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Math Lessons For A Living Education Review Level 1 & 2

As we near the middle of our school year, I thought it would be really helpful to give you an in depth review of Math Lessons For A Living Education (MLFALE) for level 1 & 2. We used level 1 for kindergarten and level 2 for 1st grade.

I also filmed a flip through of level 1 and level 2 on YouTube which I’ve linked below.

This is my opinion as it relates to my kids’ learning styles, and includes everything I love about this math curriculum and also why I have decided to try something else mid year. If I don’t love the switch, we’ll be back using Masterbooks because my kids are learning and doing well with it.

Math Lessons For A Living Education Review: What makes it different from other math curriculums?

There is SO much about Masterbooks math that I love. I hesitated to write this review because I don’t want it to sound like Masterbooks is “less than”. It just uses a different approach than many curriculums.

Here’s what makes it different:

  • It’s The opposite of math programs that are simply pages of drills.
  • Math Lessons For A Living Education blends Charlotte Mason philosophy of short story based lessons, copywork, oral narration (retelling what they understand), and hands on real life math.
  • Lessons say they take 15-30 minutes each day. (Though in my experience 10-15 is more accurate).
  • There are 7 levels, K-6 (not necessarily equal to grade levels), so if this fits you can use it all throughout elementary.
  • Books are cheap! You’ll pay around $35-40 per level or “year”.
  • It’s grab ‘n’ go, no prep needed. However there is a teacher’s companion you can buy once used for all levels. It includes teaching tips, how to adapt the course for different learning styles, recipes from all the levels, and how to use manipulatives.

Why I like Masterbooks as a company

If you read my 2020-2021 curriculum choices for kindergarten and first grade, we decided to try out Masterbooks for math, language arts, and science. So much about this company impressed me, like:

  • It’s commitment to the bible. They are an evangelical Christian company that incorporates bible teachings into a lot of lessons, though certainly not all.
  • Lessons are short, never overwhelming when we approach new material. (This can also be a downside if your child needs a bit more practice).
  • There’s time to do other things, like play a math game or do an extra practice sheet if needed.
  • Curriculum is grab ‘n’ go. Just do the next day’s lesson no prep needed.
  • There is a little story in the front of each lesson that incorporates real life math. (More on this in a minute.)

The language arts and science have been such a great fit for my kids and easy to teach! You can read my full review on their language arts level 1 here.

The math has left me feeling unsure. I love some parts but feel the need to try out another style of math to see if my kids might do well with a bit more of a challenge. If they don’t, I can always come back to Masterbooks.

Why I don’t like Level 1 Math Lessons For A Living Education

A child finishing up a math worksheet from Math Lessons For A Living Education level 1.
Masterbooks Math Level 1

It’s a little plain.

To be fair, I left a colorful, vibrant, game filled math curriculum to try out Masterbooks, which is overall a lot less “fun” and “creative”.

For example, instead of having kids practice adding up to 10 by combining the lady bug spots on each side of their wings (old curriculum), Masterbooks just has an equation written that has them solve 4+2= . And as a parent you can use blocks or popsicle sticks to make it visual.

I just missed the creative, fun, colorful math pages from our old curriculum. Sigh.

So much copywork

At first, I thought “How cool, my kindergartener is learning to write her numbers well!” But then, my goodness, there is SO much drudgery…I mean copywork. That may be my biggest beef with this whole level.

This bores both my kids to pieces! So we skip a lot of it to avoid frustration and boredom.

The author of the math book even says parents should skip the copywork if it’s too much for the child. But most days half the lessons in level 1 were writing numbers! So you feel a bit jipped on math skipping it all the time.

The stories are a bit long and don’t always teach math

I love the idea of living math (real life applicable math). I still do, and we read Life Of Fred as a math read aloud for this reason. It’s an AWESOME supplement to any math curriculum.

However, I dislike many of the stories that begin each week’s lesson (there’s one per week), and find myself skimming them for any math sentences that may be important to the lesson toward the end of the stories.

The stories themselves are a tad dull, dare I say? It follows twins Charlie and Charlotte so there is a story line. However there’s often little or no math tie in to the lesson. Especially with level 1.

With level 2 I’ve seen them be much more math focused, as the stories teach the child any new math concept.

The author does do a good job of incorporating other cool info on nature and other neat facts in the stories, which I do like.

I know some mamas just skip them. Mainly I wish they were either shorter, or actually teaching more math in the stories like the one below does. (Below is an example of how the story taught my son in level 2 btw).

A living math story by Masterbooks that explains how to perform double digit subtraction using borrowing.
Here’s how they explain borrowing for the first time in level 2.

How level 2 Math Lessons For A Living Education is going

Overall, I like this level better, and if what we are switching to doesn’t work out, I will come back to Math Lessons For A Living Education.

There’s a lot of new material covered for my 1st grader this year like double digit addition and subtraction, carrying, borrowing, coin work, and more.

I see the benefit of fewer worksheet problems per day because my son can complete them but doesn’t get bogged down.

For example, the photo below shows only 4 problems, which was the entire day’s math. (Same for every day that week). It took my son about 15-20 minutes to do those 4 problems, because it was a new concept and I had to walk him through each step.

His brain was tired, so we didn’t do extra. Each day he remembered the steps more and more.

Level 2 of Math Lessons For A Living Education practices borrowing from the tens column, like these 4 problems.

It’s challenging him, and I know the pace is right because we don’t “fly” through several day’s work at time anymore like we did in the beginning.

Let me reiterate that this is a good math curriculum! And it could be the answer to your child liking math vs hating math if what you have isn’t working or is taking WAY too long.

So why are we switching you ask?

Why I’m leaving Math Lessons For A Living Education Mid Year

Math Lessons For A Living Education is considered one of the “lightest” homeschool math programs out there which just worries me a bit if my son is math minded (he’s very bright, but I’m not totally sure how to tell yet if he’s math minded to be honest!)

Here’s why I’m going to try something else for a while:

Partly it’s just my fears

I gotta put this at the top. Because I’m susceptible to doubt like anyone! It’s a very unique real life math approach with short lessons and I just get worried I’m not doing “enough”.

I get it, not every kid is going to an engineer. Not every kid is going to be math minded. But if I do have a kid like that…will this create a strong base for thinking about numbers? I wish I felt confident to answer that!

Kate, a former math teacher turned homeschool mom and math blogger talks about how to choose a math curriculum.

She listed 11 of the most common homeschool math programs and summarized that MLFALE is the “least rigorous by far” and considers this to be a “last resort program”.

However it is raved about by parents who’s kids were in tears with time consuming and strenuous math programs like Abeka or Saxon. It brings the love of learning back with shorter lessons and fewer problems. And thats a win and reason to use it!

It’s also considered great for kids who struggle with math. There’s stories and real life application involved (for instance cooking a recipe is a lesson all by itself).

Parents like it with multiple kids! Math no longer takes up such a big chunk of their homeschool day.

But right now we are neither of those. So I wonder if something a bit harder will be beneficial or give my son better number sense?

I could be wrong.

Too much copywork

We do skip some of the number copywork (there were 4 days in a row where the entire math lesson was supposed to be just writing numbers from 900-1000.

This just seemed like a waste of math time to me so we did one day (900-925) and then moved on.

I feel like we usually need a little more math practice

Because the lessons are pretty short, I feel like most often a little more practice would be beneficial.

We didn’t buy the extra practice workbook (it’s around $15), but perhaps that could be the best solution for you if you want to use this but worry there’s not enough practice.

I did create a few of my own worksheets that we laminated and use such as my:

Yellow Printable Math Clock with moveable minute and hour hand, held together by a brad.
This download also comes with a blue clock and a black and white clock. We use it often for level 1 and level 2.
double digit subtraction worksheet
This double digit subtraction sheet comes as a digital download with a page for double digit addition as well.

There has been minimal help on how to teach MLFALE

When it comes to easy stuff in level 1, I don’t feel like I “need” help explaining a lot.

However, in level 2 my son wasn’t grasping carrying and borrowing, and I felt like maybe I was explaining it in a confusing way. Besides the little intro story in the book, there was no help on how to explain this or show it better to my son!

Eventually we got it, and I explained it in new ways as best I could. But this worries me that as concepts get harder that I’ll be left on my own too much to explain things.

I have been curious about another math program

The last reason I’m switching is that I’m just curious to see how my son and daughter would do with a different approach.

The one I’m switching to is opposite of Math Lessons For A Living Education. I know a few moms using it who like it, and it’s earned a very good reputation for setting a solid math foundation.

It’s a traditional textbook/workbook format with more practice problems, so we’ll see how that goes.

Are levels the same as grades with Masterbooks?

Masterbooks math level 2 workbook paired with right brain flashcards for practicing addition facts
We bought the right brain flashcards for $15 or so. These flashcards are used often in the lessons, and have the answer on them. You can read why on their website, but it helps them to take a picture in their minds of the right answer.

No, levels do not equal grades. Masterbooks does state that level 1 is recommended for 1st grade, ages 5-7 years old.

But when I looked through the scope and sequence of level 1 for my 1st grader, it covered almost everything he covered last year in kindergarten with The Good And The Beautiful.

It would have been a repeat of information for us, so we went up to level 2 which was perfect for us for 1st grade.

I think that some parents find Masterbooks “too easy” when it could legitimately be that their child needs to get to harder material later in the book, or simply jump up a level.

Do you have to organize or plan math lessons ahead of time?

No, this is as open and go as it gets! Just turn to day 1, and the next day day 2. Each Sunday I’d put one week’s worth of work into their weekly binder.

This year I organized all the curriculum for the year (by week) in our homeschool crate system. It’s easy to tear out one week’s worth of work with all of Masterbooks subjects because they label each week (which includes 5 days for math).

Will we finish early since lessons are short?

Yes for my kindergarener who’s on lesson 31 out of 36 as we near the halfway year point. So she’ll “finish” the year by Christmas break.

I have to decide if I want her to jump to level 2 material to finish out kindergarten, or find something else to do for a while while she matures a bit. I can’t imagine her doing what my son is doing now, carrying and borrowing and such.

We are 5 weeks ahead of schedule with my 1st grader. He can often do more than one day because lessons are short, but the lessons are getting harder which slows him down.

Some Masterbooks moms will do the whole week of math in a day and just do other things the rest of the week. There’s room for review or games or to calling it good till the next week.

Other parents who finish early just move on to the next level early. Because eventually kids will slow down when they reach harder material.

Masterbooks vs The Good And The Beautiful for kindergarten

I ask myself why we are finishing kindergarten math in November through Masterbooks, while it took me a full year to finish The Good And The Beautiful Level K last year with my other child…

You can read my review of kindergarten math by TGATB here.

I think there was a LOT more busy work with TGATB. We had to do the “daily dose” which included the calendar, coloring in a chart, and writing the date, and more.

Then there was sometimes art added in. Or a poem. Always a lesson to cover, worksheet to do, and often a game to learn and play. And always an optional bonus activity (which we skipped because my son was just done).

Masterbooks doesn’t do games. Or a daily checklist of the same things to practice. Or art. It’s just a short story, and bam, do the (very short) worksheet and (likely) copying some numbers. That’s why it’s going faster.

Also, The Good And The Beautiful is scripted. That means you read it and it tells you what to say and how to teach. Masterbooks is not scripted. Just thought I’d point that out.

Does Masterbooks give kids a good number sense?

Popsicle sticks and place value village houses used to practice math problems.
Masterbooks teaches place value using “houses”. There’s the 1’s house, 10’s house, and 100’s house. When we get up to 10, I wrap them with a rubberband and put the stack in the 10’s house.

I think a lot of this is going to depend on how you use manipulatives, and if you are using their way (or another) to teach place value.

My gut tells me my kids are developing a good number sense, but they are definitely not being exposed to different ways to add and subtract numbers like we had last year. And my son is not developing good mental math.

For example, our old curriculum had the kids practice addition and subtraction using numbers, tallies, a part part whole mat, fingers, a number line, an abacus, cubes, 10 frames, adding dots on dominos, etc. TONS of visuals.

With Masterbooks, almost none of that.

I really just grab my popsicle sticks (they suggest beans) and have them see 9 sticks take away 5 equals 4. That’s about it. There have been no 10 frames or creative ways to get kids counting.

Maybe this is how other curriculums are, but it leaves me feeling like math could be more fun? And presented with a little more variety. Maybe I’m missing something.

Is Math Lessons For A Living Education too easy?

Sets of 10 popsicle sticks wrapped with rubberbands to practice place value.
The place value mat has made more sense to my kids. Masterbooks recommends laminating this sheet so you can write numbers on it too.

Masterbooks has a reputation for being “too easy”, or “not enough” by some homeschoolers. If you just flip through the book and glance at a day’s work, you’ll see why that is.

One day of math usually consists of 1 page, sometimes 2. There are not a ton of practice problems per page and it’s common to finish a day’s worth of math in 10-15 minutes, about half the time most math curriculums seem to take.

It’s very Charlotte Mason in this way, which sticks to short lessons for all subjects.

While I’ve also felt like daily lessons seem a bit short, I can 100% say my kids never complain or cry in frustration, and are soaking it in and learning.

I only have their full attention for 10-15 minutes per subject at their ages, so Masterbooks seems to fit developmentally.

But it’s hard to trust the process! More is NOT always better if they are not soaking it in.

What math I’ve decided to try instead

We are going to try switching my 1st grader to Singapore Primary Math US edition. It’s kind of a shocking switch and 100% not going to be similar at all. If we don’t like it and switch back to Masterbooks I’ll update this post.

But my son doesn’t appear to struggle with math, so I just want to see if a more challenging program will work for us.

I looked into Singapore Math last year too, because it’s a top notch program. But I was turned off because there was a textbook, a workbook, and an instructors guide for each half of the year (so 6 books for a full year). That’s a lot! I’m still intimidated.

Update summer 2021: Read here how our second half of 1st grade went switching to Singapore. Also, theres a new version of Singapore Primary out at Rainbow Resource that only uses 2 books per semester (so the home instructors guide and student workbook). Thank goodness!

It’s about $100 per year for the each level, but if you have more than one kid it will only be about $40/kid per year after that because you’ll ONLY buy the workbooks again.

If You Like Math Lessons For A Living Education but want to improve mental math, try THIS

This is my update half a year after leaving MLFALE for Singapore. Before we started Singapore, I took a month off to do Addition Facts That Stick by Kate Snow. O MY GOODNESS run and get this program! It’s so fun, just 4 weeks, and both my kids’ mental math improved (and mine) by a long shot!

I tell everyone about this in real life too because it changed our math outlook. (FYI, she uses the same mental math principles taught in Singapore 1A…which I didn’t know at the time).

It was easy for me to teach too. Here’s my full review on Addition Facts That Stick.

There’s no perfect curriculum, so find what works for your family.

We are 2.5 years into our homeschooling journey and I’m realizing every single curriculum has families who rave over it and families that criticize. It’s up to us as parents to find something that helps us feel confident to teach while helping our kids desire to learn.

We are on a journey to find something I enjoy teaching that my kids also respond well to. I hope this Math Lessons For A Living Education Review was helpful to you!

I’d love to hear what math curriculum you are using and how it’s working for your family! Leave a comment below and be sure to head over to Instagram if you want to see daily homeschool life 🙂


Friday 28th of October 2022

I see where the shorter lessons can feel like they aren't enough, but I just thought I'd add a comment on my experience. We switched to MFLE in 3rd grade with my daughter and used it from 3-6, she was then ready for pre-algebra in 7th, Algebra in 8th, and is in Geometry in 9th this year. We started it in kindergarten with my now 3rd grader and will use it all the way through. It starts off very gentle but has them well prepared for upper level math courses.


Sunday 6th of November 2022

Thank you for this comment, because I've heard from many people with older kids doing Masterbooks that the younger years do seem easier, but that math picks up in the later years and that it's done that way on purpose.


Tuesday 2nd of March 2021

What have you decided or feel about the switch? I am currently using Singapore for my pre-k and 1st grade kids and I love it, but my 1st grader is really struggling and bogged down with it. I have looked into MB but was very scared it would leave her behind so did not switch, however, I am tempted to try it. Update me on how you are liking your switch? Thanks!


Thursday 4th of March 2021

Hi Courtnie, we have switched and so far I am liking Singapore "ok" to be honest. The biggest downside to me compared to the other maths we have used (Masterbooks level 2 for 1st and The Good And The Beautiful for K) is that I'm now dealing with 3 books instead of 1. So I'm trying to pre-read the home instructors guide, do a hands on activity from it, then flip to the textbook, then hand my son the independent workbook. It just seems overwhelming to me, but my son is doing fine with it so far since we're starting at level 1A which is review for him at this point. I also don't love that it's not clear how much to do each day. Masterbooks has SHORT lessons clearly marked day 45, day 46, etc and easy to pace. So short we could often do 2 lessons or 1 lesson + a math game. What I'm loving about Singapore compared to Masterbooks is that my son is getting WAY more practice and really being taught ways to think about numbers and visually see how he's getting the answers. With Masterbooks, I just don't think there's enough practice in the main book, like you'd have to add some math games or additional practice in there somewhere. There's also a big emphasis with Singapore on memorizing math facts. With Masterbooks, we just didn't grasp the math facts somehow? Possibly my fault? I may have missed something in my teaching. But I did buy the "right brain flashcards" that come with the answers on them...but it never reassured me he knew the answer. By the end of the year I knew he didn't know a LOT of his math facts actually. But I did love Masterbooks highlights practical ways we use math when teaching a new concept, and introduced a lot of variety in level 2 like measurement, money, carrying and borrowing, etc. If Singapore could give me 1 or 2 books max to follow instead of 3, I think I'd be completely happy with it. With that being said, my fear with Masterbooks was that there was often so little instruction for the me to teach (it teaches to the child through the story) that when math gets harder I worried how I'd know how to teach a concept if my child didn't understand and if I also couldn't remember. Hope that helps!


Friday 4th of December 2020

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts honestly and throughly. Why has it been so hard for some moms to do this regarding MB and TGTB?! Gah!

We have similar aged children and I started with Right Start (too teacher intensive, too spiral for us) and switched around to way too many programs before settling into Singapore. We’re really enjoying it but I do hear you on how many components there are to it (so much flipping back and forth!) It makes crate/binder systems difficult.

I am starting TGTB K with my younger kiddo soon because it seem similar to Right Start but... better! Haha.

Question, why have you decided not to go with TGTB 1st instead of MB (if Singapore isn’t a good fit?)

Good luck to you sister!