Thursday 7 November 2013

Out of Love

I'm falling out of love with Fred.

Two summers ago, we spent a few weeks working through the Life of Fred elementary series books A to G.  I wasn't overly keen about it in general but Tiger was tickled by its humour so we decided to keep the last three books (H to J) for this summer.

We worked on Book H a few weeks ago but I am even less impressed with it now than I was two summer ago.  The format of the book is still the same as before, the humour is still the same, so my guess is that the change in my opinion of this series is due to a combination of my increased leaning towards a "living maths" approach and an increased understanding of how Tiger learns.

Two instances in the book stood out for me: the first was when we made a pile of multiplication quiz cards based on Book H's suggestion, to be used at the beginning of each lesson/chapter as a quick mental review.  Making index cards to be used as pop quiz is a fine idea but it doesn't work for us for a few reasons:
  1. Tiger already knows his times tables so this step is redundant.
  2. There is no clear derivation of how a x b = c.  It becomes another bunch of maths facts to memorise, although the book takes a longwinded way of storytelling to have you memorise those facts.  I hate memorisation, as does Tiger.
  3. Tiger learned multiplication through understanding the relationships between quantities, rather than memorising sets of facts, so we are not thrilled about flashcards.

The second is how the book introduced long division.  While the reader gets a clear example of the steps to long division, the concept behind carrying and remainder isn't clearly explained.  I felt increasingly uncomfortable at teaching Tiger the steps to long division without having him understand why that is so.  The lesson became less of discovery and more about memorising a formula "first do this, then do that, followed by this".  Memorising yet again.  Sure, Tiger can now do long divisions on demand, but I am not happy that he is learning maths through memorising.

Some people might wonder why I am making a fuss here, given that Tiger has no problems doing long divisions whatsoever.  My objection is directed at the way it is being taught, that the method reminds me too much of rote learning, albeit a glamourised one.  I'm sure we can do better than this.

The remaining two books of the elementary series are being put to the back of the shelf.  We might use them next summer, or we might not.  We certainly aren't missing them.


  1. Hwee,

    I'm so interested in your opinion about Life of Fred after the discussion in the comments box of one of my recent posts. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Glamorised rote learning... I am always so suspicious of any book that attempts to hide rote learning behind a veneer of fun. It's almost as if they're trying to trick kids into learning, or as it seems, memorising. I want my children to love maths for its own sake and because they see the value in learning it and to understand how it works. I know lots of people love Life of Fred, so it's interesting to hear a differing opinion. I wonder if it's a bit like the online maths course my girls used to do. That was 'fun' with all the different games and attractive interactive activities. But after a while my girls lost interest when the novelty wore off. If all the bells and whistles were taken away, the course wouldn't be much different from a standard maths text book.

  2. I know exactly what you mean, Sue. I've read that very long comment about Life of Fred in that recent post of yours too. We only have the elementary series so I can only say that my opinions about it is based on that series. I've read somewhere that another homeschooling mum feels that the later series (from Algebra onwards) offer more substance than the elementary series (she wasn't impressed by the elementary series either).

    I don't want to slam Life of Fred, but it really isn't doing much for us. Like you, I also want my son to enjoy maths for its own beauty, through discovery rather than rote learning. You've hit the nail on the head when you said, "If all the bells and whistles were taken away, the course wouldn't be much different from a standard maths text book." That's exactly how I feel about the elementary series.

  3. My girls use LOF daily but more as a reading book than a maths curriculum. I got them because I wanted them to feel less threatened by maths, so a bizarre story of a five year old teaching college level maths seemed to fit the bill nicely.
    Personally though, I could never use it as a full mathematical learning experience and T11 hates them (and he usually loves anything pertaining to numbers!)

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience with LOF, Claire. I bought the series because of the rave reviews and also out of my own curiosity. It seems to work very well to alleviate a fear of maths in many children, so I suppose that's a good start, but I don't think it's enough on its own. Again, this points to the need to tailor the learning materials to suit each child. Some parents consider LOF to be a god-send for their children, while others beg to differ. :-)

  5. It is interesting you hear this. I have never liked the look of the books, but I have heard so many positive comments about them from people I respect, that I assumed that there was something I just wasn't getting. I wonder if there are others you abandon it after trying it for awhile.

  6. Phyllis, so far we've used books A to H in the series (it ends with book J). I haven't bought any other Fred books, and now am not sure whether I will in the future. There have been other materials that we've tried and discarded after a while. I usually mention them in the posts, but I'm guessing this particular post stands out because I seem to be the only one in the world to acknowledge that we don't find the Fred books particularly useful or inspiring. :-)


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