Five In a Row - Literature-Based Unit Studies for young children

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Five in a Row is a literature based guide to expand learning from tried and true children's books. Anyone who loves cuddling up on the couch with their 3-8 yo would be attracted to this guide(s). The title Five In A Row is the premise of the curriculum guide.........the story is read 5 days in a row. With each reading the child absorbs new details of the story, anticipates favorite passages, notes illustrations in more detail. An example of a lesson is probably the easiest explanation of how it works.

The Story of Ping by Marjorie Flack:
On Monday after reading the story you give a Social Studies lesson. We found China on the world map, and the Yangtze River. The curriculum guide points out that the Yangtze is the 3rd longest River after the Nile and Amazon; locate those on the map. Nearly one third of China's population live on or near the Yangtze River, in fact 1 of every 15 people in the world live along the Yangtze River. The children color a story disk (small picture of Ping) and place it on the world map along the Yangtze River. I expanded this to also making the flag of China from construction paper, discussing Chinese food, going to a Chinese restaurant and eating with chopsticks, and had the waiter speak Chinese and sign our placemat in Chinese. Another lesson under social studies is the lesson of discernment. The child is asked to describe Ping's lesson about discernment: " everything that looks good is not necessarily good". We went on to discuss never taking candy from strangers, whether they should go along with friends' decisions even if it doesn't seem quite right and how mom and dad help train good decisions, sometimes even with a spank like Ping received.

On Tuesday, after reading the story, you teach Literature: define a classic, find the publishing date, explain that the Story of Ping was written when your Grandmother was your age. The authors suggest starting a Literature notebook with a section for literary terms, and a section for vocabulary, (using index cards is the alternative suggestion). Define and write the definition of a classic and fiction in your notebook. Teach the literary device of repetition and show how it is used in the story, bringing it "full circle". Add repetition to your notebook. We expanded this to adding the title of other books we had read under each definition, which qualified as an example.

On Wednesday, after reading the story, teach art. What medium does the illustrator use? (colored pencils) Use colored pencils to draw your favorite illustration. Learn to draw water. Look at how the illustrator draws the suns reflection on the water and try it. Learn to draw water movement around an object in the water, growing concentric circles, and try it. Create the illusion of motion in the water with squiggly lines trailing behind the boat and practice it. Teach about viewpoint. The illustrator uses viewpoint (and they point out examples throughout the book) and how this changes how we see a scene or the world around us. Teach composition and the author again points out examples of good composition with illustrations throughout the book.

On Thursday, after reading the story, have a Math lesson counting Ping's sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. [math in this program is too contrived to stand alone]. I also have the Christian supplement to FIAR so we did that here. This gives 2-4 scripture verses or bible stories which parallel the FIAR story and give a great basis for more discussion on character training, godly behavior, etc.

On Friday, after reading the story, teach science. Concepts related to this story are...where are ducks placed in the animal classification system, bouyancy, health and safety concerning water (children are not bouyant like ducks!), and reflection of light off water. The author suggests other literary imagery of reflection in the poem "The Mirror" in The World of Christopher Robin (Milne), which one could use as memory work or copywork.

We never spent just one week on most stories. I think this book ended up being 3 weeks long because we chased down bunny trails to study China in more detail, bouyancy and experiments took several days and learning more about ducks, their habitat, diet, etc. was a week. We culminated the week with a trip to the duck pond and decided it was a good idea to start swimming lessons.

The author of FIAR has chosen solid children's literature. My only critique is that some books are out of print and a little difficult to find. The FIAR web site used to sponsor a list for people interested in using this guide. People would share ideas on expanding the books, resources, and trade/sell each other some of the harder to find books. Each FIAR volume contains lesson guides for about 16-20 books. The authors have also written a preschool version called Before Five In A Row and a Beyond Five In A Row, using chapter books. I believe booklists for each of these volumes is available at their web site.

How is this helpful for Catholic homeschoolers? Well, it is one way to introduce children to tried and true, good children's literature. It has taught me a whole lot about analyzing a story and illustrations. It is a great method for teaching story composition, introducing new vocabulary, and isolating literary devices. I recommend it whole heartedly to the Pre-Grammar stage, for developing attentiveness to details, introducing them to art, geography, science and reviewing math skills.

Also, the guide is user friendly. Anyone who has enlisted the help of an older child to help teach their younger children could hand this to a 12+ yo and they could probably manage fine, as well as learn some new things, as I have!

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