Saxon Math: Love it or hate it?

It was with tried and tested Saxon Math that I began teaching my first Kindergartener 13 years ago. Alongside a fancy phonics program and a wonderful set of Sonlight books, that year of homeschooling proved to be fun and a very encouraging experience for us. This child continued on with Saxon Math through Algebra 2 even while working on some Math-U-See (gaining popularity then) books concurrently. She enjoyed learning the Math-U-See way but also eager for the challenge of drill-and-kill Saxon exercises until she began Algebra and decided to drop Math-U-See. It was somewhere in the Saxon Advanced Mathematics text where she decided she had enough and moved on to Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) Intermediate Algebra. She is currently finishing up AoPS Precalculus online and is looking forward to self-studying the Calculus text.

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My second child floundered amidst the lengthy exercises and spiral approach of Saxon Math. In contrast to Saxon’s incremental approach, with lessons building up towards teaching a concept and lessons revisiting past ones constantly, it was Math-U-See’s “mastery” approach, where math concepts are taught by seeing and building, that worked well with this more visual child.  This daughter was more comfortable learning a single math concept at a time in the way Math-U-See levels introduced them.  However, it was exactly this feature (learning addition in one text, multiplication in another text, fractions in another, and so on) that prevented my older child from giving up the Saxon texts where it seems there is a new lesson to learn each day within each level (multiplication facts one day, fractions the next day, polygons next, and so on). In any case, unlike her older sibling, second child went on with Math-U-See through Algebra 2, after which we felt (while reviewing for the PSAT) she needed to solidify her Algebra skills through the Pearson text Intermediate Algebra (by Lial, Hornsby, McGinnis). Having completed Foundations of Math 10 online recently, she is now working on Precalculus 11 through an online class as well.

Following the second child, the next two children ended up using the elementary Math-U-See levels (after an introductory math year with my favourite, Saxon Math K) just because I wanted math to be more fun especially for children who didn’t need the extra challenge and drill.  I also didn’t want it to be too tedious for me since I no longer had the time I had when I was homeschooling only two children.  The important thing is they were understanding basic math concepts clearly.  To add variety, we threw in some Singapore Math exercises that taught them mental math skills as well as knowledge in other math concepts Math-U-See didn’t cover as much (graphs, measurement, geometry in the early levels). Reading through the Life of Fred books also allowed us to see math differently.

After the Zeta text of Math-U-See though, I had my third child (seventh grader) continue on with Saxon Algebra 1/2 this year because of the second child’s experience with the higher levels of Math-U-See and my first child’s experience with Saxon.  I may be mistaken though.  I have to admit that the first two children have a very different orientation towards math in general, the older one seriously considering getting a math degree while the second one needing math only in case a degree in science will require.

Whatever the case, third child has plodded through the Algebra 1/2 text steadily, with a little of my prodding.  The 30-item daily seat work has been quite an adjustment from the shorter Math-U-See exercises. Accuracy is also a new skill he has had to work on. He would, most of the time, take an hour and a half finishing his daily lessons but his interest has been kept up.  I hear him, time and again, saying, “Mom, you know what?  I didn’t know before that…” And he would go on and explain his lesson on the order of operations or the relationship between the area of a sphere and a cylinder.  He would make quite a number of mistakes every lesson (average of 4-5) but would do much better on the tests every several lessons.   At the moment, he is a few chapters short of finishing the whole text and getting ready to tackle Algebra 1 next school year. We’ll probably take a look at the Singapore Primary Math 6B and New Elementary Math (NEM) texts we have in our shelf and see if he can work from them until the school year is over.

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Meanwhile, fourth child is working without complaints on her Math-U-See text along with Singapore Math workbooks until she finishes the elementary levels for both programs. She has one more Math-U-See level to complete (Zeta) before moving on to the Saxon Algebra 1/2 text.

With child #5, I began with the usual Saxon Math K text followed by the Math-U-See Primer.  We have had to take a break from the Primer text for some time during his Kindergarten year when we reached the lesson on counting by twos.  For some reason, he wasn’t prepared to do that when we got to that portion of the book. Since I had sold our Math-U-See Alpha level the time we needed it, I decided to have this child continue on with Saxon this past school year.  He has learned quite a lot from the Saxon Math 1 text and is looking forward to beginning the next level. He also enjoyed adding variety to his math lessons by doing exercises out of the Singapore Primary Math 1A text as well as reading through Life of Fred Apples

Here are some of the fun things I’ve seen my first grader learn this year through Saxon Math 1:

  • counting and writing numbers to 100
  • counting by 2s, 5s, 10s, 25s (quarters),100s (forward and backward)
  • odd and even numbers
  • place value
  • number sequence, patterns
  • all addition and subtraction facts
  • adding 2-digit numbers, adding 3 single-digit numbers
  • fractions (halves, thirds, fourths, sixths)
  • counting money
  • telling time to the hour and half hour
  • using the calendar
  • measurement (inches, centimeters, volume)
  • graphs and interpreting graphs
  • shapes (congruence, angles, sides, solids)

And these are some of the things he enjoyed about Saxon Math 1:

  • hands-on lessons using props found at home
  • use of manipulative (linking cubes, pattern blocks, coins, tangrams, geoboard)
  • variety of topics studied each day
  • drills (fact sheets) which he corrected himself
  • use of fact cards sometimes (we didn’t use these regularly)
  • completing worksheets that required the use of crayons (for graphs, geometric shapes, fractions, etc)
  • meeting book with a calendar to complete and weather graph to record on
  • the “counting to 10’s” rap!

We have yet to see though how long this youngest child will hold up with Saxon. Will he grow to love it or not?

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