This is the time of year to evaluate our little homeschools. The best thing I’ve done this year: use Five in a Row for my six-year-old daughter. I decided to use Volume 2 since Volume 1 included many picture books we were already familiar with, and Volume 2 only included three or four that we were familiar with. For twenty weeks my daughter and I have delved deep into twenty lovely picture books. I liked them all, she liked them all, and we are both happy to say that we are doing it again next fall! With Volume 3, probably.
Did we learn anything? Sure! Five in a Row acquaints us with history, geography, relationship issues, science topics, art (lots of different things about art, such as cross-hatching and perspective), even math. Plus, we learn a bit about authors and illustrators, how books are made, ideas behind stories, truth and fantasy, research, and writing techniques. That sounds like a lot for a six-year-old, but because it is all done through the medium of a picture book, and because I got to pick and choose the subjects that we discuss each day, and because I get to make it as laid-back and cozy as we like it, then the learning comes naturally. We have loved the little Friday habit we have of standing on a kitchen chair and sticking the story-disk of the week on our world map. Interesting how the stories stack up on the US east coast and the European west coast. I plan on doing a little ceremony next week of taking the story-disks off the map and pasting them on a chart I made of the books (I copied and pasted the book cover images off Amazon).
Is this a costly curriculum? Not at all! I bought the teacher’s manual used. As for the picture books, I already owned three of them, and the rest we checked out of the library. If it wasn’t in the library’s system, I requested an Interlibrary Loan, which the librarians were happy to assist me with. In one case, the librarian even bought the book for the library so I could check it out! She says I have good taste in children’s literature.
I’ve enjoyed having a special curriculum for my youngest daughter, and my other daughter has enjoyed listening to it as well:) Sometimes my nine-year-old son would listen, and definitely he read the library books by himself, but his learning type is very different from my girls, so it goes to show that different people need different curriculum approaches. I am so glad I decided to try out Five in a Row.
When I was young in the mountains, we sat on the porch swing in the evenings, and Grandfather sharpened my pencils with his pocketknife. Grandmother sometimes shelled beans and sometimes braided my hair. The dogs lay around us, and the stars sparkled in the sky.
— from When I Was Young In The Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Diane Goode (1982)
This beautiful picture book is very calming with its rhythmical repetition, its mellow pictures, and its description of a simple, old-fashioned mountain life. The theme of contentment builds through the pages, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book about contentment before.* It’s refreshing and thought-provoking at the same time.
My youngest daughter and I read this book as part of our Five In A Row curriculum this week. We made a graph, counting different things in the illustrations. We talked about contentment, but my little talk seemed completely insignificant. The book speaks for itself. We looked at pictures of the Appalachian Mountains, and that was lovely. Did you know there are Green Mountains and White Mountains? We ran across a picture of a Mohican longhouse, and that was interesting. We also talked about food and good nutrition, making a placemat to remind my snacky daughter that vegetables and fruit are important, too. My daughter enjoyed the picture of Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, who looked alike. She’d cover up the bun in Mrs. Crawford’s hair and say, “Now she’s Mr. Crawford.” Such lovely, happy people in this book.
*I’ve just now thought of another book about contentment: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. But that was a bull. It’s easier for a bull to be content than a person.
After fifteen weeks of school, my first-grader went from “I love school” to “School is boring. I’m bad at it.” So I decided Ambleside Online is not really working for her. It wasn’t too hard to decide what to do instead. When all my kids were preschool I used a booklist from the curriculum called Five In A Row. That excellent booklist had been on my mind. I did a little research on Five In A Row, discovered it was a literature-based unit study approach to homeschool, read a very positive review by Diana Waring (who writes homeschool articles I read almost every week), and ordered a fairly inexpensive copy of the Volume 2 teacher manual. It is very flexible. You can choose the order you do things.
I chose to read a book we already owned first. It is Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. I was a little apprehensive about the repeated readings (read the same book five days in a row) because that is very much NOT something Charlotte Mason would approve of. This style of schooling does feel very different from Ambleside Online. Whereas AO gives a feast of many great things, FIAR feels more like a cozy, intimate family meal. Conversational. Familiar.
It’s too soon to tell is FIAR is going to improve my daughter’s attitude toward learning, but I’m enjoying it even though it’s a little more daily work on my part. After all, this had been my third year of AO Year 1, and I was struggling to keep up the enthusiasm, too. I’m still using AO for my third and second-grader, who respond well to it. I think my second-grader does well to be right in the middle and nosy about everyone else’s business. She benefits from that wide range of learning. I hope we all benefit from adding a new curriculum into the school day.