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Life of Fred Review: Is it Enough?

Are you looking for a Life of Fred review that is comprehensive and detailed?

Do you want to understand this unique, creative math curriculum better before putting any money down?

You probably also have the burning desire to know: Is Life of Fred enough?

There was a time when I was scouring the internet myself for those same things. I ended up taking the leap and purchasing Apples for my 1st grader. Not long after, I purchased Butterflies. 

Keep reading to find out why we started using Life of Fred, exactly how a Life of Fred lesson works, what we loved about it, what we didn’t love about it, whether it is enough, and how to use it in your homeschool.

First, What is Life of Fred?

Life of Fred Review Pin

Life of Fred is a homeschool math curriculum with books ranging from kindergarten – high school calculus. 

What makes it very unique and special is that the lessons are taught through the ongoing story of Fred!

Fred is a five year old boy with no parents. He is a brilliant math teacher though, and he teaches at Kittens University. The books follow his adventures and shenanigans, while also teaching math along the way.

If your child is anywhere in 1st-4th grade, it is recommended that he/she start with the first book, Apples.

Why We Started Using Life of Fred

I started homeschooling when my oldest was in 1st grade…and let’s just say it wasn’t going well when it came to math.

I eventually threw out our math curriculum and decided to take a total break from math. My daughter and I both needed some time.

I came across Life of Fred and thought it would be the perfect way to reintroduce my 1st grader to math. The story based approach was fun and gentle – exactly what we needed.

But it was very unclear to me if Life of Fred was enough. I decided I would have to find out for myself. 

Exactly How a Life of Fred Lessons Works

Lesson 14 from Life of Fred book Apples

It is very straightforward. 

There are no teacher’s manuals to read, games to set up, or manipulatives to take out.

You just sit with your student and read the lesson, which is a story that is usually around 6 pages.

At the end of the story, there will be a section called, “Your Turn to Play.” This section includes a short number of problems for the child to work through and answer on a piece of scrap paper. 

math questions from Life of Fred Apples

When you flip the page over, you will see the answers to the problems. Go through the answers with your child while checking his/her work. 

And that is about it. Lesson complete.

You can go to the Life of Fred website and see a sample lesson from any of the books. 

Life of Fred Review: What We Loved About It

Heart

1. Story-Based Math is Fun!

Reading the Life of Fred stories with my kid was genuinely fun and easy. I could tell that my kid enjoyed the silly stories about a 5 year old college professor finding his way through life.

To my shock, my math-hating 1st grader would ask for more than one math lesson a day! She would even ask for math to be the first subject of the day!

This was a breath of fresh air to a weary homeschool mom who had been battling the math monster with her kid for way too long.

I completely credit Life of Fred with helping my daughter to see that math can be enjoyable!

2. A,B,C Levels as Opposed to 1st, 2nd, 3rd

I really liked that the books have an alphabetical order – not a grade-level order.

For example, the first three books are titled Apples, Butterflies, and Cats.

This is really helpful to kids who may need some help with the basics but would be discouraged to see a lower grade level book. 

3. Lessons are Short and Simple

short and simple pencil

I would say that the lessons (stories) take about 5 minutes or so to read. Then the student has about 5-7 problems to complete.

That is about as simple and short a math curriculum as you are going to find. My math-hating kid loved this part of the curriculum and it made completing math every day so much more attainable for her – and me!

4. Teaches the Practical Application of Math

This was my personal favorite part of Life of Fred.

The stories tell how Fred needs and interacts with math in everyday life. This is crucial for a kid to connect the “why” behind what they are doing every day. A kid who is struggling can see math as a huge, frustrating puzzle that is unnecessary. 

Life of Fred shows that math is needed constantly to do even basic things. This was fantastic for my kid who had decided she didn’t need math because she was going to work in a horse stable when she grew up. 

5. Completely Non-Consumable

A huge plus for Life of Fred is that the books are high quality, hardback. They are going to last.

In fact, I bought my Life of Fred books used several years ago and they still look as new as the day they came in the mail. 

The student is told to write their answers to the problems on a piece of scratch paper, not the inside of the book. 

This means that you can hand the books down to your younger kids when the time comes, lend them to friends, or resell them.

6. Affordable to Try

Life of Fred books typically run around $16 – $18 each. 

There are no other teacher’s manuals, workbooks, to student sheets to purchase. If you are looking to try this curriculum, it is definitely a small amount of money to invest compared to many others out there! 

What We Didn’t Love About Life of Fred

Unsure about Life of Fred curriculum

As I said, my kid loved the Life of Fred books, but I started to get uneasy with them as we worked our way through. 

Some things even started getting weird, you guys.

To be clear, this is my individual experience after only using the first two books, and it gives me no joy to write these things out. I actually cringed while putting this together, but I still felt that I needed to be honest with my readers about our experience.

1. The Number of Problems

Math is one of the three core subjects (along with reading, and writing) of education. That means it is part of the foundation that all other subjects are built on. 

As we started to do Life of Fred, I just did not feel that we were doing enough. Yes, there are math curriculums out there that assign dozens of problems a day and go way overboard. 

But Life of Fred goes too far in the opposite direction, in my opinion. I wanted a math curriculum that struck more of a balance. 

Five to seven problems just does not cut it.

2. Non-Math Questions are Assigned

So, if you’re only doing a very small number of math problems, you would think all of them would be centered around math.

Nope. 

We found that the curriculum would use one of the assigned questions to ask things like:

  • “Translate from German into English: der Zehennagel.”

  • “Are lions and tigers carnivores?”

  • “Are Christmas trees deciduous or evergreen?”

  • “Butterflies don’t make a lot of noise. Can you think of other animals that don’t make a lot of noise?”

I understand that the author is trying to engage the kids and get them to remember other facts that are taught in the stories…but this is a math curriculum.

When you assign precious few problems to begin with, it made me uncomfortable to see that not all the questions were related to math. 

3. Unnecessarily Introduces Complicated Math Concepts

life of Fred complicated math problem

The Life of Fred creator obviously has a passion for math and wants to share that with students. He just might be a little too enthusiastic for some. 

In several of the lessons you will find a calculus problem or other similar higher level concept. The author is quick to point out that if the student sticks with math, he or she will eventually be able to solve these problem easily.

My kid didn’t find that motivating as much as she found it overwhelming. 

4. Not Enough Review Questions

I understand that there are math whiz kids out there who learn concepts quickly and need little – if any – review. That has not been my experience with my three kids. 

I have found it to be critical to regularly review concepts in a core subject. When the right amount is done, it helps kids to feel confident and solid in their skills. 

Life of Fred teaches concepts with fun stories but doesn’t review very often. I can see how concepts can be easily lost or atrophied as the corresponding story is forgotten. 

5. Author of the Curriculum Inserts a Lot of His Own Opinions into the Stories

homeschool girl unsure of life of Fred instruction about food

So this is when things started to get really weird for me. 

As we were reading through the stories, I started to notice that the books put a huge focus on nutrition and screens. 

There is much discussion about the fact that little Fred is so small because he eats way too much sugar. A character named Ned is looked down on because he eats cereal with soda mixed into it and watches television for 11 hours a day. 

One of the stores in Fred’s world is called “Waddle’s Doughnuts.”

In one part of the story, Fred tries to offer candy to a bird and the bird says, “Who do you think I am? I’m not stupid. That junk will rot my teeth.”

As a parent, I am a huge advocate of limiting screen time for kids and feeding them strong foods, but even I felt the judgy tones of these stories.

6. There are a Lot of Body Issues to Deal With

As mentioned above, there is much said about how small Fred is. All of my kids are very tall because their parents are tall, but I think a smaller child may not appreciate how Fred is characterized.

Fred also seems to have some kind of eating disorder. He collects food in his pockets all day that he is “saving for later,” and then he dumps the food out in the trash at the end of the day. Clearly, an eating disorder that kids could be bothered by or confused by. 

There was a scene in a story where Fred and his friend are ordering food at a food court. The burgers are listed by size and one is labeled to feed the “biggest tummy.” 

I was shocked to read this line in one of the lessons in Butterflies: “Betty didn’t want to get fat on doughnuts…” 

The last thing I want my kids to learn is that they need to be afraid of food or that eating a single doughnut or a hamburger will make them fat. 

It was just bizarre to have to deal with things like this in a math curriculum. It bothered me so much that I wrote the author of the curriculum (his email address is in the front of the books). I was shocked that he responded! He was kind in his response but doubled down on his position of being concerned about childhood obesity and needing to educate the public. 

I agree it’s an issue. But I don’t need him to educate my kids on it, and I disagree with telling growing kids to eat less or they’ll get fat.

Especially as part of their math curriculum. 

7. Started Getting a Little Pricey

cash for curriculum

I started with Apples and paid about $18 for my book.

That book had 19 lessons in it, and it lasted less than 3 weeks in my homeschool (doing one lesson per day as the book instructs you to do).

I quickly bought the next one for another $18…and that also lasted me less than 3 weeks. I realized that you really needed to buy the entire set (Apples – Jelly Beans) to make it through the year…which would run you about $180. 

Not as affordable as I had originally thought. 

Our current math curriculum for my rising 5th grader costs about $45 per year as a comparison.

8. No Games or Manipulatives

little girl using math manipulatives

It is a little strange to me to teach math to younger grades and not include any hands-on manipualtive work or games to play. 

Kids at this age have such difficulty understanding anything abstract, so manipulatives like clocks, blocks, and play money help them to grasp the concept more firmly. 

9. Not Enough Lessons for a 180 Day School Year

Each book has 19 lessons, and you are supposed to do one lesson per day. 

The average school year has 180 days. If you followed the instructions in the book and a typical school calendar, then you would complete 9 of the 11 books in the series during first grade.

You would complete the remaining 2 books of the series at the beginning of second grade…and then do what till after 4th grade for math?

I will talk more about this in a moment when I address the question of whether Life of Fred is a full curriculum.

The Big Question: Is Life of Fred Enough?

Woman asking if Life of Fred is enough

Believe me, I would love to tell you that a short story and a small handful of math problems was enough to call it good for the day…but I just can’t do that.

Life of Fred is fun and definitely educational, but I would never call it a complete math curriculum. 

Why?

For me, there were two main reasons.

  • Too Few Lessons

If you divide the books up over 1-4th grade – you would be teaching less than three books per year. That would mean in a 180 day school year, you only have 38-57 math lessons to teach.

I’m not sure what the Life of Fred creator expects homeschool moms to do for math on the remaining days of the school year. 

  • Not in Depth Enough

I also found that the lessons were shallow in their explanation of concepts. It was like they were introducing the concept…but never went any further to dig in…or review.

In summary, Life of Fred has lots of story, and not enough math instruction.

That is not to say that this math curriculum doesn’t have a place or purpose. See below for my suggestions to use Life of Fred appropriately in your homeschool.

How to Use Life of Fred in Your Homeschool:

Apples and Butterflies books from Life of Fred

  • Math Supplement
  • Show frustrated kids that math can be fun
  • As a math warm-up
  • To teach about the practical uses of math
  • As summer curriculum to keep skills sharp 

Recap Life of Fred Review

I hope this Life of Fred review has helped answer your nagging questions and given you a clear picture of what to expect from this math curriculum. 

I know this review was a bit harsh, so I want to say again that I am forever thankful to Life of Fred for giving us a bridge from “math hatred” to finding a math curriculum that works for us. 

Have you used Life of Fred? What did you think? Was it enough for your homeschool?

Share your experience in the comments below!

Read Next:

Looking for a high quality, low prep math curriculum for your elementary aged homeschooler? Check out this comprehensive Horizons Math review to see why I picked it, exactly what daily lessons look like, what I love about this curriculum, and what I would change. Oh, and what my 1st grader has to say about it!

2 Comments

  1. Like you, I don’t think Life of Fred works as a stand alone math curriculum; however, my three boys LOVE it as a read aloud. They beg for more every night. I have a bachelor’s degree in math, and I want my children to love math as much as I do. I love that they are being exposed to higher level math concepts at such a young age. The author does a great job of explaining these ideas in a simplistic way. They’ve latched onto the delightfully random non-math tidbits that are thrown into the stories. Truly, our read aloud sessions are filled with giggle after giggle. Our youngest son, whose name rhymes with Fred, is the math whiz in our household, and we can all imagine him as a 5-year-old math professor just like Fred. We’ve read the first five books and can’t get enough.

    1. That is awesome to hear Tarryn! Thank you for sharing!

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