An update on our homeschool math, Life of Fred: Butterflies

Last year I wrote a comprehensive post on how I have been doing kindergarten math.  I teach my six-year-old math in a variety of ways, but our main resource is Life of Fred. At that time, we had finished the first book in the Life of Fred series (Apples), but when I started the second book (Butterflies), I realized it was too hard for the then five-year-old.


First, in case you’re unfamiliar with Life of Fred, it’s a comprehensive math curriculum for K-12, but you can buy the books separately, which is nice.  It’s written like a story with a character named Fred who is a five-year-old math professor at Kittens University.  If that sounds silly, you’re right.  The story is light and fun, and it’s full of math.  Each chapter ends with a few math problems for your child to solve.  I like that it’s comprehensive, but it’s not overwhelming or a lot of busy work.  We can finish a chapter and do the problems in about 30 minutes. My son loves the story too.  For a child who seems to learn well through story, it’s really great.

{You can learn more about Life of Fred and download sample chapters here: When Do I Start Life of Fred Math.}

In September when we started our new homeschool routine, I started Butterflies with him.  I was happy to find that my instincts had been right – last year it was too hard for him, but now it seemed just right.  I am also more relaxed and using it as a guide for me.  

I don’t worry if he doesn’t get something.  I just tell him the answer and think of other ways to show him. As long as he’s not showing frustration or disinterest, I feel the best way is to go over the material many times in an easy-going manner.

Some of the math did not come easy to my son, so I tried to find other ways to teach him.  For example, counting by twos and fives is a big part of Butterflies.

At first, I was at a loss as to how to teach my son how to count by twos and fives.  I had gone over it several times.  I used YouTube videos.  I used charts.  I took him outside and drew numbers with chalk, and then we did “skip counting” in a literal way!  I wondered if he just wasn’t ready or if there was another approach I needed to take? As I said before, since my son did not balk at the lessons, I decided that just taking it easy and going over it again and again would be my approach.

Then one day he just got it!  I have no idea what did it ~ Maybe it was that episode, LeapFrog Numberland, on Netflix?  Maybe it was Life of Fred.  Maybe it was all my attempts….in reality it was probably all of it together.  Perhaps my son paid more attention to that song in LeapFrog Numberland because of all my attempts to teach him.  Who knows?  I didn’t really care.  I was just elated he got it!

Now that we’re on the last chapter of Life of Fred: Butterflies, I’m happy to realize that it fit nicely into this Fall season too.  (As I mentioned before, I alternate short reading and math lessons Monday-Thursday. I do one chapter at a time of Life of Fred.) I’m planning to order the next book and start it in January.


However, I want to mention some of the frustrations I’ve had too, and I still haven’t made up my mind as to whether Life of Fred will be our only math curriculum.

In Life of Fred: Apples, the author focuses on teaching all the possible equations that add up to the sum of 7.  In Butterflies, he concentrates on adding to the sum of 9.  While doing Apples with my son, he started to realize that the answer to the equations was “7.”  He didn’t memorize that 5 + 2 = 7.  In Butterflies, the answers to the equations in the book is either “9” or “7.”  While this is good because my son can’t take for granted what the answer is, I can tell he’s not memorizing the equations.  He usually has to count on his fingers.

And this brings me to my question of whether it’s important for him to memorize those equations?  I wrote here that I wouldn’t mind if he counted on his fingers, and I still don’t mind.  I’m glad he can figure out the answer for himself.  But it also makes me wonder what else I need to do, or does it matter at this point?

I spoke to a friend of mine who is a retired Kindergarten teacher, and she told me that they never pressed the kids to memorize anything. Having fun and getting the answer is more important.  This is how I feel, but you know, I always have those moments of second guessing.

I also have mixed emotions that parts of Life of Fred is hard.  That is, the author will bring in non-math information or a higher level math. On one hand, I think it’s great.  It’s teaching my son a variety of things, and there’s nothing wrong with introducing him to harder stuff, especially when I don’t worry about whether he really gets it.  But there are times when I feel it’s going over his head and he’s not getting anything out of it. I worry he might become disinterested in the story.

This is mostly balanced by the fact that my son says he likes Life of Fred.  The other day he said, “The only way I should learn math is with Life of Fred.” 

So maybe none of that is a con.  It’s more of an observation and consideration for the future.  For now, we’re going to stick with Life of Fred, and I’ll supplement it with some other fun activities, math story books, videos and educational apps….like I’ve always done.

Some extra math resources

As I mentioned above, Life of Fred: Butterflies spends a lot of time on teaching counting by 2s, 5s, and also telling time.  Here’s a few YouTube videos that I’ve used to help my son grasp these concepts.  I especially like the video on telling time.

What are your recommendations for teaching math to youngsters?

10 thoughts on “An update on our homeschool math, Life of Fred: Butterflies

  1. We are up to farming. I know your son is young, mine is 7. We plan to do the elementary series twice (Dr. Schmidt suggests several repetitions of the cycle), and then the intermediate series probably twice before starting fractions. I’m not sweating finger counting, though I did explain to 7 that we can’t consider it mastered until he doesn’t have to count. I’m slowly buying all of them though calculus because *I* understand math concepts this way that I’ve never understood before. I’ve taken to calling it math for right-brained people.


    1. Thank you for the tips, Adjunctmom! If I have read that recommendation to repeat the series, I had forgotten about it. I’m not sure that’ll work for us because my son hates to repeat things that he feels he has finished. But we’ll see. Maybe if I explain it. I really like the books too, and I think you are right – they definitely help right-brained people! Math was so hard for me and it still is. I look forward to doing the series for myself as well.


  2. My 9yo has been reading through the elementary books and loves them! She’s through dogs right now, and even though she’s ahead with the math concepts, she isn’t bored because of all of the extra information tucked in the stories. We’re using them as a supplement for now, while she moves forward at her own level with other materials. I’m looking forward to when she’s ready for the fractions book and we can use fred more as a primary source.

    I love reading your take on the first two books, because I’ve been wondering when to begin with my almost 5yo. I know she isn’t ready yet. Thanks for the skip counting links!


    1. Thank you for your comment, Michelle. I hear about so many kids who love reading these books and want to go ahead quickly! That’s great. My son loves them, but he doesn’t ask for more than one chapter at a time. I guess that’s good because we can space it out, and he won’t get into stuff that’ll be too hard for him. It also gives me time to figure out what else I need to do to help him with the concepts. You are welcome for the skip counting links. There’s some more stuff on YouTube, but these were our favorites.


  3. Thanks for this. This is a curriculum I’m considering for when my daughter is ready – she will be within a year I think – so it’s nice to see the pros and cons. As for the memorization, I wouldn’t stress it as this point. I taught second grade (for 10 years!) and feel like that is “around” the age they are ready for that. They really need to develop a deep understanding of addition AND subtraction before they are asked to memorize any facts. I found that kids who memorize too early often freeze up when they encounter a problem they don’t know or have forgotten, because they have forgotten how to figure it out on their own. Knowing how to figure out the answer is definitely a more important long-term skill!


    1. Thank you so much for your insight into memorization at an early age. That validates how I’ve been feeling, and it makes sense. Let me know if you use LOF and like it. It is quite a fun way to learn math. I hadn’t thought about this before, but I think it’s easier for me to teach it/learn it this way as well as my son. Although I’m not sure about that since I haven’t tried too many other things.


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