The Ray’s Arithmetic series by Joseph Ray was probably the most popular math series in the 1800s. With the support of homeschoolers, Mott Media has published slightly updated editions of these books for many years. However, Ray’s Arithmetic presents math concepts in a sequence and manner very different from what we find in other math programs. The books assume that teachers are presenting lessons based on their own prior familiarity with the subject matter, so they do not include lesson presentation instructions. Consequently, the original books serve best as a source of practice problems for both written and mental math. This approach is very problematic for homeschooling parents beginning to teach math at first grade level where the series begins. Instructional information is almost entirely lacking in these books.
Ray’s for Today is not just an update of the old books. Instead, Lori Horton Coeman and Joyce Bohn have created what is almost an entirely new curriculum. They have retained most of the problems found in the original books, problems such as “If eggs are worth 1 cent each, what will 10 eggs cost?” (p. 59 of the Level 2 Student Text). The word problems use examples from rural life and monetary values from long ago. Can you imagine how long it has been since an egg coast only a penny? Even though the problems are from the original books, the authors have added so much more that there’s really no comparison between the original books and Ray’s for Today. Within the new format, the old problems seem a little odd, but this probably won’t matter at all to children.
The older Ray’s Arithmetic series consists of four books that cover concepts that are generally taught in grades one through eight. Ray’s for Today will eventually be a series of courses for grades one through eight, but with one course per year. At this time only the first two courses are available. Levels 3 through 5 should be available sometime in 2017, while Levels 6 through 8 are scheduled for publication in 2018.
For each level there are an instructor’s manual and a student text. Each book comes as pre-punched pages for you to insert into your own binder, or you can purchase binders from Mott Media.
Ray’s for Today for these first two levels requires a great deal of parent-child interaction. Much work is done orally and with hands-on resources. Children learn through concrete, discovery activities, gradually moving to the abstract stage where they use numbers and symbols to represent what they have learned. While you don’t need expensive manipulatives, you will need to collect a number of objects to be used for each unit. A “packing list” for each unit lists required items such as counters, jumbo-sized wood craft sticks, rubber bands, coins, crayons, a teaching clock, play money, and index cards.
Math is taught in a sequential fashion, forming a solid foundation of basic skills upon which children will build in the future.
The publisher summarizes the essential objectives of Level 1 as: “learn how to read, write, count and conceptually understand the numbers through 100.” However, this simplified statement doesn’t tell you that Level 1 also teaches addition up through 10 + 10 = 20, the corresponding subtraction facts, skip counting, telling time, shapes, money, fractional parts, tallies, charts, and graphs.
Level 2 continues to teach numbers up through 1,000 along with multiplication of numbers with products up to 100 and division of numbers with division with dividends up through 100 divided by 10.
I’ll share one example of how Ray’s for Today teaches in regard to division. Students learn the concept of division through hands-on activity using counters along with visual aids such as a multiplication chart and number bonds to illustrate numeric relationships. Students practice using counters and the visual aids along with word problems and games. Most of this is done orally along with the parent. Eventually, students learn to write problems in the standard linear form. There are rarely pages of problems for students to solve on their own in a traditional fashion; these pages generally show up as review and cumulative practice pages.
The scope and sequence of Ray’s for Today is much closer to those used by other publishers, so it should be easy to shift into or out of this program, at least for these first two levels.
Parents should read the brief lesson material in the instructor’s manual, but they will work through the lessons primarily using only the student book. Sometimes you will use visual aids, games, or other resource pages from the back of the instructor’s manual. Answer keys are at the back of the instructor’s manuals, but you probably will not need to refer to them very often.
Instructor’s manuals also include the “Scope and Sequence” for that level, a “Benchmarks” checklist that lists detailed skills and concepts for you to mark, a “Summer Skills Review” page with suggestions for keeping math skills current over the summer, and “Cement Mixers” which are oral math drills to be used to help “cement” math skills. (Other Cement Mixers are supplied for each unit, and those in the back of the book can be used for extra practice during the school year or over the summer.) In addition, you will find pages such as charts (e.g., a calendar page, a hundreds chart, the multiplication table), number bond worksheets, clock faces, and pages for creating games to be used with lessons. These pages can be reproduced as needed and you will probably want to copy some on to card stock.
Student texts are quite large because they include all of the lesson presentation language. Pages are black and white with most space taken up with text; there are relatively few images. Parents can read from the text as they work with their child. Lessons sometimes begin with a story to set the scene for the upcoming lesson. This, too, is included in the student text. The use of stories and number problems so far exceeds what I have seen in any other program that it is difficult to convey how different this approach is. While this takes more time, it is probably more effective.
While the program is “teacher intensive” it is not difficult to teach since everything is laid out for you to just follow along. However, you will need to prepare in advance for the manipulatives, visual aids, and games. The publisher tells me that subsequent levels will be less teacher-intensive. They will retain the conversational approach with the teaching material included in the student text, but they expect that older students will generally be able to read the material on their own. Parents can still work with the student through the lessons, but preparation time will be reduced since the lessons for older students shift away from many of the concrete learning activities toward more pictorial and abstract presentations.
The Level 1 text is 427 pages while Level 2 is 481 pages. Even with all of those pages, the amount of writing is relatively low compared to many other programs.
While there are no tests until Level 3 in this series, parents might use the unit reviews as cumulative tests if they need to do so.
It seems to me that Coeman and Bohn have pulled from some of the best of modern instructional methods while using Ray’s Arithmetic only as the source of many of the problems. Ray’s for Today is a huge improvement over the original series, and I can guarantee that homeschoolers will find it much easier to work with.