Life of Fred {Homeschool Math}

Have you met Fred Gauss? He’s a five year old who teaches math at KITTENS University in Kansas. Unless you’ve made it through Calculus you don’t know how he got to be a math professor at age 5, but if you’ve ever met Fred then you know he lives in his office at KITTENS and sleeps under his desk. Also, he eats out of the hallway vending machine and has a doll named Kingie who is an accomplished artist.

We meet with Fred daily and enjoy his adventures from second grade to ninth grade and a few in between. We started using Life of Fred along with Math on the Level (MOTL) a few years ago mainly with my oldest as he finished up his pre-algebra skills and headed into Algebra. MOTL goes up through pre-Algebra preparing students for success in Algebra.

Initially, we started Algebra with a more traditional program, but found E14 was fatiguing by the end of a problem set. I decided to try out LOF Beginning Algebra to see if it was a better fit. We found that his accuracy improved dramatically.

Blog She Wrote: Life of Fred

I thought I’d share our experience with Life of Fred since people often have a lot of questions about it. Most of the time people are intrigued by the story math, but they are not convinced it’s “enough” math. I can identify with that for sure! We are all probably products of the read the chapter and do thirty problem math programs.

However, if you are familiar with MOTL and its “Five a Day” concept, then Life of Fred is not as shocking with its lack of overstuffed problem sets.

So, how did Life of Fred win me over?

  • The story nature of the text
  • The real life problem approach- Fred encounters a need for the math and then uses it. Usually within the context of a humorous situation
  • Encourages a different approach to attacking a problem- it causes students to think. This is a big deal for a linear kid who is a computation king, but has trouble fitting ideas together to come to a proper conclusion.
  • Less drill and more complex problems. Just less problems overall. So, less fatigue and increased accuracy
  • Cost- honestly for $16 per book for the elementary texts and as much as $30-$45 for upper level math texts, you can’t go wrong even if you just wanted to try it out. Dr. Schmidt packs a lot of concepts into a non-consumable text I can use with all of my kids.
  • No workbooks. I am just not a fan of workbooks. You might remember I love ordinary notebook paper.

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Please pardon any incorrect answers you see here! Chances are I snapped some photos of unchecked work. J7 is great at addition with carrying, but I see back then he was a little confused on adding with the thousands column present! As a second grader, J7 is using the elementary series and has graduated himself from second grade handwriting paper straight to standard wide ruled loose leaf. They grow up so fast!

With the elementary series, I have my kids read the chapter to me (as in the case of J7) and then he does the problems while I sit with him. Mostly just to keep him focused till the end. I have my fifth grader read his by himself and do the problems and check them. Then he has to narrate to me what happened in the chapter and we talk about how the problems went.

Blog She Wrote: Life of Fred

The kids are supposed to write down their problems on notebook paper- even if it is seems easier to do them orally. The older books are written directly to the student. The program is designed for students to read on their own and do the problems and check them. Parents are not directly responsible for instruction. Afterward, I conference with my kids to see how they did and go over anything they didn’t understand.

Starting with Fractions, every five chapters or so there is a Bridge. There are ten problems in the Bridge and students can only get one wrong in order to move to the next chapter. It’s a great checkpoint and students get five tries. If they do well, they keep moving on.

What happens if they get stuck? (at any point or can’t pass the Bridge after five tries)

  • I go over the Bridges to see if there are any commonalities in what the student is getting incorrect. If I find one we revisit the concept both with Fred and on our own.
  • Pull in other reinforcing activities to practice the skill or reteach it. I don’t get bogged down with this. No matter what program I use, there will be times when a little backtrack is necessary.
  • Take problems from several Bridge versions and have the student redo the problems to see if they get it correct (these are tough problems not easy to memorize). If they do, I know they have the concept and we move on.
  • Take a break. And come back to it after a few days of math games and general skill practice.
  • Give more practice problems. My source? My oldest went through Horizons through Grade 6 (he was pre MOTL authorship and it wasn’t until my artsy girl that I realized it would not work for all my kids) so I use it!

Blog She Wrote: Life of Fred

The way Fred tackles a problem has definitely modeled problem solving for R12. She uses this approach often when she encounters a sewing problem. For example, she recently read up on and learned about cones so that she could draft a proper pattern for her Gandalf hats. R12 thrives on needing the math and conquering it. She has been learning like crazy for a purpose and Fred has shown the way on this. Visit The Making of a Wizard & The Crafty Side of Math for how I work with Rebecca’s creativity to teach math. To me, the best part is seeing what she does on her own to get the job done. Seriously, you can’t beat the authenticity in that.

Blog She Wrote: Life of Fred

E14 began Algebra in 7th grade and has completed Beginning and Advanced Algebra. He’s currently working through Geometry which is a whole new way of thinking. He’s six weeks in and he’s getting better at being more precise with his proofs.

On the downside, it is annoying to have the answers printed right below the questions. The author considers it an exercise in avoiding temptation which a student needs to overcome. I can get behind that somewhat, but reality says that when a kid is all done trying “as hard as he can before he looks”, he’s gonna look. And probably before he’s reached maximum effort. I have a system which involves paper, tape, and a Post It note and it covers the answers without that accidental revealing slide. You know the one I’m talking about.

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You’ll find the upper level math books to have a substantial number of problems that have many steps. Algebra and Geometry have many more problems than say Fractions and Decimals & Percents.

In comparison with our traditional text, Life of Fred accelerates faster with the concepts and does not require thirty problems a day. This is actually a big thing because my student doesn’t get bored waiting to move to the next concept. We did not add on the extra problem book and E14 seemed to do well with what was already provided.

Blog She Wrote: Life of Fred

Not everyone is convinced Life of Fred is robust enough and I’m OK with that. But I can assure you it is worth a look if you want to see improved problem solving skills in your students. Our students have been successful with it and it provides fodder for a lot of math discussions at our house. With all the kids immersed in a part of Fred’s story, there is always something lively to share. And there is always laughter. Thanks Dr. Schmidt for bringing the smiles to our math world!

Best of all, I witness a LOT of math mentoring in our house- older siblings helping younger siblings. I especially love when a younger student shares his math for the day and the older student replies by sharing how that concept is taken further by the time you get to a certain level of Life of Fred.

I personally enjoy Life of Fred because it’s a very pleasant way to revisit math for myself. I can hardly wait for E14 to get to Calculus because I just know Fred is going to help me understand what that semester was really all about. Plus, we all want to know how Fred came to be a math professor at KITTENS!

One more tip: If you have your husband, the engineer, going over problems sets with your 9th grader, be sure to pass along the answer booklet to him. He may appear to be one who uses every upper level math he ever learned on a daily basis, but it turns out that isn’t true. As I found out this evening. Hats off to you Dan…for the extra brain work this last six weeks or so!

If you love Fred, share your experience with us here!

** 2014-2015 update: This post is so popular that I thought it would be fun to update you on our progress. My oldest is now entering his junior year of high school. He finished geometry and is almost finished trigonometry and we are poised to purchase Calculus this summer. Fred still works! He’s still our math friend. **

51 thoughts on “Life of Fred {Homeschool Math}

  1. We’re pretty happy with Math U See so far, but thank you for this good review of Life of Fred. I’ve been thinking about getting it for a supplement/change-of-pace to add to our math studies, especially for my older two, for opposite reasons. My oldest dislikes math and I thought the story might appeal to her and enliven interest. My second loves math and is interested in about anything math-related. Is each volume easily stand-alone as far as the storyline is concerned?

    • Absolutely! Each one is a story in itself. In fact, when we first started Fractions was the youngest version so you can start there too- with a fifth grader at the earliest he says.

      Kids should know multiplication and be able to do long division well before they begin Fractions.

  2. We’re pretty happy with Math U See so far, but thank you for this good review of Life of Fred. I’ve been thinking about getting it for a supplement/change-of-pace to add to our math studies, especially for my older two, for opposite reasons. My oldest dislikes math and I thought the story might appeal to her and enliven interest. My second loves math and is interested in about anything math-related. Is each volume easily stand-alone as far as the storyline is concerned?

  3. We’re still in the elementary level Fred books, but I’m planning to stick with them through high school because my girls love them so much. Thanks for sharing your experience; it was very encouraging for me to stick with Fred.

  4. I’ve been seriously looking at LOF for elementary. Thanks for the review. We’re coming from A Beka Arithmetic and have been adding Living Math throughout the week. I also love the MOTL approach but can’t stomach the high cost of the program (maybe someone will be selling their set on ebay cheap). It’s given me a lot to consider.

    • They do have used sets out there and you can still purchase a record keeping system for it if you go that route. Just keep in mind with MOTL that it’s one expense for pre-K through grade 8. That’s actually a pretty good deal. It’s a good investment if you can put aside the money for it.

  5. Thank you for posting on this. My daughter is using TT Algebra 1 and has hit a road block. We used LOF Fractions as a supplement last year in pre algebra when she got stuck and then moved on. I am looking at LOF again to bail us out. I am unsure where to start though. Any recommendations? I don’t know if we should go back or start with beginning algebra. I haven’t visited your blog for a while but you really are doing an awesome job. I am always impressed with the variety in your children’s schooling. You make everything look fun.

    • Which level was she doing for pre-Algebra? You might try Beginning Algebra and see how it goes. If you didn’t do the two books of pre-Algebra they might be helpful too. I recommend the Home Companion which breaks down the Beginning Algebra text into daily bites. He sells extra practice problems too for that level.

      Thanks for your encouragement! I appreciate your feedback. We do try for engaging activities. Sometimes the line between school and play blurs!

  6. We are now using Life of Fred and it has been a blessing. Thank you Heather because I have gained a lot of math knowledge from your site.

  7. Thanks for this comprehensive review, Heather. We have the elementary series and were up to Goldfish (my kids are 8 and 9) when we decided to take a break and do other things for a while (we went through a couple of fun workbooks based on the UK national curriculum, to make sure we weren’t too out of step).

    I have often thought about how I am looking forward to the advanced books to revise my own maths! It’s good to hear the later books are good too. Lucinda

  8. I am curious as to if you still use MOTL or you have switched completely over to LOF. I understand you would have replaced it for your older children since it only covers through 8th grade, but what about elementary? I currently own both sets of curriculum and I was toying with the idea of meshing the two of them together for schooling with my 5th grader next school year. I may even start reading LOF to my soon to be 1st grader and kindergartener. Thank you for any insights you may have.

    • Alesia,
      I do mesh the two together. The only thing about that is once you use Fred, you lose the independence to choose the scope and sequence for a topic. That is a hallmark of MOTL- that you make the decisions about what your student is ready for and you navigate accordingly.

      Once you use an outside source and follow the order it presents, you’ve lost that freedom. That is, if you choose to go chapter by chapter and book by book with Fred.

      How do I intertwine them? I let Fred lead the way more or less and when my kids need more practice or need a break, I use the resources in MOTL to provide it. I may also take a break from Fred and focus on a particular skill like graphing or decimals- doing math adventures, etc. I like to use the MOTL manuals to help me remember a concept to re-teach/reinforce things with my kids. The great thing about MOTL is that it give you several ideas on how to present the information to students. One of them is bound to be the best for your student.

      I will also add on a 5 a day to the Fred assignments if I think my student needs more practice. That defeats both of their philosophies by adding more not less. LOL But I do it when I want to make sure they are performing consistently or when they make a lot of mistakes. It works out because I don’t do that everyday.

      I hope that’s helpful!

      • That was very helpful! Thank you so much. I am thinking I will do something very similar. My current plan is to introduce new concepts with LOF and then add them into the MOTL 5 a day rotation. By doing so, the 2 programs can piggyback off of each other. That is my hope anyways.

  9. My second grade daughter has done the elementary series of LOF (thank you from several years ago for this find!)…is J7 taking a break from math now? We started Singapore math, which is nice for showing how everything is done, but definitely a lot of pages/problems to be solved. I love the humor and need for math in LOF, it just seems too good to be true;)

    • Nope! J7 is in LOF Farming right now. We enjoy it a lot. No reason to rush since Fractions is for 5th grade and he needs many more skills before then. We’re taking our time and doing other fun things as well.

      • It was too hard to stop her from wanting to read on to figure out what Fred would do;) Sure hope by the end of the series that CC Coalback gets justice! (But don’t tell me!) I may need to look more into Math on the Level or some such because I’m afraid Singapore will burn her out. Anyway, thanks for your posts!

  10. This looks neat and thanks again for replying so quickly today. I told you we’re doing Horizons but we just started back this year. I didn’t realize that the second workbook is always a grade level ahead. So it was way too hard for my son in Kindergarten. We skipped Horizons completely in 1st grade and just started the first workbook of 2nd grade half way this year. Since the second workbook is always ahead I decided we’d do 2nd grade workbook two and third grade work book one for 3rd grade math. I hate to have bought that curriculum and not use it but if Life of Fred doesn’t cost much then maybe we can get it and look at it.

    Since you used Horizons also, how would you recommend switching to LOF? Is the 3rd grade the same as other 3rd grade curriculum? I know you said fractions is for fifth grade but I’ve seen lower level fractions in 2nd and 3rd grade books. The Horizons 3rd grade has a lot of multiplication and division. Some of it looks like Algebra to me! lol even my bff that has a teacher’s degree (she also homeschools) was surprised about how hard it looks. But I’ve checked other math books with state standards and they look similar.

    Even the way math is taught these days is foreign to me. The problem solving concepts just blow me away. As an adult I have a hard time figuring some of them out. How can a kid figure it out? Has math really changed so much since I was a kid (I’m 28)? I want Michael to enjoy math and understand the “why” behind it all but I also want to know he’s at the right level if he decides to go to college. That’s my one fear with unschooling techniques though I’m leaning more that way.

    Alrighty, I’ll try not to spam up your comments so much. I really do appreciate you taking the time to answer me. Math is the scariest subject for me to teach. I don’t have a college degree and though I made decent grades in school I’ve forgotten most things. So I wouldn’t say I feel qualified to teach but I do know I am called by the Lord to teach my son. So I’m trusting God to help me each step of the way. I believe he points me to homeschool moms like you that are doing well and have already been where I am now.

    Third grade here we come…dunn dunn dunnnnnn!
    God bless!

    • Amber,

      If you are going to try Fred with your son, I recommend starting with the first book. The first books will go very quickly, but they introduce some vocabulary that is new and give your student an introduction to Dr. Schmidt’s teaching style. The elementary level books are all $16 a book and you can get them with free shipping at http://www.polkadotpublishing.com

      Fractions is a difficult book! I would say you need to be finished with Horizons grade 4 before taking it on. We actually started with Math on the Level before doing Fred so there was some transition built in there anyway.

      If you go to Fred’s website, you can email the author as well and ask him questions if you’d like information straight from the teacher!

      Good luck and if you have more questions, feel free to ask them. I’m happy to answer!

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  12. How often do your children go through a book? I wonder because we just started homeschooling and I researched a math program rigorously before I chose lof. Now I’m wondering if we are going too fast or too slow. Too fast and we’ll be done with the elementary set well before the author suggests starting the fractions book. Apparently a chapter a day will be too fast.

    • I have one like that as well Nancy. Believe it or not, the author suggests beginning again when you are through the elementary series and not old enough for Fractions. Your student will pick up new things and have a better foundation. Some of those concepts are really new ideas that young students don’t normally learn like more in depth set theory.

      I plan to hit the spots I think my guy needs more work on so we are ready for Fractions. That said, he’s third grade this year and more than half way through Goldfish. So, I will be in this position sooner than later.

      Fractions is NOT an easy book! It is not for the math faint of heart and Decimals and Percents is even harder. Just keep that in mind. You want a strong math student ready to forge ahead in Fractions!

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  14. I want to order these books for my kids. They are doing Saxon Alg 1/2 and Math 76. But they still have to stop and figure mentally for some of their times tables. I’d like to order the intermediate in hopes they’d zip through it but I feel like they really need to be working at the fractions level. Yet intermediate contents shows much they don’t know! How fast could they get through those early ones and on to where they need to be? We’ll probably still do Saxon. Should I just let the early ones go & get the fractions? Thanks!

    • Hi Dee Dee,

      Fractions requires that times tables be memorized and long division be mastered before doing it. Fractions is not for the faint of heart! The early books they would go through quickly.

      You might consider starting with Goldfish or Honey where multiplication is taught. It wouldn’t take long and they could work from there up to Fractions going over the times tables again.

      The earliest books go over big concepts for young kids -the start of set theory and that sort of thing.

      Let me know if you have other questions. Also, the author of the Fred series, Dr. Schmidt, is always good about answering email.

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  17. Love!!!! We have been using LOF for years. My daughter is currently in Beginning Algebra. Your review is very thorough and clear. I’ve been wanting to write a review myself but struggle each time I try. Kudos!!

    • Thanks Eva! This one was from the heart. I get so many questions and this seemed like a good way to explain it.

      My 15yo is nearly finished with Trigonometry. Maybe I need another post!

  18. We use LOF as a supplement to Christian Light Math (Grammar Stage) & Saxon Math (Logic Stage) and we have been very pleased with what we’ve done in LOF. Our goal with LOF is to add depth of understanding. However, I was unaware that in the upper levels the answers are below the problems, that might not work for us. This review was great!

    • Thank you Kyle! The answers are a pain, but we take steps to prevent issues. I have to work hard to make sure they aren’t too independent with their work in his books. : )

  19. Life of Fred is the only math that all three of my kids have loved, and one of them was formerly math-phobic! How can you hate math when what you’re reading has you cracking up?

    You’re so right about siblings helping too – my guess is that it’s partly, at least in our house, so that they can enjoy favourite LOF chapters all over again. Great post, Heather.

  20. So true Erin! They love to talk about common characters and enjoy the laughs all over again. Some of the funniest material is in Advanced Algebra. The Dust Bunnies are hilarious!

  21. We use LOF for my youngest daughter. She is finishing up the last elementary book now. I have been debating whether to stick with the series for middle school or use something more “traditional” but I think I am going to revisit staying with it.

    It is our time together. She reads the story aloud to me and then does the work on her own.

    Thank you for this comprehensive review.

    • The intermediate books and LOF Elementary Physics came around after this post. I think you’ll find it plenty challenging for sure. Enjoy!

  22. Thanks for the great post! I know this question is way after your original post, but I just now found your blog while looking into Life Of Fred for next school year. My son would be starting with the Apples book. I am a bit concerned about his willingness to sit for too long though. What would your estimate be for how long it takes to read the story and answer the questions? Thanks!

    • Hi Amanda!

      I’d say no more than five minutes for the story and another 5 or so for the questions. Very quick. Very easy. As time goes on, they get a little more involved with the problems and those take longer. To start out, the chapters are short. Apples is meant for first grade-ish so that makes kids a bit older. Have fun!

  23. Hi and thank you so much for your review!

    I am starting to homeschool my son from September and so I have spent so much time looking through different curriculum for his maths.
    I should also say that we live in the UK, hence my first question…
    Many maths curriculums are specifically “translated” for the UK market, mainly when it comes to money and measuring etc. Do you know if that is the case with LOF?
    If not, do you think it would be possible to somehow get around that?

    My second question is about your opinion on supplementing LOF as it does not seem enough. Zack is behind and I really need him to pick up but also master concepts so maybe combination could work? If so, have you heard of Maths Mammouth?

    Thank you so much again and I am so looking forward to your reply.

    Laura

    • Hi Laura,
      I’ll try and answer your questions. First, money is all in US currency. I don’t know that there is a UK version, but you can always email Dr. Schmidt about it. He is really good about answering email. Second, units for measurement are mixed. He goes between both English and metric units. Could you get around it? I would think in money problems you could just by changing it to match your units. Since the others are mixed, you’d just have to deal with some of the problems not all of them. Seems doable, but I haven’t gone at it with that point of view so my opinion is limited there. :)

      Supplementing? Some folks really feel Fred is not enough. I have used all the books up through Trigonometry at this point. Certainly the high school math is rigorous and it is enough! My high schooler would not have time or the inclination for more math. As I’m preparing my younger kids for the higher level math, I use Fred primarily and like it says in the post we may pause and make sure we know something before moving on to the next Fred lesson. I let Fred lead the way and if I find something needs shoring up we do it. I think one of the things folks need to let go of is the idea of many problems = best math knowledge. There are other programs which go with the same philosophy. Once you can let go of that convention, you begin to see other possibilities. It’s important to stay connected with your student as they go through the books, then you know how they stand and what to do next.

      I have used Math Mammoth on occasion. Maria does a nice job in providing instruction boxes and problems. I would focus on what things your son needs to have reinforced and do that while you were on Fred.

      Best wishes for a successful homeschool start!

      Heather

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  26. Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge! I have a daughter who will be going into 5th grade. She use to love math but a couple of years with poor instruction in public school took care of that :( I have decided I would like to use LOF exclusively at least for this year to help rekindle her love of math. I purchased Ice Cream and we started reading and she loves it and doesn’t complain at all about the work!! My question is should I purchase the earlier books as well so she gets the whole picture? And if so do you have any suggestions on keeping the math skills she has up to date while going through the earlier books as well as putting her on track for Fractions at the correct age?

    Thank you for any advice you are able to give!

    Shelly

    • Hi Shelly,
      The earlier books do introduce you to concepts before Ice Cream. It’s nice to have them to get into the way Fred teaches math. For older kids they don’t take long at all. You can add practice for what she knows already as you go to keep those skills fresh. The author says that Fractions if for 5th grade and in order to be successful with Fractions kids need to know multiplication facts well and they need to be good at long division.

      Feel free to email the author, Dr. Schmidt, from his website at http://www.polkdotpublishing.com . He is pretty good about answering questions! Thanks for reading- Heather

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