Living Math Dropout

by Jimmie Lanley on September 10, 2010

I feel like something of a “living math dropout” to admit that Sprite is using Teaching Textbooks now. It’s a computer based program, and she really likes it. Better yet, it’s developing some basic skills that we missed along the way and filling in some of those gaps that we always fear as homeschooling moms.

teaching textbooks

I’m not too terribly afraid of gaps in general, but with math a gap can really affect a lot of conceptual learning later on. So I’m working to fill in the chinks before we move on towards more algebraic thinking.

A second factor for using this approach is because of a big mistake I made. I had Sprite tested (standardized test — Iowa) early this year. Although her math scores were not bad, she translated the results into, “I am not good at math.” (She tested at low average for her grade level.) It’s been a huge problem for her confidence to be shattered with that test. I regret it terribly.

I guess that my own confidence was shaken a bit as well.

When I met with the consultant to discuss the results, she asked me what curriculum we use for math. I don’t think she’d ever heard of a living math approach. No matter how I tried to explain, she just looked at with confusion and not a small amount of concern.  I started feeling very unsure of myself in that moment.  Was I messing up with math? I admit that after the consultation, I bought some math test prep books at the Scholastic display. I wouldn’t have even considered a need for that before.

So back to Teaching Textbooks. I bought a level based on the TT placement tests, and Sprite is whizzing through it, doing two lessons a day and scoring well. This is working well to build up her confidence, but sometimes I still hear her express that anything less than 100% is “not good.” (What?! I can only  guess that her contact with local kids who are intensely competitive for perfect test scores is creating this delusion.)

So we haven’t done any math games in a long time. No hands-on activities for math. Like I said, I feel like a living math dropout. For now it’s just TT lessons on the computer and in the spiral bound textbook.

We are still doing math history lessons from’s curriculum, though. That’s the one bright side. And we both really enjoy those lessons.

Of course, I actually am not a living math dropout. I have every intention to get back into my preferred style of hands-on living math exploration. But for a season, TT is working. And in the big picture, TT can be part of our overall living math approach.

My plan is for Sprite to complete Life of Fred Fractions after working through TT. From there I’m not too sure. But I have lots of resources on  my shelf to choose from at that point.

[I bought TT from CBD (affiliate link).]

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula (Belgium) September 10, 2010 at 6:30 pm

It is really difficult to find the right balance between Living Math and text-book math. I use Living Math for making concept understandable, but I use textbooks for test preparation. Really a lot of different boring workbooks. It seems to work. However, like you, I always feel concerned. There aren’t living math-tests (yet), so in a way we have too walk two roads.


Margaret September 10, 2010 at 7:37 pm

The Living Math website looks very cool and I will have to check it out. Still, I know my kids couldn’t “do” math that way alone. We just finished Life of Fred Fractions – highly recommended – but my kid has still not internalized the multiplication tables. It’s causing him a lot of trouble as he moves forward.

Math concepts = easy, interesting and fun. Math computation = hard, boring. Both are needed. Using different approaches can be useful. Maybe just for a season.


Nadene September 10, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I can really relate – my high school daughter started text-book Maths for Grade 9 in January this year and we literally had to sprint to catch up. (Translate: very stressful for her and me!)
My younger 2 are continuing with Singapore/Living Math and I move between both approaches when I sense they are bored or not “getting” the concept.
Right now I started them on “Times Tales” which is really not learning maths multiplication, but memory triggers, but it has boosted both confidence and speed in maths work, and for that, it was money well spent!
My ‘mom-maths equation’ : maths + confidence = success; maths + stress x fear = failure x10


Silvia September 10, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Jimmie, spear yourself the guilty feelings, LOL, she is doing great, you have the living math spirit, that what counts. Live and learn, and change some more…


Mandi September 11, 2010 at 12:30 am

I hate to admit it but I was very relieved when I read this post. I have been going through the same issue with my son who is Sprite’s age. We have been using the living math approach and honestly I think we just got a little too relaxed with it. On the test my son scored below what I felt was acceptable and I was horrified… myself for not doing better as his teacher. I didn’t realize there was an issue and I decided we needed to focus on more of a traditional approach to math for a season….until he is more solid in his mathmatical foundations and caught up to where I feel he needs to be. I still beleive in the living math method but for now we just need to buckle down and focus on the basics.
Soooo I was releived to see that another homeschool mother was going through a similar situation. I feel better about just knowing I am not alone in this. 🙂


Barb-Harmony Art Mom September 11, 2010 at 1:07 am

We were on the same track this morning. I am in the middle of composing an entry called “Our Children Have Not Change, Math Standards Have”. It is a reflection on how the standards have changed and are not necessarily for the better for our children. They are feeling “dumber” when they actually are doing just fine. I hate standardized tests but realize that our children will at various points in their lives need to take them…hoop jumping we call it in our family. I have one more child to get through the SAT and then the pressure is off.

Thanks for sharing your journey with math. I have one son that likes TT and one that hates them. I say use what works!


Claire September 11, 2010 at 2:50 am

This is the kind of post that really, really helps other h/sing moms and families.
This is why we love you. 🙂


Rhonda September 11, 2010 at 2:50 am

So maybe I don’t understand everything about living math, but I have always been of the opinion that I would just use it for the first several grades until my kids were mature enough for textbooks. I think that as kids get older they tend to need the hands-on approach less and less. But my kids haven’t made it there, so we’ll see.

As for standardized testing, I hate ’em. My daughter performed poorly in math and reading, but placed college level for history and science. (she’s in 4th.) I was all stressed for a long time. But I have concluded that she doesn’t do well with the time pressures, so I guess i’ll keep her taking the tests so that hopefully by the time she’s ready for the SAT, she’s a little more used to it, besides it’s required by my sate. I think that to a certain degree that the state makes too big of a deal of math at too early of an age.


Cindy September 11, 2010 at 6:36 am

I’ve always found that there’s a necessary balance between living math and textbook math. From the beginning we’ve done 3 days of textbook/2 days living math. I’m so thankful for both types of learning! The textbooks provide the daily drill/practice and sequential learning of new concepts, while the living math provides so much hands-on/visual understanding/problem solving/logic/real-life learning that textbooks don’t seem to cover.

Don’t fret that you’re taking a season to focus on textbooks! Sprite will transition into textbooks seamlessly and you’ll feel more confident to find the balance between the math philosophies. You’re an awesome teacher and Sprite is an awesome student – something standardized tests rarely show anyone.


Becka September 11, 2010 at 7:26 am

I did not homeschool my children, but just wanted to reassure you that Sprite can “catch up” and do quite well in math in the future. My oldest daughter did very poorly in math in jr high–we even had her tutored weekly in eighth grade. She had a wonderful teacher in ninth grade and things finally “clicked” for her math-wise. She had required math classes in college and got straight A’s. So, Sprite has plenty of time to get back on track.


Samantha September 11, 2010 at 7:38 am

Don’t feel guilty! We’ve been using TT for four years now – my oldest is taking the Algebra course this year and she still loves math. The standardized test scores have been fine and the program itself is quite motivating. Even though there is no cute mascot to urge my daughter on this year, she still enjoys the program due to the funny word problems. All three of my kids use TT now and they all very much enjoy the curriculum. I think it is thorough and has lots of review built in.

I guess I just feel like I can’t be hands-on about everything or we’d still be doing schoolwork at midnight after swim team!



Renee September 11, 2010 at 8:45 am

We switched to TT in the last quarter of last year and it has been a LIFESAVER. No more butting heads or pulling teeth over math.

My DD (age 9) also feels like she has to get 100%. Not sure what that’s all about.


Sandy September 11, 2010 at 8:46 am

After homeschooling two all the way through, one who loves math and one who doesn’t, I have to say that I would use a lot more ‘living math’ with them if I had it to do over. AND I would use Teaching Textbooks every year. A complete math education includes many components, IMO. It’s not an either/or situation. Maybe something like TT Mon.-Thurs. and living math on Fri. or maybe TT one week and living math the next. You’ll figure out a way to combine them that works for you.


MarshaMarshaMarsha September 11, 2010 at 8:52 am

I am planning on having my boys take the Stanford Achievement Test this next year. However, I don’t plan on sharing the results with them, whether they are at high school level or kindergarten level. It will be for my eyes only. Maybe my husband’s, but only if he asks. 😉 Personally, *I* am starting to doubt myself a little too much as we get closer to the high school years (even though Austin is only starting 6th grade). I’ll either be pleased and finally RELAX about our homeschooling or I’ll be motivated to be more diligent in our “trouble” areas.

I have heard great things about TT. With math, I think they need a more textbook approach to do well with the higher level subjects. However, it is such a waste if they don’t also know how to apply those math problems to real life situations!


Jolanthe September 11, 2010 at 9:31 am

Oooo…I can so relate on this one and we did exactly the same thing ~ started using TT too and our girls are loving it. It has given them a HUGE confidence boost and that means the world to me. 🙂

TT is just a PART of her math ~ not the only part. You are doing an amazing job and don’t second guess yourself for a second!


amy in peru September 11, 2010 at 10:13 am

ssssshhhhhhh. don’t tell anyone… but me too 😉

I am using Life of Fred (fractions) for Javen. Can I just say EXCELENTE?! It has been the golden ticket for my boy.

I think living math activities are AWESOME for doing alongside and for taking regular breaks from a traditional math program. If ever anyone comes up with a comprehensive program for parents to do math wholly the living way (w/o all the research required), maybe it’ll go over better and we’d feel like there were less holes…

but math games and activities are still REALLY good! make math fun, make it come alive, YES! –AND– make sure you are covering all the bases, YES!

Great job! You have nothing to be ashamed of, and neither does Sprite!! Tell her I said so! hahahahaha! I give you both a big thumbs up all the way from Peru! 😉

amy in peru


Wendy @ Living Creatively September 11, 2010 at 11:03 am

Ahhh, we also use TT and love it. I also incorporate some multiplication drill worksheets (better to get them solidly down now!) and lots of “this is life” work, like cooking and shopping. 😉
This is our second year of TT, and it’s working spendidly for both of my kids. My son does his work in the workbook, rather than on the computer, but my daughter always uses the ‘puter and scrap paper. Different things in different seasons, and with different children.
Thanks for the post!!


Sarah at SmallWorld September 11, 2010 at 9:54 pm

I understand completely! Somehow I felt like I was copping out when we went to TT with our daughter, but she is so happy with it. Isn’t it so silly what we do to ourselves??


Darla September 12, 2010 at 5:53 am

I look at it like a good marriage, the two parts go hand in hand complimenting each other. The strength of Living Math is to give the “Why” and the strength of Teaching Textbooks gives the practice needed to master skills necessary for life. 🙂 Our family works on TT 4 days a week the 5th is set aside for games and living math. Some weeks it tips more towards TT and others towards the living but where there is balance, its a good thing.


Angie @ Many Little Blessings September 12, 2010 at 12:30 pm

We just started Teaching Textbooks this year, though we weren’t using Living Math before that. My boys both dreaded doing math before, but they’re both loving Teaching Textbooks so far. Hope Sprite keeps enjoying it!


Giggly Girls September 13, 2010 at 3:52 am

Oh don’t feel badly! There are seasons for everything. And aren’t you happy that you have the option of changing your curriculum to fit your needs instead of having some nameless bigwig dictating that you stay with “xyz”?

If we’re going to be confessing stuff, I pretty much stick to the textbooks for math. Other than baking, we don’t do much living math. One day I hope to add more in.


Marstar September 13, 2010 at 8:51 am

I appreciate you sharing this; I have just recently been researching living math because it seems like my DD needs something more to really learn math. From my research I’ve come away with a desire to use living math to enhance her workbook learning. You were right when you said this change is for a season. Knowing when to make a change for your child is important and part of the beauty of HSing. Please don’t be too hard on yourself. You are dedicated to teaching Sprite as best you can and Sprite is a good student – a winning combo! ((hug))


alecat September 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm

This was very interesting. Thank you for sharing.
We’ve always done a mix of text books and living books. The text books have been our foundation, but living books are used to put in the fun and perspective I think math needs.
I’m glad to hear TT is working well for you. I’ve heard good things about it. ?


Kelli September 13, 2010 at 7:28 pm

We used Abeka for years and switched to TT last year for 7th grade. My dd really struggled to understand concepts with Abeka, and where TT is not like magic, it is much, much better for her. She is finally understanding some of the things that she “just did” before. Also TT offers a lot of review at the beginning of the book and has some review in each lesson which is essential for my dd, who has already decided that she stinks at math :-(. We are doing Pre-Algebra this year and she still doesn’t like it but admits to liking it way better than Abeka 😉


Angela September 13, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I am continually amazed at how similar our choices in curriculum are!! I have one child using Teaching Textbooks and another who has transition (this year) to Life of Fred. The transition has been very easy. Life of Fred is a great program for independent learners. My daughter (13) likes to be as independent as she can be. She LOVES Life of Fred and even gladly completes two chapters in one day which is not typical for her. My son (14) is not as independent of a learner so I’m keeping him in Teaching Textbooks for now. I may transition him after he finished the books he’s on, but I’m not sure.


keri September 14, 2010 at 9:57 am

Even though the title is Teaching Textbooks…
I don’t consider it a textbook at all.
It seems like ‘living’ math, because of the real life lectures.
It works great around here.
The men who teach Teaching Textbooks are great at explaining concepts.
I listen to them and think, ‘why can’t I explain it like that?’
So…I say, good choice!


Kate September 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm

We are planning to purchase Teaching Textbooks for my oldest, with the hopes of reusing it for his younger sibs. It seems to be a popular math option, from what blogs I’ve read. My kids test every few years and math has always been at the average or just a tad below average level. I’ve read about Life of Fred math, might consider it for my middle child, a rather reluctant student when it comes to numbers. We’ve been Miquon and Key-To people but definitely need something stronger, I’m thinking. Don’t sweat the gaps! Think of how many gaps happen in non-homeschooled children! You know this, of course, but just thought I’d remind you! Your daughter has such a sweet smile – I always smile back at her photos! Jimmie, you are doing a terrific job, in my opinion.
Have a great week! – Kate


Tammy September 15, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Through the years we’ve tried many approaches to Math … and I worried. That being said, we switched to TT several years ago, and have enjoyed the thoroughness and “peace” it brought to our “math” lives. I hope Sprite continues to enjoy it too !!



Alexandra September 16, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Hey, nothing wrong doing both! You’ll catch math from two different angles – the more conceptual(big picture) and the concrete(nuts and bolts). She’ll be very well rounded – what a gift you are giving her. Whatever works, and who knows, maybe you were being “led” to have her tested. Just pray on it; you’ll be guided. : )


Cindy September 19, 2010 at 9:37 am

Here’s my response… Maybe you do “living math” after all?? 😉


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