Math-U-See is a mastery-oriented homeschool math curriculum that uses a unique set of manipulatives to help children understand math concepts. I recommend it highly for children who struggle in math or have math anxiety. It’s a great confidence-building program for these kids, because it breaks each concept into smaller parts and focuses on one small chunk at a time until it’s fully mastered. Read on for a full review and buying guide.
(Note that Math-U-See offers math curriculum for grades K through 12. In this review, I focus on their Primary math series, which covers K through 5th grade. I requested and received a free copy of the Gamma level to review. This review is my honest opinion: I was not paid for the review, and I do not make any money from any purchase you make.)
Math-U-See assigns each book a level rather than a grade. Each level focuses on one main topic, with a few subtopics (like money, time, or measurement) mixed in:
- Primer (kindergarten): numbers and counting
- Alpha (1st grade): single-digit adding and subtracting
- Beta (2nd grade): multi-digit adding and subtracting
- Gamma (3rd grade): multiplication
- Delta (4th grade): division
- Epsilon (5th grade): fractions
- Zeta (6th grade): decimals and percentages
This intense focus on one topic at a time ensures that the topic is fully mastered by the end of the level, but some kids (and moms!) may find it wearisome to spend an entire year on one topic.
Components and Lesson Structure
Math-U-See has four components: Instruction Manual, Student Workbook, Instruction DVD, and Manipulative Kit. Each level is divided into 30 lessons, and each lesson contains a short demonstration lesson (on video), notes for the parent on how to teach the concept, lesson practice pages, and systematic review pages. The student book consists of simple, straight-forward problems in black-and-white on clear, uncluttered pages. The author suggests spending as much time as is needed for a child to master a lesson before moving on, with most lessons taking about a week.
Math-U-See’s manipulative kits are essential to the program. For most of the elementary levels, you’ll need the Integer Block Kit. (The Epsilon level uses fraction overlays—transparent plastic squares with fraction markings—instead.) The Integer Kit features snap-together plastic blocks in different colors, with each color used for a particular number. For example, the 2-block is orange, the 5-block is light-blue, and so on. These blocks are used frequently throughout the program to model everything from early counting to long division.
The blocks provide a helpful visual for children as they first encounter the concepts, and they help to unify concepts across the years of the curriculum. But they have a couple of downsides, too. First, there’s the boredom factor. The blocks are the only manipulative that Math-U-See uses, and kids who thrive on variety may find it monotonous to use the same blocks day in and day out.
Second, children who use Math-U-See see one only way of representing each concept. For example, in Gamma, children learn multiplication almost entirely through rectangular arrays of the blocks. In Epsilon, fractions are always represented through divisions of a square with the fractions overlays. Both are excellent visuals, but over-relying on one particular model can make it hard for kids to take what they’ve learned and apply it to real-life problems.
Because it is so sequential and incremental, Math-U-See is a relatively easy math program when compared with other elementary programs. The clear explanations and manipulatives make it easy for children to grasp the concepts, and the problems in the Student Workbook are generally very straight-forward. The lengthy systematic review pages give children lots of opportunities to practice and review previously-learned material.
Math-U-See’s lack of challenge can be either a strength or a weakness, depending on your child. For children who struggle with math or have trouble thinking abstractly, Math-U-See can help them feel successful at math and confident in their understanding of the concepts. But if you have an average to above-average math learner, Math-U-See may not provide enough challenge to keep your child engaged. It is especially weak in developing kids’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills, although enrichment pages at the end of each lesson help with this somewhat.
How much time does Math-U-See take?
Math-U-See requires a fairly low amount of direct teaching by parents. The author suggests parents use a 4-step method for teaching Math-U-See:
- Prepare for teaching the lesson by watching the model lesson on the DVD and reading the Instruction manual.
- Teach the lesson to your child using the blocks in the Manipulative Kit.
- Your child practices the lesson by solving problems in the Student Workbook.
- Your child reviews previous material with Systematic Review sheets in the workbook.
In reality, many parents simply have their child watch the video independently and then complete the worksheets. This works fine for older students who are used to thinking actively as they watch the videos, but younger or more distractible children need a parent sitting at their side and making sure they follow along with the lesson.
What type of learner thrives with Math-U-See?
Math-U-See is a great choice for kids who struggle with math or have math anxiety. The focused sequence of concepts, hands-on manipulatives, simple problems, and comprehensive review pages build kids’ confidence and give them lots of practice with basic math concepts and skills.
How much does Math-U-See cost?
Each level of Math-U-See costs about $85 for the Instruction Manual, Instruction DVD, and Student Workbook. You’ll also need to invest $80 in the Integer Block Kit (used for most of the elementary levels) and then add the $47 Fraction Overlay Kit for the Epsilon level (5th grade) and the $23 Algebra/Decimal Inserts for Zeta (6th grade). The manipulative kit can be reused from year to year.
Math-U-See Buying Guide
The trickiest part of buying Math-U-See is placing your child in the correct level. If you have a kindergartner, simply start with the Primer level. But if you are moving an older child to Math-U-See, sit down with your child and have him or her take the computer-based Placement Test. Because Math-U-See is mastery-oriented, it’s important that your child has fully mastered the material in the lower levels before going on to the higher levels. If your child has struggled with other math programs, you may need to go back to a lower level and reinforce those skills before moving onward.
Once you’ve found your child’s correct level, simply purchase the corresponding Universal Set.