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# Life of Fred Cats

Bruce (6) talked me into purchasing two of Stanley Schmidt’s new Life of Fred elementary series, Life of Fred Cats and Life of Fred Dogs. We had read Life of Fred Fractions earlier in the year, and Bruce really loved it. I was only lukewarm about LOF Fractions, because I thought it relied on traditional algorithms too much, and that goes against my Constructivist philosophy for teaching math. But since the books are so inexpensive I decided to go for it. Besides, when your son is begging you to buy math books, shouldn’t that get an automatic purchase?

I decided to buy the two highest books in the LOF elementary series, because Bruce is at the third grade math level. To me as a former 3rd/4th grade teacher, LOF Fractions seems to be at the 4.5 grade level. I was hoping that Cats and Dogs would be at the 2nd or 3rd grade level respectfully. That seems logical, right?

Wrong! It turns out that LOF Cats is more at the first grade math level, but 3rd grade reading level. Bruce burned through LOF Cats in about an hour, reading it as soon as he came home from a backpacking trip with his dad. Mostly the entire math was review for him, although yesterday he did bust out with “Putting your socks and shoes on is not commutative, Mom.” In retrospect, if we had had these books when Bruce was 4 they could have been a really fun bedtime read aloud together.

Before I realized that Bruce was going to read the entire book in one sitting, I had made this really nice notebook to go with it for him to write down his answers. It’s back to school season right now, and I picked up a whole stack of spiral notebooks the other day for \$.10 each.

Bruce ended up not using my nifty notebook at all. Stanley Schmit makes a big deal about how important it is for kids to write down the answers as they go along in the book. I would agree with him on this point, if the math was at the appropriate level. But I’m not going to make my son write down the answer to 7 + 9 when he is capable of doing square roots and fractions. That would just be busy work.

I’ve heard the argument made before that LOF Fractions could be its own stand-alone mathematics curriculum. I strongly disagree, but can see that this argument has some valid points. There is no way anyone could say that LOF Cats could be its own curriculum, however. That would be ridiculous. It’s too bad that Schmit didn’t include the “bridge” section between every five chapters like he did in the Fractions book.

Final thoughts? I’m not very impressed with LOF Cats, but will probably bring it out when Jenna turns 4 and we will have fun with it. I also respect Schmit’s assertion that the books are cheap but well-bound. They will indeed last a long time. I will keep them on my shelves for many decades and someday when I’m old Bruce and Jenna will visit home with my grandkids and say: “Oooh! Life of Fred! Can we borrow these, Mom?”

# Life of Fred Fractions

Bruce and I have been reading Life of Fred Fractions together for four days now, and are now on Chapter six, past the first bridge. For those of you unfamiliar with the Life of Fred series, check out this explanation from the author: http://www.stanleyschmidt.com/FredGauss/21Fredstory.html.

So far, we are both favorable impressed. Bruce thinks it is really fun and I think it is clever. Is he learning a lot? Hmmm… It’s hard to say at this point. There has been a lot of review, a few newly introduced concepts, and a lot of silliness. So far I’d put it in the context of “edutainment”, like an educational CDRom. We are working on the book together at bedtime or when Jenna takes a nap, (now in her crib, thanks to my mom!)

From a philosophical standpoint, I am normally opposed to math programs that are heavily language based. This is in fact, the most language based math “curriculum” I’ve ever encountered. In fact, that is the whole point of the program. But Bruce has very strong language skills, so this isn’t a problem for him, especially since I am reading it aloud with him. The sheer verbosity of the book could be a very big problem for some children however, especially English Language Learners, or those with language processing disorders.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Update, Further Thoughts

Bruce and I have been reading Life of Fred Fractions for almost two weeks now, and are on chapter 14. At first, I thought this book fell into the category of edutainment, in that it was entertaining but also had a little bit of learning value thrown in as well. (Sort of like Curious George or Dinosaur Train.) Now that we are almost halfway through the book, I think there is substantially more to Life of Fred, than I had first thought.

Bruce continues to LOVE reading this together, and has reviewed a lot of concepts previously learned such as: advanced addition and subtraction with regrouping, multiplication and Roman Numerals. It has also provided the opportunity to introduce and explicitly teach new-to-Bruce concepts such as long division and reading and writing numbers into the billions. We are now about four or five chapters into the heavy fractions work, and have hit adding, subtracting, and now reducing fractions. Bruce had learned all of that in “Reader Rabbit Second Grade Math”, but was a bit rusty. Now Fred is covering adding subtractions with unlike denominators and that is definitely new for Bruce.

Update, Too Many Algorithms in LOF?

As a former 4th grade teacher, I would say this book is solidly aligned with 4th grade standards. The book is designed so that older children can read and work through the program independently. I’m probably crossing the author’s intentions by reading it together with my six year old. But Bruce has very competent math skills at least at the third grade level, and reading Fred together has provided me with the opportunity to do mini lessons with him, in a time space that it normally not reserved for math. (We are reading a couple of chapters each night at bedtime.) All in all, I am very impressed.

The teacher side of me, can’t help but think that this would be a wonderful program to do with a third or fourth grade class. I would introduce Fred a month after I had already taught my fractions unit, as a fun review. I think I would read a chapter every day after lunchtime, and put the “Your turn to play” problem set up on the overhead projector for kids to solve. Someday maybe…

Bruce and I are now on chapter 27 of Life of Fred Fractions.  I still really like the book a lot, but I’m less impressed by it as we near the end. I think the author relies too much on traditional algorithms to teacher mathematical concepts. This is completely contrary to my approach to teaching math, which is Constructivist in philosophy.