Do I Really Have to Finish the Math Book?

Three little-known facts to help you decide whether to finish your homeschool math curriculum, plus four options for handling those extra lessons.

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!

35 thoughts on “Do I Really Have to Finish the Math Book?”

  1. I always feel guilty when our books don’t get finished by the start of the new school year. It happens in grammar too, not just in math. This is very helpful (and encouraging), thanks!

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  2. Good advice!
    Thoroughly understanding 3 things is much better than touching on 30. Try to avoid ‘check the box’ mentalty.
    Great insight into the marketing of textbooks (and just about everything else.) When purchasing something, the consumer sees more as better. But this often an illusion. A great example is vacation tours. Nine cities in 9 days sounds better than three cities in 9 days. In actuality the former is an endless parade of packing, unpacking, and bus trips. Works the same way with school topics.

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  3. LOL I logged on to Twitter tonight to specifically ask math teachers if they ever skip the end of the book — but I couldn’t figure out what to say. 😀 THANK YOU for this article. It’s exactly what I needed to read and it confirmed my intuition that we’ll be okay to skip the very end of the book. Because we are SO done with math right now.

    Reply
  4. I have enjoyed your book, and if I was homeschooling, it would be perfect. But I teach in a Classical School (Pre-K), and need more lessons – about 100 lessons. The rest of our school uses Math In Focus. Do you have any classroom oriented math curriculum to recommend?

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  5. Kate,

    Wow! What great information and the way you broke it down is exceptionally helpful. I’m so happy to have found you. We started Mammoth this past year based on your recommendations of what math might work for what type of child and it has been a great start for us. And you are right, we are ending with a Geometry section in Mammoth which is just a nice easy way to end. And we didn’t even plan it this way!

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  6. Thank you! This was really helpful for me in deciding is important to cover in math with our time left. I knew there was no way we were going to finish! 🙂

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  7. Glad you’ve enjoyed Preschool Math at Home, Lesa! I’m afraid I’m not familiar with with preschool math classroom curriculum. This may not work for your situation, but you can stretch out Preschool Math at Home by repeating each lesson a few times, with different manipulatives or movements to vary it. It’s intended to be a full-year curriculum, with about one week per activity so that children can really master each concept.

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  8. Great advice. Thank you Kate! We use Math Mammoth on your recommendation and it suits my son very well. We are nearing the end of the level and as we homeschool 4 weeks on and 1 week off all year the extra topics will be done over the summer. It’s nice to know that we can maybe skip a couple of days without it being detrimental to his learning.

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  9. I think figuring out what to do with RightStart is tricky due to its tight spiral. We are in C. I think we’re getting to some review concepts so perhaps I can condense/skip some, or maybe we’ll just pick up where we left off.

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  10. This encouraged me so much. Because of movingsnd other life events I only got half way through my daughters 5th grade math. I’m
    Feeling really discouraged and not sure what to do. Gonna pray about some of your suggestions. Thank you!!!

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  11. Along these same lines, should I start with lesson 1 in the next book (rightstart)? We did school through the summer, so we will finish all but the review/assessment lessons of one level and then start the next level the next day. Can I skip ahead to the new content since we didn’t take time off?

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  12. Hi Emily,

    Yes, you should be fine to move on to the new content. The review at the beginning is really meant to ease your child back into the math routine and reactivate the math brain cells. If you suddenly discover your child needs some of the review, you can always take a brief detour back.

    Happy math!
    Kate

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  13. I know that there’s no one size fits all math curriculum but I was wondering which math program is your personal favorite?

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  14. Hi Kami,

    I can’t narrow it down to one program, but I’ll give you 3 different favorites. 🙂

    1. Beast Academy is the program that I have the most fun teaching…but it’s definitely not for everyone!

    2. Rod and Staff is the program that I find the least fun to teach, but the most effective program I’ve found for upper-elementary and middle-school kids who have serious struggles with math–and I love watching these kiddos’ confidence build as they work through it.

    3. RightStart Math is my favorite for hands-on teaching with younger elementary students. I love all the fun games and the opportunities for aha-moments that it provides.

    Happy Math!
    Kate

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    • We are using RS and are really struggling. I have an ADHD daughter in 1st grade (held back a year due to math issues). We are half way through level B and she still doesn’t know her addition facts. We purchased your Addition Facts That Stick book- but I am concerned to switch her to 10 rod after learning to visualize with the abacus. Would it be better to switch to Rod and Staff at this point? Or maybe combine? Is Rod and Staff mastery? Thanks so much!!

      Reply
      • Hi Jennifer,

        The activities and games in Addition Facts That Stick work with the abacus, too. It should work fine if you use the abacus instead of counters on the ten-frame.

        Rod and Staff is a completely different program than RightStart, so it’d be a big switch! It’s much more traditional and procedural, with lots of written drill each day. I’d consider it a mastery program with spiral review, although there’s a little more spiraling in the younger grades. It really depends on your daughter’s learning style as to whether or not it would be better to switch.

        Happy Math!
        Kate

        Reply
  15. Thank you for this article! This was a great help! I was wondering what to do as far as picking up where we left off or start a new level. Now I know that he needs to learn more as we did not finish alot in math. But being thorough so that he knows his math is what I am going for. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  16. Thank you very much. I know in the lower grades the private school teachers only got to Lesson 75 in Saxon. I was feeling pressured because, I guess other homeschooling mamas say they finish their curriculum. TT has 150 lessons in Algebra 1. My daughter started in January and is on only lesson 71. She has also started Geometry as well. Should I just have her stop and focus on Geometry? She’s trying to graduate this year because she was held back twice (K and 1st).

    Reply
    • Hi Holly,

      Honestly, there’s no one right answer here. It all depends on how motivated she is, how much time she’s willing to devote to math each day, and whether how well she can retain the content. I’m also not sure if TT geometry assumes that students have already taken algebra–if so, it would definitely make sense to finish the algebra course first.

      Happy Math!
      Kate

      Reply
  17. As a sub teacher as well as a homeschool teacher ,I notice in school system not only do they not finish the book but they Apollyon do cerise’s pages and skip around a lot . I assume teaching for the test only ! I am a
    Ways amazed how much further a long my home schooler is !

    Reply
  18. Hi Kate,

    I feel relieved! We are working through Singapore 3 A & B. We switched from RS last year – which I always felt was much easier to stay on track. I love Singapore (and do not regret the change), but it does at times stress me out knowing we have no chance of finishing both books. There is a lot of material to cover, and it took us extra time to learn long division. But, again, no regrets. I love the curriculum! I like the ideas you gave in the article. I’ll focus on math facts first (which is mostly book A) and what we don’t finish in book B, I’ll try to condense as best I can. Then, we’ll spend the summer on your Math Facts That Stick series! And hopefully be ready for 4 A & B next year! THANKS!

    Reply
    • Glad to help, Laura! And with Singapore, also bear in mind that many kids who finish 6A and 6B are ready for algebra, without a year of pre-algebra first. So even if you finish Singapore Primary a year “late”, your child will still be on track to start algebra in 8th grade.

      Happy Math!
      Kate

      Reply
  19. Thanks Kate! Super helpful information! Just so I’m understanding, once we finish Singapore 6A&B, we won’t need pre-algebra but can move directly into an algebra curriculum, which is generally in 8th grade? So, Singapore 6 could actually be finished in 7th grade and that leaves us on track?

    It makes me wonder if I should plan on spending more than a year on each Singapore level. I’ll probably wait until I buy 4A and B and see if I think he’s ready to move forward or needs to spend more time in 3B. I think the big thing will be firming up the multiplication and division facts. Last year, we spent the summer using your books and that was a hit, so I definitely want that to be the summer thing. It helps make math fun again!

    THANKS!!!!!
    Laura

    Reply
    • Hi Laura,

      Yes, that’s what I’m saying about the grade levels. Kids’ readiness for algebra has a lot to do with both their math preparation and their overall maturity, so I can’t make any guarantees! But that’s a typical path for many kids who use Singapore all the way through 6B.

      Happy Math!
      Kate

      Reply
  20. Echoing all the other posters who said this was such a relief for them to hear. We had about four chapters to go in both BJU Math 4 and 5. I took a good look at Math 6 then realized it is all things my son will have again in pre-algebra. My kids want to say thank you for giving them a ‘real’ summer break!

    Reply

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