Math Revisited: A Strayer-Upton/Life of Fred Plan

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: 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. 😛

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

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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Time to plan!!

It’s April already! Only a couple more months of school before summer hits. Now I’m starting to have the debate with myself on whether or not we will school through the summer. Right now, I’m leaning toward taking a few weeks off and then doing school 3 days a week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. That leaves a nice long weekend, and I’d also even be flexible with those days.  The facilitator at a homeschool mom group I belong to said that it is really hard to get back into the swing of things in September, and just from being on Spring Break, it’s really hard to get going again!

With Spring comes the chance to start looking at NEW curricula!  Planning and shopping are my favorite things! I’ve already made my list of things to sell, and I’m hoping to use some of that money to purchase new (or used) items. Here are some of the things I’m being impressed by:

I don’t plan on getting all of the above, but I keep coming back to these choices. Regarding the living books for Jacob, I need to be more purposeful with what I read with him. I still don’t want to push him too hard, but if I can read him some fun living books and have him learn, that would be great!

We will still be doing Ambleside Online for the majority of our studies.  We started the AO schedule late this year, and I’m hoping to get  caught up and perhaps be able to start the new school year with Evie firmly in AO Year 3. Jacob will be doing AO Year 0.5 (which doesn’t technically exist but consists of slightly more work than AO Year 0 but not quite as heavy as AO Year 1).

Sooo, that means for the next couple of months, I’ll be stalking the used homeschool sites! Happy shopping! And if anyone has any words of advice on any of the above programs, I’m all ears!

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Items for Sale

I’ve grown quite the collection of extra homeschool items this year! I’m listing the following for sale. If you live around Grand Rapids, Michigan, and want to pick the item up, you can subtract $3 for shipping.  Multiple items will get a discount on shipping as well.

Hot Items: (All items are in great condition except as noted)

  • Teaching Textbooks Math 3 CD-ROM set. All CDs, textbook, & answer book. 1 page in pencil. – $90 ppd *SOLD*
  • Draw Write Now complete set – $60 ppd   *SOLD*
  • Handwriting Without Tears Teaching Guide: Green Book can be used with Letters and Numbers for Me Kindergarten Workbook – $10 ppd
  • Pathway Readers New Friends & More New Friends readers, workbooks, and answer book (New Friend workbook 1/2 filled out in pencil) – All 5 books for $20 ppd
  • Pathway Readers First Steps reader, workbook, and key – All 3 books for $10 ppd *SOLD*
  • Paragraph Town Teacher’s Manual by Michael Clay Thompson – $15 ppd *SOLD*
  • Writing Skills by Diana Hanbury King Teacher’s Handbook – $10 ppd  *SOLD*
  • Bible Study Guide for All Ages Unit 1 Complete Teacher’s Guide with Maps, Label Packet, Timeline, and more – $25 ppd *SOLD*
  • Life in Colonial America Coloring Book, Exploration of North America Coloring Books, and Old-Fashioned Farm Life Coloring Book by Dover – all 3 for $9 ppd  *SOLD*
  • Horizons Math K Teacher’s Guide, Student Book 2, and Student Book 1 used through 62 – $30 ppd
  • Horizons Math 3 Teacher’s Guide, Student Book 2, and Student Book 1 used through  lesson 32 – $35 ppd
  • TruthQuest History: American History for Young Students 1 in good condition (notes made in book) – $20 ppd *SOLD*
  • A Child’s Book of Character Building Book 1 – $8 ppd  *SOLD*
  • My Nature Journal: A Personal Nature Guide for Young People (2 pages filled in) – $10 ppd
  • The Story of the Thirteen Colonies & The Great Republic (Memoria Press version) – $10 ppd
  • The Light and the Glory for Children – $8 ppd *SOLD*

Common Educational Items: All of these items are in good used condition unless noted. That means they won’t have notes or marks, but some edges are frayed, etc.

  • A Handbook for Reading (A Beka Book “The New Blue-Backed Speller”) – $5 ppd
  • Getting Ready for Kindergarten with 100 Reproducible Activities – $5 ppd
  • Write-A-Mat Alphabet & Numbers (2 mats) – $5 ppd *SOLD*
  • A Reason for Handwriting (taken out of book) – $5 ppd  *SOLD*
  • Gifted & Talented Language Arts: A Workbook for Ages 6-8 – $5 ppd
  • The Sound of the Week  – $6 ppd
  • Set of 3 “It’s Time to Grow!” books: Beginning Book of Vowel Sounds, Beginning Book of Letters and Consonant Sounds, and Seasons and Concepts – $6 ppd
  • Read it Again! A Guide for Teaching Reading Through Literature – $5 ppd
  • Chalkboard Songs for the Elementary Classroom – $4 ppd
  • It’s a Special Day: Seasonal Poems and Background Lessons Arranged by Months and Holidays – $5 ppd
  • Cursive Writing Made Easy and Fun (half filled in with pencil but could use writing paper for assignments) – $4 ppd
  • Set of 16 Houghton Mifflin math readers – $8 ppd *SOLD*
  • If Your Name was Changed at Ellis Island – $4 ppd
  • If You Lived with the Sioux Indians – $4 ppd *SOLD*
  • Samuel Eaton’s Day – $4 ppd


  • Little Pilgrim’s Progress (New) – $5 ppd *SOLD*
  • Little House in the Big Woods – $5 ppd *SOLD*
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek – $4 ppd *SOLD*
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall – $4 ppd *SOLD*

Rare & Awesome Finds: (All are in good used condition. No writing, but there may be shelf wear, etc)

  • Calculadder Math Drills with QuicKeys: Levels 1-48 of CalcuLadder 1, 2, & 3. Overlays, performance log, and instructions – $10 ppd  *SOLD*
  • The Goops Circus: A Whimsical Telling of Do-Good Tales (hardcover) – $10 ppd *SOLD*
  • Set of Nancy Polette books (Favorite Novel Animals with Activities for Fantastic Mr. Fox, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Rabbit Hill, and King of the Wind; Reading with Music Grades 4-7; Giants – A Complete Whole Language Unit for Primary Grades; The Crosby Bonsall Thinking Book; The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Whole Language Unit; Whole Language in Action – Teaching with Children’s Literature; The Hole by the Apple Tree; The Thinker’s Mother Goose) – $25 ppd
  • Thinkathon 1 – $8 ppd
  • The Book of Pattern Reading, Writing, & Singing Activities by Jim Stone – $10 ppd
  • Family Math – $8 ppd
  • Close-Up USA boxed set of American maps by National Geographic – $10 ppd *SOLD*

Fun Learning Items:  Items in great

  • Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals – $5 ppd
  • How Artists See Work & How Artists See Family – Both for $8 ppd

Vintage Items:  These items are in vintage condition. Some yellowing, shelf wear, but very usable. Vintage homeschool stuff is AWESOME.

  • Word Prefixes & Suffixes (A visual aid showing words formed) – $6 ppd
  • The Syllable Game designed by Edward Dolch (Sight Syllable Solitaire) 1948 – $10 ppd
  • Spell Power (card game by Kenworthy Educational Service 1971) – $6 ppd
  • Slide ‘n Sound by Play ‘n Talk (a  phonics sliding board with 43 word strips) – $6 ppd
  • We Talk, Spell, and Write Book 1(2): Dick and Jane Vintage 1951 Basic Language Program – $16 ppd
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How I Schedule Ambleside

We’re going on week 6 of Ambleside, and we are still really enjoying it! The only subject that isn’t enjoyed is math (understandable in my opinion). It’s not too difficult – just too boring.  However, I’ve told her that as soon as she is through with Teaching Textbooks (about 25 lessons to go), I’ll get her Pet Shop Math published by SCM, which she is thrilled about. I think Teaching Textbooks is a wonderful program for the record, but she just doesn’t enjoy math in the slightest.

I was trying to describe to a friend how to implement Ambleside Online (aka AO), and I remember that week that I spent poring over the Ambleside website, going back and forth between FAQ to booklist to schedule to forum and back to FAQ.  It is a lot to take in and understand. I don’t know why it seems so difficult to grasp, but it is!  Once you have the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to schedule and understand.  I would have loved a step-by-step guide when I was figuring it all out, so I thought I’d attempt to put one out there for whomever might need it.

I’ve already discussed briefly how to go about placing your child.  Grade levels at AO are not the same as grade levels in typical out-of-the-home school.  You’ll most likely start Year 1 at around age 7 or 8.  (There is a year “zero” that consists of a book list that children will enjoy listening too, but there is no formal schooling that goes on in this year.)  My daughter just turned 10 and is in Y2. It is challenging enough and thoroughly enjoyable.  I believe that my son probably won’t start AO Y1 until he is 8 because he just won’t be ready, but we’ll see what the next year brings. So, in summary, it is okay if you have a 4th grader who is in Y2, Y3, or Y4.  Just browse the book list to see where his or her vocabulary and comprehension level would best be challenged and entertained.

For each Year, you’re expected to find a math curriculum to use daily as well as daily penmanship (can be copywork) and phonics practice (if necessary).  You’re also told to do weekly nature, composer, artist, and hymn studies.  So these things are not added to the weekly schedules over and over again, but you’ll need to make a mental note to remember to do those things on your own schedule.

Next, look at the schedule for your child’s year.  You’ll see that it is by week. There are no daily assignments – only weekly. Let’s use a week’s work from Y6 for an example. You’ll see something like this:

Week 4
Bible (OT): Genesis 17-20
Bible (NT): Matt. 26:30-46, see also John 14-17 (“Gethsemane”)
The Story of the World vol 4 by Susan Wise Bauer ch 28, first half of 29 (up to pg 323) OR What Everyone Should Know About the 20th Century: The Allies Invade Nazi-held Europe (1944), 3 pages; British Troops Liberate the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp (1945); America Drops Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945)
Story of Mankind by Van Loon ch 70 Global War OR A Child’s History of the World ch 89 A New Big Power in the World
Missionary Travels of David Livingstone: ch. 4 OR Story of David Livingstone: ch 2 First years in Africa (and map work)
School of the Woods ch 4 Ismaques the Fishhawk
Couldn’t Just Happen 2. Dead Planets, Living World: The outer planets pg 20
Einstein and The Theory of Relativity by R Cwiklik ch 5 (or other Einstein bio)
Poetry of Robert Frost
Shakespeare – work on current term’s play for the 12-week term
Plutarch – read slowly through this term’s Life for the 12-week term
Age of Fable ch 30 the Phaeacians spend 2 weeks as needed
The Hobbit ch 4

This big list of books and chapters is confusing until you understand the different subjects contained within. You’ll see items from the following subjects in the list: Bible, History, Science, and Literature.  Each item listed above fits into one of those categories. You can view the Booklist for your year on the site to see what books fit into to which category. Here is Year 6’s book list. We’ve been using a 4-day week so far with Ambleside, so let me show you how to get that done.

Choose 1 History reading per day.  This encompasses your history reading, your history tales/biography, and your geography.  In this year, you have The Story of the World vol 4 OR What Everyone Should Know About the 20th Century to decide between.  You’ll also have to choose between The Story of Mankind versus A Child’s History of the World. The Story of David Livingstone is your geography to read from. Your history tale will be chosen by you from a list of books on their site.

Choose 1 Science reading per day. The science readings above include School of the Woods, Couldn’t Just Happen, and an Einstein biography.

Choose 1 Literature reading per day. Your literature choices above are Shakespeare. Plutarch, Age of Fable, and The Hobbit. You’ll also have some poetry to squeeze in on one day. We don’t count this as literature – but rather our “fine arts” for the day (along with composer study, hymn study, etc).

You’ve now boiled down your list to chunk-size bites that can be handled daily. You’ll also schedule your Bible, math, and copywork in addition to your fine arts lessons. You might also have a science curriculum you like to use. I make a checklist for each day – Bible, math, history, science, literature, copywork, and fine arts. I check things off and refer to the website for the assignment to work on for each subject.

I hope that helps someone become a little clearer on how to schedule things! If not, ask questions and I’d be happy to help un-muddle anything for anyone. 🙂

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Time4Learning Review

As I mentioned awhile back, I was able to try Time4Learning in our home in exchange for a review of the program here. It was so nice to give it a trial run! I used it for my 6-yo boy who is in Kindergarten this year. This is our first year homeschooling, and I do have a 4th grader and a toddler as well, so my idea was to use Time4Learning as a supplement to keep him busy when I was occupied with one of my other kids. My son does well on a computer, but he is a little behind on most subjects since he had a language delay and has some sensory processing issues.

Setting up our account was easy, (and I encourage any of you with a blog to try out the offer I used to submit a review for a free 1-month trial). Jacob sat down to explore this new website and see what he could discover. He chose some language arts concepts to get started since he likes the ABC’s. I left him and continued schooling my older daughter. When I came back to check on him about 15 minutes later, he was still doing the same lesson . He said he had started it again because he wasn’t sure where to click to get it to go to the next lesson. I sat down to see what he had completed already and try to get him moving on, and it was difficult to find the succession of the lessons for me.

The next day we tried a science lesson, and I had him in the same room with me. He got started, and the lesson was on living versus non-living things. Well, he would just guess at the answers – sometimes getting them wrong and sometimes getting them right. I think the information came at him a little too fast for him to fully grasp the concept. I had him re-do the lesson, but still it wasn’t clicking. We tried clicking around for some other things to do, and nothing really grabbed his attention.

This continued for a few days, and I did make a point to sit down and try to figure out a navigation path for him to follow on his own, and it wasn’t easy for me to figure out.  Perhaps I didn’t spend enough time reading the parent information in getting set up, but it was not user-friendly enough for us to work with. Eventually we stopped working with it altogether. I think that if I was using it with him one-on-one, we could make it work, and it does teach some major concepts – not just fun games like other sites might have. I also think that for older kids, it would be great as a supplement or a core lesson. These are good, high-quality educational lessons, but it just did not fit our family at this time.

I so appreciate being able to try it out and review it for everyone though! Please check it out and see if you think it might work for your family! Let me know what you think about Time4Learning!

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Ambleside Online?

Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t know what I’m doing. Okay, okay…that’s too harsh. I have an idea of what I want to do, but I don’t seem to be accomplishing it. All the wonderful, beautiful choices I selected, painstakingly hunting down the lowest prices, preparing notebooks, and envisioning quiet, quality time with my kids as we learn together does NOT seem to be reality. Who’d have thought?

Bible time is good. Math needed a change for Evie but now is good. English/phonics was not right for Evie with Queen Language Lessons and Pathway. Science was never getting done because I was too busy. History was GREAT with Truthquest but I was having a hard time selecting the right books to use. The fine arts were not getting done.

So I’m clicking around hoping to find the answer to whatever my problem was, and I came across Ambleside Online again. When I first looked into homeschooling and decided to use the CM method, I peeked at AO, but it seemed very, very intimidating with all the literature, lack of a concrete plan, no grammar, etc., etc. I don’t know – I was just scared by it! It seemed like it was for the Charlotte Mason zealots, and I wasn’t ready for that yet!  (Same with Old Fashioned Education.)  Well I gave it another look since I needed SOME sort of guidance.

Long story short, we’ve used it this past week, and it’s gone well! My daughter LIKES the readings that I thought would be too intimidating  I can manage to read them quite well out loud. It is doable! It didn’t really cut down on the amount of work that we were doing, but it seems to have defined it a little more.

It takes awhile to figure out how to use AO. At first it looks too hard, and then it looks too easy, and then scheduling it seems confusing, but I’ve read and read all about how others use it, and I think I’ve figured it out. The first, most important thing to understand is that AO “years” are NOT the same as grades in school. Evie is in 4th grade, but she is not ready for AO4. She is in AO2. Jacob is in AO0 right now, and next year, he most likely will not be ready for AO1 yet. There are 12 AO years, but you do not need to finish at year 12. I’ve read that AO10 is beyond any regular high school education, and I believe it!  What you’ll need to do is look at the book lists for each year around where your child might be. Figure out where he/she is able to comprehend the books the best. Year 4 is a big year where your child needs to transition to reading the texts pretty much alone, so keep that in mind. With us just starting out hs’ing and just starting out with CM, AO2 seemed a good fit, and I asked on the forum and heard back that other mothers do start their 9/10 year olds in AO2 if need be. It seems to be a great fit so far.

Next, you’ll want to look at the book lists necessary for your year. A lot of the texts are available online since they are in the public domain. The others will probably be available at your library. Once you have that, check out the weekly schedule for your year. No matter when you start AO (like I started it in December), you start with Week 1. It doesn’t matter when you break for summer…just keep plodding along week by week.

From there, you just do as the schedule says. Every day, you should have work done in penmanship, phonics, and math, as well as weekly nature study, art, music, and handicrafts. You should include a timeline/book of centuries with your history readings. You can choose to do a science curriculum or not (we are). The actual assigned readings are history, geography, literature, and science readings. I used the “Master Planner” located in the AO Member Schedules Yahoo Group to get a better idea of how to spread it out through the week. 

So, this week we did Bible time as usual and math as usual. I changed Evie to only doing copywork for language arts. We did our regular science book as well as read from the Burgess Animal Book (chapter 1). For history, we read a chapter of Our Island Story and Trial and Triumph, and we read a 1/2 chapter of The Little Duke. I’ll read 1 chapter from Tree in the Trail for geography tomorrow and we’ll mark it on a map. For literature, she listened to an audio dramatization of Pilgrim’s Progress, and I read a chapter of Understood Betsy and The Two Gentlemen of Verona by Shakespeare. (YES! SHAKESPEARE!) The only book I had to hunt down at the library was Tree in the Trail. The rest were all online.

She understood everything, and I know this because I had her narrate back to me what I had read, and she was able to tell me all the key points – even with Shakespeare. Today I asked her what she’d like to do next, and she said to get the boring stuff out of the way. I asked her if that would be the reading, and she said no and had a hard time coming up with something boring on the list to do!

So, success so far! I’m hesitant to even post this because I’m afraid I’ll jinx it! Jacob will be a tougher sell, but he’s not ready yet and won’t be for awhile, and that’s okay! We’ll keep plugging along with math and phonics and see where it takes us.

I’m actually going to ATTEMPT a formal nature study tomorrow (since it’s on my schedule). We’ll see how it goes!

Anyone else use Ambleside?

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Oooh, I’m excited!! I’ve been invited to try Time4Learning for one month in exchange for a candid review. My opinion will be entirely my own, so be sure to come back and read about my experience. Time4Learning can be used as a homeschool curriculum, for afterschool enrichment and for summer skill sharpening. Find out how to write your own curriculum review for Time4Learning and get a free trial too!

I’ll be using this as a supplement to Jacob’s Kindergarten lessons. Yay!

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