Updated October 2020

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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Updated October 2020

Written by
Melissa Nott

Math anxiety isn’t just for students; it’s one of the top reasons parents shy away from homeschooling. What if you can’t teach your child to subtract? What if they don’t understand long division? What if you can’t remember what an exponent is?

Worries like these aren’t totally unfounded. A solid math foundation is important, and careers involving STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — often pay significantly higher salaries than low-tech career paths. Even if a STEM career isn’t on the horizon, studies show at least 85% of careers require simple math skills. In short, you can’t afford to get this wrong.

With the right resources, most homeschooling parents can easily teach math, elementary and beyond, at home. Teaching your child foundational math skills can be fun, especially with colorful learning tools and real-world lessons. Many publishers have adapted math learning materials for home use to equip parents for the job.

When choosing a math curriculum, there are many factors to consider, such as your child’s age, previous school attendance, and potential career interests. Our buying guide will introduce you to some of the best math learning materials that can lead both you and your child to success.

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First, let’s talk about the Common Core. Some math learning materials boast that they are aligned with Common Core standards. These standards have been controversial in some education circles since they were implemented in 2010, and much of the debate centers on math.

Public schools in the majority of states follow Common Core standards, and many private schools have voluntarily adopted them as well. The Common Core standardizes *which *skills students are taught in each grade and refines *how* math is taught by focusing on regrouping, understanding relationships between numbers, and breaking complex problems into manageable bits. Common Core math is intended to give students a real-world understanding of math concepts rather than the rote memorization that traditional math uses. Most math resources that follow the Common Core clearly state this on the book cover or in the product description.

Notably, a lot of today’s parents did not learn math using Common Core methods. Instead, they learned “traditional” math — they carry numbers when adding and rely on memorized multiplication tables to solve many problems. These methods don’t work for everyone, and some believe they’ve contributed to America’s lagging performance in math. That said, they obviously worked well for many people, like the scientists who put man on the moon. Therefore, many parents find traditional math methods more appealing.

Most math learning materials that use traditional methods won’t be clearly labeled as such. Instead, you’ll notice an absence of any reference to Common Core in the product literature.

Here are some tips for choosing between math learning materials that draw from Common Core and materials that rely on more traditional methods.

- If your child has already spent time learning Common Core math, it’s probably best to stick with that.
- If your plan is to eventually send the child to a public school, Common Core math is probably the way to go.
- If you know your child wants to pursue a STEM career path, they are likely to see Common Core methods down the road. Therefore, Common Core materials may be best.

- If your child is a new learner, you can decide whether to purchase Common Core materials or not. Opting out of Common Core may create challenges if they later pursue a STEM career.
- Students who have spent time in a public or private school learning traditional math rather than the Common Core may find a switch to Common Core more challenging. That switch may or may not be helpful, depending on the child’s eventual career path. A career in STEM may warrant the switch, but a career in a different direction may not warrant it.

Most math curricula use one of two approaches: mastery or spiral. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

The **mastery **approach is based on the idea that math concepts build upon one another. Each skill should be mastered before the next is introduced. In short, your child practices one skill until they “can’t get it wrong” before moving on. Mastery is intended to build a solid foundation, but critics say it offers little opportunity for review or context. Most mastery-based curriculums will use the term “mastery” somewhere on the cover or in the book’s description.

Students who aren’t naturally inclined toward math may experience more success with a mastery-based program. This approach gives them plenty of opportunity to practice a new skill before moving to the next one.

**Spiral **math repeats math concepts many times as students progress from level to level. The teaching is deeper each time the concept repeats. For example, students may see two-digit multiplication the first time around, three digit multiplication the next time, and so on. The spiral approach keeps concepts fresh in students’ minds and provides ample opportunity for review.

Most U.S. math resources written before 1990 use a spiral math approach, and many modern ones do as well. You will probably not see the term “spiral” in the product description, but you will find that spiral-based materials tend to have shorter chapters and more review than books using mastery.

Students naturally inclined toward math may do better with a spiral approach because they won’t get bored or frustrated drilling concepts they already know.

When shopping for math learning materials, you’ll find both digital and workbook resources. Digital math resources can be wonderful tools that help boost overall math scores, but parents should bear in mind that digital work is not a good replacement for live instruction, especially when it comes to elementary concepts.

A child who is learning with a workbook requires some adult interaction, whereas a child using an online tool does not usually require a parent or guardian to step in. Generally speaking, a digital resource is great for practicing and drilling, but it’s not ideal for teaching new concepts.

Of course, some parents find themselves in situations where they simply *need *their child to learn digitally and independently. In these cases, try to keep your child working where you can see they are engaged, and make sure the resource has grade and progress reporting mechanisms that are sent directly to you.

Some math learning materials are sold as standalone workbooks. Others come with teacher guides and answer keys, which add to the price. Is the cost worth it?

A **teacher’s guide** can provide valuable teaching tips and provide you with basic classroom exercises, such as counting to one hundred or skip counting. If you’d like a little help guiding your student, look for math learning materials with a teacher’s guide. If you’re comfortable taking the reins and don’t need guidance, however, you may not need a teacher’s guide.

An **answer key** saves you the time and effort of working out each problem yourself. That may not be a major concern in early grades, but as the child progresses to more complex problems, you may appreciate the time-saving benefit of an answer key.

Some comprehensive math resources include math manipulatives, which are colorful tools that make abstract problems more concrete. For example, a simple abacus is a manipulative that makes counting engaging and fun.

Some math learning materials come with colorful cubes that pop together to help with arithmetic or discs that break apart to represent fractions. If the resource you choose doesn’t include manipulatives, you could also purchase them separately.

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Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference. When planning your homeschool, consider including the following in your budget.

**Handheld dry erase board: Scribbledo Dry Erase Ruled Lap Board **Building good math skills takes practice, but scrap paper piles up fast. This dry erase lap board gives students space to work without wasting resources. What’s more, it’s portable, so you can use it at the table, couch, or wherever you choose.

**Hands-on adding tool: Learning Resources Mathlink Cubes**

These colorful cubes make elementary math concepts easy to grasp. Pop them together and pull them apart to demonstrate basic addition and subtraction. They’re also a valuable tool for modeling sequences.

**Fraction manipulative: Didax Education Resources Fraction Circles**Understanding fractions can be challenging for younger students. This set of colorful discs helps kids visualize abstract concepts. The discs can be divided into common fractional parts. Each disc sports a different color, so they can be used to teach equivalent fractions, too.

**Independent practice tool: Learning Wrap-Ups Math Intro Key Kit **

Kids need practice to memorize math facts, but you don’t always have the time to lead them through the tables. These fun tools help kids get the job done independently. Simply wrap the string to connect the correct numbers and flip the key to check the answers.

Your desire to help your child is probably unlimited, but your budget may not be. Here’s what you can expect to pay for math learning resources.

**Inexpensive: **Inexpensive math learning resources cost from $10 to $17. For this price, you can get a fine Kindergarten text or a half-year workbook for first or second grade. You’re not likely to find books with answer keys in this range.

**Mid-range: **The middle tier of learning materials tends to cost between $25 and $40. In this range, you’ll find inclusive workbooks for elementary grades. The price may be split across one or two books, and an answer key of some type should be included.

**Expensive: **The priciest math learning materials start around $60, but you could easily spend $100 or more. For this higher price, you could get a full set of materials including a teacher’s manual and answer key.

**Try morning math lessons.**Homeschool math lessons often run smoothest early in the day, when kids are well-rested and still full from breakfast.**Keep it fairly short.**Elementary math lessons should usually last half an hour or less. Longer lessons may exceed your child’s attention span and lead to frustration for both of you.**Give them something to chew on or fidget with.**Chewing gum can help fidgety learners focus, according to many pediatric specialists. For other kids, doodling with a pencil or playing with a fidget toy can help focus.**Take it to the kitchen.**Baking in the kitchen is a fun, real-world way to gain math skills like understanding fractions, multiplication, and division.**Know the length of the curriculum you’re buying.**Some workbooks include a full year of work; others include only half a year.

**Q. I just started homeschooling. Where should I begin with my child?A.** Consider an online placement test for kids who have previously attended school. Forcing kids to repeat concepts they’ve already mastered can bore and discourage them. Likewise, kids who are shaky on concepts but forge ahead anyway face problems down the road. In many states, there aren’t grade-specific topic requirements for homeschooled elementary kids. In those cases, you can choose what’s best for your child.

**Q. Should I let my child play math games on a **tablet**?A.** Yes! It’s best for elementary students to learn basic concepts from a live instructor, but once they get the hang of it, digital games are a great reinforcement tool. Recent studies suggest that students who play math games in addition to classroom instruction outscore students who receive classroom instruction alone.

**Q. How long will I be able to teach math at home? A.** The answer varies by family and even by child. Parents with experience in accounting, STEM, and number-related fields may be able to teach upper-level math concepts effectively. Most parents find they can teach elementary concepts with little trouble. If you hit a rough patch, look for a community center, library, or private company that offers math tutoring. Some areas have homeschooling co-ops that offer paid classes. In some states, public schools allow homeschooled students to take individual classes in person or online.

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