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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!

22 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for writing about the food related issues you found. I hadn’t heard about those and that definitely makes this curriculum a no for us. Eating disorders and food related issues are wide spread and one of the reasons we are pulling our child out of the public system. Our older child is a recovering anorexic and those food messages are VERY detrimental to kids who are at a higher risk of eating disorders (there is a genetic component to eating disorders so we have to be very careful with all of our kids because they are predisposed genetically). Thank you SO much for saving us from starting this curriculum!

  2. Inaccurate use of materials!
    For clear instructions on how to use these books you can google life of fred and see the instructions on the site. Books 1-4 are meant to repeated up to three times! Thanks for this review, but be careful to use as instructed!

    1. Lauren Schmitz says:

      Thanks for the info, Bethiah. I have heard this in a few places. It would be neat if they put it in the books that they sell, so it would be clear. The average user would have no way of knowing that should go online for more info. I have mountains of teacher’s manuals in my house and none of them tell me to go online for more instructions. Maybe for more printables, but definitely not for crucial information for how the curriculum works. And as a follow up, I’ve been homeschooling for quite awhile now, and I can’t imagine repeating a textbook three times with any of my children. Doesn’t sound like a good time. If it works for your kids though, great! Every homeschool is different.

    2. Kristin Holmes says:

      My kids found repeating the books to be enormously boring, and as they got older, actually demoralizing. I have used Fred from Apples through Pre-Algebra and everything in this review was spot on. If anything, it was far milder than what I would have to say about it – particularly the Fractions book, which is the worst book I’ve used in 30 years of homeschooling. We will not be continuing on with this curriculum any further, and I cannot recommend it as anything other than a supplement to other, better programs. For problem solving with a LOT of parental help, it’s beneficial, but as for it being a self-taught, student-led program, it’s not.

  3. I’m not sure what I’ll do as far as using it solo or not. We tried Singapore math for first grade and it was tears. For a kid who loves numbers. I found the elementary books on eBay and bought the 10. We did A-C between September and thanksgiving this year and starting D now. I do edit the food comments as they aren’t scientific or up to date. And we often comment that Fred is clearly only 12 inches tall not 3 feet based on all descriptions. My kid doesn’t need the excessive practice of most curriculums. She is figuring out multiplication naturally, she’s making sense of Algebra, she’s reading clocks well and practicing logic with some of the odd non numbers based questions. She’s questioning the authors truth and learning you can’t believe everything that’s in a book. She is loving her math. We are pretty chill about school. We learn at her pace. If we get to concepts that are too hard we will add in something else, we have math facts wrap around that she picks up to do when she is bored. Anyway. There was a really weird death of characters early on. That was weird. A violent tiger cub in cats, into the next book now. As an educated educator I do think it is enough. As she grows I hope it grows with. The first 5 books are 1-2 grade ish. The next 5 are 3-4 grade ish so if you want to start this program with a 3rd grader you will probably breeze through books 1-6 and then slow a little. If you start in first grade you may read two of them and spend some time practicing those skills for a while and then read them again before going on. The best thing about homeschool is it’s ok to do whatever your kid needs.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    We, too, noticed the author’s grumbling and sarcastic and bitter undertone, but the story has been so cute, we continue. We use the curriculum as reinforcement, and when any questions arise about the author’s opinions, we discuss them.

    All 18 books for reading, 4 books for Language Arts, and math up to and mid-way through (at the time of this reply) Pre-algebra 0 we have worked. If I were to show any of the books to you, you would see many editorial marks and remarks.

    Your point about concrete manipulatives and games exclusion significantly reduces the curriculum’s effectiveness. One of the replies above states, doesn’t have that great of grasp on early child development,” and I agree.

    Your assessment is spot on. In addition to your assessment, I add that the language is sometimes too complicated and at other times it is dumbed down. If a child can understand some of the more mature words used, there is no need to overuse the word “do”.

  5. Thank you. You do the same.

  6. Hi! You might find it helpful to know that the author recommends additional math fact practice for the early grades (I purchased the math facts workbook he recommends when I bought the Life of Fred books, and also use mathy games). He also recommends reading the books until it starts to get too challenging for the child, and then starting over and rereading the series again from the beginning …reviewing it over and over again. And the series is spiral (reexplaining the same concepts again in later books). I’ve also noticed that, as the books in the series progress, more and more math problems are included in the your turn to play portion. We are in Farming and doing an average of 8-10 math problems a chapter…still including the odd, non-math question every other chapter or so lol:) But by the time that you get to middle school math, there are a whole lot more math problems.

    Anyway. That doesn’t address the other issues that you mentioned, of course — and he includes similar small lessons throughout his other books — but I thought it might be helpful information for those reading this blog.

    Thanks again for sharing! 😊

    1. Thank you for the notes, Juliet! That is very helpful for my readers! 🙂

    2. Julie. Whic particular maths facts book did you buy. Looking at using this but want to supplement as per your suggestion.

      Thanks!

    3. Life of Fred is working great for us, I just have my 7 and 9 yo practice math facts with the Xtramath app (one of our rare uses of a tablet for school). I love that it’s math mixed with every other subject under the sun, much like real life :).

  7. Thank you. I agree. What math curriculum do you like?

  8. I found the first four books at our local library, and have done 4 lessons with my eight year old so far. We’re using it as a little sugar to make the math medicine go down, and for that I feel it works quite well. But for a third grader it’s definitely not enough. I am also a big user of concrete materials and feel that the author doesn’t have that great of grasp on early child development.

  9. Thank you for writing so candidly!

  10. 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!

      1. As a now university student (in engineering) I find it really interesting to see LofF so carefully reviewed. While I didn’t follow Lof F to completion, I started in grade 6 and stopped in grade 9/10 ish, I do credit LofF with the some of the ease with math that now allows me to succeed in higher level education. While I agree that the body shaming tones have absolutely no place in math, the subtle introduction of higher level concepts to me is a positive thing, it takes the potential scariness out of them. While I hate to admit it, there could be a few more practice problems to help with memorization, but especially for younger grades those are easy to develop as needed (as I do with my younger brother). Despite the concerning tones (there are less in later books) I recommend this series, as long as supplemental questions are provided as needed

        1. Kristin Holmes says:

          I’m really glad you enjoyed the books, but I have found (I’m a member of a LoF group on Facebook and have talked to hundreds of people about these books over the past few years, many of whom were really struggling with them) that children who had a lot of math instruction prior to starting LoF are much better able to handle it later on. If you started the books in Grade 6, you probably already had a firm footing in many math concepts. My children were simply not able to learn higher order multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, percents, and pre-Algebra from these books alone. I don’t see how any child would be able to learn these things from LoF alone (and I have a teaching certificate in middle school math and have homeschooled since 1992). Yet they’re marketed as a complete curriculum that children should be able to use alone, with no parental involvement. That simply isn’t the case.

          BTW, there is absolutely NOT less preaching in the later books. Some of the plotlines in the Zillions books for middle school ages are really heavy-handed. Not just with body shaming but also some classism and a fairly consistent backdrop of misogyny in which two women are held up for constant ridicule because one of them wants to get married and the other wants to be an actress. Now personally, I took those moments as a time to give my kids my own opinion, but this plus the overly complicated math problems often caused our math lessons to take 2-3 hours and then I STILL had to supplement with other materials afterwards. People who are just getting started in homeschooling do not need this level of frustration and won’t succeed. I really fear for all the people who buy these books on the hype and do not have the expertise to realize their drawbacks.

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