If you follow the traditional academic calendar, you’re probably starting to count the pages left in your curriculum to see when you’ll finish the school year.
If you are on track to finish your math curriculum, way to go! Knock out those last few lessons and get ready to enjoy summer.
But what if you have waaaaay more math lessons left than days of school?
You don’t want your kids to miss out on any essential math concepts. But you don’t want to be teaching long division on a hot, sticky afternoon in August, either.
In this article, you’ll learn three little-known facts about math curriculum that will help you make a wise decision about whether or not to finish your math book.
Three little-known facts about math curriculum
Most teachers don’t finish the textbook either.
When I taught fifth-grade in a public school, my school district didn’t even expect that I would finish the math curriculum. The book was just too long to teach in 180 days. Plus, fire drills, assemblies, field trips, and standardized testing guaranteed that I wouldn’t be able to teach math every day of the school year.
As a result, 6 of the 9 units in the curriculum were required, but 3 were optional. As the blossoms came out on the cherry trees in May, I would decide whether my students were going to study probability or graphing for the rest of the year–because I never had time for both.
Not all topics in the math book are equally important.
Sometimes, textbook publishers include extra topics as a selling point. For example, when I worked as a curriculum developer, our math program aimed to cover 10 different states’ standards so that schools in those states would adopt the curriculum. If just one of those states required a particular topic, I had to include it, even if I didn’t think it was essential or it didn’t fit well with the rest of the chapter. (Um, coordinate grids for third-graders!?) This is especially true if you’re using a school textbook from a large publisher, like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt or McGraw-Hill.
If you want to streamline your curriculum, focus on basic arithmetic in the elementary years: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Make sure your child masters the math facts, develops solid mental math skills, and can solve written-out problems accurately and automatically. If your child has solid arithmetic skills, she’ll be fine in higher-level math courses, even if she didn’t study much geometry, graphing, or measurement in the early years. Just because a topic is included in a math book doesn’t mean your child needs to master it right now.
Most curricula assume that children will forget a lot.
When I taught fifth-grade, I assumed that my students remembered nothing about fractions or decimals. Even though they had studied these topics in previous years, I started at the very beginning and reviewed the basics before moving on to more sophisticated concepts.
Most homeschool math curriculum include a lot of built-in review, too. They expect that children will forget a lot from year to year. If you’re wondering if you can skip part of your math book, just look and see if the topic is included in next year’s book. As long as it’s there, your child can learn the material next year as you cycle back to the topic. For example, many third-grade math books include a brief introduction to fractions. If you don’t have time to cover it this year, the fourth-grade math book will probably go over the exact same material. Just make sure not to skip it again next year!
Four options for finishing your homeschool math curriculum (or not!)
Once you have understand that most schoolteachers don’t finish the book each year, that not all topics are essential, and that most curricula include a lot of review, you’re in a better position to decide whether or not your child needs to finish this year’s math book. Here’s four ways to handle extra lessons.
Option 1: Condense lessons
One option is move through the rest of the book quickly, so that you still finish when you want.
- Combine related lessons
- Skip non-essential lessons (like applications, review lessons, or tests)
- Have your children do fewer problems from each lesson so you can cover more lessons each day.
This is a great option for curricula that end with geometry or measurement topics that you want to touch on but do not need your child to master. Math Mammoth and Singapore both typically end each level with some less-essential topics, so these programs are good candidates for condensing. Singapore also usually ends with lengthy review sections, which you can skip altogether if you run out of time.
Option 2: Do math in the summer
You can also just keep going with math in the summer, perhaps for a shorter amount of time each day or fewer days per week. I especially recommend this for children who have trouble retaining math, so that they forget less over the summer. We have so much flexibility as homeschoolers, and we don’t have to stick to the traditional school schedule if it’s not in our kid’s best interest.
Option 3: Skip the ending
You can also just stop whenever you run out of time. After all, this is what schoolteachers have to do: once school is over, math is over no matter how far the class got.
This option makes the most sense if your curriculum ends with a long review or a less-essential topic. It’s also a good choice for “spiral” curricula like RightStart or Saxon, in which old material is constantly reviewed and new material is introduced gradually in small chunks. You can bet that the authors of spiral programs don’t expect that children will fully master the topics covered in the last ten lessons of the year.
Option 4: Stop where you are and restart from the same place in the fall
Last, you can just pick the book up in the fall and pick up from where you left off. If you do this, try to stop at the end of a chapter or topic. Just remember that your child will likely be rusty in the fall, so you may need to move slowly at the beginning and do some additional review. I recommend this approach for Beast Academy in particular, but it’s also a good option for most curricula. There’s no harm in being slightly “behind” the grade level listed on the book if your child is making steady progress in math.
No matter which option you choose, keep in mind the main goal: true mathematical learning and proficiency, not finishing a certain book by a certain time. Especially in elementary school, thorough mastery is much more important than superficially completing a book. (Plus, learning math thoroughly the first time will save you a lot of time in the long run.) Ultimately, you know your children and your family’s needs best, so trust yourself that you’re able to make a wise decision about whether to finish your math curriculum this year–or not!
Updated May 2017.