Math. For me, like many homeschoolers, math was the one subject that caused much fear and trembling. Math was the subject I did not want to mess up.
For my oldest's kindergarten and 1st grade years, I used workbooks, fun games, and manipulatives to learn basic skills. However, concerned that I needed something that offered a strong foundation and built upon it, I began to research a variety of curricula. I ordered a free sample Math-U-See DVD, sat down to watch it, and on a lesson about multiplying fractions, I found light bulbs going off in my own head. I knew HOW but not WHY. Over the years, word problems were a thorn in the side. I could always get the math problems correct because I memorized how to do them but figuring out why was tricky for me. I had just figured out something I didn't know, and shortly thereafter, I purchased my first Math-U-See book of many.
Some math books cover wide ranges of topics a little -- they go wide. However, Math-U-See covers one topic from top to bottom-- it goes deep. For example, when learning multiplication, Math-U-See teaches all the multiplication facts, converting tablespoons to teaspoons, quarters to dollars, pints to gallons, quarts to pints, ounces to pounds, area of a rectangle, multiple digit multiplication, prime and composite numbers, solving for the unknown (division), etc. For the entire year, you learn everything there is to know about the skill of multiplication. In other curricula, you may learn some multiplication, some time, some fractions, some decimals, and some other math skills; they skim the surface of several different topics, and over the years, they are cumulative (which is a fine but different approach).
The program uses a great deal of manipulatives, even in the older grades, thus the name, Math-U-See. The hands on approach really worked for both of my boys and aided in their understanding. I have heard many say that Math-U-See is weak on word problems, but I have not found that to be the case. Perhaps later editions of the program have added more word problems.
My sons and I watch the DVD introducing a new lesson which takes 5-10 minutes. The "teacher" and creator of the curriculum, Steve Demme, is entertaining and clear. In the student book, there are three pages of lesson practice on the new concept and three pages of systematic review. We do not do every page; if the topic is mastered, we move on to the systematic review. On some lessons, we may do two lesson pages and two systematic review pages. In the pre-algebra book, there is an additional "Honors" page that my oldest son completes. Other than watching the videos with my sons and making flashcards of multiplication facts, I do not do any other preparation.
We are in our seventh year of using this curriculum, and I have been very pleased. In the fifth grade, my son scored 100% on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills on both single-step and multiple-step word problems. Whew! I was so relieved! The curriculum offers clear instruction, lots of practice, systematic review to ensure mastery, and both single-step and multiple-step word problems for all concepts. I highly recommend Math-U-See.
Note: Because I was afraid that my children would not get a strong math background, in the early years, I forced my children to do every problem on every single page of their math books. A friend and math major told me that I needed to move on if the subject was mastered. If my boys do a good job on the first two pages of the new concept, we move on to the systematic review and then to a new lesson. This has made an INCREDIBLE difference in their attitude about math. It is no longer the dreaded and hated subject that it once was. Don't be afraid to skip pages. However, if your child needs that practice, by all means, do it. If they do not, move on. That's part of the beauty of homeschooling -- individualized instruction.
Thanks Leesa W. for the suggestion!