Before Five in a Row

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Last year, my son turned five and my daughter turned three. I did not buy a preschool curriculum-in-a-box. We read a lot of books instead and did living math. Homeschooling gives me that flexibility. Besides, I really like the Charlotte Mason approach which replaces textbooks with living books.

I did not know how to come up with different activities based on what we were reading, so I bought Before Five in a Row (BFIAR) – the Five in a Row (FIAR) volume designed for children ages 2-4. In a different format than the regular FIAR volumes (which are meant for ages 4-8), BFIAR introduced us to a fascinating list of children’s classics and provided suggestions for activities based on the stories and concepts in the books.

This taught me how to put together a unit study – an approach which I could then take to other books we read, not included in BFIAR. That skill right there is worth the money for a new copy. Check out the amazon price below – better than on the FIAR website.

We read most of the BFIAR books from the library. We owned two titles and eventually found a third one at a homeschooling curriculum fair. Honestly, I did not feel the need to own them all. We already have many, many books.

My children loved all the titles and kept asking me to read them again and again and again. I think I read Blueberries for Sal a hundred times. OK, so maybe I read it only 14 times and it felt like a hundred times. When I got really bored, I focused on their enjoyment of the book. It helped.

After reading Blueberries for Sal, my children wanted to drop five frozen blueberries in a metal bowl every day just so they could go, “Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk.” It’s the kind of memory that will stay with a mom (and her children) forever.

Before Five in a Row will always be the first curriculum (although the FIAR publishers tell you FIAR is not a curriculum) we ever tried and loved. If you love reading to your children and don’t know how to create a unit study based on what you are reading, I suggest you learn from BFIAR.

Some of the activities will go over the head of a two-year-old, so you can either work them with your older preschoolers or skip them altogether. Homeschooling allows for a tailored approach. Every time.

How to Homeschool

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Homeschooling is different for every family, but there are six basic approaches or methods:

1. Classical – A child’s brain development naturally sets the stage for the trivium: primary school, or the grammar stage, during which learning is based on concrete tasks and memorizing facts; middle school or the logic stage, during which learning tackles abstract concepts and reasoning from cause to effect; and high school or the rhetoric stage, when learning focuses more on expressing what has already been acquired. This is the method I lean toward heavily.

2. Charlotte Mason – A British educator of the nineteenth century, Ms. Mason is more relevant today than ever, in my opinion. Her emphasis on living books, i.e. regular books (as opposed to textbooks/workbooks), narration, and nature study would bring life into any educational pursuit. I like this approach very much and use it to balance my natural propensity toward rote memorization. Get more information about Charlotte here. Want a free curriculum with a Charlotte Mason approach? Get it here.

3. Unit Studies – The method which took me the most to understand and appreciate, even though I studied under one of its biggest proponents. The Prussian educational method of separating knowledge into subjects, which was used in my public school, had indoctrinated, errr…. trained me well. Once I got unit studies though, I used Before Five in a Row and came to a new level of freedom in my mind about home education. The mother of all unit study curricula is Konos. I find I am not brave enough for it, but it obviously works for a great number of homeschoolers. In conclusion, I use this method sparingly.

4. Traditional – Most of us learned like this in a public school somewhere around the world. Textbooks provide the theory, which you apply while filling out workbooks. Homeschoolers tend to call this method dry and boring, but some children thrive on this. I have a three-year old who asks for worksheets almost every day. Rod and Staff, Abeka and Bob Jones are examples of traditional curricula. Personally, I use Rod and Staff and anything I can find online. There is a vast array of worksheets online. Don’t get overwhelmed.

5. Unschooling – Also known as relaxed homeschooling or delight-based or child-led. I could not be an unschooler, but I like the emphasis on the child’s desire to look into a certain topic. I recognize that the highest point of learning is when a child asks a question. I capitalize on those teaching moments throughout the day. However, I need the structure of a schedule and a carefully laid out curriculum to feel sane.

6. Eclectic – People like me, who pick and choose at least two different methods, curricula and approaches to tailor the education of their children, are called eclectic homeschoolers.

I am leaving out Montessori, Waldorf, independent study, umbrella/charter/online schools and other methods. The best book I have found, which I think any homeschooler should have on their reference shelf, is Cathy Duffy’s “101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum“. The first few chapters explain methods and learning styles. You will walk away with a clearer picture of what your homeschool should be like.

Special note on The Moore Formula

For a balanced education, i.e. one which trains the hand, the heart and the head, taking into consideration a child’s readiness level for formal education, I always keep in mind The Moore Foundation’s philosophy. In fact, it is the overarching method I keep in mind before making any decision in my homeschool.