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!