13 Math Programs We've Tried & How they Measure Up

Over the years we've tried out many math books; some programs we loved and others we hated.  Most fell somewhere in the middle.  With over 4 years of schooling under our belt and three very different boys we've tried many, many programs.

Here are our honest reviews of all the one's we've tried:

Star Wars math books:
Pros: My youngest son LOVED these books and used both the first and second grade levels.  He was highly motivated to do math each day with fun characters and lots of colorful pictures.

Cons: We did have to supplement a bit here and there when I realized he had not covered coins or clocks at all.  This would not have been a good series for him if he was struggling with math at all either since most concepts were only studied for a page or two before moving onto the next, but they worked wonderfully for him.  They stopped at second grade.

Math Made Easy:
Pro: I've used these books with all of my boys at various grade levels . I can't say they were the perfect math program but my boys liked them and were willing to work in them without complaint.  My boys often just pick any two pages to work on.  My youngest son loved that they had some Marvel and Superhero themed books so it was a great consolation after not being able to find 3rd grade Star Wars math books.

Con: While they are a great all encompassing set of workbooks for each grade level there is little in the way of instructions and pages are not arranged in any clear cut order of skills.  I had to teach some skills as we went along as the instructions were no way near enough and we often supplemented with hands- on manipulatives or extra practice pages I found and printed off the internet.

Verbal Math:
Pro: All of my boys went through a phase when they didn't want to write anything when it came to math so we switched to the verbal math series.  The book gradually progresses and offered a huge variety of problems for each lesson.

Con: It worked pretty great for awhile but it was difficult to find the time to work with each of my boys individually each day.  I also found that there is only so much math that can be learned verbally and we eventually needed to turn to another method.

Key to math series:
Pro: I used these books with my oldest son when he was in middle school and I just LOVED them!  I do wish we had purchased multiple sets and spent 5th grade going through the first books in each set, 6th grade using the second book in each set, etc.  We bought each set and worked our way through them but found that spending one half year on decimals led to a lot of re- teaching needed when we turned to say measurements or percents. My fault entirely!

Con: We didn't find any!  Though there were a few pages here and there we had to skip or modify since they were made to be carried out in a traditional classroom. 

Kumon workbooks:
Pro: We used the Kumon Telling Time and Money books with my youngest son and while he enjoyed these "easy" workbooks for fun summer lessons.  We enjoyed the bright colorful illustrations in them too.

Con:  I definitely thought they were a little too easy.  There is such repetition and tiny incremental steps to each page that I thought these skills were being dragged out to fill a workbook each and could have easily been covered in much less time and work.  However, now that my oldest is ready for pre- algebra I am loving the slow building skills put forth in these books.  So while they can be great, if you have a student that is confident in math or catches onto skills quickly; this would not be the program for you.

Thinking Tree math books: 
Multiplication Games:
Pro: My boys thought these were fun! All three of my boys have used this book as a weekly review of multiplication facts.   Each double page spread includes a page with fun patterns or logic problems and then a page to fill in a multiplication grid up to 10 x 10.  

Con: None of my boys finished a book; by the time they were mid- way through the book they KNEW their facts and didn't need all that repetition.  They eventually got sick of filling in the same grid on each lesson.

      Are You a Math Genius?:
      Pro: My older two boys enjoyed this book tremendously. Most days they just had to color and answer 4-5 questions and we used it as a supplemental math assignment once or twice a week

      Con: With only a few questions on each page, lots of coloring, and pages that required writing and creative thinking my boys soon tired of this book.

      Math for the Real World series:
      Pro:  My middle son loves to read and since these books were set up as a reading story, I knew he'd love them.  The variety of topics we could learn about was amazing and I knew I could easily engage them in these books.  I also loved that we were combining math skills with learning about geography, science, and history.

      Con:  I had such high hopes for this series with my two middle school boys... then the books I ordered came in and I was dismayed to find that they were very short books with a few math equations demonstrated and done for them.  The very back page of the book listed 5 math questions.  My boys finished each book in two days time and I am really not sure they learned much in the way of math skills from reading them.

      Mastering Essential Math Skills:
      Pro: It really does take us just 15-20 minutes a day to complete each page; sometimes even less.  A good mix of a variety of skills and easy to follow instructions for each page make it quite easy to follow along and retain skills.

      Con: There are often 10 or so word problems on most pages so for kids that have difficulty with reading it can get frustrating.  While the book says grades 4-6; I would think it would only work for very advanced 4th graders as it challenges even my 7th grader at times.

      McGraw- Hill Math:
      Pro: Once my oldest son finished up all the Key To math series we were floundering around looking for something for him to use to finish up his 7th grade year.  We found this book and liked that it was a nice comprehensive overview of everything that is covered in 7th grade.

      Con: We often found that many of the test questions found after each unit had questions that had never been taught or reviewed.  I found myself giving lessons even on testing days!

      Khan Academy:
      Pro: My kids have gone back and forth on Khan Academy several times.  I enjoy this on-line series since there are wonderful step by step videos that show exactly what needs to be done.  They enjoy getting to use the computer to do math and not have to write.

      Con:  Because it's an on-line program my boys often think they should not have to write anything down and they got frustrated as their skills kept progressing to the point it was impossible to answer without writing.  They also got frustrated when they typed an answer in wrong or hit enter by mistake and the problem was counted as wrong; only for them to have to answer 5 correct question in a row to progress.

      Everything You Need to Ace Math In One Big Fat Notebook
      Pro: My son has just been loving this book! It's colorful, laid out well, and written with wit that keeps him well entertained.  Each chapter is just 10 or so pages with lots of illustrations, explanations, and examples.  The chapters end with 10 questions to check knowledge and an answer key.

      Con: Often there is so much crammed into each chapter that by the time my son makes it to the quiz he hardly remembers anything about what he has read.  He can go back and keep re-reading as he needs to but that leaves me wondering just how much he is retaining.

      McRuffy Press:
      Pro: This is one of the first math programs we ever used.  We enjoyed that each day gave a specific lesson, asked some mental math questions, and then had a workbook page or two review both new and old materials.

      Con: Most of my boys found the review sections a bit to repetitive and started to complain that they already knew how to do each skill long before it was ever abandoned. They only go up to third grade so if your child does really like the series and do well with it you are forced to find something new by 4th grade.

      Linking Up With:


      1. Thanks for this list! We have tried several of these programs, including the Key To...series. I love your idea to do the first workbook of several topics, instead of going straight through. I also love the way Everything You Need to Know...book and added two to my cart on Amazon. They're on see for $6 today!

        1. Ooh! That is good to know! I was thinking of getting a few more of them. Thanks!

      2. What a great list! I love that they make comprehensive workbooks with fun characters now. Sometimes it can be the extra push to get kids excited about learning. Thanks for sharing at #fridayfrivolity! Xx

      3. Hi! Very interesting post. KUMON is Our country's company. My children used to learn from KUMON's drills.

        1. We're using KUMON right now for my oldest two for pre-algebra and I just love how they break it all into manageable steps that are easy to follow.

      4. Wow! What a great list! Curious to know if you have anything to add now? What are you finding that's working currently for your family?

        1. Well, my younger two are using the Key to Series and Mastering Essential Math Skills but my freshman is finishing up No Nonsense Algebra and we really liked it a lot.

        2. I also forgot to mention that my oldest two used the Kumon Pre-Algebra and Algebra books in conjunction with those mentioned above and we have had a really great year.

      5. Thanks for sharing. Wishing that I would have had these for myself growing up!

        1. You're welcome! I often wish I had all these options too; my boys are pretty lucky to get to try so much and see what is a good fit.


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