Isaac and Eleanor both attend Bosnian public schools, Isaac for 2 1/2 hours a day (a full day for children his age!) and Eleanor for 3 hours a day. But I will be happy if the schools manage to just get them speaking Bosnian. I don't expect, given their very rudimentary language abilities, the schools to meet any of their other educational needs.
So, we spend two or three hours a day at home on math, music (they both are piano students), and reading and writing. I brought with us two math programs. One is the Singapore Math program (here's a great New York Times article from earlier this month about Singapore Math). Years ago, when I home-schooled my older children during some of their elementary school years, we used the old Singapore Math books that were also used in Singapore public schools. This time around, we bought new Singapore Math books that were published for the American market. All the story problems about durian and rambutan have been replaced with ones about apples and oranges, but the program is just as carefully thought out and easy to follow as ever.
I brought a second math program along as enrichment to the basic Singapore program. I hoped it would promote a different kind of mathematical learning. We've dabbled with Miquon Math in the past, but I've never used it as regularly as we have been doing this year (assisted by the very helpful First Grade Diary).
Miquon Math was developed in the 1950s for Miquon School. It is based on the idea that children learn mathematical concepts more thoroughly, more organically, and often more quickly if they learn them through manipulation of real objects and through playing. The centerpiece of Miquon Math is Cuisenaire Rods, small wooden blocks of graduated lengths. White blocks are one unit long, red blocks two units long, and so on up to the orange ten unit block. Through free play, as well as activities and follow-up questions from the teacher, children discover for themselves mathematical principles.
For example, last week, I challenged Isaac and Eleanor to find ways to find four blocks that, together, were the same length as the orange block. Then, exploring associative and commutative properties, we rearranged and replaced those four blocks with two blocks. Isaac became particularly involved in this activity and spent nearly an hour trying different variations and making up combinations that equaled other lengths of blocks.
I love how absorbed they become when we do Miquon Math activities and how they naturally expand and vary whatever activity I present. I'm almost always surprised at how long we spend doing Miquon Math, simply because they want to repeat or change the activity. They want to keep playing! It doesn't look like arithmetic, but I think much deeper mathematical learning is going on than any worksheet (or Singapore Math book, for that matter!) offers.