I’ve never taken a poll, but I’d guess that worrying that we’re not not doing enough is the number one fear of homeschoolers.
It’s definitely mine.
We’ve made this unconventional choice to educate our kids at home, and we don’t want to mess it up! Sometimes, it can feel very tempting to think that if we just do more, we can guarantee that our kids will turn out okay.
But of course, there are no guarantees in life, whether you send your kids to school or teach them at home.
Plus, we all know that “more” does not always equal “better.” In fact, “more” in a homeschool often turns out to mean “more stressed-out moms and kids.”
When it comes to math–a subject that many moms feel especially worried about–it’s easy to feel that adding supplemental materials will be the magic bullet that makes our kids confident and capable at math.
If you’ve ever felt that way, you’re not alone. I received a great question about this from a homeschool mom on Facebook last week.
“If I just use Math Mammoth, will my son be ready for middle school math and beyond? I guess my question also is: what does the student gain from supplementing math?”
Are Homeschool Math Supplements Necessary?
I’ve got good news: if you are using a high-quality math curriculum and teaching it thoroughly, your children likely do not need any other math. In fact, there are a lot of advantages to sticking with one program and focusing your energy on teaching it well:
- Your kids won’t feel overwhelmed by how much math they have to do.
- You’ll have time to discuss each lesson thoroughly and let it sink in, without feeling like you have to hurry to get to the next thing.
- You won’t waste lots of time figuring out how to schedule it all and get everything in. Instead, you can focus your attention on teaching well.
- You’ll have more time to use your math curriculum as the author intended. Many math programs include small features that are crucial to the program (like a daily mental math warm-up or math facts review). These components are key, but they’re easy to skip when you feel rushed.
So, what do I mean by a high-quality program? A high-quality elementary math program will:
- Teach your children both the why and the how of math (that is, both the concepts and the procedures for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing whole numbers, fractions, and decimals)
- Provide plenty of practice with the math facts, mental math, and written calculations
- Teach your children to solve word problems and apply math to real-life situations
Different math programs have different strengths and weaknesses, but most standard math programs will meet these goals. (And it’s certainly true for my top elementary math recommendations: Math Mammoth, Singapore Math, RightStart Math, Beast Academy, and Math with Confidence.)
This is so important that I’ll say it again: If you’re using a comprehensive math curriculum and teaching it thoroughly, most children will learn the skills they need to thrive in math, without any supplementing.
The Key to Choosing Math Supplements Wisely
But that’s not to say that math supplements are bad. Our kids are not one-size-fits-all, and some kids do benefit from extra math work.
Plus, math supplements can be a lot of fun! If you have space in your schedule, it’s wonderful to help your kids develop a positive attitude toward math with math games, read-alouds, or puzzles.
Here’s the key to choosing math supplements wisely (and not out of fear): Before you add a math supplement, identify exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. Then pick one thing.
For example, here are my goals for my kids this year.
- Goal: Elizabeth, my six-year-old, will be using Singapore Math. It’s a good fit for her, and she likes the colorful textbook and working independently. But, I want to make sure that she sees math as fun and interactive–and not just a bunch of workbook problems.
- Supplement: I’ve scheduled time to play math games together on Fridays. (We’ll use a mix of games from Addition Facts That Stick, Subtraction Facts That Stick, and RightStart.) They’ll not only add some fun and variety to her math learning but also help her give her a little extra practice with the addition and subtraction facts.
- Goal: Henry, my nine-year-old, loves Beast Academy. He thrives on the conceptual focus and the challenging problem-solving. But, he resists writing out his work. As a result, he has stellar mental math skills but is shaky at solving multiplication and division problems on paper. Plus, he needs to develop more stamina in writing to be prepared for middle school math in a couple of years.
- Supplement: Once a week, I’ll assign some basic computation problems from a traditional textbook. He won’t love having to write them out in a notebook, but it will help him build stamina and gain better mastery with long division and multi-digit multiplication.
The Best Homeschool Math Supplements
Once you’ve decided what you’d like to accomplish with a math supplement, you’re ready to choose something that will help you meet your goal. Here are some of my favorite math supplements, organized by goal:
Goal: My child needs more practice with a particular skill.
- Kumon books are my hands-down favorite for inexpensive skill-builder books. Children already need to be familiar with a topic before beginning a Kumon book, since there’s no explicit instruction, but the slight increase in difficulty from page to page builds kids’ confidence and skills slowly but surely.
- Sometimes, all you need is a couple free worksheets to help a child cement a skill. Math Mammoth has a great worksheet generator that will create practice problems for nearly all elementary math topics.
Goal: My child is struggling with word problems.
- Singapore Math’s Challenging Word Problem Series walks children through the process of solving word problems, step by step. These books are hard; I recommend you buy the book a grade level lower than your child is currently working at in math. But their thorough instruction makes them one of the best word problem books out there.
- Evan-Moor’s Daily Word Problems provide one word problem per day for the entire school year. This book provides a really nice mix of practice problems that will push your child to think. Perfect for the child who already has a handle on word problems but needs more practice.
Goal: My child loves logic puzzles and challenging problem-solving.
- Ed Zaccaro’s Primary Grade Challenge Math and Upper Elementary Challenge Math are great choices for kids who love math. They introduce kids to some higher-level topics through a chatty text and interesting real-life applications.
- Critical Thinking Company’s Balance Benders prepare kids for algebra through deceptively-simple-looking balance problems. These are addictive!
- AnimaLogic and Rush Hour are two of my kids’ favorite logic board games. Both are designed for one person to play independently, so they’re perfect for when you want to keep a kid occupied while you work with another child.
Goal: I want my kids to appreciate the truth and beauty of math.
- Check out the Your Morning Basket podcast that I did with Pam Barnhill. You’ll find lots of suggestions for enjoying math together as a family in the podcast and list of resources.
Goal: I’d like to add some fun and games to our math time.
- RightStart Math offers a comprehensive Math Card Games Kit that covers nearly every elementary math topic: time, money, fractions, decimals, plus basic computations and math facts. It’s expensive, but worth it if your family enjoys games.
- For free games, take a look at my list of free math games. All of them are designed so that your school-aged children can play together, even if they’re working on different math skills.