How to Choose the Best Homeschool Math Curriculum
For many homeschoolers, choosing a math curriculum is a strenuous and frustrating undertaking. There are over 30 homeschooling math curricula for kindergarten through Grade 5 and beyond that offer divergent methodologies, learning progressions, and resources.
The process appears to be maddeningly complex, especially because nearly every publisher claims that it has the best homeschool math curriculum. This guide will help you assess which program is the best fit for your child.
Homeschooling math gap
Homeschoolers are behind in math compared to conventionally schooled children
Recently, The Coalition for Responsible Home Education – a non-profit organization – compiled and published research that shows that homeschooled children are 2 to 3 times as likely to be lagging in math as traditionally schooled children. After commencement, homeschool grads who go to universities have lower GPAs in both math and science courses than conventionally schooled students.
Underachievement in math compared to reading
Studies reveal that homeschooled kids show less motivation to learn math than do reading. Further, research shows a big gap: homeschooled students are less proficient in arithmetic contrasted to reading. This gap follows homeschoolers into their teenage years and negatively affects their admissions to universities.
Choosing a top math curriculum is essential to successful math learning
Parents should be concerned about presence of the homeschooling gap. Clearly, underachievement in mathematics relative to reading is connected to which elementary math curriculum parents use during their children’s formative schooling years.
Teaching reading is much more intuitive than teaching math. Homeschooling parents can teach children to read using almost any book and genres such as fairy tale, fantasy, fiction or drama. These books can be used to study in any order.
However, few parents are qualified to teach math out of any textbook in a proper sequence for children to understand and acquire higher-level skills. Consequently, the choice of curriculum greatly impacts the quality of math instruction at home.
Thus, for many homeschooling parents, choosing a math curriculum, especially for kindergarten through Grade 5, will be one of the most consequential decisions that they’ll make because the ramifications will follow young students into their adult lives.
Reviews of the most popular math programs
There are dozens upon dozens of different reviews and websites that claim to have identified the top homeschool math curriculum. Numerous reviewers provide top five and top ten lists. Also, some reviewers put programs in different categories such as top elementary curricula or most popular math programs or best math curriculum for visual learners or best homeschool program for struggling students, etc.
These reviews – and dozens of links to the publishers’ websites – left the public rushing to understand the arcane methodologies that will supposedly help them choose best math curriculum for any homeschooling need or grade.
The myth: “they are all excellent choices”
In ranking programs by categories, some of the reviewers, unfortunately, created a myth that choosing a math curriculum is somehow subjective. When asked about how to choose homeschool math curriculum, the bulk of the reviews suggest that their top 5 or top 10 lists are all excellent choices.
There are also other reviews that suggest there is no one-size-fits all math program out there and that you could simply pick the one that works best for your family. Your choice might depend on your teaching preferences or that the best homeschool math curriculum is the one that best works for your youngster.
These recommendations are profoundly misleading because evidence of the mathematics gap and underperformance of homeschooled students in math relative to conventionally schooled children indicates that these statements cannot be true. Simply put, there are mathematics curricula and methodologies that are preferable to others.
Best vs good homeschool math curriculum
It is true that some elementary math programs are more popular than others and that many or all of these programs provide students with good understanding of fundamentals including calculations, measurement, and geometry. However, procedural knowledge is not sufficient in an era of STEM fields that have taken on increasing importance in higher grades and adult workplaces.
Unlike procedurally spiral math programs, a good math curriculum provides learning mathematics beyond acquisition of concepts and calculation skills. Equally as important are development of process skills and thinking skills as well as teaching reliable problem-solving strategies that students can consistently apply in solving novel problems.
The top math programs surpass others in setting up a strong foundation in mathematics. What separates the best math curriculum from other curricula are the features outlined below:
- focus on understanding, not memorization
- meaningful practice for achieving mastery only after in-depth learning of a topic
- modeling to solve problems in four operations, fractions, measurement, and geometry
- learning reliable strategies to solve increasingly more challenging word problems and open-ended problems
- getting into a habit of making reflections to achieve deeper understanding
Essentials of the top homeschool math curriculum
Learning the basics will help you choose the best homeschool math program for your child. Below is a walk through the key elements of a top homeschool math curriculum:
1. Learning math with understanding
First, the most important: Your goal is to find a curriculum which will provide your child with a method for learning mathematics with conceptual understanding, not just recalling of math facts or memorizing step-by-step procedures.
Why is this important? The answer is that understanding is necessary for students to make sense of information they take in from simple daily activities and is also true for learning to use mathematics to solve a range of more complex problems.
Learning mathematics with understanding trains students to think critically, logically, and creatively. It also supports learning in other subjects, business, and most other activities for life.
2. Modeling, heuristics and strategies
Second, and also very important: the best homeschool math curriculum should teach modeling with mathematics and reliable strategies to solve a variety of word problems.
Why is this important? The answer is that through mathematical modeling and using reliable strategies, students learn to solve different types of problems and also to deal with ambiguity in solving novel problems.
Other noteworthy benefits include: a significant reduction in anxiety levels of learning math for many students, development of a more positive attitude toward math, and gaining confidence in solving increasingly more complex problems.
3. Mastery-based spiral
Third, and again very important: a top homeschool math curriculum is mastery-based and spiral. It means that students are introduced to new content only after they learned and mastered previous content. It’s also called a mastery approach to learning math because students learn one concept or skill at one time until they achieve mastery.
Why are spiral progression and mastery important in math curriculum? The answer is that mathematics is mostly hierarchical and sequential in nature. Higher order concepts and skills are built upon more basic ones and they have to be learned in sequence. That means that students need to achieve mastery of the previous skill before moving on to learning a new skill.
A cautionary note about “spiral” programs
Please note that many publishers and reviewers incorrectly define a spiral curriculum as revisiting the same content in different units of instruction multiple times during a school year. Then, students practice the previously learned math skills again in the following school year and even multiple years.
That definition doesn’t make sense because a learning spiral is a widening progression upward, which increases knowledge over time. Therefore, the term learning spiral implies learning new content or skills on top of already acquired knowledge or skills.
Other important considerations include cost but that’s not the most essential factor. Ease of use, parent support, fun learning experiences, ample practice, games, personalization, technology, and availability of tests are also important considerations in choosing a math curriculum. However, if students are not learning math with understanding, modeling with mathematics, and practicing to achieve mastery, then such a math curriculum is limited in its benefits.
Now that you can identify the core elements that make the best homeschool math program, the below table will give you a quick overview of your options so you can figure out which ones deserve an in-depth look.
Popular Homeschool Math Curricula Table
|Math curriculum||Computation & procedural skills||Understanding: why before how||Modeling and reliable strategies||Mastery spiral approach|
|Life of Fred||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Loving Living Math||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Math for a Living Education||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Math Lessons for a Living Education||Yes||No||No||No|
|Pearson Homeschool Math||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Rod and Staff||Yes||No||No||No|
|Singapore Math Programs||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|The Good and the Beautiful||Yes||No||No||No|
|Time 4 Learning||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
If you’re already using one of the above programs and it’s missing any of the essential elements described above, then you should consider supplementing your core curriculum with another math resource to fill in that gap.
The above table shows that only the Singapore Math programs contain the four key elements that a top homeschool math curriculum should have. If you decide to use a Singapore program or supplement your homeschool curriculum with a Singapore Math resource, then you should pick the most up-to-date Singapore program.