Do you hear things like: “I hate math!” or “Why do I have to do this?” or maybe “When am I going to need this?” Chances are good if you have a child that doesn’t like math, you have heard at least one, if not all, of these statements. I know I have! We have even shed tears over math at our house.
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How do you get students to like math? In this Life of Fred review, I’m going to tell you about a math curriculum unlike any you may have seen before. It was meant to be funny with silly stories and illustrations, that makes it easy to understand. The adventures in Fred’s life include very specific math concepts to help them stick in your child’s brain.
What is Life of Fred?
The Life of Fred author, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, is a retired college math professor whose goal is to help students think mathematically, and he has a funny way of doing that. He has written a series of math books (that read more like novels) with humorous stories and pictures to make math come alive for the reader.
For children who don’t love math or may have difficulty understanding certain concepts, this may be a better approach. The books are written about a character named Fred Gauss and his encounters with math.
The Life of Fred series stresses that math can be found all around us in our everyday lives. In each chapter of the books, a problem arises where Fred will need to use math to fix the situation.
Who is Fred?
The books are written about 5-year-old Fred Gauss, a child genius, who is a math professor at Kittens University. In one of the books, it mentions that Fred was born on the western slopes of the Siberian mountains. By the end of the entire series, he is six years old. We don’t find out what happened to Fred’s parents and how he became a math professor until the calculus book.
Why Is Life of Fred So Effective?
So many traditional math texts just show example problems and then have the students do practice problems over and over again until the concept hopefully sinks in.
With Life of Fred, math is introduced to your child in real life situations. It helps him to see ways in which math is needed and how to apply it. There is no more wondering when math will ever be used.
Life of Fred Books
Each book has around 18-25 chapters. At the end of each one, there is a “Your Turn to Play” section where the child answers 3-10 questions about the information taught in that chapter and any previous chapters in the book. I like how the author has phrased this because it presents it from the perspective of a game instead of dreaded problems they have to do.
Yes, you read that right! There are only 3-10 math problems to do (depending on the level of the book)! This is where some families have issues with this program. If you are used to a program like Saxon that has a lot of problems to do after every chapter, this is going to seem like your child is not doing anything. And to be honest, I struggle with this as well. However, it’s a trade-off because, so far, my daughter loves this program.
I may have to supplement at some point in these early books if I feel a concept needs a little more practice. However, the author has listened to people and has created books with additional practice problem starting with the arithmetic books (grades 5-8) and beyond. I should also mention that most people find that once they reach the Fractions book, there is plenty of material and they do not feel the need to supplement.
Read at the end of this post for ways to supplement this program in the younger years if you think it is necessary.
Starting in Life of Fred Fractions, there is a cumulative review called The Bridge after every four or five chapters. There are ten questions, and your child must get nine correct to move on. There are five different sets of questions included, which gives him five tries to cross each bridge. At the end of the book, there is a big review of 15 questions, with five attempts included there as well.
These books were designed to be self-teaching; however, the answers to the questions for each chapter are on the very next page, and in some cases, the same page. Some children may be tempted to look and write them down. If you intend for your child to do these on his own, you may need to cover them or come up with a system for checking if you feel this would be a problem.
Another issue addressed in the parent’s section at the front of the books is how fun these stories are, and students may want to read through them very quickly. As a result, they may glaze over essential concepts presented in the chapter to see what happens next. Many families find that it is better to read these with your children in the younger years so you can point out and discuss the ideas being taught.
Is Life of Fred Enough?
Often people will shy away from Life of Fred because they feel it is lacking. According to the author, it’s actually quite the opposite! He states it is a complete curriculum and has made comparisons with some of the big-name math curricula such as Saxon. He states, “The Life of Fred series has more mathematics in it than any other homeschooling series that I know of. Of the “heavyweights” in the homeschooling world, Saxon is usually considered the 800-pound gorilla, but it is sadly lacking in its content.”
In addition, most curricula have the teacher/parent introduce new skills orally, and then they are followed up by what Dr. Schmidt refers to as “drill and kill.” Unfortunately, as a child gets into the high school and college years, they are expected to be able to read and learn independently. This carries on through their adult years when almost everything they learn will be done through reading. If children begin to learn with this method at an early age, they are much more likely to be prepared.
He makes a pretty convincing argument for how comprehensive his books are. Here is an example of what is covered in just the Life of Fred Goldfish book from the elementary set:
- Tulip Mania
- Drawing Things to Scale
- Digits in a Number
- Being Pardoned Before Being Tried in 1974
- What Is Rarely on a Doll’s Christmas List
- The Whole Point of Math
- Don’t Wave Your Money Around
- The Advanced Form of the Game of Which of These Is Not Like the Others
- Keeping Your Word
- Picking Your Friends and Your Spouse, Polygons
- A Crocodile Smile
- What to Remember If You Smoke
- Comparative Forms of Adjectives
- Superlative Forms of Adjectives
- A Waning Moon
- People’s Life Goals Are Different than Fish’s Life Goals
- Definition of an Acre
- What Gets Venerated
- Meters vs. Yards
- Four Countries That Are Nations of Immigrants
- Kilograms vs. Pounds
- How to Deal with a Duck Who Never Tells the Truth
- Lacrimal Glands
- Area of a Rectangle
- Living in a City vs. Living in the Country
- Volume of a Fish Tank
- Cubic Feet into Gallons
- Gallons of Water into Pounds
- Multiplying by Ten
- Hundred and Thousand
- One Ton = 2000 lbs.
- Anthropomorphizing Fish
- Plastic Aquarium Plants Don’t Die
- Decimal Point
- Estimating Sums
- Drawbacks to 180-Gallon Fish Tanks
- Physical Work vs. Mental Work
- Tragedy of the Commons
- A Fish in a Tank vs. Coalback in Jail
- Talking to Your Goldfish
- Kingie’s Favorite Composers
- Practicing the Metric System with Dental Floss
- Purchasing Foreign Products
- Bar Graphs
- Protein and Calcium for Growth
I think because many of us are so used to having our children do lots of practice problems after we have lectured them and given example problems that this method seems foreign to us. Because of that, we think there is no way this program is covering what others are.
There are twenty-five books in the entire series, and if all are completed, your child will be at a college math level. This includes statistics, linear algebra, and two years of calculus.
The elementary series is made up of ten books that go up to the fourth-grade level. They can be bought individually or as a set. It is recommended no matter what grade a child is in, up until fourth grade, that everyone starts with the Apples book. All Life of Fred books are non-consumable so they can be used with more than one child. Each child can use a notebook to write down his answers.
Life of Fred Apples (For children who do not know their addition facts automatically.
Life of Fred Butterflies
Life of Fred Cats
Life of Fred Dogs
Life of Fred Edgewood
Life of Fred Farming
Life of Fred Goldfish (For children who do not know their multiplication facts automatically.)
Life of Fred Honey
Life of Fred Ice Cream
Life of Fred Jelly Beans
Life of Fred Kidneys
Life of Fred Liver
Life of Fred Mineshaft
Life of Fred Fractions (Don’t begin this before the 5th grade.)
Zillions of Practice Problems Fractions (This book is optional.)
Life of Fred Decimals and Percents
Zillions of Practice Problems Decimals and Percents (This book is optional.)
These books are often done during the middle school years. It is recommended the student completes the three pre-algebra books in this order: 0, 1, 2 because each builds on the previous book.
Life of Fred Pre-Algebra with Physics 0 (Formerly titled Life of Fred Elementary Physics)
Zillions of Practice Problems Pre-Algebra with Physics 0 (This book is optional.)
Life of Fred Pre-Algebra with Biology 1
Zillions of Practice Problems Pre-Algebra with Biology 1 (This book is optional.)
Life of Fred Pre-Algebra with Economics 1 (Has a new approach to doing word problems that will make Beginning Algebra a bit easier.)
Zillions of Practice Problems Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics (This book is optional.)
Life of Fred Beginning Algebra- Expanded Edition (This book replaces both Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra and Fred’s Home Companion: Beginning Algebra. This book has a Your Turn to Play solutions key, which was not available in the older edition.)
Zillions of Practice Problems for Beginning Algebra (This book is optional.)
Life of Fred Advanced Algebra- Expanded Edition (This book replaces both Life of Fred: Advanced Algebra and Fred’s Home Companion: Advanced Algebra. This book has a Your Turn to Play solutions key, which was not available in the older edition.)
Zillions of Practice Problems Advanced Algebra (This book is optional.)
Life of Fred Geometry- Expanded Edition (Includes answer key)
Life of Fred Trigonometry- Expanded Edition (This book replaces both Life of Fred: Trigonometry and Fred’s Home Companion: Trigonometry. There is a solution key for all problems.)
Life of Fred Logic (Can be used in high school for the first six chapters or as a college text for all 16 chapters.)
Life of Fred Calculus- Expanded Edition (Freshman and sophomore calculus, includes an answer key.)
Life of Fred Statistics- Expanded Edition (One year of college statistics, includes an answer key.)
Life of Fred Linear Algebra- Expanded Edition (Usually taken in the junior year, includes an answer key.)
Life of Fred Five Days of Upper Division Math (Set Theory, Modern Algebra, Abstract Arithmetic, Topology)
Life of Fred Real Analysis
If you are unsure where to start your child in the Life of Fred math, you can check out the author’s recommendation based on where your child is at in math right now.
Here is a site with sample pages you can check out for each of the books.
Ways to Supplement
- If your child is not grasping an idea and you need more practice,
you can look for some supplemental Life of Fred worksheets found on this
- You can also use math games to reinforce many math concepts.
Grocery Cart Math is a fantastic book that shows you how to use math while shopping in the grocery store.
- I saw this Bedtime Math book, and it looked like a great way to sneak in some math in a fun way before bedtime.
- Do some extra practice problems on the windows with Crayola Crayons for Windows
- Use free tools on the internet to create and print your own math worksheets for specific topics.
- Supplemental materials from Math Mammoth are great for focusing on particular areas needing more practice.
- Use Math U See– Some families use this along with Life of Fred
- Check out this resource for daily math review.
This program definitely has a unique approach to math and one that may finally help your math hater change his mind. To help you decide if the Life of Fred series is right for your student, I have organized a list of pros and cons to consider.
Pros of Life of Fred
- Written from a kid’s point of view- This makes it relatable.
- Lots of Humor- The story is completely crazy and unbelievable to a parent, but your child will most likely love it! I honestly chuckle here and there at it myself.
- Teaches Math Through Real Life-This gives math real meaning and how it is used in everyday situations.
- Improves Math Comprehension- Lots of math vocabulary is introduced.
- No More Fighting About Doing Math- Children who love it will usually ask to read it, even when they are finished with school for the day.
- The author can easily be reached- I have personally emailed back and forth with him. He will do his best to answer any questions you have. He even suggests having your child email him if he gets stuck on a problem.
- Other subjects are integrated- History, language arts, reading comprehension, art, science, life skills, manners, and much more.
- Uses the spiral method- It circles back around and covers concepts again within a book.
- Can be used with multiple aged students- You may want to give different levels of questions for the “Your Turn to Play” section if there is a big age difference.
- If you love to read to your child, this is a perfect curriculum that can be done together (even though it can be done independently).
- It’s inexpensive compared to other programs on the market- A high school level book costs $49 compared to other programs around $150 and up.
- You will learn too!- The author teaches this in such a great way that you may pick up on a few new things you didn’t think about before.
- Unique approach to math- You most likely won’t find anything else like it.
- No manipulatives to buy
- No extra test books to buy
- No teacher books to buy
- No CDs, DVDs, computers needed
- Includes more math curriculum than any other program out there (according to the author)
- Motivating to children who don’t like to do a lot of problems
- It’s a curriculum that goes from first grade to college level
- Hardcover books that are sturdy and can be used over and over
- Great for children who love to solve problems
- Encourages critical thinking
Cons of Life of Fred
- Not like other math curricula- The order of information is presented differently than traditional programs and doesn’t align with Common Core (if you follow that). This may bother some families.
- Books are short and completed quickly- You will most likely go through several a year.
- Not many questions at the end of each chapter-You may want to supplement if necessary.
- Not a heavy emphasis on math facts- I would definitely recommend making sure you hit these on your own.
- May not be for all independent learners- Even though it was created to be used independently, if you have a child who is going to get engrossed in the story and speed read, he is going to miss a lot of the concepts.
- Not for children who have trouble with reading comprehension- This program relies heavily on learning through reading.
- Not for children who need to see sample problems before beginning
- May not be for children who focus on numbers
- Answers are on the next page for every chapter (in some cases the same page)- You may need to cover these up if you have a child who will write the answers down.
Where Can I buy Life of Fred?
You have two options to buy Life of Fred:
Option 1 is through Christian Book Distributors.
Elementary and Intermediate Series- $16 each
Arithmetic Series- $19 each
Middle School Series- $29 each
High School Series- $29 & $39 each
College Set 1- $49 each
College Set 2- $15.99-$52 each
Option 2 is through the Yellow House Book Rental. This is a great service that allows you to rent these books for the year at quite a discount instead of purchasing them. However, if you have more than one child you plan to use them with, you have the option to purchase through them as well at a cheaper price than I’ve seen elsewhere. Get an additional 10% off with my link. Just do a search for Life of Fred math in the search bar and it will take you straight to them.
I hope this Life of Fred review was helpful and shed some light on this popular math program. Every child is different, and some children are going to love Life of Fred, while others are not. The important thing is to find something your child enjoys and understands. If you are using the best program available, that won’t make a difference if your child hates it, because he is not going to learn much if it’s the wrong approach for him.
This curriculum may or may not be the answer to your problems, but there are enough positives to this series that if you have a child who really hates math or has difficulty with the traditional way of teaching, for a fraction of the cost of other programs out there, it’s worth giving it a try.
If you decide to use it, let me know what you think. Also, if you are already using it, let others know in the comments below how it is working with your child.
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