I have a love/hate relationship history with Singapore Math. It has really been awesome for my kids (and for me) to learn math the Singapore way. I was always really good at math, but it has been shocking to see my mental math improvements over the last few years as I have taught my kids through this math program. But it isn’t as easy to use as some other programs would have been, and there have been quite a few crisis moments when I thought I would throw the books out the window and grab something easier to use.
The first (and biggest) crisis came between the 1st and 2nd grade books. The only reason I stuck with it was my homeschooling aunt told me to stick with my math curriculum unless no learning had occurred. She told me it would be better to suffer through then confuse my kids by switching around. Since she has 10 kids and lots of experience, I listened to her, and I am so glad I did! So after trekking all the way through to Singapore 5A, I have learned what makes the program work for my kids.
First: Get the Home Instructor’s Guide! This is an essential piece of the Singapore experience. I am including two pages from the 1st grade guide to show why I think you should invest in this book for the grade you are teaching. This first page gives the instructor specific instruction on how to teach the subject matter in the Singapore way. There are so many people who think they are doing Singapore Math, but when they teach adding and subtracting (and other concepts) they do it the way that they were taught as students. They have their kids learn to write the algorithm, and they have them memorize facts without learning to compute. When I show this page to them, they think this method of adding and subtracting beyond the number 10 is cumbersome and useless and they don’t do it. However, if you manage to make it through this stage, your kid will use this method for much bigger calculations. This teaches them to build numbers to the 10s and later 100s, 1000s, etc. I feel like this is a huge piece of number sense that is missing from math programs that teach you to just memorize/write vertically. In those systems you basically are learning a+b=c, but in Singapore you really learn to understand the concept that our numbers are organized in a base 10 system. I took this section very seriously, and didn’t have my kids memorize the math facts until they were solid in this concept, and it still pays dividends several grades later. There are helpful teaching concepts throughout the books. I don’t always need the guide, but I check through it first so that I don’t insert something that I was taught as a child instead of using this method.
There are also printables and mental math assignments at the back of the guide for you to use with your students, so even if you were taught the Singapore way, and the guide isn’t as helpful for you, the extra tools and mental math are still a valuable part of the curriculum and they aren’t available in the student books. There is also a schedule in the first part of the book that gives you an idea of how to assign and pace the curriculum.
The answers for all of the workbook exercises and textbook exercises are also in the Home Instructor’s Guide, so you do not need to invest in the answer keys unless you want to. There are also game ideas and other helpful information throughout the guide that make it an interesting read.
Second: Buy 1 semester ahead of the book you are starting. This gives you perspective that you need in order to feel like you are teaching “enough.” Even though Singapore is a mastery-based curriculum, there is still a lot of review. I was really worried when going from grade 1 to 2 because I thought that everything in grade 1 had to be totally mastered before moving on. My big crisis moment came when the end of first grade came and my daughter didn’t have her adding/subtraction facts automated or a super solid understanding of multiplication. I thought we weren’t cut out for Singapore, and was frustrated by the lack of review when I reached out to my aunt for some guidance. Once I bought the 2A books, I was totally more confident. Each grade has a review built into the new chapters, and so now I know to buy the next semester book so that I can see and know what the progression will look like.
Third: Plan on a math fact review system. I like the Mad Dog Math system (even though it is expensive) because it is simple, easy to implement, and gets the job done. Each day we spend 2-10 minutes of review and don’t stress about it past that. You can make your own Mad Dog Math for a fraction of the cost as all of the information on what to do is available if you look through their website and watch the youtube tutorials. Before I had Mad Dog, I really didn’t know how much drill to do, what expectations to set, or how to know if we had done enough. I love the math clubs that incentivize and measure progress. Mad Dog Math is just one of many ways to help your students remember math facts. You can use whatever you want to help automate the math facts for your kids after they have learned to compute in their minds, but plan on some fact drilling in the event that your kid doesn’t memorize facts by doing the workbooks.
Fourth: Recognize that Singapore is an advanced math program so if it takes slightly longer to finish it, that is okay. My oldest sometimes drags through math and takes a little longer to get out of the grade she is in (she is just finishing 4th grade even though she is 1.5 months into 5th grade), but she tests above grade level in Saxon and other placement tests I have had her take. I have learned to chill out and relax a bit. She also feels more confident because she tested into 6th grade Teaching Textbooks when she was in Singapore 3, and so even though math is sometimes trying for her, she feels good about her results.
Fifth: Take advantage of all the extra books that are available to really round out your math education. We like the Word Problem books and the Intensive Practice books. We don’t always do every problem, but I like to look through for some challenging sections and let my kids work through and deepen their understanding. I usually buy these for summer or whenever they finish before the next grade so that we keep up our skills throughout the year. My math-excited son usually does every single problem of every book that I buy, but my daughter isn’t as enthused so she doesn’t.
So if you decide to take the Singapore Math plunge, my best advice is to stick with it, keep it positive, and have faith that it will turn out okay and well for you. Good luck choosing the math curriculum that works best for you!