Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

How We Picked a Math Curriculum Part 2 — Choosing and Using RightStart Math April 25, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 1:49 pm
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About two months ago, I wrote about our initial attempts at finding a math curriculum that would work for us.  I’ve been meaning to write the second part…but I kept putting it off in favor of more time sensitive posts.  I made it one of my goals for the week to get back writing it!

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had already tried Saxon Math K and Kindermath, so when Miss M was a few months into Kindergarten, I knew a little bit about what I was or wasn’t looking for in a math curriculum.

I knew I wanted something that was more on the “mastery” side of the spectrum, rather than something as far down the “spiral” end of the spectrum as Saxon Math K proved to be (read this article if you aren’t familiar with those terms). But I also didn’t want something so “mastery” oriented that we would be doing the exact same topic for months on end.

I was looking for a curriculum with a strong emphasis on mental math.  I liked the idea of having plenty of manipulatives to use (that was something I liked about Saxon K).  At that time I was also looking for something without tons and tons of writing.  As a K’er  Miss M really struggled with writing numbers, and tired of doing so very quickly.  I didn’t want her math progress to be hindered by her writing struggles, nor did I want to spend excessive amounts of time being her scribe for worksheet after worksheet.

After doing a bit of research, I first narrowed my choices down to RightStart and Singapore Math.  Singapore is more workbook based by far than RightStart, but all the good reviews and the ways it met my other criteria caused me to give it serious consideration.  I looked over both programs with my husband.   He was impressed with the research behind the creation of RightStart, and we both thought the use of the abacus and the card games as a method of reinforcing concepts was very intriguing.

We purchased RightStart level A in January 2010.  Since Miss M had some previous math experience, we were able to fly through level A fairly quickly.  We finished nearly all of it in the last 5 months of her K year.   We completed Level B last year when Miss M was a first grader, and we are currently working on Level C.   This year I started Mr E (just turned 5 in March, so still technically a “preschooler”), casually in Level A. We do parts of various lessons when he shows interest, or I just keep the concepts in mind and talk to him about them as he asks “mathy” questions.

In general, we’ve been very pleased with RightStart Math.  It is a bit more toward the middle of the “spiral-mastery continuum” than I initially thought it might be, but it is still “mastery”-oriented enough to provide adequate practice on various concepts (especially when one considers the daily warm-ups and extra game playing possibilities) while also giving variety and covering important topics like measuring, time, calendars and geometry.

RightStart does take a lot of  direct teacher instruction, at least in the levels we have done so far.  I’ve heard that some parents have had some success at the higher levels in giving an older student the teacher’s manual and letting them work through the lesson independently.  I find that I need to plan on 20-30 minutes of focused attention with Miss M most days, and some days we may spend longer (especially if we play a game or deal with “attitude issues” we need to work through!).  Some users find the they can write out the daily warm ups to save on some of that teacher-intensive time.

It is hard to find time to play the games.  We love most of the games (though we have found a few to be boring!), but unless a game is directly called for in the lesson, we honestly don’t take the time to play them as often as we should.  It’s very helpful that Mr. E is now old enough to play some of the games with Miss M (sometimes I help Mr. E on harder games or give him a “cheat sheet” of some sort).  However, it is often very hard to keep Mr. K out of things.  He insists that HE wants to play too.  But even with help, he doesn’t have the patience or self control to really play the games.  More than one math card game has been destroyed by a careless or reckless toddler before the game was finished.  That’s very frustrating for the game players!  The best we can often do is to distract Mr. K with something else (he stopped napping well over a year ago, so that’s not an option for us), which may or may not work.

We’ve had some frustrating days in Level C to be sure (though I am sure this would be true of any math curriculum!).  Some days I know I have to have some trust in the process. Even though playing games and learning the multiples of each number and doing subtraction on an abacus isn’t how I learned math, I can see that it will probably produce kids with true understanding of what’s going on with the math, not just an ability to fill out a math test in school.

As of right now, my plan is to take a break on new lessons from level C with Miss M over the summer (we’ll still have somewhere between 20-35 lessons left, depending on how the next five or six weeks go!).  I’ll have Miss M do the “B-side” review pages from throughout level C, as well as math facts practice over the summer (hopefully via some games!), unless she requests new lessons.  Every six days the RS C student manual has a review page with two sides that cover the same concepts, just different problems.  All year we only did the “A-side” of these review sheets, leaving the opposite sides conveniently blank for summer review.   Casual math for Mr. E will continue as he has interest over the summer.

Then this fall Miss M will complete level C, and begin level D immediately after (we already have it ready and waiting!).  I will most likely start Mr. E in level B this fall.  Level B can also be a direct entry point for the Right Start sequence.  Given how quickly he grasped the material in the lessons/discussions we have done so far, I think we either might fly through level A if we continued there more formally or he might get frustrated by the slow pace.  I will try him with level B, knowing that we can slow down and/or play games as necessary if it gets too hard too fast.  We can always go back to level A if it’s a disaster.  😉

Even if you aren’t in the market for a new math curriculum but you like card games, I would encourage you to check out their games book and kit.  The Right Start games could be a fun supplement to any curriculum, and the book contains games to practice almost any elementary math concept!


Get Ready for Pi Day! March 11, 2012

Filed under: Holidays — kirstenjoyhill @ 4:04 pm
Tags: , ,

I know there are lots, and lots of random holidays out there.  But Pi Day might be one of my most favorite!

Pi day is March 14th.  (Get it? 3-14?).  The past few years we have celebrated Pi day just by eating pie.  I serve something pie-like for dinner (like taco pie, shepherd’s pie, or a spinach pie…pizza would work too!), and, of course, a sweet pie for dessert.

This year we’re going to incorporate it into our homeschool day.

While we have done some nifty geometry lessons with RightStart math level C, we haven’t done anything with circles yet.  So one of the first things we’ll do is talk about measurement terms for circles (radius, diameter and circumference). Then we’ll try a “finding pi” activity. I thought this lesson plan did a nice job of explaining how it might be done.  Even though the grade level listed is significantly higher than that of my kids, I think at least Miss M will be able to “get it.” had another interesting “finding pi” activity, but I think we might save that one for another year.

I have requested a few Pi-themed books from the library.  I don’t know if I made my requests in time, but I am especially hoping that “Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi” arrives on the reserve shelf by Wednesday.

Since my kids love crafts, we might need to make some circular or pi-themed crafts.  I like the suggestions at Helping Little Hands, which includes some paper plate crafts and a pi-themed patterning worksheet!

I think we’ll also talk just a bit about the history of Pi.  Check out this page from the organization that founded pi day for a quick read on the history of Pi.

Until I saw this pin on Pinterest, I had never thought about incorporating Pirates (or would it be pi-rates?) into Pi Day, but I know that’s something Mr. E and Mr. K would love! Maybe we’ll read some pirate-themed books or do some pirate themed crafts or printables. (Photo Source: via Kirsten on Pinterest)

A fun Pi Day would definitely not be complete without some pie, of course (and perhaps some other circular foods?).  We’ll have Taco pie for dinner with Blueberry-Cherry Pie for dessert.  Maybe pancakes for breakfast and pizza for lunch? And don’t forget pi-neapple for snack.  🙂

If your are looking for even more amazing Pi Day ideas, check out my Pi Day board on Pinterest!

Are you going to celebrate Pi Day this year? Do you have any other fun Pi Day ideas?


Tech Tuesday: Apps We Like for Math February 28, 2012

Filed under: Technology — kirstenjoyhill @ 10:49 pm
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Math facts and other math skills are a natural fit for practice on the iPad.   Miss M practices her math skills in many ways — regular RightStart math lessons, RightStart math games, practice worksheets from RightStart or elsewhere and of course on the iPad.  Here are a few apps we like:

For basic, no frills, math facts practice we like Math Drills.  This app allows for multiple users and customization for each user of the difficulty of each type of problem.  Want your student to practice on only more difficult adding problems, a full range of subtraction problems or only 2’s and 3’s facts in multiplication? It’s a cinch to set that up.  You can also customize the number of problems that will be offered for un-timed review, timed practice or a test.  I found this to be well worth the $1.99 I spent on it!

Skill Builder Numeracy is a free option (at least as of this writing) for no-frills practice with fewer customization options and no differentiation between users that we used before purchasing Math Drills.

For math fact practice with lots of fun included, my kids really enjoy HyperBlast and Doll House math.  HyperBlast lets the user ride through a tunnel shooting aliens, avoiding obstacles, and other challenges.  There’s a brief break in the arcade style action every few minutes to answer a few math problems.  Dollhouse math lets kids buy dolls and items for a doll house after completing a few math problems.   There’s more “fun” than practice in these apps, but it’s always nice to sneak in a few extra math problems here and there with the fun!

Number Math is a great app for practicing other numeracy skills, such as greater than/less than, skip counting and number order.   This app is free as of this writing, and features multiple levels of difficulty for each skill.

The only app for time telling that we’ve tried so far is Jungle Time.  I read a lot of favorable reviews for this app, but it was not as much of a hit with my 7 year old.  She found the interface for entering the time a bit difficult to use — there were many times when she knew the correct answer, but accidentally entered the wrong time anyway.

Do you have any apps you love for math practice?

I’m linking up with:


How We Picked a Math Curriculum — Part 1 February 21, 2012

Filed under: Curriculum — kirstenjoyhill @ 7:07 am
Tags: ,

When Miss M was about four and a half, I decided I wanted some of kind of curriculum to guide me as she progressed beyond simple counting.  I knew I wanted a program that would keep things fun, and would involve little to no handwriting, since at that time, Miss M struggled to write any numbers at all.  A friend had a copy of Saxon Math K that I was able to take a look at. I saw that this program involved no writing, and had scripted lessons for the parent to follow.  I soon found a used copy, bought a few inexpensive manipulatives, and began progressing through the lessons with Miss M.

The lessons in Saxon Math K are fun, and (in my non-professional opinion), age-appropriate for an older preschooler or younger kindergartener.  We started working on a calendar, we used plastic bears to count, add and make patterns and we reviewed shapes.  But something quickly became clear to me — the way Saxon Math K jumped around from topic to topic drove me crazy!  We would spend a day working on counting, only to have the next lesson focused on shapes, followed by a third lesson on a topic altogether different before returning to a lesson on counting.   I tried to make my own plan for re-arranging the lessons in a way that would involve less jumping around, but it was a lot of work to do so.   After using Saxon for a couple months, I knew that when Miss M started her Kindergarten year I needed to have something else.

As I researched math curricula, I learned that math programs generally either follow a “spiral” philosophy or a “mastery” philosophy.  Some may be more extreme than others in the degree to which they follow these philosophies.   Programs that lean toward the spiral philosophy introduce several topics, then “spiral” back to the first, second and so on to give the student greater depth and more exposure, then the cycle repeats.  Spiral programs have lots of built in review, and keep students from getting bored by varying the topics studied.  Some students, however, may be frustrated by only getting a taste of a topic and not having time to develop a skill before moving on to another topic.

The mastery philosophy is just what it sounds like — mastering one topic before moving on to the next.   Curricula that follow the mastery philosophy will also tend to pursue a topic to greater depth before pursuing a new topic.  For example, instead of moving on to single digit subtraction after single digit addition is mastered, a mastery curriculum is more likely to continue to two, three and four digit addition before introducing subtraction.  At the extreme a mastery curriculum may have the student studying the same general topic like addition or subtraction for an entire level of the curriculum.  Common criticisms of mastery curricula are boredom and lack of review.  Students may get burnt out studying subtraction for months on end, and may forget some of their adding skills in the mean time.

Having learned about these approaches to math education, I knew I would prefer a curriculum that leaned toward the mastery approach.  I didn’t think I would like something on the extreme end of the mastery spectrum, but in general the mastery philosophy made more sense to me.

Having ditched Saxon Math K not long before Miss M was beginning her actual Kindergarten year, I wasn’t quite ready to commit to a particular curriculum that I might be using for years.  As a stop-gap measure, I decided to begin K with Kindermath by Eagles Wings, a program I had recently received along with a phonics and spelling package I had purchased.

Kindermath is nice simple program for Kindergarten students.  It doesn’t have any bells and whistles — just a simple teacher manual and student workbook, both in black and white.  But, this gave me something I could do with Miss M for math.  We used it for the first four months of her K year.  After that, we began RightStart — the program we are still using!  I’ll discuss why we chose Right Start and how it works for our family in part 2 (Now posted — read it here!).

If you are looking for more information on how to chose a math curriculum, this article is a great starting point.  I also highly recommend checking out the wealth of resources (including articles and product reviews) at!

What resources have you found helpful in the process of picking a math curriculum?


(photo credit)


Collage Friday: Back to School! January 13, 2012

Filed under: Weekly Highlights — kirstenjoyhill @ 11:15 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Collage Friday 2012-01-13

Collage Friday 2012-01-13

We resumed our regular school schedule this week after a three week Christmas break.  Here’s a few highlights from our week:

1. Grandma Karen visited one day this week.  Here she is reading “Little Man in the Map” to all the kids.   Miss M will participate in a Geography Challenge at our homeschool co-op in May, and the challenge for the 2nd graders is to memorize the location of all the US states.   Miss M wanted lots of prep time, so we started this week!  We’ll be using this book as well as a few iPad apps (and standard blank paper maps) for learning and practice all semester.

2. Mr. E and Mr. K relaxing on the couch with a bit of music on a shared MP3 player today.  Sometimes music is the best thing to soothe the savage beast…or stir crazy little boys as the case may be!

3. Mr. K is potty training.  He’s our “class clown” so it makes life interesting.  He is just as likely to do as pictured (or jump in the empty bath tub, or run right past the potty into the next room) as he is to execute the act of pottying appropriately.  We still have lots of work to do in this department, so I am planning on just as many interruptions to our school day next week as potty training continues!

4. At our homeschool co-op,our assembly time speaker was a “history player” from the Minnesota Historical Society portaying Maud Hart Lovelace.  In this picture, Miss M is dancing with “Maud” to the music of a record playing on a Victrolla.   “Maud” talked about her life story, and how life has changed since the turn of the century — a very fun presentation

5. It’s not uncommon for Mr. E and Mr. K to have some time to play games on the iPad during our school day.  I set Baby J down on the couch next to them for a moment, and he quickly leaned in next to Erik to see what was going on.  So cute!

6.  Here’s Miss M hard at work on her RightStart Math level C lesson.  We completed three lessons this week.  This included spending a fair amount of time reviewing subtraction strategies on Monday and Tuesday that may have gotten a little rusty over break.

7. This was perhaps the top highlight of the week — 50 degree weather on Monday and Tuesday.  In January! In Minnesota!  The kids were asking why we had no bubbles or chalk or jump ropes handy (Hmmm…maybe because it is really still winter?), so I was kind enough to dig some out from the basement.  Reality returned on Thursday and Friday with some more seasonably cold temps.  But this is still a very warm winter by Minnesota standards — I don’t think it has gotten below zero yet.

I’m linking up this week with:


Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners and with the Weekly Wrap Up @Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers