Curriculum Review: Life of Fred Math

About 3 weeks ago now, I purchased three books in the Life of Fred math series.  I had heard lots of recommendations of this book, and sources I respect (including the Rainbow Resource Center printed catalog,) had painted glowing pictures of the books as a way to interest kids in math and help them find practical application which would make math meaningful.  Although the cost of the series seemed prohibitive, I decided to try a few of these books out this summer.  Turning to the Life of Fred website, I determined that Lucy was definitely ready to start in the Fractions book, but Max probably was not.  I decided to order just the book Life of FredFractions, and see if both kids could possibly work in that book since Max already understood multiplication and division, even though he does not have the tables completely memorized.

We were very excited when we received the book, and Max and Lulu wanted to start immediately.  After reading the first chapter, which they both enjoyed, I immediately realized that Max would not be able to work along with Lulu on these problems.  Lulu was capable of doing the extensive multiplication required to determine how many seconds are in a year, Max definitely could not.  The style was so engaging, however, that they were both very anxious to continue with the story.  Therefore, I rushed quickly to the local homeschool store (how lucky it was there!) and bought the first two books in the Life of Fred series — Apples and Butterflies.  I started at the beginning knowing they would be very easy for Max but also realizing that we could do them quickly and he would enjoy them.  (I am also hoping to be able to sell these very lightly used copies so that I can buy the next books.)

Now that we are finished with the first book, I am able to offer an educated opinion about the books.  First, the pros:

  • The story and illustrations are engaging.  I ask the kids if they want to do Life of Fred, and they come running.  They beg for the next chapter.
  • The concepts are presented clearly, in story form.
  • The “Your Turn to Play” problems at the end of the chapter in the Fractions book are challenging but not impossible.
  • There are specific ways to use the math concepts introduced in real life.

And the cons:

  • I would never use this as a stand alone curriculum.  Besides very limited repetition for memorization, there is limited explanation.  If you don’t already understand how to do the math, you might not be able to figure it out from this text.
  • The answers to the “Your Turn to Play” are printed where you can’t avoid seeing them as you work the problems.  That leaves little incentive for actually making sure you know how to do the math.
  • The cost of each book ($16) is prohibitive.  If only you could check these out at your local library . . .

So you can see I am giving a half-hearted recommendation.  These are fun for summertime math extension, but I’m not sure I will buy the whole series.  I will probably sell the beginning books as we finish them (a used Life of Fred, anyone?) and reinvest that money in the next of the series, but continue to rely on Saxon as the backbone of our math curriculum.

Have you used the Life of Fred books with your kids?  How do you choose a math curriculum?  Please leave me a comment below.

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  1. I’m curious what others have to say. I have a friend who highly recommends these books, but she has used Saxon and her kids are at or above grade level. I think they are using the Fred books as a supplement and to take a break from the rigors of Saxon. As for how do I pick a math curriculum – I just try different things based on how much my son is fighting me. I’ve tried different books over the years, plus lots of enrichment things. Nothing makes him enjoy math, so now I’m just using one we picked out at our homeschool library. I don’t like it as much as Saxon, but it covers the basics and is in color, which my son finds important. For my dd who is not as difficult, I still use Saxon because I like the rigor and that I know we won’t be missing any skills. Math is a tough subject for me – I am more unstructured, child-led in my leanings, but want my kids to have a firm foundation in math. This probably doesn’t help you at all! 🙂 Good luck with the books.

  2. We tried it, and my son loved the stories, but honestly? It was just WAY too easy. Not to mention that it made math take forever to get through. I’d say it’s perfect as a supplement for those who absolutely hate math – it makes it looks fun and engaging. But I’m with you – there’s just not enough there for a foundation.

    I ran across DreamBox yesterday. Have you seen it? 14-day free trial period, and my son is already in love with it. I’m using it along with Teaching Textbooks, which I actually teach him from, myself (instead of having him work on the computer alone).

  3. We just started Life of Fred, and I agree with your review. It is a fun supplement, but in NO way a stand alone curriculum. I second the recomendation for Dreambox. We use Right Start Math for our main curriculum, and Dreambox seems to follow the exact same math concepts. It is very big on visualization, and my daughter has just thrived with the combination of the two of them. Math is her favorite subject!

  4. Are you selling any used Life of Fred books?

  5. April

     /  December 11, 2013

    I did about the same as you. I bought the first 2 math books in the series (apples and butterflies). My daughter loves them and blew through each of them in about week. I can’t say she learned anything at all 😦 Although they were very easy for the most part I was confused when a couple questions came up in the Your Turn To Play section and she came to me for help. I couldn’t find the topic of these questions covered anywhere in the book. I think if I can find them used and inexpensive I might finish the series just for fun, while continuing with her other math curriculum. We were recommended Math Mammoth by a teacher friend. She had used it to supplement her son when he was struggling with multiplication. We have been very happy with it,even though my daughter does not enjoy math.. It is inexpensive and doesn’t require a separate teaching manual. It teaches the concepts in the book and gives plenty of opportunity for review.

  6. Natalie Bruck

     /  March 27, 2014

    I’ve used Saxon Math exclusively, and I’m happy with the solid foundation the children have. My problem came with Saxon Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 because there is little to any application to real life. The kids ask, “How will I use this in real life?” and the book doesn’t really answer that. The other problem is with my son who is an inventive/picture learner, which means that Saxon does not appeal at all and takes two hours daily for pre-Algebra (although he’s super smart). Ugh! I have considered Life of Fred for the upper courses to keep the kids engaged and able to apply Algebra and Trig to real life situations. I like also that they include economics, taxes, and other “life” problems in the text. If anyone has used this beyond junior high level, it’d be great to hear from you. Thanks!

    • Saxon does get to be time consuming in the upper grades. Our family’s solution is to do half lessons daily–and continue working through the summer. Also, we have used the DIVE DVDs for Algebra II and Advanced Math for some real application. I will be buying this for Algebra I next year. As a side note, my high schooler is using Apologia Chemistry and Saxon Advanced Math, and constantly finding alignment between the concepts.


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