‘Tis the season for choosing next year’s curricula.  We’ve been using Math-U-See for about three years now, so I guess I’m ready to post a review.  (Have I already done this? If so, I’m doing it again.)

How we ended up with Math-U-See

First of all, for early grades I’m not convinced any kind of formal curriculum is required.  If you are are comfortable doing elementary-school math, you really can just teach your little one the basics all on your own.  All the same, I decided I wanted to use a formal curriculum for Mr. Boy.  So that’s what we did.  You might have reasons you want to do the same.

Why Math-U-See?  Well, it is the program of choice of my two real-life homeschooling friends with older kids.  Both my friends like the program, and I’ve seen their children really do come out of school understanding math and being competent math-users.  So I was biased towards it.  After looking at reviews of various curricula, watching the demo CD, and seeing my friends’ materials, I decided it was probably a good fit for us.

What You Get

At each level, there is a student workbook, a DVD, and a teacher’s manual.  Above the primer level (think kindergarten-ish) there is a test booklet as well.  The DVD introduces each chapter’s lesson, and the teacher’s manual explains to the parent how to teach the lesson.  This is not a word-for-word now-say-this type lesson.  The DVD and manual teach you, the parent, what the math concept is, and how to explain it to your child.

Once your child understands the lesson, he can do the workbook pages to practice.  There are three fairly short worksheets for each lesson, and then three cumulative review sheets.  If you find your child needs additional help, the manual includes suggestions for activities you can do with your child.   You can also print out practice worksheets from Math-U-See’s website, and for basic math facts drill, MUS has an online-drill program.  Both of those on-line features can be used by anyone.

Why I like Math-U-See

There is a strong emphasis on understanding.  Students learn to do operations by first mastering the underlying concept.  Memorization is the result of understanding and practice, not the goal in itself.  In the small sample of children I know who have used Math-U-See, I’ve seen that the kids really do understand how to apply math to everyday life.  The parents (myself included) report that they have picked up handy math tips they never learned as children.

The program is self-paced. You work on a chapter for as much or as little time as you need, and then you move on.  To this end, the various books aren’t assigned grade levels.  To me this, this is what homeschooling is about.

To a certain extent, my children can work independently. Technically, the parent is supposed to view the DVD, read the manual, and teach the child the lesson.  In reality, my son can watch the DVD and figure out what to do 80% of the time.  Now that he is a strong reader (note: most 3rd graders would not be able to do this) he can even work from the teacher’s manual.  My other MUS-loving friends admit that their children self-teach too.

Reasons you might or might not like the program

The worksheets are boring. I like this.  Plain black and white pages.  But some people really go in for colorful pages with lots of illustrations and all that.  If you need colorful workbooks, you are out of luck.

The worksheets are short. If you want a lot of ready-to-go repetitive drilling, you are out of luck.  For my children (and me) short worksheets are our friend.  I don’t mind printing out extra practice sheets off the webpage in the rare event that we need more drills.  But if you need a lot of drilling ready-to-go, this is not for you.

When push comes to shove, you are the teacher. Up to you to use your own words to explain the lesson, assess whether your child has mastered the lesson, etc.  You decide when to slow down and dig in, and when to skip on to the next chapter.  I think Math-U-See does a great job of equipping the parent to teach effectively.  But there is a certain amount of time and effort required on your part.

The student materials are consumable, and sold as a packet. So you’ll need to buy new workbooks for each student.  Likewise, whether you want the test booklet or not, you get it.  In contrast, there is a strong market for used teacher-packets.  This wasn’t so true several years ago when the new edition of DVD’s and student books came out; but nowadays you can typically find a used DVD & Teacher’s manual for about $20, if you keep your eyes open.

The Scope and Sequence is Linear.  Again, I like this.  But if you are the sort who likes the little-of-everything approach, you are out of luck.  To keep abreast of our public schools, who do the hodge-podge, I do have my kids read a few library books on assorted math topics not covered by their current MUS book.

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In all, I think it is a good program.  I’ve been happy with it, have no real complaints, and am pleased at my children’s progress in math.  I think Math-U-See does help them to understand mathematics well.

The program fits our budget, in part because I’ve had luck finding teacher materials second-hand, and in part because where I feel the need to supplement, I can do so for free. We use the on-line drills for extra practice, and I bring home math-themed library books when I want to cover a topic outside the MUS scope and sequence.

There are less expensive programs out there of course.  And as I said to begin, I don’t think you need any formal program at all for the early grades, if you don’t want.  But if you do want such a thing, I think MUS is as good as any.

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