Friday, February 27, 2009

A Review of Beyond Five in a Row

I've been homeschooling for seven years now, over the course of which I've heard about and viewed a variety of curricula. Five in a Row is a curriculum I've heard of often but have never actually held in my hands. The name is based on the concept of reading one picture book five times in a row over five days, carrying the content into various other subjects as a unit study. I'm not much of a unit study person. Similar to my preference that different foods do not touch on my dinner plate, I prefer distinct division of academic subjects. Unit studies are more like casseroles, just as nutritious, but a mingling of the food groups. Sticking to comfortable styles, I never got around to expanding my academic palette. Now that my children are ages 9 and 12, I figured it was too late to even consider. If there were something to use beyond picture books, perhaps..

Much to my surprise, I discovered that Five in a Row (FIAR) has curriculum for a broad range of ages, from toddler through high school. How did this get by me, a self-proclaimed Curricula Queen? For review I received Beyond Five in a Row, Volume 2 for ages 8-12, written by Becky Jane Lambert, homeschool graduate and daughter of Five in a Row curriculum author Jane Claire Lambert. As the name indicates, the program is for kids who have moved beyond reading picture books and uses chapter books as a foundation instead. Have no fear...there will be no reading a chapter book five days consecutively. However, the original flavor of the earlier concept is preserved, using literature as the springboard to a love of learning in all areas.

Volume 2 explores four titles total, two fiction and two non-fiction. Titles included are: Sarah, Plain and Tall, The Story of George Washington Carver, Skylark, and Helen Keller. Unlike the FIAR series, which covers specific academic subjects on specific days, Beyond FIAR bases weekly activities on individual chapters. Subject emphasis, activities and time needed will vary depending on the information presented in each chapter of the book. Overall, it will take two days or so to complete the activities for each chapter and one semester to complete the entire volume. However, there is no set schedule and students are encouraged to study where their interests lead, savoring each educational bite, rather than rush through.

Five principal academic areas are covered: History and Geography, Language Arts, Science, Fine Arts and Human Relationships. Throughout the volume are also special learning opportunities that include topics such as drama, internet, career path, art, cooking and essay questions. The author is clear that supplementation will be needed in arithmetic and specific language arts areas such as grammar, spelling and penmanship.

A summary for the parent is provided for each chapter, should the parent prefer independent reading, followed by a list of topics covered in the activities. As an example of the type of activities included, below is the covered material for the first chapter of Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan:

History and Geography: Maine and the Eastern United States
History and Geography: Prairies – Beginning Your Notebook
Science: Babies and Human Development
Science: Rocks – Three Types
Language Arts: MacLachlan's Use of a Continuing Symbol – Singing
Language Arts: Letter Writing – P.S. and R.S.V.P.
Language Arts: Creative Writing – Writing a Personal Introduction
Language Arts: Avoiding Cliches – Interesting Description
Fine Arts: Composition in Drawing
Issues of Human Relationships: Memories
Issues of Human Relationships: Singing – A Family Activity

For each activity listed, the teaching parent is provided with anywhere from a paragraph to a full page of explanation, information and ideas on how to approach the topic with the student. The activities are flexible enough to allow adjustment for varying abilities. In the back of the book is a complete list of the scope of topics covered throughout the entire volume, especially helpful to see the academic ingredients to the unit study casserole for those of us who need it.

Even though I'm not a unit study person, Beyond Five in a Row could easily fit into our homeschool as a supplemental resource. I found its flexible and gentle approach quite palatable and I now wish I had explored the Five in a Row series when my children were younger. Sarah, Plain and Tall was already on my son's reading list for the year. What a great supplement to spice up our current program and to further enhance understanding, bring in more interest, or inject a little fun. I especially liked the writing activities, which easily had enough substance for the older writer. Many of the writing activities included excellent and relevant discussion questions that could be done verbally as did the Issues of Human Relationships section. Beyond Five in a Row would also be an excellent resource for a book club or co-op situation where students can come together to discuss a selected book and do related activities, such an art project - or cooking.

Of course, those who know and love Five in a Row will likely enjoy the continuation with Beyond as the meat and potatoes of their studies. Five in a Row has quite a following, over 50,000 per the webite, of families who enjoy learning at the leading of great literature. You will find a large and active message board community of users at the Five in a Row website with which to share the experience.

There are three Beyond volumes in all for ages 8-12, at $24.95 each, as well as a Beyond FIAR Bible Christian Character and Bible Study Supplement. In addition to Beyond Five in a Row, the following products for other age groups are also available:

Before Five in a Row, ages 2-4: Twenty-three FIAR-style mini-units based on simple children's books are included in this title to inspire learning readiness.

Five in a Row, ages 4-8: There are 3 volumes, together covering 55 titles, of this step-by-step instructional guide using outstanding children's literature.

Above and Beyond Five in a Row
, ages 12 and up: This unit study is aimed directly at the student and designed to be completed as a 6-8 week study or over several months as a supplement.

Five in a Row also has a number of supplement and digital products to go with the curriculum. You can view their menu of printed items here and browse available digital items here.

Whether you are looking for some a la cart supplemental activities or would prefer a full course unit study, Five in a Row brings to the table a variety of selections for ravenous learners of all ages.

Visit the TOS Crew's Official Blog to hear what other Crew members thought of this product.

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