Math U See vs. Ray’s Arithmetic – A Review

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Our family has been homeschooling for 13 years now; we even have a brand-new graduate on our hands. Crazy, huh? Complete madness, really.

I’d be lying if I said it’s always been easy. Math has been my Achille’s heel for my entire life, and homeschooling has been no different. It’s been essential for me to find resources that circumvent my un-mathiness to provide an excellent education to my kids. I’ve used four different math curricula over the years, from K-12, with varying results – Ray’s Arithmetic and Math U See for the elementary years.  We did Ray’s for about three years, and then changed to Math U See. It’s been nine years since we made that switch and we’re still using it. Here’s my take on both:

Ray’s Arithmetic

In the beginning, way, way back when my new grad was just a little thing and the unwitting guinea pig to her inexperienced parents, we used Ray’s Arithmetic. I don’t really recommend this curriculum unless both teacher and child are very mathematically minded. It looks fine in the beginning, but I was lost by second grade. (Lest you think that’s me and not Ray’s, I may not be a math gal but I DID get a B in high school Calculus, to the wonder of all. So I’m not completely hopeless). I’ve heard that some math naturals love it, and I’ve seen other families get good results, but if you’d rather parse verbs than untangle equations…maybe move on. There are also some newer helps out that I didn’t have, so definitely check those out if you try this one.

When I finally realized that Ray’s wasn’t working for us, we’d been slogging through it far too long. Homeschool pro tip: if it isn’t working, change it. Don’t pussyfoot around. Identify the problem and change things up to address it.  These dang kids grow up way too fast. (Um, but don’t panic either. Be chill. Enjoy the ride and all that. Just don’t torture yourself for years with a curriculum that doesn’t fit you or your kid, that’s all).

Anyway. Sorry. Having my first grad is something of an existential mom crisis. Bear with me. Thank you. If you still want to consider Ray’s after my less-than-shining review, here’s some pros and cons:

Pros of Ray’s Arithmetic:
  • Classic. This is the classic arithmetic from the American schools of the late 1800’s, around the same time as McGuffey Readers. It’s a reprint and essentially unchanged from the original.
  • Progresses through the three developmental stages of math: Manipulative, Mental, and Abstract. This is a classical approach, which I’m all about.
  • Inexpensive. You can pick up the first book on Amazon for $8.99 new, or cheaper used. You can also find the lessons free, along with free video instruction, at this Ray’s Arithmetic website.
  • New teaching aids. This might be a game-changer on these. There are more resources available for teachers and parents using these books now than when I used them. In 2012, Cathy Duffy put out a Parent-Teacher Guide for Ray’s Arithmetics, which has good reviews and would certainly be a help in navigating the material. I haven’t personally seen it, though.
Cons of Ray’s Arithmetic:
  • Material is presented differently than most of us grew up with, presenting a learning curve for the parent/teacher. I don’t have a lot of time for teacher learning curves, these days.
  • I had no teaching aids when I tried this; it was 2008, I think when we hung up our Ray’s. I strongly recommend checking into the Parent-Teacher Guide to get the most out of it. The book itself is just the student text, no helps. In its time it was used in the classroom by teachers who were trained to use it, but I’m no Laura Ingalls.
  • The way story problems are used.The way the problems were presented ended up being a roadblock. The curriculum is touted as making kids good at story problems, but Erin, my grad, was the kid who used the most Ray’s and to this day she hates story problems with a fiery passion.
  • No key for Primary Arithmetic, which covers the first couple of years. I may be able to solve a pageful of second-grade math problems, but I do have other things to do. Even with a calculator, it’s tedious and time-consuming.

Next up after we freed ourselves from Ray’s: Math U See.

Math U See

Math U See is pretty sweet. We’ve been using it for elementary math for 9ish years now, and I have never regretted the change. The curriculum makes use of a set of base-10 manipulative blocks which are used to teach basic arithmetic all the way up through fractions and introductory algebra. Fraction and algebra lessons use additional overlays with the blocks.

We have used the Primer Lever up through Epsilon (fractions) so far, and have been delighted with the results. Like absolutely any other curriculum out there, though, it’s not for everyone. Here are the main pros and cons:

    • Video Instruction. I’m no math teacher, friends, but Steve Demme absolutely is, and I get to pop him in the DVD player at will. Ideally, the parent and student watch the DVD lesson together and work through some practice problems before the student settles in to work on her assignment solo. (Less ideally, the parent can slap on a new (or review) lesson while she goes to help another kid with another lesson, change a diaper, stop the chicken broth from boiling over, and change the laundry. This method takes a little longer to make progress, but we get there in the end, and I have a grad to prove it.)
    • Teacher manuals. This is important for me. Have a mentioned I’m not a math teacher!?
    • Built-in hands on. Beyond the manipulatives, lessons will also take you to the kitchen or other parts of the house to study measurements, etc., hands-on.
    • Integrated Manipulatives. The lessons integrate the manipulative blocks right in. You don’t have to try to figure out how to do that yourself, it’s just part of the lesson and the practice pages, which works very well.
    • Good for different learning styles. So far, I have used Math U See with 5 kids. We have: the practical non-academic who hates math, the super-studious kid who loves math, the verbal dancer/artist who really hates math, a budding engineer who doesn’t care about school much but breezes through his math, and the seven year old who begs for school and seems to know most of his math already, somehow. They have all done well on Math U See, through calm and stormy periods in our family life. Each student can go at their own pace; in some chapters, we use all the worksheets, and some we don’t. It’s simple to go to mastery and then just move on without excessive, repetitive work. (Now and then for a tough lesson I might print up some practice sheets from the website. They’re keyed to the lesson numbers, and access is free.)
  • Systematic and Cumulative – each level primarily covers one topic, so you will be covering adding one year, subtracting the next, then multiplication, then division, then fractions, etc. Every lesson includes review and practice sections to keep everything fresh.
  • Reusable – mostly. The manipulative kit is an up-front investment, but it is used with every level. I figure that since I use 7 or 8 levels per child, for 8 children, it comes out to about $1 per year per kid if I use the used-on-Amazon price for the starter kit, or $1.50 per year per kid if I got the bigger, newer set from (If I had used it from the beginning for my oldest ones, anyway. Also, the lesson DVDs and Teacher Manuals are a one-time purchase that can be used over and over, year after year, and also have a respectable resale value if you are so inclined. Any homeschooling parent of more than one kid knows that reusable curriculum is the key to keeping expenses down. Which leads me to my first con…
  • Consumable Workbooks. Yeah, this is a real downer. I’d love to see them switch away from this model, to a completely reusable format. I used to have the kids copy their answers into a notebook so I could reuse the workbooks, but then I found out this is illegal. I was crushed to learn this, so I hope I’m not ruining anyone’s day, but yes, it really is. So I stopped. There’s no way around this problem unless you use a curriculum that doesn’t require a workbook, like maybe Saxon, which some love and some hate. Any Saxon-lovers (or -haters), drop a comment and let me know your experience! So, yes, every year we buy new workbooks, and sometimes the test book too. Since I don’t test on every single chapter, the test booklet lasts me a few years.
  • Hard to bargain shop. I am a relentless bargain hunter by both nature and necessity. Amazon has good prices and middling selection; Math U See has everything, of course, but prices are higher and shipping prices are not cheap. Sometimes you can really score on Ebay, but you have to plan ahead and not be shopping for curriculum three days before your school year starts. Ahem.

There you have it! Our experiences with Ray’s Arithmetic and Math U See. Have you used either or both? What did you think?

33 Rainy Day Ideas For Bored Kids

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Oi, the natives get restless when they are trapped inside!

My kids play outside. A lot. They have way too much energy to keep them locked up. Our typical homeschool day sees us taking care of the books in the morning hours, and then they get a lot of free time in the afternoon. If the weather’s nice, they play outside – we have a good yard with a fence, and big kids who can look out for little kids, so it’s a pretty smooth operation.

Ah, the bygone days of warm summer rain.

Except when it isn’t. While I’m not at all opposed to playing in the rain and mud (I like them to be able enjoy the outdoors in any weather), it’s just a sad, sad fact that children can’t be expected (or allowed) to play outside much if it’s raining, windy, and 35 degrees. Or in a blizzard, or thunderstorms, or, possibly, hailing meatballs.

Never mind that last.


  1. Library. The best…what’s better than the library on a rainy day?? If only they let you have coffee.
  2. Small local bookstores often have a little children’s area to hang out in.
  3. A museum. We like to have memberships to some local fun museums for some getting-out fun when the weather’s bad.
  4. A mall. Lots of space, and most malls have a play area that is free as long as your kids know that you are cheap frugal and won’t put quarters in. Or that you only put quarters in once in a blue moon and absolutely never if they ask! 
  5. When it’s let up enough, splash in puddles and rescue worms.
  6. Invite a friend over. Preferably a kid friend AND a mom friend.


  1. Paint a picture.
  2. Draw with window markers.
  3. Make homemade play dough.
  4. Make slime. (I haven’t tried these recipes. If you have, leave a comment and let me know if they are any good? Please?)
  5. Roll out some easel paper across the room and let them go at it with crayons or markers – this is a big favorite.
  6. Teach a kid five or up to sew a little stuffed animal: My First Sewing Book by Winky Cherry. I’ve used this with five of the kids so far and they all love it, boys included. It usually takes them a few days to a week to finish it, depending on attention span.
  7. Make cookies. Or popcorn.
  8. Make a vinegar and baking soda volcano. (Bonus homeschool points if you get them to watch a You Tube video about volcanos, too.)
  9. If they are old enough to be responsible, let them use a tablet or video camera to make their own movie. These can be hilarious to watch. Or deadly boring. But, it kept them busy.
  10. Make crayon rubbings.


  1. Break out the colored rice, pasta, or beans. I did the rice for my kiddos a few years ago, and they absolutely loved it. I would give them each some in a pie tin and some toys to go with, and it kept them busy for ages. It was kind of a pain, though, because it would get all over the floor and be pesky to clean up (and no fun to step on). When it eventually ran out, from being spilled and swept over and over, I decided not to make more and to try pasta or beans instead. That’s still in the works.
  2. Let older toddlers or preschoolers play in the sink. There’s invariably some spillage, but the fun is worth it. Unless you happen to have an ancient wooden floor badly in need of refinishing. Then it isn’t.
  3. Put baby or toddler in high chair with a little water and some cups and funnels.


  1. There’s always the Legos.
  2. Lincoln Logs
  3. Fort out of couch cushions and sheets.
  4. House of cards. Jonathan used to spend a lot of time on this.
  5. Some kids really get a kick out of dismantling junk electronics and appliances. I will occasionally buy something in that vein at the thrift store. Jonathan is quite good at taking them apart and will be at it all day if I let him.
  6. Build houses out of craft sticks and glue.
  7. Build boats out of styrofoam egg cartons or meat trays.

Quiet Time

  1. Read a book.
  2. Work on schoolwork.
  3. Do chores (No? Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you said you were bored. Just tryin’ to help.)
  4. Draw a picture.
  5. Do a puzzle.
  6. Play a board game.
  7. Watch a movie. I’m not opposed to some good screen time, to be honest. I’m picky about content, and I wouldn’t let them watch all day (unless I’m sick, or they are, then, well…), but some PBS Kids, Wiggles, Veggie Tales, nature shows..that sort of thing.

That’s what I’ve got. Have something to add? Leave a comment!

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