Math-U-See Canada: A Review

Last year I began to notice that my son (now 7) was quite behind where he should have been, had he been in public school. Now, sometimes being behind isn’t that big of a deal, as homeschoolers, because the whole point is to go at the child’s pace. However, he was 2 years behind his peers. Math was always a time of frustration and tears and loathing (towards math). No matter what we did he just could not get basic concepts, like place value. I’m not one that needs my kids to love math. But I don’t want it to be such a negative thing that they avoid it at all costs.

This is when I first found Math-U-See. The goal of Math-U-See is “to produce confident problem solvers who enjoy the study of math.

We decided to give Math-U-See a try. Math-U-See is a multi-sensory conceptual math program covering everything from beginning level (Primer) to Pre-Calculus. It is different than any other math program I’ve used, in that the child is to attain full mastery of each given concept before moving forward to the next lesson or to the next level.

We took a placement test, which is free, and learned that we needed to begin with the Alpha level. We are currently using Alpha level for our 7 year old and Primer for our 4 year old. What I love is that students are not put in grade levels, but instead, they are placed by skill level. As a result our 7 is essentially learning typical Kinder and 1st grade concepts all the while believing he’s in 2nd grade. (Kids often wear their grades like medals of honour).

Math-U-See was created by Steve Demme, a math teacher whom has taught in all grades levels up to one course at a college. Originally, he created worksheets for a small homeschool co-op. It quickly grew into a success and as the need grew Steve wrote instruction manuals to help parents teach his workbooks. He also created videos of himself teaching each concept. There are great videos on the Math-U-See website where Steve explains the program, the placement system, and then a few video examples of what you’d find in your Instruction Kit.

A full package, in any level, includes:

  • A teaching kit, which contains the Instruction Manual and DVD lessons
  •  A student kit which includes a student text and, a test and activity booklet.
  •  Manipulative blocks, which are necessary for the program, from Primer up to Algebra 1. Fraction Overlays are needed for the Epsilon level, and Algebra-Decimal Inserts are needed for Zeta, Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1.

In addition you can get a skip counting and addition facts song CD, as well as a wooden box set to sort your manipulative blocks (which is something I now wish I had bought).


Around the homeschooling “water cooler” (i.e. group meets and conferences) I’ve heard many people talking about the cost of the the Math-U-See manipulative blocks and recommending local stores that sell cheaper cuisenaire rods. I can say with certainty that these are not the same (I have both kinds).


For one, the Math-U-See manipulatives are blocks. One of the tips Mr. Demme gives, in the instruction manual, is to just allow your child to play with them – to build with them. In this way, they familiarize themselves with the color in relation to the number (like choco-eight), and afterwards they will begin to learn math facts just by playing.

I have seen this in my son one day during free play. He was building a library and parking garage and suddenly said, “Mom! I just learned that 6+4=10!!”, and continued spouting facts for the next half hour he played!

Math-U-See Canada 2

In addition, the blocks correlate later to the fraction overlays as well as the algebra-decimal inserts. What a typical lesson with Math-U-See might look like:

If we are beginning a new lesson, I will read the overview in the teacher’s manual. This can also be read by the student for solo work, if he/she is old enough to do so. After the overview we, together, will watch the lesson on video. The video lessons are short, maybe 5 or so minutes each.

Next he will do a lesson practice from the workbook, and continue to do a lesson or activity every day.

Within each lesson the student is to “build, write, and say”. He is to do as many (or as few) problems as necessary, practicing until he achieves mastery. There are online drills and downloadable worksheets, if needed.

Games and activities are suggested for each lesson, in the instruction book to help achieve mastery in a fun way, not just with worksheets.

After mastery is demonstrated, which is done by your student teaching back to you, you move onto “systematic review”. Systematic review pages review new material as well as provide practice for material the student has already learned. Lesson tests are then done, from the Test and Activity Booklet. Each lesson also has a fun extra activity to do, in this booklet.

Now we’re ready to move onto the next lesson!

One lesson typically takes us one week to complete.

My Thoughts:

To be honest, at first I was so overwhelmed with Math-U-See and all the different material needed and provided. I think I was looking for a quick fix, sort of like an overnight success. I want, probably what a lot of busy homeschoolers of multiple grades want, a simple and fast “do this” solo work, which in reality isn’t fair. And in reality isn’t going to work. That attitude is going to get you exactly what I had. A frustrated kid, that doesn’t understand, and a frustrated mom that doesn’t want to sit down to teach because she has “too many other things to do”.

I was upset when I opened the teacher manual and seen the first lesson was 6 pages. 6 pages!? Who has time for this!? But what with the cost of the program, you can bet I didn’t throw it aside. I stuck with it. I made the time, and you know what? It was so worth it.

What I learned is that, like with any new curriculum, it just takes more than a few hurried minutes to find a groove and learn the ropes.

What I also learned, is that most lessons in the teacher manual are not 6 pages. Yay!

After one lesson with Math-U-See, Connor finally “got it”. Lesson one in Alpha level is place value. This is something we’ve struggled with for far too long. Connor is a very kinetic and play based learner. Having such a multi sensory program works perfect for us. We still do the worksheets, because they are important too, to learn formation, but it’s not the only lesson now. Now he can “see it, build it, write it, and say it”.

Here, in the photo below, Connor is learning place value with the provided mat, Decimal Street. Mr. Demme has come up with such a fun and creative way to teach this. The students learn a little story, and then basically just play it out. After Connor learned this (which was a very short time), he taught it back to his dad and then continued playing for quite some time. Math is now fun.

Math-U-See Canada 3

In lessons that followed, instead of having Connor teach back to me, I’d have him teach to his sister (4), since she was so curious anyways. Win win!

Math-U-See Canada 5

On her own, Emma works in the Primer book. The Primer book is just an introduction to math concepts with no mastery required to move on. The point is just exposure and fun.

Canadian version:

Our version of Math-U-See is specifically for Canadians. Math is math, in any country. So the only difference you will see between Canadian versions and the U.S. are this:

  •  The metric system is used in place of imperial
  •  Special spelling is used where appropriate – like “colour” vs “color”.

Other than that, from what I can see, it’s all the same.

Debbie West is a homeschooler to 3 children, Connor (7), Emma (4) and Sam (2). She blogs over at West Word Blog, where she talks about her homeschooling adventures, mothering, and sometimes her photography.

6 Comment(s)

  • by Nelleke from P.E.I. Posted December 10, 2014 4:33 pm

    Thanks for such a detailed review of this program! We use another manipulative-based program (miquon), and my son had a similar experience with the cuisenaire rods we use. “Mama! 3+7=10! 2+2+4+8!” And of course, I was excited with him. I love that he discovered some math facts on his own. 🙂

  • by Deanna Posted January 11, 2017 10:29 am

    I use Math-U-See and really like it… I would add that although the Canadian books have our money and measurements they are not taught in the videos. Boy was I surprised when I suddenly had to actually teach a lesson! 🙂 But my kids are learning and progressing and I love the mastery and word problems. It’s a fantastic program. Also, have you checked out the online drill page? My kids can practice their math facts and I can print out extra sheet work if they need more practice before moving to the next lesson. 🙂

  • by Melinda Johnson Posted January 12, 2017 11:56 am

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Math U See! I had to retool my brain a bit, but all of my kids have been able to use the program. We don’t usually have a problem with math, though. I was just looking for a curriculum with manipulatives and this was the only one I had heard of yet. We love just building with the blocks, too. The plus side is that Steve Demmi has a heart for teaching math. I’ve heard him recently on another homeschooler’s podcast and he loves God and loves his family. I love that the lessons are short and you can do as much or as little practice with each lesson as you need. We have used Primer all the way up to Algebra 1 so far. It’s an investment at first, but with multiple kids, it isn’t too bad. Plus, they make sure to tell you how older versions mesh with newer versions. You can get used copies of parent books and dvd’s on ebay. Can’t wait to see the Math U See at the Indianapolis convention this year! Glad it worked well for you!

  • by Tina Posted January 12, 2017 12:08 pm

    This is a really nice, in depth review. Thanks for sharing. We are using khan academy and have been for two years. My son was 2/3rds of the way through grade 4 public school when I pulled him. He had extreme anxiety about math and school in general. (Always in trouble, always over stimulated= an unhappy school experience.) we started at the very beginning with early math and are almost up to grade level. I worry about the teaching end of khan as it’s not always clear where the lessons are but we are managing so far.

    Reviews like this make me wonder if we should switch. I wonder if any of your readers have used math u-see with grade 6 and up and if so, did they always use it or did they come to it after using something else?

  • by Amanda Posted December 9, 2017 2:12 pm

    I’m deciding where to buy the primer set from. Do they introduce measurements and the metric system in the primer level? If not, then I would buy from the states as that is cheaper for me. Thanks for the advice.

    • by LisaMarie Posted December 9, 2017 4:24 pm

      Me personally – I’ve never used Math-U-See so I can’t tell you when they introduce things. I’m sure they have a scope and sequence on their website which might be helpful though!

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