It’s been awhile since my first math post where I ~~shared my extensive knowledge~~ gave my opinion about all the math curricula I was looking into. It’s been a journey finding a good fit! We started with Horizons, but we did not like that. There was way too much review. I found an awesome deal on used Teaching Textbooks, and so we finished out the year with that. TT is fun, but will it give a student great math skills? I don’t think so. Once TT was finished, we went through a short time of using Math-It as well as SCM’s Your Business Math just for fun review. Math-It is a NEAT program for remembering simple adding problems so that you don’t have to count fingers. Some kids might not need that, but my daughter (and even I sometimes) would count fingers for each problem she came across. Math-It made the answers come without any thought or counting.

While all of the above was going on, I was doing crazy research and scrambling to figure out a plan. I do NOT want to be a curriculum jumper (especially when it comes to math). But I want to use something that is simple to use, fun, applicable to life, not overwhelming, inexpensive, thorough, not “new math,” with a good track record of producing math-minded kids. That’s a tall bill!! I’d looked into MUS, MEP, Right Start, Horizons, Math Made Meaningful, Math Mammoth, Teaching Textbooks…you name it and I’ve looked into it. The one I really liked the looks of for quite awhile was Math on the Level. It taught concept by concept without regard to grade, but the up-front cost was too much.

I decided I wanted to use Life of Fred because it is such a fun way to use math. But I didn’t feel I could use it as my main program, and I didn’t feel confident hunting down math lessons on my own to compensate for anything LOF skipped. I don’t know how I stumbled across it, but eventually I came across moms using Strayer-Upton math along with LOF. This intrigued me because it fits ALL of the requirements I listed above.

- Simple to use: This is an open-and-close math text with no pre-planning necessary. It is written to the student. Lessons are short, and it’s easy to get a couple of lessons done in a 15-minute time period. Answers are in the back!
- Fun: A lot of SU revolves around word problems, and there are vintage black-and-white pictures throughout the text. There are games written in from time-to-time. One assignment had my daughter create her own word problems for a page of subtraction problems, and she had fun with that!
- Applicable to life: The word problems make it relevant to life. Also, all aspects of math are taught concurrently. Adding is the opposite of subtracting, and multiplication and division are all related together so that all are being worked on bit by bit together.
- Not overwhelming: There are some drill pages, but there are more written words than numbers on the pages, so that makes it easier for my daughter. She didn’t like to see a page with 100 math problems on it for her lesson, but these books are small and well-spaced. (As an aside, these books stay open when you lay them on the table whereas Ray’s Arithmetic books do not.)
- Inexpensive: I bought the 3-book set (which encompasses grades 3 through 8) for $30 shipped on eBay.
- Thorough: Yes, I have no doubt that by the time we are finished with the 3-book set my children will be well-versed in math – written and mental. I also won’t need to go hunting down math drill worksheets or worry that the program is skipping material
- Not “new math:” You don’t have to worry about common core standards or new fuzzy math here! These books were made in 1934. Is it antiquated? No. Numbers don’t change, but the way they are taught has changed. The only thing you may find antiquated in this book would be the word problems: “Jack earned $2.09 selling papers last week and $1.78 this week. How much more did he earn last week than this week?” It’s a lesson in economics at times, but it’s charming and does not take away from the numbers being taught.
- Good track record: Yes! Not only are there no bad reviews when you Google “Strayer Upton Review,” but SU was also used in an experiment in the 1930s, and you can read all about it here: http://www.ithaca.edu/compass/storyI-III.htm. Basically, math was not formally taught until the 3rd grade, and then SU was used, and this produced a solid education all the way around for the kids who went to that school district.

Here are some sample images of Book 1 in the set. I uploaded the pictures backward, so the first picture comes later in the book, and the last picture comes first. 😛

I should mention that my daughter is going to be entering 5th grade (10-1/2 years old right now). She knows her addition facts like the back of her hand but still isn’t “great” with subtraction. She’s okay with multiplication but has to sing a song to figure out the answer. I’d like her to get better with that. She doesn’t know much about division yet. So, I am starting her early on in the SU book 1. There are diagnostic tests throughout the book. If you have problems in any one area, you’d be able to figure that out this way and then go back to the pages listed for more review. So you could try diagnostic test by test to see where there are issues, and then start there.

Where does Life of Fred fit in? Ideally, LOF will be done for fun. Right now, we’ve been using a Mathmania puzzle books just before opening SU up for the day. It is different, fun, colorful, and it is totally random – sometimes math vocabulary, sometimes connect the dots counting by 4s, sometimes estimating weights, etc. It sort of gets the math-engine rolling. I’d like to begin LOF and have that be the primer for the day. My daughter has only read Apples, and of course it was very simple, but she thought it was FUN to read and asked to read it. So, even though the elementary books will mostly be review for her, she likes it and it gets her brain thinking mathematically. So, perhaps a chapter a day or every other day (with Mathmania on the alternates) would be doable. I don’t want to pile on too much, and I don’t want to go over 25 minutes altogether for math. So we’ll see, but I’d really like to plug LOF in somewhere in our math lives. Eventually when SU is over, I’d like to have her just work with LOF for the high school years.

I also have a Kindergartner to throw into the math mix! What would I do with him?? SU begins in 3rd grade, and it’s recommended that no formal math education be done before starting this program! Find out what I decided to use in my next math post: Math for Young Children.

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