Review: Simply Charlotte Mason Elementary Arithmetic Book 1 bundle

I still remember the day that my homeschool journey changed forever.

It was the summer of 2016 and my husband, Aaron, and I were able to head together to a homeschool convention for the day, minus any kids except for a little infant tag-along. With both of us having been homeschooled, this was definitely not the first homeschool convention we had been to, but the first as homeschooling parents and not students.  We had just finished our second year of homeschooling and while it hadn’t gone horribly, neither of us were super happy with it. We both had been homeschooled in very different ways (his was a lot of workbooks and a stricter approach; mine was more eclectic and laid-back) and felt strongly about the strengths of our respective approaches. It had been incredibly difficult to find a middle ground that we were both happy with.

Once at the conference, we decided to attend most workshops apart in order to maximize our time. Aaron headed to his first one and I to mine: “Charlotte Mason and Her Methods” presented by Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason. I had been told multiple times by different people that they thought I would really like the Charlotte Mason approach, and I knew some of her basic philosophies, but I wasn’t really clear on how her methods worked out practically.

Well, that workshop clarified many things and I pretty much walked out of the room on air. THIS WAS WHAT I WANTED. In that hour, I had fallen in love with the Charlotte Mason method and knew I wanted to use that approach in our homeschooling. I found Aaron and talked on and on about it all and we spent much time at the Simply Charlotte Mason booth, looking through their materials and talking with Sonya’s incredibly helpful husband, John. A lot of it really resonated with Aaron as well, but he wanted to hear more so we decided to attend the next SCM workshop together and this one was on math.

Due to a fussy baby, I ended up not hearing all of this talk, but Aaron did and I think that’s what finally sold him on the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling. Being a finish carpenter, he’s a very meticulous and mathematical person and how we chose to teach math is very important to him. And the CM approach just made so much sense. From that day on, we both fully embraced the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling and haven’t looked back. Finally finding a direction we both were happy with was literally life-changing.

Needless to say, since then I’ve always had a soft spot for SCM’s materials even if we chose to not use their curriculum for every aspect of our homeschooling journey. I love their organization and clear way of explaining things, and their intentionality in every product they design and sell. And I so appreciate that they take the time to make each of their products beautiful: that’s incredibly important to me and does much to help our homeschooling.

Currently, for our homeschool, we use SCM curriculum for language arts (I highly recommend their Delightful Reading kits…we’ve been very happy with them), art studies and habit training. (I also have many of their topical resource books on the CM method and philosophy.) For history and science, we’re using living books from lists that I’ve curated and narrating and notebooking the content. And after trying several other math curricula, we’ve settled on RightStart Math and have been incredibly happy with it.

From all that I’ve read and learned about the CM approach to math, RightStart seemed the closest that I could find in methodology. I have the SCM Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching book and accompanying DVD and while they’re helpful, I wanted something with a little more guidance. So I was incredibly intrigued last fall when I saw that SCM was releasing an Elementary Arithmetic curriculum! Book 1 was set to be released near the end of the year.

Having just purchased two grades worth of RightStart curriculum and manipulatives, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to put $100 toward another math curriculum when we were so happy with what we were using, but I was so incredibly curious how SCM compared to RightStart. So I emailed SCM to ask about doing a product review on it and they were more than happy to oblige!

As Genoa is in first grade, and doing RightStart Level A, I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to compare the two approaches as the SCM Book 1 covered much of the same material. We received the Book 1 bundle (which includes The Charlotte Mason Elementary Arithmetic Series Book 1 book, the Book 1 kit filled with the manipulatives needed for the lessons, and a 3/4″ Gridded Math Notebook) and couldn’t wait to get started!

REVIEW

Being a very aesthetically-driven person, the first thing that struck me was how the curriculum looked. I know that might not matter to some people, but it’s huge to me and the book and accompanying kit were by far the most beautiful math curriculum I had ever seen! The book (non-consumable and used by the teacher to orally give the lessons) is a gorgeous hardcover with an adorable photo on the front that completely captures the spirit of the journey undertaken when starting to formally teach your child math. As with their other kits, all the manipulatives called for are neatly organized in an easy-to-access box.

The Book 1 kit of manipulatives is not a necessary purchase as all the manipulatives used (beads, buttons, mini pencils, chenille stems/pipe cleaners, craft sticks, etc.) could be easily gathered elsewhere, but I appreciated having it ready-to-go. However, this is a definite advantage that SCM has over RightStart as the manipulatives called for in the latter curriculum are a sizable investment.

Genoa, my six-year-old first-grader, has Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyspraxia, and one of the ways that has manifested itself for her is in some fine motor skills delays. Writing and drawing of any kind is difficult for her and that has made many math curricula not a good option for her as they are very writing-heavy. That’s one of the big things that stood out to me when hearing about the CM approach to mathematics was that it’s almost completely oral and tactile in the early grades, with writing the numbers and sums/equations as being something special that the student gets to do occasionally, rather than that making up the majority of the work. The gridded math notebook is an optional purchase to the curriculum, but the format (in 3/4″, 1/2″ or 1/4″ grids) makes it easy for the student to work on writing their numbers neatly and keeps the work organized. The gridded dry erase board, that can be purchased separately or comes with the Book 1 kit, works the same way.

As someone with a lot to manage outside of homeschooling, I love the idea of an open-and-go math curriculum as I feel like that’s an area where I don’t feel nearly as confident putting together my own curriculum. The SCM Elementary Arithmetic is definitely that and I really appreciated that aspect. The lessons are well-organized and clearly laid out, telling you exactly what to say/ask and do if that’s wanted, but also being flexible enough if you want to customize it to your student. Tips are scattered throughout as friendly reminders.

Like several other math approaches, money is used to help teach place value, but SCM also uses the method of “ten bundles”. Ten of the same type of manipulatives are bundled together, using the chenille stems/pipe cleaners, metal rings or elastic bands from the Book 1 kit. My girls loved putting the ten bundles together and the concrete act of making them seemed to really reinforce the concept.

CONCLUSION

“Lessons in Numbers are hallmarked in a Charlotte Mason education by the unfolding of ideas in your child’s mind. Storybooks are not used to teach concepts in arithmetic in a Charlotte Mason education, as she considered mathematics a logical and melodious speech in itself, fully able to meet the requirements of the mind.” – Richele R. Baburina in the introduction to The Charlotte Mason Elementary Arthmetic Series, Book 1

Overall, I really loved the idea of a completely Charlotte Mason method-based math curriculum. The more I learn about her philosophy on mathematics, it just makes so much sense and is definitely the approach I want to use with my children.

It was interesting and encouraging for me to note how similar the SCM “pure” Charlotte Mason curriculum was to RightStart, the curriculum that we had been using for the past year and had loved for my first and third graders with very different learning needs. Especially as SCM has only released the Grade 1 book so far so I need something as my third grader continues to progress.

Though it’s hard to fully deduce from just the first book, in some ways it feels like the SCM Elementary Arithmetic scope is somewhat narrow. It covers numbers 1-100, money, skip counting, addition and subtraction. Those are all good things, but for the same grade, RightStart also adds in things like introductions to geometry, time, measurement and fractions. I really appreciate the early introduction and gradual building on that knowledge. While math is math, I wonder if a “pure” CM approach would adequately prepare children for the mathematical demands of the 21st century. However, as stated earlier, this can’t really be accurately seen in just the first book of a curriculum and I’m very curious to see how it progresses. The overview of the coming books is:

Book 2: The Four Rules and Tables/Work with Numbers to 1000
Book 3: Tables continued/Work with Numbers to 10,000
Book 4: Long Multiplication & Division/Weights & Measures
Book 5: Decimals/Factors/Fractions/Percentages

That concern aside, I really loved the curriculum! The beauty and organization of it was huge for me and if I had to purchase it, the affordability and flexibility of it were great. As with every single other SCM resource I’ve seen and used, it was incredibly user-friendly…SCM knows how to make life easier for the homeschooling mama and they do it well. They’ve taken the Charlotte Mason mathematics concepts introduced in their first math resources (Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching  book and “Charlotte Mason’s Living Math: A Guided Journey” DVD) and broken them down in easy-to-use chunks, perfect for the busy mama teaching her little one the basics of math.

As I shared at the beginning of this review, my first introduction to Simply Charlotte Mason was through a conference session that took the ambiguous philosophies I had heard floating around and made them concrete. They showed me how I could take these wonderful sounding ideas and make them real for my children and I in our homeschool. To me that’s the biggest beauty of this SCM Elementary Arithmetic curriculum: it took all these great ideas I’ve heard about the Charlotte Mason approach to math and made them real for me. Now I can finally teach math to my littles the way that I want.

(Note: I received this product in exchange for my honest review, and all opinions stated are my own.)

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