Here’s something I should have written about sooner: A math curriculum that my math-hating daughter actually loved.
Simply Charlotte Mason’s Your Business Math is designed for elementary school-age students, but I think it would be ideal for any kid who’s at that stage where she’s got the hang of basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) but needs some reinforcement before you can feel confident that she’s really mastered them. (For my daughter, 5th grade was perfect timing.) The premise is simple but brilliant: You’ve opened a pet store, and now you’ve got to manage all the inventory and accounting for your business.
My daughter was hooked from the first assignment, which was—instead of a review of her multiplication tables—a project requiring her to create her pet store’s name and logo. After getting set up and ordering the initial inventory, assignments are broken down into monthly duties: filling orders, updating inventory, paying bills and taxes, figuring out profits and losses, and dealing with chance cards, which are sometimes happy (Yay! A celebrity visits your pet shop, and sales skyrocket) and sometimes not-so-happy (a busted pipe means a pricey visit from a plumber). Kids have their own checks, ledger, and inventory records, and they have to do math—mostly addition, subtraction, multiplication, decimals, and percents—to keep up with their income and inventory. After the first month, most kids will be comfortable working through their monthly duties on their own, and by the end, most will be working completely independently.
For most kids, this wouldn’t work as a spine for a math curriculum. Its nature is necessarily limited to the math you need to keep a business going, but it’s a terrific resource for reinforcing basic operations skills and helping kids make real sense of decimals and percents. (Don’t be surprised if your child starts calculating sales tax in line at the grocery store.) It’s a light math curriculum—the monthly assignments break down into just ten tasks—which is great if you want to opt for a period of relaxed math or if you want something fun to supplement your regular math curriculum without eating up too much extra teaching time.
There were a couple of things that we tweaked as we went. The “imaginary pet shop” was more fun when my daughter could imagine the real pets, so she made little cards for each pet. (She’d look up pictures of different kinds of ferrets or dogs or hamsters, draw pictures of them, and give them names, then laminate them with packing tape. When a pet got adopted, it would move to a special adoptions folder.) As she got more comfortable with the math skills needed to complete her monthly tasks, some of them started to feel a little routine, so we added special orders. (We also added owls to the inventory so that Hogwarts students could order their school pets from the store.) I also made sure that we started in January, when the pet store calendar starts, so that we were working in the right month. Obviously you could do the curriculum any time, but it would have driven me crazy to always be in the wrong month. (This could be a me problem.)
What we loved about it was how engaging it made the basic math that my daughter usually hated. She was excited when it was time to update her pet store inventory or figure out how a big order affected her profit for the month. After years of fighting against practice math problems, she practiced her math cheerfully because she understood the point of doing it. I can’t overstate what a revelation that was for our homeschool life. Math didn’t magically become her favorite subject, but it did become something that she was at least willing to try.
The spiral-bound Your Business Math: Pet Store, which contains everything you need, is $24.95. (You can also get the ebook edition for $18.95, but I think you’d just end up having to print a lot.) If pets aren’t your kid’s thing, there’s also a sports store and a books store option. Not all the Simply Charlotte Mason resources are secular, but this is.
AMY SHARONY is the founder and editor-in-chief of home | school | life magazine. She's a pretty nice person until someone starts pluralizing things with apostrophes, but then all bets are off.