I’m a unit study mom. I don’t think I could exclusively use textbooks and workbooks if my life depended on it. (Okay, I’d try.) When my oldest child was four, I researched various curricula and was completely sold as soon as I learned about the unit study approach. I purchased the entire K-8 Konos Unit Study program, and I haven’t regretted that purchase. I figured we’d be lifetime Konos users and would never use anything else. It’s an excellent curriculum, after all.
The Old Schoolhouse Crew has broadened my horizons and shown me that there are many other excellent unit study curricula out there too. One of those is Five in a Row – a company I have heard about for at least three to four years now, but I never really understood what it meant. Five in a row? I was also under the impression somehow that Five in a Row (FIAR) could only be used with very young children since it was mostly ‘fluff’ and no ‘meat.’ By third grade, I thought, you’d have to change curricula…so why start? My preconceived notions couldn’t have been more wrong!
I received Beyond Five in a Row Volume I. Beyond Five in a Row is the “third step” in the program and is designed for 8-12 year olds. (That definitely covers third grade and up!) Like all FIAR materials, it is a literature-based study. This simply means that all the activities and lessons revolve around a particular book that the family reads aloud together. The child could likely read the book himself and then work on the lessons with mom or dad, but we enjoy reading aloud together.
Each Beyond FIAR volume contains studies for four juvenile novels – two fiction and two nonfiction. Our Volume I utilizes the fiction books The Boxcar Children and Homer Price and the nonfiction books Thomas Edison and Betsy Ross. All four books sounded appealing to me when I first looked through the volume, and it was a little hard to decide which one to use first. (The books can be studied in any order a family wishes.) Nicholas had already read The Boxcar Children, and I thought it would be most fun to read something new. We just studied Thomas Edison last fall and Betsy Ross was available only at a library 35 minutes away – so Homer Price won out this time!
I had never heard of Homer Price by Robert McCloskey though we’ve read his Make Way for Ducklings many times. Homer Price is a very entertaining character, and the boys and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about his adventures. The first chapter in which Homer adopts a pet named Aroma was a big hit! Can you guess what kind of animal Aroma is?
The lessons that Beyond FIAR author Becky Jane Lambert has drawn from Homer Price are wide ranging. Basically every subject is covered: history, geography, science, language arts, fine arts. A special category – called “issues of human relationships” is included for nearly every chapter. Situations from the book are used as discussion-starters to explore family traditions, manners, and more. Some of the specific topics studied via Homer Price are
- Trojan War
- Clara Barton and the founding of the American Red Cross
- American Political Parties – both historical and modern
- Woman’s Suffrage Movement and the 19th Amendment
- Habitat for Humanity
- New York geography
- Roadways and Road Signs
- Bird Eggs and Incubation
- Simple Machines – especially the pulley
- Economic – Law of Supply and Demand
- Early Telecommunication – radio and television
- The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer (“the ancient one” as Homer Price would say)
- Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
How does FIAR work?
The Beyond FIAR setup is very simple. An entire chapter is read – either as a family or the child can read alone. In the Beyond FIAR section corresponding to that chapter, a “parent summary” is given in case the parent hasn’t read the chapter herself. Following the summary is a list of topics that will be studied as part of the chapter. Then come the Lesson Activities – sometimes many and sometimes only a few, depending on the opportunities presented in the particular chapter.
The activities can be completed in any order. FIAR does not dictate daily lesson plans or even weekly plans. The order of and time spent on each activity/lesson is completely up to each individual family. For example, after reading chapter 1 of Homer Price, two of the suggested studies are Homer (the ancient one), his writings, and the Trojan War and “Highways and Roads of America,” including city, county, state, and federal roads and all their associated road signs.
We covered both of these studies in one afternoon. I chose to just give my boys a brief overview of who Homer (the ancient one) was and what the Trojan War is. The boys had heard of the Trojan Horse before and we talked about that, but I didn’t feel that we needed an in-depth study of that time in history at this point. (For one thing, my local library didn’t have any books on the topic in the juvenile section!)
After that discussion, we talked about roadways. We drew a few maps and discussed how streets are named. I told them the difference between interstates and highways, and then we searched the internet to find photos of road signs for each type of road. The boys were fascinated that state roads and interstates have differently shaped signs. They’d get so excited saying, “Yeah, I’ve seen that kind of sign before!”
Other families may choose to do a more in-depth study of Homer (the ancient one) and the Trojan War. They may decide to read either The Iliad or The Odyssey – children’s versions, of course. What took our family just one afternoon to cover may take another family three days or a week or longer.
How long it will take to study the lessons for each chapter varies tremendously. Most chapters have taken us about a week, but at least one took only a couple days. It just didn’t have as many suggested activities and lessons. How in-depth a family chooses to go with each lesson will, of course, affect the time it takes to move on to the next chapter.
Beyond FIAR is a very flexible program – adaptable to each individual family’s schedule, learning style, and study preferences. The only required books are the four main books being read. Most of these are available at local libraries but can be purchased from Five in a Row if desired.
What about other FIAR products?
We’ve enjoyed our time in Beyond FIAR so much that I’ve begun seriously considering purchasing some of their other materials. FIAR publishes studies that can be used beginning at age two and going all the way through ages 12-14. I’ll give a quick overview of each level.
Before Five in a Row
Designed for ages two to four, Before Five in a Row contains simple lessons and “learning readiness activities” that revolve around 23 picture books. It includes a bonus “mini unit” as well. Cost is $24.95.
Five in a Row
These are the volumes that started it all. For ages four to eight, Five in a Row has four volumes that each contain lessons for between 15 and 21 children’s picture books. The term “five in a row” actually comes about because you read the picture book each day for five days and do various activities after each reading. Kids in this age range love repetition so this method works very well. The subjects covered are virtually identical to the ones I mentioned for Beyond FIAR with the addition of applied math. FIAR Volume 4 is designed for ages seven to eight. If you click on the link above, you won’t find Volume 4 because it was out of print – but now it’s back! You can see it on the FIAR Order Page. Volumes 1-3 are $35 each. Volume 4 is $75.
Beyond Five in a Row
This is the series I had the opportunity to review. Written for ages eight to 12, there are three volumes in the Beyond Five in a Row series. $24.95 each
Above and Beyond Five in a Row
Written for ages 12-14, Above & Beyond Five in a Row contains lessons and activities that revolve around a single book – Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. In addition to the core subjects included at other levels, Above & Beyond FIAR instructs the student in writing a research paper and completing a community service project. Increased emphasis is put on the student’s own initiative and responsibility for completing the materials. Both the manual and literature book are purchased together for $24.95.
Christian Character Bible Study Supplement
Two additional volumes – one for original FIAR and one for Beyond FIAR – have been written to guide the teacher and student in applying Biblical lessons to the studies contained in the main volumes. $17.95 each
I haven’t explored it thoroughly, but if you like ebooks and other digital materials, FIAR now offers many of their items as electronic downloads. Visit the Five in a Row Digital Resources site.
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