Posted in Curriculum, Subject Math

Frustrated with Fred

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:

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.

Posted in Curriculum, Subject History & Geography

A Review of Veritas Press’s Pages of History Volumes 1 and 2

cover_thumb_12_11Background: I saw these books in Veritas Press’s catalogue. After looking at sample pages of them, I thought I would give them a try with my history-phobic 5th grader. This review is from a confessionally reformed perspective (original Westminster standards).

Grade: B+

Verdict: I would use these books as supplements in my homeschool, but only with my own edits and commentary.

What I Liked:

  • The concept of weaving history facts into a fictional adventure is intriguing and attention-grabbing for students who don’t take to traditional history materials
  • It is nice to have a supplemental overview of many of the highlights of world history
  • Despite being overviews, the books contain an abundance of historical information. What isn’t directly in the text is placed in sidebars throughout the books so students can learn even more about the cultures being studied. For example, there is a chart about Egypt’s many gods and a photograph of the Rosetta Stone in the section on Egypt.
  • The books introduce the reality of persecution, which is something Christians have had to deal with for centuries and of which children should be aware
  • There is a lot of great theology in the books. In particular, the sovereignty of God in history is repeatedly emphasized. Students also learn about the inherent sinfulness of humanity and how it relates to different historical events and political arrangements
  • The books present the Creation, Fall, Deluge, etc. as actual historical events, which, from a Christian perspective, are
  • The books present more than one point of view on different topics such as “manifest destiny” so that students can come to their own conclusions

What I Didn’t Like:

  • coverthumb_20_1Although the concept is great, I would like to have seen more:
    • more about the persecution of Christians in the main characters’ time and how they deal with it; and
    • more incorporating history facts into the actual plot instead of just telling them to students
  • At times the books seem preachy, with the characters travelling from time to time just to receive a series of lectures. As in the last point, the books would be even better if there was less telling and more showing. Of course, that would have made the books longer, which is also a consideration to take into account.
  • There are numerous Third Commandment violations/minced oaths that I had to edit out, ie. “Jeez” and “Sheesh” for “Jesus”
  • There are instances of bad language that I had to edit out, ie. “heck” for “hell”
  • There are several Second Commandment violations/images of Jesus that I had to edit out
  • There are some factual errors I had to correct. For instance, Volume 1 states that Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat, whereas the biblical text states “the mountains of Ararat.”
  • Sometimes an overly rosy view of history is presented. For instance, students are given the impression that the conversion of Norway to Christianity was a great thing. There is no mention of the fact that that conversion was often done by force, which is contrary to biblical principles.
  • For a book written by and for Protestants, I would have liked to have seen Protestant theology emphasized over Catholic theology:
    • For instance, when discussing eschatology, Catholic Futurism and Catholic Preterism are presented as the only two options. There is no mention of traditional Protestant Historicism (though admittedly this position is in the extreme minority these days).
    • In addition, the invention of manmade songs for worship is treated as a wonderful development (which follows the Catholic normative principle of worship), whereas from a historic Protestant perspective such songs are considered a violation of the Second Commandment (following the Protestant regulative principle of worship). Although many Protestants follow the normative principle today, it would be nice if they were made aware that historic Protestantism adhered to a vastly different theology than many forms of modern Protestantism.
    • There are also several passages that give readers the impression that a person is “holier” if he chooses to live as a monk or experiences phenomena like stigmata.  This, again, is contrary to the Protestant teaching of vocation, ie. that all vocations are holy and that church officers are not a cut above the rest of us.
    • There seems to be a tendency to portray Catholicism as the default view of Christianity.  For instance, when the kids “play church,” they don robes and carry croziers, etc.  These are all Catholic trappings that are not used in historic Protestantism, nor are they found in the Bible.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, these books are a useful addition to my homeschool. I blacked out all objectionable language and put stickers over the images of Jesus. Any topic that I thought needed some additional commentary was given a star in the margin as a reminder to me to address as my daughter reads the books.

So far, my daughter is enjoying reading Volume 1. She has had no complaints as of yet. I hope that these books will help her see that history can be exciting and that God is ever-present in human affairs.

Posted in Charlotte Mason, Curriculum, Homeschooling Methods, Subject English, Writing & Penmanship

The Downside of Writing With Ease

Albert Anker Schreibender Knabe mit Schwesterchen I 1875

When I began homeschooling my two oldest children, it quickly became apparent that writing was going to be our most difficult subject.  Prior to homeschooling, both of my children had been in a public school where they had completed a variety of writing assignments including writing poetry and reports.  With that basis, you’d think teaching writing would be a breeze, right?  Um…no.

The first week of school, I told the kids that we were going to write a paragraph.  Their immediate response was to burst into tears.  Some probing revealed that they had no clue how to put a paragraph together.  They were terrified of writing and continued to struggle with writing right up until they graduated from our homeschool.  Their early public school experiences negatively affected their writing confidence and abilities for years to come.

This time around with homeschooling, with our littles who are all 9 years or more younger than Spunky, 17, I resolved to teaching writing the “right” way.  After looking around at different programs on the market, I decided to use Writing With Ease to complement our studies.  I used Writing With Ease 1 and 2 with Delightful in Grades 1 and 2.

Since then, I have come to the realization that there is a downside to Writing With Ease and that is this:  it is too effective at what it teaches.

What do I mean?

Writing With Ease focuses on teaching a specific style of narration; namely, answering questions on particular aspects of a passage so that a student can then summarize the passage in two or three sentences.  Students are not supposed to give an oral narration full of details à la Charlotte Mason.  That, in itself, is not a bad thing.  However, it has created some challenges in our homeschool.

In Delightful’s Grade 3 year, I was sick with hyperemesis gravidarum and so we used A Beka’s Writing and Grammar worktext to keep up with writing.  Delightful found the grammar to be difficult and struggled with the writing assignments because there was little guidance as to how to do them.  [Note: these are excellent texts for grammar but I think more could be done with the writing component].

Then came Delightful’s Grade 4 year.  Delightful was accustomed to giving detailed oral narrations in various subjects before starting Grade 4.  While planning out her year, I toyed with purchasing Writing With Ease 3.  However, I ended up deciding to try more of a Charlotte Mason approach to writing before purchasing any program.  That meant introducing written narrations while continuing with oral narrations, copywork, and dictation.  And that is where the over-efficiency of Writing With Ease became apparent.

At the beginning of this year, as I tried to show Delightful how to do written narrations, Delightful would consistently produce a 2-4 sentence summary of anything she read.  Then, if given a creative writing assignment such as completing a story from Story Starters, Delightful would still only produce a 2-4 sentence summary of how she would end the story.  I began to talk to her about adding in things like details and dialogue but this initially resulted in frustration.  Somehow Delightful had gotten the idea that good writing is just summarizing ideas.  It seemed way too tedious to add in lots of details to make her writing more interesting.

We have since remedied the lack of details issue, but we never would have had such an issue if Writing With Ease hadn’t drilled the concept of summarizing so much.  That is why I believe there is at least one negative to Writing With Ease:  It is excellent at teaching kids how to summarize passages.  So excellent, in fact, that a child might get the idea that summarizing is the sum total of good writing.  So if you intend to use Writing With Ease, be aware that it is highly effective at what it does — and that it might be so effective that you end up having to undo its effectiveness in certain subjects — at least, that is, if you ever want your child to write more than a summary of what has been learned!

Posted in Curriculum, Early Learning, Daycare, Preschool, Kindergarten, Homeschooling, My Life, Our Adventures, Reading & Literature, Subject English

One Done, One To Go

1389662_22069019I am pleased to announce that despite taking three months off this year due to my battle with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), Delightful, 8, has finished all of the work I had planned on doing with her for Grade 3 — and then some.  My plan for her for the summer is to do some reading from books we didn’t get to during the year and discuss elements of fiction like setting.  My main challenge with Delightful at this time is keeping her from devouring all of next year’s books so that I still have something left to teach her for Grade 4!

Feisty, 5, is also almost done all of our kindergarten program.  All she really has left is Adventures in Phonics A (ours is the second edition).  I have found that just one page a day of this workbook is enough for Feisty, so I don’t anticipate finishing the book until mid-summer (though with a new baby coming, who knows how long it will take?).  It can sometimes be very challenging to remember all of the sounds of all of the different phonograms in the English language!  I also hope to work through some easy readers with Feisty to build her reading confidence and fluency.  The books she is really enjoying right now are these, which we found out about from Tree of Life School and Book Service:

Brian Marriott’s I See Sam Early Reader Series

I highly recommend these books as they build slowly on reading skills and tell humorous stories that engage the reader’s interest.  Feisty often asks to read three or four of these books at a time since she enjoys them so much.

My only other plan for the summer is to do fun subjects like art, physed, and nature study.  I am really looking forward to not feeling nauseous all the time and to being able to feel like a human being again.

What are your plans for the summer?  Do you plan on schooling or on taking a break this year?

Posted in Curriculum, Homeschooling, Nature Study, Our Adventures, Subject Science

The Power of a Living Book

Hyalophora cecropia moth NYThis year, for part of Delightful 7’s science, I chose to use the book Among the Forest People by Clara Dillingham Pierson.  This book is recommended by Simply Charlotte Mason as a living science book for grades 1-3.  I wanted to start our year with something that wasn’t going to be too overwhelming for Delightful to narrate. This book was perfect for that purpose.

We LOVED this book.  In fact, we loved it so much that I plan on using the entire series in our homeschool with my little ones.  I intend to read Among the Farmyard People to Feisty, 5, later this year.  I know she’ll love it because she loves pigs and other farm animals.

Among the Forest People taught Delightful and I a lot about all different kinds of animals while also including valuable moral lessons in a gentle, non-preachy manner.  Each week, Delightful and I read two or three of the lessons.  We narrated and discussed each lesson and then looked up pictures and videos of the lesson’s animals on the internet.  We learned some fascinating information, such as the fact that rabbits have fur inside their cheeks, that Cecropia moths are pretty big, and that Cowbirds are rather sneaky when it comes to laying their eggs.  We also learned the importance of not being vain or lazy or haughty.

This book was so successful in our homeschool because it is a living book, not a book full of dry, boring facts.  Each week, Delightful looked forward to her lessons.  She also retained the information she read because she was engaged in the stories being told.  When we came to the end of the book, Delightful was very sad that it was over.  She didn’t want it to end.  In fact, she asked me to buy her a paper copy of the book so that she could read it again in her spare time.  She plans on reading the entire series to herself.

That’s the power of a living book:  It draws the reader in and keeps the reader engaged.  It makes the reader want to return to it again and again, helping the reader retain more and more of its information.  And it makes the reader want to read more and learn more about the topic or similar topics.  We could have covered the same information using a standard textbook, but I guarantee you that Delightful would have remembered little of what she read that way.  I’m so glad that there are books that give “scope for the imagination” while learning.

Do you use living books in your homeschool?  If you’ve never used done so, I urge you to give one a try!

Posted in Curriculum, Homeschooling, Our Adventures, Subject Art, Subject History & Geography, Subject Home Economics

Honey Scrolls

Last year, while we were still using The Mystery of History (first edition of Volume 1), Delightful chose to do an assignment where she had to make and eat scrolls made of bread and honey.  Here is what she did:

First, she assembled her materials, consisting of bread, honey, and a rolling pin:


Second, she removed the crust from the bread:


Third, she flattened out the bread and drizzled honey on it:


Fourth, she rolled up the bread and ate it:


She thought these were so yummy she wanted to make more!

Posted in Curriculum, Education & Homeschool Links, Reading & Literature, Subject English

Progressive Phonics


Here is a link to some phonics books that may be of interest for those with struggling readers.  The books can temporarily be downloaded for free without needing to register with the site: