Math Lessons For A Living Education Review

An honest review of Math Lessons For A Living Education. This series is written by Angela O'Dell, and published by Master Books. I was not paid for this post (or any other for that matter, ha! And I purchased these materials to use in our homeschool).

Math. It used to be a four letter word in our homeschool, if you know what I mean. Dreaded. Drill and kill. I was on the hunt a few years ago to solve our biggest problem, math! Have you been there? Are you there now?

In this post, I'll give an overview of the Math Lessons For A Living Education series and also give my thoughts having used it with 3 of my children so far. I've heard several criticisms of this program, but you won't find those in this post. I'm going to share with you all the method behind this series and why and how it works so well for our family. This series has been an immense blessing to us, and just might be what you're looking for as well!

We have used levels K-3 and my oldest will be starting level 4.

This series might seem like your typical math curricula, offering levels for K - 6. These are less grade levels, and more recommendations or guidelines though, suitable for broader age ranges. This course is skill based and Master Books has placement tests available on their website. It is incredibly important to place your child properly, I can't stress that enough!

The author, Angela O'Dell, a well published author, offers a practical approach and real world application of math concepts that really help the series come alive for children. It is not memorization or arbitrary skills. Children are encouraged to make connections to the world around them, and God our creator, as they gain understating and strengthen their skills.

Worldview, and a biblical worldview at that, is integral to this series. God's Word and principles are woven beautifully through the lessons. Guiding children on a discovery of the world around them and the patterns and order God uses in it.

O'Dell definitely delivers a Charlotte Mason influenced series. Each week starts with a short story that offers an introduction to new concepts, set in real world scenarios. As you move through the series, you become great friends with the characters of these stories and see them time and time again in word problems and activities.

Just a friendly forewarning, reading stories about farm life and gardening led to a great desire in our children to try their hand at raising chickens and growing a vegetable garden. Both of which have been very successful endeavors, I might add! An unexpected one, but a fun, rewarding, and very educational endeavor.

And yes, that is my darling husband coming to my rescue after I purchased a chicken coop with no clue how I would transport it home in the minivan we had at the time.

My oldest took the initiative to start a small vegetable garden last spring, after reading stories of Charlie and Charlotte helping out on their grandparents farm. And my second oldest was enamored with the stories of baby chicks, and well here we are with a happy little flock collecting eggs and applying math concepts to our little homestead. I'm still amazed at what my children retain and how many connections they are making to their lives.

The levels we have used don't use typical testing methods. (UPDATE: Master Books has created a series called Practice Makes Perfect that includes extra practice, and quizzes if you're looking for that in a program!)Instead they implement narration and application to track students understanding and knowledge. If you haven't used narration in your homeschool, let me encourage you to try! I love narration. Most children have difficulty performing their absolute best in a high stakes / stressful scenario, which is exactly what many tests tend to be. Tests often appear to be a method of "catching" what children do not know, instead of allowing them to present what they DO know and what they DO understand. Narration does just that. It allows them the opportunity, in a low stakes, non-threatening way, to present and explain what they've learned. It fits completely with our approach to gentle homeschooling and is developmentally appropriate for young children. So again, if you haven't explored narration and application activities, I highly encourage you to do just that!
Master Books and Angela O'Dell have done a seriously incredible job keeping this resource affordable. There are no costly manipulative kits (I'm looking at you Horizons), instead O'Dell encourages parents to use everyday household items many of us keep on hand. These items are also easy to substitute or exchange with whatever you have. The books themselves are very affordable, running in the $30 range. With 4 kids, I appreciate that, and I'm sure larger families would as well! As someone who leans towards minimalism, I also really appreciate that everything I need is right there in one book. It takes next to no space on my shelves! Level 6 has a separate teaching guide, and there is also an optional teaching companion that covers all levels, but Levels k-5 are self contained in one work text.

The books are full color, and while a PDF version is available at a slight discount, I don't see how you could save much on printing costs. However, if you have multiple children who will be using a course at some point or if you live somewhere that has high shipping costs, the PDF could be very cost effective for you.
Colorful illustrations and activities are found across the series. This does get less frequent as the levels progress, and the children presumably age. You will not find pages and pages of repetition in these courses. There is sufficient explanation, practice, and then application but students are not asked to preform hundreds of problems. Enough practice to show they understand the concept, and the narration of concepts really helps as a parent to make sure they truly understand the concept. So instead of your child being confronted with 50 double digit addition and subtraction problems, your child might be asked to complete 3 or 4 of each.
The texts are written to the student in an engaging way. There are sometimes gray notes directly to the parent, but often the "teaching" is written right into the course. There are answer keys and manipulatives (clock, addition/subtraction mats, place value village pieces, math facts review pages, etc) in the back of each book. Each of these courses also comes with the Master Books staple, the suggested daily schedule. I can't tell you how much I love these schedules. They save so much time planning and prepping. We just work our way down the list one day at a time. Take an unexpected break? No worries, we just move to the next day on the list when we come back. Easy as can be to stay organized!

O'Dell uses a mastery approach, teaching one concept at a time. But does implement a spiral review component, reinforcing concepts for the children time and time again. This method has worked incredibly well for my children. Each time we come back to a concept we dive a bit deeper and build upon the concepts they've learned, increasing their understanding.

This series is designed to be used 5 days a week, over a 36 week school year, but of course you can tailor this to whatever works best for your family.

Whether your child has a strong aptitude for math, or seems to struggle - this just might be the right curricula for you.

A brief(ish) testimony: in our family we started with a more traditional "for the classroom" curriculum. My daughter showed great interest in math, but soon (about a year in) was burnt out! There would be tears everyday, mostly mine, after a struggle to complete a math page. I was exhausted and felt hopeless. We had recently switched another child to Foundations Phonics from Master Books, and since that was going well, I thought what the heck?! Let's try out the math. If you've been around my YouTube for awhile you know that we had a bit of a dominoes affect and now we use MB resources exclusively. I've personally seen a child who had been pushed to the point of hating math, regain her joy and spark in the subject. When given reasonable "why's" she desires to understand the concepts. Currently, she has a dream of running her own grocery store right here in town. (Our town has no such store, and boy would it be a blessing to have a local place to shop!) She sees how math could help her achieve this dream, and it has spurred her on in her lessons.

Three of my children are currently using this series and I have seen incredible retention and understanding, even without copious amounts of drilling! They are getting it, they are enjoying it, and I am trusting the process more and more each day. The concept and methods behind this developmental approach to math works. It just does.

I hope this is helpful as you compare the many resources available out there. I wish you the best in your hunt for the right math program for your homeschool.

God bless, and until next time,
Happy Schooling!