Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Mathematics Curriculum: Should it Stay or Should it Go?

“I don’t like the math curriculum we are using.  Which curriculum would you recommend?”

Having taught mathematics in the public schools, I get this question every year.  I am sharing my thoughts on this topic to give you a perspective you may not have considered in the past.  When you hear a fellow homeschooling friend rave about the math program she is using in her homeschool, a lot of us can’t help having order envy.  Maybe we would be a lot happier doing math with that curriculum instead.  As a result many end up tossing over their current curriculum only to find that the grass was no green on this side of the fence.  This cycle may continue to perpetuate itself because you are looking for something that does not exist.

Every mathematics program has a scope and sequence or an outline of skills and information to be taught, organized by grade level.  If you switch the curriculum from year to year the unavoidable consequence is that your children will have gaps, concepts they did not master but should have, in their mathematics education.  The more often you switch the curriculum, the bigger and vaster the gaps.  As a result of these gaps, it is a lot harder for them to understand the more difficult concepts in the later years because they have not mastered the necessary foundational concepts needed.

My recommendation would be to stick with what you have.  I cannot stress enough persevering with a curriculum so that your children are taught all of the concepts they need, when they need them.  The bottom line is that there is no mathematics curriculum available that makes you want to cheer with excitement.  Yes, there are different types of mathematics programs, but ultimately math is math; the concepts to be taught are absolute.  2+2 will always equal 4 regardless of the curriculum.  Mathematics is not thrilling to most people no matter how the curriculum company presents it, but it can be enjoyable to master new concepts that were difficult.  There is satisfaction in that.

“My child is struggling with the concepts presented in the curriculum I am currently using.  Isn’t that a good reason to switch to a different curriculum?”  

First, the beauty of homeschooling is that you are not on anyone else’s timeline.  If you need to spend much longer on a difficult concept, then you have the freedom to do that.  If you want to skip pages in a section that has been quickly mastered, then you are free to do that.

Second, the struggle to grasp new concepts is not an indication that the curriculum is not working for you. It is also not a sign of academic weakness in your child or an indication that your child is not mathematically minded.  Struggle is the means in which your child learns hard things.  A weight lifter cannot start with the heaviest weight.  He must work his way up to it by regular practice with light and then gradually heavier weights in order to build and strengthen his muscles.  It is like this with mathematics as well.  It requires frequent practice of solving math problems with gradually increasing difficulty.  As a result, your child will develop the habits of accuracy, observation, and perseverance. Each struggle strengthens the child.  There is nothing more exciting for the child who has persevered with a difficult concept to finally understand it.  There is such an overwhelming sense of relief and joy in seeing the problem through to its successful end. In the midst of your child’s struggle, if you see him begin to lose heart, remind him of that last moment of success as a means of encouragement.

“Mathematics depends upon the teacher rather than upon the text-book and few subjects are worse taught; chiefly because teachers have seldom time to give the inspiring ideas, what Coleridge calls, the 'Captain' ideas, which should quicken imagination.” 
Charlotte Mason Vol. 6 p. 233

Finally, it falls upon the teacher to present the concept to the child in a way that he can understand.  The curriculum is only a guide.  If your child does not understand the concept after you have presented it as suggested by the curriculum, then you as the mathematics teacher must find a different way to present that concept.  Mathematics was one of the subjects that Mason agreed relied heavily on the teacher and she was correct.  This may seem daunting to some, but do not let this idea stop you from being a good math teacher.  There are so many resources online, that I have full confidence that you will be able to find the help you need.  If you are part of a homeschooling network, then there are many people within who could help you as well.

I would like to encourage you to persevere with your curriculum choice.  Make it work for you.  You have chosen the hardest thing already by choosing to homeschool, you can do this too.

Look for my next post on how to choose a mathematics curriculum.


  1. Thanks for this! Excited to see your next post.

    Mrs. H


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