With so many math curricula to choose from, making a final decision and investment in one can be a daunting decision. Will this suit each child's individual needs, and if not, is it easily adaptable? While we've only sampled a few other programs, we always seem to come back to Life of Fred. And there is a good reason for that, the compelling story of Fred Gauss. Yes, we've laughed with Fred, and we've cried with Fred. Okay, so maybe we didn't cry with Fred, more like cried because of Fred (see picture above), but I digress. If your child loves a good story, Life of Fred just might be the math curriculum you've been looking for.
While most math programs start with a lesson and end with a series of problems, Life of Fred is different in that it begins with a story, one that builds upon itself with each chapter. Furthermore, the storyline progresses through each book, so it's highly recommended that you start from the very beginning, regardless of the age or skill level of your child. Fred encounters many problems in his day-to-day life, yet it is through these experiences that we gain our math concepts and their solutions. Author Stanley Schmidt describes it best: "In his everyday life he first encounters the need for each new part of mathematics, and then comes the mathematics." What also sets Life of Fred apart from other programs is the lack of "drill and kill". Of course, depending on the circumstances, this can be an advantage or disadvantage. I'll elaborate more on that in a moment.
After diving into Fred's latest adventures, each chapter is followed by a "Your Turn to Play". This page usually consists of only five to six math problems, most of which are word problems. Although word problems can often be intimidating, I love that the child is forced to think about the problem in a more complex manner, requiring more critical thinking. On the back of this page are the problem solutions. However, this can occasionally pose a problem, as the temptation to simply turn the page to see the solutions might be overwhelming at times. Yes, I'm guilty.
Going back to the "drill and kill" idea, or lack thereof in this case, fewer problems might work perfectly for a child that is extremely intuitive when it comes to math. For our family, however, this tends not to be the case. We just simply need more practice with certain concepts than the book offers. Therefore, I'm forced to buy supplemental workbooks. This year we are using Teaching Textbook's workbook only, but in the past, we've used both Kumon and Spectrum books. Because we are using Moving Beyond the Page's math schedule, we purchased three Life of Fred books for the school year (Kidneys, Liver, and Mineshaft for the 9-11 age range). With each book containing only 19 chapters, it's not difficult at all to find the time to add in extra math practice. My only issue (hence, the "bad" referenced in the title) is the fact that we do have to supplement. Again, it may be more of a personal issue and not necessarily related to the product itself, as a child who excels in math may not require the extra practice.
*By the way, even if you're not using Moving Beyond the Page, you might utilize their website just to see how they organize their Life of Fred math schedule for each of the varying age ranges. I have found this beneficial in staying on target with our math pacing, even prior to using MBP.
**I have also noticed that starting with what Dr. Schmidt calls his Arithmetic Series, extra practice books are available. I'm pretty excited about this because it should allow us to supplement with the author's own material, keeping things more cohesive and in the conversational style that we've come to love.
The bottom line is this. We love Life of Fred. In fact, even if the girls told me that they no longer wanted to continue with it for some reason, I would be highly tempted to continue on without them! The story of Fred and his exceptional mathematical skills is that engaging.
*UPDATE* A reader of the blog brought something to my attention that I failed to address in my initial post, Life of Fred's standing as a secular curriculum. When she mentioned this, I was reminded of a story that occurs in book 8 of the series titled Honey, page 70. In it, Fred attends Sunday school. The reader is told that Fred imagined teaching Sunday school. (He knew that he would probably be doing that after he grew up.) He would teach God's multiplication: (ALL OUR MISTAKES, ALL OUR SINS, ALL OUR EVIL DEEDS) X 0 (God's forgiveness) = 0 (all gone!). I think this example would decidedly put Life of Fred in the nonsecular category. I feel like occurrences such as this are few and far between, and I'm hoping that I haven't forgotten a more egregious example. When the girls and I come across something like this, we can easily roll our eyes and move on. However, for a family that has never been religious and wants to keep it that way, this could obviously be offensive and ultimately a reason not to purchase LOF. (Perhaps the title should have been: Life of Fred: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!) Undoubtedly, you'll make the choice that is best for your family. At least for now, I've decided that I'm not going to hold the author's religious viewpoint against Fred. :)