See the complete review in 102 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.
When I heard about the Life of Fred series, I decided to start by reviewing the Geometry text. The review of the Geometry text and other books from Fractions and Decimals and Percents and above are in a separate review. (Click here.) I repeat some of my general observations about the series in both reviews.
Two features immediately make this appealing to many families: low cost and courses designed for independent study. But there's much more to the Life of Fred books! The books are written by Dr. Stanley Schmidt, a retired math teacher who loves math and wants to share his enthusiasm with students. Part of his strategy is to build his math books around the adventures of Fred, a very young (six years old in the Geometry text and five years old in the lower level books) genius who is a math teacher at KITTENS University. The stories shift from silly to serious, outlandish to edgy. (They can be edgy to the point where some parents might be uncomfortable with them such as the story where Fred is tricked into paying $100 for a snotty handkerchief in Goldfish.) They are likely to be very appealing to learners who prefer something more than "dry" math—students who like to “puzzle” things out. Fred's adventures are the jumping off point for math lessons (e.g. Fred plays with his food and creates a polygon), or Fred might be pondering something mathematical, or teaching, or discussing a math topic with friends or students. The page illustration from the Farming book (lower left) shows Dr. Schmidt's creativity, this time in the way he presents the idea of “sets” with pictures rather than numbers. All of this makes these texts much more user-friendly than most others. It also means that it takes longer to get through the mathematical material.
Surprisingly, the story line and discursions are not used to dumb down the courses.
Each lesson teaches a concept, albeit sometimes in a roundabout fashion through the story. Then there's a "Your Turn to Play"—practice problems with complete answers and explanations if needed. Sometimes, he throws in some extra entertainment of information in the answer key. Your Turn to Play always shows up on a right hand page, and the answers are on the following page....
Throughout the series, Dr. Schmidt tries to teach for conceptual understanding rather than mere memorization of formulas and strategies. Students often see the practical application of a math concept before they learn how to solve the problem. Students are likely to begin thinking about math more like solving puzzles or critical thinking exercises than lists of problems to solve. The story of Fred is an important part of this approach. The story does take up significant space within in each text. And while it sometimes meanders into "entertainment" unrelated to the math topic at hand, most of the time it stimulates students to consider how math might be used to deal with a real life situation....
One potential drawback I see in the elementary books is that the digressions and extraneous information that students sometimes might not understand (e.g., a calculus equation) might be excessive. Students might be overwhelmed by the amount of extra information, much of which doesn't relate to math.
Ten texts for the elementary grades are unusually titled with no grade level indicators. They should be used in the order they are described below which is alphabetical by the first letter of each title. While the first two books might well be used by some first graders, they might also be used by older students who will work through them much more quickly. Students might complete two or more books per year! All students should work through the entire series since concepts introduced in earlier books are usually revisited in subsequent books. For example, students work with the concept of functions frequently in Dogs, so the concept shows up in problems in chapter three of Edgewood without any instruction.
The progression and method of learning are unusual, and you might feel that your child is not doing enough math. I would suggest you consider supplementing with games, manipulatives, or a creative problem-solving workbook rather than a traditional workbook if you want more math practice and application, but this should not be required. Note that calculators should not be used before Pre-Algebra in this series.
I have spotted at least a few references to the Bible and churches that indicate that the author likely has a Christian worldview, but there aren't any directly religious statements that I have found.
In spite of their low cost, all the Life of Fred texts are hardcover books, printed in black-and-white with clip art and line-drawn illustrations. There are no separate teacher guides or answer keys to purchase. In addition, the texts are non-consumable and might be used for a number of students.
[Each level is described briefly in the complete review in 102 Top Picks.]
It is difficult to convey the full "flavor" of these texts in a review, but Dr. Schmidt does a marvelous job of helping students see the real value and applications of math. Sample pages are available at the publisher's website, so you can check out this unusual math series to see if it's right for your children.
See my review of "upper level" Life of Fred texts by clicking here.
A helpful comment from Robin Dickinson:
I wanted to make a suggestion about Life of Fred (which we tried thanks to you and we love). We are combining it with Professor B Math [http://profb.com/]. My son progressed easily through Apples and Butterflies but then got bogged down in Cats because of all the arithmetic concepts. So we stopped and reread Apples and Butterflies while working through Professor B. I would not consider Professor B a complete curriculum as it is just arithmetic (and eventually algebra) but it is great combined with Fred (which frankly skims over a lot of the basic arithmetic in favor of mathematic thinking and the wide variety of math concepts such as geometry, time telling, sets, etc).
My son has no interest in doing practice problems but at the same time can't just memorize flat out the way I could. Professor B takes a really unique approach. For instance, to memorize the lower addition facts, we started with a game that cemented which pairs of numbers go together (so for adding to ten that would be nine-one, eight-two, seven-three, etc). The chart with the numbers on it is gradually erased until the student is working entirely from memory. Once that is solid, you start moving on to all the associated addition and subtraction facts. It kind of reminds me of All About Spelling for math in that it groups like concepts together, teaches explicitly, avoids all the annoying worksheets I hated as a kid, and allows you to move as quickly or slowly as is comfortable for your student.
We really love Fred and if we had to pick just one math curriculum, it would be Fred, but the combination of Fred and Professor B is amazing!