the best math curriculums will use both.

Living Math

Living math is math that is taught through every day life. You teach fractions through cooking and baking. You teach algebra by measuring actual buildings. You teach multiplication by sharing food with friends. It really teaches that math is everywhere.


Living math works really well for kids who struggle to understand concepts. It gives real information in a fun way. The drawbacks are again time. You may also find that living math doesn’t give you as complete a curriculum as you are looking for alone. The nice thing is that it is very easy to use it as an addition to any math program.

How to Choose

Most Math curriculums will use one, some or even all of these types. In our home we are currently using a mix of both Saxon and Beast Academy.  Saxon is very repetitive and thorough.  Beast Academy is more engaging and fun but not as thorough.  So for us, we require two curriculums to fit our needs.  But my needs are not your needs.

It’s important when looking at the curriculum to understand which one you are getting. It will help you decide more easily which program you want to teach. It will also help you get ahead of any problems you may encounter so that you can quickly and easily fix them. Just remember that no math curriculum is perfect. Choose what’s best for you and your family.

I hope this gives you all a better understanding of math curriculums. Happy Homeschooling!

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