Educational Philosophy, Home Education

Why MEP Math Curriculum Works {A Sort-of Review}

June 15, 2015
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ath curriculum is something that is difficult to review if you’ve only been using it for a year. I can’t say what I will think as time goes on, and math is such that how the whole curriculum works together is really important. One good year isn’t going to cut it. But, with that said, I can honestly say that, after reading a number of chapters from Arithmetic for Parents, I have a huge new appreciation for MEP Math.

Why MEP Math Works

Let’s just say that MEP is starting out right. I’ll explain using only the Reception Year and Year One. {As I read more of Arithmetic for Parents, I might have more to add to this discussion later on.}

 

Let’s Start with the Ideal

Here are some quotes from Arithmetic for Parents that explain what the ideal math curriculum — and the ideal math teacher — will do.

  • The teacher’s role in this process is to guide the student so that he experiments with the principles in the correct order. {p. 9}
  • [K]nowledge is established in layers, each relying on the preceding one. The secret to proper teaching lies in recognizing these layers and establishing them systematically. {p.18}
  • Something happens in the mind of a child when he is counting. {p. 19}
  • Everybody can make forward steps if they are small enough. {p. 25}
  • A first-grader should count as much as possible. This is the only way to establish the concept of number. {p. 28}
  • [L]eave the “<” notation to the second grade. {p. 29}
  • In general, the main concepts a child should be familiar with when preparing for the first grade are concepts of relation: “before-after,” “up-down,” “more-less.” {p. 42}
  • A good textbook … presents the fraction, right from the start, as a part of all sorts of wholes: part of a square, a rectangle, a small circle, a large circle, and part of a group. {p. 52}

 

Does MEP Meet This Criteria?

As I’m reading, I find myself nodding my head over and over and thinking, Yes! MEP does this! And this, too! It’s so exciting to me. Now, granted, MEP doesn’t save the “<” notation for second grade, that’s true. But over all, MEP does seem to accomplish the big picture of what Aharoni thinks should happen in the teaching of math.

Aharoni starts off saying that it matters in what order we introduce concepts, and also that we not skip steps. MEP takes nothing for granted, and I think that, at core, this is why it works. I was shocked to find that things that I thought were obvious to my children were not, and I was so thankful that MEP bothered with things that seemed insignificant on the surface.

One of the things I quickly learned last year when I took my third grader back to MEP Year One because she was struggling so much was that she didn’t get certain basic principles — for example, she didn’t know left from right, and she wasn’t clear on before and after. This was strange to me because she used these terms correctly in daily life. But in his book, Aharoni says:

One should remember that the child’s grasp of these principles is usually vague and intuitive, and therefore they have to be taught again, this time explicitly. {p. 41}

Because my firstborn child didn’t need explicit instruction for things like that, I never noticed that our math program at the time was actually incomplete because it didn’t cover any of these principles. But neither of my girls were flourishing in that program, no matter what I did. When I put them in MEP, they were asked to think about these ideas, to place objects before or after other objects, or to put something on the left or right side of their pages — lo and behold! — their little brains suddenly turned on.

Aharoni is right. These basic principles come before formal math. All that time, I was putting the proverbial cart before the horse without realizing it, and my math program at the time was aiding and abetting me.

I’ve been doing the MEP Reception Year with my six-year-old kindergartner this year, and almost every day I think how much I wish I had known about MEP and done it with A-Age-Ten when she was this age. There is so much counting and finding that I almost can’t stand it, but Aharoni says that counting makes “something” happen in the mind of a child, and I believe it.

I’m tempted to say that in some ways MEP’s Reception Year is actually what Aharoni is envisioning for first grade, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing if we were to start it, say, in late kindergarten and carry it on through part or most of first grade.

 

Final Thoughts

Arithmetic for Parents isn’t just affirming my curriculum choice, of course. I’m learning a lot about teaching math well, and that’s important, because the curriculum is only my tool.

Charlotte Mason once wrote:

Mathematics depend upon the teacher rather than upon the text-book and few subjects are worse taught…

— Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education {p. 233}

I’m not only learning to teach math better, I’m actually learning to understand math better. And coupled with a great curriculum like MEP, I feel like our math program is in a very good place.

In fact, I’m even having E-Age-Thirteen try his hand at some MEP this summer!

 

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41 Comments

  • Reply Hannah May 23, 2019 at 7:07 am

    Several years on, do you still utilize and/or do you still recommend MEP? Thank you. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 23, 2019 at 3:08 pm

      It depends on the student, but yes. My son finished Y11 of MEP a few months ago and began on A-Levels for Pure Mathematics so we definitely kept going. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel June 13, 2018 at 10:49 am

    I’m looking for a kindergarten math and MEP looks really neat. I was looking over the page with all the downloads and on the lesson plan pages it says to use things like R, page 6, picture 1. I cant figure out where that is to download and print these pages? I looked at the transparency collection, the poster collection… could someone help me? 🙂 Thanks

  • Reply Nadine March 22, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    I’m curious to know how people physically used the MEP program? Did you print off all the pages and put them in a binder? It’s so many pages, so much printer ink…. And are some of the pages consumable?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel March 22, 2017 at 7:15 pm

      Yes, I DO print all the pages. It’s a pain, but I refill my own ink so it isn’t really *that* expensive. It’s more a hassle than anything else! I compile it all in a binder and keep it near the table where we do math. ALL of the pages are consumable in the younger years. In the higher years technically some of them are not consumable, but it was too hard for me to sort those out, so I didn’t actually save anything from my older child for my younger ones.

      • Reply Marika August 27, 2018 at 7:02 am

        I would like to start using 7A&7B but I’m not getting the teaching manual can you direct me to the site you download the pages from with the teaching aid. Is it suitable for kindergarten?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel August 27, 2018 at 9:59 am

          I’m not sure what you mean by 7A&7B. The Reception Year is definitely suitable for kindergarten, and that is where I’d start.

  • Reply Erika June 5, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Wow, I can’t believe I missed this post last year! Your most recent 7qt had me googling “mep math reviews” and this is the first link that came up. Super helpful post AND comments as I have been looking into Ray’s, but also intrigued by mep and wondering just when I will start my first. I’ve thought about waiting until year 2 to start math, but you guys have me thinking I will start very slowly, focusing on primarily group/number recognition and counting. Saving my pennies for that math book, too!

  • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog June 24, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Okay, I’ve got a question for you Brandy. What years of MEP have you done so far? I ask because I’m wondering how math fact practice is approached beyond Year 1. I didn’t do the younger years with my oldest daughter…she only did Years 7-9. My youngest daughter has completed the Reception year and has been working through Year 1 this year.

  • Reply Catie June 17, 2015 at 8:01 am

    Thank you for writing this! We’re finishing up Year 1 and we’ve been using MEP and we like it but it’s good to hear from you that it’s a great program! It took me a while to decide to go with it and I’m glad I did. 🙂

  • Reply Hayley June 16, 2015 at 5:58 am

    I started MEP with my year 1 and year 2 students this year based on some things you’ve written in the past about MEP. My students are loving it! Me too. So it is so encouraging to read something that supports so much of their curriculum. Thanks, Brandy, for all you’ve written on MEP. This post is great!

  • Reply Megan June 16, 2015 at 5:12 am

    We are finishing Rightstart E with my 9 year old, but I feel like he isn’t ready for Rightstart G and have been searching for some other math program for this year. I think MEP may be the perfect fit – thank you!!!

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 15, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    I am finishing up our third year of MEP with my Y3 son and my first year of MEP w/ my Y1 son. I wish I had transitioned my Y7 daughter to three years ago when I started using the program… but I just wasn’t sure about placement and I had already changed her math program the year before. It seemed like too much switching around. But in retrospect it might have been a good move. Anyway… I’m very impressed with MEP – it is working well for my son who struggles a bit with math, as well as with the one who seems to grasp math very easily. I don’t always have them do every section (especially for the one who grasps it easily). I did MEP four days a week our first year, which set my Y3 son back. We did math over the summer (for two years, actually), but it just wasn’t enough and at this point he’s about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way through Y3. I’m not that concerned about it, but I am somewhat wondering if his younger brother will end up catching up with him… and how that will go! I am struggling with juggling the teacher’s guide for both years – it is something I did not do a good job of at all this year. I’m hoping to do better next year, especially as my little ones are getting a little bigger and a little more independent.

    And I keep eyeing that book you mentioned… it looks so up my alley!

  • Reply Ashlee June 15, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    I started teaching Right Start Mathematics with my daughter last year for kindergarten. But some skills were not explained in detail and I feel my daughter is lacking in some basic skills that MEP is teaching. For first grade, I am thinking of using the Reception year as a review/check up to see how she has mastered skills taught then moving into year 1. However, when I view year 1 on my computer half of the text lines are missing. This makes it very difficult and sometimes impossible to read the lessons and the student practice items. Help please??

    • Reply Claire June 15, 2015 at 6:54 pm

      Ashley, try a different viewing program, or if you can’t, try printing it out, or get it printed and bound. On my android tablet, the lesson plans don’t display the correct symbols for divide and multiply on my e-reader app, but they display correctly in open office and print correctly from there.

      • Reply Ashlee June 16, 2015 at 8:16 am

        Awww, Yes! Thank you for this advice!

  • Reply Dawn June 15, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Loved this post, Brandy, as we, too, use MEP AND I had several of the same YES! moments when reading Aharoni’s book (Yes, I bought it. Through your link. It was painful, but I’m very glad that I did. I’m only on ~ p 30 but it has been very helpful and enlightening already).

  • Reply Nelleke from P.E.I. June 15, 2015 at 8:31 am

    Some of the ideas in this post remind me a lot of John Mighton’s “The Myth of Ability”. He also has the emphasis on “Everyone can make forward steps if they are small enough,” which I completely agree with.
    We tried a bit of MEP Math with my eldest son, and it was not a good fit. He loves math and is good at it. MEP’s spiral frustrated him because when he is interested in a concept, he likes to dive in and learn all about it. MEP had a little bit of this and a little bit of that every day, and most of it was far too easy (though we tried a level up from his grade level). I think that when you’re working with a child who intuitively grasps math concepts easily, it only frustrates them to painstakingly teach every tiny step of logic. They get it already, move on. 🙂 I still feel that MEP is a very good program (I would use it if it was a good fit for another child), but it’s not for everybody.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 15, 2015 at 11:20 am

      Hmmm…I have often felt regret over not knowing about {and therefore not using} MEP with my oldest. But he is more natural at math and did infer much on his own, so maybe it’s not as bad as I thought? 🙂 You make me curious to see how my youngest will do as we go on as he is the most natural at math at this age of all my children. But then again the ADHD in him might like the change of subject every now and then. 🙂

      • Reply Claire June 15, 2015 at 6:59 pm

        I use MEP with my maths natural son, and he does fine. I don’t make him do much that’s to easy for him, though. We skip those things unless I feel he needs review or if he’s been frustrated and needs a confidence boost. I started him in y3 when he was 7.5. And if he wants to dig in and think more about a topic, we do that outside of school hours, and I know that will mean I can skip more later.

  • Reply Cyndy June 15, 2015 at 8:14 am

    I’ve been looking at MEP for my 6yo this fall. I was wondering about the Arithmetic book. It’s a bit pricey for me so I’m considering the Kindle book. Or do you feel like it’s a book to mark up and refer back to? Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 15, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Well, I tend to think EVERY book is a book to mark up. 😀 But with that said, it really IS pricey and I think if I hadn’t had my birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, I would have bought the Kindle version, and it would have been okay, especially using the highlighting function, and then copying the most important parts into my commonplace book.

      • Reply Cyndy June 15, 2015 at 6:41 pm

        Thanks, Brandy!

        And btw, I’ve loved your reviews! We’re about a year behind you with my eldest and they’re very helpful.

  • Reply Tanya Stone June 15, 2015 at 6:32 am

    I’ve really loved MEP. I dawdled with it at first, but a lot of reading has convinced me to just go for it. I’m glad I did. Honestly I used Year 1 with both my 3rd grade and 4th grade students this year. What I found interesting was that it helped both with their strengths and weaknesses. My 4th grader could recognize obscure patterns faster and has gotten quick at instant mental sums, but he was slower on the paper, and certain directions would confuse him. While my 3rd grader is faster on paper but would go TOO fast and get things wrong, so it’s taught him to slow down and pay attention. And he’s better at the obvious visual patterns, and understanding certain directions than my 4th grader. So it’s been a meeting place. Looking at Year 2 I decided we could skip it and go to Year 3 with the both of them, since MEP is somewhat spiral. I’m also using the advice of another blogger on how to approach the lessons (which ones are ok to skip and why, for instance), and I’m really excited about the new mathematics DVD from Simply Charlotte Mason, which could really help with how to teach certain concepts. I hope you keep enjoying and reviewing it. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 15, 2015 at 11:18 am

      Tanya, thank you for sharing that! I hadn’t considered how one might accelerate when working with an older child, so that was really helpful.

  • Reply Linda June 15, 2015 at 6:26 am

    Math has always been a mysterious entity in our house! I won’t go into all the struggles or the numbers of different curricula we used over the years. We explored MEP math when my girls were in the middle school/junior high years of our homeschool. MEP was very tough to jump into at that time (not beginning at the beginning) and VERY time consuming for me because I basically had to sit at each dd’s side for their two different levels, on a daily basis. We followed it for about 2 years until I just couldn’t manage the time it was taking any longer. We ditched it and continued the rest of their math ed using MUS, which for the most part worked well.

    The thing is I cannot tell you how many times both of my dd’s and myself have had rather fond memories of our MEP time. We all agree we are 100% comfortable with metric because of it and feel we came to really understand a number of math concepts as a result of the daily work. Notice I said “we”. I benefited by it as much or more than they did. I’ve often wondered how things would have been different if I’d stuck with it.

    When my younger dd was in high school we revisited one of the upper MEP years for about a semester and found it was a great wrap up and pulling together after completing algebra 1 and geometry with MUS.

    So…. Yeah for MEP!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 15, 2015 at 11:24 am

      What upper year did you use, Linda? Do you remember? I’m asking because I’ve thought about doing a year or two of the upper years with my oldest before starting Algebra. We’re playing with sections of Years 7 and 8 this summer while I form my plans for next year…I’d love to hear your insights!

      • Reply Linda June 15, 2015 at 12:09 pm

        It was Year 9 that my dd worked through. It was a great way to cement all the prior learning. She worked through most, but not all of the topics.

        She’s been working through general ed requirements at the community college here and is taking the first college level math course this summer. She said this course reminds her of MEP because it is focused on understanding the “why” of math rather than the “what”. I found it interesting that she made that connection.

        • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog June 15, 2015 at 1:02 pm

          Thought I’d mention, my high school age daughter did MEP Years 7-9. When she started the MEP, it worked really well. Years 7 and 8 were great for her at the time for where she was at in math. Year 9 was good too but we both began to get frustrated because there would be times when she’d have to work some problems that no part of the lesson addressed as to how to work those problems. And then we really had a time with some lessons in getting the answers to line up with MEP answers…even when our daughter was working the problem correctly. With Years 7 and 8, it wasn’t as much of a problem and also there are detailed lesson plans for both of those years. Not so with Year 9. So we ended up switching to Saxon and it has worked really well. She’s doing great with the Saxon Geometry and will do Saxon Algebra II this Fall. Just wanted to share that so you could be aware of those issues in case you want to continue on with MEP in the upper years. 🙂

          • Brandy Vencel June 15, 2015 at 2:20 pm

            Thank you for the heads up! I do not know many people using the upper years of MEP…

  • Reply Angela June 15, 2015 at 5:41 am

    Interesting. I read awhile back on your blog that you were enjoying this book and now I’m really intrigued! I’ve been reading up on the teaching of math since my dd6 is about to begin year one, and math is an important subject to me – I used to teach it in the public schools.

    Right now I’ve chosen Ray’s Arithmetic to be our starting point and I’ve been comparing it with CM’s writings on math and what I experienced with my students when I was a teacher. It’s interesting, though, about counting. Ray’s (and by Ray’s, I mean the Eclectic Manual of Method book) advocates to not teach the first year math student to count until they have learned to recognize groups of numbers up to 10. It claims that beginning with counting may cause the student to associate the number with that individual object. For example, three in the child’s mind may become associated with the third object, rather than the group of three collectively. It also claims that by beginning with counting, it may form within the child the habit of counting by ones anytime he is asked how many of something, and then that habit could very well carry over to addition – he will rely on counting to add figures rather than learning to add rapidly and accurately in his head.

    I’m not saying I’m an expert or that I’m right! I just thought it would be interesting discussion 🙂 Right now, I’m more inclined to agree with Ray’s because I’ve seen how mental math and being trained to think is so important and how little of it there is amongst students today – I’ve been doing some reminiscing on my blog lately!

    Anyway, I enjoyed this post and interested to see what kind of discussion follows 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 15, 2015 at 6:03 am

      You know, I didn’t go through it much in my post, but Aharoni *does* bring up the issue that you mentioned. He said that counting a large variety of objects is necessary for exactly that reason. If they always count beans, for example, they will think that five actually represents five *beans* instead of five *of something* — he has a word for it, but I can’t remember it right now, What you are saying about recognizing groups makes sense to me…I am not done reading the book so I wonder if that will come up or not…

      • Reply Amanda June 15, 2015 at 6:14 am

        Reading that section of the eclectic manual regarding ray’s actually helped me implement MEP better. There is a lot of recognizing quantities as you learn each number, especially 1-10, along with counting. I do wish mep specified ‘recognize this quantity and don’t go on until they know it without counting’ but it is pretty close to perfect ! We have Rays primary and intellectual to assist with memorization in another form.

        • Reply Amanda June 15, 2015 at 6:24 am

          It’s order vs quantity, I think, Brandy. You don’t want then to think of it as “the 5th bean” but that there are 5 beans, 5 dominos, etc. and the best way is to know 1,2,3, and 4 already and then recognize that 5 is 1 and 4, 2 and 3, etc. (which mep does a good job establishing) and then recognize the 5 as a whole, in different patterns such as on a dice, or 3 birds on one line and 2 on the lower line, or 4 in the tree, 1 flying away, and know that is 5 wuthout counting. One adaptation to mep could be to not move to the next number until that quantity is known inside and out, visually, mentally, and so on. (Much like in years 2 and 3 where the lesson plans will say “learn these multiplications” abd the next lessons really assume they have memorized them.

          • Angela June 15, 2015 at 10:06 am

            Oh yeah, that’s so important in math – to make sure each previous step is thoroughly mastered before moving on, because math just keeps building and building. MEP doesn’t do that? I would definitely adapt then. Numbers are the foundation of mathematics. The child must have a firm grasp of each number before moving on to the next one. A child who does not come away with good number sense in the first year or two will struggle from then on out because that’s when he/she is being introduced to think deeply about mathematics. And if a child is not trained to think deeply in the beginning, then it’s not going to be good! I love the quote from the Eclectic Manual of Methods that says the golden rule of mathematics is to “make haste slowly.”

          • Angela June 15, 2015 at 10:16 am

            And yes, Amanda, you’re right. It is order vs. quantity. Understanding those quantities as wholes and all the different combinations that make them up is how a child’s mental math ability is strengthened in the first year of math instruction.

        • Reply Amanda June 15, 2015 at 11:01 am

          Angela, I hope my comment doesn’t make it sound as if MEP is lacking in understanding quantity. That’s just something that hit me when I was reading rays and the eclectic manual that made me realize I might not be emphasizing it enough and that maybe MEP doesn’t spell out as well but is understood.

          • Angela June 15, 2015 at 11:12 am

            No, not at all. And I haven’t really looked into MEP anyway. I have heard wonderful things about it. I’m just emphasizing the importance of mastery in a math curriculum.

  • Reply Sharyn June 15, 2015 at 4:52 am

    Thank you for your post. Our family is in the middle of straightening out a math mess right now, 17 year old daughter included. The reasons you listed are true here, putting the cart before the horse.
    I have a question. How would I get a quick handle on MEP to use this fall with a rising sixth grader who I am taking back to the beginning to fill in those important holes. This summer I am using Mortensen math block and manipulatives with Crewton Ramones House Of Math website. Lots of counting and before and after being done this summer. In the fall, I would love to feel confident with my math curriculum, many are failing us. Who is the author of the Math for Parents book that you trust him? From your review he sounds solid.
    Thank you,
    Sharyn

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 15, 2015 at 6:00 am

      The author of Arithmetic for Parents is Ron Aharoni. He is a mathematician who left university-level teaching to teach elementary school in Israel. I haven’t finished it yet, but I *really* like the book. Depending on the reading level of your 17yo she might be able to read some of it — it is actually meant to help parents understand arithmetic better. The idea is that they will help their children better, but I think any adult who feels “bad at math” would benefit from all that I’ve read so far.

      Because you are trying to place a 6th grader, I would suggest joining the MEP Homeschoolers Yahoo Group (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/mep-homeschoolers/info) and asking for help in placing there. As far as I know, there are not placement tests. You could look at the scope and sequence to help with placement, but I still think joining the Yahoo group would give you that wisdom of multiple experiences that you will need to do a good placement. 🙂

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