Our Elementary Math – Strayer-Upton

Mathematics is a frequent subject of curriculum searches, and most homeschoolers go through a few different programs during their tenure. We’re all looking for a curriculum that teaches the maximum amount of math understanding with the minimum amount of pain. With the multitude of products available these days, and the belief that “different things work for different students,” it can become quite a confusing journey.

After our own math pilgrimage with our firstborn, which included many popular programs, I settled on this old but little-known curriculum. My second student is now in his last year with it, and I am very satisfied and looking forward to using it again with my next student. It truly deserves more reviews so I will do my best to write one here.

First, the basics:

-Strayer-Upton consists of non-consumable textbooks.

-They cover all elementary math through 8th grade. This includes arithmetic, measurement, consumer math, and a little geometry and algebra.

-SU is mastery-style math and contains regular reviews.

-The answer keys are included in the back.

-This is a very affordable program, as each book is around $15 and covers two grades.

-These books were originally published in the 1930’s and have been reprinted. Pages are simple black and white with line drawings. Book one (red) is 3rd-4th grade, book two (brown) is 5th-6th grade, and book three (blue) is 7th-8th grade.

So why do I like this program?

-First, it is developmentally appropriate. It begins in third grade rather than K, and does not rush ahead into abstract higher mathematics without a solid foundation in arithmetic and fractions.

-It includes a lot of story problems. They even use story problems to introduce concepts. I think this is very important, as it ties math to real life, and encourages conceptual understanding.

-It is mastery rather than spiral. There is no jumping around. I have found this to be MUCH better for retention. But even though they stick with one concept at a time, they find a variety of ways to practice it.

-The presentation of topics is very well-thought-out. For instance, rather than teaching all the multiplication tables at once, they do one number at a time beginning with 2. Then before going up to the next number, they also teach division and single fractional parts with 2, thus tying it all together in the mind and killing several birds with one stone. Students can get the concepts cemented first with an easy number before moving on.

-The presentation of topics is very incremental and linear. The student is not expected to know anything that is not taught nor to make conceptual leaps such as you might find in more “rigorous” homeschool curricula. Getting lost is very hard to do.

-There is emphasis on mental math. Little tips are given (but only after the concept has been mastered) as well as opportunities for practice. I am very impressed with my student’s abilities in this area.

-There is a lot of application to real-world math, such as cooking, construction, and finance. Since these were written in the 30’s, the prices are a bit lower than they are today!

-There are no grade levels written in/on the books, which allows you to place your student accurately without them becoming demoralized, arrogant, or easily able to compare themselves with others.

-I have never felt the need to supplement this curriculum at all, no manipulatives, no extra workbooks.

To read more of the math philosophy that is behind my choice of SU, check out this post.

Possible downsides:

-First, there are no “daily lessons” laid out. This makes it easier to go at your own pace, but it can be frustrating for those who like each day’s schoolwork “pre-packaged.” It also makes it harder if you just want to hand your student a program to do on his own.

-The books are non-consumable texts. While this makes them re-usable, it requires the student to copy the problems down. I think copywork is beneficial in its own right, but it can be an extra hurdle for those with major writing difficulties. There are ways around this, but it means more effort on the teacher’s part.

-The answer keys are in the back of the book. I love the minimalist aspect of this, but it could be a problem if you have a cheater.

-A few of the topics in a modern prealgebra course are not included; however these would be covered again in Algebra I.

How we use this curriculum:

We begin each lesson by sitting together on the couch or at the table with a lap-sized whiteboard. We read the intro to the concept together and work a few problems on the whiteboard. I do some too, with him watching, as modeling is a very effective teaching tool. I think this step is important, and really could be done with any curriculum. It makes math into a more companionable subject and allows Mom to have a finger on the pulse of the math understanding. And I’m talking only 5-10 minutes of time. After this I will send the student to the table with his notebook (we use graph paper) to work out the rest of the assignment, which would take 10-20 minutes more, depending on the age of the student. With the slow building of skills in SU, I do not think it necessary to have long, grueling math sessions. (We have found cookbook holders to be handy for holding these little hardbacks open.)

One of the first things to know is that you do not need to do all the problems in a practice bank. When you get to one of these pages, often 20-40 problems, just assign one row, in whichever direction gives the most variety. If the student really bombs the assignment, do another row the next day. If he still doesn’t “get it,” then it’s time to back up!

We usually cover around two pages per day. I strongly suggest correcting the work on a daily basis. If your student is resistant to doing math, try rewarding good work with something yummy for younger children, or money for older children. For more wisdom and tips on teaching math in general, I highly recommend the little book, How to Homeschool Math.

For 6th grade, we switch to Systematic Mathematics, which is a video-based curriculum that takes the burden of teaching off of me. Unfortunately, it is out of print, and your only chance is to find it used. However, if you like the format of Strayer-Upton, I would not hesitate to use it right through 8th grade.


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