2 Apr 2014

A look back at MEP Primary

One of the big disadvantages of having only one child is that I only get one chance to get it right.  I will only ever do AO1 once; I will only ever do one AO7.  I will never be an Über-homeschool Mum, with twenty years under her belt and another two kids of ten yet to graduate.  I have one go through and then it's quits.

All of this means that just as I've finally got the hang of MEP Primary, Jemimah has moved into Secondary, and I'm having to learn all over again.  Poor guinea pig of a kid.  Actually, it was starting MEP7 that helped consolidate it all for me, and since it is all too late for Jemimah, I thought I could at least share my new found cleverness with some of you.  Sound good?

The thing I want to talk about most, is how much of each lesson you should get through.  Through the last six years, I tried most permutations and combinations with my guinea pig daughter, and only now do I think I have it right. Now that we're finished and mucking up Secondary.  So here is my wisdom, such as it is.

First, let's look at a few different statements from the MEP website:
  • Challenges or extension work set for able students…no one is inactive. (a)
  • The 5th lesson each week is for practice and revision. (b)
  • The first few weeks provide introductory activities to help you assess the capabilities of your class and to bring them together at a suitable starting point for the systematic treatment which follows. (b)
So, what do these statements say?  First - that some of the work is for more able students.  Second - the fifth lessons are for revision and practice.  Revision.  If your child totally understands the work on these sheets he does not need to do the fifth lessons.  In that case, these sheets would be mere busywork.  On the other hand, we all know that practice makes perfect.  If your child needs more practice, then do use these sheets - that's what they're for. Third - If your child is new to MEP then the introductory revision lessons at the beginning of each year will give you a pretty good idea of what gaps your child might have in coming to MEP from a different programme.  Do the lessons and observe your child closely.  If, however, your child has been doing MEP right through, then he probably doesn't need to do these lessons.

Okay.  In one paragraph we've tossed out about 30 percent of the year's work.  What do we do with the extra time?  Just this - we use it where we need it.  Some MEP lessons are really quick and easy (if they're too easy, then just skip them); there are other MEP lessons that are not easy at all.  In fact, they're downright difficult.  If your child struggles in a lesson, split it in two.  If your child needs more revision in a concept, then revise for a few days.  Go on, you have the time.

Which brings me to my next point.  Don't slow MEP down too much.  It's spiral.  The material will be covered again.  Over and over again. If your child really doesn't get it, then it probably doesn't matter.  For some reason, Jemimah really struggled to learn to tell the time.  The lessons moved much too fast for her.  She needed practice on 12 o'clock and half past two, not 2335 and 1342 on the 24 hour clock. When we reviewed Time last week in MEP7, however, she did fine with all the work.  She has jumped her road block and moved forward easily.  It was not worth beating her over the head with the kitchen clock in MEP2 after all, and it has probably left her indelibly scarred for life and up for thousands in counselling bills.  Poor child.  Anyway, I say aim to get one year's worth on MEP work done within a a year.  If you split a lesson in two, the you need to skip a 5th lesson to make up.  A MEP year is 35 weeks; aim to be done in 36 or 40 or whatever your school year is.  You may even get done more quickly, although sometimes you run into trouble if you reach something like long division too early before your child is developmentally ready for it.  Then you'll need to take a break. (Been there; done that - we did SCM's Business maths for a term just to slow down for long division and to renew Jemimah's love for maths.)

Moving right along.  Next, have a look at the lesson plans, and at the top you'll find something that says something like this:

R: Place value
C: Extending numbers to 10 000; counting, reading, writing, ordering
E: Vocabulary

This is from MEP4 Lesson Plan 31, and what it tells me is that in this lesson we hope to revise place value, cover numbers to 10 000 as our core work, and if the work is done in time, then we can learn some new vocabulary.  In my own case, Jemimah finds maths fairly easy, and so we almost always looked at the extension work.  On the other hand, she rarely needed the revision work. If I was unsure, I set her a few questions to check.  You know your child.  Does he struggle?  Would he benefit with lots of review of earlier work?  Perhaps he is more average.  Some things he does really well, and would benefit from some further extension, other work needs lots of reviewing.  Or perhaps you, too, have a Jemimah. When you only have a class of one, you should at least ensure that you are tailoring the work to that child's level, yes?

Looking again at Lesson 31, I would consider Activity 1 to be introductory and for all students.  It is good, because it is visual. Question 2, I would consider to be revision, and Activity 3 to be extension (although it looks pretty easy, in fact). Q1 of the Practice Book is Revision also, and I would at most set one for an average student to ensure he remembered how to do them. If the student gets it right, move on; if he gets it wrong he does some more. Question 2 is revision too.  For an able student, leave it out.  Also leave it out for students with a pencil allergy.  Have those kids do it orally instead. Have them sort them into increasing order, though, if they needs that.

That leaves Q3 and Q4.  Set half of the exercises.  Alternate questions works well, because often they get harder as you go through.  If he gets them all right then he is done.  If he needs more practice, he does the rest.

Pronounce a sum wrong, or right––it cannot be something between the two. That which is wrong must remain wrong: the child must not be let run away with the notion that wrong can be mended into right. The future is before him: he may get the next sum right, and the wise teacher will make it her business to see that he does, and that he starts with new hope. But the wrong sum must just be let alone. Therefore his progress must be carefully graduated; but there is no subject in which the teacher has a more delightful consciousness of drawing out from day to day new power in the child.
Charlotte Mason Home Education pp 260-261

Miss Mason reminds us to set problems that are within the child's grasp.  He is not to be frustrated by question after question that he already knows, but similarly, he is not to get answer after answer wrong. By setting every second question, then the child has an opportunity to demonstrate that he either knows the work…or he doesn't.  If he gets them all correct then maths is done.  If he gets one wrong, then set him another one.  Only this time sit over him and make sure he gets this one right! A child that struggles may need to do all the examples, but this is not a punishment, and shouldn't feel like one.  It is just more practice. Reassure, encourage, give positive feedback.

Over and over again I hear that MEP is too long, or too complicated.  I hear that mums take hours over each lesson, or that they split each lesson in two and do one year's work over two.  I say don't!  Look at the lesson plans - be prepared, and Know Thy Child.  Does he need revision?  Is he average?  Is he advanced?  Is this just busywork, or does he need more practice and to linger over a particular concept?  Is the thing he doesn't understand part of the core work that he will need to advance, like knowing numbers to 10 000, or is it something he can learn next time - like the 24 hour clock, or Roman numerals.  Is there something that particularly interests him, or he would understand better with some concrete examples and some manipulatives? Could you make up some play $10 000 notes and play shop and buy a house or something?

MEP is a fantastic tool, but it is a programme designed for a classroom of students all of different abilities and skills.  Your classroom consists of one, or at most two students in a level.  Mould the lesson plans, make them fit your child. Use them for your purposes.  Don't make your child fit into a classroom that doesn't even exist.

Recently, a friend was telling me about her daughter who was struggling with maths.  I listened, but then I asked my friend who she was comparing her daughter to.  A classroom?  The fact is, that young lady is absolutely average for her Year 8 class, because she is the only student in it.  There is nobody worse than her, but equally, there is nobody doing better, either. When you use MEP,  remember that you are not teaching a UK curriculum; you are teaching your own precious son or daughter.  And then make the curriculum work for you.  Chances are, MEP will work just how you always dreamed a maths programme could work for your child.  It did for mine.

Even if I did make lots of mistakes along the way.


  1. Thanks for another great MEP post.

  2. Hi Jeanne, I'm only partway through Y3 with my oldest (Y3 and Y2 with the others), but I agree with a lot of this. I particularly appreciate your permission to skip parts with my students who are all quite able. I'm not good at skipping.

    Anyway, I wanted to add some suggestions. A lot of parts like question 2 in your example have a copymaster that can be printed. I use the "Copymasters" in a sheet protector with dry erase markers. The kids like that. The whiteboard is my friend. Also, much of the work - particularly in these younger years - is to be done in groups. Help your student! Don't give away the store, but help. It'll stretch you too.

    Thanks for the post! -dawn

  3. Your first paragraph made me smile. I have 5 children. I didn't use AO with the oldest two, now in college. I am now in AO5 with my third child. This is his 5th year using Ambleside Online. Child 4 and 5 are on AO1 . I look to your blog for inspiration, and I wish I had done the same with my oldest two. They had a fine education also, and I even tried AO one year when they were in 7th & 8th grade, but I am sorry to say that at the time I didn't trust AO enough to continue using it through the high school years. I needed something a little more "traditional".

    From what I can see through your blog, you are doing an excellent job your one and only time around. Take it from someone who gets a go at it 5 times and finds so much inspiration in your blog.

  4. Thanks for the MEP post some of us required from you... it is absolutely fantastic. I was pondering about some of what you so wonderfully said, and now I can take your experience and fly with it!

    But I did not know the components so well, since I have used it for a short time and for the first three years only, and now with your explanation, I do understand it much better.

  5. This post was definitely worth the wait, Jeanne. Thank you so much. We started Year 1 in January, and it took me at least 8 weeks to get a rhythm and feel for how MEP works. Miraculously for me, though, I did not become frustrated as I would normally do. I just assumed that it would take my son and I a little while to find our groove. And we have done so! And I love the way MEP is set up now! Still, the description of streams in this post, along with the permission to skip where appropriate, is a relief. Because were were getting a feel of it we barely made it through 7 weeks of MEP in a 12 week "school" period. Partly because I wasn't sure how to do it, partly because my son just wasn't getting it. Now that he is, though, we are finishing up week 13 of school (after a 1 week exam break for AO) and catching up now in MEP as we are finishing week 10. Normally this would stress me out. But it doesn't. Right now my son will need the revision work. While this may prove to be merely a matter of attending better to lessons or if he math will not be his strong suit time will tell. But I believe we have found a great fit in MEP and I have largely begun to implement it in our home because of you, Jeanne. Jemimah may have been your guinea pig but you have hundreds of AO children that your experiences will benefit. For this I am extremely thankful. Ever your - Bruce

  6. Thank you for this detailed post! I've read your advice on the AO forum about skipping parts of the lesson, and that's what has made MEP do-able for me (I have 5 kids). But having it broken down like this using a real lesson is great.

  7. Thank you for a great in depth post about MEP once again. This is a timely post, as I had decided to skip my son along in Mep as I feel it is time. I am so pleased to receive this affirmation. I am so appreciative of you taking the time to write this post today, it truly blessed me and God knows how timely it is. God bless you. xo

  8. I'm going to have to print this out and read it again. I've been thinking about MEP for a few years, since Silvia first mentioned it, but every time I look at the site it's overwhelming and I can't tell where to start or what to leave out.

    It sounds like I need to start with what you mentioned here: "If your child is new to MEP then the introductory revision lessons at the beginning of each year will give you a pretty good idea of what gaps your child might have in coming to MEP from a different programme."

    Where do I find that material? Sorry to be such a dope, but when I go to their site, there are dozens of links all over and I start clicking them and get overwhelmed. :-p

  9. Kelly, have you seen this post? It might help.


  10. Thank you so much for this timely post. You are the reason I was able to make MEP work, and I am always so grateful when you share your expertise.

  11. Thanks for your post. We've been using MEP for a while but sometimes it doesn't go as well as I think it should! Perhaps I am an ignoramus, but how do I tell which activities are classified as extensions?

  12. Em, can you see at the top of the lesson sheets, the activities are divided into revision, core and extension? In the example I've used, the vocabulary activities are extension. Make sense? Sometimes, they specifically label an activity as extension, but often not.

  13. PS You're certainly not an ignoramus! :)

  14. Thanks, Jeanne! I set up MEP, following your directions, and have been pleased. I have been fumbling to some of the same conclusions you reached (we're in Y3 & Y1 now) and this gives me a jump start AND validation. Always good to have a mentor! :)

  15. I am in the midst of researching homeschooling for my five and a half year old and am very, very drawn to AO. We started hs in jan this year with sonlight. Disappointed and I suspect, in my heart it was AO that was pulling me all along! My reading and research in to it is ongoing for now. We live in Dubai and hs resources are really scarce. Esp getting books organized...I would like to utilize the remaining of this year to read and store away as much as I can, even made a notebook just for my AO/Mason notes and then go about obtaining books/readers/extras. I would very much like to start my son on AO in jan'15. I hope to! Like you mine is also an only child. Now please be telling me, what is MEP??? Sorry, havent come across the term yet except here. Thankyou in advance.

  16. http://ohpeacefulday.blogspot.com.au/2009/06/mep-101.html

    This post should answer your MEP questions, Harshika. Feel free to quiz me on either AO or MEP. :)

  17. Great post! It took me all of last year and half of this year to realize we didn't have to do ALL of it! In January I submitted to the CM method of math for time. We do 30 minutes a day. Some days that means completing 3 lessons. Other days it means completing one math problem. And yet we finished the year early leaving us with summer to review and strengthen multiplication skills.

  18. This is really useful. I started this year using MEP with two children in different years. That didn't work well. I am now using it with one and love its rigor but am sure that we need to make it more useable. This is helpful.

  19. Thx for this post! It helped a lot! :)

  20. Hi Jeanne - you helped me before with mep on the ao forum, and here I am again .....did you ever write an mep 101 - for y7 and up? I know you were planning to do one last year but I have been absent from AO forum since then....Thanks for sharing and making the trail a little easier, Jo in the Uk x

  21. No, I haven't. Thanks for the prompt, though. I still can...

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