Math Mammoth

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  • Jessica



    To have a Charlotte Mason approach to math, it does not matter so much which math book you use as HOW you use it. From the things she wrote about math, I’d say that Mason especially appreciated two things:

    (1) In many math problems (though not in all!), our children come up against a firm rule or law, something that is solidly right when any other answer is wrong. She felt that this was a valuable and humbling experience.

    (2) Math gives children the chance to grapple directly with ideas, to learn how to justify their reasoning.

    These two ideas are related, since it is the justifications (or proofs) that convince us an answer is right or wrong. How do we know that we got a sum correct? We can take the numbers apart and add them another way, to see if we get the same answer. Or we can subtract one of the numbers from the sum and see if we get the other number. Or… well, how would YOU prove it? From the very beginning, children should be doing this sort of informal proof, explaining how they figured things out. Don’t wait until high school geometry to let your children wrestle with ideas!

    This is why stories and manipulatives are so important when working with elementary children. Do not rush to abstract math notation, because children cannot reason with it. They need the physical presence of manipulatives or the mental images of a story to give them something “real” to reason with, so they can grapple with ideas and make justifications. Not until MUCH later will they be able to reason using only abstractions.

    This is true for teenagers and adults as well. As W. W. Sawyer wrote in his wonderful little book, Mathematician’s Delight

    Earlier we considered the argument, ‘Twice two must be four, because we cannot imagine it otherwise.’ This argument brings out clearly the connexion between reason and imagination: reason is in fact neither more nor less than an experiment carried out in the imagination.

    People often make mistakes when they reason about things they have never seen. Imagination does not always give us the correct answer. We can only argue correctly about things of which we have experience or which are reasonably like the things we know well. If our reasoning leads us to an untrue conclusion, we must revise the picture in our minds, and learn to imagine things as they are.

    When we find ourselves unable to reason (as one often does when presented with, say, a problem in algebra) it is because our imagination is not touched. One can begin to reason only when a clear picture has been formed in the imagination. Bad teaching is teaching which presents an endless procession of meaningless signs, words and rules, and fails to arouse the imagination.

    Also, be sure to take into consideration Mason’s approach to all learning, not just the things she said about math. For instance, the use of narration is very important in math as well as other subjects. When children put their thoughts about a math problem into words to explain what they did, this solidifies their understanding of the concepts. I’ve written a blog post about how my family uses narration in math, which you might find helpful: Buddy Math.


    AWESOME, DeniseIL!  Thank you soo much for that explanation.  It also really shows me how RS fits in w/ how CM taught.  But, also how to apply other materials.  Very interesting!




    Thank everyone so much for all of the thoughts that have been shared. It definitely gives me a lot to think over. I truly appreciate others advice and points of view. 🙂


    Thank you, DeniseIL, for a wonderful explanation of CM math.  Buddy math is a great way to help children understand any math program.  Various manipulatives can always be added in, too.  It reminds me of buddy reading.  When my children were learning how to read, I would read a sentence or a page and then it was their turn.

    Alicia Hart

    Yes!  Thanks for this explanation……very helpful.  I have been doing buddy reading with my kids forever and never thought of applying that to math!

    So insightful.


    Thank you for this thread. It helped me to retrace our math journey and figure out what I like in each of the 5 curricula we tried recently. I listed the elements I want in a program and used that as a filter to evaluate each program, listing what each program lacked. Then I asked my dd which program was her favorite, also noting my favorite. DD, age 9, likes Mastering Mathematics best, which I heard about on SCM. She says the author makes the problems easy because of the way she explains them. I am going to stick with MM and add the parts I haven’t been including such as mental math, manipulatives, and different types of games.

    I plan to use Math U See with her for pre algebra on up. I tired of MUS after using it for many years with my older boys. Some of my other kids didn’t pay attention to the video teaching sessions with MUS and couldn’t do the work sheets well because of the tv factor. Some tired of the same format each day also.

    My highschoolers use MUS or Life of Fred, their choice.

    The other programs were Rays and Math Lessons for a Living Education(my favorite to teach). Rays was good for awhile but she hit a wall, and I got frustrated. That is when we switched to MM.



    Sonya Shafer

    By the way, everyone, Karen and I recommend RightStart and Math U See because those are the programs that we have used. Neither is a perfect CM fit. Other math resources can be used in a CM way. As always, you have freedom to use what works best for you and your child. I would love to have a CM-styled math program available, but in the meantime, go for resources that you can tweak to be more CM friendly. 


    Thank you Sonya. I think that I have a clearer understanding concerning Mathematics and what I need to do in this area after reading the SCM handbook on math and speaking with Richele as well as the helpful replies in this thread. I have a plan to use the handbook and it’s scope and sequence along with Ray’s until I am more comfortable and possibly afterwards. .. or until you or Richele write a Charlotte Mason math program. 🙂

    Richele Baburina

    Hi Jessica, I’ll go ahead and provide a recap Smile

    You have done a great job of narrating CM math and your understanding of what CM math is not is also correct. When you talk of fear, I can completely empathize. In fact, fear of my ability to teach mathematics pushed me to purchase a boxed curriculum at the beginning of our homeschool journey that ultimately seemed to do more harm than good. This is one of the reasons I set out to understand CM-math in reference to (and inextricable from) the whole of her philosophy of education.

    I tried to tell from on-line images if Math Mammoth could be utilized from a CM point of view. Some math programs are clear right off, e.g., give examples that work well with oral work; don’t require expensive or complicated manipulatives; facilitate reasoning powers and not just mechanical ability; etc., but this one is proving difficult without having it in my hands, so I suggest using pp. 95-96 “Choosing a Homeschool Math Curriculum or Textbook” found in the SCM’s Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching. I recommend Ray’s New Arithmetics for the reasons you will find in that chapter. I would suggest using it alongside the SCM handbook. Ruth Beechick has published a Parent-Teacher Guide for Ray’s that gives a Scope & Sequence, tips, a planning guide and typical weekly schedules that are also useful when you want things laid out for you. CM and Ray’s takes a commitment from mother to guide the child for 20 minutes daily.

    Parents do not have to have been a math major in order to guide their children in mathematics. In fact, by sitting with your child you will not only deepen your relationship with him/her but your relationship with math as well. You will have your own light-bulb moments and the foundation to go alongside your child as they progress beyond elementary arithmetic into the different branches of mathematics.

    All my best,



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