Math Out Loud (the Easy Way)

For those of you who are familiar with Saxon Math, you know that each lesson involves lots of practice, both on new skills and review.  This is both a wonderful thing — old skills are not forgotten as kids work on developing new ones– and a difficult thing –very time consuming.

Saxon Math lessons are structured in 3 parts:  mental math, lesson practice and problem set.  The mental math section teaches kids to do increasingly difficult math in their heads, without any written practice.  This is one of my favorite parts of Saxon math, because I have seen so many adults who are unable to do even simple multiplication without writing something down.  As I tell my kids, you won’t always have a calculator with you, and who wants to be cheated at the store because you can’t do some mental math!  The lesson practice comes immediately after the new skills for the lesson are explained, and practices that skill in progressively more difficult problems.  Then comes the problem set, usually about 30 problems of review.  For my kids, that averaged to about an hour of math each lesson day.  While not terrible, it did cause lots of grumbling.

In the past, I have tried several different methods of shortening math time while maintaining quality.  Sometimes I would have the kids do only odds on the problem set.  Other times, I would do two lessons on the same day, and allow them to do only one of the problem sets.  Unfortunately, as I tried these strategies with Brett, I realized that the lack of practice was really robbing him of confidence.  He would come back to problems a few lessons later with very little idea how to solve them.  After struggling with him for math comprehension, I realized that, at least in our family, every single problem of math needed to be worked, even if it took a lot of time.  While we only do math 3 days a week, I still was seeking some way to cut down the time spent on math and still have great comprehension.

This year, we found a new way for me to be content that they have done enough practice while cutting down on the time of the lesson.  I take an extra ten or fifteen minutes after their lesson for them to do any of the problems they can mentally and orally without writing down either the problems or the answers.  Max is usually able to save himself about 15 problems of written work this way, and Lucy 10-12 problems.  This has been a great way to give them a boost toward finishing their math quickly.  I write orally next to the problems I have heard the answers to, and mark them in the book, so that I know when I correct papers later that those problems were done already.


max doing math

This has led to lots more smiles during math time!  Do you allow your kids to do any of their math work orally?  What strategies do you use to keep progressing in math skills while maintaining interest?  Please leave me a comment below.

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  1. We’ve been using Saxon Math since 6/5 and the mental math was definitely our favorite part! In the sample problems, I would explain the first sample, then have Care Bear explain the second (or the third, if she didn’t appear to be getting it yet) so she had practice explaining why we work the problem the way we do before even working on the practice problems. If she was still struggling, we will talk through the practice problems as she works them on her personal white board. I think the verbal plus written work helps the concepts cement in their mind. Sounds like you’re finding a system that works for your family!

  2. Kathleen K

     /  January 8, 2013

    Our family is very math oriented…both parents are CPA’s. I must confess, we usually skip the mental math portion of the lesson and often only do the odd problems throughout the book….but (and this is important in my opinion) I throw mental math at my boys all day long, and have ever since they were old enough to figure out that one finger plus one finger equals two fingers.

  3. Lisa S

     /  March 25, 2013

    I love the mental math of Saxon, too. The kids don’t, but they have gotten really good at it this year. I do something very similar to what you do. We do whatever we can orally. Also, anything that takes just a very quick calculation on scrap paper. Sometimes on word problems I allow my older daughter to just tell me the steps she would take to solve the problem. She’ s good with the story problems, so I’m OK with this. My younger daughter must work every story problem completely because she needs the practice. And I usually sit with her while she does this. Then they do on their own, and usually later, whatever problems are left…usually just the computation problems. We do math 4 days a week…Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri. Tthat way we never have math more than 2 days in a row. It took a long time to figure out the best way for us, but I think we’re doing more math in less time now. I hope the kids don’t figure that part out. 🙂


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