Written by Debi Polen
When We Got Started Homeschooling in Kindergarten
When we got started homeschooling, we decided that we wanted to build upon our son’s love of picture storybooks. We had read to him since he was a wee one, and he began reading on his own at a very young age, so we thought that using a literature-based unit study curriculum was the best option.
We learned about Five in a Row by Jane Claire Lambert when we attended a curriculum fair in Harrisburg prior to beginning our homeschooling journey. It sounded like a newcomer’s dream come true because it had all of the lesson ideas presented so that you could pick and choose. I wanted my son’s homeschool experience to be as natural as possible, and Lambert’s approach made perfect sense to me.
Overview of How Literature-Based Unit Studies Are Created
This overview is meant to give you an idea of what steps are taken when using an illustrated children’s storybook as the foundation of a unit study.
1. Pick the Literature
First, to have a literature-based unit study, you obviously need a piece of literature. In this case, illustrated children’s books are used, many of which are classics or award-winning.
2. Examine the Book for Lessons in Other Subjects
Once you’ve chosen your book, examine it and its illustrations for lessons in other subjects. For instance, if the illustrator used watercolors, you and your child could use watercolors to integrate art into your lessons. You’d have plenty of examples of the artistic techniques in the book to use as guides. Continue with this form of analysis until you have lesson ideas for each major subject area (math, science, history, etc.).
3. Use the World as Your Schoolroom
You can supplement unit studies with field trips, music, videos, and the like. One day, my son and I got lost on the Internet, investigating one link after another. I loved seeing his eyes light up with the discoveries we made when we used the world as our schoolroom. This exploration may even give you ideas for your next unit study.
4. Gather Your Ideas into a Plan
After you’ve gathered all of your research, plan out the lessons across the time period you’ve selected. The amount of time each day you take depends on how much you want to cover. Allow enough time for your child to lead in the exploration of the subject. I was always thrilled when Stephen defined what he wanted to research or experience further in conjunction with a new study. This child-led time helps foster an independent and confident learner.
5. Integrate All of Your Children’s Lessons into One Unit Study
Unit studies are ideal if you’ve got multiple ages. You can gear the sophistication of the lessons based on your children’s ages. Even if one of your children is over eight years old, it’s quite possible he or she will still appreciate the warmth and intimacy of sitting with siblings while you read the story aloud.
6. If Needed, Use a Published Curriculum to Get You Started
This process may sound a bit challenging for newcomers, so having a curriculum like Five in a Row will really help to train you in creating your own. That’s what I did and I can attest that Lambert’s style was inspirational and freeing for me as someone who had never before taught young children.
I was able to combine my love of research, my desire to enjoy every possible moment I had with my only child, and my son’s unique interests into literature-based unit studies that we used throughout our elementary and junior high (middle school) years.
More About Five in a Row
“Five in a row” means that you read a story each day for five days, a method that produced excellent results in Lambert’s own homeschooling experience. Then, you select from a list of ideas on what else to teach in conjunction with the story. When we started in kindergarten, it wasn’t necessary that every subject be taught every day, so you can emphasize one discipline one day and another the next. For instance, on Monday, you may be studying history; Tuesday, language arts; Wednesday, art; Thursday, applied math; and Friday, science.
The Five in a Row series has expanded beyond the three volumes that I used in my son’s early years. Some of these items weren’t available for us to use in the late 1990s, so I can’t give you a personal testimony about them; however, you can read more about the series if you visit Five in a Row’s website. The website also includes profiles on those who’ve written for the series and a discussion forum.
Our Current Five in a Row Catalog Items
UPDATE: All of our copies have been sold. If you have copies of any of the Five in a Row series that you want to sell, please consider consigning with us.