Before Five in a Row by Jane Claire Lambert is a "treasury of creative learning ideas" based upon outstanding classic picture books geared towards ages 2-4. It contains 23 mini-book units, as well as a forty page section entitled "Parent's Treasury of Creative Ideas for Learning Readiness." This section is filled with suggestions to inspire you to fill your preschooler's days with gently challenging activities to inspire his curiosity and imagination. Some of the suggestions include: developing a dress up box (check!), collecting puppets and putting on puppet shows (check!), making sorting games and threading and lacing activities (check!), using blocks to jump start creative building processes (check!), giving your child a large box to play in and see what they do with it (check!...and they even mentioned my ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOK Christina Katerina and the Big Box. If you haven't read it yet, find it. You will love it, too. I promise.), making homemade instruments (check!), and having a grocery store scavenger hunt (we did not get to that one...more fun ahead!).
Before Five in a Row is an excellent resource for:
- parents of preschool-aged children who need a little inspiration
- new homeschoolers with younger mixed-aged children who need a starting point and a bit of encouragement
- teachers of preschool students
- Grandparents who want to spend quality time with their grandkids, but need ideas
- after-school caregivers who want to do more than plunk their charges down in front of the television
- anyone with a child ages 2-4 (there is a bit of leeway here if you adjust the simplicity or complexity of the activities) who wants guidance and suggestions towards quality literature and enrichment activities
What I liked about the book:
- I especially liked that every book was accompanied by a Bible verse which fit the theme of the book. For example, the Bible verse for Blueberries for Sal, the book we used, was Ruth 1:16: "But Ruth answered, "Don't force me to leave you. Don't make me turn back from following you. Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God." If you know the story, you will understand how well this fits. Sal and her mother are picking blueberries, but Sal becomes distracted and winds up getting lost, as does a baby bear, who is also distracted by the berry picking he is doing with his mother. It's a great chance to talk about the importance of staying together, paying attention, and following mommy (or daddy) carefully.
- Which brings me to the next thing I really liked, the emphasis on strong values, character, manners, hospitality, health, and safety that is evident throughout the book. Not only are the chosen books ones that I consider to be excellent in literary quality, but Jane Claire Lambert uses these classics to spotlight lessons that will develop a child's character...where the books' subjects lack character, she sparks a discussion on why this is bad, where they evidence a high standard, she focuses on why it is good.
- Other topics addressed in the suggested activities mainly revolve around the subjects of art, nature, science, math, language and vocabulary, geography, culture, music, relationships, social studies, and community.
- Each lesson gives a brief summary of the book, lists the book's author, illustrator, & publisher, and suggests activities in multiple disciplines. Some stories give more detailed background information than others.
- The book is encouraging and is very easy to use.
- The company has extensive supplemental resources, such as Fold and Learn books, specialized planners, discussion boards, and nature studies. If you find you really enjoy the BFIAR or FIAR books, you can add to them to make them as complex and detailed of a study as you like...or you can leave them simple.
What I did not like:
- The background information and enrichment ideas were not as extensive as I'd have liked. Since I have multiple ages (my younger set ranges from 2-8 years), the extra information and suggestions would have helped me utilize the book without further research better. However, since this set is specifically targeted towards ages 2-4, the lack of more highly developed ideas is understandable. For us, it was a drawback. I found myself listing more things I could do with each book in the blank space after each chapter (especially things geared toward the older kids). For someone else (especially someone new to homeschooling, or with very young kids only), the simplicity and gentle attitude might be just what they are looking for.
- Since the books are older classics, some of them were harder to find. Out of the 23 titles, my library only had about five of them...only three of which were available for checkout when I was looking. I had eight more of them at home, which got me up to eleven books. I would have to actively search Amazon or used book sales if I wanted to do all the titles in the book.
- This is a book of simple ideas, not activities. Yes, some ideas for activities are given, such as planting a carrot top and watching for it to "green up" or making a cave out of boxes, but most of the ideas revolve around gentle discussions and observations of the text and illustrations in the books you read. If you are looking for creative and active things that someone else tells you to DO with your child, or a collection of printable activities to go with each book, that is NOT what Before Five in a Row is all about. This book emphasizes the process of sitting together with your child, reading a book actively, observing it, pondering it, processing it, and learning from it. This is a good thing, but only if it is what you are looking for.
Before Five in a Row costs $35 and can be purchased from Rainbow Resource. You can read more about the book on the Before Five in a Row website.
a blueberry bush
Here's what we studied using
Before Five in a Row (BFIAR):
by Robert McClosky
(think Make Way for Ducklings)
We started the day with bowls of Blueberry Morning cereal, to get the ball rolling.
Then, we sat together and reminisced about past trips to pick blueberries (and strawberries).
We relaxed on the couch and read the book, looking at the charming illustrations carefully, then we talked about how Sal does not pay attention and winds up getting separated from her mother. We discussed the importance of listening to parents, and of staying together, and looking out for one another, using the story of Ruth from the Bible, as suggested in BFIAR. Cowboy has been working on learning "boys take care of girls" (he was being a bit rough last week), and this fit in nicely with that lesson.
Cowboy helped Mommy pick blueberries,
while the ladies rested after strawberry picking.
Firefly is three, almost four, and she enjoyed talking about her memories of helping mommy pick a huge basket full of strawberries last spring. We discussed helping and working as a team (another topic we have been working on...in the book Sal's mom tells Sal that she can't eat them all because she needs to use them to make jam...). We laughed and remembered how they ate so many strawberries,they were almost too full for freshly made strawberry ice cream at the end of the day!! (They were allowed to eat any that were too mushy to collect in the basket and would go to waste if left).
Using a bag of frozen blueberries from our trip, I had Firefly practice counting them into a glass jar so she could experience a "Kerplunk!" sound like the one mentioned in the book. The older ones (Cowboy and Ladybug) used some of them to do their math (using the berries as counting manipulatives).
I also printed some of the activities I found on Homeschool Creations and let Firefly and the older ones work on them (we printed up copies of the cards to play memory, the printing exercise for Firefly, the summary page for the older ones, and the directional words exercise for Firefly), while I got things out to make jam.
By lunchtime, the berries had thawed enough to make a fruit salad and to put up three jars of freezer jam. We saved enough berries to make blueberry pancakes one last time, and a batch of blueberry muffins.
The next day, we colored pictures with blue crayons, like the ones in the book. The kids thought this was fun, and went on to make other pictures using just one color palette or another.
By the third time we read the book, Boo and Firefly were very familiar with it, and pointed out their favorite parts excitedly. It was cute and rewarding to see.
The older two were particularly interested in the historical differences in the pictures (we'd talked about things like there not being milkmen anymore and what old cars looked like just the other day when we were reading some Eloise Wilkin books), so we read from a series of books I picked up at a book sale a while back, called, "In Grandmother's Day..." I think I will have them write their grandmother tomorrow and have each one ask her a question about her life...like what did you cook, what was your first car, etc. We might print and make these nifty books on grandmothers and grandfathers from Enchanted Learning.
For fun, I found the book read aloud on You Tube, and let them watch it. Ladybug practiced reading it to the others while I made dinner.
Overall, the kids had a very nice time. This is one of the books I remember fondly from my childhood. They loved it, too, and now it will be one of their favorites.
What I thought about using BFIAR:
Would I have read this book to my kids anyway? Yes, I did last spring. Would I have done a unit using the book without BFIAR? No. Probably not. Could I have come up with the ideas, or ones like them without the book. Probably. I came up with more, actually, though I didn't do them all. But would I have done so? No, probably not. I also would not have connected the excellent Bible story to the book, or the study of the differences between the book's time period and now. I did wind up looking up and finding other resources on my own for the older kids, but had it just been Boo and/or Firefly I was using BFIAR with (they are ages 2 and almost 4), I could have done without the extras. Was this book a worthwhile resource? Yes, I think so. Especially for someone with very young children who is new to homeschooling.
- Learn more about BFIAR and FIAR on their website.
- See what other members of the TOS Review Crew thought about BFIAR
- Blueberries for Sal read-aloud on YouTube
- Blueberries for Sal printables from Homeschool Creations
- Grandparents printables from Enchanted Learning
Disclosure: I am a member of the TOS Review Crew and I was given this product free for review purposes. The opinions I have expressed about this product are my own. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me.