Five in a row

Books rowed:

Make way for the ducklings
The story of Ferdinand.
Mirette on the high wire
The Owl Moon
The Bee Tree
Mike Mulligan and the steam shovel
Climbing Kansas mountains
Anna's new coat
Amber on the mountain
Cranberry thanksgiving
Stopping by woods on a snowy evening

Five in a Row (FIAR) is a curriculum based around picture books which are read each day for five days. The idea is that each day, after the reading, there is a lesson based on the book. Lessons cover "social studies"-history and geography, language, maths, art and science. The manuals are full of ideas for lessons. There are far, far more ideas than it would be possible to use in a week.

The books used are some of the best picture books I know about; from old favourites like "Peter Rabbit" to "How to make an apple pie". They are often award winning and have proven their value over time.

The manuals state that up to five, FIAR can be used alone but after this can be combined with phonics and maths. It is not a phonics programme.

FIAR is aimed at children aged 4 to 8. My initial thought was that this seemed rather old to be using picture books but having looked at the manuals, there is an impressive content which certainly isn't dumbed down. In addition, the picture books are definitely at the older end of the scale. 

I'm using FIAR for Miss Belle aged 56 months and Mr Exhuberance aged 27 months. I suspect that Miss Belle is just old enough and Mr Exhuberance is a bit young. We are using the younger activities and adding a few of our own. There should be content for a time to come.

In addition to the books, there are ideas on the message board on the FIAR site and links to blogs with some wonderful ideas-here.

The downside
-not all the books are in print. We have made a decision to use the books that we have and that I have just brought and then buy those that are reasonable price. I'm not spending £50 for one book.

-there is so much to do and some of the ideas on blogs are so beautiful that it is a bit overwelming. I always had comments like "Presentation could be better" on my school reports and it has come back to haunt me

his is the Five in a Row book that we enjoyed, last week. I am planning to make a separate FIAR page to post FIAR activities, from now on. Please check this if you are interested in FIAR.

Please note that my children are quite young, 27 months and 54 months so we have used the easier activities suggested and sometimes used easier activities of my own devising.

Make way for the ducklings is a classic by Robert McCloskey describing the search of a pair of ducks for a nesting place and the travel of the mother with her eight ducklings to a more permanent home. It is set in Boston, USA.

We had read this book before so we didn't go back to Google to look at the sights mentioned in Boston as we had done this not so long ago. This is fun to do as the swan boats mentioned in the book really exist and there is a sculpture of Mrs Mallard and her ducklings.

We read some other duck books: Ping and Webster J Duck. A big bird watchers book, with plenty of illustrations, was much enjoyed.

In addition to reading the book, this is what we did:

Monday: This was a public holiday but we went to our local park to look at the ducklings.

Tuesday: We counted the ducklings in the book. Miss Belle wrote numerals to eight on some paper ducks. Mr Exuberance just stuck ducks that I had numbered in his book.

We made ducklings. This is easier art than suggested in the book.

Both children painted an outline duck yellow.

Mr Exuberance stuck yellow objects on his duck.

Miss Belle had clear ideas about her creation which is a Mandarin duck. These are occasional visitors to our  park.

Thursday: We talked about our area and how we go to the park and the local library. We made a map of this. Middle son, aged 10, became very interested in this and helped work on this. In retrospect, if I had realised that he would want to join in, we would have done work on scale and used a compass. As it is, the map is quite symbolic. We did "travel" the way to the library with our fingers.

Friday: we talked about the life cycle of the duck and particularly how the duck sits on the eggs in the nest to incubate them. Miss Belle and Mr Exuberance made eggs with ducklings in them. Mr Exuberance's looks neater as he can't cut out yet and needed a fair amount of help.

Miss Belle did her own cutting out and wanted to use a translucent sheet behind the duck so that it could just be seen. She had three layers: pink shell, white duckling and translucent sheet.

Miss Belle and I talked about rhyme as the ducklings names all rhyme: Jack, Mack Ouack etc. I wrote out a set of simple rhyming words.

At the end of the day, we walked in the park again. We didn't see many ducklings but saw plenty of ducks.

Mr Mallard

Mr and Mrs Mallard

Mrs Mallard

The story of Ferdinand

There seemed to be fewer things to do in this book or maybe it captured our imaginations less. Bulls are a rarer sight than ducks, around here.
We missed Monday as we were on a home education outing to the centre of London where, I hope, there are no bulls.
Acted out Ferdinand sitting on a bee.
Talked about the phrase, "Once upon a time" and fact vs fiction. This didn't seem to go far at the time but since then Miss Belle has talked about whether books are stories or not.
Measured the children and made a growth chart.
Talked about Spain including oranges, climate, dance and national dress. Found Spain on the world map.

Mirette on the high wire

There is plenty to explore in this book which is fiction based on the life of the famous highwire walker, Blondin. 
We have talked about some of Blondin's feats and found photos of the Niagra Crossing as well as Philippe Petit who walked between the Twin Towers in 1974. This lead to a brief discussion about the fate of the Twin Towers.
We had omelette for lunch-Blondin cooked omelette over the Niagra Falls. The solid floor in the kitchen was fine for me.
While I cooked lunch, Miss Belle and Mr Exuberance, walked on a "highwire" or rather a string on the floor and had great fun acting out making omlette on the wire. Funnily, they rapidly decided that it was better to cook in a boat aka as the washing basket.

The children had seen a funfair poster the previous week, and used this, the picture in Mirette and pictures on the internet to make their own funfair posters.
They continued the funfair theme with an ice cream shop using pink play dough ice cream and an old chocolate box wrapper made into cones.
We talked about Mirette being in France and did a French puzzle.
We looked at the pictures of copper saucepans and then I found my old copper kettle which had actually once been used by my Grandmother. This led to a discussion about how water was heated in a kettle without electricity and how the kettle was different from a modern kettle. It was interesting that the children's first  thought was that the kettle was a teapot. We attempted to clean it with salt and vinegar. I need to spend longer cleaning it!
We didn't do FIAR as we were out on a home education group outing.

When I was young in the mountains by Cynthia Rylant
This is the story of a childhood in the Appalachian mountains. This involved a fair amount of discussion although fewer things to see were produced.
We read "A mountain alphabet" by Margriet Ruurs alongside this.
We found the position of the Appalachian mountains on a map and talked about occupations in the book and in "Master Bun the Baker's boy".
Miss Belle had fun finding old-fashioned features in the book and talking about using an old range. Talked about contentment.
We made cornbread.
We talked about phrases which were repeated, "When I was young in the mountains." This also fitted well with "Master Bun the baker's boy" and its phrase, "And that is another story"
We talked about baptism. We had been to a baptism a couple of weeks ago so this was fresh in the children's memories.
This book uses a limited palate and we discussed this although did not attempt a painting with a limited palate as  the children had another art project to do!

The Owl Moon
We were prompted to row this book by seeing owls at a local event.
We looked at detail in the book. The children's Grandmother had recently seen a tawny owl in the garden and showed them pictures of this in a book.
The children made owls and talked about the geometric shapes we used. I had wanted to put these in a book but Miss Belle wanted to display them on the fence.

We listened to the cry of the great horned owl, on the computer and did a virtual owl pellet dissection.
We made baby owl puppets to go with "The Owl babies."
|I posted here about our Owl and the Pussy-cat model.
I had thought about a night walk to look at bats and for owls but it didn't fit with our other plans. In addition, we had the excitement of a swarm of bees landing. Perhaps something for review week?

Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel

This week, our Five in a Row book was Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel by Virginia Lee Burton.

This was a popular book and led to several activities. Many of the activities were suggested by the Five in a Row handbook.

I wanted the children to know what a steam shovel is as I don't think that they, or I, have seen one in real life. This video came to our rescue.

I have already posted about the other books that we read along with Mike Mulligan. These were supplemented by a book full of pictures of steam trains.

Again, the book had some words in US English which we "translated".

  • shovel
  • automobile
  • janitor

The book personifies Mary Anne and the sun. Somewhat, to my surprise, this was a concept that interested the children and which Miss Belle seemed to understand.

We looked at the date of publication, 1939, and the "old fashioned" features in the book. This is something that even Mr Exuberance can manage.

The handbooks suggested making a geoboard to make squares and other shapes. Miss Belle loved this. Hopefully, my tacks and recycled board will continue to be used.

Steam is central to this book. Having talked about how water can change into ice and steam, the children made pinwheels to turn under steam power. I don't think that my automatic kettle gives a particularly strong jet of steam before turning off so this didn't really demonstrate the point.

We made our own Mary Anne.
This almost didn't survive to become Mary Anne as Mr Exuberance was so keen to sit in the box.

Having overcome my fear of sensory tubs, this seemed an idea subject especially with a box of cocoa pops which had been spilt. This was both successful and very messy especially as the most of the contents of the box ended up being poured into a tipper truck.

Finally, a cake to celebrate! There are instructions for a cake to go with the book at Homeschool Share. Miss Belle thought that it would be better to make a cake with an icing Mike Mulligan. The photos didn't do it justice and now it is partially eaten.

This book talks about care for possessions and meanness. Again, useful discussion points.

What we didn't do
Part way through the week, I found that there is a musical adaptation of the book. Something to think about for another time.

This was a busy week. There are so many activities in the handbook and even more on the internet. We didn't attempt anything like all.
My feeling is that we were light on writing based activities. We do some along with phonics but FIAR could be a good way to introduce more.
The  lapbook type printables are mainly too old but writing is something that I need include in future weeks.


This week, the younger two children have been enjoying Lentil. This is another of our Five in a row books and most of the ideas this week come from the Five in a Row manual.

Lentil is set in a fictional town, Alto, Ohio and features a boy who frustrated by his inability to sing or whistle learns to play the harmonica.

So what did we do?
Art: black and white drawings as the pictures in Lentil are in black and white. Miss Belle used charcoal and Mr Exuberance used wax crayon. Both children didn't want to leave their pictures in black and white so painted them.

Geography: we located Ohio on the world map. On another day, we made a quick drying clay model of Alto, Ohio.

Science: we talked about taste buds and made lemonade.

Language: started to talk about the difference between the English spoken on each side of the Atlantic. There are several relevant words in the book: "drug store", "barber shop" and "harmonica." We thought of a few more.
History: it was fun to go through the pictures and find, on most pages, indications that this isn't a modern book.
Music: we listened to the harmonica and sang She will be coming round the mountain.

There is so much more that we could do. We change book after a week although there would be plenty in Lentil to keep going for another week.


We've had a bit of a French theme going in our Five in a Row books-Madeline, The Glorious flight and Mirette on the high wire and last week also in our 5-a-Day books. There was a reason-we had a family day out planned to Paris-a very special treat- and yesterday was the day.

We got up horribly early, soon after 3am-no pictures at that time in the morning! It did mean though that we arrived in Paris not long after 9am, French time.

Paris is so different although, superficially, so the same.

We looked out for "An old house in Paris that was covered in vines" but didn't see it although we saw this

and some old houses.
Of course, we went up the Eiffel Tower.
and saw other "Madeline" sights from there. The Arc de Triomphe is in the middle.
Was this the bridge where Madeline frightened Miss Claval?
Then we left the "Madeline" theme and went to the Pompidou Centre. You either love it or hate it. I find it fascinating. There was a children's exhibition, the Blobterre with plenty to appeal to different senses; all except taste, I think. Miss Belle wasn't so impressed by the rest of the modern art and asked about the location of the Mona Lisa. Maybe we chose the wrong gallery for her.
A fascinating, tiring day. In retrospect, I would have

  • taken the stroller. Mr Exuberance wasn't exuberant by the end and fell asleep on his big brother's shoulders.
  • done more research. We wanted to find food for the way back but couldn't find a boulangerie.
  • perhaps have planned a slightly shorter day.
Overall, though a good day. It is such a privilege to be able to visit so easily.

.Climbing Kansas mountains

Last week we "rowed" Climbing Kansas Mountains by George Shannon.

I was a bit apprehensive about this book as Kansas is a long way from London and Kansas being flat wasn't at all obvious to the children! I did have to go over the flatness of Kansas several times but this proved an interesting week.

Social studies

We located Kansas on our map.

As well as going through the process of wheat growth and flour manufacture, we read a book about the processes involved in sugar production. "Sticky jam: the story of  sugar" by Meredith Hooper, is unusual for non-fiction in that it is written in rhyme.
We talked about how we can tell that the book is set in the US and not in the UK, looking at differences in language, and also in the pictures. Miss Belle was particularly interested in the driver being on the "wrong" side.
The book is full of metaphor both in word and picture. We talked about this a little and a kind friend brought us a piece of corduroy to help the children understand the corduroy of the ploughed fields.

I've already posted about our gingerbread map.

The grain elevator was as high as "Eight houses stacked" so we built stacks of houses from blocks and from paper.

Of course, we had to make bread, spelt rolls rather than conventional wheat.

There is always so much more that could be done but now we are on to something different!

Anna's new coat

This week we "rowed" Anna's new coat.

This is based on a true story in post Second World War Europe. Anna needs a new coat but her mother can't afford to buy one for her. Anna's mother decides to barter some possessions in order to obtain the coat. The book goes through the processes involved: the sheep shearing, the spinning, dyeing, weaving and then the tailoring.

We enjoyed this book although, in some ways, I'm not sure that we did it justice.

Anyway, we investigated the process of carding using brushes and then dyeing. We picked blackberries, heated them with some water in the microwave for one minute and then strained them through a seive. Then followed the dyeing process.
We didn't do any spinning-I saw some models for handmade spindles but chickened out! Miss Belle wasn't unfamiliar with the concept of spinning from her acquaintance with the story of Cinderella!

Weaving proved a bit easier using a piece of card with notches cut in it to hold the thread.
The tailor's shop lead to some measuring and talk about the difference between a tape measure and ruler.

Amber on the mountain
I love Five in a Row. It selects some of the best picure books and then suggests activities in different domains to go with them. These domains include language arts, maths, social studies, science and art. It would be quite possible to make up these activities, and some of those below, I have added or altered quite considerably. However, it is great to have this as a resource to point out the parts of the book that I haven't noticed and to give ideas for those weeks when inspiration lags.

My children are at the lower end of the suggested age range. Indeed, Mr Exuberance is younger than the range suggested so I've tended to use the easier activities and we have done very little writing. Mr Exuberance is two and doesn't write yet and Miss Belle is almost five and beginning to write but most of her writing is done separately from Five in a Row. I know that other mothers have done beautiful lapbooks with their children and it is possible to use the books to work with children who are much further advanced in writing.

There is a separate book called Before Five in a Row which covers books for younger children. Perhaps, in hindsight, this might have been better for us initially. Having said that adapting Five in a Row hasn't been a problem.

Amber on the mountain by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Robert Duncan, was our Five in a Row book, this week.

This is a story of a girl who lives an isolated life on a mountain, apparently, brought up by her grandmother. She befriends a new girl, Anna, who teaches Amber to read. A story of friendship, parting and determination.

So our activities:

Monday: we made our own entertainment. This involved improvised musical instruments and probably wasn't so suitable where there are neighbours as on the mountain.

Tuesday: Amber and Anna help Amber's Granny with her quilting. Miss Belle was keen to try quilting but Mummy chickened out, for now. Instead we used squares of fabric to glue to card. A chance to talk about shape and pattern.

Wednesday: On Monday, we had tried to model a mountain road from playdough which wasn't too successful. Using the compost left from our potatoes was far better! Far easier to see why roads snake up mountains.

Thursday: Amber made Anna a clay mule as a parting gift. We used air-dryingclay to make snail shaped mats which we decorated with glitter and sequins. We plan to paint these once they are properly dry. Pipe cleaners adorn everything, at present.

Friday: The book is full of similes. We talked about the concept of saying that something is "like" something else and practised a making up a few for ourselves.

The book refers to the story of Rumpelstiltskin so we read this a few times.

Cranberry thanksgiving

I am a bit hesitant to write about this book so have the caveat first-I'm English not American. Having said that, I am writing about Cranberry thanksgiving because the children, and I, have all learnt so much from it. I love it when I learn from the children's books and the Five in a Row books often bring up things that I hadn't known before.

Cranberry thanksgiving, by Wende and Harry Devlin, is the story of a girl who lives with her grandmother on a cranberry farm. Each Thanksgiving Day, they each invite a visitor to eat the meal including Grandmother's famous cranberry bread, made from a secret recipe. The guests this year are the smooth Mr Horace and the rougher, old sea captain, Mr Whiskers. An attempt is made to steal the famous recipe and it turns out that things are not as they seem.
Geography: We found New England on the world map. I have been fascinated to learn about cranberry bogs and the harvesting of cranberries-something that I knew nothing about before last week. We watched a video about harvesting and looked at the four air sacs in the cranberries which enable them to float.

Bible: This story has such a strong link to Samuel being sent to anoint David in 1 Samuel chapter 16. We have talked about "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." and read about David's anointing.

History: I was brought up on the old Ladybird history books and we have a little collection. This week was the turn of the Pilgrim Fathers.
The children acted out the story of the Mayflower and the arrival in the New World-they loved this.

Science: I was inspired by Almost Unschoolers to use the anthocyanin iin cranberries as a pH indicator using vinegar and sodium bicarbonate. It worked well although I didn't take photos as we used very small quantities of my rather precious cranberries. The photos on Almost Unschoolers show their results beautifully. Of course, we had to add the vinegar to the sodium bicarbonate and see what happened. 

A first introduction to the concept of acids and alkalis although Miss Belle and Mr Exuberance had seen what happens when they are added together in various volcano experiments before.

Maths: We had to make cranberry bread. This introduced the concept of  recipes which use volume measurements rather than the weight measurements that are more familiar in the UK.

Language: It was appropriate to read books about thankfulness and blessings alongside Cranberry Thanksgiving.
We  read the beautiful illustrated Psalm 103 by Johannah Bluedorn.

and Count your blessings by Jeane Cabral. This is a counting book with magnets to add to each page.

Lastly, we had a turkey Thanksgiving dinner along with our cranberry bread.
 Hopefully, some happy memories and learning for this book.

Stopping by woods on a snowy evening

I've loved the Robert Frost poem Stopping by woods on a snowy evening, for years so was pleased to be able to get the Susan Jeffers' illustrated version for the children.
It is difficult to describe this book as anything else other than beautiful and it would make an excellent present for a poetry loving adult, as well as for children. It is fun to muse on meanings for the poem while reading it to the children.

 After purchasing the book, I discovered that it was a Five in a Row book. It is our "row" for this week.
One of our aims for the week is to learn the poem.
For fun, we turned our box model of Mary Ann from Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel into a sleigh.

 Sleigh pulled by faithful hound. Note the snow made from a blanket.

The children hadn't seen a real sleigh so we found a video of reindeer pullling a sleigh in Finland.
I found this idea for a rhyming tree and had fun doing this with Miss Belle.

We have some other wintery books and poems to read:

Out and about through the year by Shirley Hughes. This is a seasonal collection of poems which we read frequently. The winter poems go well with this week's book.

The Shepherd boy by Kim Lewis

Kiss good night, Sam by Amy Hest
Winter Garden by Ruth Brown


  1. We use FIAR as well! And my children are young too! 2.5 and just 5. I love the simplicity of your activities, sometimes I try to make everything more complicated than it should be. I can't wait to see more of your rows! You can visit me...

    I found you through the linky party Living Life Intentionally and I loved to be a follower on your site!

  2. Thank you. FIAR is great. I enjoy the rows too which always helps.