Review of Saxon Math for Homeschool: Is It Right for Your Child?
The best thing about homeschooling is that you can use what works for your child each year and switch if need be. The problem is finding what will work. If you google opinions on Saxon Math, you'll find parents and teachers who love it and those who hate it. Some parents and teachers complain that it's dry and repetitive. Other parents and teachers sing the praises of the program. So, who do you believe? How can you know if Saxon Math will be effective for your child? To know if Saxon is right for your child you need to understand why it's controversial and how it works.
The Saxon Controversy
Conceptual math programs are the most popular in use today. Conceptual programs don't focus just on how math is done. They focus on the why behind it. Common Core programs put a huge amount of emphasis on problem solving and deep understanding. This is great for many kids. My eldest daughter did Singapore Math and could easily learn the concepts presented. Naturally I used Singapore's Kindergarten program with my second child as well.
We were half way through the Singapore 1st grade books when it became clear she just wasn't getting it. She's a slow learner and Singapore was moving way too fast for her. Her mind would wander when anything abstract was presented. And this is the problem with conceptual math. It may be a superior way to learn math but for some kids those concepts go over their heads.
I was at a point with my second child where I was fearful she'd fall behind because she couldn't grasp the concepts. I just wanted her to learn math even if the way she was learning wasn't the ideal way. Something was better than nothing. So Saxon was a lifesaver for us. If you've been doing a conceptual program with your child and they aren't grasping the concepts, Saxon Math is definitely a program to consider.
How Saxon Math Works
Saxon Math doesn't really focus on why. It focuses on procedures, drills and repetition. It teaches incrementally using a spiral approach. Spiral means the program teaches bite-size chunks of multiple concepts per day. As an example, Lesson 21 of the grade 2 book teaches Calendar (months, days, date), Weather, Counting (from 146 to 165), Graphs, Patterning, Clock (hours only), and addition facts adding 2.
Saxon incorporates the learning of math facts into the program. The 2nd grade program starts with double facts (1+1, 2+2, etc.) then moves onto plus 0 facts, plus 1 facts, etc. Time starts out teaching hours, then elapsed hours, then half hours, etc. These basics will be covered for several weeks. We also do skip counting by 2's, odd numbers, counting by 5's, counting by 10's, and counting backwards from 20 every single day. The manipulatives set comes with a handy numbers chart that makes counting practice easy.
When counting above 100 is covered, kids have to write out all the numbers between given beginning and ending numbers. So, your child would write out all numbers from 146 to 165. Once they're written out they can then practice counting those numbers forwards and backwards. While your child won't be learning lots of abstract concepts they will become very knowledgeable of basic arithmetic.
The Value of Learning Incrementally
Many math programs focus on a concept for a few days and then move on. That concept might not be revisited for several more months. For example, Singapore's 1st grade book introduces time to the hour and half hour. The book spends just a few days covering this and then doesn't revisit time again until the 2nd grade book. If your child quickly forgets what they learn, this kind of learning may be ineffective. Saxon goes over many topics daily for weeks using an incremental approach. This repetitive daily practice may be boring for many kids but can be very effective for those who struggle to remember what they learn.
Supplementing Saxon Math
You can use other approaches in addition to Saxon if you worry that it might not provide your child with everything they need to know. I used The Complete Book of Time and Money to teach time and money concepts to my second grader because I wanted a comprehensive approach she could complete within a year. The Complete Book series also has books that cover math for different grades. We homeschool through a charter school which provides the online i-Ready instructional program, so my younger child learns some conceptual math as well. So, it's possible to use Saxon but supplement with other programs if you feel like exposure to more abstract concepts is important for your child.
Do Your Research
In the Washington Post article "Not on the Same Page" writer Jay Mathews addressed the origin of the Saxon Math program:
"...Saxon, a former Air Force officer, when he started writing a math textbook on his dining room table in 1980. He just thought he knew how to solve the problems of slow learners like himself -- he earned a solid D the first time he took calculus."
John Saxon wasn't a mathematician. He was an Air Force officer with an engineering degree who disliked the popular math teaching programs of his time. If you have a child who's a slow learner or a child who doesn't grasp abstract concepts easily, Saxon Math is one alternative that may work for them. If you do choose to use the program, the manipulatives are vital. They're expensive but it would be difficult to use the program without them. Also, when you buy the books make sure you buy the Complete Kit. The books and manipulatives will cost around $200. You can do virtual sampling of the program but it requires registration: