Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Life of Fred - Elementary Series review

Being and admitted curriculum junkie (meaning I buy way more books and other resources we will probably never get to use), I thought I would put my "bad habit" to good use! So, this is my first of many reviews to come. This review is on the new math series by Stanley Schmidt - creator of the Life of Fred Series. Life of Fred is a common staple amongst families homeschooling gifted children - especially children that love literature based mathematics or understanding the "why" as well as the "how" of math.
The Elementary Series is a welcome addition for parents like me - that purchased his books on Fractions through Calculus knowing it would be a long time before we were ready to crack those books open! So now, here is a math series that even the youngest of gifted children can enjoy!
Here are some of the really basic things to know about the series. First, the books are sequential; this isn't necessarily obvious on the surface as the books have the names: Apples, Butterflies, Cats, and Dogs. Of course, you see the pattern (A, B, C, D) - thus for a child just starting out in formal math education, you can start with Apples. For a child already firmly adding and subtracting, and even doing multiplication and division - it might be best to wait for some of the later books in the series (there should be one released in October 2011 - with ten total books planned for the Elementary Series).
There are a couple of reasons that I LOVE these books for gifted children. The first is that it understands the "less is more" concept that gifted children often times don't need excessive repetition to understand a concept. What takes an average person 7 - 8 repetitions to learn a gifted child can learn firmly with 3 - 4 repetitions. So, Fred (the main character in all the books) will introduce a math concept (by having a real life problem that needs the concept to solve), and the child will have 3 or 4 questions to solve to show they have also learned what Fred learned. Not to worry about your child not getting a firm foundation - the books use a gentle spiral method by re-looking at a concept in later books, using more advanced formulas.
Another great thing about the books is their use of language. They don't just show math concepts, they use the proper terms for various mathematical phenomena (consecutive numbers, commutative law of addition, functions). So, children are learning very early on the proper terms for the problems they are solving, why those terms are important, and when those concepts are used. I also love that it takes mathematics out of the theoretical world and places it firmly in the real world where is belongs. In the Life of Fred series children learn from the beginning that in mathematics, numbers represent units of things - real things. That 2 + 2 = 4 means that there is now four of "something" and that mathematics is used to solve real problems.
Probably the best thing that I love about these books and why they are great for gifted children is because they go beyond just math. They introduce and cover (even just lightly) all sorts of interesting things that gifted children normally don't get a chance to explore (but are capable of exploring) at a really early level - literature from Beowulf to Robinson Crusoe, Morse code and creating your own codes, geography, and even Archimedes. Children are also allowed to quickly move from small numbers (single digit addition) to addition using numbers in the millions.
How much do I love these books? The series is brand new (just got released a couple of weeks ago) and I am so impressed with them that I am scrapping my well crafted plans of using Singapore Math as our spine and switching to the Life of Fred Elementary Series as our spine. I still LOVE Singapore Math - but we will now use it to reinforce concepts from Life of Fred instead of the other way around!
And, for those families that are not home schooling - Life of Fred would be a GREAT after school supplement. It reads like a great book series with math concepts to explore. No longer needing to just hand your child a workbook, you can work together laughing at the hilarious adventures of Fred!

Hope this helps!

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