Life of Fred

Life of Fred PictureWhy do all math books have to seem so boring? Pages and pages of problems. Standing in rows. Like soldiers in a phalanx that must be mowed down to  conquer.

But math isn’t about mowing down soldiers are moaning at the kitchen counter . . . at least it shouldn’t be. Math is all around us. It’s what gives structure and explains why and how things work.

But we often teach it in neat little rows and columns. We divide and segment it. We isolate it from everything else in the world. And then we wonder why kids think it’s boring.

Except we don’t ALL teach it that way.

I’ve blogged recently about “Life of Fred,” the math book that Pepper (11) is currently working through (mentioned here and here).

“Life of Fred” is actually a series of books, written by a retired university math professor, Stanley Schmidt, who believes that math should be enjoyed, not endured–lived not “worked.”

The Fred of “Life of Fred” is a five-year-old kid, who is so smart that he teaches math at Kittens University somewhere in Kansas. He lives in his office, sleeping under his desk with his doll Kingie. The math taught in each book (there’s an entire series from elementary to college level) is given in the context of Fred’s life, in story format, and almost all of it is taught at times in his life that are not the classes that Fred teaches. And it’s really funny!

Fred may be brilliant–which is why he can teach everything from elementary skills to complex calculus–but sadly, he isn’t wise. He’s constantly making poor choices (like giving out his ATM pin number so that a crook can drain his bank account or only eating sugar drinks for days). So along with math, a kid working through these books also gets to read about a lot of life skills like protecting personal information, eating properly, paying attention in class, etc. [Disclaimer: There are religious references in the books, as the author is Christian.]

These books have been a great motivator for Pepper, who is extremely story based (remember learning multiplication tables with stories?). But I agree with some reviews I’ve read, which argue that they don’t include enough “practice.” The author’s provides a short set of questions at the end of each chapter, some of which review previous material. But the assumption is that you don’t need to “drill and kill” to teach kids math.

So, we supplement. We play homemade math games, and we use Khan Academy to reinforce certain information if Pepper doesn’t quite understand something or she wants more practice than “Life of Fred” provides.

Even so, for a kid who is allergic to textbooks (and rightly so!), this has turned out to be a great way to inspire the desire to learn math in our house.

As if this wasn’t enough, I also use Life of Fred as part of morning reading with my younger kids! But I’ll save that for another post . . .

If you’re interested in learning more about Life of Fred, you can check out his website.

[As always, I don’t get any compensation for my reviews. I just like sharing what works in our family!]

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