For the longest time, I was totally confused as to how to go about teaching math to my younger children. On the one hand, was the option of a prepared curriculum and on the other hand, was my own instincts as a mother.

The Typical Math Curriculum Problem

The prepared curriculum offered stability, and I would be certain that nothing was left out. I tried this approach first. I used many different math curriculums for my preschool through fourth-grade kids through the years. They all seemed pretty similar with only a few variations here and there, but there was one common thread that every one of them held for my children: they completely bored my kids, and I struggled to keep them interested every day.

The Natural Way Kids Learn Math

More and more, I found myself skimming the lesson for the day and implementing my own, more fun, strategies for teaching these most basic of concepts. It always felt like my children learned more and enjoyed our math time when they were learning through life. They seemed to grasp what I was trying to teach them faster and better when they could “see” the problems, and they were relevant to their daily lives.

The Math Concept Checklist

It was during these years that I created the math checklist. It was just a simple list of math concepts that I wanted them to learn by age 10. I divided it into grade levels, but some of my children learned more than was required for the year and some of them learned less. The grade levels were only guidelines. Then, I would find fun ways for them to learn the concepts through daily life or with games or even file folders. The kids love this approach, and I liked that they were learning and enjoying. The only problem was that it was a lot of work on my part to come up with lessons every day.

Teaching Math to Multiple Ages

I would create multiple lesson plans each day, one for each child. I gradually began to realize that my children who were three years apart could easily learn at the same time. I would focus on teaching the older child, and the younger one would learn the basics of the lesson. This also allowed them to enjoy some time together.


I had always read that manipulatives were essential for young math learners, but I had never really put much stock into them. I gathered a few manipulatives and put them into gallon bags. We used coins, buttons, blocks, Legos, and crayons; just basics that we had around the house. We began getting out our manipulatives before we started math and using them with every problem. It was amazing to watch the progression

As my children got older and gained a better understanding of the basic math concepts, they began to be able to do mental math faster than they could count out the manipulatives. This is when we made the transition to “no manipulatives.” There was no hard-and-fast rule for this; it just came naturally.
For my older students, ages 8-10, we made bundles of toothpicks to learn place value, carrying and borrowing, and when working with larger numbers.

Oral and Mental Math, The Missing Piece

The thing that really brought it all together for us, though, was oral and mental math. When I began doing our math orally and focusing on problems that required mental effort over memorization, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place for us.

If we were working on addition, I would make up problems that the kids enjoyed. They would often be about family members or superheroes. We got through fewer problems in a day with a much better grasp of the concepts.

Bringing It All Together

Years later, my older kids have graduated, and I have a new set of young math learners. Now, maybe you know of a math curriculum that encompasses all of these factors, or maybe you are comfortable with the checklist approach or coming up with your own ideas. I certainly always was, but I secretly longed for a curriculum to do all of the thinking for me so I could enjoy more and plan less.

One resource that I did find that allowed for oral math, mental math, manipulatives, and a fun and simple approach is the Charlotte Mason Elementary Arithmetic Series. As I said, this is just my favorite and the only one that includes all of the things that I think make a great math curriculum for younger kids. I’m sure that there are others that will work, too.

Teaching math in the younger years should be fun and relevant, simple and straightforward. Use lots of manipulatives, keep lessons mostly oral, and rely on mental math that is relevant to their daily lives. Enjoy your little ones. Time flies…

Jill Cain

Jill Cain

Hi,my name is Jill. I am a mom of six fun- loving kiddos. I have been homeschooling for 20+ years and have tried it all.My hope is that by sharing my trials and triumphs I can give light to journeys of other homeschool families.
Jill Cain

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