Five in a Row volumes have been written for preschool through eighth grade levels, although they are best known for use in the early grades since that was the target of the original Five in a Row volumes. These study guides are available for three levels—Before Five in a Row, Five in a Row, and Beyond Five in a Row—but level designations are very flexible. This is a less intense approach to unit study than others that are designed to cover all grade levels and numerous subject areas.
Let’s first look at the original Five in a Row (FIAR) volumes written for children ages four through eight. The first three volumes available in this series follow the same format. For each volume, author Jane Claire Lambert has selected a number of outstanding books for children and built a “mini” unit study around each one. Volume 1 has 19 units, Volume 2 has 21 units, and Volume 3 has 15.
Each unit study should take one week, with more or less time spent each day depending upon which lesson elements you choose to use. While there are no biblical references in the these volumes, FIAR teaches positive character qualities such as forgiveness, compassion, and honesty that tie easily to scripture. Likewise, the selected stories are not overtly Christian, but reflect Godly principles. For those who want more explicit Christian connections, a separate Five in a Row Bible Supplement ($35) contains 175 Bible lessons relating to the 55 studies in Volumes 1 through 3.
While Volume 4 is very similar to the first three volumes, its 15 units will likely take up to two weeks each to complete. Also, Christian content is built directly into the lessons. Laminated story disks and FIAR cookbooks lessons also come with the guide. All of this makes Volume 4 more self-contained and more expensive than Volumes 1 through 3.
Examples of selected books for these four volumes are The Story About Ping, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Katy and the Big Snow, Wee Gillis, Make Way for Ducklings, All Those Secrets of the World, and Gramma’s Walk. You will need to purchase or borrow the required storybooks for each volume. However, Rainbow Resource Center sells packages of these books if you prefer to buy them all at once.
Each story is to be read aloud every day for one week (five days). Lessons derived from the story have activities for language arts, math, science, art, and social studies—the term loosely used to cover character qualities and relationships in addition to geography, history, and cultures.
There are numerous hands-on activities and projects, although much of each detailed lesson plan is presented as “talk about this” type activities. An example is the story disk for each unit. Story disks are to be cut out and laminated, then used by students to locate where stories take place on a world map. (These story disks are also available as a ready-to-use set covering the first three volumes, printed in color and laminated - $20 for the set of 55.)
You can choose to select only one subject area per day or select a variety of activities from among the subject areas. Activities range from those appropriate for non-writers and non-readers to those for children who have mastered these skills. Thus, you can use the lessons to meet the academic needs of preschoolers up through about third grade level.
FIAR is not intended to be a complete curriculum for math and language arts. It does not teach phonics, writing, or math in any sequential progression. In fact, you are encouraged to use stories in whatever order you please. (A calendar linking stories to calendar events suggests a possible progression you might follow.) For four- and five-year olds, the material might be more than adequate to meet their learning needs. For six- and seven-year-old children, the instruction in social studies, science, and art is likely to be much better than that in traditional textbooks, so you might want to add only basic phonics and math, and possibly other language skill development for the oldest children. Coverage might be light for eight-year olds, in which case you can still use FIAR as a supplement.
An index lists what is covered under each subject area, sometimes broken down further under subheadings. This helps you if you have specific goals of your own. A reproducible planning sheet helps you with weekly lesson plans. Instructions for activities are quite detailed. Lambert includes valuable tips on questions to ask your children to prompt discussions. Five in a Row is very user-friendly, especially for the inexperienced homeschooler.
Other FIAR volumes are available for older and younger children. Those with preschoolers might want to use Before Five in a Row. This volume was developed for children ages two through four. Plenty of activities center around 23 picture books. The format is similar to that of the volumes described above.
Those with older children—approximately grades three through eight—should check out Beyond Five in a Row. These three volumes were authored by Becky Jane Lambert, daughter of the original series author, Jane Lambert. These are excellent, one-semester courses. Four "chapter books" for each volume are the foundation for each unit study. For example, Volume 1 includes The Boxcar Children, Thomas Edison: Young Inventor, Homer Price, and Betsy Ross: Designer of Our Flag. Subject areas covered include literature, some language arts, history, composition, science, and fine arts.
Lessons are set up so that you read a chapter from the book, then work through your choice of the suggested activities. These vary greatly from day to day.
Quite a bit of historical and scientific information is included within each Beyond Five in a Row guide, but you need to use outside resources for additional research. Many such resources are suggested in the lessons. Lessons often include internet activities where students research particular websites on topics related to the studies.
About half of the lessons include an essay question; you will need to tailor requirements on these to suit the age of each student. Occasional "Career Paths" sections help students consider career possibilities and offer suggestions for further research or experience in the field. Timelines are recommended as a means of helping students understand chronological relationships between people and events. Numerous hands-on activities are included: art projects, cooking, science experiments, learning sign language, etc.
A list of all topics covered is located at the back of each book; this will help you for both planning and tracking your accomplishments.