Monday, May 2, 2016

My Love Hate Relationship with Life of Fred....

Kids love Fred.  My kids even love(d) Fred.   Some parents love Fred.   Some parents think it's all you need for math and that Life of Fred can stand alone.  I have worked through Apples to Goldfish with Ruben.  I do not love Fred.  I do not think Life of Fred is a stand alone math program.   But wait, before throwing stones, please let me explain...

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 

13 comments:

  1. I loved reading your post, as I've also come to a similar conclusion on Life of Fred. It's nice to know I'm not alone! Lol! :) One thought to look into for solid math with good review, is Christian Light Education (CLE). I liken it to something similar to Saxon, but in workbook form, so no copying problems down in a notebook. I think I've tried almost every math out there for my kids, and have come back to CLE as the most solid for us. Thanks for sharing about LOF, and enjoy this nice Wisconsin spring!;)

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    1. Thank you Lisa! Ironically, I just recommended CLE to a friend because I've heard such good things about it. However, I've not looked into it personally....but do plan to. Also, Memoria Press uses Rod & Staff Mathematics through 6th grade, which I'm guessing is going to be similar to CLE. I think the workbooks would definitely be helpful!

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    2. We just switched to CLE for next year, so I'm glad to see the positive review above. We have LOF Apples and Butterflies and I think your review is spot on. We also have the old I Love Math Time Life series which is equally silly at times. However, my daughter enjoys both as a "break" for a day or two when our main curriculum gets overwhelming. I think Charlotte was correct, however I take the approach that a mostly healthy diet isn't ruined by an occasional snack of junk food.

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    3. Melissa, I also know several families who use Fred as a snack break. I agree that small doses may be fine. Moderation is key :)

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  2. Enjoying reading this too! We have a lot of Fred. All the elementary and several upper level. My high schooler loathes LOF. So we don't use it. A few of my elementary kids enjoyed LOF for a while, but they, too, got tired of the story and it certainly wasn't enough to teach them math and give them enough practice to be proficient. So why is it still on my shelves? Partially because I don't mind if the kids want to use them on their own time, and partially because I just haven't taken the time to sell them. I will probably keep them around for a while and see if my math whiz takes to the upper levels on his own, but Math U See has been our faithful main curriculum for years now and we'll stick with it. Oldest is finishing up Algebra 1 this month or next (end of her 9th grade year). The finishing 5th and 4th graders are winding up Epsilon. The finishing 2nd grader is midway through Gamma. The finishing 1st grader is in Alpha. They have all approached MUS at different paces but it has consistently been a solid program for each child. Yay!

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    1. Hey Tristan, it's nice to hear from you!

      We have our local used curricula fair coming up this Saturday and I was actually debating whether or not to sell my LOF books. I believe my older kids are done with them, but like you mentioned maybe a younger would like to read them someday.

      Something else occurred to me after writing this post. If your kids are solid in their math facts and have a good understanding of basic arithmetic concepts like add, subtract, multiply, divide, fractions, decimals, etc., Fred may be an OK resource somewhere between 4th-7th grade for a supplemental read. There were times when Fred got the kids thinking about math, but definitely not enough to help them with proficiency as you mentioned. It was more an introductory level and then move on to the next thing. Fred takes a spiral approach and not mastery.

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  3. I'm a first year homeschooler. We started out the year with Math U See and I was excited! I really liked it. I used to be a Special Education Teacher so I've taught elementary school math however my daughter hated it. She didn't want to use the manipulatives and she hates doing worksheets. We finished Alpha-she's in third but they recommended we start there because she hadn't mastered her addition facts or place value. So we kept hearing about LOF and on Black Friday, Educents had a huge sale so I bought the whole LOF Elementary Series. My daughter loves it so much. We are at the end of farming so it's getting harder. When she finishes the series, I plan to have to re-read the series but complete the supplemental worksheets on the LOF FB page file section (there are 1-2 pages per chapter for each book as extra practice). If she continues to love LOF, we'll stick with it. She was really behind in math and hated it because her self esteem is wrapped into performance sadly so I'm working on rebuilding her self-esteem. I love the fact that higher level concepts are incorporated and that other information is included (fun facts about the phrases of the moon, Titanic, weather in Kansas in February, etc.). LOF isn't for every kid and that's okay. I had a really hard time with math growing up. I never had a really good foundation. In fact when I took math in college, I was in tutoring constantly just to pass my classes:( So I'm hoping LOF will help my daughter to learn how to think mathematically, to have a good foundation for math & a love for math.

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  4. I bought LOF really, really hoping it would work for us, because buying consumable math books each year for 3 students was getting expensive, and we have 7 children total! But the elementary sets have everything wrong with them that you mentioned, and although my children loved the goofy stories, they didn't learn much math. I will say that I DID really like Fractions and Decimals, and even the intermediate series. I felt that my children actually learned the math that was in them. But I *am* trying to figure out how I can afford to switch back to Mathematical Reasoning for most of my kiddos, and possibly teaching textbooks for my eldest...

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    1. I'm not familiar with Mathematical Reasoning, but I've heard great things about CLE, which is relatively inexpensive. Also, Khan Academy is free. Be sure to consider used sources. You never know what you may find :)

      Blessings to you in your quest,
      Melissa

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  5. Every time I went to a homeschool conference I would pick up LOF in the exhibit hall. And every time I would start reading, my eyes would involuntarily roll. I simply could not get far enough into the text to see what all the homeschoolers were raving about. The story bothered me (twaddle indeed!) but the graphics/illustrations were the end of me!! I think of it as "twaddle for the eyes". So when someone asks for my opinion on LOF, I honestly answer, "I don't know. I can't seem to get past the first few pages--but I hear good things!"

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  6. My daughter came out of public school hating math. We used an online math program & supplemented with LOF starting in fractions. After 2 years, we decided to only use LOF & we've never looked back. She is almost finished with Beginning Algebra & we use Khan Academy in the summer. It has worked for her & she loves math now. My youngest daughter has worked through 3 of the LOF elementary books & I have added hands-on math review for each chapter. We will be moving onto something new next year because she has requested it, but still would like to continue reading the LOF books. I do not feel like their education has been dumbed down using LOF, it has sparked many conversations and peeked their interest in researching other topics. I think every child is different and that is the beauty of homeschooling, finding what works best for your individual child.

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    1. I don't think our math education has been dumbed down by Life of Fred either. In fact, there are many advanced concepts and ideas about history, music, science, and economics, for example, throughout the books.

      We did not start with Apples, but with Goldfish (having begun with MUS before that). My older son is now in Algebra and appears to be ahead of students at the same level as far as being able to know when and how to apply the math and understand it's relation to the physical sciences.

      If LOF is guilty of the charge of twaddle, it is the only twaddle he reads. Every other book is off the Ambleside Online lists. *wink*

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