Back in late July or August I stood in my kitchen and told a friend that while Five in a Row would be a great fit for her, it would never work for us. Um yeah. Never say never right? But I was serious, because I didn’t think we were the unit study type. I had tried Before Five in a Row and other units repeatedly with the kids, and though we had fun with some of the activities and loved the books, we never could find a rhythm with it.
Fast forward about three weeks into the school year, and I was just not happy with the way our science and social studies were going. At the same time I felt like poor John was not involved in anything we were doing, and we were just not doing any of the fun stuff that should be the hallmark of kindergarten. So I started searching and many recommendations on message boards led me back to the FIAR website where I read over and over again that FIAR could (and should) be simple, that tons of extra stuff didn’t need to be added to the manual, that kids were excited to learn this way and on and on. So I took a good look at why unit studies had not worked for us before and decided to try again.
|Feeding the ducks for The Story About Ping.|
It has been such a resounding success, and I am so glad we gave this another try. The kids love the books and beg to read them over and over. We enjoy and can’t wait for this part of our school day. We are building memories that will last a long time. Once I realized that we could do unit studies they way we want and now how everyone else does them, then we found success. Here are some of the ways we make it work for us.
- We build suspense and live with the book. I always put out the next book a day or two ahead of time so the kids can pick it up and ask questions about it. They usually ask to read it right away, but I make them wait until FIAR time. As we study each book, it stays displayed in our breakfast nook for easy perusing and reference during conversation.
- We keep each unit short and simple. We never spend more than five days on a unit. Often they are not five consecutive days because we only school four days a week and take frequent breaks, but when we finish one book we just go on to the next, not waiting for a Monday or move on. I think this holds the kids’ interest better. I don’t do elaborate plans — just jot down what we want to do for each book and spend a few minutes locating some resources.
- We are going for exposure, not mastery. We are not trying to memorize facts or cement our knowledge in any subject. We just want to hear and become familiar with a variety of topics. I fully expect us to revisit (called re-rowing in FIAR lingo) most of these books again, at which time we will study the topics in greater depth.
- We do activities we like. This means for Madeline we did not make the Madeline toilet roll cut out paper doll, but we did locate and talk about our appendix and now we know it is on the end of the large intestine. We avoid paper crafts and large, involved lapbooks. We love hands-on activities, science experiments, additional books on the subject, art, and drama-related activities.
- We add food. I have yet to buy the FIAR Cookbook (it’s on my wish list), but we have still managed to cook something for each book. This is always a favorite activity.
- We use a wide variety of media. If there is a movie, video clip, BrainpopJr video, or computer game that goes with what we are studying, we hook up with it. Those are some of our favorite things that make learning fun for us.
- We are creating a notebook. This is not busy work, but is intended to be a memory book of what we have done. We create a title page for each book and add in pages for the activities we do if it is relevant. Sometimes we don’t have “paper” work for our activities, so I take and print out photos of what we did for both notebooks. They already have fun flipping through the book to see a record of what we have done so far. I imagine it will be a treasure by year’s end.
|Learning about personification with Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.|