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Shiller Math Kit I
Shiller Math Kit II

by Larry Shiller

Reviewed by Martha Robinson

Purchase details: ShillerMath Kit 1, $299.95 and Shiller Math Kit II, $329.95. Available only from Shiller Math.

Shiller Math Kit I

Shiller Math Kit I is a manipulative based math program for children aged four to eight. An MIT math major and lifelong math enthusiast, Larry Shiller wrote this program to try to impart his zeal for math to American children of today as an after-school supplement or homeschooling course. The result is a curriculum that is both challenging and fun.

In the Parent Guide, Mr. Shiller discusses the abysmal state of math education in our country compared to the rest of the world. Stating that "ShillerMath material is based on a respectful relationship between parent and child," the author emphasizes parental responsibilities in teaching math, rather than the school system's. He lays out simple instructions and encouragement for parents and also discusses common pitfalls that may occur, along with suggested solutions.

Activities in Shiller Math Kit I are based on the Montessori method of education. Included in the kit are the manipulatives listed below

  • Dice
  • Base 10 Block set (plastic)
  • Measuring cups
  • Paper 1000 cubes (16)
  • Clock
  • Cloth bag (for hiding items)
  • Plastic coins
  • Set of dominoes (54)
  • Mirror
  • Various wooden shapes (100)
  • Balance
  • Ruler
  • Cardstock number tiles
  • Cardstock number card sets
  • Cardstock operators (+, -, >, etc.)
  • Foam ball
  • Wooden trays for number sets
  • Large mat for child's work space

Everything needed for using the program is in the box, including three workbooks, crayons, a pencil, a pen, worksheets, and a three-ring binder for storing completed work.

The recommended method for getting started with Shiller Math Kit I is to open the first activity book and begin reading. All activities are scripted with the answers appearing right after the question that the parent reads to the child. As with most Montessori programs, the child uses a mat for the manipulative workspace. Each manipulative is returned to its place (the box or a shelf) prior to starting a new activity. Most of the tasks involve materials, but frequently the child is asked to color or write something in the activity book. Small shapes and figures of animals and people are used in these exercises. Periodic review tests allow the parent to assess progress and redo activities for topics that were not completely understood.

Twenty-five math songs are used throughout the program to emphasize different concepts. Written and performed by Ron Brown, the songs use various musical styles to help teach left and right, skip counting, directions, days of the week, mass, even/odd numbers, probability, and more. Each song is introduced as an activity after the math concept has been taught.

The breadth of Shiller Math Kit I is much larger than other early elementary math programs. Four and five year olds are exposed to concepts such as greater than and less than, skip counting, volume, rows/columns, and directions (north, south, etc.) in addition to normally thought of material. Five and six year olds learn names of number groups (octets, for example), equations, inequalities, and mirror images, among other things. In the final workbook, six and seven year olds are given the opportunity to become proficient at multiplication and division, the calendar, four digit addition and subtraction, and Roman numerals up to 100.

According to Mr. Shiller, older students may use the program. Parents should still begin with the first workbook, but should do the tests and go back to activities that the child has not mastered. There is not a set amount of time to complete the program, but rather, the parent should progress at a speed that allows the child to master the concepts.

On-line support is available at the Shiller Math website. Adobe Acrobat downloads of pages from the activity book, work pages, and tests are included for five years at no charge to purchasers of the program.

Recommendation: Shiller Math Kit I covers an absolutely amazing amount of material in the suggested age range of four to seven. Mr. Shiller attains his goal of making math fun and raising the standard of education for children. After successful completion of this program, I believe that the student will be ready to move into a fourth grade math program (if his or her attention span and fine motor skills allow.) In fact, some of the fourth grade material will be review.

The suggested way to start, just doing the first lesson, works fine. The activity books are self-explanatory, but I do wish that the answers were not right under the problems (as my early readers can read them!) My other wish item is for the pictures that the child is supposed to color to be bigger. Even with these minor "wish" items, the books are highly appealing, easy to implement, and understandable for both parent and child. While I had a problem sorting out what the "material bank" and the "numbers bank" were, an email to the company quickly answered my question. With the on-line support and downloads, parents may use a single activity book set for all the children being taught.

I would have serious reservations about using this program with a child enrolled in public school simply because the child would be so far ahead in math that he or she would be bored stiff in class. For a homeschooled child though, Shiller Math will offer a tremendous advantage. At $299.95, the price may seem steep, but if you consider that it takes the place of Kindergarten through third grade math curricula AND manipulatives, Shiller Math Kit I is an outstanding value.

Shiller Math, Kit II - Household

Shiller Math Kit II continues with the Montessori method of math study for children aged nine to twelve. Using manipulatives, students do "hands-on" math all the way up to pre-algebra level. The author says that about thirty minutes per day is a "sufficient" quantity of time for study.

Manipulatives in Kit II - Household include the following:

  • Paper fraction circles
  • Paper fraction chips
  • Paper geo shapes
  • Paper money (American dollars)
  • Large calculator
  • Small plastic directional compass
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Deck of cards
  • Plastic three-dimensional shapes (cube, cylinder, etc.)
  • Tape measure
  • Wooden base 10 unit blocks
  • Cooking scale
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Plastic compass for measuring angles
  • Homework set including compass for drawing circles, six inch ruler, pencil sharpener, etc.
  • Supplies -- twelve colored markers, pencil, pen, box of sixteen crayons, Post-it Notes, padded worksheets
  • Shiller Math Kit II Songs CD and lyrics sheets

A Shiller Math Kit II with fewer manipulatives (just fraction circles and trays, decimal chips, and geo shapes) may be purchased for $299.95. Kit II has four student books and four answer guides. The student books are Activity Guides 4, 5, and 6, and a specialized book covering fractions that may be done concurrently with the Activity Guides. In contrast with Kit I, Shiller Math Kit II has separate answer guides for each manual. Activities are not reproduced in these guides, but rather a list of answers is given.

Mr. Shiller recommends doing the Review Activity tests in the first book (Book 4) to determine where the student should begin. Parents who do not have Kit I may download the tests from it to assist them in deciding a student's strengths and weaknesses if the student does not perform well on the first test in Book 4.

Shiller Math offers many support options to help parents and students to be successful with the program. First, the books are completely scripted. The parent does not need to worry about preparation beyond having the manipulatives within reach. Second, the company has a toll-free phone number to call for immediate assistance and a Yahoogroups email discussion loop for interaction with other users. Finally, additional copies of Activity Book pages, including tests, may be downloaded from the Shiller Math website so families with several children using the program need not purchase additional books.

Topics in Kit II range from basic math to geometry to pre-algebra. Time telling, money, temperature scales, playing cards, map scales, and compass directions are covered along with the expected math topics for this age range. Etymology of math-related words and mini-biographies of famous mathematicians add interest for the more verbally oriented students. Book 6 ends with pre-algebra concepts such as exponents and solving for the unknown. The Fraction Activity Book addresses all aspects of fractions in an easy-to-understand manner and has word problems in which the student applies his knowledge.

The songs on the CD are mostly chants set to a light rock style. They have simple, repetitive lyrics to guarantee memorization of the concepts covered. Topics include square roots, geometry, decimals, percents, and much more.

Recommendation: Shiller Math Kit II continues in the same manner as Kit I. The hands-on activities combined with visual problems in the book and the parent's reading of instructions will allow all types of learners to benefit. The breadth of material covered is outstanding, and the student should have no trouble moving immediately to algebra after finishing Book 6. The songs on the CD are in a style likely to be of interest to students in the target age range.

Shiller Math Kit II uses a spiral method so the program may need to be adapted for students who need extra reinforcement or more time on one subject. Additionally, more problems may be needed for practice, but the parent can easily find some worksheets on the internet or can make up more of their own activities based upon the format in the Activity Books

As with Kit I, the parent may suffer a bit of sticker shock over the price, but the program lasts over several years, bringing the price per year in line with programs such as Saxon. Also, discounts are often available. This program will carry the student through pre-algebra, making it an excellent value. resources related to this review:'s Math Resources Section for everything you need to teach math and enrich your curriculum!
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