I remember early in my homeschooling journey reading an article that stated that most children can learn all of elementary-school math in a matter of a few months when they are 12, instead of teaching it the typical way. I comforted myself with this idea when math wasn’t going well in our homeschooling, or when we just weren’t getting around to it. “That’s okay, we’ll easily catch up later,” I would tell myself.
Real Life Is Never That Easy
It turns out, it didn’t quite work out that way. I have realized the person in the article had two things I did not have. One thing they had was neurotypical children, without learning differences. My kids aren’t typical. The other thing that made their situation different was that they seem to be a person who had a clue how on earth to teach all of elementary school math in a few months! That second one was really problematic.
One of my kids had spent years being challenging to teach. Challenging about everything, not just math. So, we didn’t follow a typical math curriculum for a long time. We did living math activities, like the ones in the curriculums I write. We counted and added objects, divided cookies, and played games with math. We watched shows like “Odd Squad” and played lots of Mine Craft, which has more math than it looks like at first glance.
Making a New Plan
So, what did we do when age 12 rolled around?
First, we used an amazingly inexpensive program called MathLine. MathLine has a level called F which is designed to review all of elementary math. I think I paid less than $3 for the workbook from a homeschool supply company and another $20 for the MathLine abacus. There was also an inexpensive teacher’s guide. We didn’t use the abacus much, but I am a fan of having all the manipulatives I can afford.
This little workbook went through all the topics generally covered in elementary school math and had a page or 2 of problems on each topic. We were able to breeze through some things and spend extra time where it was needed. Because I had a page full of examples, I could make up extra problems if we needed to practice something.
I also decided to do most of our work on a whiteboard with one problem at a time, doing about 5 problems on it each day. This reduced distractions and made the work more manageable. I’ve heard there are some kids who happily do long pages full of math problems, but I didn’t give birth to those people. About five problems a day was a good balance of giving us practice and feeling like we did things while not being either too repetitive or too overwhelming. Working on the whiteboard helped remove the stress of having to work neatly or worry over making mistakes. Everything gets erased, no matter what, so it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Our Next Steps
Once that book was completed we moved on to Math-U-See Epsilon. It is the Math-U-See book focused on fractions. Fractions felt like the right place to start getting ready for higher-level math. If you don’t understand manipulating fractions, algebra isn’t going to be possible.
Once again, some lessons required more time, and others we were able to fly through. Every student is different, but as an older student who was ready to learn, we found that doing 2 worksheets was enough for many lessons, and for some, just one of the many worksheets in a section was enough to get my student to see the concept and move along.
Math-U-See has a very methodical program that builds upon an idea in a logical way. For this reason, I chose not to skip any lessons. I didn’t want my students to struggle when things got more challenging. But, instead, we moved quickly and did only as many worksheets from the student book as it took to understand the concepts and be sure the foundation was there. Even with moving quickly, most days we only complete one lesson a day. Some students might be prepared to do multiple pages in a single day, but that can also lead to burnout. I would rather we make slow and steady progress, even though our goal is to get ready for high school math as quickly as possible.
I hope This Helps
If you are also looking for a way to help your middle schooler catch up and be ready to start high school math, I hope sharing this helps you.
As a person who was not actually ready to teach math without a curriculum for high school, this method has helped us get ready for high school math after not using a curriculum for elementary school.
P.S. These links to the math programs I talked about above.
And I really like these manipulatives for teaching math.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.
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