We’re curriculum dabblers. We’ve been through more language arts curriculum than I care to admit, although after five years of trying and rejecting numerous lines of materials, we’re happily settled with Michael Clay Thompson’s materials. Science has seen a similar path, although I’ve yet to find the MCT equivalent for homeschool secular science studies. Foreign language study, critical thinking, and spelling meet similar fates. Try them, like them for a while, and leave them behind. Through it all, though, Singapore Primary Math remained in use. I’ve used the texts, workbooks, and Challenging Word Problem books for all the primary levels with at least one child.
My younger son, now nine, will start level 5B this fall and should complete the elementary series by May 2011. It’s been his primary math text from the start, but his inital grounding in mathematical thought came from exposure to a rather math oriented mom and big brother supplemented with fantastic instruction in a Montessori classroom at ages 4 and 5. His number sense is quite strong, so our pace is brisk. We skip sections that contain material he understands, since, like many gifted children, he has no tolerance of repetition. Often these sections are continuations of a previous topic. Place value, for example, starts many of the books, with a new place taught every few books. For many gifted children, this concept is learned early and completely due to curiosity and an ability and desire to see the whole picture at once.
Singapore moves fairly quickly compare to Saxon and other commonly used homeschool math programs, which makes it a good match for many gifted mathematical learners. If more practice is needed, there are supplementary books to provide this. I’ve supplemented with the aptly named Challenging Word Problems, and these are the highlight of the Singapore series for us. These multi-step word problems require planning and advanced mathematical understanding, two skills I value. I’ll admit I’m sometimes stumped on how to solve a problem without using algebra in levels 5 and 6 of the Challenging Word Problem series, but at least then my kids get to see a bit of what’s to come (and they love it when Mom is stumped and they’re not). My boys are resistant to writing down their steps, and since the steps to these more advanced problems are multiple, they’ve learned (albeit with whining) that they’re better off writing a few things down so they don’t lose their steps. Modeling this process is no problem: there’s no way my 40-year-old brain can hold four or five steps to a problem without a major slip. When their writing skills/willingness aren’t up to the task, I scribe for them. It works for us.
Singapore is not a scripted curriculum, and that’s fine with me, but I know some parents like more guidance with math lessons. Singapore offers Home Instructor guides for the 1A through 3B and teacher guides for levels 4 through 6, and while I’ve heard positive reviews of these from a few parents, I can’t speak about them through personal experience. The textbook’s examples are clear and easy to teach from, and while manipulative exercises are part of only a few fraction and geometry lessons in the series, base ten blocks, fraction cubes or strips, a clock with movable hand, and counters could be easily incorporated for the earlier books and would be helpful with many children.
Singapore Math is known for teaching true mathematical thinking, not rote adherence to formulas and rules. A child following the elementary sequence through level 6 has a strong base in not just basic arithmetic but in the workings of mathematics. This, in my opinion, should be a goal for any math education. For my older son, this led to a smooth move from Singapore 6B to Jacobs Elementary Algebra , a sound and interesting Algebra I course. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (and ruminated on regularly), I’m not sure if this will be the route my younger takes. I’m aware of so many more options that were unfamiliar to me four years ago: Life of Fred, Thinkwell, and Art of Problem Solving, to name just the top contenders for our after-Singapore Primary Math experience.
Finally, cost and ease of placement matter to homeschooling parents choosing math curriculum. At a cost of $36 for a full level (levels A and B) of the text and workbook (and the gifted kid may need more than this for a year — mine do), it’s one of the least expensive math options around. Adding Challenging Word Problems or another supplement adds less than $10 (the other supplements are similarly priced, and a single book of the supplements corresponds with both halves of the text and workbook for a level). Teacher guides, if desired, add a bit more, but they’re likely to hold their resale value. The Singapore website offers free printable placement tests online as well, which mirror the content of their books quite accurately.
I’m a huge Singapore fan. It teaches comlicated mathematical thinking from the start, is affordable and easy to use, and prepares kids for Algebra I. Plus, my kids like it. Now that’s a series we can stick with.
I’ve received no free products or payment from Singapore math or a distributer of any of the above mentioned programs.