Review of RightStart Math

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Choosing a math curriculum was one of the bigger purchasing decisions I made as I embarked on our homeschooling journey.  There are several very solid programs out there, and it’s not an easy choice for someone new on the homeschooling scene.  Since then, I’ve been asked frequently about our math curriculum, RightStart.    Recently, Natalie, a reader asked this:

“I would really appreciate it if you could do a review of it. What does a lesson look like, how does it work for you and yours? Is it comprehensive? Do you feel like there are gaps you have to close with supplemental material? Ideally, the program I choose would look and feel like guided self exploration . . . would RS hit that mark?”

I will do my best to answer your questions, Natalie.  I also have gotten a number of inquiries regarding organizing RightStart supplies, so I’ll cover that in this post as well.

What is RightStart math?

RightStart Math Homeschool is a research-based program, developed by Dr. Joan A. Cotter.  Dr. Cotter has engineering and mathematics degrees and was a Montessori preschool teacher, elementary math teacher and special needs teacher.

The homeschool program does not go by grade or age, but by levels, which span from A to E, followed by geometry and algebra.  A quick and free on-line questionnaire can be answered by the parent to determine the right level for your child.  I found this to be accurate in determining the right math level for my child.  Additionally, talking with a very informative company representative at a homeschool conference that I attended last summer helped me solidify my choice of RightStart, Level B for Firefly,  who is 6 and in (roughly) first grade.

I also really liked the approach to math that RightStart takes.  It is based on the way math is taught in Japan.

“In Japan, the goal of the math lesson is that the student has understood a concept, not necessarily has done something (a worksheet).”  ~Joan A. Cotter

Each lesson builds on the ones before it, adding layers.  The approach emphasizes true understanding and mathematical reasoning rather than just memorizing facts.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t remember most of the math facts I memorized in school, so this building-block approach appeals to me.

It took a bit of getting used to from a teaching perspective, as math was not my strongest subject while I was in school.  RightStart is a very different way of learning math, and thus teaching, too, but reviewing each lesson for five or so minutes beforehand has helped it go more smoothly.  And I am learning right along with my child.

It is a scripted program, and all materials are included in the package.  There are minimal worksheets and lots of manipualtives and games.  Each level covers a variety of things.  For example, Level B includes lessons on calendars, money, time fractions, geometry, addition facts and place value.

I recommend that you read more about how the RightStart math program was developed.  This was valuable information for me in understanding how RightStart differs from other programs and why.

What does a lesson look like?

Each lesson contains objectives, a list of materials, a warm-up or review, followed by the main activities for the lesson.  You can complete the lesson in one day or split it up into two lessons or days.  We’ve done both; it just depends on how Firefly is feeling that day. Sometimes we’ve spent the better part of an afternoon on it because he is having fun with one of the RightStart games and wants to keep playing.

An example of how to prepare for a random lesson. A bit unusual, in that this lesson had 2 worksheets. Most have none.

RightStart is the kind of program you do with your child.  It is not something that you give them and they complete it on their own while you are working with one of your other kids or changing the laundry or checking your facebook (not that I’d know anything about that. wink).  If you get interrupted forty times during a lesson, it’s hard.  Not that we would know anything about interruptions around here.  (As I was actually writing this post, my toddler attempted to fashion reigns out of my husband’s dress socks and put them around the dog’s neck, horsy like.  I’m sure I caught him moments before he fashioned a saddle out of a couch pillow and attempted to go for a ride.) Yup, we know all about interruptions, especially of the toddler and preschooler variety.

My point is that while I love this program and it has been a great fit for my first grader, it is something that is best done while you have some (mostly) quiet, (mostly) uninterrupted time.  We accomplish this by saving math for when my toddler is napping and my preschooler is preoccupied with toys, an art project or a video. Sometimes we do a lesson after dinner when my husband can occupy my younger kids.  The occasional weekend lesson is not unheard of in our house.

Each entire lesson takes us about a half an hour, sometimes more.  This time may vary depending on the child.  Sometimes it takes us longer because my child is very interested in the material and he wants to keep going.  He is not the type of kid who likes to sit still for very long, so this says a lot about the program. You can also divide each lesson into two. I’ve read several accounts of other families who do this if they don’t have time to do a whole lesson at once or if this is a better fit for their child’s attention span and learning style.

It is a good idea to review each lesson beforehand and make sure you have all the materials ready to go.  All the materials are included if you purchase the starter kit, and this is another feature I love about this program.  It came with all of the things you see here, plus a host of other paper manipulatives, which you can pull out or copy from the manual.

You can download a sampler of each Level. Here is the Level B page. At the bottom of the left hand side bar you will see the download.

Do you need supplemental materials?

Having fun with a geoboard and rubber bands, manipulatives included in the RightStart package.

My answer to this is no, however, Firefly’s only issue thus far with RightStart is that he wants more!  For example, early on in the book, they do a lesson or two about money, then move onto something else.  They come back to money later on, but Firefly was intrigued and wanted to know more about counting coins and such.  So we spent a couple of extra days on money, playing “store”, sorting and counting coins, adding them up on the abacus.  We’ve taken a cue from RightStart’s fondness of math games and made up our own games with money, as well as telling time.  You don’t need to acquire extra manipulatives for that.  A handful of coins and a clock will do.

This curriculum is best for families who…

  • Have a child who enjoys using a hands-on approach to learning.
  • Enjoy playing games as a part of learning.
  • A parent who can be creative with finding a few uninterrupted minutes to do one or part of the math lessons with their child.

This curriculum might not be the best fit for…

  • A child who likes to do a lot of worksheets.  Although you could always supplement it with inexpensive workbooks from other sources.
  • A parent who does not have five minutes to prepare and review the lesson beforehand.
  • A parent who is not comfortable following a scripted lesson plan or who is not comfortable setting aside the script and “going it alone” to accomplish the lesson objectives.

Cost and Essential Equipment

All components of the program can be purchased separately or together.  While I’ve seen some of the items (like the Geoboards) available from other educational suppliers and certainly you could substitute a few of the manipulatives for things you might already have (wooden cubes), I chose to purchase the starter kit.  I figured that by the time I ordered things separately and paid the shipping, I wouldn’t likely save much money.

I also ordered our kit from a RightStart representative at a homeschool convention, where I received a percentage off (it was either 10 or 15%, I can’t recall which) and free shipping.

The total cost for Level B Starter kit (not the deluxe version), with standard abacuas (plastic frame, not wood) is listed on their website as $150.00.  There are several versions of the kits on their website and I found this a bit confusing and overwhelming in trying to decide which kit was best for our family.  Talking to a representative from the company helped me sort through the choices and make the best one for us.  If you don’t have an opportunity to go to a homeschool conference where the company has a vendor booth, then I highly recommend calling them on the phone and letting them help you figure out which kit to purchase.

The abacus:  If you already have an abacus, you can use that with the RightStart program, as long as it has two colors of beads (half one color and half the other on each wire of the abacus).  If it is multicolored (like the rainbow one we previously owned), it would likely be confusing to your child.  The beads are broken down into groups of five by color and this this is essential to the method of counting that RightStart uses.

How do you organize all of your RightStart math supplies and manipulatives?

I use a simple plastic shoe-box size container for most of the manipulatives.

For the larger items, I placed them on a shelf with easy access, as my children often enjoy playing with them, unrelated to a math lesson.

We've added to the organization as we go along, to accommodate such things as this paper abacus collection, representing 100's.


That’s it!  We’ll add to our storage needs if we need to, as we go along.

If you prefer to have all the manipulatives separated, instead of being thrown together in a shoe-box, something like this small parts cabinet might work, although you won’t need all 16 drawers for RightStart items.

Are you using RightStart, too, or considering it?  I’d love to hear your comments and questions. Thanks for reading my review!

This is my honest opinion about the product. I am not affiliated with RightStart or Activities for Learning, Inc. in any way and received no compensation for this review.