changing direction: when tried-and-true stops working

I used RightStart Math for my kids’ introduction to math mostly because I could do it completely through play. Peatie has always had a passion for numbers, and by the time he was 4.5 he had me scrambling to figure out how to help him feed his passion. Since I wanted to delay formal instruction and keep his learning play-based, I settled on RightStart as an ideal program.

Once upon a time, everyone was contentedly learning with RightStart Math.

Once upon a time, everyone was contentedly learning with RightStart Math.

We went through RightStart A completely informally; I would read through a few lessons on my own and then implement the activities as they fit into our play. The kids loved making patterns with the colored tiles, testing out the math balance, and playing the various card games. When we finished with level A, I happily moved us on to level B. There ensued great glory. Level B is brilliantly structured, perfect for laying a strong conceptual foundation for future math skills. It also strikes a perfect balance between hands-on discovery and games sprinkled with just enough practice pages to prove mastery and make your kid feel smugly grown-up about having occasional written work.

About a year after we began using RightStart B a few days each week, we finished the material and moved on to level C. I quickly began seeing red flags. It began with too much review, but that’s to be expected; when you school year-round, you don’t need the beginning-of-year review necessary for those who have taken an extended summer break. But when the algorithm for addition was introduced and taught exactly as it had been in level B—as if it were an entirely novel concept—that’s when I began to have misgivings. Peatie’s mutiny was constant sighing about wanting hard math, not stuff he already knew. Goobie’s mutiny was throwing fits at the very idea of math and grumping like nobody’s business through each and every lesson (as much as she believed she could get away with, since in our house too much attitude will result in your work being put away and a subsequent forfeit of your allotted Technology Time for the day). She was convinced that she despised math, but she’d also somehow decided that she was also bad at it. Math was no longer the bowl of cherries I’d been enjoying.

I sped Peatie through level C, skipping all review and only staying on each concept long enough for him to prove understanding. He finished in three months of three- or four-day weeks. I tried giving Goober options—game or worksheet? Math first or last? In the end, we bailed before she finished.

That’s right, I’ve given up on RightStart. Oh, I still like level A as an introduction, and I’ll never lose my passion for level B, but I finally came to accept that a program that worked spectacularly for a season may not be the best fit forever.

Peatie is now working through the Beast Academy math books by Art of Problem Solving. For a kid who seems to thrive on challenge, they are perfect for him. They offer problems that make you apply your knowledge in a variety of contexts, truly owning the information and showing how different aspects of math must be used in tandem—like knowledge of geometry and multiplication to determine the area of a shape.

I backed Goobie up to Singapore 2A, which was vastly too easy for her. This, however, has been the perfect solution for rebuilding her mysteriously-waning confidence, and the puzzle-y format has rekindled her love of math. We only did about half of the pages in Singapore 2A before moving on to B. Yesterday morning this math-averse child of mine came dancing from her room. “I love math so much that I was doing some leftover pages of my math book in my room this morning before it was time to get up!” And sure enough, there were her workbook and pencil, positioned on the floor in the glow of her nightlight. Today she begged me to make her some extra math pages like one puzzle she had particularly enjoyed, and when I did so later in the day, she gleefully spent some of her playtime on doing them.

Sometimes it’s hard to change course once your sails are set, but making that change might be the best possible thing to do.

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