Summary: A solid math curriculum, particularly in the early years, which makes a great spine to a pieced together program. However, it’s spiral nature means it won’t suit all families.
Mathematical Reasoning is a highly underrated series in the homeschool world, in my opinion. Originally written for private schools and parents wanting to boost test results, it offers a bright, highly engaging, off-the-wall math with an emphasis on critical thought. These books appear to have gone through a revision recently, and before that they were shorter, only supplemental. It’s important to note the difference between the old books and the new ones by the same name when searching for reviews.
I have so far only used their Age 3, Age 4, K and 1st level books, and have been quite impressed with them. I will state up front that, if I were going to use a single program with no supplements, one book for math, I would probably not use Mathematical Reasoning beyond their early learning books. There are other programs which, as a single book, do it better, and the positives would not outweigh the negatives as a standalone program. However, I always intended to draw from many sources for math, so, as the spine to a pieced together math program, it has some major advantages other curricula don’t offer.
I love Mathematical Reasoning because it has a focus on thought and reasoning, and also because the activities are engaging. In flicking through my MR B (1st Grade) book I see pages on analogies, a page where you have to take the net of a shape with a dot in it and decide what 3D shape it will create, and a whole bunch pf pages with addition facts that have a dot to dot on the opposite side which is completed by connecting the answers to the previous addition questions in order, and that’s just to name a few. The critical thought aspects do lessen during the older grades (or are perhaps just less obvious. Logic is much easier to build into Kindergarten geometry than 4th grade multiplication) but in Mathematical Reasoning B at least there’s still quite a lot of interesting and unique pages. It’s also very colourful, but does not have too many problems per page (except the addition/subtraction pages) so it’s great for kids who would be bored by a dull textbook or overwhelmed by some of the programs that have lots of problems to a page. It’s a very ‘fun’ math. For us, having a fun, engaging spine to balance some of the more boring/challenging supplements is a better dynamic than a dull spine with fun supplements. The fun spine makes Maths a fun subject from my children’s perspective, they look forward to it. It might be less meaty on it’s own than, say, Singapore or Saxon, but it gets them excited, keeps them engaged, and I fill in the gaps with more meaty, dull supplements.
One of the reasons I have selected it as a spine to my pieced together program is that it appears to hit all the ‘minor’ math topics that some programs, especially homeschool ones, miss or underemphasise. This is my catch-all, to make sure we hit time and money and graphs and hopefully don’t have any gaps along the way. It’s my reassurance I’m covering it all somewhere. At times it becomes a little redundant to my other programs, and we skip pages, but it also sometimes approaches a topic from a different perspective, so even the revision can be valuable.
I think the number one problem people have with MR, and the reason they become hesitant to use it as a stand alone, is that it is completely spiral. The samples don’t do it justice. If you do 4 pages in a day, you may do one page of addition, one page of time, and two pages of graphs. It’s one of the reasons I love the program, because, in my country that is how math is taught normally, even in high school. I found mastery programs very strange when I first began researching curriculum. But Americans who are used to working on a single math topic for a week, with maybe a little review at the end, feel like the program is unfocused and incomplete because they never knuckle down and see progress in a single topic, they see gradual jumps in every topic throughout the entire year. This can be mitigated to a point by jumping back and forth through the book, but, really, if this type of spiral approach bothers you then the program probably isn’t a good fit.
There is definitely a lack of instruction in these books, which is not necessarily a flaw. These books were not originally written for homeschoolers, they were written for private schools. There is a brief introduction to new topics the first time they come up, but there is an expectation that there will be someone teaching the concept. It’s set up for the ‘teacher’ to introduce the page, do a short lesson on the concept if it is new, and then the student to complete the page independently, though obviously it can be used differently (we usually just walk through the page together AS the lesson when there’s a new concept, and then she does the next page it comes up on independently). It does mean in the older grades that it probably can’t be fully independent, but most elementary math programs require some supervision and assistance anyway.
It has less questions than the average math program. For me this is a big plus, I’m not a fan of drill and kill. Many pages have only two to four problems, and then that topic may not appear for another two weeks, so checking work at the end and addressing any incorrect answers becomes especially important. The exception to the less-is-more rule is addition/subtraction where there are frequent large pages, the goal being to build up speed I believe. If they’re too much you could begin skipping every second one, or bypass them altogether in favour of a math facts program such as Two Plus Two Is Not Five.
Surprisingly for a critical though focused program, they do not cover mental math strategies at all that I can see. We use Singapore Math’s MathExpress to supplement this flaw.
Many people seem to like the earlier levels of this program, but drop it after 1st or 2nd grade. I think they find the parts they didn’t like, such as it’s extreme spiral sequence or lack of practice/repetition, become much more noticeable later on. Neither of these issues is a flaw for me or my family, so I anticipate continuing to use the program throughout elementary. It fits perfectly as the fun, interesting, and not-too-time-consuming way to cover the broad basics of math, leaving us time, mental energy and enthusiam for the more intensive supplements we use. It helps me to foster an enjoyment of math and an appreciation of the puzzling, logical aspects of it in my children.
A quick note on placement, this book is very much ‘on grade level’. Many homeschooling curricula work a little ahead of the minimum scope and sequence of public school books, this one does not. This in itself is not a flaw, it just means you may need to skip a grade ahead if your child has a solid foundation in math or has previously used one of the more intensive programs. We use it a year ahead of our child’s grade and supplements (pairing 1st grade Singapore Supplements with 2nd Grade Mathematical Reasoning during their age 1st grade year, for example, and later on intending to pair 4th Grade Beast Academy with 5th Grade Mathematical Reasoning). So be sure to look closely at the sample pages available on the Critical Thinking Company website when considering which level to begin with.