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Starfall Kindergarten Mathematics Homeschool Kit Review by Wendy RobertsonStarfall Education Foundation
PO BOX 359
Boulder, CO 80306
Kindergarten is a magical time for children. They’re still young enough that everything is amazing, but they’re old enough to start learning in a more formal setting. It’s important at this stage to find curriculum that gives them a solid foundation but still enables them to feel like they’re having fun—the last thing that we as homeschool parents should do is make it feel like work. Fun lessons will assure that your child loves learning, and that’s really important in the younger years.
The Starfall Kindergarten Mathematics Homeschool Kit is just such a product. It includes so much good stuff—you will not need anything else to teach your child an entire year’s worth of introductory math, and the lessons are really fun.
There’s so much included, and in order to give this product its due, I’m going to go over things one piece at a time. But before I dive in, there’s one thing to know so that the different product names make a bit of sense. Starfall Kindergarten Mathematics has a mascot, and his name is Backpack Bear. He shows up in almost all the books, workbooks, games, and flashcards. In addition to this, there’s a plush Backpack Bear toy available for sale that goes along with the curriculum.
The teacher’s guide is one of the most important pieces of any curriculum, and this one is no exception. Obviously, you need the student materials too, but without the teacher’s guide, you don’t necessarily know how the other products work together. Even though the Teacher’s Guide for this curriculum is beefy (it takes up two large binders, filled absolutely full), it’s worth it to look over the materials a few days in advance so you know what to expect.
Starfall Kindergarten Mathematics is divided up into units; therefore, that’s how the Teacher’s Guide is set up as well. The first 18 pages gives information on how to use the curriculum, including a rough daily routine schedule, the scope and sequence of the course, and ideas for a “100th day of School” party.
Once you get into the actual lessons, they are divided up not only by unit, but also by week. Each week has 5 days of lessons, and there’s a weekly calendar (not unlike a planner from a stationery store) that shows what needs to happen on what day. For example, Unit 1, Week 1, Day 1 has you:
- Daily Routine:
- Introduce the calendar
- Introduce the weather
- Introduce the number line
- Build a calendar
- Math Concepts:
- Introduce tally marks
- Introduce negative numbers
- Introduce place value
- Introduce the Hundreds Day Chart
- Learn the number 1
- Formative Assessment
- Actions corresponding to the numbers 1-5
There’s also a section for workbook and media activities, but those don’t happen on Day 1.
When you get past the weekly outline, the lessons start. Each one is scripted out for you, so there’s absolutely no guesswork on what you’re to do. The speech text is written in blue, and there are instructions just for the teacher in black. This includes things like “Access Starfall.com from a classroom computer.”
Also included in the teacher manual are the Number Activity Mats. These aren’t really part of the guide, but they’re the same size, so keeping them in the teacher book is handy to avoid losing them. The Number Activity Mats are laminated sheets, each of which focuses on a single number (1-9). There’s a “picture” of the number (the number written in block text so students can color it), a 10-block for students to learn to visualize “how much” each number is, and a place for practicing writing the number itself. The lamination allows students to write on them with a dry erase marker so they can get lots of good practice with the numbers without going through sheet after sheet after sheet of paper.
Classroom Number Line
The Classroom Number line reminds me a bit of a bulletin board border. It’s a set of cards, each roughly 3.5x18 inches. The number line starts at -5 and goes all the way up to 180—the number of days of school in a traditional school year. The reason it starts at -5 (some would argue that negative numbers are too abstract a concept for kindergartners) is to help children understand that things came before. “Now” isn’t necessarily the beginning.
Similar to the number line are the Number Wall Cards. These are numbered 0-30, and each pictures the place value of the number on it (tens and ones).
Math Instructional Card Set
This is a box of flashcards, and a big one at that. The cards aren’t that much bigger than standard playing cards, and there are a ton of them in the box. I haven’t actually counted them, but the box is 9 inches deep—there’s room for a lot of cards in 9 inches! But you need a lot of cards when you’re teaching an entire year’s worth of math. The cards are divided into:
- Numerals (1-20)
- Shapes (2D and 3D)
- Shape photographs (things that are a specific shape, for example, a clock is a circle)
- Money (American)
- Price tags
- Dice (between 1 and 4 dice per picture)
- Dominoes (same as dice)
- Tally marks (1-20)
- Ten frames (1-20)
- Addition equations (sums up to 9)
- Subtraction equations (differences up to 9)
- Measuring tools
- People who measure
- Temperature scenes
These cards should be used for reinforcement after a concept is introduced to the child/children.
I think the books are my favorite part of this curriculum! They’re what I’ve mostly used with my son.
Backpack Bear’s Math Book is the student textbook of the curriculum. It’s a 56-page, softcover, full color book that is very much like a textbook you’d expect to see for older students. It introduces a variety of math concepts from shapes to money to counting and more. It even does a bit of cross-curricular by doing the “ABCs of Math” at the end. My son loved looking at all the pictures and learning the different concepts. We’ve taken it really slow because I don’t want to overwhelm him by overdoing it.
Backpack Bear’s Math Workbook 1 and 2 are, as the titles would suggest, go along with the textbook. These have been my son’s absolute favorite! He’s big into “coloring pages” right now, so workbooks are totally up his alley. These have the child go through all sorts of activities, starting with counting and learning what each number “means” in workbook 1 all the way up through putting random numbers in numerical order and graphing at the end of workbook 2. There are also fun activities like dot-to-dots and cut-and-paste activities sprinkled throughout.
Starfall Math Melodies is a book/CD set that has lots of traditional kids’ songs and their lyrics. These songs are chosen because they have something to do with math (however slight). For example, there are songs about the months of the year and songs about pirates that count.
Starfall’s Selected Nursery Rhymes is another book/CD set full of traditional nursery rhymes that all children should know.
Thermometers is a story-style book that talks about how hot or cold things are. It’s written in a conversational style by Stephen Schutz, and the illustrations are actual photographs. It talks about many different kinds of thermometers (refrigerator, oven, oral, etc.) and helps children learn to determine whether a temperature is high or low based on the photograph.
Estimate with Backpack Bear is a storybook with drawn illustrations, and its title is very apt. It helps children learn what estimating is and how to do it.
Backpack Bear’s Treasure Hunt teaches shapes. Children read “clues” in the book and try to solve them along with Backpack Bear. It leads children through several shapes (trees are triangles, balls are spheres, etc.) all the way to Backpack Bear’s own birthday party.
Where Oh Where is Backpack Bear? teaches relative location. Backpack Bear finds himself next to the fishtank, behind the computer, and in many other places around the classroom.
I Can Count To… is a book with beautiful photographs that teaches children to count from 11-20—what is arguably the most difficult range in any language (after twenty, things tend to repeat, but the teens each have their own odd name).
If you thought that huge list of books, flashcards, and wall hangings was all, it’s not! Starfall Kindergarten Mathematics also includes 12 math games (plus two varieties of BINGO) perfect for the 5-6 age group. The games buddy up on some of the pieces (markers to move on the board, spinners, etc.), which makes it a bit more economical on space. All 12 games fit into one average-sized game box with room leftover for storing the rest of the manipulatives you acquire using the program. Each of the game boards is doublesided, so you get two games on a single sheet of paper. This is great from a conservationist’s point of view!
The last thing the curriculum includes is a small pouch (think banker’s bag) to store all the manipulatives. The idea is that while most of what you need is included, you might decide that you want a few other things to supplement the curriculum—particularly if your child is more of a visual learner and has trouble with abstract concepts. This bag is perfect for holding things like place-value blocks, as well as some of the smaller bits from the Starfall box itself (game markers, for example).
Now that we’ve gone through what all’s included, let’s move on to how I used this with my 5-year-old, going-into-kindergarten-this-fall son.
When my box arrived, I immediately looked over all the contents to try to get a handle on how it was designed to be used, and the first thing I discovered was that a lot of the activities would be best in a traditional classroom setting. Seeing things like the wall hangings (which take up quite a lot of space) confirmed that. If you don’t have a classroom full of kindergartners, you might want to modify things. But that’s okay. It, by no means,means that this can’t or won’t work in a homeschool setting. You just have to do what a lot of homeschoolers do anyway: use the teacher manual as a guide rather than a hard-and-fast rule.
When I realized that the lessons as written were a bit too much for one student, one teacher, and no official schoolroom, I looked at the components as individual items, and we used them that way. I know my son, who was not quite 5 when we started this, likes to write and color, so we spent a lot of our time with the workbook. There are a lot of good lessons for kids in there, and he absolutely loved it. We also used the textbook and the I Can Count To… book a lot. After just a few weeks, my son has (mostly) mastered the “tricky teens.”
Due to a couple of factors (it being summertime and my son not officially being in kindergarten until this fall), we’ve taken it fairly light and easy with this curriculum so far (not too easy, because we wanted to get a good feel for it, but not too hard either because I want him to want to learn), but even with the easy pace, I can tell that it’s going to be amazing for him. The curriculum was written very well, and I can easily tell that it will take the entire school year to complete and that children will have a firm grasp of kindergarten-level mathematical concepts (counting, shapes, colors, recognizing numbers, the calendar, the weather, and more) by the end.
This is a wonderful product. Whether you feel the need to modify it or not, it works well for the homeschooling family. If you teach a co-op, it would be fantastic—even better than it would for a single family, I think. It does take quite a bit of time on the teacher’s part, but the books are written clearly enough that, thanks to the script style of the teacher’s manual, an older sibling could help out in that capacity. If you have a teenager who’s interested in becoming a teacher, I think this would make an amazing tutoring or co-op curriculum. It would be really neat to have the teen learn to teach at the same time the young children are learning to learn.
Overall, I definitely recommend this product. It’s a complete year of lessons while still keeping that “fun” factor for the child that’s so important at this age.
-Product Review by Wendy Robertson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2017