Ask Kate: How Can I Add Conceptual Teaching to a Procedural Program?

Use a procedural homeschool math program like Saxon or Christian Light Education, but want to add some conceptual teaching? Today, I’m sharing my favorite resources with a mom who wants to make sure her daughter develops solid mathematical reasoning and learns both the “how” and “why” of math. 

I have a daughter who is not mathematically inclined. We use Christian Light Education (similar to Saxon) and have found this approach seems to work well for her because it is very concrete and the constant review with the spiral approach. However, I am concerned about over emphasizing the mathematical process and not teaching enough of the reasoning. As much as I’d like to switch to Singapore Math, I’m hesitant to switch over to something too abstract.

Do you have any recommendations for what I could supplement with to develop more mathematical reasoning? Also, do you think a “light” version of Singapore Math can be taught as a supplement to a more traditional core Math? If so, any advice on what SM products to use to do supplement with?


Dear Meghan,

I’m a big fan of conceptual programs like Singapore. But when a math curriculum is working well for a child, I’m always reluctant to suggest a switch. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Supplementing a traditional program like CLE is a great way to reap the benefits without sacrificing conceptual understanding. Much as I love conceptual programs like Singapore and Right Start, traditional procedural programs sometimes work best, especially for kids who struggle in math. 

For these kids, learning the processes builds their confidence and gives them a concrete way to think about the underlying concepts. They’re ready to master the “why” of math only after they master the “how.” It sounds like that might describe your daughter!

I’ve done this myself with two of my long-term tutoring students. Both had serious struggles with math. They did best with incremental lessons that showed them exactly what to do, built their confidence, and gave them plenty of opportunities to practice. So, I used Rod and Staff as their core program. Then, I added lots of hands-on manipulatives to help them understand the “why” after they understood the “how”. Neither became a math all-star, but both made solid progress in both their fluency and understanding.

Here are 4 of my favorite tools for adding conceptual teaching to procedural programs.

  1. Base-ten blocks. Base-ten blocks are my go-to manipulative for modeling addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I highly recommend that any parent who’s teaching elementary math keep a set on hand. This page has an excellent library of activities you can do with base-ten blocks to get you started.
  2. Key to FractionsKey to Decimals, and Key to PercentsEach Key to… series consists of a set of thin workbooks that cover a particular topic from start to finish. They’re incremental, well-sequenced, and visual, with lots of pictures and practice exercises that help kids both understand the underlying mathematical concepts and also master the pencil-and-paper skills. A great add-on to upper elementary fraction units.
  3. Kumon Word Problems. These books provide a wider variety of problem structures and more challenging word problems than most procedural homeschool math programs. Great for developing mathematical reasoning.
  4. RightStart Math’s Activities for the AL Abacus. This streamlined version of the RightStart program uses a 100-bead abacus and place-value cards to help children understand place-value and apply their understanding to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. A great variety of well-sequenced hands-on activities.

Happy Math!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you go through them to make a purchase, I will earn a small percentage of that purchase as a commission, without any increased cost to you. I only recommend products because of their quality and not because of any commission. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you. 

2 thoughts on “Ask Kate: How Can I Add Conceptual Teaching to a Procedural Program?”

  1. Same question but for Algebra and up. Saxon works great for us but I don’t want to miss the conceptual. Not looking to switch but looking to add.

    • Math teaching tends to become more abstract as you move up the grade levels. Algebra Tiles and parts of the Hands-on Equations program make a good supplement if your child needs a more concrete way to understand what’s going on at that point with all those x’s and y’s.

      Happy Math!


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