Year-End Math Summary

Last fall we started with the Saxon math curriculum. At first, we loved it. But as time went on, both the kids and I began to dread math. This particular curriculum was entirely too repetitive and did not fit their learning styles at all. S9 is a very goal-oriented learner; she wants to get the right answer and move on. O7 is dealing with some anxiety and insecurity about various performance-based things, including writing (of all things!). She found the worksheets incredibly stressful and frustrating. The turning point for me was when she had a problem that read something like this:

“Six girls are on a bus. Four girls get onto the bus at the next stop. Draw a picture for this addition problem.”

O7 read the problem, threw her pencil across the table and burst into tears. “I don’t WANT to draw TEN GIRLS!” she sobbed.

There’s no point in making her do extra steps that are just frustrating when the real point is to get her to understand the concept of addition, which she obviously gets. So we quit Saxon math right then and there.

Since then, we have focused on project-based math. Our favorite tool is the grocery store. I have started sending the kids on “scavenger hunts”, which is totally exciting because they get their own shopping cart and list, just like Mom. We started with simple things, like getting three items on a list (loaf of bread, box of cereal, block of cheese. Etc.) Then, I gradually added puzzles and problems. Here are some examples:

  • Get as many bananas for $1 as you can.
  • Compare Tropicana and Florida’s Natural orange juices.  Which one is cheaper per ounce?  Get one jug of the less expensive juice.
  • I use xx brand of coffee cream.  If it is more than $2, buy one carton.  If it is on sale for less than $2, buy two cartons.
  • Here are three brands of toilet paper. (a, b, c).  Which is cheapest per 12-roll package?  Get one package of the least expensive of the three.

Sometimes the scavenger hunt is just to get information, and sometimes we use that data later at home to figure out more complex problems.

  • Write down the prices of your top three cereal choices.   Also write down the number of ounces in each box.  (we figure out later which is the best deal)
  • Which is more expensive per pound: lettuce or carrots?
  • How much is Swiss cheese in the deli?  (Later we calculate the prices of a half-pound, quarter-pound, etc).
  • List three foods that are sold by the pound, three that are sold by volume, and three that are sold by the piece (such as bagels!)
  • I have a coupon for $55 cents off xxx item.  Giant Eagle will double the coupon.  What will the final price of xxx item be if I use the coupon when I buy it?

The grocery store has been a great tool because we go there every week anyway.  It takes me a little bit longer to write out my list, but that’s not a big deal.  The kids love to shop and work independently, and this is a skill that they will use their entire lives.

Meanwhile, we have been talking about what to do with math in the upcoming year.  The kids have started playing around with Khan Academy’s website, and really dig the online format.  S9 has already started teaching herself some geometry.  O7 likes working on the computer, though she is not as motivated to teach herself new things.  I think we are going to play around with it some more over the summer and see if it is something we can use for the long-term.  I love that I can be their “coach” and see what they’ve been working on.  We are thinking of using the “energy points” for some kind of reward system for O7, who is not quite as self-motivated as her sister.


Great Chicago Fire

I confess to not remembering where I heard about the Graphic Library series, but it is definitely a worthwhile series for engaging a young independent reader.  Who doesn’t love great disasters in history, especially written as a graphic novel?!

In anticipation of our Chicago trip, we read the story of the Great Chicago Fire.  The kids really enjoyed the story.  Though they are currently reading un-illustrated novels, each of them liked the graphics, too.

Graphic Library “Disasters in History” series.

I found this on Amazon, used, for a very reasonable price.  It is a welcome addition to our library.

Symphonette 10-16-2012

Today was another rare at-home day. We had to drive DH to work as our other van went into the shop for a bad bearing. When the girls and I got home, we did our math and practiced violin. Then we did some reading and went back to pick up DH. After that, I took S8 to symphonette. She is still a little intimidated by all the older kids (she is the youngest) but she went in smiling, without any hesitation. It’s nice that Miss Tina is involved and actually took several of the second violins into another room for a sectional during the practice. S8 also met another homeschool student who has joined symphonette recently.

Violin Small Group

Today, on top of their lesson earlier this week, the girls went to Tina’s and practiced with the rest of the beginner string students for the upcoming Christmas concert. This is S8’s third violin rehearsal this week, since she also had Symphonette on Tuesday. The girls enjoyed seeing some of their old friends and made some good progress on the concert music.

Math status report: S8 just finished Lesson 9 and O6 just did Lesson 7 in their respective books. We are well on track to finish the curriculum by the end of May, even though we got a late start (the books didn’t arrive until late Sept). I am very pleased with the Saxon program. It is repetitive (almost annoyingly so) and started out very slow, but the kids are cementing some good basic skills like calendar, time and money. They are thinking about math in practical ways (if Julie’s birthday is one week from today, when is her birthday?) and working with graphs already. I’m happy with the program for our one-on-one environment. I have to admit that it would be exceedingly dull in a classroom setting. It is very nice to be able to work at our own pace.


We have done Kumon math, which emphasizes repetition of basic skills for the early grades, as well as eclectic activities such as word problems, math games, and skill drills, for math the past two years.  We have also incorporated math organically into other subject areas, such as measuring, charting and graphing, using percents and fractions, etc.  This coming year, we are switching to Saxon for math and beginning a more structured math curriculum.  As such, I had S8 take their online placement exam to determine her level.  She missed only one problem in the K-3 placement, meaning she is right at grade level (3) for next year.

Math Games

S7 received a math game called Sunya as a gift from her aunt and uncle last Christmas. We finally opened it up last night and tried it out.

Sunya has several variations which allow you to customize it to the level of the players. S7 and O6 were both able to play the basic version with no difficulty. We chose the addition game, in which players get four cards. There is a “+” and an “=” card, which you set out on the table. Each player has to make a true number sentence (e.g. “4 + 1 = 5”). You can use three cards from your hand, or – once a hand has been played – play off the existing cards on the table. The only trick is you can’t move a card that’s already been played, and you can’t duplicate a number sentence that is already showing. We really enjoyed doing this and it was a nice reinforcement of basic addition skills. I am looking forward to doing the subraction version because the kids aren’t quite as strong with subtraction as they are with addition.

We have also been playing with a set of Fraction Tiles that I picked up from Amazon. These are made by Learning Resources and are a great manipulative. The kids pull them out all the time and play with them. I like that you can instantly see the components of common fractions. DH and I sure wish they had been around when we were learning these concepts.

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Math Summary

Looking back at the work we did this school year, I realized there are absolutely NO posts about math.  And I feel bad about this, because not only do we do math all the time, but it’s actually fun and interesting for us.  It’s just not very inspirational for a blog post, apparently!

In our Math folder we have lots of worksheets.  I kept some from different points throughout the year to show our progress.   S7 did about 3-5 a week (sometimes more), and periodically she did timed “drills” where she had a sheet of 50 problems and tried to do as many as she could in five minutes.   She thought this was great fun and is currently doing about 30 problems accurately.  We used a combination of Kumon workbooks, printed worksheets, and oral drills.

Most of our practice was with addition and subtraction facts.  I really felt it was important to get those basic math skills down and embedded before moving on to more complex concepts.   We also did some basic geometry (recognizing that a square has four sides and four angles, for example), measurement to the half-inch, volumes of liquids, money, telling time, and began some multiplication.  The fascinating thing is that, after months of basic math drills, S7 started to figure out patterns all by herself.  She excitedly told me about what happens when you add ten to a single digit, and later began counting by fives and twos- and then, naturally, started multiplying.  I was able to reinforce these concepts with more complicated worksheets as she progressed.  We also did some word problems and I had her figure things out in context (i.e. if we double this cookie recipe, how much flour will we need to use?  how many eggs?  etc).  We play a lot of card and board games in our spare time that involve addition & subtraction, too.

I found The Math Worksheet Site to be very helpful in supplementing our Kumon book and giving us extra activities when needed.

We also had fun playing with our abacus. S7 likes to check her work with it sometimes.

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