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.

Curriculum Review: Life of Fred Math

About 3 weeks ago now, I purchased three books in the Life of Fred math series.  I had heard lots of recommendations of this book, and sources I respect (including the Rainbow Resource Center printed catalog,) had painted glowing pictures of the books as a way to interest kids in math and help them find practical application which would make math meaningful.  Although the cost of the series seemed prohibitive, I decided to try a few of these books out this summer.  Turning to the Life of Fred website, I determined that Lucy was definitely ready to start in the Fractions book, but Max probably was not.  I decided to order just the book Life of FredFractions, and see if both kids could possibly work in that book since Max already understood multiplication and division, even though he does not have the tables completely memorized.

We were very excited when we received the book, and Max and Lulu wanted to start immediately.  After reading the first chapter, which they both enjoyed, I immediately realized that Max would not be able to work along with Lulu on these problems.  Lulu was capable of doing the extensive multiplication required to determine how many seconds are in a year, Max definitely could not.  The style was so engaging, however, that they were both very anxious to continue with the story.  Therefore, I rushed quickly to the local homeschool store (how lucky it was there!) and bought the first two books in the Life of Fred series — Apples and Butterflies.  I started at the beginning knowing they would be very easy for Max but also realizing that we could do them quickly and he would enjoy them.  (I am also hoping to be able to sell these very lightly used copies so that I can buy the next books.)

Now that we are finished with the first book, I am able to offer an educated opinion about the books.  First, the pros:

  • The story and illustrations are engaging.  I ask the kids if they want to do Life of Fred, and they come running.  They beg for the next chapter.
  • The concepts are presented clearly, in story form.
  • The “Your Turn to Play” problems at the end of the chapter in the Fractions book are challenging but not impossible.
  • There are specific ways to use the math concepts introduced in real life.

And the cons:

  • I would never use this as a stand alone curriculum.  Besides very limited repetition for memorization, there is limited explanation.  If you don’t already understand how to do the math, you might not be able to figure it out from this text.
  • The answers to the “Your Turn to Play” are printed where you can’t avoid seeing them as you work the problems.  That leaves little incentive for actually making sure you know how to do the math.
  • The cost of each book ($16) is prohibitive.  If only you could check these out at your local library . . .

So you can see I am giving a half-hearted recommendation.  These are fun for summertime math extension, but I’m not sure I will buy the whole series.  I will probably sell the beginning books as we finish them (a used Life of Fred, anyone?) and reinvest that money in the next of the series, but continue to rely on Saxon as the backbone of our math curriculum.

Have you used the Life of Fred books with your kids?  How do you choose a math curriculum?  Please leave me a comment below.