Okay, I will admit it, I own every Life of Fred math book from the elementary Apple to Trig…in a few years I expect to add Pre-Calculus and Calculus to my collection. I even own the books that are not part of the math series, such as Chemistry, the high school Language Arts series, Logic, and Financial Choices. There are many reasons I love these books, keep reading to find out why. I will address some common concerns about Life of Fred math after I profess my love!
Why I Love Life of Fred Math
1. They contain more math than any other curriculum I have used or browsed.
Now, looking at Apples many decide there is not enough math, and specifically, not enough practice in the books. But to understand fully what Life of Fred Math has to offer you have to take a step back and look at the big picture. When you start using the books you will find that advanced concepts are introduced quite young. Also, there is more emphasis on mathematical vocabulary than any other program I have seen. Math vocab is crucial to developing a deep understanding of mathematics and laying the foundation necessary for further learning.
When I sent my oldest to public school he covered less than an eighth of the Life of Fred Algebra book in an entire semester of High School Algebra. I checked, by looking at his syllabus and comparing it to the concepts. My son learned nothing new in that Algebra course and came home the next semester to finish Life of Fred. He still gets worked up about how the teacher didn’t even understand the concepts and how slow the class was moving.
I love deep learning, it has been a part of my educational philosophy for a long time and Life of Fred is one of the math programs that I feel dives deep into mathematical concepts and how math is part of life. Many programs focus on memorization and procedure, which are good and necessary components of any great math program, but they fail to reach deeper into mathematics. This leaves students bored and wondering why they should care. Going deep into any subject has the effect of revealing to kids how little they know, how much more there is to learn, and it gives them a little taste of amazement and beauty. We get this in literature…we understand that going straight to great books is the best way to study literature…but we need programs that do the same thing with math…I feel many math programs out there are just a “cliff notes” version of the study of mathematics. (I am not claiming Life of Fred is the only program that engages in this deeper teaching of mathematics, just that it is one of the few.)
As you advance through Life of Fred it becomes more obvious that the books are thorough and treat mathematics in a more complete way than many other programs. There is also more practice as you move through the program. Beginning with the fractions book students begin to have bridges, which come periodically between lessons. There are 10 questions on a bridge and a student must get 9 correct in order to move on in the book. There are 5 bridges in each section…if the student aces the first bridge they move forward if they don’t they try again on the second bridge. If they go through all 5 and still have not passed, they go back to the first one. All the while they should be correcting the problems they missed. I have some kids that ace almost every bridge the first time, and another who usually doesn’t pass until somewhere in the second ’round’. In Algebra they advance from bridges to cities, where there are even more practice problems and you have to complete all 3 cities, even if you pass them. There are also extra books of practice problems available for students who need more repetition starting with Algebra. My oldest needed the extra practice for about the first half of the Algebra book, but then things started clicking and he has not needed them for the second half of Algebra or for Algebra II. The other child who is that far in math has never needed the extra practice.
2. They are funny.
Now, I will admit, some people, including some children, do not enjoy the off-the-wall sense of humor and silliness contained in the books. My kids, however, all think they are funny, and it is always good to laugh while you are learning. I have one child who read through all the elementary books after I bought them, even though he was in middle school by then, just because he loved the story so much. And he is not one that normally picks up books to read in his spare time. Even if you don’t think they are funny…it is doubtful any other math program is going to make you laugh, so what do you have to lose?
3. Life of Fred does a really good job of teaching math to my kids.
This means I don’t have to help much. Yes, all my kids occasionally need help, but not nearly as frequently as they did with other programs I tried in the past. And if the Life of Fred reading level of the math book they are using is above a current easy-to-read level for that child, I will read the story aloud. Yes, there are other programs that are made to teach the child directly to save mom time, but one of the popular ones often fails to keep up with even public school standards and kids that have reentered public school have tested behind grade-level. But I won’t name any names, you can easily research these things yourself if you want to.
If you add up the cost of many math programs, you have workbooks, textbooks, and teaching books…it gets expensive. Life of Fred is just one book, and that is a textbook that can be used over and over again with each consecutive child without having to replace anything.
Life of Fred is written like a novel. It is a series of stories, and stories are one of the best ways to learn. They are cognitively privileged.
Arguments Against Life of Fred Math
Now, those are the main perks, but I am not done yet. I want to address some of the concerns I have heard people voice with Life of Fred (other than not thinking it is funny because I don’t think that is a necessary criteria for math programs. But if the humor annoys your kid than they won’t enjoy doing their math.)
1. Not enough practice problems at the elementary level.
Well, is it enough? Maybe, maybe not. Young kids do need to memorize their math facts at some point. He has worked this into the program throughout the elementary level. But it is not a lot of practice, the average kid may need a little extra help getting those facts down. Now if you have a kid who memorizes material quickly, it will be enough. So it depends. I supplement memorization of math facts when needed with a computer game, and a tablet/phone game. You can also just use homemade flashcards.
2. It does not use manipulatives at the lower levels.
Well, actually, I haven’t heard anyone complain about this, but it is a personal concern of mine because I think young children need to touch math. So, In the first few years of elementary, I supplement with manipulatives and the Singapore homeschool teachers manual gives me plenty of ideas as to how to use them and what concepts to teach with them. I also have a few manipulatives I use for higher math, that are supplemental and each has their own book. One set focuses and fractions and another on algebraic equations. I use manipulatives to either introduce concepts I know are coming up and know the child will struggle with, or for reinforcement when they do struggle, or for a fun activity at the end of the year when they have accidentally finished their math books early…yes, that does sometimes happen when primarily using Life of Fred because less work is loaded onto the student.
3. My kid didn’t get it.
Look, it happens. Some kids pick things up better when explained in a different way. Your child may prefer Khan Academy to Life of Fred, and find the videos easier to understand that Fred’s fantastical life. One of my kids (the one who needs a second round of bridges) is taking a break from Life of Fred to cover the same concepts on Khan Academy.
(Update: I no longer use or recommend Khan Academy. And the child who needed extra practice chose to go through all the Life of Fred books a second time rather than using a different curriculum, it was her choice, and she is doing well now. Life of Fred has made it very easy for me to adjust the pacing of math for each child.)
But I don’t count this as a failure on the part of the curricula. Why? Because this happens every time this child gets to a new level of math. We have to redo the concepts again, and again, and again. Sometimes with three different curriculums. That is okay. That is just how long it takes for the child to get it. I have six kids and only one struggles that deeply with math. You may only have one kid, and how do you know if lack of comprehension is because of a bad curriculum, a program that is a poor fit for your child, or if it is just that your child needs more time before it all ‘clicks’?
Well, you don’t, until you have lived with your child long enough, and used enough different curriculum with them that you do know. This child is 13 and has always been at home, so I know what to expect. New mathematical concepts will never be easy for this child to grasp…but eventually, they are grasped. Once that happens this child is just as quick and competent in math as anyone else. The important thing in cases like this is not to despair, not to give up, not to lose patience, and don’t be afraid to try something new when your child needs a change of pace.
Life of Fred is our math spine, and I do supplement with other things, especially at younger ages, though I don’t know if that is necessary or not. Once they hit Algebra, I do not supplement with anything else. So far the older kids are doing well on their assessment tests/ACT for the level of math they have completed. Life of Fred has made math an easy and enjoyable part of our homeschool day.
Check out some of my other math posts.
Tessellations: A Curated Lesson
It Might be Easier to Quit Teaching Kids How to Think