When Beast Academy first arrived on my doorstep over a year ago, I couldn’t wait to see what made this curriculum so unique. As I paged through it, I felt both thoroughly delighted and completely puzzled. My son was immediately drawn to the graphic-novel-style Guide, but I wasn’t sure how to actually schedule the program so that he would learn the math.
Beast Academy is a wonderful curriculum, but the authors don’t offer much guidance on how to schedule it. The FAQ on the Beast Academy website provides some pointers, but the curriculum’s format makes it a challenge to plan.
Unlike other homeschool math programs, Beast Academy doesn’t follow a consistent lesson format. Some days you read the Guide, other days you don’t. Some Practice book sections are eight pages long, some are only one page. Some days, your child might spend half an hour working on one problem, while other days your child might whip through five pages.
It all ends up working out, but when you’re a box-checking, type-A mom like me, it can be challenging to schedule Beast Academy and feel confident that you’re on track!
How I Schedule Beast Academy
I’ve been using Beast Academy for over a year now, and I finally feel like I have good planning system in place. Here’s what I do.
Step 1: Preview the chapter.
At the start of each chapter, I do a quick preview of the Guide and Practice books. This helps me understand the chapter objectives and the big ideas that my son will be learning.
First, I flip through the Guide and then read the chapter’s table of contents closely. The leading questions below each section title are very helpful. They sum up the main point of each section and usually provide examples of what your child will be learning. (I didn’t notice these until 3C—I wish I’d noticed them earlier!) I also flip through the Practice book. I pay special attention to the last few pages of the chapter to get a sense of where the practice problems are heading.
Step 2: Map out the chapter.
Beast Academy does offer some guidance about how to line up the Guide and the Practice book. There’s a chart at the beginning of each chapter in the Practice book, and there are references to the Guide at the bottom of some of the Practice book pages.
These are helpful, but I feel much more confident in my teaching (and efficient in my planning) when I can see the connection between the two books at a glance. So, at the beginning of each chapter, I make a chart like this one.
As you can see, the chart is nothing fancy (and a little messy!) But, I find that it helps me so much with my planning and teaching that it’s well worth the ten minutes it takes me to make it.
(The sample chart above is from chapter 3 in 4A. The secret to making a chart like this is to start with the Practice book, not the Guide book. First, I start by listing all the sections from the Practice book in the right-hand column, along with how many pages long each section is. Then, I use the chart at the beginning of each chapter in the Practice book to match up the Guide sections with the Practice sections and list them in the left-hand column.)
Step 3: Schedule time, not pages.
Even after using Beast Academy for a year, I still find it hard to predict how long it will take H to finish a page. The starred problems usually take longer than the less-challenging problems, but not always! For example, the easy problems can be time-consuming if they require a lot of computations. Double-starred problems usually take a while, but sometimes my son has a sudden flash of insight and solves them more quickly than I expect.
So, since I can’t predict how long a page will take, I simply schedule a block of time for math each day. As long as my son is focused and working hard, I’m fine with however much he gets done. I do give him a general idea of how much I expect him to finish each day. But if he doesn’t finish the assignment in time, we just save it and continue on the next day.
Step 4: Mix up the difficulty level each day.
Math goes better at my house when there’s a balance of easy and hard work each day. If all the work is hard, my son gets tired and loses steam. But if all the work is easy, he gets bored and has trouble focusing.
This can be tricky when there are several easy pages or several hard pages in a row in the Practice book. So, I sometimes rearrange the order of the practice problems slightly. If there are a lot of easy pages in a row, I sometimes skip the last couple and then use them for warm-ups for the next few days rather than assigning them on their own. If there are a lot of hard pages in a row, I make up some straightforward computation practice (like multi-digit subtraction or multiplication) as a warm-up.
I also add math fact practice before each lesson as needed. Right now, H is working on speedy recall of the multiplication facts, so he does three minutes of reciting the multiplication table and drilling flash cards before working on Beast Academy each day.
Step 5: Consider finishing less than four books per year.
For my son, finishing all four books per year would be too much. He’s able to focus well and work hard on challenging problems for 20-30 minutes each day. But then he loses steam, and the quality of his work suffers. At this rate, he finishes three books per year rather than four.
Math isn’t a race. It’s much more important that kids learn the basics thoroughly and develop a love of math than rush through according to some artificial timetable. If you’re using Beast Academy, I highly recommend that you read “The Calculus Trap.” It’s a short article by Richard Rusczyk (founder of Art of Problem Solving, and publisher of Beast Academy) that explains the philosophy behind their “deep rather than fast” philosophy.