When we decided to use FIAR, I bought the first 3 volumes. Volumes 1-3 are all aimed at 4-8 year olds, and the units in them are stand-alone, so they can be done in any order. In other words, there's no reason to do volume 1 one year and volume 2 the next, or to do the books in each volume in the order they're listed in the table of contents. I started by checking out every book scheduled in vol. 1-3 that was available in the two library systems I have access to. I holed up in my room and read them all over the course of several weeks. This was a fantastic way to start and I highly recommend it! It gave me an idea of where we were going, and let me get a feel for what books were included. I was really surprised to see how much variety in subject matter the books had. Some were light and fun, very accessible to young 4 and 5 year olds (like my children were at the beginning of this school year) and some were heavy and serious, with themes that I wasn't sure we would be ready for any time soon.
I printed a copy of this wonderful list that another FIAR homeschool blogger put together, and made copious notes in the margins about what books I thought we might want to hit the first year, which might need to be saved for when we're older. I noted which weren't available in my library system, but that I wanted to buy or try to source elsewhere. I made notes about potential field trips that came to mind as I read the books, or holidays or planned travel coming up that I knew could be tied into a unit study. After all of that, I sketched out which books I wanted to cover in our first year, and made a weekly planning sheet.
Several days before we start a new "row", I make sure I have the book (some we own, some we check out of the library). The first thing I do is quickly read through the book, and then I read through the lessons suggested in the manual. We stick to the manual for about 90% of our FIAR activities. I use my planning sheet to jot down the activities that stand out for each subject from the manual. If I had an idea for a field trip or something else I already knew I wanted to add, I jot that down, too. Sometimes, at that point, my planning sheet looks full, fleshed out, and ready to go. Sometimes I decide to browse a couple of blogs to see what other mamas have included in their study of a particular book. I usually browse the archives of the FIAR forum, which is especially useful for go-along book suggestions. Last, I hit the library.
I head to the library on my own and grab some books to read that are related to our FIAR title. For example, this morning when I went for go-along books for Another Celebrated Dancing Bear, I pulled books from the children's nonfiction section on bears and Russia. From the story books, I got a couple of titles suggested on the FIAR forum archives that were also set in Russia. I'm excited about one of those, in particular, because it's by an author whose other books we love, and this is a new title for us! We discover so many wonderful books besides the specific FIAR titles this way.
When it comes down to day-to-day planning, I plug in our FIAR subjects in to my weekly planner. We generally spend a little longer than 5 days on a row. Usually we spend 6-7 school days on a unit. Every day, we read the book, often over breakfast while I have a captive audience. Then our subjects go something like this:
Day 1: Social Studies/Geography--We identify the settling of the story and place the story disk* on the map. Sometimes we color the flag of the country the book is set in (crayola.com has great free printables for this). If the book is set in a non-English speaking country, sometimes we learn a few words of their language. In our read-aloud time slot before rest time in the afternoon on social studies days, we will often look at some of the library books about the country the book is set in.
Day 2: Language Arts--This is a day that often gets punted for us, honestly. The LA options in the manual are often vocabulary, which we cover organically as we read the book, "What does that mean, Mama?" If there's not much else I want to do in Language Arts, I'll take this day as a field trip or combine and do language arts + something else.
Day 3: Art--This is one of my favorite parts of FIAR. We love so many of the things we've done in art. Architecture, drawing, drama, dance, you name it. All good stuff for the middle of the week.
Day 4: Math--Five in a Row includes applied math activities. They often include counting, measuring, telling time, etc.
Day 5: Science--We often spend two days on science. This is where our rows end up stretching to 6-7 days! Many of the books have too many wonderful science activities listed in the manual to choose just one! So we don't! Also, when a book is about an animal, I always want to spend a day learning about that animal (habitat, life cycle, etc) and animal study is not always listed as a science choice in the manual. So I make it one. We have this situation this week with Another Celebrated Dancing Bear. It's an animal fantasy story, not about real bears in the wild, but where the characters just happen to be bears. The suggested science topic in the manual is on the boiling and freezing points of water, which is relevant to the story, but I also wanted to read through a few library books on bears. We'll do both. No reason not to.
The go-along books that I check out of the library are read before rest time in the afternoon, not during "school time". They're not mandatory, and some weeks they get ignored. Many times, though, we find some real jewels among them, and we sometimes find a story we love as much or more than the actual FIAR book.
I thought I'd also take a minute to point out what we don't do. Many times when you read about families using FIAR, they are doing lots of lapbooking or notebooking. Most of the FIAR blogs out there are using a variety of free resources to make elaborate lapbooks to document their rows. We do not do this. My boys are almost 5 and almost 6. They think coloring, cutting, pasting, and writing are things to be avoided at all costs. They would run screaming if I suggested making a lapbook for our FIAR studies. It would completely ruin the experience for us. (Maybe not for my daughter--she might like it!) I don't think that the authors of the FIAR envisioned the lapbooking that now seems to be so central to many families' application of FIAR. I think they intended the rows to be done "conversationally", mostly from the manual, simply, without a lot of planning or a big paper trail. I don't think there's anything wrong with lapbooking your way through FIAR, if that appeals to you and your children, but I did want to point out that Five in a Row is wonderfully rich and rewarding for us, without it.
The only things we add to Five in a Row to make a complete curriculum for PK and K are the 3Rs. We use separate curricula to teach phonics (reading), handwriting, and math. It's easy to think of the 3Rs as the main part of school and FIAR as "everything else" but really, FIAR is the meat of our curriculum. We learn so much with it and we love it so much!! We've had a wonderful first year with it, and we look forward to year two!
*story disks are illustrated circles about the size of a quarter that are made to be placed on a map. They are found in the back of each volume of FIAR, to be colored, cut out, and (if you're like me) laminated. Our map is covered in little story disks.