About Five in a Row:
Five in a Row (FIAR) is a literature-based “unit study” curriculum for young children aged about 4 to 8. Parents read an excellent children’s picture book aloud for five days in a row. Each day, the parent also selects from among a collection of 15-20 lessons designed to illuminate the text or expand upon topics related to the text. The lessons are grouped into five categories: Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Applied Math, and Science. One day is devoted to each subject.
For example, in a week devoted to Robert McCloskey’s classic book Make Way for Ducklings, you might discuss the geography of Boston, map the ducklings’ progress from the Charles River to the Boston Public Garden, identify and define some unfamiliar vocabulary words, discuss the process by which McCloskey learned how to draw ducks, explore the eight-times table (because there are eight ducklings) through word problems, learn a bit about the natural history of mallard ducks, and discuss ways that animals protect and care for their young.
The 55 books included in the FIAR curriculum are as simple as Harold and the Purple Crayon and as complex as an unabridged illustrated version of Longfellow’s poem Paul Revere’s Ride. Some have lively, funny plots; others explore complex emotions in a subtle and moving way.
Why I am attracted to FIAR:
1. It seems to me to be a natural way of learning: a lightly formalized version of how people learn from good fiction in real life. You read a book and enjoy the story. Something interesting about the setting or concepts or theme sparks your interest, and you read other related books or look things up on the net. Some of the words or concepts are new to you, and you absorb their meanings from context. You pick up incidental historical, cultural, or scientific information presented alongside the story. You reflect on how the book’s effects were achieved, and are perhaps inspired to produce something creative in response.
2. There is very little emphasis on production or output from the child. There are some suggested projects, and the manual encourages parents and children to keep notes or records of what has been discussed, but for the most part the curriculum doesn’t worry about whether children can prove that they have learned things.
3. It provides exposure to a very broad range of concepts and ideas, many of which aren’t usually taught at the elementary level. (For example: Islamic architecture, bioluminescent organisms, literary allusions, modern Inuit culture.) FIAR provides a lot of little tastes of information, conveying the idea that there is a huge world of fascinating knowledge out there. And yet it isn’t overwhelming; you taste and move on, unless you’re irresistibly drawn to go deeper.
4. It is remarkably flexible. You pick which books to read when, and which lessons or activities to include. Just by choosing among the books and provided lessons, you can customize for an older or younger child or for an advanced or delayed learner. You can easily find books or lessons that match up well with a child’s current interests. And you can choose to go as deeply or as shallowly as you like. If a topic catches on, you can do more activities or lessons and use more outside resources. If it doesn’t, you can move along with just a couple of brief remarks. A child who does want to produce materials related to the study has a wide range of opportunities for both factual and creative works.
5. The different areas of study are well-integrated. Art gets as much emphasis as science, and social studies may include discussion of interpersonal relationships or introspective consideration of one’s own emotions and experiences, as well as history and geography. In many cases you can even bring practical skills into the curriculum in a seamless and integrated way – for example, preparing recipes from the FIAR cookbook.
6. It fits what we know so far about Alex’s learning style. I’ve always been amazed by how much she picks up and retains from our reading and conversations, and how well she draws connections between facts and ideas she picks up here and there. The FIAR educational style plays to her strengths.