Monday, April 5, 2010

Is MEP Math CM? - Also, Kindergarten Math

On some of my Charlotte Mason message boards, whenever the MEP math program is mentioned, there are always some posts saying the MEP (Mathematics Enhancement Program) is not in the CM style of doing math. The main criticism seems to be that it is not a Mastery program.

So - is the MEP math program consistant with a Charlotte Mason education?

First it should be noted that Charlotte Mason did not put a great emphasis on math. She agreed that it was necessary and useful, but should not have a great importance put on it. Of course, a lot has changed in the last 100+ years, I think Science and Math has a greater importance than it did in the late 1800's!

So, what were Charlotte Mason's recommendations? Here is my understanding (at least for the early years).

  1. Short Lessons (with attention)

  2. No cramming (slow progress with math rules)

  3. Teach concrete before abstract (ie, use manipulatives, or real life)

  4. allow counters as much as they want

  5. make a multiplication table before using one

  6. use actual items (use money to learn money. Weigh and measure to learn weights and measurements)

  7. put concepts on the board (or paper) to allow visual memory. (ie, write 2x4=8 instead of just reciting it)

  8. Master a concept before proceeding. (I haven't found where this is said - but it seems to be mentioned on the message boards...)

So - how does MEP fit?

  1. Short lessons. Although MEP (in Year 1) is designed for a 45 minute classroom class, I find that doing it 1 on 1 with my son takes us about 15 to 30 minutes... usually about 20. On top of it, each lesson is broken down into 4 to 8 different activities (including a streach and sing counting songs in the middle), each of which is different enough to keep my son's attention. On the occasional day that he has had enough before the whole lesson is done? Well, we just leave the rest for the next day. (That has happened maybe 3 times this year...)

  2. No cramming - With MEP, you don't need to recite math facts - at least we haven't had any need. So far the facts have been being learned slowly, with the introduction of each number. Delta has learned many, and uses manipulatives as needed still. There certainly are not pages of "sums" to do...

  3. Teach concrete before abstract - I think MEP does this well, using pictures, word problems, counters, dominoes, and other manipulatives you might have to help understand what you are doing before doing it straight with the numbers. (Note that you don't HAVE to buy expensive manipulatives. A set of dominoes is nice, although there is often a picture of dominoes when used.... and you can use anything for counters.

  4. Allow counters when needed. - MEP has so far emphasised (even in the test) to allow counters.

  5. Make a multiplication table before using one. - Well, we aren't that far in MEP yet, so not sure if it would do that - but if it doesn't specifically have you do that, before working with multiplication - take a week or so to make one! (ie, use several counters to figure out the various problems, then write the answer on the table.

  6. Use actual items (money, measurements, etc.) Well, so far the money problems we have done in MEP have involved pense - we use pennies. We aren't up to doing measurements yet either - but I know that soon we will be measuring length - doing actual measuring.

  7. Put concepts on the board for visual memory - MEP often tells you to write on the board the equation after discussing a word problem or other puzzle.

  8. Mastery - talked about below.

Well, I guess MEP is a spiral program. I know that I read a post somewhere about how it isn't the same as most spiral programs, but is different. Unfortunately, I can not find that post as I would have liked to reference it.

That said, MEP is fairly spiral, in that not every student in a class is expected to understand every principle before the class moves on. It does Addition and Subtraction at the same time (and later Multiplication and Division at the same time), instead of focusing on Addition until it is totally mastered before starting subtraction. And it will throw in an advanced concept at times, just to give the student an idea of the existance (ie, negative numbers) then leaves it later.

I don't know - all that makes sense to me. And it seems to me that MEP does have the student work at basic concepts until they are likely mastered. For instance, a number is introduced (say the number 5) at the beginning of year 1. They learn different ways it can be represented (sticks, tally marks, roman numerals, and of course a 5) They practice writing a 5. They do basic addition and subtraction problems using pictures that use the number 5. There are problems that include up to number 5, as well as review numbers 1-4. There are word problems that work with number 5 (or others done), logic puzzles. This goes on for about a week or so, with a few other things thrown in for variety - then they move to the number 6. I don't feel that there is a lot of jumping around, even though there is variety, and cool concepts.

So, to me, MEP seems like a mixture of Mastery and Spiral - somewhere in between.

In any case. I feel that MEP follows CM recomendations in SO many ways. Add in that it is FREE (except your paper and ink), and that most kids seem to love it - it seems like a great choice to me.


Oh - and the Reception (Kindergarten) Year lessons have been being added to the website. As Echo was always wanting to do math with Delta, we started her on the lessons. They are very similar, but move slower than the Year 1 book - and is dealing with the concepts through pictures. They are not using the actual abstract numbers - like 1, 2, 3.

So, for instance, there will be a picture (usually of a family - used throughout) that the child will describe. They will count various things in the picture, and do basic math in a real-life situation. For instance, there will be a picture of the family setting up for a birthday party - and you have your child count the plates (5) and the cups (3) - and you ask how many more cups they need to get out so there will be enough. The numbers have been slowly increasing... we are working with the number 6 right now.

Concepts we have seen so far (we are on lesson 23) include more/less; horizontal/vertical; very simple addition/subtraction (usually by 1 or 2); First, second, third, etc; Right/Left / Above/Below / Next/Before / etc; colours (child is asked to colour something a certain colour); basic writing skills (copy over a line in the picture); and probably some I have forgotten.

Note that the pictures (that come with the program) are all in color - so this course will cost a bit more to print off - but it seems very worth it!

ADDITION: Check out this for more on MEP and CM


  1. Heather, I appreciate your posting this! I would really like you, if you are willing to do this, to look at CM's actual math recommendations (not just her general educational style, which is what you are touching on here) and see how MEP compares with that--where are they alike in their *math* approach and where are they different. That's where I've seen some distinctions that mattered to me--not in lesson lengths and that type of thing.

    For instance, when I was evaluating math programs, I first outlined CM's suggestions for math specifically (which are pretty detailed--you could use them without a formal program) and then went through the program I was considering to see how closely it meshed. It's been quite awhile since I looked at MEP, so I don't remember exactly how its approach differed from CM's. That's one reason I'm interested in seeing an actual analysis of MEP's approach versus CM's.

  2. I've read over your articles, and will look towards giving a comparison. They are not identical - and some areas I just haven't read in MEP because it is further than we are.

  3. I'm not sure if it is CM. If the child loves it and cooperates and doesn't dawdle and asks for more, then I would say it is in keeping with the spirit of CM, the child is a person first.

  4. Yup - works for me! Delta loves it, and is always thrilled at math time. Echo always watched his math, and was asking for math, and is now loving the Kindergarten level. They are learning well, and love it. Works for me!

  5. And it's also how you use it, I guess, if you compliment with other needed games or explanations of a concept, and if you stop or go back to something they didn't grasp when you see that's the case (which will be mastery, even if the 'spiral' moves to another lesson you don't have to, you don't even have to follow the order when you don't think it's right for your child).

  6. Hi Heather,
    I agree with your evaluation of MEP. It is a programme that I can see us staying with for the long haul because of it's design and my ds8 has taken well to it, especially when it was his least liked subject before MEP.
    You have a beautiful blog and I hope to get some time soon to explore it.

  7. Hi Silvia - yes, it is true you can add to it if needed. I mostly have done it just as is... although right near the beginning of Year 1, Delta just had a big problem getting the Less and More straight - so I did add some playing of WAR cardgame for a few math lessons instead.... and then we did some of the practice questions that the lesson plan didn't say to use before... and that helped. I mainly did it because it was SUCH a basic concept to what was going on.

    Thanks Renelle for the comments. I Haven't been posting as much because of life (I've been sick a lot with this pregnancy) - but I do hope my blog is helpful.

  8. My take on this topic close to my heart here:

    Great post, Heather!!

  9. We LOVE MEP and I completely agree :)

    I thought this discussion was very interesting, thank you.


    amy in peru

  10. Thanks for the comments. Great post on your blog too Jeanine!

  11. I don't know much about MEP, and sometimes I think that the whole spiral/mastery debate gets a bit bogged down. Not your article here. It's great. I just mean that we need to find the methods that work (rather than the labels). The bulletted list with CM's recommendations are sound practices for teaching math. Those can be used with spiral or mastery programs. I don't think anyone would say it's okay to move on to step 2 if step 1 is not sufficiently learned. You can't even DO step 2 without step 1. So it's a mute point. But you can teach different math concepts side by side even if the math facts are not mastered.

    example -- child doesn't know x9 facts, but you can still talk about measuring circles, making graphs, using fractions, etc. There's no need to hold the presses until eternity while you bog down in x9 tables. Keep learning math.

    My comment is pretty rambly. Reflects my poor understanding of math in general. I appreciate your discucssion here as math education is an area I am always striving to grow in.

  12. Thank you. Although I do my best to follow Charlotte Mason principles, I do agree that I am more worried overall on whether something is best for my family than whether or not Charlotte Mason would approve.

    I do think MEP fits extremely well with Charlotte Mason's recommendations - but even if my research showed that it is quite against it, I wouldn't run out and change as it is working so well for my family. I would just make notes on my recommendations that it wasn't CM (as this is a CM site...)

    Thanks again for the comment!

  13. Thanks for this post. We're starting formal math next year, and I am seriously (as in almost entirely) considering MEP.
    Like Kathy, I am also interested in CM's specific math related comments, but I can imagine it might change how I approach and word things in each lesson rather than chucking MEP entirely. I'll have to go find her quotes on the topic. :)
    I have also really enjoyed the living math website and group; I am hoping their recommendations will be good additions to our math time as well.

  14. There have been a couple of other people write on their Blog since I wrote this, that had more information.

    Check out

    I thing MEP works so well with CM, and as mentioned a lot, my kids love it and are learning.