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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

review of Five in a Row

This is an overall review of the Five in a Row products by Jane Claire Lambert. You can find more reviews of this product and others on the sidebar under TOS Crew. To see sample lessons, pricing, and all available FIAR products visit http://www.fiveinarow.com/

I have used Five in a Row vol.1-3 (FIAR), FIAR Vol. 4, the Christian Character supplements, the recipe book, and Beyond FIAR for years, on and off, and will be using all FIAR vol.1-4 as my daughter's main curriculum this upcoming year. I will also allow my third grader to use it with her by adding more "meat" to it to get it on his grade level. I have purchased Above and Beyond for my oldest but didn't use it because we jumped into Learning Adventures unit studies after leaving FIAR. I might pull it out as a nice summer supplement.

I was overjoyed to receive another copy of Vol. 3 from the Lambert family, which I plan to pass along to someone else via a contest on my blog here, just as soon as I figure out how to hold one. :) We have not used Before FIAR (ages 2-4) but I am sure my daughter would have enjoyed it if we had. We borrowed a copy of FIAR Holiday-Through the Seasons from our library and used it a few times around specific holidays.

Ahhh...where to begin? I have found this curriculum to be relaxed, enjoyable, highly educational, with little-prep time needed, low-cost, easy to implement, and it brought happiness and joy to my homeschooling! We started out our homeschool days with FIAR and only stopped using it due to my children's ages. It will be like greeting an old friend when we get back into it this fall with my four-year old!

The cover of FIAR volumes 1-4 all feature a soft painting of a family curled up in a comfy chair as a mother reads aloud. Even the family cat is listening! With 95% of the FIAR books and lessons we completed, that is exactly how we felt. I have never been so in love with a curriculum for the younger set. And goodness, we have used/tried a variety of books and supplies over the years, so I don't say that lightly.

Now that I've gushed over FIAR a little, let me explain to you how it works and how we used it for years as our base curriculum.

FIAR and its following volumes are unit studies based on wonderful children's literature. Books chosen for FIAR are often (perhaps always) award-winners with good moral messages. I found many of the books to be a bit old-fashioned and nostaligic.
There are about 55 lessons in vol. 1-4 (which is more than enough for the traditional 36-week school year). It is geared towards children ages 4-8 but you can modify it easily to be used with younger or older siblings. For example, using it with my older son I would require him to do dictation from our read-aloud (not mentioned in the book that I recall), penmanship, additional reading on the subjects we cover, additional worksheets and printables, and add in more math/grammer. Now before I scare you away from FIAR, this is NOT necessary when using it with the recommneded age levels. And finding additional resources can be done easily online under a Google search for worksheets. For an older preschooler, kindergartner, and possibly even a 1st grader, I'd say FIAR is really all you need. FIAR has a message board where parents share sites for additional free resources, because unit studies can work well when you combine all your students together using a little creativity. FIAR recently has added some new items such as digital products (I will be looking into those).

FIAR is very self-explanatory and easy for even the most sleep-deprived, frazzled homeschool mom to learn to use. It covers social studies, math, art, language, and science. You will need to add in additional math and phonics for your older student.

You won't need many unusual products to use FIAR (things like notebooks, index cards, etc. are called for); some basic art supplies are also needed/listed. *note-we really enjoyed the art with FIAR. My oldest son and I liked doing the lessons together, each of us sketching away the afternoon...

You will need the story books that correspond to each lesson. You will read the book once every day for five days; thus, FIVE IN A ROW. Many of these books were available from our local library or through ILL (Inter Library Loan). Others I bought used off EBay and Amazon, or at thrift stores/yard sales. Some we could not locate or were out of print and so we simply did without them and our program was not hindered in any way. With 55 lessons spread out between the four volumes, we didn't need every single book for a year's worth of studies. And you don't have to start with lesson 1 or even volume 1! You can begin with any of the basic FIAR volumes and cover them in any order. **I personally would suggest covering Volumes 1-3 before using vol. 4. It uses slightly harder books and is really aimed at ages 7-8. But again, that is only a suggestion. Your younger children might really enjoy it.

I bought the first three volumes very close together. That way I knew I had plenty of lessons to rotate through just in a case an occasional book was difficult to locate or was checked out. If you buy the correspsonding Bible Character books and the recipe book, you'd have a very well-rounded curriculum.

It is easy to tell at a glance what you need to do for the day. Mom reads directly from the manual, which is a combination teacher's edition and student book at once.

How it works: let me give you a sample of a typical day using vol. 3. for the lesson on the book Daniel's Duck.

I would have the book on hand. Together we'd read the book aloud.

Next I'd open the volume to the lesson and begin with a typical Monday, which is planned as social studies day (again, you can do a different subject on Monday. FIAR has the family focusing on one core area of learning per day, so Monday is social studies, Tuesdays are language, Wednesdays are art, etc.). I see five different social studies activites there. I can choose to do all five or only one or two. It all depends on the child's age and whether you want to savor it all now or save some activities and repeat the volumes again at a later date. I'll choose the first activity, which is to briefly go over the state of TN, where the story takes place at. This is followed by placing a Story Disk (found in the back of your book) on TN. This helps the child to learn geography and keep track of all the books you've read. It is also good for reviewing places you've been in your studies. The Story Disks in vol. 1-3 are unlaminated and ready-to-color by your children ( in vol. 4 you'll get the color, laminated Story Disks and the Christian Character supplements built right in. That is a great perk to using vol. 4!).

If I were aiming to complete the 4 hours per day law in our state, I might find that I need to complete more than one daily activity. I see another activity that looks good: listing all the aspects of country or cabin life shown in the book. This falls under observation, classifying skills, and penmanship, if the list is written.

On Wednesday for example, I would begin again by reading aloud the story, reviewing what we discussed on previous days. Then I'd pick an art activity. I see one that looks like fun...soap carving.

I would at this point add in my Bible study using the FIAR Christian Character Supplement for vol.3. Then finish my child's day using our math/phonics. THATS IT!

I found that reading the story each day followed by the Bible study, math/phonics, and a few FIAR activities usually filled 2-3 hours for my early elementary children. For the few years we used FIAR I never administered tests or felt overly stressed during school; yet amazingly enough, my children responded well to this study and I knew they were learning by the facts they often reiterated to me. Even years after use, my children would randomly recall facts from the books. Recently we were looking at a map of Manhattan Island and my kids recalled the story of the little red lighthouse that a bridge was built over. Another time a friend gave my middle son a set of model aircraft from olden days; my son immediately recognized one of the bi-planes from a former FIAR study.

I liked the way I could just pick it up and go, so long as I had the story book and the basic supply list on hand.

This curriculum is not for you or your child if:
  • your child does not like repetition, because you'll read the same book daily for five days

  • your are more confortable having your child work from worksheets or you feel the need to do lots of paperwork for "proof". FIAR often uses hands-on activities and discussion rather than book work.

  • you cannot access the books needed to complete the studies

FIAR might be for you if:

  • you want to try a relaxed, gentle approach to homeschooling

  • you want your children to love learning rather than dread schooling

  • you like good literature

  • your children enjoy being read to

  • your children learn well though repetition

  • you have multiple ages that might be able to work together

  • you don't have a lot of time to learn to use a new curriculum or you need something easy to use

I cannot recommend this curriculum enough. I'd love to hear from others who have used it.



cheryl said...

I've given you an AWARD! Come and see!

mellyanna said...

Sounds wonderful! I've recently purchased Before Five in a Row for my two youngest and am looking forward to starting with it soon. :)

Melissa Dorrell

Julie said...

This sounds like a nice curriculum. I've never seen it in person but have heard it mentioned by many.

Emily said...

Thanks for the review, Lynn! I am planning on using this for Ainsley this year. I've been doing lots of reading up on it and it sounds like exactly what I'll need for my crazy life with a 5 year old, 3 y.o., 2 y.o. and newborn!