It is actually painful for me to write this Math U See Alpha Review.
I really, really wanted it to work out. You have no idea.
My first year of homeschooling my 1st grader was going so well – better than I could have hoped for!
Except for math.
We originally started with The Complete Book of Math and it was a disaster.
I day dreamed of what school would be like if I could just casually shove math over a cliff and skip away.
Long story short, there is no shame in a mid-year curriculum switch.
After much research, reading many reviews, and even taking a break from math, I decided it was time to switch to Math U See Alpha about half way through 1st grade.
Math U See Alpha Review: How it Works
When we first started, I was in love. I thought (and still do) that Math U See is brilliant.
We bought the Alpha Universal Set and it included:
- Instruction Manual
- Instruction DVD
- Student Workbook
- Tests booklet
- Integer Block Kit
- 12 months of access to our new Alpha Digital Pack
- Skip Count Songs MP3s
- Songbook PDF
The focus of Alpha is learning 100 addition facts and then 100 subtraction facts. There are some other lessons (skip counting and shapes), but by far the overall theme of the year is math facts.
The parent has an instructional manual and is encouraged to read each brief chapter before teaching it to their student.
There is also an instructional DVD. It is a teacher (and creator) of Math U See teaching each lesson to a classroom of real students.
After watching the lesson, then the child goes to a workbook and goes through a page (front and back) while the parent observes and assists as needed.
Once the child has mastered the week’s assignment (is able to teach the curriculum back to you), the student goes to the test booklet. There is a test for each week’s lesson and it is used as an indicator of the student’s mastery of the lesson.
What We Loved about Math U See Alpha
1. Customer Service
I was a little unsure about what level we should start on. Math U See customer service reached out to me though and they were excellent!
It was a homeschool dad who has used MUS with his own kids. I thought it was so cool that MUS pays parents to help with customer service!
He gave me fantastic advice and got us on the right path. He also contacted me by email for follow up and promptly answered my questions after we received the curriculum.
It felt great to know I had someone to reach out to when I needed help.
2. The best manipulative set ever
The manipulative set that Math U See uses is genius. Seriously.
Our old manipulative set took FOREVER to use because it was just loose colored blocks. To solve 8+6, my daughter would have to count out 8 blocks. Then 6 blocks. And then count them all together again.
It was a lot of counting that made her really tired!
With Math U See, the blocks are not loose. They are color coded based on number. For example, a “6 stick” is purple and an “8 stick” is brown.
For my daughter to do 8+6, she would grab a brown stick (8) and a purple stick (6) and then count them once. Done! Much easier for her to do multiple problems.
3. Video based lessons
A huge plus was that there was minimal prep work required for me.
I did read the chapters before lessons, but we always started math with the video lessons.
They have a little bit of a dated feel to them, but I LOVE the way that the teacher explains things. He is able to break things down so simply. My daughter enjoyed getting out her blocks and following along with him.
As a side note, I know at some levels, kids are independent with their MUS video lessons. I wouldn’t say that is appropriate for Alpha level.
I sat with her, reinforced things after the video, and was always available while she was doing worksheets.
4. Each week focuses on one thing
Our first math curriculum did a lot of skipping around, so I felt like there was not much time to really cement a concept.
With MUS, it is laser focused on one thing. That really helped my daughter as we went through the lessons, did the work, and took the tests.
5. Mastery focused
MUS tells parents to wait for mastery of a lesson before moving on. If you need to stay on the lesson for several weeks or even months – that’s okay!
If your kid is able to move on after 1-2 days – that is okay too!
I loved having the freedom to assess my kid and make a decision to move at our pace. It absolutely made the MUS experience feel very customized to us.
6. Really smart ways to remember math facts
One of my favorite things about MUS is the amazing way that math facts are taught.
My daughter was able to pick up facts that she had previously struggled with and I actually even learned a few tricks to remember certain facts a different way.
Its a really smart curriculum!
7. You know when you’re done
With our previous math curriculum, there were a lot of games. Despite my best efforts, my daughter didn’t like playing the games. I always felt like I didn’t know when we were done.
Have we played this long enough? Did we do enough problems? I wasn’t really sure.
With Math U See, you and your kid easily know when the lesson is complete. Very motivating!
Depending on the day and what we were learning, lessons were 10-30 minutes. Very manageable!
What We Didn’t Like about Math U See Alpha
As you are reading this, you must be wondering, “Um…how exactly was this not working for you?!”
I know, I know.
Initially, I was loving all of the benefits of MUS.
We were actually 3-4 lessons from finishing the curriculum, and I decided to call it. Again. This was not working.
Here is what went wrong.
As I talk to other homeschool moms who have used MUS, they also note that the curriculum is incredibly repetitive.
We did math facts every day. For months. I will admit that I even got tired of learning and reviewing math facts.
My daughter did well initially, but eventually started struggling with learning some of the bigger facts (17-9, 8+7, etc.). There was no escape from it. We were never doing anything but math facts.
I think it started to make her really hate math all over again. I think she felt like math was only math facts (which it is not!), despite my best efforts to bring in fun review games.
2. Dry workbook pages
As I said, there is minimal parent prep work…but that means that your kid is mostly only doing black and white workbook pages.
When you flip through the Math U See Alpha workbook, it is a sea of addition and subtraction problems and word problems.
There is an “enrichment” page at the end of every week that my daughter usually enjoyed, but the rest of the week was spent looking at very dry material.
I now know that so much of math and learning at this age should be done through games and fun – not “drill and kill” worksheets.
3. Focus on mastery
Mastery of a lesson before moving on was initially a benefit of MUS. As we progressed through the curriculum though, it became a burden.
Guess what? A six year old doesn’t want to stay on the same concept for weeks or months!
She would miss review problems on worksheets and it was always unclear if she was just making silly mistakes or she forgot how to solve the problem.
Did we need to go backwards in the book?
She would get frustrated with me and herself when she would make mistakes, forget things, and when she was not ready to test out of the lesson at the end of the week.
Sometimes we spent weeks on one lesson and I could tell it just aggravated her. She was sick of talking about this math fact!
I honestly think it developed a sense of unreasonable perfection in her. She felt she had to remember everything and get every problem right every time.
That’s a lot of pressure for a 6 year old!
I actually reached out to customer service and asked about this whole mastery thing. I was given a prompt and kind reply, but it was somewhat vague about how to progress.
4. Too many tips and tricks
As we got into the higher math fact numbers, there were great methods taught to learn complicated problems.
The problem was that every lesson had a trick or a cute story to remember.
My daughter started to get them all jumbled up in her head. She gave me crazy answers for problems because she was so focused on applying the trick – she just couldn’t remember the right one.
When I had her look at the problem, and see how the answer made no sense at all – she would get even more frustrated.
I even took her back a number of lessons so we could start learning the facts over again and hopefully cement the material better.
She was compliant and worked with me, but it did not help. She would teach me a concept, but weeks later could not remember the concept with all the other new concepts added on top of it.
I’ll be honest and admit that I can’t quite remember all the little tips and tricks that were taught. I can easily see how a 6 year old could get them mixed up.
5. The Test Booklet
As mentioned above, every lesson has a test.
The child is ready to take the test when they are able to teach the lesson back to the teacher.
Early on the tests were a breeze and I think my daughter enjoyed taking them. As things progressed, she began to fear that test booklet.
She would start asking me questions on test day before we had even started math. I could see the anxiety building.
She would get so upset when it wasn’t a perfect test, even though I told her it didn’t need to be perfect. I told her it was just another worksheet and she didn’t need to worry about it at all. It was just a tool to tell me if we needed more time on a concept.
The last day we did Math U See was a test day. My younger kids were being rowdy, so I sent her to her room to take her math test.
A significant amount of time went by and I went to go check on her. She was holding her math book and crying because she just could not remember and she didn’t know what to do.
I took the book away from her and that was the last time she has touched it.
Another mom wisely told me later that I should have never given her a test from the beginning. If she can do the worksheet, she can do a test. There is no reason for a 1st grader to take a math test. Period.
6. Wrong curriculum for 1st Grade level in my opinion
After stopping Math U See Alpha (1st grade level), I was really surprised when I looked into 2nd grade curriculum for my daughter and discovered much of it was focused on the same math fact memorization we were running away from.
I found out that many other 1st grade level programs just want the child to understand the concepts of addition and subtraction. Simple facts are reviewed and memorized over time as other math concepts (measurement, simple fractions, time, etc.) are also explored.
So, I was drilling my 6 year old on math facts (17-9, 14-8, 9+6, etc.) and expecting mastery…while many other curriculums do not even introduce these facts until 2nd grade.
This matters a lot, because you can greatly frustrate a child by asking them to do something that they cannot developmentally understand. It’s a recipe to make kids hate learning.
After MUS, we took a total break from math. Like months off. When I felt like we were ready to address math again, I just ran through flash cards with her one day to see where she was at. She got nearly every single one right. I was shocked.
What changed? I think her age and development from age 6 to age 7 was significant. I could see in her eyes that she was solving the problem and “making 10” in her mind and able to work out the problem – something she couldn’t seem to do consistently at age 6.
As I’m writing this, I remember the MUS customer service agent telling me that his own daughter spent a very long time (1.5-2 years) on Alpha. I’m wondering if the reason Alpha takes so long, is because it is targeted at 6 year olds – and should be 7 year olds.
Math U See Alpha Review – Bottom Line
Math U See Alpha is a really smart curriculum and I respect the team that designed it.
It very well may be a great fit for your child – many of my friends have used it and love it!
The manipulative set is genius and we still use it for math even though we don’t use the rest of the curriculum.
I think it would have been more effective if we had started when my child was a bit older, ignored the mastery concept, and if I had never used the test booklet.
We moved on to Math Lessons for a Living Education for 2nd grade and fell in love! From there we have switched again to Teaching Textbooks for 3rd grade because it is allows my daughter to be more independent while I start working with her younger sister who is now at the kindergarten level.
I decided to write this Math U See Alpha review because I also read a lot of curriculum reviews before buying. I really hope this will help you make the very best informed decision for your homeschool!
I would love to hear your experience with MUS in the comments and answer your questions – I know others would benefit from it too!
Want to make sure you remember this later? Got you covered! Pin this to your favorite Pinterest board and make sure to share with your friends and followers!