How we do math (for now!)

Math is unfortunately a subject that is vastly misunderstood, and that has produced more phobias than probably any other subject. Math phobia is a real thing and many, many children suffer from it.

I never had math phobia. In fact, I even liked math, but I certainly have never really been a math genius. I did what I needed to. I mostly got it (sometimes not, but I could follow the rules so always did okay), and that was pretty much that.


Brian loves math. As in really, really loves it. And interestingly enough, it’s the one subject in our homeschool life that he has pretty strong opinions about. 😉

I’m well aware that how we do math will change over the years. Different children with different aptitudes will require different approaches, and of course things will change quite a bit once the kids are more independent learners.

But for now, these are the resources we are using. We’ve found a pretty good sweet spot between math in real life and textbook math. It fits Stefan’s learning style (and Olivia’s too, actually, though she isn’t officially in school), and it fits my teaching style. In short, it is working and that’s the most important thing.

When it comes to math it’s vital to understand that you need to do what works for you and your child. Some will say only use real life math and avoid textbooks at all costs. Others will tell you to learn the facts whether you like it or not. I think a middle ground approach is probably best, but the most important thing is if it is working for your child.

Another point that I’ve taken into consideration is where I want to put my energy. I only have so much time and attention to devote to math. My gifts are in making math enjoyable and relatable. I can do that almost without effort. However, I don’t really want to spend energy that I could use elsewhere on figuring out what my kids need to know. Curriculum writers have done that already and that’s why, for me, a healthy mix of real life math and curriculum works.


Pictured: Math Fables, Math for All Seasons, The Grapes of Math, Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi

Math Literature

There are many books that have made math really enjoyable. If you have a great library, you will find a variety of well written math books. Even if your children don’t get it all, they are gaining a number sense which will prove very helpful!

I look forward to the day when we have a better library to access, but for now we have really enjoyed books by Greg Tang and the Sir Circumference series.

I’ve found the books to be well done, and I’m amazed at how much my kids have learned from them. It’s also fun and makes math very easy to “do” on the weekend, in the evenings, or any time your child wants to read a book.

Life of Fred

While the Life of Fred Elementary Series claims that you can get everything you need from it for elementary math, we use it as a supplement. It was what we started with, however, and until recently when we added a curriculum this was all our curriculum was.

Fred is funny, he uses math constantly in real life, and there is also a healthy dose of other random facts from science, literature and history.


Stefan is in first grade and we just began our official math curriculum in January. He is doing  Saxon 2 and so far it’s a breeze. Stefan really likes it and since he is a methodical person, he appreciates the structure of having a predictable math lesson every day.

This is the only part of our math that Olivia doesn’t technically do. But Olivia is not one to be left out so she sits there and can do almost everything orally though she isn’t ready to do the written side of math. I’m pretty sure she’ll have a good foundation when it comes time for her to actually “do” it.


Various Manipulatives

You don’t need anything complicated to teach math. Anything from beans to stuffed animals have been used in our home to teach addition and subtraction. Popsicle sticks are good for place value. Basically anything the kids can physically manipulate.

We do have a set of Unifix Cubes that have been used for a wide variety of things. The little ones love to just play with these, but they are also great for working on patterns or teaching math facts. We’ve gotten a lot of use out of them, but they are obviously not necessary.

We also have a set of wooden pattern blocks. Technically these are just great fun and there are a lot of printables online that the kids enjoy using to make various shapes. They can also be used for math concepts and shape recognition. Again, quite handy, but not necessary, but they are also a lot of fun so it’s something to consider.



I think it was Sum Swamp that initially got the kids really quick at addition and subtraction. They also learned even and odd numbers from this game. This isn’t high level math at all (the dice only goes up to six afterall), but they really could do the math quickly and it was fun.

I’ve also made up games with Uno cards and various other random things. Sometimes it’s just fun to play and if you can throw in a math concept, why not?

Bedtime Math App

Another thing we’ve enjoyed is the free Bedtime Math app. We don’t do it at bedtime, usually at a meal. There are daily questions for wee ones, little kids, and big kids. Choose the difficulty level and try to answer the question. You can also access the math question from previous days so if you’re in the mood to do more than one question that’s nice. It’s fun and the kids enjoy it. This would be a good thing to have on your phone and when you have a few extra minutes, just pull it up and see if your child can answer that days question. There is also a series of three Bedtime Math books but I haven’t seen them so can’t vouch for them (and they aren’t free either 😉 ).

This is a really long post (sorry!). I hope it doesn’t seem complicated. Actually, math is really enjoyable and doesn’t take long. We don’t do all these things every day (obviously!), but these are the resources I use most regularly in a mix and match sort of way.

It’s working and that’s the bottom line. I’d love, love, love for you to share what you are doing for math. I’m always looking for new ideas to mix it up and I’m aware that different learning styles will require different approaches so it’s always nice to have multiple things at the ready.

That’s how we do math. How about you?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.


  1. Thanks for the reminder about the Sir Cumference books–we love those but haven’t checked them out from the library in a while. My older kids use a lot of the concepts in their math, especially the “pair of lells” thing!

  2. Rébecca says:

    We have tried many different things along the years, some of which you mention : living math books, but we have to buy them because librairies around here don’t have them so that ends up being a little expensive ; Life of Fred -I loved the concept but unfortunately it is way too tied in with the US (measurements, money, geographie, play on words in English…) for us to use or even translate in French (which I considered but that would take a lot more adapting than just translating, too much work for now!), games… We’ve used workbooks (Singapour math, Jump math in French, and some French workbooks) but the tediusness (sp?) only got my kids to hate math and complain about “why do we have to do all this anyway?” We tried doing only real life math one year and, as nice as it sounds, somehiw we never found much time to actually do it, and so math kinda fell in the cracks that year… I need a curriculum that includes both fun and real life examples, but that keeps us working on math steadily and helps us actually “do math” and see progress being made. I’ve found these belgium workbooks (cracks en maths) that really work well for us : it doesn’t, at least in early levels, teach math concepts, but presents the children with real life relatable exemples and lets the kids figure out how to solve them themselves. Each lesson is short, take an average of 15-20min. I’ve also found more recently some math books that allows to teach multiple ages at once : it gives you a short lesson with manupilative to do with all the kids, and them the same practice exercice with three different levels. I think it is called “50 leveled math problems” in English. Oh, at we’ve also used some math apps like King of Math or Dragon box… (Others too, but those are my favorite)

    • Rébecca says:

      Sorry for the typos! Somehow, manipulatives….etc!

      • Oh I loved hearing all the resources you’ve tried! I agree, LoF is very American so I can imagine it wouldn’t work too well trying to adapt to French. I just took a look at the 50 leveled Math problems and it looks really interesting. Going to check out those apps too. :)

  3. Wonderful resource ideas and great thoughts! Thanks for sharing!

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