RightStart lived up to its name for my family and gave both of my kids a great foundation in math. During my busy first few years of homeschooling, I was grateful to simply open the RightStart manual and start reading each day, knowing that the lessons would be well-thought-out, rigorous, and interesting. It’s now been several years since we used RightStart, but I still see the fruit of our RightStart years in my kids’ excellent number sense and mental math skills.
However, despite these positives, my kids only did the first few levels of the program before I switched them to other programs. Sometimes, what’s perfect for one stage of life isn’t the best fit in the next stage–and that’s okay! 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 teacher-intensive, manipulative-heavy program, loosely based on Montessori principles. 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, and 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.
- Related: Why the AL Abacus is my favorite math manipulative
- Related: How to use the AL Abacus with any curriculum (Videos)
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 games. The games prove 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.
When I used RightStart, I appreciated that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time prepping math each day but could just open the teacher’s manual and start teaching. However, I found I sometimes had 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, and parents often are left feeling 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.
So, should I buy RightStart Math or not?
RightStart Math may be a great fit for you if:
- Your child loves games and hands-on learning.
- Your child doesn’t like to do a lot of paper-and-pencil work.
- Your child enjoys inductive learning, figuring things out, and “aha!” moments.
- You want an open-and-go, scripted program.
- You enjoy and have time for parent-directed lessons.
- You can afford the expensive start-up cost.
- Your child thrives with regular review.
RightStart Math may not be the right choice if:
- Your child prefers straightforward and clear demonstrations of math skills rather than figuring things out for himself.
- Your child learns more slowly or more quickly than most other kids. The spiral lesson format makes it difficult to condense RightStart for advanced learners, and it makes it difficult to know whether or not to move on for slower learners.
- You don’t have time for lots of parent-directed teaching and games. (This is especially important to consider if you have (or will have) multiple school-age children. Many parents find more than two RightStart lessons per day to be their breaking point.)
- The manipulative kit doesn’t fit your budget.
- Your child gets impatient with regular review.
- You don’t want to have to keep track of a bunch of manipulatives.
How much does RightStart cost?
RightStart’s annual cost is comparable to other programs (about $90 for each year’s instructor guide and workbook). However, the start-up cost is steep–$210 for the full manipulative set! This works out to only about $35 per year if you use it for your child’s entire elementary education, but it’s a big upfront cost.
RightStart also offers a Super Saver option that provides a more pared-down set of manipulatives. With this option, you’ll need to print and prep several more materials, though, too.
For my family, RightStart was the perfect first math program. My kids developed excellent number sense, strong conceptual understanding, and a positive attitude toward math. But eventually, I decided that switching to other programs would serve us better. The hands-on teaching time simply became too much with two kids (even for a math-loving mom like myself!) and my kids’ individual personalities made other programs a better fit.
My son loves math, but he hates review when he thinks he already knows something. Plus, the spiral format made it too difficult to accelerate him to his optimal pace. (For those of you who love curriculum details: We ended up going through half of RightStart C (first edition). Then, we worked through Singapore Primary Math 2A and 2B to finish up subtraction before moving on to Beast Academy 3A.)
My then-6-year-old daughter did NOT like being told what to do, so I decided to switch to a more independent program for her. (She finished RightStart B (first edition), then moved to Singapore Primary Math 2A and has used Singapore ever since. If you’d like to read more about our switches, scroll down through the comments below for more details.)
The bottom line: If you can afford the time and money required to teach RightStart, the program 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.
But if RightStart isn’t in your budget, don’t worry! There are many excellent homeschool math programs out there that cost a lot less. Check out my curriculum page for reviews of my other favorite programs to help you find something that won’t bust your budget.
Updated May 2020. This is my honest opinion of the program; I was not paid or compensated in any way for the review.
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