Teaching Saxon Math in the Early Years…FAST


how to teach Saxon Math Fast - a simple guide for making sure your elementary student is challenged to think and talk in math

When we first started doing Saxon Math – oldest daughter, 1st grade – it took us over a year and a half to complete it. I have talked about that extensively. And I came up with a solution to stay on track.

Fast forward to my second student. She was an entirely different story. Two days into teaching Saxon Math 1, I knew we should have started with Saxon Math 2. I told her as much. She was not convinced, believing it would be too difficult.

We slogged through the first month of Saxon 1 until she realized this was indeed, too easy. It was good we were on the same page. Since she and I agreed this was too easy for her, I could set about teaching at her speed.

You may find yourself in a similar position. Did you not realize the math genius sitting before you? I’ve got you. In this article I am going to share how I teach as fast as my student can go, while still adhering to the Saxon pillars of Incremental Development and Constant Meaningful Review.

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Why Not Skip?

While it may be nice to assume the solution to Saxon Math’s ease is skipping, I do not agree.

For starters, I am not confident enough as a math teacher to introduce concepts on their own. I rely heavily on the Saxon Math Teacher’s Edition as I teach. It is one of the primary reasons I started with Saxon. As I teach each lesson, the Teacher’s Edition helps me know the age-and-level appropriate responses the kid should have. Skipping ahead would leave me second-guessing myself when the math gets hard. Questions like: “Did I miss something important?” or “How do I go back find where I need to be?” are difficult for me to judge.

My comfort in teaching is not all I take into account when choosing not to skip. One of the primary pillars of Saxon’s approach is Incremental Development. Incremental Development is the introduction of ONE concept per lesson. Even at a faster pace, the math is still introduced incrementally. Incremental development allows the student time to both process a concept and put it her into long-term, instant recall memory bank. Skipping ahead does not give the student time to develop automaticity.

Lastly, I have noticed as I have taught Saxon Math: So much more than math learning is going on. Students are learning beyond the borders of math. I have mentioned before students learning how to follow instructions in K, how to take instruction orally in 1-3, and how to learn from a textbook in 5/4. As I speed-taught my student through the early levels of Saxon Math, I noticed another benefit of Saxon’s approach.

In all the levels of early elementary Saxon math, students are learning how to talk about math. My student is able to do the math in her head any day of the week. And she does. But Saxon encourages students to slow down and notice patterns, making observations about the math. Then, it asks the student to find words to tell their teacher what she sees.

This is HARD!

My student struggles with translating what she “knows” in her head into words. Saxon’s Incremental Development approach helps give her the vocabulary and the space to find these words.

Why Go FAST?

Anyone who has sat through a math lesson with a child who already knows all the concepts being introduced knows the answer to this question. But here’s the real deal answer – it is way too easy!

Don’t get me wrong, as we increase the speed, the math is still going to be easy. But math should require some thought. My student was getting the wrong idea about school – it doesn’t require thought. It is so easy, the answers are already in the air before I am finished with the questions.

I wanted her to get the benefit of a Saxon Math education which teaches children to slow down and make observations about the math in front of them.

In the year since we upped the speed of of lessons, my daughter completed Saxon Math 1 and 2. She is currently on lesson 40 of Saxon 3. In that time, she has almost never come across a new concept.

Going faster through Saxon Math has caused her to stay on her toes. She has to direct her brain to math thinking for minutes at a time. Instead of seconds devoted to correct answers, she has a set amount of time to put her thinking energies toward math.

How to Go Fast?

When I mention our speeding through Saxon Math, I am always asked how do you do it. I am going to share an example of our Math teaching time below. But to answer this question, I have a simple answer – a timer. I like this brand.

I set a timer for 30 minutes of instruction.

Yep. That’s how I move quickly through Saxon. I start a timer and teach as many lessons as I can in that time.

Don’t worry, I am not pushing here. Often I am trying to keep up with my student. Many times in the lessons, I have had to encourage my student to slow down and notice. She is so used to the answers being easy, she can often slide right past that important step of “talking about math.”

In order to build a strong foundation for later math success, I need to be sure she can talk about “how” and “why.” Our speeding through Saxon would be pointless if she were not more mathematically-minded as a result. It would do her a disservice if it did not teach her how to talk about math, too.

How Fast to Go

This is the most nuanced part of this speed course. Just as a racecar driver navigates the turns of a race course, increasing or decreasing speed based on the road, so I navigate Saxon Math.

As I said, the timer determines the length of the course. The student determines the speed. At the beginning of each lesson, there is a key element of the script which helps me determine if that lesson is going to be speedy-quick or a little slower.

“Today you will learn…”

When I start with that sentence, my student will literally say, “I already know that.” This gives me an indication of her familiarity with the topic.

Instead of teaching every word of the lesson script, I will use it as a guide to talk about the concept. I will quickly scan the lesson and hit the high points, so to speak. If the lesson teaches something she truly already knows, I challenge her to tell me what she knows. Again, I am looking for to increase her ability to think and talk about math.

When the lesson teaches math facts, I will put them up on the board and have her write the answers. Then I will switch up the order of the problems and write them vertically. Once she has shown no struggle, I erase all the answers and pop quiz her on the answers.

Since I am looking to increase my student’s ability to talk about math, I make sure I bring in our math memory work from Classical Conversations where I can. Showing her real life application of the Commutative Law and the Associative Law is important to her linguistic development, too. Singing little songs of our memory work helps to add an overall celebratory and fun mood to our math sessions.

What Fast Really Looks Like

Alright, I know you have been scrolling past the prefatory stuff to get to this point. Stop the scroll, friend. This is the real-deal process we go through in our 30 minute math sessions. I hope it is clear: this is simply an example. Every math session is different based on my student’s ability and understanding.

  1. Morning meeting.
  2. Start the timer.
  3. “Today you will learn…”
  4. Teach lesson.
  5. Check the timer.
  6. “Today you will learn…”
  7. Teach lesson.
  8. Check the timer.
  9. “Today you will learn…”
  10. Teach lesson.
  11. Check the timer. Usually by this time the timer is down to single digit minutes. I can glance ahead and see if the next concept will be able to be addressed in the remaining time. The cycle of teaching the next lesson ends when the timer goes off or their is not enough time to teach the next lesson.

NOTE: I do not do a morning meeting every single lesson. We do it once a day.

When the Teaching Session is Finished

At the conclusion of the teaching session, I either dole out math facts sheets and lesson worksheets one lesson at a time or in a big stack.

I encourage my student to follow the pattern of timed math facts sheet, lesson worksheet, timed math facts sheet, lesson worksheet, etc. At times she has chosen to do all the timed math facts sheets at one time and then move on to the worksheets. I don’t prefer this as I think it doesn’t give her enough time to let her brain rest in between timed math facts.

My student is only required to do the front of the lesson worksheets. If she misses something on the front, she is required to do the same concept on the back. Rarely she is required to do any or all of the back of the worksheet.

Is Your Student Ready for Saxon Math…Fast?

The simple answer is: I have no idea. One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is how intimately acquainted the teacher becomes with the student. Only the teacher knows when the math is too easy or too difficult for her student.

But maybe your student who is complaining about the ease of Saxon Math needs a bit of a challenge. Picking up the pace of your teaching may spur them to think deeper and talk more about what is going on inside their brains. Giving them a math vocabulary beyond, “boring” and “easy” may be just what they need to have math confidence and math interest!


The Goal of Saxon Math

One last word regarding Saxon Math and my student. While I of course think my student is brilliant, I have been careful not to put any labels like “gifted” or “advanced” on my student. Honestly, I would much prefer one adjective for my math students – confident.

Students can be at any level of math – what is considered above grade level or below grade level – and not have confidence. I truly believe Saxon Math gives students math confidence which far surpasses their peers. This is the goal for math instruction in our home. Simple confidence will hold my students in good stead as they move forward.

how to teach Saxon Math Fast - a simple guide for making sure your elementary student is challenged to think and talk in math
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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Julie

    I enjoyed your article about Saxon math . . . Fast. It said you teach for 30 minutes, but do you set a timer for them to complete the worksheets or do they work until they are completed? Thank you.

    1. Leah Hudson

      I let them complete it at their own pace. My daughter who is going quickly through Saxon 3 right now takes about 30 minutes to complete the work. Thanks for your question!

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