Curriculum Choices: Tackling Math

When it comes to teaching math, some homeschooling mamas and papas have to stifle an inner groan. Many of us had bad experiences with this subject when we were in school, and we’re reluctant to pass on that attitude to our bright-eyed kids.

This is why it’s especially important that the math curriculum we choose fits with our children’s learning styles and with our family’s educational philosophy. Of course many math skills can and should be learned through life–using recipes, balancing a checkbook, playing board games, and much more.

But if you’re on the lookout for a traditional math curriculum to use at home, here are six popular ones to consider.

1. Math-U-See

Math-U-See is a manipulative-based program covering all grade levels. The program centers around a series of plastic manipulative blocks, which are color-coded to represent each number. These blocks can be used throughout the entire curriculum, even into the high school levels if necessary.

Math-U-See includes a DVD presentation of each lesson–parents can either watch it alone or with their students. This curriculum practices the spiral approach to math, continuing to review concepts taught previously. Each level comes with a student workbook, a teacher’s guide, and a test booklet.

Our family uses Math-U-See in a flexible, informal way, and it has been a good fit. I love that the accompanying DVD helps me feel as though I’m not teaching completely on my own.

2. Saxon

Saxon math presents concepts incrementally, introducing one new idea then reviewing and adding to it continuously until mastery.

Younger grade levels require the use of many manipulatives, but in middle and high school it switches to a traditional textbook and test approach.

Saxon is known for being relatively easy to teach, with the goal that children will eventually be able to do most of the program independently.

3. Singapore Math

As its name suggests, Singapore Math was originally created and used by the Ministry of Education in Singapore. The goal of the program is to lay a solid foundation for mental math, enabling a child to think mathematically instead of just memorizing.

Each level comes with two textbooks as well as one or two consummable workbooks. There is an optional home instructor’s guide for some grades, which many parents use to give them tips on how to present the lessons.

Singapore Math is considered slightly more advanced in concept than the typical Western counterpart, so some homeschoolers use an earlier grade level for their children.

Photo by Jimmie

4. RightStart Math

RightStart Math uses an abacus as its foundation–a visual tool to convey and illustrate new concepts. Problem solving is encouraged, while worksheets and flashcards are minimized. Math games are often used to review material, along with a variety of manipulatives. This combination makes it an appealing choice for a visual or kinesthetic learner.

RightStart discourages children from counting, reasoning that it is slow and disregards the importance of place value. Instead the program focuses on the visualization of math concepts and facts, using the abacus as the main teaching tool.

RightStart carries curriculum for kindergarten up through middle school.

5. Teaching Textbooks

Worried that you can’t homeschool because you could never teach higher math? Well fear no more!

Teaching Textbooks, a program created specifically for homeschoolers, allows children to complete all lessons with a set of interactive CD-ROMs. Students view the lesson, do the problems, and then watch a tutor explain the ones they missed.

Each level includes a student workbook, an answer booklet, and a series of CD-ROMs that contains all lessons and solutions to problems. The computer grades each lesson automatically.

Teaching Textbooks has programs from 3rd grade all the way up to Pre-Calculus.

6. Family Math

For those looking for a more organic way to include math concepts in your life at home, Family Math is a great choice. This book, and its companion Family Math for Young Children, feature over 300 pages of practical math activities–far away from workbooks and into real life.

The activities use simple math manipulatives that are found at home to create a fun math foundation. This book can also be used alongside a traditional curriculum.

Math can be tackled and even enjoyed in a homeschooling setting–the key is to make the curriculum match your family, instead of trying to make your family match any one curriculum.

Please share your experiences with the math curriculums you’ve tried at home.

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. Thank you for this informative post. I am going to start homeschooling next year and trying to figure out curriculum has been challenging for me. I truly appreciate and thirst for information from people about what they are doing, as it helps me understand better if it might work for my family.

    Now I have to figure out how to figure out how my children learn so I can choose what’s best for them individually. 🙂

  2. We’ve used RightStart for a few years now. I love the way it teaches concepts, the math games, and the manipulatives. It is teacher-intensive, though, which is frustrating at times. I do have a son who needs that one-on-one instruction, so maybe we’d be at the same place no matter which curriculum we used.

    I would highly recommend the MathTacular DVDs from They have been an incredible supplement to our math studies. I thought they were a little hokey at first, but all 3 of my boys can watch them for hours, and they have really learned the concepts. Fabulous.

  3. This is a great resource page Jamie for people figuring out what they want to do. I think I’ll tack it on the end of “math post” as a place to look for further ideas.

  4. Thanks for all the Math ideas and links. I recently bought Math Envelope Centers by The Mailbox Series. Educationl stores usually stock them. The math games are in a ready to go format. All that is needed is an envelope to make the games. I like it because my kiddos get a little board with constant workbook pages. It makes Math sort of like a game. The particular bookI bought is for grades 2-3.

  5. I would like to add the Videotext program to your list. We absolutely love it. It only covers middle school & high school Algebra and Geometry, but it is a nice program to switch to for those programs that only cover the Elementry grades or for those who want a change at that point. It is very step-by-step, very visual and it focuses on understanding WHYS of math. If you understand what the different operations are doing, you will understand math better and be more able to solve mathmathical problems.
    .-= Phyllis’s last blog: This Moment; This Beautiful Life =-.

  6. What a great resource this post is! Math is a little intimidating for me because I had such a horrible experience with it when I was in school. I try to keep my own issues about it away from my kids as I teach them … in a way, re-learning math along side them has been very healing for me and my own math issues 😉

    Family Math sounds like something that would be a good fit for us – I’m definitely going to look into it 🙂

    I really love what you say at the end – “the key is to make the curriculum match your family, instead of trying to make your family match any one curriculum.”
    .-= Kara Fleck’s last blog: The Best of Both Worlds: Bringing Our Favorite Indoor Activities to the Outdoors =-.

  7. Saxon doesn’t actually ‘require’ the use of manipulatives. We never bought any although on occasion employed items from home as a form of manipulative. We didn’t use their paper money, either, preferring to practice with real coins and shopping. Some kids learn best using manipulatives while others find it unnecessary and Saxon fit us well in this regard.

  8. Thank you for this! I was thinking of trying something new for math next year, and I think Teaching Textbooks might fit the bill. I had not heard of it before.
    .-= Laura @ Getting There’s last blog: What does "simple living" mean to you? =-.

  9. PanJiaLe says:

    Here is another great resource that my husband introduced me to:

    I love that this guy does all this for free. He definitely has the gift of teaching. We’ve been enjoying watching his videos ourselves in order to brush up on our maths/sciences.

  10. We have used Singapore math forever!!! They do learn a lot of stuff that I never thought they could learn until they were older. I love it, I don’t get bored with it – which is quite important to any curriculum. My kids don’t always love it, when they are in the early grades they enjoy it and lose momentum when they get a heap of mental math around grade 3/4. If I sit with them it is bearable but on their own the burden is well too much for all of us!!! My grade 7 fellow has had a revival this year and is totally loving his Singapore math… does it before breakfast every day!!!
    .-= se7en’s last blog: The Week that Was – 2.45 =-.

    • I’m not totally loving Singapore, but I’ve had more than one person tell me to just hold on and it will get better. My kids like it so far, so I’m just kind of trudging through and looking at other options in the meantime.

      • I hear you. After one year we quit Singapore. I wanted to teacher math the way I was taught in the 80’s and early 90’s. Abeka works for us. I love doing the fun stuff in the parents manual.

      • I am currently homeschooling a 4th grader and 9th grader. My 4th grader has natural number sense and flies through math like no ones business, which is why Singapore is PERFECT for her. My 9th grader is not bad at math, but she is more a people person who soaks up stories like no ones business. She does fantastic with Saxon because of it’s repetitive nature. She practices the skills she has learned with each lesson. If your kiddos aren’t doing well with Singapore, maybe try Saxon.

  11. We use Horizons math. I have no idea how it compares to the others. My husband has a PHd in statistics and chose this one over many of the others. I reallly can’t tell you why but it is working well and my children love it. We also have the Mathtacular DVD’s from Sonlight and they like to watch those also.
    .-= Bekki’s last blog: Have I gone crazy?! =-.

  12. We love math-u-see but I’ve heard raving over Teaching Textbooks- mainly for the time issue- the child can do it on their own…mom doesnt have to check the problems and try to figure it our herself and teach it. I’ve checked it out but the content reveiws were not exactly thrillling in comared to math-u-see’s core instruction. We are happy w/ math-u-see now but I’ver heard of families switching over once their child doesnt want to use the manipulitives anymore. I’ve made a side not in my head to do some more research 🙂

  13. thank you for this post! I have been homeschooling my oldest daughter for kindergarten this year and we are planning on continuing for first grade. But I have been struggling with our math curriculum this year. It’s good, but it’s a public school curriculum so it requires a lot of things that I just don’t have. And altering it to fit us has required more time than I have been able to give. I at least feel confident that I don’t have to be done by June, so I know that we will get through it… but still it would be to have a curriculum more suited to a homeschool style. I will definitely look into these. Thanks again.

  14. I am planning to home school my five year old in the fall, and am still trying to determine curriculum. So far, I have heard good things from other home schooling Moms about Saxon Math. Has anyone used their Kindergarten program? I must admit I am more of English abd History type of gal.
    .-= A Simple Twist of Faith’s last blog: Stress? What stress? =-.

    • I’ve used Saxon math all along up to algebra I at this point. I really like Saxon but don’t find the kindergarten year necessary. My kids already end up knowing everything in the “curriculm” before they hit their actual kindergarten year – so it is the only year I wouldn’t recommend purchasing. They tend to like to start the grade one year early. In particular, they’ve enjoyed the ‘facts practice’ sheets – but doing them untimed.

      • Virginia says:

        Kika, did you do all the meeting book activities (in saxon k or 1) every time you do math? We did about half of the K math and found that part so repetitive!
        I love saxon math for my older kids (they’re doing 6/5). We didn’t finish the saxon k, though, with the younger one because it seemed too easy for her. We’re just going to jump ahead to saxon 1.

        • No – we keep it real simple. In gd 1 and up I like the facts practice (used on a regular, if not daily, basis) and I get the younger kids writing their date at the top of their page to learn how to do so but otherwise they do half the questions only – none of the ‘scripted stuff’ (meeting book). Also, I’ve learned to let my kids just do tests (as in skip lessons) until their marks fall below a certain grade (ex. 85% or 90%). Once their mark falls below this then we can start doing actual lessons – otherwise, if they already know the material why make them do the book work? The final 20 lessons or so are preview for the following year and the first 20-30 lessons of each level are review from the following year. I found it very helpful to figure this out! My younger siblings and my own kids have used Saxon in this way and have all done very well in math. I actually like math as does my husband – but the idea for us is keep it simple and don’t waste time bogging the kids down in concepts they already understand. I agree that the Kindergarten book is too easy. My kids didn’t need it as they already knew the concepts within and so we moved on to the grade one book early and just progressed at a comfortable rate for each child.

          • Virginia says:

            Thank you. That is SO helpful. I like math, too, and hope to pass it on to our kids.

  15. Virginia says:

    After trying a couple of other math programs we switched to Saxon and have been so happy. I had heard that it was too repetitive and a lot of work, so avoided it at first. My daughter just wasn’t “getting” math, though. Saxon has been really helpful because all the concepts are taught in small increments, building on previous concepts in a logical order, with constant review that helps them remember what they’ve learned. My dd10 and ds9 just could not seem to learn their times tables, no matter what we tried. They learned them quickly when we started using the timed facts practice sheets and they’ve found it so helpful to know them now. Now dd understands math and does well at it, so we’re happy.

  16. My kids really like jump math. Its not really well known, but I love it. I adore math, and this is one of the best programs I have ever seen for teaching every child to love math. And its not expensive.

  17. We are using Math Mammoth and we really love it. It’s a mastery program which seems to work best with our kids. Math Mammoth was written by a homeschool mom who has an extensive back round in math. It feels good to support another homeschool mom with the purchase of a curriculum.

    I also like that it can be purchased as a download, which is what we did. Having the printable files on my computer allows me to just print what we need and makes it easy to skip over sections that my kids don’t need. It’s also a very affordable curriculum!

  18. Thank you so much for all these useful links! Another free resource that I find useful for days when a math game or hands on activity is needed is:

  19. We use Horizons for my K, who is a concrete thinker. Singapore has been the best fit for our G1 who is a creative thinker. We’ll be using Teaching Textbooks for G4 and then (probably) Life of Fred. Finding a good match for math has been a struggle!
    erin’s latest post: Woefully Wednesday

  20. My family used Saxon, just the work books, when we were home schooled.
    It was wonderful, the only thing that really taught us the material…versus memorizing just for a test. College hit and I was SHOCKED at the horrible curriculum’s and text used for math courses. I took math and statistic courses at 2 different universities and found the same horrible curriculum. I was SO thankful for Saxon at that point.

    Now I’m going to teach my kiddos at home, I hope to use the Saxon as effectively, if not more so because Saxon has more to offer these days. But I do appreciate the tips on other curriculum, and videos.

  21. This is our first year with Math-U-See, and we love it. My oldest child does not use the manipulatives, but my younger two love to use them. With or without using the manipulatives, MUS has been great for us. The lessons are thorough (but short!) and the DVD is engaging. We’ve tried other math curriculums in the past, but this one is a keeper! I wish I had been taught math using MUS.
    Fran’s latest post: Ah- The Smell of a Fresh Spreadsheet in the Morning!

  22. My son’s traditional school used the Saxon math program, and it is really geared more towards kids that have trouble with math.

    He was literally bored to tears until we started working with him at home (my husband and I both have technical degrees). I don’t homeschool precisely because my son’s needs are progressing at a pace at which our math-teaching skills will be exceeded, but when we began looking at schools that stressed math and science, we noticed that none of them used Saxon math.

  23. As the math mom, I researched many curriculums at a homeschool convention last year. I found Math On The Level to be a great one. That’s the one I endorse.

    Alas, Daughter is only two, so I’ve yet to be able to dig into any personally, but that one looks the best from a mathematician’s standpoint.

    Bon Crowder’s latest post: [50 Word Friday] Two Thousand Twelve

  24. I just wrote a post on math & linked to yours for explanations of other choices. Thanks for sharing! I love reading the comments here ’cause I always learn something new. 🙂 I’m going to check out those MathTacular videos! They’d be great for rainy, summer days.
    Beth’s latest post: Why We Use Saxon Math

  25. Hi! Thank you for this review. We also use Math-U-See, and like it. I was wondering how you use it in a more flexible, relaxed way?

  26. A friend gave us Singapore Math Grades 1 and 2 and so I started using that with my daughter who had just turned 6. She was not too interested. She was having a hard time understanding number bonds and that was the main thing the books were trying to teach. We bought Horizons Grade 1 from the Homeschool Store and she loved it. However, it can get very repetitive so I also bought the 2nd grade book and I just let her skip around through both of the books. She gets a lot more done this way and it keeps her motivated. She has since returned to the Singapore Math to work on multiplication (she likes the way they teach it in Singapore) and number bonds are very easy for her after doing Horizons (which did not have number bonds). When I get some money I plan on buying the 3rd grade workbooks for both Horizons and Singapore as well. I do not see why she should work the same type of problem for 30 pages when she can just move on to something new. She will go back on work those pages in time usually on her own.

  27. Nichole says:

    We used Singapore from 1a-6b with my older three. It’s a fabulous program. My younger three are using math mammoth. It’s very similar to Singapore but has a bit more practice. We also read life of Fred for fun!!

  28. Marianne says:

    Really needed this as I am currently trying to figure out which to go with for next year. Someone mentioned that Right Start, which I was leaning toward, is teacher-intensive. That’s important to know. Do you know if Math U See is also? What do you know about The Life of Fred Math Series?

    Thank you 🙂

  29. We discovered Thinkwell this year after using Teaching textbooks. Thinkwell has been a better fit for both of us. Plus, I don’t have to worry that all his grades will be lost if he happens to spill Gatorade on the laptop!! Yes that happened:-(

  30. We really love Life of Fred with a little Timez Attack occasionally for fact drilling. Math U See is a solid program but did not click with my crew. One of the benefits of being in control of our own learning is finding something that fits our learners. 🙂
    We love Sonlight’s reading lists, but haven’t tried Mathtacular. May need to check them out.

  31. I love Christian Light Math , tried Horizon our first year. It is inexpensive and it works great !

    • Crystall says:

      We just switched to CLE after 5 years doing Singapore. Though my children are really good at thinking mathematically, they are missing some fundamentals and get confused with some basic concepts. We are all loving CLE!

  32. I’m curious about the manipulatives featured in your photos. Where did you find those and how can I get my hands on them? 🙂

  33. Hi there, we have used three of the above. I started with Right Start Math for all five of my children. It has been a good fit for all, even my dyslexic students. The lack of counting is really a benefit. Children learn to see objects and later abstractly, in groups of five. A number like 8 would be seen as five and three. My littles are better at quickly discerning the number in this manner than my older kids who started out in public school. The greatest challenge I have found with this program is switching to something useful in the middle grades. We made the switch to Saxon and did three years there. Seventh grade math, Pre-Algebra, and into Algebra, were all done consecutively by three students. That did not work for us at all. My children did not feel that the concept of the day was reinforced well enough and were confused by then skipping back to other concepts. Last we switched to Algebra Math-U-See mid-semester. I can not say enough about this program. The manipulatives have helped my dyslexic child “see” the math. It builds on the day before and has up to a weeks worth of practice in each skill. There are honors assignments that get them thinking if you want that. He teaches clearly on the DVD, but it is also well written enough that I ended up teaching the rest of the year. (I love math. Wish I could get a good language arts program.) I would (and have) recommend Right Start Math and Math-U-See to everyone. Even together in sequence, because Math-U-See easily builds on the principles that Right Start began.

    • Am I understanding your post recommendation to start with Right Start, then transition to Math-U-See? At what age / level / grade would you suggest switching over? Or concurrently? Does that confuse or overwhelm kiddo or parent? Thanks a bunch!

    • If you want an amazing language arts program, go to Institute for Excellence in Writing. We use their Student Writing Intensive Program and it is amazing. My daughter is thriving with it and I am having a great time teaching it. We also use their Fix- It Grammar Program- wonderful. And I bought their Teaching the Classics parent training program, which teaches parents how to teach all the elements of literature to children through discussion. I started a book club for my kids, using this program as a model for discussion, and all the kids love the book club. We will be beginning our second year and my son (who is 6 and participates with the older kids) now tries to figure out at the beginning of a book who that antagonist will be. 🙂

  34. Math U See is a nice visual curriculum.
    Another curriculum, Learning Math Fast, has around 6 books. A Simple curriculum through high school.

  35. Marnita Sonnenberg says:

    Just wondering if anyone has used the Saxon dvd program examples for older kids say Gr.7 or so? I can’t remember the name of them but they teach the lessons for the kids.

  36. There is a bit of a mistake about math-U See. We specifically use it because it is not the spiral method. Singapore type curriculums use the spiral method. Math U See is a prime example of the mastery method. You work on one process almost an entire year until you master it. Each lesson you stick with until you master it and if you haven’t mastered it by the end of the chapter, you can print additional worksheets from their website from that chapter. My daughter is in the end of 3rd grade and has only been working on advanced addition and subtraction until a bit ago, using two mastery method currics. She recently began multiplication, and because she has mastered addition and subtraction and the math facts, she is whizzing through multiplication. Spiral method math has you jump from one process to another while spiraling back to review the previous. This drove us nuts. Every time we began to understand something, it jumped to something new and I knew my daughter wouldn’t memorize her facts that way. Hope this helps!

  37. Thank you for keeping your web and mobile format simple. It is a pleasure to read in this day of complicated scrolling and ads. I enjoy not only the thoughtful information you provide but the manner in which you provide it, never in a judgmental or insistent fashion.

  38. Bethany says:

    Hi! Do you think that Family Math can be used as a stand alone curriculum ?

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