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Life of Fred Math - Elementary

Publisher: Polka Dot Publishing
Author: Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph.D.
Review last updated: May 2012
Instant KeyPublishers InfoPricing
Life of Fred - Apples page

Life of Fred - Apples

Life of Fred - Farming page
Life of Fred - Farming

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 (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. (If you think your child might quickly flip to see answers in advance, try paper clipping the pages together.)

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. Some of the excursions are rather funny—maybe more so for adults than children. For example, after Fred’s ATM access code gets stolen and his checking account cleaned out, he realizes he has no budget for buying books. He imagines going without reading, and as he considers the third day: “This was too horrible to contemplate. Fed had once been at a lunch with a bunch of adults who were in the three-days-without-reading category. Their conversation was limited to: (1) My trip to Arizona. A complete descripton of all the bad things that happened on that trip. (2) The weather. (3) What I saw on television. (4) My kids. (5) Sports. (6) My health problems” (Dogs, p. 75).

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.


Before beginning Apples, students should have an understanding of the concept of addition and the symbols used in addition problems. For example, they should be able to “read” and understand “5 + 2 = 7.” This text, like the others, concentrates on concepts rather than computation practice and drill. Consequently, it teaches about the family of facts that add up to “7” but it doesn’t cover all the number families. It teaches the commutative property (without using that term), the concept adding x’s, counting by fives, counting by hundreds, money, time telling, sets, geometric shapes, cardinal numbers, days of the week and months, and the concept of zero. Along the way, students are introduced to other topics like the letters of the Greek alphabet, Archimedes, and compartmentalization on ships like the Titanic.


Butterflies adds the family of math facts that add up to nine, both addition and subtraction. It expands on many concepts introduced in the first book, especially identifying and working with large numbers and time telling. Students are introduced to concepts such as collinear points, infinite sets, some measurement equivalents, and counting by twos. You might have to explain some things that come up in the book such as negative temperatures.


Cats introduces the concepts of fractions, the metric system, and prime numbers. It continues with basic math with more addition and subtraction; counting by two’s, three’s, and five’s; patterns; angles; time telling; the concept of cardinality; measurement; place value; and representation of place value with small squares. The concept of carrying is very briefly introduced through pictures of arrays of small squares. Students might need a little more help to add 1 + 9999999 in a problem in chapter twelve. They’ve seen that 1 + 99 = 100, but they might not have grasped the full concept of carrying.


Dogs continues with more difficult addition, but mathematical thinking continues to be the main topic. Students work with algebraic expressions, becoming increasingly familiar with “x” in equations. The concept of multiplication is introduced as Fred figures out that shots for the 30 dogs he wants to rescue will cost $10 each. Carrying is taught at the end of this book. Interestingly, this book introduces the concept of functions, working on it through a number of lessons. I also noticed in this text that Dr. Schmidt actually teaches in the “Your Turn to Play” in at least one instance on p. 23 where he explains that “<” means less than then presents a problem using the symbol. The text does not use the symbol before this point.


While continuing to expand upon concepts previously taught, this text adds concepts such as the median average, bar graphs, the “>” symbol, percent (without applying multiplication), matrices, geometry (e.g., concurrent lines), and three-addend column addition with carrying.


Borrowing and multiplication show up in Farming along with concepts such as the union of sets, circumference of a circle, natural and whole numbers, domains and codomains, and π.


Goldfish goes much further with multiplication (up to multiplying by 10 or 100 but otherwise only by single-digit multipliers), addition with decimal points, estimating, cubic measurement, and area, while continuing to build on previously taught concepts.


Honey challenges students to master the multiplication facts either by making or purchasing flash cards which he calls "honey cards." It also teaches division all the way through long division and remainders. Fractions are introduced along with concepts like time zones, d = rt problems, and the slope formula.

Ice Cream

"Honey cards" (flash cards for multiplication facts) are used for drilling math facts through most of Ice Cream. While students are mastering the multiplication facts, they are also working on long division, area and perimeter, the metric system, estimation, elapsed time, money, graphs, and various units of measurement, including converting to common units. New concepts introduced include exponents, x and y coordinates, ordered pairs, slope of a line, and the concept of sigma notation (usually taught in advanced algebra).

Jelly Beans

Jelly Beans continues with more challenging work with multiplication and division. It also includes significant work with exponents, algebraic expressions, domains, and the union of sets along with coverage of casting out nines, estimation, area, decimals in money, reducing fractions, prime numbers, and additional work with slope and coordinate points. It introduces topics such as percents, averages (mean, median, and mode), Fibonacci numbers, and sigma notation (also briefly introduced in Ice Cream).

Kidneys, Liver, Mineshaft, Fractions, and Decimals and Percents

Since my original review, Dr. Schmidt has added books for the intermediate level: Kidneys, Liver, and Mineshaft. These should be used after the elementary books reviewed here and prior to the Life of Fred Fractions and Decimals and Percents books.

In Fractions and Decimals and Percents, after every three to five chapters there are sets of five or more "Bridges" which are cumulative tests on all chapters to that point. You need not use all Bridges/tests, but they allow you to test, have the student review if he/she doesn't do well enough, then retest again. Or they allow you to assign two or more Bridges for a more comprehensive test. Students should get 90% correct before moving on. Solutions to all Bridge questions are at the back of each book. Final Bridges at the end serve as your final test.

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.


$16 each

  • All prices are provided for comparison only and are subject to change. Click on prices to verify their accuracy.
  • Life of Fred--Farming

    Life of Fred--Farming

    Stanley F. Schmidt

    Life of Fred--Butterflies

    Life of Fred--Butterflies

    Stanley F. Schmidt

    Life of Fred--Jelly Beans

    Life of Fred--Jelly Beans

    Stanley F. Schmidt

    Life of Fred--Ice Cream

    Life of Fred--Ice Cream

    Stanley F. Schmidt

    Life of Fred--Goldfish

    Life of Fred--Goldfish

    Stanley F. Schmidt

    Life of Fred: Edgewood

    Life of Fred: Edgewood

    Stanley F. Schmidt

    Life of Fred Elementary Package

    Life of Fred Elementary Package

    Instant Key

    • Suitable for: one-on-one or independent learning
      Need for parent/teacher instruction: low to moderate
      Prep time needed: none
      Teacher's manual: N/A
      Educational philosophy: Life application
      Religious perspective: Secular but "Christian friendly" with a few religiously-oriented references

    Publisher's Info

    • Polka Dot Publishing
      Order from Z-Twist Books

    • email:
      Z-Twist phone: (916) 570-3839