After years and years of using Life of Fred math, I have finally come to a point I never thought I’d come to: I am frustrated with Fred.
Currently, I have two students using Life of Fred’s Elementary series and here is our experience to date:
Student 1, in Grade 2, is working right on track through the texts but has had to put Fred on hold until she fully understands certain concepts. We read our way through Apples to Farming this year with little trouble. However, everything fizzled out in the first chapter of Goldfish when suddenly this question appeared in the Your Turn to Play section:
Find a value for y that makes this true: 2y=10. 2y means the same as 2 times y. 2y means the same as 2 x y. 2y means the same as y + y.
This was the sum total of the student’s first introduction to the concept of multiplication. My daughter’s response?: “Huh????” And so we have been taking a break to understand a lot more of what multiplication is and how it works. My daughter picked up the idea right away once I explained it to her (for free!), but Fred’s explanation just wasn’t working. The thing is, I think math programs should be able to clearly introduce and explain concepts to young learners without making huge conceptual leaps. After all, that’s why parents buy them, isn’t it?
Student 2, in Grade 5, has in my opinion stalled in her progress with Fred. She completed up to Ice Cream in Grade 2 and this year made it to the beginning of Mineshaft. That means there has been some progress. However, this student has needed a ton of help from me to make it through each text and still cannot make it through Ice Cream without help even though she has been through the text at least 5 times. The difficulty seems to be the way Fred introduces and explains concepts (often in the Your Turn to Play sections and not in the main text); the gaps between introduction of concepts and further review, especially with concepts like area and perimeter; and a lack of practice with new concepts to make sure they are fully grasped before moving on. Normally, I would not mind filling in gaps in understanding, but in this case, due to the way the texts are laid out, I cannot just flip back in a chapter to find the information needed to re-explain a concept. I often find myself searching through more than one book trying to find out where a concept was first introduced and then later reviewed so I can thoroughly help my child. This is time-consuming and, frankly, annoying. This particular child is extremely intelligent and should be able to easily master fractions and decimals at this age. And yet, we are still not in those texts and are not having fun trying to get there.
Overall, I have come to agree with the following criticisms by Charlotte Web of the Life of Fred curriculum:
On Fred’s lack of really teaching number sense:
Yet, in LOF regarding the sums of tens this is written, “Write all the pairs that add to ten (Edgewood, pg.77).” That’s it. This does not develop a child’s number sense. Children need to know how to play with numbers, how to break them apart and combine them in different combinations. Other curriculums help children develop number sense through teaching different ideas or strategies that they can use when adding and subtracting, such as “adding one more than a sum of ten” or “adding one more than a double.” These strategies are not just to help a child memorize their facts, but they serve to teach a child number sense, or how to think mathematically.
On the explanation of new concepts like long division:
My issue with long division is not that it could not be self-taught according to the book, but simply that the math is not explained clearly.
The LOF curriculum is not clear and is difficult to self-teach in that there is an illogical presentation of mathematical concepts. Huge jumps are made from one concept to the next with little or no practice or explanations in between.
You can read Charlotte Webb’s whole review here: https://theparentsreview.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/life-of-fred-math-as-serious-as-it-needs-to-be/
As a result of our frustration, I decided to supplement Life of Fred with another math program. We settled on Math Mammoth for reasons of cost, quality of instruction, and ability to use semi-independently. Student 1 is currently working through the Grade 2 text and is enjoying it so much she wants me to buy MM’s stuffed mammoth mascot to go with it. Student 2 is currently working through the Grade 3 text. I had to put her back to Grade 3 math because that is the level that introduces fractions and decimals and also reviews concepts like time and money. Sadly, no matter what program I chose, this student would have been in Grade 3 or 4 math due to the scope and sequences of various programs. This is a huge frustration for her, but she needs the extra instruction and practice in approaching math problems in different ways without making careless errors. I plan on using MM and LOF together for the foreseeable future.
Since purchasing MM’s first 3 levels, I have also learned about another math program that I am exploring. It is called Strayer-Upton Mathematics, and it sounds incredibly amazing. I particularly like the format since everything is all in one book and the concepts are thoroughly taught with application to the real world. I am looking into whether or not it would be overkill to use SU with both MM and LOF or whether I should just choose between SU and MM for grades 4-8 (please comment if you can speak to this!). One thing is clear, though: LOF is becoming a fun review and supplement for us, but we need a program that clearly teaches number sense and mathematical concepts to go along with it. Sadly, LOF is no longer that type of program for us.