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.
-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.
*Update – Another alternative currently in print for both upper and lower grades is Learn Math Fast*
I love your review Heather! I’m curious if you know how the reprints of SU line up with the originals in the Benezet experiment? I have a detailed outline of the experiment on my blog, but have always wondered how it aligns with the modern books.
I got out the SU books as well as Benezet’s schedule to see how they line up. He mentions a table of measurements in the back of book four, as well as the volume of cones and cylinders in book six. According to these clues, book three, where Benezet started his students, would be the first half of the brown book, or the fifth grade level. However, this level assumes a decent knowledge of arithmetic, including carrying, borrowing (regrouping), and long division. Maybe Benezet’s teachers taught these concepts on the fly?
At any rate, the page numbers he mentions do not line up with the ones in my books so I’m guessing he was working with a different edition.
I personally would still start with the red book, even with an older student. It could be accelerated quite a bit by doing just a couple problems per page, just enough to make sure the concepts are grasped.
Well remember the original experiment formal arithmetic instruction started in 7th grade.
Thank you for your review and breakdown of the books. Would you say that students will be ready for Algebra 1 after finishing book 3 or is a pre algebra level still needed?
Most of the topics in prealgebra are covered in book 3. My guess is that they should be ready for algebra when completing it.
Hi I love SU, however, and maybe because I have had my girls doing all of the practice problems, it is taking us a long time to get through book 1. They are 5 weeks into the 4th grade and only about halfway to the promotion test in book 1. So not even all the way through what was scheduled for 3rd grade! I will say that I didn’t start the book until halfway through their third grade year. They are doing well with math and enjoying it, so I hate to speed them up, but in my own mind I am nervous that we are “behind”. When will I catch them up? Do I need to worry about that? The whole idea of the SAT/ACT is in the back of my mind and having them be prepared for that. What are your thoughts? After finding your blog post, I am encouraged to stop doing all of the practice problems and that right there may help us. Thank you so much for your insight. Amber
Yes, I would definitely have them do fewer practice problems. One row or column is usually plenty, and you could even cut it down to two or three problems on the very redundant pages. There is a ton of review in these books; your students will likely get enough even with an accelerated schedule.
If you can cover 2-3 pages/day, you will get most if not all the way through the red book in this schoolyear. Even if you do not completely finish it, you can just start with the brown book next year. It begins with addition and moves quickly through arithmetic again before starting fractions.
The math required for the SAT is algebra 1, some algebra 2, and a little geometry. (The ACT has a tiny bit of trig.) You could start algebra as late as 10th grade and still be fine. Although if there’s any chance of the students being placed in traditional high school, you will want to plan on them being ready for algebra in 9th.
These are still in print or in print again. You can get the several places. Rainbow resource is one.
My 11 year old DD is “behind” in math, lacking especially in her math facts. I came across SU and I believe it will be a good fit for her and my 9 year old DD as well. My dilemma is, where to start my 11 yo DD? She does NOT have quick recall on math facts, and looking through the red SU book 1, I think she could massively benefit from this book. Should I start them both in the red book, just moving my older daughter through it at a quicker pace? She has the grasp of certain concepts, but she moves so slowly because she didn’t cement in those basic facts. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!
Yes, I think that sounds like an excellent plan.
Do you have a recommendation of what I can use for 1st and 2nd grade before I enter into Book 1? I know many say kids don’t need any prior math experience because of being developmentally ready around 3rd grade, but I’m looking for a gentle introduction before using SU.
I like the first half of Ray’s Primary Arithmetic (another vintage reprint). It is cheap and very easy to do short, sweet, oral lessons for 1st and 2nd graders. You are correct though, it is fine to begin SU without prior math.
I would highly recommend Simply Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Arithmetic. It lays an excellent foundation.
I have found this review immensely helpful. I use this with my kids and love it. However, as I add more students to the mix, I’m wondering how to balance it all. Do you schedule Math at the same time for all your students? Or do you it at different individual slots throughout the day. Just wondering how to make it work for days when I’m explaining a concept…
All my students were at least three years apart, so their skill levels varied greatly. I work with one at a time, but keep it short and sweet. If my kids were closer in age or in skill level, I would have no problem doing them together.
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