Why I love RightStart math

Math — how to teach this important subject is the conundrum of many a homeschooling parent! Even people who feel competent with their own math skills feel (justifiably) daunted by taking this massive set of skills and breaking it down for the beginning learner. Math is built of complex sequential skills, and most parents want to prepare their students for all the math yet to come. But how does one start preparing a kindergartner today for the high school level geometry or algebra they’ll encounter a decade later?

The answer is, of course, to purchase (and consistently use!) a curriculum with an expertly planned scope and age-appropriate sequence of topics. Although I have loved planning our readings myself, this is an area where I think the vast majority of homeschooling families should outsource and select a curriculum. I have certainly been happy to do so! There are just so many moving parts — including the students themselves, who will be developmentally different each year.

Thankfully we live in an era with a lot of quality resources available for teaching math at home. When I go on homeschooling forums, it’s common to see questions from people asking about favorite math options and there are so many different answers provided! I usually chime in too with a few words about our math curriculum, RightStart, which I love so much. We’ve been it for four years, and I feel 100% confident that my students are learning what they need to learn well. My son is currently working through Level E; my daughter is working through Level C.

Here’s why I chose RightStart and why I love it:

RightStart is completely scripted. That means that for me, a non-professional home teacher, I don’t have to do extra preparation before lessons. I can pull together the materials (conveniently listed on the lesson) and sit down with my student and work through the lesson. I usually do a quick glance over to make sure I understand where we’re heading beforehand, but now that I am familiar with how the program works, that read-through takes me only a minute or two. Sometimes if we’re working on a new concept, I’ll take more time, but often I can fit that into time when my student is doing other work with me at the table. I have found the prep to be very minimal, which makes it much easier for me to be consistent in doing math every school day.

Everything needed for Lesson 92 in Level C. Lesson scripts usually span two facing pages in the book and begin with a warm-up, followed by the main lesson (usually some dialogue and one or two activities) and end with a brief wrap-up that reinforces concepts learned and sometimes asks the student to stretch those ideas even further.

RightStart is interaction-based. Lessons are a dialogue between the teacher and student. Especially in the early levels, much of the math is done orally. There are many benefits to this — it helps keep students focused because the teacher is there, holding the space for them. It also separates math skills from handwriting, writing and reading — which are skills in of themselves and can get in the way of working on math. In the earliest levels, as the teacher I’d even push this element further and write answers on the few worksheets for my students as they narrated them. This was especially huge for my son.

The interaction nature of RightStart also does require a time commitment on the part of the teacher, and this is the biggest challenge for many families who have tried it and moved on — the parent felt that he or she just didn’t have the time to sit and work through lessons with their child. I’ve timed how long our lessons take, and depending on the level and whether we have a game to play, each lesson takes about 10 – 40 minutes to complete. With two children, that means I usually spend 45-60 minutes every school day sitting with my children doing math.

I consider this time well spent. By working on their math with them, I keep them focused. I also relearn myself what they are learning, making me a much more effective tutor-teacher. Also review is built-in to lessons, meaning that the time we spend on their lessons is the only time we actively “work on math” (aside from fun real life and games). We can work through a level in one year if we do four lessons a week (which is the number of mornings we “do school” in our house). When my son was very young, we had to break up the lessons over two days, but we caught up later in the summer.

RightStart is multi-sensory and fun. RightStart lessons use a combination of interactions, worksheets, manipulatives, and games to teach. New families need to initially invest in a large set of manipulatives, but each family only needs one set for all children and all levels. The primary manipulative is a special abacus that helps students learn to “subitize” — that is, to recognize numbers through patterns (rather than counting). This makes doing computation much less onerous and helps them eventually internalize pattern-recognition on more complex levels. This skill makes learning “math facts” possible without doing any rote memorization. Facts are learned through a combination of pattern exploration, games, and practice. I was honestly blown away by how quickly my children learned math facts, because I remember doing worksheet after worksheet as a child and still taking a long time to learn all of them. And, parents, the games are actually fun. Yes, even for me.

One bin holds almost all the materials we use! Not pictured here is the balance, which I keep on a shelf.

RightStart spirals through topics every year. Mathematical concepts are introduced early and often. Even in the first year, students are introduced to all the operations, geometry, algebraic thinking, time, money, measurement, and fractions. Each year, the students go into these topics deeper. By the time my son reached Level E, more advanced adding of fractions with different denominators was a breeze for him! Everything is introduced in concrete ways through the use of the various manipulatives so that children are led to learn the basic “algorithms” of math through their own experience rather than simply being taught.

RightStart is effective. All of these thoughtful, well-planned details makes for a program that simply works really, really well to help kids learn to think mathematically. The scope and sequence is developmentally-appropriate and comprehensive. I have every confidence that my children are being well prepared for all the math to come.

Sometimes my kids wear noise-blocking headphones when working on worksheets. I still sit with them even through these parts, to be available for questions and help them focus. Worksheets are used very judiciously in RightStart, when it actually makes sense to do work on paper. Many lessons are completely interaction and game-based.

There are many different kinds of programs out there available to homeschoolers. Some of them can seem “too good to be true” — promising to teach kids math without so much parental effort or financial investment or through silly stories. Early on, I messed around with some of these lower-investment programs, and I didn’t see results. Math is an area where I think making a financial and time investment is absolutely worth it. When I finally purchased RightStart and began using it with my oldest, I was blown away by the depth of what was offered, in a very easy-to-use format.

Last year, I seriously considered sending our children to a local Montessori school. After four years of teaching at home, I was feeling temporarily burnt out on homeschooling. My children visited the school to see if it would be a good fit. After a few experimental lessons, the teacher had no concerns about my children’s math skills — they were completely up to grade level and then some. And, I don’t think this is because math “comes naturally” to them! They have both worked, through the structure of RightStart, to learn what they know — I’ve witnessed their growth and breakthroughs in the context of our lessons and games. I was relieved to hear that RightStart had prepared them well for a potential classroom, but at the same time, I felt sad to give up RightStart! So, for many reasons, we happily decided to continue homeschooling — with RightStart as a foundational part of what we do every day.

I can’t recommend this program enough!