Life of Fred Mathematics

There are certain math curriculums that make learning miserable.  Kill joy.  Take the smiles and turn those suckers upside down.

And then there is Life of Fred.

Life of Fred is written by an old math teacher, Stanley Schmidt.  It is the ongoing story of Fred, a mathematics professor at Kittens University.  Fred is also five years old.  Kid genius.  Sleeps under his desk.  Gets himself into ridiculous situations.  Constantly needs mathematics in order to extricate himself from said situations.  Oh, and Fred doesn’t have parents.

Each chapter is a lesson.  At the end of each chapter is a your turn to play.  Every day, my kids grab Life of Fred first.  Can’t wait to get started on math.  When the new books arrive in the mail, they sit at the kitchen table to have a ceremonious opening of the package.  Math is THAT exciting.

We discovered Life of Fred after suffering through two months of another popular homeschool math curriculum.  We all sighed audibly when it was time for math, and each day a little bit of happiness died in all of us.  Math can be THAT miserable.  Even to me, and I love mathematics.  But one day, a sweet savior, another homeschool mom, recommended we order just one book from Mr. Schmidt.  We jumped on an opportunity to do any. thing. else.

This coming week, we have friends coming over to the house for a Life of Fred Day.  We are introducing our fifth family in two years to Life of Fred.  We love mathematics enough to actually have a play day centered around it.   Fred really is that much fun.

So, looking for a mathematics curriculum?  I recommend Life of Fred, by Stanley Schmidt.  To preview and order his books, visit



Playing Solitaire

I play solitaire every evening on the computer without fail.  I do this because I am fidgety by nature and yet I want to sit with my family at the end of our day.  They watch various television series on Netflix and I join in.  But my hands need busy work, I don’t know how to knit, I tried scrapbooking with little interest, and solitaire meets my needs.  Knitting might be healthier at this point, but another hobby would be overwhelming.

When I was younger, I learned several versions of solitaire from my mother.  My mother got her solitaire habit from my grandmother, so it is obviously a generational addiction.  The four versions I still know in card form are Idiot’s Delight, Patience, Golf, and Triangle.  These are the names my mom called them – to computer addicts like me, similar versions are Pyramid, Klondike, Spider, Tripeaks, and Freecell.  Several websites provide online versions of many different types of solitaire. Idiot’s Delight I have never played in computer form.

Now, in all fairness, there are benefits and drawbacks to solitaire, just as there are in many aspects of life.  The game in any form, cards or computer, can increase brain activity, help retain memory as we age, decrease stress, soothe emotion, promote simple thinking skills, and introduce ordering.  In computer form, it has been used as part of installed operating systems to help people frightened of computers learn to use the mouse, dragging, clicking, and highlighting items on a screen.  Yet solitaire is addictive.  I was teasing a bit earlier, but in all fairness, computers and gaming can be a true addiction and solitaire is not immune to this problem.  Many workplaces have even removed the game from their systems in order to reduce the number of hours employees waste playing the game.  In other words, use solitaire for fun and for its benefits, but be aware of its addictive nature.  For the purpose of using it as an introductory math game, I suggest the tactile function real cards provide.

Below are the rules for three versions.  I copied all of the rules from  This useful website has many other ways to play these games as well.

Rules for Idiot’s Delight:

Idiot’s Delight is a standard solitaire, described in most solitaire references. Its more proper name is “Aces Up”, but it’s also known as “Aces High”, “Four Aces”, “Firing Squad”, and “Drivel”.

The game is begun by shuffling a standard 52-card deck, and dealing the first four cards face-up in a row, forming the tableau. The remainder of the cards are dealt face-down into a single stock pile. The initial layout looks like this:

Idiot's Delight initial card layout

Where the “S” is the stock pile, and the “T’s” are the first cards of the tableau piles.


The object of the game is to remove cards from the tableau, until the stock is empty and only the four aces remain.

Discard any card that is lower than another card of the same suit. Cards are ranked A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2, with Ace high and 2 low. When no more cards can be discarded, deal another four cards from the stock to the tableau. At this point, only cards that are fully exposed are available for play. If a space is created in one of the tableau piles, any other tableau card may be moved into that space. If you’ve emptied the stock, and only the four aces remain, you’ve won!

Rules for Golf:

Number of Decks: 1 (52 cards)

Alternate Names: Fan Tan, One Foundation

Initial Layout: Begin by dealing 35 cards to the tableau, as seven piles of five cards each, spread out vertically so that all cards are visible. There is a single foundation pile beneath the tableau, and one card is dealt to it to begin the game. The remaining cards form the stock, and are held in a single face-down pile next to the foundation.

Object: The object of the game is to move all of the cards from the tableau to the foundation.

Play: The foundation may be built up or down regardless of suit. Only the top card of each tableau pile is available for play. The king ranks above the queen, and is a stopper, unable to connect to either a queen or an ace. You may not build “around the corner” from ace to king.

When you’re unable to make any more moves, turn over the top card of the stock and place it face-up on top of the foundation pile, then once again make any moves available on the tableau.

If you’re able to remove all the cards from the tableau, the game is won (whether or not any cards remain in the stock).

Scoring: Golf solitaire is often played for points. A player scores one point for each card remaining in the tableau after the stock is exhausted. If you manage to clear the tableau, one point is deducted from your score for every card left in the stock. A game is nine “holes” (deals). Par for each hole is 4, so a score of 36 or less is better than par.

Tournament Golf: This is Golf solitaire played head-to-head, by two or more players. Each player has their own deck, and plays their own 9-hole game of Golf. Whoever has the lower score at the end of nine rounds wins the match.

Rules for Klondike:

Number of Decks: 1

Alternate Names: Canfield, Chinaman, Demon, Fascination, Small Triangle

Initial Layout: The tableau consists of seven columns, with the first column containing one card, the second column two cards, the third column three cards, and so on. The top card of each column is face-up; the remainder of the cards are face-down. The 24 unplayed cards are left face-down to form the stock.

Object: The object of the game is to move the four aces, as they appear, to the foundations, and build each up in suit from ace to king (A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K).

Play: Turn cards face-up from the stock three at a time onto a waste pile. The top card of the waste pile may be played onto the tableau or foundations. Likewise, the top card of each tableau pile is available for play onto the foundations or another tableau pile. Cards within the tableau may be build down in sequence and alternating color. A sequence of cards may be moved as a unit from one pile to another. When a face-down tableau card is exposed, turn it face-up. If a space is created in the tableau, it may only be filled with a king. The stock may be recycled from the waste pile when it becomes empty. The game ends when either all foundations are filled (in which case you’ve won), or when no more moves are possible (or when the only possible move is to recycle the stock). In this case you’ve lost.

A slightly easier version of the game allows you to pull cards from the stock one at a time (rather than three at a time). In some versions of the game, this also limits the number of redeals you’re allowed (usually to two).


Eduardina is a designer.

Here in my little corner of small town USA, goal setting and hard work are highly regarded.  Right up there with raising littles that use Ma’am and Sir properly, as in all the time.  And for the most part, this is good stuff.

Honestly, when I visit most everywhere in America, we Americans are known to be goal oriented.  Just as my town prides itself on hard work and dirt under the nails, city dwellers pride themselves on efficiency and fast paces.

Yet in a goal oriented society that greatly values “getting it done”, whether it be a small business with a unique quality product or a factory production with international trade capacity, problem solving gets fast tracked.  What is the fastest, easiest, most cost effective solution?  Get that done.  Accomplish a goal.  Now.

While this is all great when I am waiting for an oil change, the process of math education needs a slightly slower, less stressful route.  In other words, give the kids a chance to absorb the universal language.

When it comes to teaching and mastering mathematical skills, the cheesy platitude that vaguely goes, “It is the journey that matters more than the destination; stop to smell the roses; etc” actually has it right.

In math, the process IS the important part.  Rather than solving fifteen problems the same way, taking the time to solve three unique problems each four or five different ways is valuable.  Looking at one problem from new angles helps us learn to think critically.  When we allow children to slow down long enough to find new ways to do the same problem over and over again, we are giving them the confidence to step out of a box.  In other words, it may be really exciting that little Johnny can solve eighty five thousand math facts a minute because he is talented at memorization and highly competitive by nature.  But it doesn’t mean that adorable Eduardina who only finished three math facts in the same minute is less intelligent or isn’t as good as Johnny at math.  My first request to Eduardina would be to explain to me how she solved the ones she did.

And though I tend to be the little Johnny in this situation (I can still claim title to Around the World Champion of my third grade class tied only with Landon Coleman), my youngest son is Eduardina.

Here’s how he sees 9 – 3:

(Stare at the ceiling and spin standing up while computing this train of thought.  Not kidding.)…..9 is really 3 sets of 3 and 6 is two sets of three and 9 is the two sets of three plus one more set of three and then there’s that other set of three you want me to take away which could be 4 sets of 3 but I need to end up with 2 sets of three in the end which is really my 4 sets of 3 minus two sets of 3 and that would leave me 6.  So 9 – 3 = 6.  It is really a version of the doubles game if you think about it.

It’s right about here that my little Johnny brain explodes.  Dear Lord, why does he not just accept the flashcards?

Yet, Eduardinas of the world quite possibly spent their minute noticing that 5 + 3 = 8 is the same as 4 + 4 = 8 and then decided to see if the teacher put any other doubles on the fun sheet because doubles are easy and she did those first and then noticed a pattern and then looked around the room to notice other patterns and was happily observing her surroundings, having accomplished 3 WHOLE MATH PROBLEMS IN A SHORT LITTLE MINUTE.

See the difference? (Hint: Little Johnny is super fast and Eduardina is super deep.)

Who is better at math?


Who grows up to be told math isn’t a personal strong point?

Little Johnny is a very useful, goal oriented American.  We are all grateful for Johnny.  Seriously.  Again, I am a Little Johnny.

But Eduardina isn’t just spacey, and we need to be grateful for her too.

There is value in the process.  There is value in Eduardina.

One day, Little Johnny will hang some pictures on a wall in his new office.

One day, Eduardina will design that office complex with a fountain in the middle that fit between two historic trees the city voted to save and still came in with specs for measurements giving each office 144 square feet because the occupants asked for these details and in this building with a glass menagerie and a family gym is the wall for Little Johnny…

Knocking MATH off the Pedestal

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Imagine a pedestal.  Alabaster stone with Grecian carvings.  Tall, majestic, solid.   The kind of column found in the center of some fountain in a big city plaza.  Capable of weathering the worst of storms.  The kind of statue where people throw pennies at its feet and make wishes and watch their dreams glimmer in that shallow pool.

Imagine that kind of pedestal.   And top that column of marvel with a math book.  Made of stone as well, in the open position, with symbols carved into its pages for all the world to see.  Such a towering monument, one must look up in order to lay eyes upon such a tribute.

Sit on that image for a minute.  Soak it in.  Absorb it.

For some people, this image could quite likely bring up nostalgia.  Old college days and a freedom to explore, research, delve into the deep academics.  Maybe it is the symbol of achievement and knowledge, a goal yet to be reached.  But no matter – it is, in the end, a positive and awe inspiring image.

And yet – for many, this image could bring up feelings of resentment, insecurity, even a bit of fear.  It is, after all, a giant stone statue honoring the dreaded math book.   A monstrous creation, to be sure.

It is to these people in particular I write.  Those that have uttered the words, “Math is not my subject.”  Or, “I am terrible at math.”  Etc.  

The rest of the world can stop reading right here and go picnic under the Ode to Mathematics.  Enjoy.

But for those “not good at math”, stay with me for a minute.  Let’s get back to that Creation for Torture statue that some crazy folks are picnicking around.  It is time to back up a little bit, take in the surroundings.  Because just a few feet away, parked on the grass, is a giant bulldozer, left running, and waiting for its driver.  This, my friends, is the chance of a lifetime.  Go!  Get in that bulldozer, feel the gearshift against the palm of the hand.  And drive. (Without hitting those picnickers) charge into the fountain.  Feel the spray of water shooting off the treads.  Hear the crunching of metal on stone.  Watch with incredible joy as the brittle concrete topples into a pile of shattered mess, wet gravel left in its place.

Ahhh!  Woot Woot!!!  Did that not feel incredible?!?

Folks, it is time.  It is most definitely time to knock MATH off its pedestal.  Because as long as it is sitting out of reach, it becomes useless.  And math is one of the most useful tools for universal communication we as humans have ever created.  It is meant for every. single. one. of. us.  And, given time, it can even be fun.

I promise.

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