Life of Fred Elementary Series: A Review

Rose and I are currently finishing up Life of Fred – Cats from the Life of Fred Elementary series. Or, we will be finishing it up come January ~ right now we are on Christmas break.  But since we have gone through (nearly) the first three books, I thought I’d take a few minutes to post some thoughts about the Life of Fred elementary series.

In general, Fred has been very popular in this house. Most of the kids have used it as a supplement at one time or another, and for Grace it is her primary math curriculum (she is currently working on LOF Advanced Algebra).

The books are funny, usually effective, and inexpensive. They have been a wonderful, lighthearted addition to a subject that has not been historically popular in our homeschool. All of the Life of Fred books are nice quality hardcovers, with black and white illustrations. I am big on the “feel” of a product, and these books feel really nice to get out and use each day.

There are about 19 chapters in the elementary books and each chapter consists of another little episode in Fred’s life, with math learned in bits and pieces along the way. Fred (who happens to be a five year old college math professor) has quite an exciting life and the chapters frequently end on cliffhangers,  a nice encouragement to get back to it the next day.

The chapters are short and it only takes us ten minutes or so to read the chapter and complete the “Your Turn to Play” section at the end of the chapter. There is little traditional teaching in LOF. Instead, concepts are introduced throughout the ongoing story, and reinforced with the Your Turn to Play sections. There are often some non-math questions included, which spices things up a little. The answers follow immediately after each chapter. This particular set of questions and answers are for different chapters, just to confuse you:).


As an example of how this works, in chapter eight of Butterflies, Fred goes to a book sale. During the story, ordinal numbers are introduces as Fred thinks about the different kind of books there are (first kind, second kind, etc.). Addition facts are reviewed as Fred re-arranges the nine books on the table (4 on one side, five on the other), and counting change is covered as Fred pays for his seven books with nickels ~ counting by fives!

How Rose & I do Life of Fred 

Rose and I read one chapter of Life of Fred 3-4 days per week. She is in second grade this year, and we are currently finishing up Cats. LOF is not her primary math curriculum; she also uses Teaching Textbooks 3 – more on how we use TT here. I read her a chapter of LOF, then we do the Your Turn to Play section orally (or with a whiteboard if necessary), and that’s all there is to it. I will have her go as far with LOF as she wants to go. Like I said earlier, her older sister uses it as her only math curriculum for high school. My boys only use Teaching Textbooks because doing both LOF and TT got to be too much for them. I was sorry to see them stop with Fred, but TT is a better fit for their learning styles.

Is Life of Fred enough on it’s own?

The author says the program is enough, and that you do not need any other math program. The Well-Trained Mind says it’s to be used as a supplement. My opinion is somewhere in the middle. I think if math comes naturally to a child, they don’t need a lot of practice, and they are able to work independently and figure things out on their own, then LOF could work all by  itself. Most of my kids don’t meet that criteria.  The basic concepts are certainly covered here, but the style of teaching didn’t work for my boys. The story seemed to confuse and distract them, and they had trouble picking out the important information- the math! They could always tell me what Fred had done in the chapter, but that didn’t always translate to understanding the concepts introduced.

As an example, James worked through most of Honey, but ended up stopping with the long division section because he just didn’t get the way Fred taught it. I think the problem stemmed from the way things are introduced in LOF – they tend to be introduced briefly, with a larger focus on general math concepts and thinking mathematically.  If a child is the type to understand something quickly they will probably be fine, but if they do better with concrete steps that are reviewed frequently, they may get stuck. Once James reached long division in TT, he did fine with it, because he seems to do better with a no-frills, stick-to-the-math-and- get-it-done type program. Grace, on the other hand, gets frustrated with too much review; she “gets it” quickly and is ready to move on, which is why I think LOF has worked so well for her.

Rose is doing well with LOF, but like her brothers she definitely benefits from using a more traditional math program alongside. She has struggled with some concepts in the book that are explained only briefly (or not at all).  For example, telling time is taught primarily by showing a clock illustration whenever the time of day is mentioned.


There is very little explicit instruction about telling time. Rose has not covered time yet in TT, and the LOF style of teaching time has done little to help her. She is also getting bogged down a bit as we approach the end of Cats, because of all the information on the metric system in the last chapters. She is still trying to get a grasp on inches and yards, so all the talk of millimeters and meters is just confusing her. I may skip those chapters and wrap the book up so we can move on to Dogs.

Of course, I could just use LOF as our main curriculum and supplement it as I saw the need.  I considered doing that, because the kids really do enjoy Fred even though they don’t always learn as much as I’d like from it. I could try to review the concepts as we go about our daily life too, but in all honesty what I need right now is a neatly laid-out program with plenty of built-in review, so I can focus on other stuff. So, in short, I prefer to use Fred as a fun extra, not as our main math curriculum. And it is fun! Just look at this sample index page from Apples.

As you can see, we are learning about way more than math when we read LOF!

So those are a few of my thoughts, hopefully some of which made sense. Rose and I very much enjoy the Life of Fred elementary series and will continue to use it as a supplement to Teaching Textbooks for the foreseeable future. 

Our Math Block & How We Use Teaching Textbooks

Last week, I shared our current homeschool routine. Now I am working on a series of posts about the different lesson blocks that make up our day. We have blocks of time aside for math, language arts, independent work, and Sonlight/Bookshark readings and discussions.

This post is about our math block and how we are using Teaching Textbooks this year.

We start each day with our math block. By “we”, I mean my younger three children. Grace is officially in high school this year and likes to set her own schedule, but my boys are not quite ready to do that. Last year I put math lessons on their independent checklists, but math got pushed to the end of the day -when we were out of time- far too often.  I prefer to get most of Rose’s work done early so she can go off and play or just putter around….so math comes first.

 All three younger kids are doing Teaching Textbooks this year…TT7, TT5, and TT3.


I have been having James do his math first, because he is usually up and finished with his morning chores first. My goal is to have him sitting down at the computer around 8 a.m. to start math, but it is often closer to 8:30.  And he sometimes has a pupper friend with him, which naturally doubles his lesson time!


During his lesson I am usually getting dressed and ready myself, trying to keep everyone else on task, and straightening up the kitchen from the breakfast mess. I really like to have everyone (except Rose) doing some sort of schoolwork by 8:30. After I deal with the most pressing chores, I pile all the books we need for math and language arts on the table.

I have Christopher start his language arts work while James does math. Rose usually gets up around 8:30, and I often read a chapter of Life of Fred: Butterflies with her while she eats breakfast. When James finishes math, either Christopher or Rose do their lesson. Whoever is not doing math is starting our language arts block work. So, it is really more of a combined language arts and math block from 8 a.m.ish through 10:30 a.m.

So this is how we use Teaching Textbooks!

1. The kids watch the lecture on the computer. For my boys, I quickly scan through the lecture notes in the workbook so I know what they are covering. They watch the lecture on their own. I sit and watch the lecture with Rose when it is her turn.

2. They do the practice problems. These are supposed to be optional, but my kids don’t know that!

3. They do the problems. There are usually 22 problems per lesson The author suggests having the kids write the answers in the workbook, but I don’t do that because I want to reuse the workbooks. Instead, I printed out some graph paper and stapled several sheets together to form a math journal. Just search “printable graph paper”; there are loads of options for doing this.  I do not make them write out problems they can do in their head; they just enter those right into the computer. This is one of the boy’s math journals…they aren’t ones for leaving much white space!

4. I check the gradebook – I love that TT grades each lesson for me! If they missed any problems I get out the workbook and discuss it with them. I will ignore a careless error or two, but if there are more than that I will have them redo the problems on the whiteboard.  If they didn’t understand something, I go over the lecture notes with them and make up a couple of problems for them to try. This usually only takes a few minutes.  I also ask them to use the “view the solution” option if they get a problem wrong.  The gradebook actually tells me if they viewed the solution or not, which I love!

5. They do the quizzes…but I treat the quizzes differently. TT has a quiz every seven lessons or so. On quiz day, I photocopy the quiz and they do it all on paper. They either enter their answers into the computer as they go or enter them all at once when they finish.  I am pretty picky about the quizzes. I ask them to show all of their work and equations clearly and neatly. Completed quizzes are saved and used as work samples to send to the school district at year’s end. We haven’t had any quizzes yet this year, but Rose will be doing her first one in a day or two.

So that’s how we use TT and how we do our math block. I also did a review of Teaching Textbooks 5 last year. Just ignore the part where it says I have no plans to switch James from Math Mammoth to Teaching Textbooks….because obviously I did! TT turned out to a be a way better fit for him.

My next block post will about our language arts block.

Dino Math Tracks Game: a review

Rose and I just started a new math program – we are trying out Miquon. So far it is going great, but I’m going to give it a few weeks before forming any opinion on it. After we finished Math Mammoth 1a, and while we waited for Miquon to arrive, we spent a lot of time playing Dino Math Tracks. I got this game way back when Grace was a kindergartner and it is just as popular with Rose as it was with her older siblings. This game is designed to teach place value skills and it does an awesome job of it. Before we started playing, Rose really did not understand place value at all and she had a hard time reading numbers over two digits. One of the reasons I did not like Math Mammoth for her is that it just wasn’t giving her a good sense of number value; she found any discussion of place value super confusing. After we played Dino Math Tracks twice, she could easily read a 4-digit number and she understood what each number really stood for. Pretty impressive stuff!
As you can see, the Dino Math Tracks board is brightly colored and covered in…dino tracks!  Each player (there can be up to four) chooses a dino herd to play with. There are three different dino herds, plus a herd of woolly mammoth. Each of the four herd members is a different color to match the track they will follow on the board.  Your 1000th place dino is blue and follows the blue tracks, your 100th place dino is purple and follows the purple tracks, and so forth. The object is to get all your dinos to the finish line first.

On your turn, you roll four dice and line them up on the little place value chart in front of you. The dice can be arranged in any order you wish – their order determines how many each dino will move. The 1000th place dino would move six on this turn! I always ask Rose to read the number she has made out loud.

I really love the dino playing pieces. They are so cute and colorful! They are made of a kind of rubbery material and have a nice feel to them. 

This is a game of strategy too, since you choose the 4-digit number to make.  I had to help Rose with her strategy the first couple of games, showing her how she could put a bigger number in the 10’s spot if that dino was lagging behind, but she caught on quickly.  When two dinos end up on the same space they have a showdown, which involves rolling a special green die to see who gets the higher number. A little extra math practice!

There are several options given to make the game easier or harder. To make it easier, you can play with just the ones or the ones and the tens.  You can up the challenge by adding in the math problem cards, which ask you to solve addition and subtraction problems.  We haven’t tried those yet, but I am sure we will when she is ready.

The only downside I have found to this game is that the board is pretty compact, so if more than two people play it gets crowded. But that doesn’t stop her older brothers from asking to join in. We are still playing Sum Swamp, but Dino Math Tracks is definitely the new favorite math game around here.

more than halfway

Most of my kiddos hit week 21 of our 36-week year this week. They are behind in some things, ahead in others, but on average week 21 is the week we are working on. This is the first year that I planned most subjects out week-by-week and it has been really great. It took some time over the summer to set up, but it will take even less time this summer since I am used to doing it. Having that plan in place has saved me so much time this year, plus it helps keep me on track when I am tempted to slack off. Basically, I just set up a spreadsheet with a row for each week and plugged in lesson numbers for math, writing, grammar, logic….whatever I hoped we would accomplish each week. I also plugged in Book Shark weeks, which don’t match up with the week we are currently working on because, except for Rose, we didn’t start with week 1 of Book Shark at the start of the year. Months ago I said that I would do a post on how I set up our 36-week plan, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Soon!

I updated our curriculum page to better reflect what we are actually doing. I was surprised to find that very few updates were needed because we have not had to drop or change a lot of things.

A few mid-year updates….

Rose (6): We dropped Song School Latin shortly before the holidays, because she wasn’t very interested. She has been asking about it lately so we may start again, but it isn’t a priority right now. The only other changes we have made are in the math department. Rightstart B was just not working for her (too  many bits and pieces), so I switched her to Math Mammoth. We finished MM 1A, then I decided to try MiquonMM just wasn’t too interesting for either of us and she wasn’t getting any of that strong “math sense” that I think my other three picked up from Rightstart. I have high hopes for Miquon and will definitely do a blog post on it once we’ve had a chance to get acquainted with the program. She is flying through Bookshark K, because the readings are light and she always wants to do more. I think we will finish with that by the end of March. 

James (9): He finished up Math Mammoth 4a, then switched to Teaching Textbooks 5. Math has been a bit of a struggle for him this year. He did okay with Math Mammoth, as far as comprehension goes, but he definitely wasn’t enjoying math. I probably would have stuck with MM, but we already had TT5 and I suspected he would do just fine with it.  He has done 10 lessons so far and he wants to do math first every day, which is a bit of a shocker.  We stopped Life of Fred for awhile because the division chapter was confusing to him. We will pick the series back up once he covers long division in TT. He finished up the level of Dr. Funster’s that he was working on, but I don’t plan on having him do any more logic this year.

Christopher (12): He started out the year doing  “science kit science” a la The Well-Trained Mind, but he missed reading science books and I had trouble finding good kits for his age. We tried the Young Scientist kits but were not impressed at all. Plus science kits are just plain expensive for what you get! I ordered Book Shark Science 5 for him (the equivalent of Sonlight Science F) and he has been enjoying that. He likes having the books to pore over and the illustrations to study and it is a fairly easy science to implement. I am hoping that Book Shark will release the next science level in time for him to use it next year.  Life of Fred: Fractions was getting too confusing for him, so we dropped it for awhile. He is still doing Teaching Textbooks 6

Grace (14): We haven’t changed anything so far. She finished Greek Code Cracker and started Galore Park’s Greek and she is doing fine with that. She also finished Latin for Children B and has moved onto  Latin Alive. She is doing well with both; thankfully she has taken on the job of learning these languages entirely by herself, because I am totally clueless!

And I think that is it as far as changes and updates so far!

New Library Books, New Math

We just went to the library for the first time in weeks. Last year the library was part of our regular weekly rotation, with a visit tucked in between a riding lesson and gymnastics. This year we don’t have such a convenient time slot and our longer school days and busier evenings mean that we often go two or three weeks between library trips. It’s okay though. Grace reads longer books and has been using her allowance money more and more to buy her own books. She also trades books with friends frequently. Christopher likes to take his time reading long fiction books and has been borrowing a lot of books from Grace. James really prefers nonfiction and has read most everything from there that he wants to. I keep meaning to teach him how to request inter-library loan books. And Rose always enjoys a good library trip, but we have so many books at home for her that she certainly isn’t lacking when we don’t go.

 I like to look for books for myself once a month or so. It takes me awhile to get through a fiction book, so I don’t get very many of those. I am still reading the massive Under the Dome, so I didn’t need a new novel. Instead, I picked up a stack of nonfiction books that looked interesting.

In my haul:

Quiet Mind 
The Nature Principle
Homegrown and Homemade
Real Simple’s 869 New Uses for Old Things
Christmas Crafting in No Time

There is just something calming about having a new stack of library books sitting on an end table, don’t you think? And for free! That always amazes me.

In homeschool news lately…. Rose has made the switch to Math Mammoth 1. She had been doing Rightstart Level B. I spend a good amount of time getting this program all set up over the summer so that it would be more open and go and user-friendly. At first she loved it, but the past few weeks it has been a struggle to get her to do it. Her main complaint?

It takes too long.

I think so, too. I was not entirely disappointed that this didn’t work out. I am not sure why I thought this program could work with a fourth child. It is very, very teacher intensive. Rose is also not such a big fan of all the bit and bobs… the place value cards and cut-outs and such. It all just gets in the way of what she really wants to be doing – practicing her bridge kickovers and handstands.

So we have switched to Math Mammoth, which is much easier on us both. I will not say she loves this program either, but it is quicker to do each day and there is the bribe of playing one of the recommended games at the end of the lesson. She does love that. I purchased the Grade 1 Complete Curriculum and each chapter includes links to online games. Lately,  she has been playing games to help her practice her addition facts up to 10.

 Around the yard, things were looking pretty sad. Each fall we have a huge mess of leaves to contend with. We have lots and lots of trees, and they are lovely. Until they drop their leaves en masse. We usually put off the major cleanup until November when most of the leaves are down and then do one afternoon of raking, mowing, and leaf-blowing to get the yard back to mostly presentable. That happened this weekend, so things are looking better out there, except for the pumpkins which look sadder each day. They look way worse than this since the dog discovered they were edible.

We have one tree still hanging onto  foliage –  the Japanese Maple is always the last to go. I am glad, because it looks so pretty out the back window. Once the leaves are down, I think it may be time to hang our bird feeder up again.

We will have a short week this week, we’ll be taking Veteran’s Day off to relax a little and maybe finish the yard cleanup, as if it ever can be done. I also really, really need to plant garlic, so I am thinking that may happen that day too. I also need to figure out a science plan for Christopher, he is finishing up Sonlight’s Core F with Core E Science. I am thinking we will go with Bookshark’s Grade 5 science because they should have the next level out by spring and we could do that next year, if it looks good.

Happy Monday!

Organizing Rightstart Math

I am using Rightstart Math B this year with Rose, my first grader. I had previously used Righstart through level C with my older three, and then Grace used up through level D. I switched because it just felt so teacher- intensive to me. Righstart involves a lot of other equipment besides the lesson book. You also need things like photocopies of various sheets, game cards, the abacus, geoboard, balance, student clock, a music CD, square tiles, fraction tiles, and game cards, though not all in each lesson of course!

This year, I had planned on starting Rose on Math Mammoth, but changed my mind at the last minute. The samples I saw for MM1 involve an awful lot of writing, which she is not ready for, plus it just seemed too dry for first grade math. I already had an ancient, well-used (and cover-less!) copy of Rightstart B on my shelf. It is not pretty anymore….


But I figured it would still do the trick, so I resisted the urge to buy a new one. Even though I have found Righstart to be quite teacher-intensive, I love the math foundation the older three got from it and wanted the same for my little one. I knew though, that to use this program, I would have to be more organized. Teaching four kids makes for a very busy homeschool day and I knew I would just get frustrated if I had to hunt down maniupulatives and all the little pieces Rightstart requires each day. So I spent part of a summer afternoon making the program more open and go and putting everything together on a shelf. Here’s a little tour of what is on that math shelf.

First, I purchased this cute little bin from Rainbow Resource Center, for less than four dollars. It is their “small utility caddy” and it comes in a ton of fun colors. I use it to store the items we use most often. The contents will most likely change over the course of the year, but right now I have an abacus, our Yellow is the Sun book, tally sticks, the place value cards, a set of plastic coins, and some math game cards.

I also keep a little baggie of plastic animals in here. Righstart lessons often require a certain number of items to use as aids to teach ordinal numbers, less/more concepts, and things like that.  With the bag right there, I don’t have to get up and grab anything. These are just little things collected over the years that have been taking up space in the house, so it is nice to give them a function!

This tote comes along for every math lesson and it is small enough that Rose can grab it and bring it out along with her book. We can easily grab it and do our lesson on the back porch or at the picnic table. Obviously, all of our supplies don’t fit in the little purple tote, so I also keep a larger basket on the shelf with some of the the bigger or less-often-used items.

In here, I have a box of colored square tiles, our hundred squares, more game cards, our skip-counting envelopes, and a set of geo-boards.

 In the back of the basket, I keep a folder containing most of the appendix pages. I bought the set of appendices available for this level so that I wouldn’t have to make all those photocopies and I am very glad I did!

 Appendix pages that will be used more than once are stored in a binder outfitted with page protectors. In here, I keep things like:

A part-whole circle set….

 The Swim to Ten Game….

And the practice sheets (so she can do them with a dry-erase marker)…

 At the back of the binder, I put several copies of the “math journal” pages which are used frequently throughout the program….

Because Rose is my last child to go through this program, I am having her do the worksheets right in the worksheet book, rather than photocopying them all. There are not many worksheets at this level, which is nice.

And here is everything on the shelf. I have the bigger basket, the caddy, the math book and book of worksheets, my binder, a large teaching clock, and an extra abacus. Also, you can’t see it here, but in the corner I keep a tub of pattern block and pattern block cards, just for a little something extra if she is bored.

And that completes the tour of our math shelf and how I organized Righstart! I am sure I will have more thoughts to share on this program as the year progresses. Right now, she is absolutely loving it!

Finished: Math Books!

In “finished” news lately…

Grace has finished both Life of Fred Pre-Algebra books! I snapped a photo of her doing her “final bridge” which is LOF-speak for “last quiz”.

She has done really well with these. She completed them in exactly the order recommended on the Life of Fred website: Elementary Physics, Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology, and then Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics. I offered to give her the rest of the summer off from math, but she surprised me by saying she would like to continue. So Beginning Algebra is on it’s way!

Rose finished her math too! This is the last page of Singapore Essentials B. She was so excited, and also a little wistful. She really enjoyed her first intro to math. I reviewed Singapore Essentials here.

I am still deciding whether to do Rightstart B or Math Mammoth 1 with her. She is anxious to begin though, so I will have to decide soon.