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How Life of Fred Saved Math: An In-depth Review

Before Life of Fred

Math has long been the bane of my existence!  We started our long-term feud way back in the 5th grade.  After many, many years of struggling, I was relieved to finish my last math class during my freshman year in college.  Imagine my chagrin when I changed my major a year and a half later and found that I now had to suffer through not one, but two semesters of calculus!  This is the stuff nightmares are made of!  To this day, I still do not understand why Genetics majors (yes, I have a B.S. in Genetics) had to take two semesters of Engineering Calculus.

Suffer through, I did.  I won’t admit how many times I had to try, but I finally managed it.  I passed two calculus classes…barely.  Then, an hour later, it was gone.  I brain-dumped calculus…all of it!  I would NEVER have to worry about math again.  That era of my life was over!  Whoop!

Then one day, I woke up and realized I was homeschooling.  How did that happen?  Well, that’s a totally different story…but now, I would have to not only deal with dreaded math again, somehow I was supposed to help my dear, sweet, unsuspecting daughter understand something that I couldn’t explain.  

Once again, math became the bane of my existence.  I desperately wanted to save my daughter from the wounds of life-long battle with that undefeatable enemy, Math.  But I knew I couldn’t do it by myself.  I began painstakingly perusing every homeschool website I could find to help me decide which of the myriad of options would be the silver bullet in my battle with my arch nemesis. 

We didn’t want a never-ending parade of workbooks.  We needed something that would be re-usable.  After all, we had more kids coming up behind.  It’s really easy to start spending money hand over fist when you use consumable curricula for a bunch of kids.  Bear was my only one of school age at the time, but that was no reason not to think ahead!  When you rule out workbooks, you’re left with a much smaller pool of options.

After consulting at length with my husband, we finally made a choice.

…and it was wrong.

But I wasn’t going to let that stop me!  I was going to stick it out.  This was the material we had chosen, and it would work, come Hell or high water!

Bear was miserable.  She was falling further and further behind.  Math was becoming her arch nemesis too, and I was just making it worse.  Math became a fight every. single. day.  As soon as I brought out the math book, she would just shut down.  I could see it, and it broke my heart.  By this time, Lizard was starting school too.  She started pretty strong, but then noticed all of Bear’s protestation.  She started saying that she hated math, and she had barely begun!  Something had to give.

So I started experimenting, curriculum-hopping, really.  As we all know, that can be a big problem with math in particular.  But I just knew that eventually, we’d find the right solution.  We had started with Strayer-Upton’s Practical Arithmetics, we tried a little Math Mammoth, and some Miquon Math, then Math Lessons for a Living Education (which is a workbook, by the way!).  Every one had their strong points, but they were far outweighed by problems for us.

Fred to the rescue

During all of my searching, I had run across the Life of Fred books several times.  I wrote them off as a fun little supplement for kids who really enjoyed math.  I figured the story line either overshadowed any math content, or that it was so contrived that it would be miserable to read.

But one day, in my desperation, for some reason, I opened a sample.  It wasn’t tortuous to read…it was actually pretty funny.  It was definitely outlandish, but entertaining.  Bear would enjoy the story, of that I was certain. 

Perhaps even more surprising, however was the amount of information contained in the brief little sample chapter I had downloaded.  There was actually math (and a lot of other stuff) there!

So, I headed over to review site after review site; forum after forum.  I really wanted to finally get things right and defeat Math once and for all.  It turns out, the reviews for the Life of Fred series are actually quite mixed.  Some said there wasn’t enough practice, others said there was just enough.  A few folks claimed that the series couldn’t stand as a complete curriculum, others said it was complete and added elements from across all the subjects.  Nearly everyone agreed, however, that their kids enjoyed Life of Fred.  

I knew Bear was an avid reader.  I thought a literature-based approach to math might be just the thing to finally make math manageable.  So, I went to Educents, and I ordered.  I started out with the first 4 books in the Elementary Series.  A few weeks later, I ordered the rest of the series, plus the Intermediate Series, and Fractions and Decimals and Percents.

About Life of Fred

I’ll get back to my story in just a second.  First, I want to pause and tell you a little bit more about Life of Fred.

The names of these books are enough to make you giggle a little before you ever learn anything else!  The elementary books are named alphabetically.  So, the first book starts with A, the second with B, and so on.  There are no grade-level designations on the books themselves.  The author recommends these elementary and intermediate books for Kindergarten through 4th grade.  The names are:

Next up is the Intermediate Series:

After that, the names get much less creative (for 5th grade right up through college):

Life of Fred is a whole series of books for elementary, clear up through college level math.  There is also a series of early readers and grammar books, for those interested.  So far, we have used the elementary series.  I have the intermediate series waiting on my shelf along with Fractions, and Decimals and Percents.  I also have the first set of early readers on order for my boys.

The Life of Fred stories follow a five year old genius named Fred who is a math professor at KITTENS University in Kansas.  He gets himself into all sorts or ridiculous situations.  After all, while he is a math genius, he’s still a five year old boy, with no one but his doll, Kingie to look out for him.  He uses math in all kinds of ways to help himself or others.  Sometimes, he just enjoys playing with numbers.  

At the end of each chapter is a “You’re Turn to Play” section where students have around 3 to 5 problems to work out.  Word problems will not phase a student who is accustomed to working with Fred!  These short little problems are jam-packed with material.  Not only does the author test understanding of the skills already presented with these sections, he also uses them to illustrate methods to solve new types of problems.  Starting in Cats, there are also useful “Rows of Practice” in most chapters.  These rows are very helpful for practicing and learning math facts.

I also really like that the author brings all kinds of other lessons into the story as well.  Aside from math, Fred learns about Archimedes, star clusters in the Orion constellation, and a little about homonyms all in the first few books.  The stories and practice questions are also a fairly good barometer for reading comprehension.

Now for just a few cons for these books…after all, life can’t be all sunshine and fluffy bunnies!

First off, there isn’t a whole lot of paper and pencil practice with this course.  For us, this was actually a selling point, but for many, it may be a liability.  I’ve been using games and Times Tales to take the place of extra worksheets and drill.  Plus, there is no shortage of extra math material in this house.  If we need extra practice on a concept, we can find it!

Second, some of the subject material that enters into the story may be a little offensive for some families.  So far, I have not had a problem with any of it, but I use some of the situations as teaching points about the fallen nature of man.  There is a recurring character, C.C. Coalback, who is constantly taking advantage of Fred.  After all, Fred may be a well-read math genius, but at the end of the day, he’s still a naive five year old with no one but his doll to look after him.

Additionally, Fred never eats.  Whenever he gets food, he puts it in his pocket “for later”.  Now, I have 5 voracious eaters at home, so they find this part of the story particularly amusing.  However, if you have a little one who doesn’t eat so well, you may find this problematic.  

Lastly, the answers for the “You’re Turn to Play” questions are right on the next page of the book.  So, it’s not hard for students to take a peek at the answers before trying to solve them on their own.  However, if this becomes a problem for your student, there are a number of ways to fix it, if you get creative.

The Rest of Our Life of Fred Story

Now that we’ve found Life of Fred, math time looks a little different at our house.  Bear has started doing 5 chapters a day.  Now, eventually, she is going to have to slow down.  But, right now, she’s still working below her skill level.  The author of Life of Fred suggests that all elementary aged students, in fourth grade and below, begin with Apples.  That was a ton of review for Bear…which was a really good thing for her!  Right now, she’s about to finish Goldfish.  I’ve been reading along a book or two ahead of her, and I have a feeling our pace will slow significantly within the next couple books.

Lizard had been working through Miquon Math, but has recently requested to go to working just with Fred, just like Bear.  She has already worked through Apples and Butterflies, so she’s ready to move on to Cats.  She does not move through the books nearly as quickly, since she has pretty much caught up with her level already.

We do use some math games to practice our facts, as I mentioned earlier.  We also use some notebooking pages so that I can make sure everyone is understanding the things they read.

Bear is already carrying over a lot of the information she learns into her everyday life.  She will often make mention of some random pattern that she finds as she goes about her day.  She tells me all about it, and then says, “I can play with numbers, too…just like Fred!”  It’s music to a homeschooling momma’s ears!

I can also see how public or privately schooled students could really benefit from the Life of Fred series as a supplement to their math work from school, or possibly to keep up their skills during the summer.  There is no shortage of problem-solving practice in these books!

I know we are still at the beginning of our journey with the Life of Fred, but, I really do have to wonder, “Where were these books when I was learning math?”  Perhaps if I had been able to travel with Fred, my math skills might be a whole lot better!  Who knows, maybe Fred will even be able to teach this old momma a few new math tricks.

If you are interested in trying out the Life of Fred series, I’d really appreciate it if you would use my affiliate link for Educents

Click Here to go to the Life of Fred storefront  

Educents has fantastic prices on the Life of Fred books, from Apples all the way up to Five Days.  They also carry Times Tales, which I mentioned as a supplement for this program.  I do get a bonus if you make a purchase using this link.  However, I have not been paid or compensated in any way for writing this review.  All of the opinions given are my own!

How Life of Fred Saved Math: An In-depth Review