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Day after day of watching her big brother Bruce sit at the dining room table working on Math Expressions and Right Start, Jenna has now started regularly asking to “do math” too. She is 23 months old now, and I’m still trying to work on visualization with her in addition to counting.
Jenna can count with correspondence from 1-3 and can also rattle off her numbers to 14. However, I’m trying to phase that part out and work on saying “ten and one, ten and two, ten and three etc.” This is what is suggested in the Right Start literature, and is a new idea to me as an educator. I’m really interested in trying it out, so my poor little girl gets to be my experimental guinea pig!
With Bruce at this age, we worked on counting and that was about it. All of his early math skills were learned at Montessori, and I didn’t begin any formal instruction with him until he was four.
Here are some of the difficulties I’ve encountered trying to teach math to an almost two year old. First of all, Jenna keeps trying to eat the math manipulatives! They are all choking hazards, so I really have to watch her and put them away up high when we are done. The other problem is her eternal asking of the question “Why?” Our most recent math session looked like this.
Me: “Can you give me two?”
Me: “Because Mommy wants two squares.”
Me: “Umm… because one square is not enough. Mommy wants two. Can you count out two?”
Jenna: “One’s nough. One’s nough Mama.”
Me: “No, one’s not enough. Mommy wants two. Please give me two.”
Jenna: “Why? Why Mama?”
At this point in the lesson I decided to just switch back to counting with correspondence. I’ve been using the counting song from Sesame Street and Jenna can now sing along. I’m not sure how much she is learning from all of this, but at least it’s a fun activity to do with Mom.
We have been using Right Start Level C as part of Bruce’s afterschooling for about seven or eighth months now. We switched over to Right Start, after Bruce completed year of Horizons 1st grade math. I thought Horizons’ first grade program was okay, but that the second grade curriculum focused too much on algorithms. For more information on our experience with Horizons, please see here: https://teachingmybabytoread.com/2011/05/01/horizons-math/
I believe in teaching children math through the Constructivist method, which is where they discover mathematical concepts and strategy themselves, sometiems through hands on discovery. I was very impressed by the philosophy of the Right Start program which stresses understanding over rote memorization. Additionally, I was familiar with Right Start, having used components of the program when I taught 3rd/4th grade at a Charter school.
I decided to shell out out the big bucks and bought the homeschool deluxe set for level C, and I am really glad I did. It has tons of math manipulatives that are useful for Bruce, Jenna, and other math activities we do as well. It also has all of the books, including the Teacher’s Guide. I used the Right Start manipulatives a lot to help explain concepts in Bruce’s school math program, Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions, and we have also used them to help with Life Of Fred Fractions.
The Right Start program has a teacher’s guide that is very creative, detailed, and goes above and beyond what is just in the worksheet book. If you were using Right Start as a stand-alone curriculum, you would really need the teacher’s addition. We were using the program as a supplement to Math Expressions, so we didn’t follow the lessons plans exactly, although Bruce did do almost all of the worksheets.
Since I’m a teacher myself, I read the teacher’s guide almost cover to cover, and then just “winged it”, or taught the lessons intuitively according to all the training I’ve received in teaching mathematics from a Constructivist perspective. But I would definitely recommend following the teacher’s guide, to anyone who was new to the Constructivst approach, or who was using Right Start as their child’s sole mathematics curriculum.
The hallmark of the Right Start program is the abacus, which I was really excited about when the box arrived. My husband is an engineer, who has had the opportunity to work with a lot of coworkers from China, many of whom are abacus devotes. (But a different type of abacus, I should point out.) One of these friends told my husband he could “see the abacus in his mind,” and that’s why he had such exceptional mental math skills. This is the same claim that the author of Right Start makes.
I am still super excited about teaching with an abacus, and intend to do this with Jenna as soon as she is old enough for Level A. The problem with Bruce and the abacus, was that he rejected it from the get-go. You know how there are little babies who reject the pacifier or the bottle? You think, “Did that mother really try hard enough? I mean, did she really try?” Well yes in fact, I did! Bruce would not have anything to do with the abacus at all. Probably his math skills were developed enough already that imposing the abacus into his thinking was something his brain just did not want. He was five years old at the time and had already finished the Horizons first grade workbooks, and half of Hougton Mifflin 2nd grade. This is also party the reason that we could not follow the Right Start lesson plans exactly, because so much of them are abacus based.
Not using the abacus turned out to be okay for our family, because I am not teaching the traditional algorithms of borrowing or carrying to Bruce at this point. The way the Right Start lessons set things up, they use the abacus to teach borrowing and carrying in a manipulative way. So I would have skipped over those parts in the Teacher’s Guide anyway. (For those of you thinking, “What the heck! This lady doesn’t teach borrowing or carrying?”, please see my previous post on subtraction: https://teachingmybabytoread.com/2011/03/15/subtraction/.)
A final point of note. Bruce has almost finished all of Level C, and I’m still stumped by what exact grade level it is. I’ve thought about it a lot, and reread the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade standards in our state. I’ve also taught 3rd grade for two years, and a 3rd/4th combo for two years. And yet, I’m still a bit perplexed, because it introduces some concepts that aren’t usually taught in public school until later. In general though, I’d say Level C seems to be in the 2.5 grade – 3.5 grade range. They also have a good placement test online to help you determine which book to choose for your child.
Bruce has now finished his 2nd grade Hougton Mifflin math books from our local school district. We are very excited to move on to something more inspiring. Since it is Spring Break, he’s taking a week off from paper and pencil math work. Next week, I’ll probably start him on Right Start Level C. A lot of that will be review, but some of it will be new ways of thinking about things he already knows.
But before I stop blogging forever about Hougton Mifflin, I wanted to share the link to the free online games that go with the curriculum. They are only ho-hum, but are at least worth a few days of your kids playing them while you cook dinner.