I acquired a few elementary Life of Fred math books several years ago, when they were first coming on the scene. I had/have friends using them with mixed reviews so I wasn't sure I wanted to attempt them. However, after hitting many walls with traditional curricula, this year I caved.
RileyAnn really wanted to try Life of Fred so she was my biggest push. She dabbled in the intermediate levels of Fred at the end of 5th grade, but felt like she was missing the story and the math was a bit of a challenge, so she started back at the beginning this year in 6th grade with Life of Fred Apples. Initially, she was loving the story and the math was easy so she thought it fun. I thought, how fabulous! Fred is bringing life and a love of math back into our homeschool.
Of course, what's good for the goose, must be good for the gander, so I immediately sought to start Life of Fred with Ruben. After all, he was also struggling in math and I so wanted to develop a love of learning. Therefore, we also began with Life of Fred Apples. Riley worked independently, but Ruben and I worked together. I read Fred aloud and he performed "Your Turn to Play" on paper, just as prescribed. Without hesitation, he too loved the story so we tarried on.
After finishing Apples, Ruben wanted to continue with Butterflies. After finishing Butterflies, he wanted to continue with Cats. After finishing Cats, of course, we had to proceed with Dogs....and so the story goes. Our school year pushed forward, one month leading into another as we walked through Life of Fred.
Now, as for me, I suspected twaddle early on. Something just didn't feel right. The story is just so stupid! The words of Charlotte Mason rang in my head, "I have said much of history and science, but mathematics, a mountainous land which pays the climber, makes its appeal to mind, and good teachers know that they may not drown their teaching in verbiage." (Vol. 6, p. 51) "Verbiage", hmm, could this be Life of Fred? I found myself continually questioning and wrestling with the use of it. And, why was I trying to make math 'fun'? Isn't math true and beautiful in it's own right? I felt like Life of Fred was trying to hide math in a story.....verbiage. Also, there is not enough practice in Life of Fred for long term retention! You either need to supplement or have facts mastered before beginning Fred, which is not indicative of a stand alone math program.
On the other hand, presentation of what might be considered a difficult concept, became easier with Life of Fred. Ruben was able to see math in a useful sort of way. Numbers on a page are confusing to him. However, he's quite genius with story problems and mental math. Life of Fred presented some concepts of higher level math in a way that made understanding achievable for him. This pacified my worries short term, but I kept having moments of doubt. My kids still appeared to be loving it....or were they?
Ironically, about early March, after RileyAnn had worked through nearly the entire elementary series, she came to me and said something like, mom, when can I go back and do real math? I said, whatever do you mean by 'real math'? She talked about having a more traditional text with pages of problems, rather than a storybook. She explained that Life of Fred was becoming sickening to her because Fred kept having problems that he was too dumb to figure out. She felt Fred was "cheesy". I was shocked and elated! I jumped for joy, not only because I was never a real fan of Fred, but because our 12-year old came to my conclusion all on her own.
Unfortunately, Ruben wants to continue Fred simply because of the story, but he hates the math. We are currently in Honey and it's getting a bit more difficult for him. He did say, he will be satisfied to finish the elementary series and move on to something else. Now, you might say, if it's not working, why give him a choice? Truth be told, we have three weeks left of school. Wisconsin weather looks like it is finally going to settle into spring. We are busy with other things and I really don't want to start a new math program at this point. We will finish Honey and call it good. If Ruben wants to read Ice Cream and Jelly Beans on his own, I certainly will not stop him. However, I am personally done with Life of Fred!
By the way, Riley did also complete Simply Charlotte Mason's Your Business Math this year, as well as some misc. math books like Fractals, Googols, and Other Mathematical Tales and Mathematicians Are People Too, so all was not lost. She has since went back and finished an old Math-U-See book and now she's working through a Modern Curriculum Press workbook that I had laying around, which actually seems like a good fit. I'm trying to decide where to go from here. She is not quite ready for pre-algebra, but I'm actually OK with that....maybe by 8th grade. I really believe in getting arithmetic down solid before starting algebra. Riley still hates math and feels like she's not good at it, though I would beg to differ. I think most other subjects come fairly easy for her and she's a perfectionist so when math is a bit challenging, she gets overwhelmed. I've actually been contemplating Saxon for a variety of reasons or possibly going back and finishing the elementary series of Math-U-See. I think she could work through them faster now and probably complete the last three elementary levels in 1 1/2 to 2 years. On the other hand, if MCP continues to go well, maybe we'll just stick with that until Algebra....I don't know, some days it feels like a crap shoot. It's six to one, half dozen the other. However, I do know Life of Fred did not create the love of math in either of my kids that I'd hoped. More importantly, it did not strengthen their math skills. And, it did not help them see the beauty and truth of mathematics.
Let his arithmetic lesson be to the child a daily exercise in clear thinking and rapid, careful execution, and his mental growth will be as obvious as the sprouting of seedlings in the spring. - Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 261
The question of Arithmetic and Mathematics generally is one of great import to us as educators. So long as the idea of 'faculties' obtained no doubt we were right to put all possible weight on a subject so well adapted to train the reasoning power, but now we are assured that these powers do not wait upon our training. They are there in any case; and if we keep a chief place in our curriculum for Arithmetic we must justify ourselves upon other grounds.. We take strong ground when we appeal to the beauty and truth of Mathematics; that, as Ruskin points out, two and two make four and cannot conceivably make five, is an inevitable law. It is a great thing to be brought into the presence of a law, of a whole system of laws, that exist without our concurrence, - that two straight lines cannot enclose a space is a fact which we can perceive, state, and act upon but cannot in any wise alter, should give to children the sense of limitation which is wholesome, for all of us, and inspire that sursum corda which we should hear in all natural law. - Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 230-231