## Review

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 5 ^{th} 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.)*

### Overview

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 (1
^{st}grade): single-digit adding and subtracting - Beta (2
^{nd}grade): multi-digit adding and subtracting - Gamma (3
^{rd}grade): multiplication - Delta (4
^{th}grade): division - Epsilon (5
^{th}grade): fractions - Zeta (6
^{th}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.

### Manipulative Kit

**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**.

### Difficulty Level

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 (5^{th} grade) and the $23 Algebra/Decimal Inserts for Zeta (6^{th} 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.

Kaitlin Alfermann says

Thank you so much for this!

Teal says

Which math program do you recommend the most, after all your reviews (aside from the reality that not every program may be just right for every child)? Maybe because I am on a mobile device, I am unable to search for this. Thank you!

Kate says

I wish there was an easy answer to that question, Teal! If I had to pick one program as a blanket recommendation, I’d go with Singapore…but of course, it’s not going to be a perfect fit for every kid or family.

Kim Burkhalter says

Does Singapore mat go through 12th grade? I thought I read somewhere that it just goes to 8 th grade. I don’t want to start it because my child will be in the 7th grade if it doesn’t go all the way through.

Kate says

Hi Kim, That’s correct that the Singapore Math materials only go through 8th grade, so it’s probably not a great choice for a 7th grader.

melodie says

I googled homeschooling math help and came to your site. We are finishing math u see alpha next week as we head into 2nd and 3rd grade at home. My 2nd grader gets it and it doing well. He is also great at visual memory which helps with math facts. My 3rd grader hates math, is a little lazy and is struggling. I invested in this program because i thought it would be better for him, yet we are still struggling. And i may lose my mind in this process. 🙂 more because of the negative attitude, not because he’s missing the concepts. But I’m just not sure where to go now with him.

Kate says

Hugs, Melodie. Constant battles are no fun at all, and definitely not what any of us dreamed of when we started homeschooling. Writing was an ongoing struggle for a long time in my house, so I’m with you.

Could you share a little more about what exactly is going on with your 3rd grader? For example, what types of material has he struggled with in Alpha? Does he struggle in other subjects as well? Is his negative attitude only in math, or in other subjects as well?

Lizie says

Kate,

My turned 7 yo son is finishing alpha and is so demotivated doing math. He used to like it. We went from right start math to mus because it was too teacher intensive. (I am a full time RN).But as my husband says mus has mastered boredom. He didn’t memorize the facts and if I had to make him, it’d bore both of us and we’d be at the beginning. I seems like he can’t think beyond the blocks. Even for simple things like 5+3 that I know he knows he will attempt to ge the blocks. Anyways, I am looking at singapore math, which originally is what we were going I go with. The colorful variety will be welcome here and I think will help get he critical thinking and concepts to” come out of the paper”. I like it is not too much writing like horizons and not too distracting. My daughter also started on primer she is 5 and does not like it. I think I’ll start early bird with her instead too.

I think my kids actually like math. The oldest one for sure. I’m not super strong because in school things moved quicker than I could digest, but I’m considering the us edition. Any thoughts? I have all materials of RSM still. And then finally, I’m hoping not to be switching around much. What would be a good fit after Singapore? We will probably start with 1b at least, as he is finishing 1st grade or do a placement test. Any other thoughts to make this hopefully a successful and final switch?

Kate says

Hi Lizzie, It definitely sounds like a switch is in order! Singapore will be a great fit for your family, for all the reasons you mention. Additionally, because it’s not quite so manipulative-heavy, it should hopefully help your son wean himself from always using the blocks. US edition should work well, and just make sure to get the Home Instructor’s Guide along with it to help you get the most out of the curriculum. Once you do the placement test, you should be good to go. 🙂

P.S. I’m a big fan of RightStart, too, but Singapore will be less teacher-intensive.

Katrina says

Hi Kate!

We have worked through Right Start A through most of Right Start D. We encountered the “Right Start C” problem I have read about in blogs across the web and even on Right Start’s own site — that it could simply take too long. So I had my son take the placement test for Right Start D, and he was ready for it. (I believe this was due to the part-spiral nature of the program.) However, while working through D, I felt that I wasn’t quite sure if he was truly mastering multiplicaton facts, so I picked up some Math-U-See Gamma materials to supplement and assure mastery. (I chose that option because of the base-ten emphasis, and because MUS is often available for cheap through people from our co-op.) BUT now my son loves the Gamma workbook and has asked not to switch as we move on to Delta and finish Right Start D. After trying to talk with him about, I believe he simply prefers the larger font and more white space of MUS. I am considering continuing how I am going — using Right Start as my main curriculum and using MUS as a supplement (almost like a Kumon book on steroids that aligns in scope and sequence better). HOWEVER, I am worried that this will be too labor-intensive for me (which generally translates into getting through the curriculum slowly). So I am wondering . . . what would you think about the level of (good) challenge for my son if I just went with MUS with Singapore Challenging Word Problems? I don’t want to underserve him, as math has always been a great strength for him. I feel like if I do MUS with Singapore CWP, he may not miss out conceptual understanding or his ability to do word problems, but on actually learning the math concept initially through logic and discovery. I have thought that Right Start excelled at this. But then I keep thinking that I am going to have to leave Right Start eventually as we are almost done with it . . .. sigh. Any helpful thoughts?? Thanks!

Katrina says

I should add that his math acument is one of the reasons we homeschooled in the first place, and that my tentative plan after completing the Right Start series would be to move on to AoPS with MUS supplement (if I could get that to work).

Katrina says

I think I am going to answer my own question. 😉 I’ve concluded I’ll really only need a supplement to make sure we master multiplication and division facts, so I am going to try to stick to the RightStart/AoPS track. Yay!

Kate says

Hi Katrina! It’s amazing how much easier it is to make a decision once we’ve tried to explain it to someone else. 🙂 I think you’ve made an excellent decision. Much as your son might like the white space, MUS usually isn’t a great fit for a high-achieving, math-y, kid. If for some reason you find that RightStart isn’t quite working, definitely take a look at Beast Academy (the AOPS elementary curriculum).

Regarding multiplication and division facts, I’ll have a multiplication facts book out sometime this coming year, but no publication date yet. If you don’t want to wait, you might try Math Mammoth Blue Series Multiplication or Kumon Grade 3 Multiplication.

Happy Math!

Kate

Katrina says

Yes, I guess thinking “out loud” helps! Thanks for your response and your encouragement. I actually wrote out a few Right Start problems today on a small whiteboard, and it worked wonders. (I was really clued-in by your point about not getting to the root of the problem in your article about potential detriments to switching curricula. I really think this white space/too small of font was the root problem. He is working a level ahead for his age, so there is some of that developmental stuff I have to consider!) I will look for your forthcoming facts books! Thanks for the heads up, and, again for your response here! So helpful!

Kate says

Woohoo! That’s awesome , Katrina. So glad you were able to get to the bottom of it, and I hope using the whiteboard continues to make a big difference.

Kay Baihly says

I in particular was looking at MUS for my mathy 10th grader because it’s being taught at a co-op. He did great with Harold Jacob’s Algebra 1 and Geometry. I am considering Algebra 2 Chicago Math or doing at the co-op (MUS). Now I’m thinking about going w/ Chicago . Any thoughts on the higher MUS courses?

Kate says

Hi Kay, MUS definitely looks a little lighter than the Chicago program. It covers a lot of the same topics, but not quite as in depth and with not quite the same level of challenge. It has quite a bit of overlap with what your son has already studied in Jacobs, too. If you son did well with Jacobs and likes math, he may find the MUS Algebra II easy (and possibly boring). However, if it makes your year go more smoothly (or you’re looking for him to have a classroom math experience), it would probably be fine.

Happy Math!

Kate

Fabricia paola ribeiro santos says

Hello, Kate!

I’m from Brasil, and I’d like to the books from here. Is there any easy way you know?

Thank you so much for sharing!

Fabricia paola ribeiro santos says

Sorry,

To buy!

Kate says

Hi Fabricia! I’m not sure about buying options from Brazil, but the Math-U-See customer service is usually excellent. Send them an email at the “contact” link on their website, and I’m sure they’ll get right back to you.

Happy math!

Kate

Jules says

Would you please review Life of Fred and Math Lessons for a Living Education by Angela O’dell? Thank You.

Kate says

Hi Jules, They’re both on my list, but it’ll be a while before I have time to do an in-depth review of them.