RightStart has lived up to its name for my family. It has given both of my kids a great beginning in math. Thanks to RightStart, they both have excellent number sense and conceptual understanding, as well as confidence that they can figure out unfamiliar problems.
Even so, my son only used the first three levels of RightStart before switching to another program, and my daughter will likely do the same. In this review, I’ll explain more about RightStart’s pluses and minuses to help you discern if it might be a good fit for your family.
RightStart is a comprehensive K-5 math curriculum. It is a teacher-intensive, manipulative-heavy program. Each level has a required workbook, but most of the teaching is in the teacher’s manual, and lots of one-on-one teaching is required . This is especially the case in the lower levels, as children are able to work a bit more independently as they progress to higher levels.
Manipulatives and Visuals
While RightStart covers all of usual elementary math topics, it really shines in its treatment of numbers and operations (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing). It helps children develop excellent number sense through a variety of carefully-selected visuals. For example, in Level A, children represent the numbers up to 10 with their fingers, tally sticks, taps, beads on the abacus, and words in a song—and that’s just in the first eight lessons! The AL abacus is essential tool in the RightStart curriculum and is used frequently.
RightStart helps children build computational fluency through careful development of the standard algorithms (the usual procedures for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.) Well-chosen manipulatives and a gradual, step-by-step development of an algorithm over a series of lessons make it easy for children to understand not only how to use the algorithm but also why it works. I still remember the joy of my son’s “Aha!” moment in Level B when he suddenly realized that he could add four-digit numbers!
Use of Games
RightStart also helps kids build computational fluency through frequent use of games. The games give kids a lot of practice with mental math and math facts, and many of them are genuinely fun, even for adults. This, plus the fact that there isn’t much writing in the early levels, makes RightStart a great choice for kids whose math ability is further along than their writing ability. The downside, though, is that playing games to cement math facts rather than doing a worksheet means more parent-directed teaching time.
RightStart uses a highly-scripted teacher’s manual that tells you exactly what to do in each lesson. It even spells out the exact questions to ask, although you can always put the questions into your own words. This might be a drawback if you prefer a more flexible teacher’s manual, but it’s a great strength if you don’t feel confident teaching math and want a lot of hand-holding. You’ll also learn a lot while you teach, as the manuals introduce you to the reasons behind the method.
I appreciate that I don’t have to spend a lot of time prepping math each day but can just open the teacher’s manual and start teaching. However, even though I don’t have to spend much time prepping each lesson, I find I sometimes have to spend some time looking backward and forward in the table of contents to figure out where a series of lessons is headed, because RightStart uses a spiral approach to learning. There are no chapters or units, just a list of lesson titles. Dr. Cotter provides a little guidance in the teacher’s manual, but I’m often unsure whether a topic is supposed to be mastered or just introduced in a particular lesson.
Because it is so teacher intensive, you need to plan to be present for the entire math session, especially in the early years. Some moms report that they only spend fifteen or twenty minutes on each RightStart lesson, but some spend up to forty-five minutes.
What type of learner thrives with RightStart?
RightStart’s wide variety of activities makes it a great fit for most kids, but it’s especially well-suited for a sociable child who loves hands-on materials and games. Children are encouraged to think through problems and make connections themselves, so it might be a little daunting for a child prefers to have everything explained by the parent and to be told exactly what to do in math—although this kind of child would probably benefit a lot from the critical thinking practice that RightStart provides.
How much does RightStart cost?
Each year’s books cost $85. However, to get started with RightStart, you must buy upfront a manipulatives set that costs $180.
If you can afford the investment of money and time, RightStart provides an excellent introduction to math and helps set children on the path to becoming capable and confident at math. It’s a great program for a child who likes conversational, hands-on learning and for a parent who has the time for lots of one-on-one instruction.
If you decide to go with RightStart Math, don’t miss out on your free copy of 5 Quick Tips to Help You Teach RightStart Math Like a Rock Star–all my best advice on using RightStart math, in a 2-page printable PDF.
My curriculum disclaimer: You know your children far better than I do! Please take my advice with a grain of salt and use the samples to decide whether this curriculum is a good fit for you and your child. This review is my honest opinion–I am not affiliated with RightStart in any way and don’t make any money off of any purchase you make.
Updated April 2016.