This is how I felt when I began home schooling. It was to be bable to get advice and pick and choose what I wanted to do by looking at other home schooler's items and listening to their various experiences. But no matter how many years I home school, I find myself re-evaluating my curriculum in order to find out what I like and do not like, to see what works with each of my children (because they are both VERY different learners), and to keep up to date on what is new out in the home schooling world (or at least new to me). I am always trying to make learning more exciting not only for my children but for me, too! No one wants to spend the day studying something that they absolutely hate. So, it is my job/challenge to try to find ways to make studying the less than exciting subjects more exciting and applicable to life.
One curriculum that am thoroughly impressed with is Miquon Math by Lore Rasmussen and published by Key Curriculum Press. It is an excellent math series. I began using the Miquon series upon the suggestion of another home school mother. I was skeptical at first and only bought one book just to try it out. Now, I have taught the complete 6 book series with my first child and am set to begin the 3rd book in the series with my son next year. Both of my children have really enjoyed this series, and I am totally sold of this method. By the end of first grade (orange and red books), my children were both able to divide, multiply, add, subtract, measure, etc...and actually understood the concepts.
This series is not a memorization based series like so many math books on the market. It uses critical thinking and hands-on manipulative blocks to teach the concept and not the memorization of an idea. For example, the multiplication is not taught by memorizing a times table: 5 times 5 equals 25(saying it over and over until you have it memorized)...it is learning that if you have 5, 5's put together, you have a total of 25. It is demonstrated with a visual approach using manipulative cubes. This allows them to associate the addition property that they have already learned with the new concept (multiplication) and be able to see the relationship of 5+5+5+5+5=25 being the same as 5X5=25 instead of just memorizing that 5x5=25. It is amazing to watch the transfer of information when the child realizes that they are multiplying.
The series is "leveled" by color so you can go at the pace of the child. Many times parents or children feel pressured or "dumbed down" when they are not using the "grade level" that they should. The color series helps to eliminate this by taking out the grade level and replacing it with book color: orange, red blue green, yellow, and purple. If your child needs to do one book in one year instead of 2 in order to really learn the information, then you can spread the 6 book series out over whatever amount of time is needed. The idea is to truly learn the concepts covered in the book so that there is a good foundation in mathematics that the child can carry throughout their life.
The directions for each "lesson" are found in the Lab Sheet Annotations and Mathematics for the Primary Teacher. At the beginning of each new section of the book, you will find pages that explain the "hows" and "whys" of whatever the section is covering. You only have to buy one teacher's book for the entire 6 book series. (You can view the workbooks and see a sample page at thefollowing link: http://rainbowresource.com/search.php?sid=1276463862-813779. I have used all of the books mentioned except for the Miquon First-Grade Diary.)
Each level book covers a variety of basic concepts, and the later books then continue the study of the concept where the last book left off. You will have, for example, pages T-1 to T8 in the orange book focusing on length, area, and volume, that will later be picked back up in the green book at T9. Here is an overview of what concepts are taught throughout the series:
Orange Book: counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, equalities and inequalities, number lines and functions, geometric recognition, length, area, and volume, and clock arithmetic
Red Book: odd-even, addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, division, combinations with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and factoring, equalities and inequalities, and factoring
Blue Book: odd-even, addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, division, combinations with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and factoring, geometric recognition, and grid and arrow games
Green Book: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division,equalities and inequalities, place value, number lines and functions, factoring, squaring, length, area, and volume, series and progressions, mapping, and clock arithmetic
Yellow Book: addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, division, equalities and inequalities, place value, number lines and functions, factoring, simultaneous equations, geometric recognition, length, area and volume, series and progressions, grid and arrow games, clock arithmetic
Purple Book: subtraction, addition and subtraction combinations, multiplication, fractions, division, equalities and inequalities, squaring, graphing equations, grid and arrow games, clock arithmetic, sets, and word problems
Miquon is a very hands-on learning experience that is fun and stimulates the mind! My daughter still mentions that she loves Miquon and wishes that she could still do it. My son also enjoys it. The series is a reasonably priced curriculum that has really worked for me. The only downer that I have found with the curriculum is that is stops at 3rd grade...I wish there were more for older grades.