Sunday, December 20, 2015

Life of Fred Elementary Series: A Review

Rose and I are currently finishing up Life of Fred - Cats from the Life of Fred Elementary series. Or, we will be finishing it up come January ~ right now we are on Christmas break.  But since we have gone through (nearly) the first three books, I thought I'd take a few minutes to post some thoughts about the Life of Fred elementary series.



In general, Fred has been very popular in this house. Most of the kids have used it as a supplement at one time or another, and for Grace it is her primary math curriculum (she is currently working on LOF Advanced Algebra).

The books are funny, usually effective, and inexpensive. They have been a wonderful, lighthearted addition to a subject that has not been historically popular in our homeschool. All of the Life of Fred books are nice quality hardcovers, with black and white illustrations. I am big on the "feel" of a product, and these books feel really nice to get out and use each day.

There are about 19 chapters in the elementary books and each chapter consists of another little episode in Fred's life, with math learned in bits and pieces along the way. Fred (who happens to be a five year old college math professor) has quite an exciting life and the chapters frequently end on cliffhangers,  a nice encouragement to get back to it the next day.

The chapters are short and it only takes us ten minutes or so to read the chapter and complete the "Your Turn to Play" section at the end of the chapter. There is little traditional teaching in LOF. Instead, concepts are introduced throughout the ongoing story, and reinforced with the Your Turn to Play sections. There are often some non-math questions included, which spices things up a little. The answers follow immediately after each chapter. This particular set of questions and answers are for different chapters, just to confuse you:).

 

As an example of how this works, in chapter eight of Butterflies, Fred goes to a book sale. During the story, ordinal numbers are introduces as Fred thinks about the different kind of books there are (first kind, second kind, etc.). Addition facts are reviewed as Fred re-arranges the nine books on the table (4 on one side, five on the other), and counting change is covered as Fred pays for his seven books with nickels ~ counting by fives!

How Rose & I do Life of Fred 

Rose and I read one chapter of Life of Fred 3-4 days per week. She is in second grade this year, and we are currently finishing up Cats. LOF is not her primary math curriculum; she also uses Teaching Textbooks 3 - more on how we use TT here. I read her a chapter of LOF, then we do the Your Turn to Play section orally (or with a whiteboard if necessary), and that's all there is to it. I will have her go as far with LOF as she wants to go. Like I said earlier, her older sister uses it as her only math curriculum for high school. My boys only use Teaching Textbooks because doing both LOF and TT got to be too much for them. I was sorry to see them stop with Fred, but TT is a better fit for their learning styles.

Is Life of Fred enough on it's own?

The author says the program is enough, and that you do not need any other math program. The Well-Trained Mind says it's to be used as a supplement. My opinion is somewhere in the middle. I think if math comes naturally to a child, they don't need a lot of practice, and they are able to work independently and figure things out on their own, then LOF could work all by  itself. Most of my kids don't meet that criteria.  The basic concepts are certainly covered here, but the style of teaching didn't work for my boys. The story seemed to confuse and distract them, and they had trouble picking out the important information- the math! They could always tell me what Fred had done in the chapter, but that didn't always translate to understanding the concepts introduced.

As an example, James worked through most of Honey, but ended up stopping with the long division section because he just didn't get the way Fred taught it. I think the problem stemmed from the way things are introduced in LOF - they tend to be introduced briefly, with a larger focus on general math concepts and thinking mathematically.  If a child is the type to understand something quickly they will probably be fine, but if they do better with concrete steps that are reviewed frequently, they may get stuck. Once James reached long division in TT, he did fine with it, because he seems to do better with a no-frills, stick-to-the-math-and- get-it-done type program. Grace, on the other hand, gets frustrated with too much review; she "gets it" quickly and is ready to move on, which is why I think LOF has worked so well for her.

Rose is doing well with LOF, but like her brothers she definitely benefits from using a more traditional math program alongside. She has struggled with some concepts in the book that are explained only briefly (or not at all).  For example, telling time is taught primarily by showing a clock illustration whenever the time of day is mentioned.

 

There is very little explicit instruction about telling time. Rose has not covered time yet in TT, and the LOF style of teaching time has done little to help her. She is also getting bogged down a bit as we approach the end of Cats, because of all the information on the metric system in the last chapters. She is still trying to get a grasp on inches and yards, so all the talk of millimeters and meters is just confusing her. I may skip those chapters and wrap the book up so we can move on to Dogs.

Of course, I could just use LOF as our main curriculum and supplement it as I saw the need.  I considered doing that, because the kids really do enjoy Fred even though they don't always learn as much as I'd like from it. I could try to review the concepts as we go about our daily life too, but in all honesty what I need right now is a neatly laid-out program with plenty of built-in review, so I can focus on other stuff. So, in short, I prefer to use Fred as a fun extra, not as our main math curriculum. And it is fun! Just look at this sample index page from Apples.




As you can see, we are learning about way more than math when we read LOF!

So those are a few of my thoughts, hopefully some of which made sense. Rose and I very much enjoy the Life of Fred elementary series and will continue to use it as a supplement to Teaching Textbooks for the foreseeable future. 

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