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Balance Benders--Beginning Level Review by Marisa Corless

PO Box 1610
Seaside, CA 93955-1610

Balance Benders--Beginning Level is a reproducible workbook for grades 2-6. It is the first in a 4-book series. Each page is one problem. The child is presented with a picture of a balance with shapes on each side. This is followed by a set of equations, and the child must determine which of them is true based on the information given on the balance. The problems get more difficult as the workbook progresses. There is a page at the back of the book with information on various algebraic properties that can be used to teach the child how to do the problems. Furthermore, the included answer key shows which one of the rules is used to justify each answer.

In my home, I used Balance Benders with my would-be second grader who has almost completed fourth grade math. He generally likes math and puzzles. I had him do a few pages when I needed him to do some independent work or while we were riding in the car to give him something fun to do. When I showed him the first page, he seemed to intuitively know how to do the problems and then rapidly did the next few pages. At first this workbook seems intimidating, with little instruction at the beginning. It was only after browsing the whole book and removing the answer sheets that I discovered the rules at the end of the book. This workbook would be even better if the rules were placed at the beginning of the book so that parents could find them and teach their children the rules from the beginning. For many second graders, this book could be a little too difficult. Even a fourth, fifth, or sixth grader might find the book challenging, if not in the first problem then later into the book.

I really liked the depth of thinking required to solve each puzzle. The puzzles were interesting and had just enough variety to keep the child moving along--but not so much variety that the workbook seemed disjointed. I liked the way that basic algebraic rules are applied in a non-threatening way, using shapes to show that if you do one thing to one side of the balance, you must do the same to the other. It remains to be seen if this extensive pre-exposure helps my child in algebra, I don't think it will hurt. Used as a supplement to whatever math program is being used, this book definitely provides exposure to a greater variety of math problems than the endless drill pages.

While I personally really like Balance Benders, the topic doesn't really fit into a classical education at a second through fourth grade level, because logic is not stressed then. Furthermore, auditory or kinesthetic learners might not quite grasp the concepts, but visual learners definitely will. Also, math-phobic parents might not enjoy this book because it does require some math thinking skills. Overall, I really like this product and feel it has value in my homeschool.

Product review by Marisa Corless, MH, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2010