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Homeschooling on a Shoestring

Spotlight On: Math

More on Homeschooling on the Cheap

“Homeschooling on a Shoestring Budget” HSLDA Homeschooling Toddlers thru Tweens

“What Does It Cost to Homeschool?”

“Navigating the Used Curriculum Route” by Vicki Bentley, Practical Homeschooling magazine

“What Should I Be Teaching?”

Use multi-level curriculum. Use grade-specific materials for each child for skills subjects such as math and language arts, then use multi-level materials for content-area subjects such as science, social studies, character/Bible, art, health, etc, working with all of your children together, to economize on time and money! (See the earlier newsletters in this series for more suggested multi-level curriculum ideas.)

• Search for free homeschool + subject

Math in Scripture

“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” (Psalm 139:7, NASB, emphasis added)

“The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.” (Deuteronomy 1:10, KJV, emphasis added)

“And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:” (Genesis 1:14, KJV, emphasis added)

A Few Math Resources

“I Don’t Love Math, So How Can I Homeschool My Child?” by Lori Lynn Lydell (article—

“God and Math?” by Katherine Loop

“How to Succeed with Math” by Mary Pride (article—Practical Homeschooling)

“Math in the Home” by Kara Murphy of Homeschooling Today

“Teaching Math Processes” by Dianne Craft

“Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum”

My Box of 10 by Joyce Herzog—Manipulative-based resource to encourage mathematical thinking.

Beyond Numbers: A Practical Guide to Teaching Math Biblically and Revealing Arithmetic: Math Concepts from a Biblical Worldview by Katherine Loop

Three-way math cards

Mathematical Reasoning series from Critical Thinking Press

Think-It-Through tiles sets for early, primary, or upper elementary math.

Family Math—Stimulating games, puzzles, and projects for parents and their children in K-8th—includes numbers and estimation, logical thinking, probability and statistics, geometry, measurement, and calculators. Also has a step-by-step description of how to organize a Family Math class for your co-op.

I Hate Mathematics! and Math for Smarty Pants are two books in the Brown Paper School series with text, illustrations, and suggested activities offering “a common-sense approach to mathematic fundamentals for those who are slightly terrified of numbers.”

• The Sir Cumference series by Neuschwander and Geehan (includes Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone, and more); primary/elementary

“Biblical Math Information” by Christian Perspective

Timberdoodle math resources

• Math downloads at

Mixing in Math—More than 200 resources that blend math with fitness, nature, cooking, and daily routines such as cleaning up. (Also available in Spanish)

“The Game that is Worth 1000 Worksheets”

• Many homeschool online groups have subject-specific content. For example, the Workboxes yahoo group has Math Ideas Mondays.

Making Math Meaningful curriculum for kindergarten basics through trigonometry, by David Quine

Developmental Math by George Saad—Workbooks for individual concepts.

Curriculum Resources listing at HSLDA’s Homeschooling Toddlers thru Tweens

Teaching Textbooks incorporates the self-guided textbook approach with a CD lesson for each chapter. Self-grading.

• In the story-based Life of Fred math series, everything first happens in Fred’s everyday life. He needs the math, and then he learns it. The presentation of each new math concept is motivated by a need. Even when he gets to hyperbolic trigonometry functions in fourth-semester calculus, Fred will encounter three times in which he needs hyperbolic trig functions before the book even mentions sinh(x). The series begins with elementary math and progresses all the way through post-calculus.

Miquon Math is a curriculum for Grades 1-3 developed by Lore Rasmussen at the Miquon School in Pennsylvania. Its hands-on lab approach helps children actively explore math concepts, learning by doing. Each workbook (one semester) costs less than $10; the system utilizes Cuisenaire rods or older Common Sense math blocks.

Shiller Math is a Montessori approach from pre-K to pre-algebra.

Right Start Math is a hands-on program that de-emphasizes counting; instead, it uses visualization of quantities, and provides strategies (visual pictures) for learning the facts. Understanding and problem-solving are emphasized throughout the curriculum. The primary learning tool is the AL Abacus, and practice is provided with math card games. RightStart is set up by levels, rather than grades, so that your child can begin at the proper level and advance at their own pace.

By Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens consultant

A few months ago, we introduced this series on homeschooling “on the cheap” with our “Spotlight on Social Studies,” followed by “Science on a Dime.” This month, let’s review a few basics, then highlight some ways to explore math on a meager budget!

What Does it Cost to Homeschool?

While the average cost is roughly $500 a year per child, this figure usually goes down with subsequent children, since resources can be shared, membership costs are not multiplied, etc. During the four years that we were without a full-time income, I was able to homeschool seven children at a time for less than $100 total in a year, once I had accumulated a few non-consumable resources. (Hey, I had to use math concepts just to write this paragraph!)

It is possible to homeschool with just a Bible and a library card, but most of us will buy at least a few things. You’ll want to invest in your core curriculum materials first, then add other items as your budget allows. (See sidebar for more ideas.)

How to Save on Textbooks and other Curricular Materials

  • Read how to present elementary math “Without a Textbook” by Cathy Duffy.
  • Use multi-level materials such as Math on the Level or Katherine Loop’s biblical math products.
  • Borrow or rent books—check with your local support group.
  • Purchase used books. Some sources include used curriculum shops, exhibit halls, library sales, support group sales, online swap boards (and of course, the HSLDA Curriculum Market! ).
  • Provide educational “wish lists” to family members for gift-giving occasions.
  • Use your state’s standards of learning as a guide to check out appropriate library books. (Search for Standards of Learning + Your State. You are not required to use these standards, but it can give you a starting point.)
  • Use World Book’s standards of learning with library books and manipulatives or real-life situations.
  • Use a major textbook publisher’s math scope and sequence with manipulatives.
  • Use What Your Child Needs to Know When or The Checklist (or Teaching Children by Diane Lopez) as a guide to what to teach, then use library books or living books. (Are you sensing a pattern here that includes library and card?)
  • Search online for free homeschool ____ (math, history, geography, civics…).
  • Laminate your books and answer keys with clear ContactTM paper for durability.

Everyday Activities for “Math on a Budget”

Mathematics is simply the study of the patterns and order in the world that God has made. It ranges from elementary arithmetic—the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—to more advanced math, the language of the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, music, and more.

As Becky Cooke and Dianne Kummer pointed out in their June HSLDA high school newsletter:

“Dealing with numbers is part of everyone’s life from counting change, to telling time, to calculating square footage for a new carpet, to doubling the measurements of ingredients in a recipe, to figuring out a grade point average. Remind your [children] that people in all walks of life use math—real estate agents who calculate principal and interest, economists who deal with trends and projections, machinists who calibrate tools, or construction workers who read blueprints and make scale conversions. Even those aspiring to be moms will use math in budgeting, comparison shopping, and putting that meal on the table!”

While most of us will use a textbook or organized teaching approach of some sort to teach math, the most effective learning—or at least reinforcement of concepts—often takes place in the context of everyday living or family activities, and many are free or very inexpensive:

• Introduce or reinforce math concepts with manipulatives such as beans, homemade flash cards, colored pieces for counting or pattern recognition, popsicle sticks (rubber-banded by tens for place value, with ten-stacks tied with ribbons to denote hundreds). Joyce Herzog’s Box of 10 is one example of a manipulative-based learning program for preschool through multiplication.

• Encourage preschoolers to set the table or pass things out—this teaches one-to-one correspondence, an early math skill. A very young child may count orally from one to ten but will count the same finger two or three (or five) times, or put all the plates at one place, all the forks at another, etc. A child who has learned that each person gets one fork, one spoon, one plate, and one cup has learned the basic concept of one-to-one correspondence.

• Use math games such as Monopoly, True Math, Set, 24, and Number Jumbler. Games don’t have to be specifically “math” games to be educational; we allowed pretty much anything with points or money—and we required them to rotate the banker duties. (We actually assigned Friday as “math games day,” so the children could play math games if their other math studies were done, or they could use Friday as a catch-up day if needed.)

Brain teasers and puzzles help build logic and thinking skills as well as spatial reasoning.

Find math in the Bible. From the seven days of Creation, to the animals entering the ark two by two, to all the references in the book of Numbers, to a timeline of Adam’s descendants, or even a scale model of Noah’s ark, the Bible is full of mathematical application.

• Kids love measuring cups, scales, and tape measures. A plastic bin of feed corn with old Tupperware cups, bowls, and measuring implements can occupy children for hours on a sheet on the lawn or floor. Give a child two rulers and see how long it takes him to figure out he can put them end over end over end to measure a ten-foot space. Jessica Hulcy of Konos calls this “discovery learning.”

• Teach basic operations and fractions using food or cooking. Cut the pizza in half, then into fourths, then eighths. Give a child ten cookies and tell him to divide them fairly with his siblings—not only will he figure out how to divide, he’ll probably figure out the remainder! Have your children double or triple a recipe. Need more ideas? Check out Single-Serve Recipes by Joyce Herzog, “Math Never Tasted So Good” by Cheryl Bastian (article—, or do an online search for candy + math.

• Take a field trip to the grocery store. Let your child compare quantities, quantity pricing, weigh the vegetables, find a quart, a pint, a gallon, etc. Need a starting point? Try Grocery Cart Math.

Calculator skills can be fun and games for elementary students.

• Even if you don’t want to share your family budget with your children, they can learn to budget their own allowance or earnings, or maybe you are willing to let them plan the budget for a family trip or the homeschool savings for next year’s curriculum. Teach them early that b-u-d-g-e-t is not an ugly word, but is simply a spending plan (and it must balance!).

• Teach your junior high student to balance a checkbook, even if it is with an imaginary account (see budget item, above). It’s not practical for a young person to graduate with an A in calculus and still not know how to reconcile an account.

Calendars help children learn the concept of time and seasons. Mark special dates and let the children cross them off as each day passes. Go over the days of the week and months of the year.

• Teach your kids to read the car gauges (of course, you’ve probably noticed that they quickly learn to read the speedometer and keep you apprised of the needle’s position).

• Teach them to tell time using an analog clock (with traditional round clock face and numbers). Studies indicate the possibility that some children struggle with learning to tell time and then later with time management because they’ve seen only digital clocks. A digital clock shows only that the time (the actual number) changes, but doesn’t illustrate the passage of time as an analog (“judy”) clock does. Another helpful tool is a Time Timer, which visually indicates the fraction of the hour passing by.

• Do you feel guilty building an occasional household catch-up day into your lesson plans? Putting the Legos away, sorting the Matchbox cars, tidying the colored pencils vs. the markers, reorganizing the linen closet or sorting the pantry, and other such tasks are classification and organization—valuable language arts, science, and math skills!

And a math activity for mom or dad? Count your blessings!

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