Singapore Math Review: World-Class Math Education

Why Singapore Math?

Singapore is less than half as large as Rhode Island, with fewer people than Wisconsin.

So why use math books from this teeny foreign country?

Because kids from Singapore have incredible math skills!

People started to talk about Singapore’s math success in 1995, when Singaporean children wowed the world with their first-place score on an international math test.

This inspired a husband-wife team to bring the Singapore Math textbooks to the United States so that American children could benefit from them as well. Now, the original Primary Mathematics series and its spin-offs are used in classrooms and homeschools around the world.


The Big Picture

Singapore Math presents each math concept in three stages.

  • Stage 1: Hands-on objects
  • Stage 2: Pictures
  • Stage 3: Written symbols

Singapore Math calls this the Concrete > Pictorial > Abstract approach. Take finding the area of a rectangle as an example.

Three stages for understanding area of a rectangle

  • First, children create physical, concrete rectangles out of tiles or paper squares.
  • Then, they draw rectangles and look at pictures in the textbook.
  • Last, they learn the abstract formula length x width = area and use it to solve problems without manipulatives or visuals.

Singapore Math also focuses on teaching math in a logical order. The textbooks develop every concept purposefully and step-by-step so that children gradually develop solid conceptual understanding. They learn not just how to do math, but also why what they’re doing works.

Singapore Math is a mastery curriculum, with each unit devoted to one specific topic. Review problems are included at the end of each unit.


Mental Math and Word Problems

Singapore Math provides children lots of practice with basic pencil-and-paper computations, but the program also focuses on developing kids’ mental math and word problem skills.

Mental math is more than just solving problems mentally. It also helps kids build strong number sense and deep understanding of the properties of numbers, so it’s an important part of the program.

Parents sometimes find the mental math instruction in Singapore Math intimidating. But if you’re willing to read through the explanations in the Home Instructor’s Guides, I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how well you’re able to understand it. Singapore Math uses the same three stages of teaching to help kids learn each mental math strategy, so kids (and parents!) can become comfortable with mental math strategies and use them with ease.

Singapore Math also uses hands-on materials and pictures to help children tackle an often-difficult part of elementary math: word problems. The program presents a greater variety of word problems than most other elementary math programs and teaches kids to apply their math skills to a wide variety of situations. Once children reach the third- and fourth-grade level books, they learn to draw bar models to represent and solve word problems. These models help prepare them for algebra and think about the structure of problems beyond the surface level.


So, should I buy Singapore Math or not?


Singapore Math may be a great fit for you if:

  • Your child thinks logically and likes math presented in a clear, straight-forward way.
  • Your child likes a mix of hands-on and paper-and-pencil learning.
  • You’re willing to spend some time understanding the math yourself and teaching it to your child.
  • You’re willing to buy manipulatives and use them to make the lessons concrete for your child.
  • Your child doesn’t need a ton of day-to-day review of math concepts. (Review is included at the end of each chapter, but not on a daily basis.

Singapore Math may not be the right choice if:

  • You don’t have the time to teach a lesson to your child each day.
  • You feel a little anxious about your own math skills and aren’t sure you’ll have time to preview the lessons.
  • Your child likes a lot of variety and will grow bored focusing on just one topic at a time.
  • Your child needs a lot of regular review for math concepts to stick well.
  • The thought of keeping track of manipulatives makes you break out in hives.