If you’ve been a long time reader, then you know we are a Five in a Row family. In fact, we use Five in a Row at different levels through middle school. In the early years, we used it exclusively and our oldest used it all the way through middle school. The other three kids have used Five in a Row for many years in addition to other unit studies through middle school. Our youngest has done Five in a Row on his own and as a “tag along”. Although our children are older now and we are pursuing our own independent & authentic brand of homeschooling, Five in a Row has been the curriculum foundation of our homeschool.
I used to get asked a lot how I managed the planning and implementation of Five in a Row (FIAR). After seeing more recent comments and concerns about planning from FIAR users, I decided it was time to give this old post new life. How to Plan Five in a Row is all about how to keep things simple in order to use FIAR to its fullest potential with your family.
Five in a Row Planning Tips
First of all relax! Whatever you choose from the manual will be wonderful and will make an effective week of school. Forget the “extras”. Jane Lambert did not write a curriculum which would require more than her lessons for the areas outside reading and math instruction. The beauty of FIAR is the way it captures for children a broad base of knowledge which they can draw on in the future. They’ll have more prior knowledge to access later on.
Read the Front Matter in Your Manuals– There is a wealth of information there on how to organize information your children learn, what materials you need, what sorts of notebooks to try, and other helpful hints from the author.
Sit down sometime before the week begins and look through the manual. I choose two to three lessons for each topic for our week. Generally, I go for one longer lesson and one shorter one for each subject. I gather the materials for them ahead of time. One thing that can end a good school session is not being prepared! This is especially true when you have young children who will wander off if you don’t keep them engaged.
Choose activities for a day based on what your week is like. I don’t plan heavy things for days when we are not going to have much time. Seems obvious, but if you think a lesson might not happen on a particular day, it probably won’t! So don’t set yourself up for failure from the start. Choose shorter lessons or those which are more conversational.
Have a Conversation. If this is hard for you, then go for the more concrete lessons until you have more of a rhythm reading to the kids. Once you are more at ease with the reading part, the conversations will come. They don’t have to follow the book either. You can read the book and be sitting down to lunch later in the day and say, “Hey remember when?” and bring it up at that time. It’s always good practice to get your kids thinking about a book and to talk about it all the time. Think about what would be easy for you to try out and go for it. This works for teens too! One of the best ways to communicate with your teen is through the books they are reading. Start early!
Find a way to record your lesson plans– I use a plain spiral notebook for planning. It’s easy and doesn’t have a lot of overhead. There are no blank spaces to try and fill. With two high schoolers, a middle schooler, and one elementary student, I still use a plain spiral! I don’t have one spiral for four kids anymore, but it is still the best planner I’ve ever used.
Prepare Your Own Papers Based on Lessons– Rather than looking for a printable, I would grab a sheet of paper and write, “Metaphors” at the top if the lesson asked the student to write her own metaphor. Printables are fun, but they take time to find, sometimes cost money, and they must be stored or kept track of prior to using them. Grabbing a sheet of paper and writing the assignment with ruler lines for writing on takes only a few moments.
Store the things you prepare ahead of time. Again, I refer back to an earlier point that being unprepared for the teachable moment stinks! Sometimes you want the printable, then you have to have it on hand when you need it. I’ve used various systems over the years. However, I try not to print anything more than a day or so ahead. If you know that won’t work for you, then have a binder where you keep the printed material until they are needed. It will save you headaches later.
Try at least one lesson for every subject. You’ll be tempted to skip ones that don’t appeal to you and/or you are intimidated by. Be sure to choose lessons from every subject area or you will begin to feel like something is missing. For example, if you skip over the art lessons all the time you’ll find yourself down the road going…FIAR doesn’t seem to have art or you’ll begin to think you need an art supplement. Trust me…I hear it over and over from FIAR users. My feeling is that it’s all there IF you choose to implement the lessons.
Resist the Urge to Plan Large Themes– Lots of people want to incorporate themes to their FIAR studies. It’s not necessary and it’s somewhat undesirable to do all of one kind of book at once. Grouping winter books or books on one country, etc might seem fun and the best way to organize your studies, but I don’t find it to be the ideal scenario. Part of the magic in using FIAR is revisiting topics along the way and adding more knowledge to what they learned the first time around. One of the things I love best about FIAR is the variety! Sure study Snowflake Bentley in the winter as opposed to summer, but don’t feel like you have to do Katy & the Big Snow, Snowflake Bentley, The Very Last First Time, and The Snow Day all in the same month. You and your children will have more than one winter during their FIAR years. Take them as they come!
General Homeschool Planning Tips
This advice goes for any curriculum you are using. Sometimes we like to keep things too complicated when there is beauty in simplicity.
Read Aloud– is one of my favorite things to do! Have you ever read, The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease? EXCELLENT read and it will boost your confidence that your efforts are well worth it. We have had (and still do) many enjoyable hours reading aloud to our children. The more you do it, the more you get used to it and the better at it you become. Reading extra books about the people, places, and concepts related to your FIAR book is easy to do. You don’t have to find or read every book out there. A few is perfect. To this day, nothing soothes the students in our house like a read aloud. Nothing.
Keep it simple– You might be tempted to add in gobs of lapbooking and extras. My advice is to stick with Jane’s lessons. I made my own copywork sheets using my student’s thoughts and ideas. I used StartWrite software to make things for my kids to write on in a lesson. For example, when we did Owl Moon that year, I had my then 6yo give me owl facts using some owl words I had given him on paper strips. As he dictated his sentences to me, I typed them into StartWrite and then he used his own sentences as copy work. It’s not sophisticated, but it’s a great copywork assignment.
You will likely not get done everything you planned. What’s important about that is…that it’s ok. Maybe you will find another trail to explore or one of the activities will strike your kids’ fancy and you’ll play that out a lot and not so much others.
Be consistent. Get up and do school every day or most days. You will catch a groove. There is no perfect way to do the job. There are no perfect times. Just get started and do it each day. Things will become easier. You’ll start to see a rhythm. When you do, you’ll be able to see how things can be tweaked to suit your needs. You’ll know when something needs changing.
Other Planning Links & Book Links from Blog, She Wrote
You might like some other planning related posts and posts that compliment the Five in a Row experience. FIAR involves multiple ages and a lot of families wonder how to manage various volumes. Early on I decided it was best to move where my kids needed to be and not worry about “staying together”. It is more work, but we also come together during the day. Since reading and books is a big part of FIAR, I’ve included a post on building a reading culture in your home.
- Homeschool Planning with a Spiral Notebook– How I put together a simple notebook planner for all my kids.
- Five in a Row Page on Blog, She Wrote– This page has more tips for getting the most out of FIAR and has a list of the book titles with links to blog posts. These are older posts formatted and written in Blogger and imported to this blog. You won’t find a lot of fancy stuff, but it was solid learning with great memories!
- Engaging Multiple Ages in Your Homeschool– No matter what curriculum you are using, tips on how we work together with an age spread from high school to elementary school.
- 10 Things That Make a Great Homeschool Day– One of my favorite all time posts, this lists out the things that make an efficient and meaningful homeschool day.
- Pinterest Board on Homeschool Planning– A gathering of planning ideas of all sorts.
- The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home– This is a not to be missed post highlighting the best ideas and links on growing readers in your home, no matter the age of your children.
- How to Turn Emergent Readers into Super Readers– When reading instruction is complete, how do you increase fluency and make strong independent readers?
Families worry that FIAR can’t possibly be enough or they lament the time it takes to plan. On the contrary, I have always found it to be fairly straightforward and I followed my kids’ lead. Resist the temptation to believe it has to more than what it already is! For the record, our kids grew up on FIAR and they are thriving in high school. Be encouraged!
Last but not least, Have FUN! FIAR is designed to be a relaxed, relationship building program for you and your kids which will give your children a love learning that will last a lifetime. Panic is not part of the package the Lamberts intend to sell. Enjoy it!