I'll let you in on a little secret: I don't do math. I mean, I am not in charge of the math in our home. I help as needed and make sure the work is being done, but ultimately my husband is in charge of the math and figures out what needs to be done each year and how to go about it. He's a maths/sciences guy (who majored in English, then became a dentist :)). The choices we've made over the years tend to have been made with a particular child and or educational situation in mind, so realize that our list is varied because our children are varied, as well.
We began with SAXON. Straight-forward, traditional textbooks we remember having in school. The random letters on the cover spell "Atheist" which I find odd and slightly disturbing in a brainwashing/subliminal message sort of way. I guess the upside is that if your student gets bored, they can figure out what other words the letters spell. ** OK, everyone, don't get all goofy on me. I was JOKING.**
Seriously, we ditched Saxon after the first two boys because it just sort of was. Our firstborn studious-type never complained, but our kinisthetic second born needed enough hands-on help that Saxon became cumbersome.
Ultimately, Saxon was designed for government school settings. 'Nuf said?
We made the switch to ROD AND STAFF for the second-born when he was in 4th grade. By that time, we had already started the third-born in the first grade series and he continued using it until this year.
I really, really like Rod and Staff math in the elementary years. For one thing, the books are rigorous and very straightforward. I have a personal aversion to curriculum designed to look "cool", and these Mennonite published books are- how shall I put it?- decidedly not cool.
Rod and Staff is also very thorough in scope. Measurement, money, life skills, math facts, and all elementary level math skills are covered and covered and covered again.
Lastly, and this may sound pathetically trite, Rod and Staff is extremely affordable. In fact, even when the books become hard-cover texts beginning in 4th grade, we just let the kids write right in them. The price of the hard-cover books is less than most math curricula's consumable texts.
After Rod and Staff, our kids move into TEACHING TEXTBOOKS. At this level, the student tends to need more time than I can give them, and math isn't my strongsuit. I was one of those high schoolers who questioned the usefulness of Algebra. To this day, I haven't used it. Ever.
So, with Dad at work all day and mom needing to focus on all the students and not just one student's tricky algebra or geometry problems, the format of Teaching Textbooks has been a perfect fit for us. We don't have to be the teachers for upper level math, because Teaching Textbooks is a teacher and a textbook in one!
The set of computer CD-ROMs contains 129 lectures, step-by-step multimedia explanations to the 650 practice problems as well as for every single one of the almost 3,500 problems in the book, plus an additional CD-ROM with complete, step-by-step solutions for every test problem.
If the student gets the answer wrong, the CD acknowledges the mistake and tells the student where he was in error, then walks him through the process again. What a relief for mom and dad!
There has been copious discussion on The Well-Trained Mind Forums as to whether or not Teaching Textbooks is rigorous enough. Seems the real math-heads don't think so. The way we see it, if we have a child who wants to pursue something in the advanced mathematics fields, we'll turn to something college-level. Otherwise, so far we have one interested in law, one in lifeguarding, and one in dental hygiene. The jury is out on the rest, so we'll stick with Teaching Textbooks.
And then along came our sweet fifth-born. This is the one who taught herself to read, is a natural speller, and has lovely handwriting. Those are her strong suits. Her weakpoints? Math and science.
Last year (her first grade year), Caroline was so frustrated with her Rod and Staff math that she cried every day. I told my husband what was going on and he said to put the books away. We are huge believers in "better late than early", particularly when it comes to math. We couldn't say it any better than Harvey Bluedorn. So, away went the math books and instead, I purchased a little math game called Tip Top Tally to help her get basic concepts down. She loved that game and begged anyone and everyone to play it with her!
This year, Caroline is slowly working on a page per day of a few KUMON WORKBOOKS that were given to us as gifts.
A last few things that have served us well over the years:
CALCULADDER is an old stand-by worksheet drill program. Nothing fancy about it, but easy to pull out and photocopy when a child needs extra practice in math facts. Our copy is so old that I have all the pages in a binder, but Calculadder comes on a CD now.
QUARTER MILE MATH is a great, simple, and fun math facts drill computer game that our boys just loved. Sadly, it does not work on Macs.
Finally, when Caroline was struggling with place value last month, I borrowed Auntie Lisa's MATH U SEE manipulative blocks. She explained to me how to use them by making a "Place Value Street" and having each set live in their own little house. An afternoon of playing this way and Caroline had place value down cold. How's that for a stellar product review?