TOS Crew: Beyond Five in a Row (Ages 8-12)


Five in a Row is a familiar name among homeschoolers. Whenever we have new moms at our homeschool group meetings, moms of three or four year olds who itchy to tackle academics, sure that they’re falling behind, the veteran moms exchange glances and someone’s sure to come out with the words “Five in a Row.”

And then the words tumble over themselves as one after another tells about how the Five in a Row books kindled a love of reading and learning in their children, how the curriculum takes a child’s natural curiosity and thirst for repetition and channels it into learning, simply and seemingly by accident-on-purpose.

Good reading bears repetition

The original Five in a Row books were for use with children four to eight years old. I’m sure you’ve noticed that small children love to hear the same story over and over, until the parent-reader and child-listener have the words memorized! We can still quote from memory some of our favorite books from when the girls were little. “Uff-da!” said Grampa Gussie. “Timmer, bring to me the phone!” or The doorbell rang… or Christopher Robin had wheezles and sneezles, they bundled him into his bed…

With Five in a Row, you read a picture book together five days in a row, and each day you do something related to the book, like locating the setting on a map (geography), cooking a recipe related to the story (reading about a little Chinese duck named “Ping”? How about Chinese food!), exploring language, doing crafts, science projects, math activities, that sort of thing, something different every day. Gentle learning.

I was sad when our girls outgrew Five in a Row. We turned to other resources for our academics.

But when they outgrow Five in a Row?

I don’t know how I missed it, but the good people at Five in a Row then came out with Beyond Five in a Row, a similar idea but for older children, ages 8 – 12. This, like the earlier curriculum, is a literature-based unit study, only instead of picture books now you’re reading chapter books. (Or your student is. Or, as we’ve chosen to do, you’re reading them together. We take turns in the reading.) Each volume in Beyond Five and a Row covers four books, two fiction and two non-fiction.

As part of the TOS Crew, our family received Beyond Five in a Row, Volume 2. It took a bit of switching gears to start using this curriculum, but it came at a good time for our family. We joined a high school history-literature-worldview co-op this year, for our middle daughter needed more of a challenge, but the co-op has been so consuming that our youngest has been a little at a loss. She’s too young for the co-op, and not much of a reader. She did better in the “old days” when we all gathered together to read aloud and narrate (tell back) the stories from history and literature that were the backbone of our studies.

At first she insisted on reading on her own, just as her older sisters were doing, but the enthusiasm waned pretty quickly and she’s been trudging through schoolwork, more or less, this year, with an occasional bright spot. Beyond Five in a Row promised change, at least, and being from the publisher of Five in a Row it promised to be educational as well as fun.

(I knew she’d like Sarah, Plain and Tall, the first book used in Volume 2. It would be a treat to read. And it was!)

Literature-based study

A literature-based unit study means you start with a book, a piece of literature, and as you read through the chapters you branch off to study related themes. geographyFor geography, you study the setting of the book or places mentioned in the story, even if the characters never got there. For historyhistory, you study the time the book is set in, or the settings of stories told by the characters within the greater context of the main story. bibleFor Bible you might talk about character traits displayed by the characters, or lessons learned, and memorize related scriptures. scienceFor science you study whatever might be mentioned in the story: weather, rocks, bears (I’m remembering the Prairie Primer at the moment), stars, the ocean, how a plant grows, etc. fine-artsFor Fine Arts you might write a poem, or draw a picture; you might make up a dance to illustrate a happening in the story, or learn a folk dance from the story. For language-artslanguage arts, you might explore the literary allusions in the book, reading the full text of a poem, for example, that a character mentions or quotes in part. You might also examine the construction of the book you’re reading, itself, the literary devices employed by the author, the use of language, and more. (And let’s not forget writing!)

A semester of learning

A volume of Beyond Five in a Row is designed to take 90-100 days to work through, or about half of an academic year. Reading a chapter from the “spine” book that holds the study together and doing the associated activities might take a day, or a week, or somewhere in between. What you’re doing is not just skimming through a book, but mining for treasure.


Before Five in a Row, Volume 2, uses Sarah, Plain and Tall and Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan for its fiction selections, and The Story of George Washington Carver by Eva Moore and Helen Keller by Margaret Davidson for nonfiction.

Each chapter’s study begins with a Parent Summary, telling what happens in the chapter and giving a breakdown of academic subjects covered in the activities.

Then there are the activities themselves, in the form of teaching notes. These might include background information, maps and illustrations, analysis, andinstructions for teaching the material presented in the study guide: things to do, to ask, to discuss, in other words.

Planning lessons

I found, in my planning, that color-coding was a definite help. I got out my highlighters, using one color for field trip ideas, another color for teaching and demonstrations (“Share with your student…” or “Show your student…”) and another for discussion (“Ask your student…”). The wide margins invited quick notes to myself (“Writing assignment” for example, or “Ongoing theme to watch for”) and assignments for independent work.

Haphazard? Not this time.

I’ve mentioned in another review how literature-based studies seem a little haphazard to me, held hostage as they are by the book that undergirds the study.  I think that I have to revise that statement. I didn’t have that missing-something feeling as we’ve been going through Beyond Five in a Row. I don’t know whether it’s the choice of books (the other study was based in Narnia, a fantasy series, and the history studies jumped around between World War II and medieval times), or the solid, methodical layout of Beyond Five in a Row. The Narnia-based study was more for middle school ages and encouraged independent work, and Beyond Five in a Row is for upper elementary and involves the parent teaching the child, thus contains extensive teaching notes and background information.

In other words, almost all the work was done for me, and all I had to do was present the lessons!

Absorbing lessons

The teaching material in Beyond Five in a Row is interesting, informative, and thoughtfully presented. Even when we covered material that we’d already learned elsewhere, it was a good review. We found that new material was presented in a clear and straightforward manner, together with practical exercises to help grasp and retain the information.

Add math and grammar/spelling/penmanship and you have a complete program.

I guess the best endorsement for Beyond Five in a Row is to tell you that we’re continuing with the book, even though we could set it aside for something else now that the review period is over.

Beyond Five in a Row is available in three volumes for $24.95 each, and I’d call that a bargain price. Click here to order from Five in a Row, or here to go to the main page of the company’s website to read more about their products. (And tell them I said “Hi!”)

To read more TOS Crew reviews of Five in a Row products, click here.


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