Planning Five in a Row

I have had it in the back of my mind for a while now to do a Five in a Row planning post, but have not gotten around to it. Recently, though, someone asked me about how I used and planned FIAR, so now I have the motivation to lay it all out there.

The place to start is to read how we use FIAR and other unit studies. I think we do it differently than many of the prominent FIAR families online. The general observation of people doing FIAR (which may or may not be entirely true) is that many of them are making crafty items and lapbooks along with the materials from the manual. We actually do not do those types of things. I think they would be fun, but my kids do not agree. Since this is homeschooling and not home-dentistry-without-pain-medication, I tailor things to their *ahem* learning styles.

I start each planning session by printing a copy of my FIAR planning sheet. (Feel free to download your own copy — it’s a PDF.)  The first page is the FIAR planner section. The second page I use to jot notes about our other studies. On the first page I plan out the things I want us to do for a unit. Then as we complete the unit I put a checkmark beside what we did. I will keep this page in case we re-row the title again at a later date so I have a record of our studies. On the other page I tend to write in things after we have completed them — journal style. The “other” section at the bottom is very important — that is where I write all of the unplanned learning that we do each week that never fits into a neat little category. But I digress.

First page of the planner

The top of the form has a line for the date, book title, and author. The book location label is for me to write if I own the book, it is a library book, or we need to get it through ILL. Lesson location is for the FIAR volume number or Homeschool Share designation. I label each of the five larger boxes below Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Math and Science. We typically do these in this order as suggested by the FIAR manual, but I reserve the right to jump around — and sometimes the kids request to as well.

My first step in planning is to look through the manual and write down the topic titles for any of the activities I think we will be interested in and are on our level. I jot down the titles in the appropriate box and that gives me a base for our studies. Next I open up Evernote on my Mac and create a new page for the book in my FIAR notebook. This is where I will put all of my web links. Now the adventure begins.

The following places are all a usual stop for me in planning a unit:

  • The FIAR Archives – You must be a forum member and signed to see these. There is a thread for each FIAR title. Here are additional ideas other members have used for each book.
  • The FIAR Forums – After perusing the archives I do a forum search for the book and see if any more recent material has shown up.
  • The FIAR cookbook – Lovely resource with multiple recipes for each title. I love the digital version because I can print out the pages I need and store them in the title’s folder instead of having another book to keep up with.
  • Homeschool Share – Click on FIAR Resources and then the volume number. Most of these items are lapbook pieces, but you can sometimes find other links of interest or some printables are good to use with activities or experiments.
  • YouTube – There is a wealth of video content out here. For example we are currently rowing Mirette on the High Wire. I found examples of tightrope walkers and also a brief cartoon biography of Blondini — the inspiration for the fictional tightrope walker in the book. A go-along book for Mirette is The Man Who Walked Between Towers. Our library does not have the book, but there is a video version available on YouTube — very cool.
  • BrainPopJr – This is a subscription site we use. I look to see if there are any videos and activities relevant to the topics we are studying in the unit.
  • APTPlus – This service is free to us through Alabama Public Television. There is an entire video library available to us there just for signing up. It even includes full episodes of Reading Rainbow. I simply search on a key word in the title or a subject from the unit study. Though you can’t access this unless you live in Alabama, your state might have something similar.
  • My home library – I have most of the books on Library Thing and can search by tag to see if any are relevant.
  • Our local library – Finally I will do a search on the topics we are studying to see what books pop up that are readily available to us. Many times our library will not have the go-along books suggested by others, but we can find good substitutes.

This usually gets me more than enough material to fill a week of study. If I find it lacking I might Google something like “balance science experiment” and see what pops up. I also have a few Scholastic books that offer unit and activities on picture books. Sometimes the titles we are rowing show up in one of these, and I pull activities I like from there as well.

As I am visiting these websites I copy the URLs of videos and activities we want to use and paste them into the Evernote page so they will be handy when we start the unit.  I also write down a description of the activity in the correct box on the planning sheet. Then I print out anything that needs to be printed making multiple copies if appropriate. These are stored together in a folder with the planning sheet. I have also been using the “Read Alongs and Resources” box on the planning sheet to make notes of any advance prep I need to do for the unit. As an example, this week’s unit has a note for me to cut construction paper squares for an activity we will be doing on complimentary colors.

I want to say that I love doing this kind of planning, and I love the units that result from it. That said, I think you could do FIAR straight from the manual without any of this and it would be just fine. Also having said that, to be perfectly honest, I think that the current process is taking me too long to complete. Problem is I have yet to figure out if the process itself is too long or if I am just constantly interrupted, so it seems much longer than what it is. I really need to find a stretch of uninterrupted time and test that out. If it is truly the process I need to find a way to streamline or give something up. Thoughts?



  • Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for the great links for Evernote and Librarything. I’ll be checking those out. We’ve “rowed” loosely from time to time and I love it. I truly believe in the concept of letting a child digest what they’ve read 5 days in row. Then I use the subject ideas as conversation starters. My daughter remembers the time we rowed Ping and how we went out to feed the ducks in the pond. After that, she had an obsession with drawing ducks with her duck stencil. She was only 5 at the time. I’ll admit, I don’t really do any of the lapbooks, projects, planning etc. It just takes too much planning on my part and it may not be something the kids even care about doing. If I were you, I’d carry out my plans to carve out some time to make the plans. That’s the only way you’re going to find out if it’s the interruptions or the planning itself that needs to be reduced. Loved the bit about “home-dentistry-without-pain medication”. LOL. I have a very low tolerance for the crying and vexation that comes from our family doing traditional deskwork.

  • Pam says:

    You are welcome! No, I don’t force things. Life is too short and they won’t retain it anyway.

  • Tara Burton says:

    I love your ideas! However I wasn’t able to download the pdf … is there another way I could get it? Thanks for the time you put into putting it together! 🙂

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Tara – I sent it via email. Let me know if you don’t get it. Not sure why it wouldn’t work.

  • Kailee says:

    I couldn’t download the lesson planning pages either. Could you send me a copy if possible. Thank you! It is awesome. Thank you for doing it.

  • Lauren says:

    I think I may be confused as to how people use this as a curriculum past one year. There are 55 titles (I think?) throughout all three volumes, so this would only take you through one year (with a few free weeks for vacation). Do you keep going through the books over and over again year after year?

    • Megan says:

      There are 52 weeks in a year. So unless you plan to never take any time off of homeschooling it will take you much longer than a year. A typical school year is 32-36 weeks, so if you figure that you may have a couple sick days, or rabbit trails to follow, you could easily spread it out over the course of two years. There is also volume 4 which takes a year to finish as they are all 2 week lessons. Then there is beyond five in a row. Many folks also extend the unit studies in volumes 1-3 to last 2 weeks each, at which rate you could easily do only one volume per year and spend three years on those alone.

  • Katie says:

    Hi Pam! I’m sure this is an old post, but I would love to be able to use your planning sheet. When I try to access it, it says I don’t have permission to access the file. If you could email it to me I would be very grateful! Thank you.

  • Tamara says:

    Is there a way to get your planning doc linked above? I can’t get into the drive it’s on.

  • Katrina Kim says:

    Thank you, Pam, for this post about how you plan Five in a Row! I was wondering what grade levels you would suggest using this for? Next year my kids will be ages 3, 5, and 7. Would it be enough for my second grader if I add in extra library books and YouTube videos? Thank you!

  • Kristal says:

    I recently bought an extra science and social studies curriculum because I feel like FIAR takes too long to plan too. But I also, probably, do not have enough time. After reading this, I don’t feel as bad because of my time in planning. There are so many resources out their, activity ideas, and print-outs, that I like to scan my options. However, maybe I need to just be a little more simple when I plan this out. So basically, I feel the same way about the planning time.

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