I have read Life of Fred Algebra, so I thought I was prepared for a certain degree of surrealism and silliness, but an initial glance through this book far surpassed my expectations. Silliness is not the word for this book’s weird mix of math, humour and awful art, and not entirely in a good way. I honestly wasn’t sure the kids would sit through it.
But they love it. Strange.
They are utterly entranced by this tale of a 5-year-old pointy-nosed midget professor who sleeps under his desk in the math department at the prestigious KITTENS University and his blob-shaped doll, Kingie.
The book is a quick read, so I’m trying to pace ourselves, doing one chapter every couple of days, despite the kids begging for it at story time. We have made it through the first five chapters so far (out of 18). The story actually reminds me a lot of one of Ted’s rambling and nonsensical bedtime tales, which is probably why they like it so much.
The book touches very lightly upon a wide range of Grade One math concepts. There are three more books that follow Apples: Butterflies, Cats, and Dogs. I think they’re loosely supposed to correspond to grade levels, but I think parents generally start at the beginning and just read through the series. I did read on a message board that there is a disturbing theme in the “Dogs” book: euthanasia. Apparently, a whole bunch of dogs are put to sleep for no good reason, bringing up a whole slew of topics you may not wish to discuss with your child. I have emailed the author / publisher for clarification so I can decide before buying if this is appropriate for my kids.
I have also seen that there are “Christian” references in the book – but I believe this was clarified to mean references to God, the Bible, etc. Nothing (that I know of) which is specifically Christian, though the author himself is a religious Christian.
One reason I was excited to buy the Elementary series of Life of Fred books when they first came out is that I bought the Beginning Algebra book a couple of years ago when one of the big kids was struggling with algebra. I thought the book was great, and I think the child went through the book, but the point is not just to READ it but to stop at the end of every chapter and participate through the “Your Turn to Play” section at the end. The student is supposed to answer the questions before turning the page… which in that case, didn’t work. So it was a good read, but not the best math help, as such.
The Elementary books ALSO contain a “Your Turn to Play” section, but the nice thing about reading the book to the littles is that I can stop and MAKE them answer before going on. The instructions usually say to write down the answers (on a separate page!), but we have been doing them out loud so far. Here’s one from later on in the book that needs writing down.
I have peeked ahead and discovered that, although there’s little depth to the plot, it continues merrily in much the same vein, ramping up the difficulty SUBTLY with each chapter. (the questions shown above are about the most “mathy” this book gets!)
Here is what the book claims to teach:
- Numbers that Add to 7
- Reading 6:00 on a Clock
- 5 + ? = 7
- Days of the Week
- Leap Years
- Spelling February
- 15 Degrees Below Zero (–15º)
- Counting by Fives
- 3x + 4x = 7x
- ante meridiem (a.m.)
- One Million
- The “There Are Zero . . .” Game
- the Popularity of Zero
- ? (not equal)
- x + 4 = 7
- One Thousand
- Counting by Hundreds
- Reading 3:05 on a Clock
- It also brags that “unlike all other math programs, this one also teaches about:
• Dressing for Cold Weather
• Deciduous Trees and Deciduous Teeth
• Archimedes 287 B.C. Wrote The Sand Reckoner and Got Killed Being Rude
• Donner and Blitz in German
• Euclid Wrote The Elements
• Pacific and Atlantic Oceans
• Whales Are Not Fish
• Why Boats Are Cheaper to Rent in the Winter
• Herbivores and Carnivores
• the Colors of the Rainbow
• a King in Checkmate
• the Story of the Titanic”
Does it really do all that??? I don’t expect that it will revolutionize our lives, and I’m certainly not dropping our conventional math text and workbook time for a nice “sit-down-and-snuggle” with Fred. On the other hand, this makes a great supplement, and for those taking a living-math approach (unschooly, with little or no formal written work), this would probably be a great way to ADD formality to the curriculum, making sure everything “got covered” without having to actually do math in a big scary way.
It might also be a good resource for math-phobic parents (and teachers! elementary teachers often fear math!) to help themselves feel comfortable with basic math properties, like the commutative property of addition that means 5 pencils plus 2 pencils equals 7 pencils, a fact proven over and over and OVER in the Apples book. As it promises above, I can vouch that this book does indeed teach “numbers that add to 7.” How that will help us when we meet OTHER numbers, I’m not quite sure.
What I do know is that this kind of repetition may seem tedious to adults, but for grammar-stage learners (according to proponents of the Trivium model of classical education and in MY humble experience), it just helps them feel Powerful and Knowing. Even the lousy quality of the art seems to make Naomi feel good – even a 6-year-old can draw better than Fred (though not better than his doll, Kingie!).
You can find more information about the Life of Fred books, along with full-chapter samples of each book, at this site.