Five in a Row: Enlarge your Preschooler’s World with Books

I love the eagerness, innocence, and curiosity of preschoolers. They have so many questions about the world, and their genuine interest in finding out the answers make them ideal candidates as natural learners.

Add to this my own daughter’s precociousness and voracious interest in learning to read, and I knew I needed to add a bit more to our day than my own ideas to satisfy her thirst (and my sanity).

So this past “school year,” my daughter and I learned together via Five in a Row. As a four and five-year-old who loves to read, this was an ideal format for her to explore the world in a sort of big picture way, covering a wide variety of topics while still living a super flexible lifestyle.

Five in a Row isn’t just for preschoolers — it can be done through high school, in fact. But I found it an ideal curriculum and learning style for our family’s lifestyle and my child’s temperament.

Here are some of my favorite things about FIAR.

1. We read, read, and then read some more.

boy reading
Photo by John Morgan

The basic premise of FIAR is that you read the same book every day for five days, and then explore a different angle of the book’s story as your launch pad for more in-depth study.

This method uses quality literature and living books as its textbooks, so that means reading is at its center.  Fostering a love of reading is the fundamental goal in my kid’s early education. FIAR really champions this.

2. It applies more traditional subjects to real life.

how to make an apple pie and see the world
Photo from Amazon.com

I never liked math in school because I never really understood the point. While FIAR doesn’t teach core math skills (you would need to supplement that, if it’s needed), it reveals the application of traditional subjects to real life.

So when we read Madeline, we spent a day talking about counting by twos and symmetry. In How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, my daughter was introduced to the concept of fractions and their use in cooking.

For science, we discussed why a lemon would make the townspeople’s lips pucker in Lentil. We explored the ocean world in Night of the Moonjellies.

And don’t get me started on geography and history — in one school year, we traveled to Paris, China, Italy, New England, small town America, Japan, and myriad time periods.

3. It opens the door to discuss moral issues.


Photo from Amazon.com

The books in FIAR are all chosen so that the overall themes and messages apply to real life. We’ve discussed community responsibility with Katy and the Big Snow, perseverance in The Glorious Flight, and obeying authority with The Story about Ping.

There’s also a Bible study supplement book that corresponds with each FIAR volume.

4. It’s super flexible.


Photo from Amazon.com

The basic idea is to read the same book everyday for five days, in one week. But there were many times we covered one book over two weeks. Other times, we were done with a book in three days.

Sometimes, we covered art, science, history, literature, math, and Bible from just one book. Other times, we stuck with just science and ran with all sorts of ideas based solely on interest.  You can flex FIAR to work for your family’s current calendar.

It’s also easy to include siblings. We’d all cuddle up on the couch for the day’s book, and my two-year-old son would hang around and count pennies or “draw” a small town map with us.

5. It’s not very expensive.

There’s just a basic curriculum guide for each of the four volumes of FIAR (there’s also Before Five in a Row, Beyond Five in a Row, and Above & Beyond Five in a Row). Then you can either buy the books you read each week, or you could check them out at the library.

It obviously costs more to buy each of the books, but then you’ve added great literature to your family’s library, and younger siblings can use them for their turn with FIAR.

Overall, Five in a Row has worked really well for our family. There’s an active forum that helps answer questions and generate ideas, and it opens the door for creative ideas so that books can be read and explored again and again.

Have you ever used Five in a Row or something similar? What sort of learning does your preschooler enjoy?

About Tsh

Tsh is the editor of Simple Mom, and is the founder of Simple Living Media, a little group with the mission to help people live simply. Her first book, Organized Simplicity, is in stores now. She's a mama to three little ones, likes her coffee black, and dislikes writing about herself in the third person.

Comments

  1. I was sad when I heard about this, my youngest was already in first grade. I had no idea it could be used for older kids! I’m excited to learn more! I wish I had known about this when I taught preschool :)
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s last blog: To Those of You Who’ve Asked =-.

  2. I just read about this program recently on Delightful Learning’s blog, and have already been working to develop some units for my 1st grader to do next year based on books more at her level. I love the concept!
    .-= daffodil lane’s last blog: A peek into Keston’s room… =-.

  3. I never even gave FIAR a glance, despite being huge book lovers here. I had always heard the entire curriculum was very Christian based, which we are absolutely not. Moving Beyond the Page is a great literature based curriculum that is completely secular. Lots of great books used with them, classics and newer ones.
    .-= Summer’s last blog: Life Is A Many Splintered Thing =-.

  4. I really love the idea of this and the repetition for my son with autism. FIAR is definately on our list!
    .-= jeana’s last blog: Gracious God (Enjoying the Little Gifts) =-.

  5. My daughter is only 14 months old, but I have thought about this curriculum for her preschool days. I don’t think I would do it for Kindergarten (unless it turns out I just love it!). Thanks for the great review!

  6. We’ve used FIAR and loved it.

    In response to Summer, FIAR does have a Bible Study Supplement, but that is an entirely separate book from the regular idea/lesson plan book. All of the children’s literature listed in the series is secular and probably overlaps a lot with the books listed in Moving Beyond the Page. (Not to persuade you to switch, but just as an FYI.)

  7. We LOVE FIAR and we have used it since the beginning of our h’sing journey 4 years ago. :) I have written lots about it on my blog too…

  8. I’m glad that you wrote about this one, Tsh! We have not used Five In a Row (yet!), but I know many families who have used it and love it. FIAR has worked extremely well for their preschoolers and elementary kids. And, these families are from diverse homeschooling philosophies. Some are more Charlotte Mason based and others are more “unschoolish”. Furthermore, some are Christian and some are decidedly secular. Thanks again for a wonderful post!

  9. I’ve used FIAR with my son for kindergarten homeschool this year. Completely agree with everything you wrote, Tsh. It’s been a solid foundation, not just for introducing the traditional school skills as you mentioned, but for fostering a passion for high quality literature. We’ve fallen in love with so many of the books. My son even used a bookstore gift card recently to purchase two of the books on his own, without my prompting. That made my Mommy/teacher heart proud! In fact, I just showed this post to my son and he said with a bright fond smile, “Apple Pie!” and “Lentil!” That’s what I want for him as a learner.

  10. My son’s preschool uses FIAR in their project approach learning. I love the way they dive into the books and pull out what interests the kids. Its a wonderful system

  11. have always come back to FIAR for my children…about 2 months ago I told my husband, “If I even try to leave Five in a Row, PLEASE STOP ME!” We are also using Beyond Five in a Row for my 11 year old son and 9 year old daughter and it’s been just as wonderful….gentle learning yet very effective.
    .-= Aimee’s last blog: Beach Bound =-.

  12. We’re using Itty Bitty Bookworm, which has a theme book each week and lots of related activities. We love it! One thing I’ve actually missed, though, is a Christian focus.

    The other thing – my 3yo daughter is not one for repetition – of anything. Once we’ve covered a concept, I leave it alone for a week or two before coming back to it. So unless she LOVES the book, I don’t get very many readings of it in during the week.

    Next year, I’m planning to just grab a few good book lists and start working our way through them, rather than use a canned curriculum. And my goal long-term is to use literature as the foundation for all grades.
    .-= Mozi Esmes Mommy’s last blog: Learning Spaces/Giveaway: Choices =-.

  13. I used Before Five in a Row with my three boys (they were 4, 4, and 3 at the time) and we all loved it. It was very flexible, which I needed (I had a baby at the time and was also pregnant). The books in BFIAR are still some of my children’s favorites. We did FIAR for my twins (and included the littles) for kindergarten. The first volume was especially good, although some of the books were not my favorites. By volume 2, I was reading the books ahead of time and then deciding which ones I wanted to spend a whole week on. The ones we didn’t use, I read to them at the end of our “school year” but we only spent a day on those. The curriculum was totally adaptable to my tastes, my children’s learning styles, and the other activities we had on the calendar. I am looking forward to doing BFIAR again in another year or so with my next set of littles.
    .-= Lora Lynn @ Vitafamiliae’s last blog: Bird Boss =-.

  14. We used FIAR this year. My daughter and I have really enjoyed it — for all the reasons you mentioned!
    .-= Nichole’s last blog: Disappointment reigns =-.

  15. We used FIAR with my son when he was in Kindergarten. He is graduating from High School this year. The learning style that FIAR exemplified was very effective throughout his schooling career. He was also able to garner much more than an English lesson from the books he was reading. One of our favorite books covered was “A Pair of Red Clogs.” Our local library was able to get us a copy via a Intra-Library Loan. My son was so excited to find out the book was coming to us in Seattle from Chicago. We mapped out it’s travel and then mapped how the book would have to travel to get to the books character in Japan. He has never forgotten that lesson week.

  16. We’ve gotten into a groove using Five in a Row this past year. I was a little disappointed at first that so few of the lessons in the curriculum guide were appropriate for my four-year-old; however, as I’ve gotten more experience at being creative, I’ve been able to tweak many of the lessons to work for us. I do agree that her little sis got into it just as well. One other issue I had was that there still seemed to be a lot of planning to do ahead of time. If I was going to do a craft or use a coloring sheet, I’d have to find and prepare it myself. This may just be my temperament, but I wanted more of it planned for me. If the planning didn’t get done, I didn’t end up doing the lessons. But again, this may just be my style.

    FIAR has introduced us to some great literature and was a nice “first step” into homeschooling for our family!

  17. P.S. I would say MOST of the activities for each book are above my four-year-old’s head. There are many that I have been able to adapt, and many that have worked well, but it is DEFINITELY appropriate for the over preschool/kindergarten set.
    .-= Patty’s last blog: We Are Seven =-.

    • Before FIAR might be a good program for those who find the classic FIAR over their child’s head. We ordered both, actually (BFIAR and volume 1 of FIAR), and we found that the first one was too basic for our 4-year-old. Hence, we started with volume 1.

      Every child is different, so it definitely makes sense to adapt to each child’s needs. That’s one of the things that’s so great about FIAR, in my opinion. :)

  18. @Jamie: FIAR is definitely a Christian based curriculum. If you’ve never come across something perhaps you haven’t gotten the literature packet because the titles “If Jesus Came to My House” and “Prayer for a Child” sound Christian.

    I’m very interested in a program but I can’t have something like that in my home.

  19. I just started using FIAR this year with my 4 year daughter. We also use the Bible Suppliment. We Love it!!! I’ve already bought volumes 2&3. I also have purchased Beyond FIAR vol. 1 and the accompanying books. We don’t use the curriculum exclusively. We used the curriculum as an in depth literature study. We Horizons Math K, Sandi Queens language Lessons for little ones 2, ReadingEggs for Phonics and early reading, A Reason for Handwriting K, and Developing the early Learner vols 1,2,3, & 4. We also play with Geography puzzels, maps, and a science experiment kit. We incorporate a Charlotte Mason with a Literature enrichment approach. So we don’t do all subjects in one day. We also stretch FIAR to 2-3 and sometime 4 weeks. Our goal is to ENJOY our learning, but Take the importance of learning seriously. Works for us:-)
    My plan is to used FIAR and extra books here and there that I liked from my childhood until my daughter finishes Jr. High. We will SOTW, MOH, Apologia Science, Horizons Math, Teaching Text Books, Sequential Spelling, Easy Grammer, and More…. Then hopefully move on to the entire Sonlight Curriculm for High School. These are great Curriculums. I have also homeschooled two teen step-daughters. I’m graduating one this year!!!!
    Good Luck to you all!!!!
    CJ

  20. We used Before Five In A Row and FIAR when we started homeschooling. Since we have slowly moved into unschooling we don’t use the curriculum, but we do love reading a lot of the books that are in the program. One of our favorites is The story of Ping. It’s a great program if you have kids who love to hear stories and want to read read read.
    .-= Rana’s last blog: Our Trip to Washington D.C. Part III =-.

  21. Love FIAR! I found it most useful for grades one and two, actually, although also used it for K and gd.3 a bit (b/c the books are so wonderful). I look forward to using it again with our third child next year.

    • I forgot to say that I never actually read the same book five times in a row, though; thought other people might want to know that you are not forced to do so in order to enjoy the curriculum.

  22. We used FIAR a few years ago with my first two kids, and I’m reminded that maybe I could get back into it with my youngest. It didn’t always work for us to read the same book 5 days in a row (I didn’t want them to get sick of such a great book so I’d stop if they seemed restless), but we did love the books and many of the activities. Lots of simple, hands-on choices, as well as meaty discussion topics. Maybe we’ll dip back into it for the summer.
    .-= Hannah’s last blog: Thirteen Years Ago Today =-.

  23. Laura Leighninger says:

    I have used FIAR since I began homeschooling my two boys 3 years ago. Sadly, we have reached the end and will finish our delightful journey this week. It has truly inspired a love for learning in my boys. At the end of each year, I’ve made it a tradition to request the titles again from the library for an end of the year review. This week, both my boys were so excited as they pulled each “old friend” out of my library basket, including our favorites from the first 2 years as well. I have found this to be such an incredible introduction on such a wide variety of subjects. We have travelled the globe and learned a lot along the way. My boys’ fondest memories include the day we dressed as coal miners and I let them explore under the house in the crawl space, complete with headlamps (Rag Coat); playing the guitar and harmonica in the bathtub to learn about acoustics (Lentil); our in depth study of bridges and lighthouses for 2 weeks (Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge); and eating Japanese food around low table in our borrowed kimonos. I could go on and on. It’s perfect for letting your creativity run wild. And you can’t beat the price. I never once had a book I couldn’t get from the library, though I occasionally had to use Inter Library Loan. I can’t say enough good things about this curriculum; I’m constantly recommending it to homeschool moms!

  24. We discovered Five In A Row this year and now we are loving homeschooling. Recently our family hosted a Madeline Day for 5 families and had a French morning tea, had a Madeline storytime, learnt some French words using little finger puppets for fun, made Eiffel Tower models, dressed up in the French theme, had a presentation by a high schooler doing “Open Access” French lessons and watched a French DVD. EVERYONE had a great time including Mums, toddlers and high school aged children (not sure about the babies).

    What a great day! I am planning some more in the future on other countries that FIAR books are set in.

    In addition to that we do copywork each week based on the picture book we are studying and some phonics based on it. I also do a lot of similar style studies on non-FIAR books. Some of the FIAR books are hard to get from our local South Australian libraries so I buy or borrow from friends.

    Jude

  25. We love FIAR, it is a great program. So versatile and the books are engaging for a wide age range of children.
    .-= Jen’s last blog: Wrapping up the Week – 5/21/2010 =-.

  26. What a wonderful concept! I have a friend who is an English teacher at a community college and one of her biggest laments is that college age kids do not know how to UNDERSTAND what they are reading. They read to gleen the facts from the source, but don’t / can’t grasp the concepts in the book (I believe this is called: memorization and regurgitation). This really seems to be a great way (in addition to the intended curriculum) to teach children how to UNDERSTAND the things they read, which will lead to THINKING about what people say and do and lead to a more enlightened life. Once again: Thank you, thank you, thank you for your articles at simplemom!!

    Becky

  27. Great post. I have been reading a lot about interest led learning and a little scared to take the plunge -this sounds like it would give the structure I desire and the flexibility.
    Back to a previous post on organic cleaning-I work as a part time developmental therapist and wonder if you have any tips for disinfecting toys as they travel from home to home.
    Lisa

  28. We love FIAR! I use it as a supplement to my regular prek program.
    .-= Erica’s last blog: Freebie Friday: Scalloped Template =-.

  29. I am a huge fan of teaching with stories! Great literature is so captivating; it wraps up academic concepts in a beautiful package with a ribbon on top, leaving kids giddy as they tear into learning projects. Suddenly learning academic concepts is just another extension of being in the story, rather than something they have to learn because someone said so.

  30. we love FIAR! it has been a wonderful begining into your homeschool journey. My children were 3 and 5 when we started… and this is our first year. It is so much fun, i can’t say enough about this program.
    i do try to blog about our FIAR journey here http://www.dailythoughtsonmytots.blogspot.com
    .-= angela’s last blog: Storm in the Night =-.

  31. I’ve been thinking about what curriculum to use with my son (almost 3) next year, and I’ve heard such great things about FIAR (and Before FIAR, which is what I would use). I’ve also heard good things about Sonlight. This year we used Itty Bitty Bookworm, which was a great beginner curriculum, but I think I might be ready to switch things up.
    .-= Cara’s last blog: Baked Chicken Bacon Alfredo =-.

  32. Sarah Chrastina says:

    Hi Tsh! We have LOVED FIAR for this year with our 4-5 yr old preschooler and little sister (3) can join in on all the fun learning easily… I just love the way you use one really great story and open up a whole world of learning opportunities. So much fun for all of us really! The apple pie one was our favorite…

  33. I just would like some clarification. So you can’t use this curriculum exclusively? I’ve never heard of any of the things the people are talking about since we’re living overseas. Maybe I need to do a search on it. CAN you use the curriculum they present to teach Math and Science, etc… or do you need to supplement? What about spelling and things like that? I suppose you could take your own spelling words, etc… but I’m just asking more for clarification of what this curriculum is like. It was a great post to say how much you loved it but it didn’t really tell how you can use it. In my opinion anyway. I guess I’m confused which seems to be a personal problem. :>)

    • With FIAR you need to add a math program and, if your child is not reading fluently, phonics. FIAR covers social studies (including geography and history), language arts, art, and science. It also includes “applied math” lessons which focus on real-world applications of math related to the book.
      .-= Rivka’s last blog: Counting money. =-.

  34. Thank you so much for this post.

    My daughter attends public school, but during the summers I want to supplement with interest led learning and this seems perfect. I just ordered the program and can’t wait to get started with my four and five year old girls.

  35. Several days late, but I thought I’d add an opposing view. In our homeschooling, I take a Ruth Beechick approach to the early years: focusing on the 3 R’s, reading (phonics), writing, and arithmetic with a lot of reading on the side. FIAR could work perfectly fine as a supplement to those core subjects with this approach for some, but I see it as ‘an extra’ that could easily overwhelm me trying to follow someone else’s booklist, ideas and activities when I am perfectly capable of using good books available to me and building activities from them.

  36. We haven’t done any formal schooling yet as mine are 1 and 3. We’re planning to this fall (Chloe 3 1/2 and John just turning 2). I had never been introduced to any kind of program until Steady Mom (thanks Jamie!).

    I’m not sure whether to go with FIAR, Before FIAR or a sonlight curriculum…they all sound awesome!

  37. I had been madly searching for the proper way and proper curriculum with which to homeschool my oldest who will turn 4 in the fall. I have a friend who un-schools her three boys so, I looked into it and while it sounded fantastic, it also seemed like a slippery slope to lethargy. I knew we would get lazy if we adopted that method. We need a little order to thrive.

    I was just about to order Alpha Omega because I thought I had to drill my poor kids when my pastor’s wife recommended the Five in a Row approach and I must admit it sounds like EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for. It is a healthy mix of structure and looseness that small children work best in the midst of.

    I cannot wait to start with my kids on September 1st!

  38. I’m thinking about using FIAR as a supplement to The Phonics Road Level 1 and Saxon Math 2 for my first grader, but I’m concerned about overloading myself and my 6 year old. My main reason to use it would be to include younger siblings and cover some of the non-basic subjects…. any comments/suggestions from those who’ve been there and done this?

  39. I’m just barely getting my feet wet with homeschooling my almost 4 yr old. And I had never even heard of FIAR until searching your blog. I LOVE all the comments and suggestions of literature based preschool learning. So far, this has been the most helpful “stop” in my journey of what to do/how to teach my sweet girl. I’m feeling so overwhelmed with the opportunity/responsibility to decide to homeschool, but I really feel like it is best for us. Thank you for helping point us in a more concise direction.

  40. This is a great concept!
    Its something we breifly hit on at the school where I work- re-reading the same book everyday for the week, and each day working a little differently from it :-)

    I’m glad FIAR have set books to cover, and think the option to borrow the books from the library is brilliant :-) As well as cost, space is an issue in our house!

    Many thanks for the review and links.
    Cathy
    Cathy’s latest post: Thomas The Tank Engine Toys updated Wed Dec 1 2010 5-13 pm CST

  41. As my family and I prepare for a move to Spain, I’ve been searching for a literature based preschool/pre-k program for my girls! Thank you for this post (accompanied by your “A Classical Education..” post. I was feeling stressed about continuing their education, but I am definitely going to explore this program.
    Betsy C.’s latest post: 3 Steps Towards Enjoying Motherhood

  42. Wow, thanks for this! My 18 month old LOVES repetition of stories and he is getting bored with his baby toys and I’m looking for more toddler activities to do with him. I do work outside the home 3 days a week, but it sounds like this curriculum, time-wise, can be used as a supplement to outside-the-home education. Off to order Before FIAR! Thanks again, Tsh!
    Helen’s latest post: Thoughtful Thursday

  43. Thanks for posting this! We have been homeschooling my daughter for several years now, and my 2.5 year old has been asking for “school”. I think I have been convinced to order BFIAR to use with him, along with a separate phonics program (he already knows all letters and most sounds on his own that he just “figured out”, so this is something he is ready to embark on with no pressure, just letting him do it as he can/wants to!). If we enjoy it I will consider using FIAR and supplementing math and phonics/spelling. I don’t think we will ever use the upper level FIAR programs though. I think by around 3rd grade we are ready to embark on a different type of schoolwork. I really do feel like this gentle literature based way is going to be the best way to approach the younger grades for sure. Thanks again! You have convinced me, haha.
    Kelli’s latest post: Chores!!!

  44. FIAR can be simply what the volumes suggest or it can be so much more depending on what you make it. I love just having the foundation laid and being able to take that knowledge to build off of. You can row a few books that they have listed and continue \”by the book\” or take any book you might want to explore or a beloved classic in your family library and row those as well. Once you get the hang of it, there are so many options. So, for those of you that might not like certain books suggested, you can easily omit them and row something you choose in replacement. I love the fact that I can customize the curriculum for my family. We are lapbooking (creating small memory books for each piece of literature…kind of like scrapbooking for educational recall) along with it this year. There are many helpful ideas on http://www.homeschoolshare.com for FIAR educators. On there is the suggestion to use the Evan Moor Giant Science Recourse Book that reveals many science lesson match-ups for the books in each Volume of FIAR. I was thrilled with the amount of lessons we aquired for science. Also, the website gives many lapbook resources and printables. Hope this was helpful. Happy rowing! :))

  45. Let’s see. Here’s an example from my blog of what it looks like when we “row” a book: a week of lessons, one for each day. We’re just getting started, though – other people do things differently.
    http://tinderbox.homeschooljournal.net/tag/katy-and-the-big-snow/

    Here’s the author of Five in a Row giving an example of how it might work in practice:
    http://www.fiveinarow.com/~gbprnhrz/forum/showthread.php?t=34016

    Here’s the book list for Five in a Row (ages 4-8):
    http://www.fiveinarow.com/FIAR/FIARBL.html

    One thing that I think isn’t clear from a lot of the stuff written about FIAR is that, for a given book, there are usually several different lessons in the manual for each subject. You choose the lessons that seem right for your child, and present them at a level of depth that seems right for your child.
    .-= Rivka’s last blog: Counting money. =-.

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