Five In A Row Review

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With its easy to use manual, rich selection of classic literature, diverse selection of experiential activities and built-in teaching flexibility, Five In A Row can be an excellent option for parents and students looking for an interactive and fun way to learn their core subjects. 

What We Like

Affordable multi-subject curriculum
Relatively compact
High quality, award winning books
Can generate interesting and insightful
parent-student discussions
Lots of multisensory, hands-on activities
Very flexible and adaptable to student needs

But watch out for

Can require a bit of prep before lessons
Parents will need to source books and
lesson materials

What Is Five In A Row

Five In A Row is a series of curriculum guides aimed at homeschooling families that teach social studies, science, language arts, math, art and more. 

Best known for its accessible and literature-based unit-study approach, the series teaches using a curated selection of children’s books and manuals that provide ample teaching tips, discussion prompts and a variety of hands-on, creative and experiential activity ideas for parents and students to try.

What Ages Or Grades Is Five In A Row Intended For?

Broadly speaking, Five In A Row is recommended for homeschooling students between the ages of 2 and 12, or about Pre-K to Grade 6. 

To teach to this broad range of ages, the series is divided into several volumes.

The levels Before Five In A Row and More Before Five In A Row are intended for children around 2 to 5 years of age (Pre-K to K), and together make up around 38 lessons covering topics like bible studies, letter recognition, art, music and essential science and math facts. 

Five In A Row Volumes 1-8 then make up the core of the program, being aimed at students from about 6-12 or so (Grades 1-6 approximately) and, through their units, teach core topics in Language Arts, Math Science, Art and Social Studies. 

These volumes can further be split, with volumes 1-3 being aimed at children ages 5-9, having no specific grade correlation and being independent of one another, meaning they can be done in pretty much any order. 

Volume 4 can be thought to be aimed at children ages 9-10, while volumes 5-8 are aimed at students ages 10-12+ and include life skills, more topic complexity, a deeper examination of fine arts and a stronger emphasis on writing. 

With that said, the series’ volumes aren’t really designed around exact ages and grades, which means that homeschooling parents can more or less freely use its resources and levels to accommodate a child’s needs and individual progression, whether that is ahead or behind traditional grade expectations. 

This is helped along by the fact that the series is designed around a “low floor, high ceiling” teaching philosophy. 

Its stories and books are easy to read and should be approachable for most children, while the lesson guides and most assignments are about grade level. 

As a result of this, Five In A Row is easy to get started with and shouldn’t be that intimidating for most students or parents. 

At the same time, however, there is the potential to take things deeper. as the manuals include various ideas and resources for more advanced examinations of concepts. 

This built-in scalability is not only pretty cool and lets parents tailor learning around their child’s specific needs, but also can make things a little easier for homeschools who want to use the program to teach students of different ages.  

One thing to consider, however, is that although there can be a good deal of information on the company website, Five In A Row does not really offer in-depth placement testing, so parents will have to judge where to start based on their understanding of their child’s relative ability and knowledge. 

While this should be fine for most homeschooling families, in our opinion it can require a bit more thought for new homeschooling parents and those shifting in from another curriculum or from traditional schooling. 

What’s Included In Five In A Row

Five In A Row is, all things considered, a relatively simple and compact curriculum option. 

Each volume in the series is essentially made up of a manual and a booklist for that grade, which can make it a good deal simpler than other literature-based options, as it doesn’t require parents to buy and make use of student editions, workbooks, dedicated manipulatives and so on. 

Five In A Row Manual

The core of Five In A Row, the manuals work to tie the program’s literature to its various subjects and topics, providing the program’s unit structure, teaching tips, guidance, and discussion ideas, as well as their assorted activities and exercises. 

In general, the manuals have a unit style structure, with sections centered around a particular book and using examples and concepts drawn from that to teach several different core subjects, such as science, language arts, math and social studies, through different focused discussions, exercises and activities.

sample picture of five in a row teaching manual showing literature connection and unit study structure

Designed for use by parents, the manuals are black and white and mostly text, containing relatively few illustrations and pictures beyond essential diagrams, drawings, charts, maps and graphs where necessary. 

They also contain various resources for lessons, as well as various organizational tools, such as:

  • Lesson outlines
  • Experiment write ups
  • Lined space for writing and composition exercises
  • Checklists 
  • And more
screenshot example of lesson outline provided by five in a row manual

While perhaps not the most fascinating to look at, particularly when compared to more colorful programs such as the Good and the Beautiful, they are pretty packed with useful guidance and teaching tips, and do make teaching their subjects fairly easy, even for those brand new to homeschooling.

screenshot example of teaching notes included in five in a row

It should be noted, however, that the books aren’t all that extensively scripted and don’t necessarily provide parents with a word-for-word dialogue or down-to-the-letter lesson instructions to follow. 

While this does make the program highly flexible and makes it very easy for parents to customize and tailor discussions and activities to their students, it can require a bit of pre-lesson reading and thought, particularly for those new to homeschooling. 

Literature Selection

Each volume of Five In A Row is based around a fairly diverse book list from which its lessons are derived, and typically need to be purchased or otherwise sourced separately from the program manual. 

In general, the books included in the program are quite interesting, often drawing on broad selection of traditional and modern classics of children’s literature (such as The Boxcar Children, Sarah Plain and Tall, Paper Lanterns and Little Nino’s Pizzeria). 

As a result, we feel that Five In A Row is an excellent example of a broadly appealing literature-based curriculum – there are books to interest everyone with this curriculum and it should suit homeschools of all kinds, such as those that favor more traditional literature and those that favor slightly more modern titles. 

That said, although it really depends on the volume in question, the book lists in Five In A Row tend to be pretty extensive, particularly up to volume 4 where there can be more than 20 covered in an academic year (although the lists tend to become shorter as longer, more complex chapter books are introduced).

As with other literature-based programs, this means that there can be quite a few titles for families to buy/acquire, store and keep track of over the year, which can take some time to do, particularly as some older titles can be hard to source. 

This is in addition to the materials that parents will need to source for any hands-on activities and the planning that can go into the programs’ many interesting and, frankly, fun field trip ideas. 

Approach To Teaching

Unit Study

Five In A Row takes a unit study approach to learning, which means that its lessons are essentially groups of discussions and activities in different subjects centered around a common theme, in this case topics introduced through the program’s literature, and studied for a period of time (a few weeks or so). 

In fact, Five In A Row draws fairly deeply from its extensive list of children’s literature in our opinion, using seemingly simple, high interest and child-friendly works to examine a surprising array of topics across language, social studies, life skills, science, art and math. 

Through various discussions and activities, for example, the classic book “The Story About Ping” is used to as the basis for a geographic study of China, an examination of some of its culture, as an exploration of the concept of what classic literature means, to examine the use of repetition as a literary device, to practice counting skills, to examine the scientific principles of buoyancy and reflection and much much more. 

screenshot example of teaching science using literary approach in five in a row

Through this unit study structure, Five In A Row can offer a number of advantages to homeschooling families. 

It can, for example, allow homeschooling families to cover multiple subjects in a short period of time and, as each unit has material for different subjects, it can make it easier to teach multiple children at once, particularly if they are on different schedules. 

By using topics and examples drawn from high interest sources (in this case literature), Five in a Row can also help make sure that subjects are a bit more relevant and engaging for students, which can lead to better outcomes in the long run. 

Finally, by linking a number of different topics and subjects to a broad concept or topic, Five In a Row can make learning and education seem more holistic, interconnected and natural compared to using separate curricula. 

On the downside, of course, covering multiple subjects and topics in a short period of time can require a bit more preparation on the part of parents, especially when the program isn’t fully scripted, meaning that Five In A Row isn’t necessarily quite as open and go as some alternatives.

Further, although Five In A Row does cover many areas of elementary education through its unit study, and does so well, most parents will probably need to supplement it with a more complete and in-depth math program, as well as phonics, grammar and handwriting materials where necessary. 


As we’ve mentioned, Five In a Row makes use of a numerous picture books and chapter books to introduce a diversity of topics across the K-6 subject range.

The series begins with easy to read picture books (up to about volume 4) and then shifts into high interest chapter books as students mature and are able to grapple with more complex reads. 

The titles used by Five In A Row tend to be high quality pieces of children’s literature and the majority are award-winning classics.

Examples of books included in the curriculum include such modern and traditional titles such as:

Pre K and KJesse Bear What Will You Wear
Goodnight Moon
The Quiet Way Home
Waiting Is Not Easy
Owl Babies
Volumes 1-4The Story About Ping
The CLown of God
A New Coat For Anna
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Henry the Castaway
Amber on the Mountain
The Pumpkin Runner
Volumes 5-8 The Boxcar Children
The Gullywasher
Sarah Plain and Tall
Home Price
Hellen Keller
Marie Curie and the Discovery of Radium

In general, the use of literature to introduce and explore core subjects can be a great way to combine broad curricular studies with reading and literature, strengthening a child’s general knowledge while strengthening their literacy skills. 

Further, by using engaging, high interest classic titles (rather than, say, thinly veiled subject-specific readers), Five In A Row can stoke a child’s love of reading and learning and, as a bonus of sorts, expose them to a curated selection of fine literature. 

As we’ve discussed, however, it does mean that parents will have to purchase or otherwise find quite a few books over the course of a year, some of which may be out of print or hard to find. 

This is particularly true towards the beginning of the series, where the yearly book list can be quite extensive due to the rather short nature of its titles.


 Five In A Row is also largely a parent-led program, with parents teaching with the help of the program’s guide, which is written to them, leading students through different topics and concepts through discussions, exercises, demonstrations and activities of different sorts. 

In general, the series’ manuals make it relatively easy to do so, providing a clear and easy to follow framework for subject and topic introduction, as well as ample tips and guidance throughout each lesson.

Being parent-led, it can be much easier to keep learning organized and on track, which can make daily lessons more efficient.

At the same time, parents still have a good deal of leeway to configure a student’s learning around their needs, which is always welcome. 

Further, being centered around such interactions, in our opinion Five In A Row’s units can be a great bonding experience for parents and students. 

Through its discussions, suggested trips and activities, parents can really get an opportunity to extensively interact with their child and get some potentially very valuable and enriching insights into their thinking and understanding.

That said, by having lessons and discussions led by parents through the upper years, the series may not be the ideal for those looking to foster more independent study skills.

Further, the extensive inclusion of parent-led discussions can be a bit time consuming and can require a bit of forethought on the part of parents (something that can be an issue for really busy homeschools), particularly as the program doesn’t really offer word-for-word scripts that they can lean on.

Multisensory and Activity Rich

Finally, Five In A Row also teaches using a wide variety of activities.

Throughout its lessons, students might be asked to:

  • Discuss topics
  • Write
  • Draw
  • Paint
  • Sketch
  • Participate in hands-on demonstrations
  • Build things
  • Color maps
  • Embark on a nature study or field trip
  • Do some arts and crafts
  • Cook and bake
  • And more

Consequently, the program can be considered a very hands-on and multisensory curriculum that is very suitable for students with different learning preferences, be they visual, auditory, kinesthetic or hands-on.

screenshot example of hands on learning activity in five in a row science lesson


The use of multisensory activities to promote learning, aside from being better able to cater to different learning styles, has been shown to also have a strongly positive effect on a student’s retention of key facts and knowledge, which can of course lead to improved outcomes in the long run.

Interestingly enough, Five In A Row also gives parents considerable leeway in how to implement these activities, opting out of providing overly-detailed, by-the-numbers instructions to follow in favor of providing more of an idea that parents can run with and make their own. 

As a result, as with the discussions, parents can really customize and tailor many of the program’s activities to their own homeschooling needs, setting them up and implementing them in a way that best suits their child or their teaching philosophy, which is nice. 

Additionally, there is a good deal of diversity to the activities provided in Five In A Row and the series does change things up pretty frequently during units, changing things up pretty frequently from traditional teaching methods, such as questions and discussions, to more experiential ones, such as arts and crafts and field trips.

As a result, the program does tend to keep students on their toes, which can help prevent them from zoning out, and it can get some homeschooling parents thinking and teaching in ways that are out of their comfort zone a little bit, which can be kind of fun and helpful at times. 

That said, the extensive use of activities can have its potential downsides that parents should keep in mind.

In particular, and especially without detailed scripting, they can sometimes take a bit of planning and materials-gathering, which can make things a bit more challenging for really busy parents.

Depending on the interaction between the child and the parent, and their enjoyment of the activity in question, they can also increase the length of an individual lesson, which may not always be so ideal depending on the homeschooling family’s schedule.  

How It Works

Overall, Five In A Row is a pretty easy to follow unit study curriculum. 

As we’ve discussed, each volume in the series is divided into a number of units that are centered around different children’s books and readings. 

Each book is typically read daily over the course of a 5 day week, with the exception of the longer chapter books in upper levels due to their length and complexity, giving the series its name – Five In a Row (the actual number of times may vary depending on the child/parent, but the company does suggest reading its picture books once per school day).

Much like a Charlotte Mason curriculum, the books are read aloud by parents and students, and then parents use the manual to introduce, guide and lead discussions and activities based on topics, examples and sections from the reading, usually in 15-60 minute sessions depending on the level. 

This format forms the basis of the program’s lessons in social science, ELA, science, art and even math, with topics in each section often linked to a particular idea from that unit’s book.

For example, in Volume 4 students may read Roxaboxen, a tale about children in Yuma, Arizona who use their imagination to build a community and society of their own, complete with rules, social mores and so on. 

From this text, parents and students might explore important social studies concepts, discussing the concept of local government, the position and role of local officials, laws and regulations and consequences of action, all while bringing helpful and illustrative examples from the text. 

screenshot example of five in a row using book to teach social studies

Each unit contains individual, separate lessons for each subject (which parents can approach according to their own preferred schedule) and, towards the end, consumable resources, such as black and white maps, lesson organizers, writing prompts and even questions that parents can use during lessons.

screenshot of questions found in five in a row manual

It is important to note that each lesson tends to offer or suggest a number of different activities and parents will usually want to pick one or two per day, particularly at the upper levels of the series where they can take more time to complete. 

It should also be noted that Five In A Row is more of an activity/discussion based curriculum and doesn’t really offer a ton of quizzes and tests to periodically measure and assess student retention, although volumes may include a number of optional activities or readings that can help take learning further and deeper. 

Pros and Cons



The core manuals for Five In A Row, which contain the unit essential structure of the program for its core subjects and discussion and activity ideas, are generally sold for less than $50.

This makes them fairly affordable as far as multi subject curricula go, especially if parents can find the required books at their local library or second hand. 

Compact for a literature-based curriculum

Beyond its book lists and a single manual, there really isn’t a lot of stuff for parents to buy, store and organize with Five In A Row, eschewing the typical student editions and workbooks in favor of a more compact, parent-led structure.

High quality, engaging literature choices

Five In A Row is a literature-based program and each level comes with a book list from whose titles the program draws its lessons. 

In general, this curated selection of children’s books is very high quality, containing many award winning classics from earlier and more modern eras. 

Covers core subject areas 

Five In A Row is a multi-subject unit study curriculum, teaching most of the core subjects at the preschool and elementary level, including social studies, science, math, art, language arts and more, which can save parents some time and effort when it comes to teaching. 

Interesting discussions

Each unit in Five In A Row is filled with interesting discussion prompts between parent and child that not only can help students dive deeper and think harder about certain concepts and topics, but can also be interesting on their own and give parents rare insight into their child’s point of view and way of thinking. 

Hands-on, experimental activities

Beyond lesson discussions, Five In A Row also includes a wide variety of multisensory and hands-on activities that can both demonstrate concepts and get students more connected and interested in what they are learning. 

At any given time students might, for example, do some crafts, go on a field trip, perform a science experiment, write, color, paint, build, bake, cook or simply get up and move around. 

Very flexible and adaptable

Unlike many other curricula out there, there are very few proscriptions when it comes to Five In A Row and parents are generally given a good deal of space to make things their own. 

Although they have age recommendations, the series can be used in whatever order best suits a child’s ability and interest, as are the books and units, and activities and discussions are generally open to personalization and customization.


Not exactly the most open and go

As with other activity- and discussion-rich curriculum, there can be a bit of planning, thought and set up involved with Five In A Row lessons, especially as the program doesn’t give parents a word-for-word script to follow. 

Can involve sourcing a number of books and materials

Particularly towards the earlier volumes, the book lists in Five In A Row can be fairly extensive. 

While great for fans of reading and a literature-based approach, it can take a little effort to get all the titles for a given volume, particularly those that are a bit older.  

Who Is Five In A Row Ideal For?

Those looking for a high quality, literature-rich curriculum

Filling its book lists with award winning classic titles and weaving them tightly into its lessons across a variety of subjects, Five In A Row is a great example of a literature-rich, unit study homeschool curriculum and can be a good resource for those interested in such an approach. 

Those looking for a curriculum that can be easily configured and personalized

As mentioned previously, there aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules when it comes to Five In A Row and the program often leaves a lot up to the parent and how they naturally interact with their student or prefer to run its suggested activities. 

As a result, parents can more easily configure Five In A Row to their particular homeschooling philosophy or needs compared to more scripted, by-the-numbers programs. 

Fans of multisensory learning

Filled with a variety of discussions and activities, Five In A Row’s lessons can approach learning through visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile means, making it highly multisensory and a good option for students with different learning preferences. 

Those who enjoy engaging in rich discussions and experiences with their children

At the end of the day, parents using Five In A Row will have a lot of opportunity to dive into deep discussions with their students and will spend a good deal of time doing various activities of different kinds and even going on nature walks and trips together. 

Who Is It Not Ideal For?

Very busy homeschools

Although individual daily lessons aren’t usually all that long (15-30 minutes at lower levels, 20-60 or so at the upper levels), the open nature of Five In A Row’s discussions and activities can mean that parents may have to spend a little bit of time beforehand reading ahead and planning things out. 

Those looking for more traditional, workbook style lessons

Teaching primarily through reading, discussion and experiential methods, Five In A Row may not be the best option for those looking for a program that leans more heavily on testing, memorization and classic workbook-style exercises. 


Generally speaking, Five In A Row Manuals cost about $49 each to purchase.

The books/activity materials are sold separately and their price does, of course, depend on their availability and where they are sold. 

As always, parents should check for the latest prices for this curriculum, as well as any discounts or offers that may be in place. 


Is It Worth The Price?

Ultimately, we feel that Five In A Row can be an excellent curriculum option for the right homeschooling families. 

The series offers easy to understand and implement unit studies across social studies, science, art, language arts, life skills and math, all of which maintain a strong connection to classic works of children’s literature. 

The program also includes a great variety of experiential, multisensory activities and interactive discussions, which can help students explore and understand important concepts and topics in a way that’s more interesting and meaningful to them.

Five In A Row is also highly flexible, giving parents a ton of room (as well as suggestions and tips) to really customize its learning, discussions and activities around their students’ needs, schedule and ability, as well as their own homeschooling philosophy. 

Perhaps most of all, however, the program’s emphasis on deep discussions, creative activities, demonstrations and field trips has the potential to deepen the parent-study bond and create wonderful memories and experiences that can last a lifetime. 

Bottom Line

With its easy to use manual, rich selection of classic literature, diverse selection of experiential activities and built-in teaching flexibility, Five In A Row can be an excellent option for parents and students looking for an interactive and fun way to learn their core subjects. 

Picture of our author and editor Anne Miller

About the Author

Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.