Monday, March 31, 2014

Right Start Math Review

We have been using Right Start Math this year, and are loving it! Right Start takes a unique approach to math that just makes sense to me and I love seeing my son do well with it. (Here he is with little brother tagging along.)

Here is a glimpse into their philosophy:
  •  "Informal mathematics should precede paper and pencil work. Long before a child knows how to add fractions with unlike denominators, she should be able to add one half and one fourth mentally." Instead of putting lots of abstract worksheets in front of a Kindergartener, we're working hands-on with quality manipulatives. A lot of them. 
  • "The only students who like flash cards are those who do not need them." Amen to that. We use games, not flash cards, for practice. 
  • "Mathematics is not a solitary pursuit. According to Richard Skemp, solitary math on paper is like reading music rather than listening to it: 'Mathematics, like music, needs to be expressed in physical actions and human interactions before its symbols can evoke the silent patterns of mathematical ideas (like musical notes), simultaneous relationships (like harmonies), and expositions or proofs (like melodies)."  Lessons are done by the child working WITH mom, and they're fun! One of the other math curriculums we considered was Math U See, which I know is super-popular, but a big turn-off to me was that the teaching was done by DVD. In the elementary years, it makes more sense to me to work with my son rather than giving him assignments. Everyone is different, but this works for us. I know he understands and is growing by leaps and bounds as we use this program. And he definitely does not even have the faintest concept of Math being a drudgery that we have to do whether we like it or not. 
  • They push grouping rather than counting. Not only is it more accurate, but it helps a LOT with mental math. The child learns to visualize groups of fives and tens. (Can you picture 8 apples accurately? No. But you can picture a group of five red and 3 green. It's kindof like that. They learn to picture 8 as 5+3.) 

Some other things Right Start says that I think are worth mentioning:
  • "Only 5% of mathematics should be learned by rote; 95% should be understood."
  • "Help the child realize that it is his responsibility to ask questions when they do not understand. Do not settle for 'I don't get it.'" 
  • "The role of the teacher is to encourage thinking by asking questions, not giving answers. Once you give an answer, thinking usually stops."
  • "Keep math time enjoyable. We store our emotional state along with what we have learned. A person who dislikes math will avoid it and a child under stress stops learning. If a lesson is too hard, stop and play a game. Try the lesson again later."
  • "In Japan the goal of the math lesson is that the student has understood a concept, not necessarily has done something (a worksheet)."

Moms who hate math or think they're unfit to teach it should take heart! This curriculum is DOABLE and actually fun to use! It is easy to understand, easy to teach, and is even scripted (I wasn't sure if I'd like that or not, but it was nice). A friend of mine used Right Start then transitioned to Singapore Math and thought that Right Start gave her daughter a great foundation and really helped her to understand math and  develop excellent mental math abilities. 

I know that many mothers' biggest area of concern in home schooling is math. Although we don't really judge ourselves by the school system, I wanted to share a quote with you from Tom Briggs. He's taught math for 22 years and has concerns that as as schools adopt the new "common core" math, it is "by far the most damaging thing that has happened to education in the public schools. It is not developmentally appropriate for children. Simple mathematical concepts are turned into multi-step problems that confuse even gifted students. This needs to change!!!!"<source>  So take heart Moms and know that you CAN teach math, and you can teach it better than what your child would have learned at school!  

If you use Right Start, click HERE to see how I organized all of the manipulatives that come with it! 

UPDATE:  At the wrap-up of our second year using Right Start I still think it's a great program. The only negative is that it requires about half an hour of focused time working one on one with me, so I'm not sure how it will work when we're to the point of having multiple kids in it at once. (We have other school work to do each day, and I can't imagine spending two hours every day on just math!!!) One mom suggested on a forum that while you're working with one child you can have the other two playing one of the math games together. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get there. :)

UPDATE: Partway into our third year using Right Start we switched over to Teaching Textbooks, which is totally different! It's a computer-based, mostly-independent math program that frees me up to work with younger siblings. I think very highly of Right Start, and if I only had one or two kids to teach I'd stay with it with longer. As it is, we have four kids and it's just not doable for me to spend 2 hours a day doing nothing but math. 

What's my plan in hind-sight? The exact same. Do Right Start for the first couple years, and switch to Teaching Textbooks when they're ready, in about second or third grade. This plan means they're able to use a fabulous hands-on method (Right Start) while they're in the manipulative mode of thinking (said to last till age 6-7), followed by Teaching Textbooks during their mental image mode of thinking years. 

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