How to Plan Five in a Row


Blog, She Wrote How to Plan Five in a Row

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.

Blog, She Wrote How to Plan Five in a Row

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.

Blog, She Wrote Planning Five in a Row

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

The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home

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.

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!

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  1. Great post Heather! This is our 2nd year doing FIAR and I have to admit that I went overboard a few times and the fun went down the drain. I love your advice on the planning.WriteStart looks awesome too. Thanks…Sue S (RI)

  2. I love it–"panic is not part of the package"! My girls are little–5 and 3.75 😉 –so I tend to just do the conversational stuff. I haven't loved lapbooking either, for them yet anyway. Too much STUFF that's not age appropriate, developmentally appropriate, etc. I'm going to look into that Start Write software, though. Looks good!

  3. I've been reading your blog for some time now, but I find myself often revisiting this post. We are starting our school year in just a few days and using FIAR for the first time. When I read this post, I feel like I've got someone holding my hand. 🙂

  4. This was just what I needed to read right now. I have used HSS and honestly the lapbook thing just doesn't seem to work as well as I had hoped. So I will be reading some more of your ideas. And yes, it is all in the manual! JeninAustralia

  5. We are just about to start FIAR with our 4.5 year old twin girls and this post made me relax about it. Thank you for putting in that part of about reaching for all the subjects and that we would regret it if we skipped over our weaker areas. Ah, that would be me with the art thing for sure. Now I have no excuses! heheheThanks for the encouraging post.

  6. So encouraging… I tend to check the blogs that have elaborate artsy stuff, lapbooks, etc. that I just can't fit in or is not my son's thing. This post puts it back into perspective. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for this post, Heather! 🙂 We use (or at least TRY TO! LOL!) FIAR with CHC and Sing, Spell, Read, Write for our son, who is turning 6 this Oct. I am also not so much into the lapbooking-crafty-artsy type of homeschooling and often feel insecure when a lot of the FIAR moms I see online (and offline!) are such! :)Your post is very encouraging! Thanks again for writing it and God bless you and your family in all you do! 🙂

    1. You are welcome! It was a lot of fun to make this post new again! It was first written in 2009. 🙂

  8. Thank you for this post! I just started FIAR with my little ones last week. I love the idea behind it and think I’m going to really enjoy it! I’ve been confused about all the concerns I’ve read about how it takes so long to plan, etc. I thought maybe I was missing something because I didn’t get it! It seems like there are a ton of ways to incorporate a lot more activities, but overall, the curriculum itself seems pretty straightforward and well laid out.

    1. Yes! It is straightforward. Have fun! You’ll make lots of memories and your kids will learn a lot.

  9. Hi Heather, I love you’re blog! I think ifound you through lori pickert’s camp creek blog. I have been reading for a couple years. You inspired me to use fiar with my 1st grader last year. We switched to trail guide for learning this year so I could use it with my 6 th grader too, but my 2nd grader wants to go back to fiar for 3rd grade. I know we could use beyond fiar, but he likes the picture books and, although he reads well, he’s a reluctant reader and writer. My gut tells me fiar will be fine, but was wondering if, in your experience, you would find it too young for a boy in 3rd grade? We do project -based learning as well and he is challenged with that, but I would like to foster a love of reading and work on his writing (composition, handwriting, and spelling). Trail guide was great, but I think he grew tired of reading the same book over a 6 week period. I think it was just his age. He loves read aloud and audio books and reading picture books. Maybe I’ve answered my own question, lol.

    1. Hi Christi!
      I think FIAR would be just fine for a 3rd grader. The lines for ages are not hard and fast. If he is learning and growing with it, that is all that matters. FIAR is for ages 4-8 and often 8yos are third graders anyway. It’ll be perfect. Enjoy!

  10. Hi,

    I love this post. I was just wondering, what are your thoughts on Rowing 1 book for 2 weeks? I have noticed many rowers mention that they do this. I’m torn because on one hand, I like the idea of enjoying each row a little longer but, on the other hand, my daughter will be 8 on 10/8, we start our school year (thus first row) on 10/5 so I’m a little worried that we may not make it through all 4 Vol. before she possibly outgrows the books. (She is young for her age maturity wise though). Anyways, I would love to hear your feedback on this. 🙂

    1. Amanda, I think it’s a personal preference. If you know your weeks are full, it might help to slow down and enjoy a book for two four day weeks. Others like the newness of rowing a new book each week. I think it’s best to know you and know your child to think what might be the best fit. Try it both ways and see which you prefer. Your daughter is young and she will enjoy the books for a few more years. Certainly, there is a lot to learn in those four volumes!

      My preference was for one book a week and we lingered for two on our favorites! Have fun!

  11. Boy I really needed to read this. I’ve discovered FIAR recently and was so excited about it…….until I saw what some bloggers do with it and became instantly overwhelmed (and I haven’t even began homeschooling yet!) So happy to hear that it really should be kept simple. Thanks so much for this post.

    1. You are very welcome Serenity! Simple is best and my kids have so many memories from all the fun learning we did.

  12. Thank you so much for your posts. I loved reading over your family’s experience with FIAR. I have the first volume with about half of the books and homeschool my 2 daughters, in grades 1 & 3. We used FIAR for a short while last year and loved it, but I soon fell victim to the belief that I was not doing enough and abandoned it for another curriculum. I often find myself nostalgically looking back to our time snuggled on the couch reading, following the freedom trail on suggested websites, and creating clouds- and I long to return to FIAR, but I’m afraid it won’t be comprehensive enough now that my oldest is in 3rd grade. I don’t want to move on to beyond yet because my greatest joy was the shared learning.
    In your extensive experience, do you think I could make FIAR work, or am I too late?
    Thank you so much for sharing your famil’s beautiful homeschooling journey.

    1. Rose, thanks for your kind words. Of course it’s not too late! You can use FIAR with your 3rd grader and even on into 4th grade or until your younger student is ready to move to volume 4 (which is a great transition to Beyond FIAR). All of my children used FIAR and BY into middle school and they are excellent high schoolers, well prepared for what is ahead. In fact, my oldest did FIAR the longest and tests very well. He scored above the Ivy League average on the ACT recently. Take heart! It IS enough. Make more precious memories. 🙂

  13. Thank you so much for this post. I have been looking into FIAR for my soon-to-be first grader. Of course I have been pinning all sorts of ideas on Pinterest and this has only made me feel more overwhelmed. I came across this post today and I love how you are encouraging us to keep it simple. I love the idea of FIAR. I can see how it can be a very loving curriculum, one that builds relationships through reading. It seems more relaxed and enjoyable….until I start trying to find the “best printable” and “best lap books” out there. I needed to read this post today. I will pin this one so I can read it again and again 😊. Keep it simple and just follow the FIAR curriculum and don’t worry about “extras.” THANK YOU!

    1. Michaela, I’m so glad you found this post helpful. I know it pains the author to see so much fuss for something that was meant to give parents and families peace. You really cannot go wrong with sticking to the manual and enjoying good books together. Enjoy your time together!

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