Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review: Saxon Math K for Kindergarten

There are a few very well known homeschool curricula available for math. I've read enough discussion boards and reviews to know they are each loved fanatically by some devotees and dreaded by those who tried them and found themselves floundering.

I wanted to purchase a math program for our kindergarten year for two main reasons:
  • I didn't want to worry that we were covering the "wrong" material or insufficient material. I was not confident I could identify all the concepts or develop lesson plans for them.
  • I did not want to have to plan math lessons at all. I chose from a number of sources for our other subjects, but I liked the idea of using something packaged for math. It's a linear subject and lends itself to a package.
I was looking for security and simplicity.

I tried to identify our math goals and criteria:
  • To address a wide range of skills including (but not necessarily limited to) reading a calendar, telling time, the concepts of addition and subtraction, shapes, sorting by various characteristics, counting forwards and backwards, counting by twos (fives, tens, etc.), counting money and learning the values of dollars and coins, and concepts of volume and length.
  • No worksheets. While I think worksheets can be extremely valuable for practice and memorization, I don't think they contribute to understanding. They certainly have more usefulness as the student grows.
  • Limited amounts of writing. First Son was working on his handwriting separately and I wanted him to spend math time focusing on concepts, not worrying about how well he wrote his numbers.
  • Manipulatives. These could be handmade or purchased, but I wanted physical things First Son could hold in his hands and move around to demonstrate the math concepts.
After quite a bit of research and talking with Kansas Dad, I limited our choices down to ones I thought addressed our needs and goals. I can't even remember now how I specifically picked just one because I distinctly remember thinking many of them would be adequate. Eventually, however, I purchased Saxon's homeschool math for kindergarten. (I can't remember where, but you can find some details here.)

Now, we've completed nearly 50 lessons and I feel comfortable reporting back on how it has worked for us. I don't think I'd consider it a complete review, but you can find those in lots of places.

In the beginning, I was a little disappointed in how First Son responded to the math lessons. After his eagerness to begin, he was groaning every day I pulled out the book. Eventually, I had an epiphany: We did not need to complete every lesson. At first, I thought this would destroy my goal of simplicity, but I realized it would be easy to just skip a lesson. I had to modify the calendar part a little, but after a few days the rhythm of the calendar was easy to discern. Looking back, it seems obvious that any kindergarten program would need to be modified at least slightly to reach First Son where he was in knowledge and skills. Everyone was much happier when I skipped lessons that did not challenge him at all. I'm so glad I'm not in a room full of kindergartners trying to teach math!

I also quickly realized we didn't need the assessment days. I could easily tell if he needed more work in an area and would extend the lessons as necessary.

In terms of skills, I've found Saxon math to be exactly what I hoped. It has addressed everything I desired without overwhelming First Son at all. I was also pleasantly surprised at how well he tackled the graphing lessons, something I probably wouldn't have done at all on my own. He has made dramatic improvements in reading a calendar, understanding time and dates and sorting by different characteristics.

So far (we're officially at lesson 67 out of 112), we have not tackled any topics I think we could not have done on our own. It has been so much easier for me, though, to be able to scan the lesson ahead of time to gather materials and then just read through it with First Son. (I don't follow the script exactly every day, but it is nice to have it all laid out.) Many of the materials are found lying around the house. We've recently played store with canned goods and boxes of things like brownie mix.

There are, of course, disadvantages.

The program does not travel well. I've taken some of our books to doctor's offices and read to the kids while we wait, but I can't do that with our math lessons. Luckily, each lesson is brief (15-20 minutes, depending on how many repetitions we do) so we can easily fit it in at a different time.

The program requires a teacher to sit right at the table with the student and focus on the student and the lesson. I can't give First Son his math and then turn my attention to something else. Right now, this is not a great problem for us. We have only one official student. Because First Daughter loves the math lessons as much as First Son, she's right at the table with us (as opposed to wandering the house looking for trouble or helping her sister make trouble in the bathroom). I know she doesn't understand as much, but I have seen great improvements in her skills as well. (I have a feeling we'll be skipping a lot more lessons when it's her turn.) This may even be an advantage. Many sources say time snuggling together and reading a book help develop a love of reading that extends far into the future. Why should math be any different? I could see, however, how having older students and younger siblings and a house to clean and dinner to prepare, would make Saxon a less suitable choice for kindergarten math.

I purchased the manipulatives kit offered by Saxon. For the most part we've been pleased with the quality of the materials. I think the balance, though, leaves much to be desired. I hope to purchase a quality one before we need it. Also, the linking cubes are very hard to link and unlink. They are a bit hard for me and First Son has no hope whatsoever of putting them together. (Sometimes he can get them apart.) I expect they will loosen up a bit as we use them over time, but so far we're still struggling with them. I think he'd enjoy linking cube lessons more if he could use them himself instead of just handing them to me in the correct order. (I've also seen "cubes" that don't actually link together. These could be placed next to each other to demonstrate the same concepts. I may seek out something like these for our homeschool.)

In considering our options for next year, we've decided to purchase the Saxon materials for first grade. It's working well for us and we're sticking with it. (The cheapest place I've found it so far is Seton, in case anyone is interested.)

2 comments:

  1. Glad to hear you've liked it pretty well. We've been enjoying Right Start. It is also very teacher-intensive, but I can't really imagine how you'd teach most of the kindergarten or first grade concepts without that. And yes, teaching a whole room of kindergarteners is definitely a challenge. :-)

    I agree about assessments--I pretty much know whether he's getting it. But I have had him take the short tests anyway, as next year they'll be useful for our documentation, so it will be good for him to be familiar with the idea of taking a "test."

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  2. I don't think we need official documentation (other than, perhaps, documenting how many days/hours of school we have). The kindergarten assessments are all verbal and there's no "official" documentation that I remember seeing. I think the 1st grade has a workbook and more such things. Getting used to taking tests is a good idea; I'll have to keep that in mind for next year.

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