Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Saxon Math and Life of Fred

Homeschool mathNow that we are over half-way through the school year, the curriculum is hammered down.  Sure, I always have a game plan when we start, but why post anything until we’ve actually stuck it out?  Big dreams of five math lessons a week, flashcards, reading fun math-concept library books, and constructing bridge building projects–well I’ll leave those lofty achievements for those special homeschooling families.  (You know them.  The ones who you talk to and your heart rate goes up?)

We use Saxon Math And Life of Fred

I trained on (yes, “trained”) Saxon Math from sixth grade on up through calculus my senior year of high school–all except for geometry we used some other book.  Good enough in math but not a natural, the Saxon Math method and some exceptional teachers (who, by the way, didn’t do bridge building projects) paved my way for success in math and approaching complex problems later in life, not necessarily math related.  So my kids get Saxon Math.

My kids–it feels like I have about 12 but I really only have three and one on the way– will declare they hate Saxon Math, but they have no problems laughing and giggling while completing their worksheets.  The funny only seems to get deeper when I bring out my “iron fist” voice.  But for real fun and funny, we use Life of Fred books by Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph.D.

Our Saxon Math Schedule

We plug through Saxon Math all year round: winter, spring, summer, or fall.  Two lessons a week in the summer and 3-5 lessons a week in the school year, barring vacations of course.  That’s when we practice practical math, calculating the trajectory of airplane takeoffs, how seawater changes depth perception, you know.  That kind of stuff.  Well, the kids are supposed to be doing that.  But I never check their work.  This year-round schedule buys an excellent cushion whenever we need it; we are always ahead of grade level.

In Fourth Grade, We Finished Up Saxon 5/4 and Moved On To…

Saxon 5/4:  My fourth grader started Saxon 5/4 in third grade, and she finished it at Christmas time this year (let’s call it part-way through fourth grade), completing the whole book.  We don’t always finish the book to completion because they just start cramming in too many diverse, new topics without enough reinforcement at the end.  When I feel this frenetic method at the end of a book, I have no qualms stopping 10-20 lessons before the end and just picking up where appropriate in the next book–skipping lessons until we meet up where we left off.  Saxon Math is cumulative and provides excellent repetition within a book and from book to book so our method works for us.

At the end of the Saxon 5/4 book, my girl was at her edge.  By edge I mean it challenged her just right.  Comfortable enough for her to be able to do it but hard enough for her to need some occasional guidance.  Any harder and we would have slowed down.  Any easier and she wouldn’t have been learning.  By the end of Saxon 5/4 she could do:

  •  multiplication of two digit numbers by three digit numbers,
  • long division,
  • very simple early algebra,
  • addition/subtraction of decimals,
  • and addition/subtraction of fractions.

Saxon 6/5:  I purchased Saxon 6/5 to continue after Christmas and was appalled when it arrived.    It started her back at learning what a digit was, place value, subtraction of three digit numbers, and simple division (9 divided by 3).  There are about 140 lessons in the book and they didn’t even take her to adding and subtraction decimal numbers until Lesson 73.  I’m used to skipping up to 30 lessons when we start a new book to avoid all the [wasted] review.  (Year-round math is really the best!)  However, the entire book for her would have been review, aside from a few new geometric concepts and terms.  The WHOLE book.  She understood the concepts already and did not need a year of slow review and reinforcement.

Saxon 7/6:  I ordered Saxon 7/6 and we picked up RIGHT at lesson one where we left off in Saxon 5/4.  Moral of the story?  (Ugh, my fourth grader is doing the math book I did in sixth grade.  NO–that’s not the lesson.)  Skip Saxon Math 6/5 if your child completes Saxon 5/4 and is comfortable enough with the concepts.  Probably use Saxon 6/5 if the child is struggling and needs more time to live with the concepts.  Sometimes math understanding really just needs time at these lower levels to make some more developmental connections.  At times, it seems there’s nothing you can do to drive it home any more quickly.  Conversely, perhaps you could skip Saxon 5/4 and just do Saxon 6/5.  Ask around.  Google around.

How We Use Saxon Math to Suit Us

1.  My child doesn’t have a long attention span.  I choose about half of the problems for her to do in each lesson set.  I usually hand pick them.  Sometimes if I haven’t had a chance to circle the ones I want her to do, she’ll go ahead and work the evens one day and the next day the odds.  (Bad teacher hasn’t looked ahead.  Too many dishes.)

2.  I check her work, even if she checks it herself in the answer book.  I need to know of any weaknesses so that I can assign her more of those problems for practice and be there to help her work them.

3.  Timed tests are highly modified.  She did not have the attention span to do 100 math facts.  I gave her less problems and “prorated” the time.  She always got less problems in less time.  Can I always do this in life for her?  No.  But her dad struggled immensely in elementary school due to attention deficit which he eventually learned to deal with using exercise, shorter study periods, and choosing an orthopedic surgery specialty which did not require 3-4 hours in the operating room.

4.  We did two mental math sections a week rather than daily.  I always did them with her.

5.  Math is highly supervised.  If it is too hard, we slow down and take our time.  Two to three lessons a week instead of four to five.  More focused problems.  If it is too easy, I have no qualms about skipping lessons, particularly early on in the book.  I always (well, almost always) sit across from her and watch her like a hawk, otherwise math might take her four hours.  I’m not the type to assign math and check it at the end of the week.  On the spot.  On the day.  Let’s do it now.

Life of Fred Books 

We supplement with the quirky and fun Life of Fred books (Stanley Schmidt, Ph.d.), my idea of making math interesting and practical without requiring any creative thinking on my part.  She has worked through Apples, Butterflies, and Cats.  She will be finishing Dogs soon.  She absolutely adores these books.  We complete at least one lesson a week, but if she wants to do more–I usually let her have at it.  The books A-D (Apples, Butterflies, Cats, and Dogs) are completely too easy for her, but they are filled with all kinds of fascinating facts and trivia that have nothing to do with math so she is learning other stuff.  And they are funny to her.  We will keep these in our curriculum and I know we’ll soon catch up to her “edge” in the series.

That’s It

That’s our math curriculum.   Do you use Saxon?  Do you tailor it to your children?  Are you a real go-getter and do fun math “projects”?  Why do you love your math curriculum or hate it?  Are you a hands-on math supervisor or a “Hey, you go to learn to do your own work” type of teacher?  Have a great day and life. ~~Terri

UPDATE:  In Saxon 7/6 we have needed to slow down.  We currently cover one lesson in two days; each day she does 15 problems.  We continue to do the mental math and Life of Fred.


17 thoughts on “Our Fourth Grade Curriculum: Saxon Math and Life of Fred

  1. Elizabeth

    yes we use Saxon as well–love it!! My older two did them all on their own from book 4/5 up to Calculus. Thank goodness b/c I am an idiot when it comes to numbers, give me science. We skipped book 7/8..thought it was a waste.
    Our oldest boy is doing Calc in 11th grade so I have no idea what math to have him do in 12th–any suggestions?
    Peace & Raw Health,

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Good to know about 7/8. I went from Math 7/6 in sixth grade to Algebra 1/2 in seventh grade. I don’t know how that equates to 7/8. Do you, by chance? I remember hating Algebra 1/2 but having no problem with Algebra I.

      I think you gave the best answer to your question–statistics!

      My dessert today was all raw! I do okay with raw fruits, but my raw cruciferous veggies not so well.

  2. redheadmom8

    I’m planning on getting Life of Fred for my younger kids. I’m not planning on doing formal math curriculum until third grade, so this will be a great way to whet their appetite. I’m using Lifepac this year for my older kids, which is completely boring, so they’re switching to Math U See next year.

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      I’ve heard good things, too, about Math U See. Only heard of Lifepac by name. I’ll tuck that away.

      That’s a good idea about Life of Fred for the younger ones. Saxon Math in those younger grades is more just busy work, I think. After putting two through it, I hadn’t decided if I’d submit my youngest to that or not…

      Thanks for commenting! I hope you have a super weekend!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      THAT sounds AWESOME! THAT is what I think I’ll do once we finish calculus (when that day comes)! I am SO glad you commented! I took statistics “dumb-dumb 101” in pharmacy and medical school (I think the classes were both actually called biostatistics). I did okay but didn’t have a clue! It really hurts me now as I read studies and articles. This is a great idea! I haven’t looked ahead in the Fred Series so I don’t know what’s available. Thanks again! Sorry I haven’t been over to the blog. I’m fighting the end of the first trimester here still. I will get back!

  3. frogotter

    So interesting to hear how someone else dies it!
    We do half an hour’s maths every day. Some days it’s a game. Some days I have had time to set up a project (e.g. using fraction cubes or times table board or geometric shapes). Some days the boys do Workbooks. We aren’t working through any set. We just buy books that look a bit tricky but not too hard and are colourful and have stickers (my boys love stickers!) or end of section tests (they also love tests!). I do use the National Curriculum to tick off what we’ve covered (we’re in the UK).

  4. lakenormanprep

    WE started with Saxon. Now we are doing teaching textbooks. Mainly due to the fact that I needed the time to get through all of the other lessons. 🙂 My older two are using TT and they really enjoy it. They are almost finished with their lessons for this year (third and fifth). I will let them take a break from it before they start the next levels. In their “break” we will do life of fred. They love those books too. Life of Fred puts everything into perspective and practical use.

  5. Summer

    We are thinking about skipping the same saxon book you did for your 4th grader. How did it work out? An regrets in not continuing with 6/5?

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      No. It has gone great for two students so far. I have two more to grow up, but so far so good! The only bump I had was when I transitioned from Math 7/6 to Algebra I, for the first student, I skipped quite a bit. She struggled. So for student number two, I’m just taking it slow and not skipping anything in the beginning of the Algebra I book. For the first student, I just slowed down and found some supplementary worksheets for her problem areas. I have an 8th grader finishing Algebra II. So we’re good. Good luck!!!

  6. Genelle

    I was contemplating skipping 6/5 and I’m so glad to have found this post about your experience doing that very thing! Thanks for taking the time to write this to help us!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      You’re welcome. Yep, we do skip 6/5. Sometimes, if I feel something is a little weak, I’ll print off some worksheets for repetition of a concept. (Long division needs reinforced or multiplying decimals needs reinforced—because as much as I love Saxon, sometimes kids need lots of problems on one concept a few days to get it to sink in.)

  7. Lisa T

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing all of this. I am doing Saxon 5/4 right now with my 4th grader and we pick and choose a LOT of which parts of the lessons to do. I love the idea of adding the Life of Fred books as a supplement or for fun. Wow you really freed me about how I was feeling about Saxon and how much of all of it we are doing! I have 6/5 here now. Wondering how much we’ll skip through too! Thank YOU so much!!!!

    1. thehomeschoolingdoctor Post author

      Hi, Lisa! Since I wrote this, I’ve had some more years of experience with Saxon. I have decided some kids don’t need ALL the problems. And some kids are best given ALL the problems and over several days! 🙂 Individualized teaching, right!?


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