Throw Out The Math Books!


When my older two went to the local high school, they did so well in math that the teacher is still certain that I must be a math major. The truth is, I flunked out of math in high school. We are pretty good friends, but this teacher still thinks I’m lying 😉

My secret? Throw out the math books. Until you get into the upper-level subjects like Algebra and Geometry, there is only one of good use for math books – to cut word problems out of to put in a box so the kids can draw them out at random. There may be a few people out there who learn math well the way math texts are set up, but for most of us, they are set up to confuse.

Why they teach addition only for 3 weeks and then switch to subtraction only for 3 weeks is beyond me. Most kids are just starting to catch on to the addition by the time they switch. Then by the time they are starting to catch on to the subtraction, they switch back to addition the kids have forgotten how to do that by then! To make matters worse, the kids have to do mountains of boring calculations every day. Their little brains just can’t digest that much!

Here is the right order to teach math:

  • Addition only until they can add a column of four 4-digit numbers.
  • Then subtraction while doing a couple of addition problems a day. Do not start multiplication until your child can subtract 4 digit numbers.
  • Stop for a bit here. Have your child do one review problem each of addition and subtraction. Get yourself some old math textbooks and cut out addition and subtraction word problems to put in a container. Have your child draw two problems out each day and help them figure out whether it is an addition or a subtraction problem and how to set up and work the problem.
  • Teach place values to a million and introduce decimal places.
  • Teach counting money.
  • Teach skip counting, not only 2s, 5s and 10s, but 3s, 4s, 6s, 7s … all the way up to 15s.
  • Then multiplication with review work on the things they have already learned. Work on these until they can multiply four digit numbers and numbers with decimals.
  • Then division with one review problem for each category of the above. Work until they can divide 7 digit numbers and decimals.
  • Then fractions.

Things like time, measuring and Roman numerals can be mixed in there just about any time, but make sure your children master the basics in the right order and don’t require more than 8 to 10 problems a day on a worksheet. Play games for drill practice and review whenever possible. They will learn it faster and without buckets of tears.

One other secret is to realize that math is a lot like riding a bike. Introduce new concepts by first writing them down as they watch. Then have them write the problem down as you tell them each thing to write. Continue doing this for a week or so. Then ask them to try to do a part of it themselves. Each time you do that concept, ask them to try to do a little more on their own. Be patient, and tell them to be patient with themselves. After a while, they will catch on and ride off without you!

In addition to my own kids, I wound up homeschooling several kids besides my own. Most came to me when they were in 5th or 6th grade and failing. Using this order, I could take them from not being able to add to doing very complicated problems in just a couple of years. You can too! Just ditch the math books!




Math Books! Trash Them! | Well Not Quite | How to Use Them

When I was assessing property for the township, we were taught to assess property according to it’s highest and best use. In other words, if a building was being used for a doctor’s office, but had actually been designed for a retail building, we assessed it as a retail building, not as a doctor’s office.

Math text books also have a highest and best use, and it’s not for teaching elementary children how to do math.  When my kids were young, I followed those math books to the tee. My kids were as confused about math as I was. Over the years, I came to realize that math text books were excellent for  older students who were conquering calculus and trigonometry, but for younger students they were just confusing. Why? Because children learn differently than adults.

Here’s the problem: Math books concentrate on adding for 3 weeks and then switch to subtraction for 3 weeks and then back to addition. By the time they get back to the addition again, many kids have forgotten what they learned in the first 3 weeks. Math text books also require huge amounts of boring calculations to “set” the lessons in the child’s brain. For most children, this confuses  and chokes them.

When my daughter was in 1st grade, even though we followed the math book, she just couldn’t memorize her math facts. I was praying about this one day and I “heard” God say, “too big of bites”. We backed off of memorizing 10 math facts at a time. Instead we did no more than 2 a day – and then only if she was remembering all the math facts she had previously learned. Instead of pushing her on, like I had been in school, I was able to make sure she had the basics down pat. Addition first, then subtraction and so on …

Eventually, I threw  the math books out. Well, not all of each book 😉 I figured out the highest and best use for elementary math text books.



After the kids knew how to add and subtract, I’d pick math books up at garage sales, cut the word problems out and put them in a shoe box.


Then we’d pick 2 problems out of the box each day and solve them.

The math books would have a set of word problems after the addition section that was all addition, and then the same thing after the subtraction section. My kids didn’t have to use their brains to figure out how to solve the problems. This solved that problem.

We would do 8-10 equations each day. 2 problems would be new material and the rest would be review. We also did 10-20 oral math fact drills with no more than 2 new facts and then our word problems. This approach created and atmosphere with no over load to choke on and happy kids who loved learning.

My older two children went to the local high school. Their math teacher was sure I was a math major. I flunked out of math in high school.

One of these days, I’m gonna write an elementary math program that makes sense!

God Bless You All!

~Grama Sue