Math Curriculum Review: Life of Fred Elementary Series

If you’re a seasoned homeschooling parent, you probably know that deep sense of satisfaction when you have completed a long curriculum with your child. I had this feeling last year when my eleven-year-old finished the 10th book in the Life of Fred series, which is the end of what the author, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, terms his “Elementary Series.” Also according to his assessment, these ten books cover kindergarten through fourth grade math.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Life of Fred elementary books, they are hardbound books with 19 chapters each, and they tell the story of a funny-looking five-year-old math genius named Fred, who is also a professor at Kittens University. Math lessons are found everywhere in Fred’s life as well as many other lessons on random subjects. It’s a practical and sometimes silly approach to learning math, and it shows kids why math is useful. Many kids love Fred, including my boys, but I’ve met kids who couldn’t get into these stories either. So be sure to try out the free samples before you buy them.

I have read a lot of reviews for the Life of Fred books, and most parents seem to feel that Life of Fred makes a good supplement to their math curriculum. Apparently, some kids love reading these quirky stories so much, they read them by themselves all in just a few months or less. You could certainly do this, but I used them as our main math curriculum, and they worked great for that too.

Part of the reason some people feel that Life of Fred is a supplement and not a main curriculum is that at the end of each chapter, there are only four or five problems for your student to figure out, and usually one or two questions are very easy. (In a few of the books, he also offers a “row of practice.”) Parents and teachers feel that kids need to practice math more, so they need more problems to work on. I only partly agree with that. From kindergarten through the third grade, a few problems were all that my active, young boy could sit still for, so it was perfect for us. Later, I added a little more. Let me explain:

I think that what sets Life of Fred apart is that it shows kids that math can be fun. While homeschooling my eldest son, I found that he responded best to learning about math through these stories and also playing games. In Life of Fred, Fred is often playing math games in his head to pass the time. I think that’s a subtle hint to readers that math games should be part of their daily life too. Math should be fun. So while I didn’t use Life of Fred as a supplement, I did supplement it with plenty of math games. (We love playing Sum Swamp, Math Dice, and math card games.)

It wasn’t until last year that I decided to supplement my son’s math lessons with a Spectrum workbook. By this age, my son was capable of sitting and concentrating for longer amounts of time. In my state, homeschoolers have to take standardized tests every three years, so I wanted to familiarize him with the test format. He also needed more practice with multiplication and division. So we took a break from Life of Fred to work on this. I used Times Tales for teaching the multiplication tables, and that was a big success. Life of Fred instructs the student to stop at certain points and practice the times tables with flash cards before moving on to the next chapter, so it’s clear that Dr. Schmidt does not expect a student to rely solely on his books for all their math practice.

If you are concerned about keeping your child in exact alignment with what the public school kids are learning each year, then you may not want to use Life of Fred as your spine for math. Most of what my son learned in Life of Fred did match up, but Dr. Schmidt has a different approach to teaching math. While my son did learn early algebra and even a little bit of calculus, the books never covered the decimal point. However, that’s coming up. Life of Fred continues with the Intermediate Series and then the Pre-High School Series (including three books on pre-algebra, one on fractions, and another on decimals and percents). (It’s at this level that Dr. Schmidt has also written supplementary practice books, if they are needed.) After this is the High School Series (Beginning Algebra, Advanced Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry). After the high school series, Dr. Schmidt has several books at the college level too.

This is all to say that Life of Fred can take your student a long way in their math studies. But you need to go slow. I read each chapter with my son, and we don’t try to do more than two or three books per year. We play math games, practice multiplication in various ways, and luckily, my son still doesn’t hate math. Now that we have finished the elementary series, I can see more clearly how this curriculum has benefitted my son and Dr. Schmidt’s strategy for teaching math. And the best part is that there is no prep work for me – we just open the book and begin the next chapter!

Note to fellow secular homeschoolers: The author of this series is religious, and that is apparent in the Life of Fred story. However, religious references are few and very benign. There was nothing that offended me.

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