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Five In a Row Curriculum

An Interview with Steve and Jane Lambert

April 5, 2001

The following interview was conducted live in a chat program hosted by Mary Leggewie. Steve and Jane Claire Lambert began homeschooling their two daughters in 1982. Jane's teaching experience and her lifelong love of children's literature led her to create Five in a Row and Before Five in a Row. With daughter Becky Jane, they have added to the original line of books. When Jane isn't teaching, writing or speaking, she enjoys working in her perennial garden, painting or looking through her microscope!

Steve has been involved in homeschooling for almost 20 years. Today he is publisher of Five in a Row and each year he speaks to thousands of homeschoolers around the country at state conventions.

Steve and Jane will be celebrating their 30th anniversary next month and consider themelves "grandparents" both in the literal sense, and in the figurative sense, offering encouragement to a new generation of homeschoolers who are just beginning the journey.

Did you homeschool your daughters from the beginning? What was it that made you decide to homeschool?

Steve and Jane Lambert No. Our oldest daughter attended Kindergarten and 1st grade in the same public school Jane attended as a child. We then moved her to a private Christian school (actually a 1-room schoolhouse grades 1-8) for the fall semester of 2nd grade. And then we made the decision in mid-year to bring her home and attempt homeschooling. Our younger daughter was homeschooled from the outset. We realized that we were "losing" our voice... our influence and frankly, we wanted to be "family" for a little bit longer!

Did you know any other homeschoolers when you began?

Steve and Jane Lambert Bear in mind this was 1982. We were aware of 1 other homeschool family in the Kansas City area, but didn't really "know them" at all. It was a time for those with a "pioneer" spirit.

Were you both in total agreement, or did one of you require more investigation before you began homeschooling?

Steve and Jane Lambert Not at the very beginning. Steve was a bit more hesitant about... (laughing)... well... you know... about "socialization!"... But after a few weeks of prayer he felt the Lord spoke to his spirit and said, "Friends? You're worried about friends for your girls? Trust me- there are millions of people SURROUNDED by other humans without a friend in the world! Friendship is a gift. If you want friends for your children- ask me. I'll see that they never lack for friends." And you know what? They never have! They're both VERY well socialized!

What would you consider some of your biggest challenges along the way?

Steve and Jane Lambert Oh... it's a tie between the criticism of others- and our own self-doubts! We all have an inner voice that says, "What on EARTH are you doing? This will NEVER work!" And sadly, we usually have others around us, perhaps a mother, a sister, a best friend or a pastor's wife who are only too happy to agree with that inner voice!

Looking back now that you've completed your own homeschooling journey, is there anything you would have done differently?

Steve and Jane Lambert Knowing what we know now, we would have taken those first few years a little more slowly- less pushing. Tutorial education works so well, frankly- that even if you're not terrific at it- your children are going to do fine! But we didn't know that in the beginning years and sometimes we let our anxieties, our fear of failure cause us to push, PUSH, *PUSH* our daughters too hard. Thankfully, we eventually figured that out, however. Our daughters both went to college early- one at 16, the other at 17 and both made more-or-less straight A's. (3.95 and 3.98 GPA respectively) Today we'd know it's a marathon and not a sprint- and we'd SLOW DOWN and enjoy the journey more in those early years.

I understand from veteran homeschoolers that textbooks were often difficult to come by. Did you create your own materials from the beginning for your own kids, or did you use a purchased formal curriculum?

Steve and Jane Lambert Yes! We often joke that our first "textbook" was a 1940 history text we got a garage sale right after we began teaching. It talked about Hitler's invasion of Europe and for a long time we didn't know how that turned out! (Kidding!) But really- textbook publishers refused to sell to homeschoolers because they didn't want to aggravate their classroom customers- UNTIL they figured out that homeschoolers were a profitable market! (laughing). We tried almost everything as it came out in those early days... but eventually discovered that the way we wanted to teach our girls wasn't being "done" by anyone else at that time.

Which leads nicely into my next question!--Tell us a bit about how Five in a Row (FIAR) got started. When was the first book written?

Steve and Jane Lambert Jane began jotting down some lesson plans in the early '90's in response to friends' pleas. They wanted to know HOW she taught using simple childhood literature that seemed to keep children engrossed and engaged in learning. So she wrote out 19 lesson plans for her girlfriends as a gift. That eventually became Five in a Row (FIAR) Volume 1 in 1994.

What ages/grades do each of the books cover?

Steve and Jane Lambert Before FIAR covers ages 2-4. FIAR is for ages 4-8. Beyond FIAR is for ages 8-12 and the brand new (this week) Above & Beyond FIAR is for ages 12 and up.

Does each book cover a year's work?

Steve and Jane Lambert No, not really. You know... it's interesting. We believe that there isn't any prize for finishing first. Our goal is to help children fall in love with learning- and as long as they're actively learning we're achieving our goal. Some people find they can "complete" a volume in as little as 4 or 5 months. Others find they spend 12-18 months on a volume. And frankly, MOST homeschoolers work through our materials once at a simple level with young children, and then RE-visit the material again in 2 or 3 years and complete the more challenging activities/lessons they skipped over the first time through. In this way, the 3 volumes which comprise FIAR itself, consisting of 55 units, can be explored in about 2 "homeschool years" and then re-visited in another 2 years... taking about 4 years in all.

Can you tell us briefly about how FIAR is laid out?

Steve and Jane Lambert FIAR itself is laid out by topic- each topic corresponding to a day of the week. We cover 5 different topics in 5 days- 5 days in a row, in fact. Hence: five in a row--
On Mondays we explore social studies- a stories setting, geography, location, setting, relationships.
On Tuesday we look at language arts- the authors choice of style, vocabulary, writing techniques, etc.
On Wednesday we examine the illustrators contribution- style, medium, technique... it's a terrific art curriculum!
Thursdays we take a look at "applied math"- the real-world use of numbers in the story.
And finally on Fridays we look at science- lots of hands-on experiments, activities, etc.

What else is needed to make FIAR a complete curriculum?

Steve and Jane Lambert For K-1st you would need a good phonics program and math- that's it. By 2nd grade you would be through with phonics and want to add spelling in addition to math. By 3rd grade or so you might want to begin adding a little grammar.

Do you have any recommendations for texts for those other subjects like math and grammar, or is it just up to the family?

Steve and Jane Lambert For phonics we HIGHLY recommend "Reading Made Easy." For math we enjoy both "Making Math Meaningful" and "Math-U-See," and for grammar we used both Daily-Grams and Winston Grammar.

How does your Christian character supplement work?

Steve and Jane Lambert Oh... that's one of the BEST parts of the program. There are more than 450 Bible/Character lessons in the supplement- lessons which relate directly to the story you've been reading all week. We suggest you keep the supplement in your nightstand drawer and read over it and pray over it.

Then look for a teachable moment to "share" a truth with your child. Perhaps you're folding laundry and you say, "You know... mother was thinking about "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" we've been reading this week. Isn't that a wonderful story? I was thinking about how Beatrix Potter wove that entire story out of one, simple incident at the very beginning? Did you catch it? Peter's mother told him not to do what? That's right! Not to go to Mr. McGregor's garden patch. And what did Peter do? That's right- he disobeyed!!! And all the problems that Peter had were because of that choice, weren't they? You know what? Let's finish folding towels later. Would you get mother's Bible please? I think it's on the kitchen table. Come sit by me and let's see what Jesus said about children obeying their parents." It's so easy- so natural and so effective.

I noticed that you have a holiday book-- Five In A Row holiday: Through the Seasons. How many holidays do you cover and is it done differently than the other FIAR books?

Steve and Jane Lambert We chose 18 of our favorite holidays- the ones most precious to us. Holiday is different than any other FIAR unit study. For each holiday you'll find a history, songs, recipes, activities, books suggestions and more. But really, to be honest, it's about building strong traditions in your OWN family. We've shared the ways we built family traditions in hopes that readers will be inspired to develop their OWN holiday traditions--constants in a changing world- things their children will look forward to year after year- and pass on to their own children someday. Holidays are WONDERFUL family times.

The artwork you use is so beautiful! Is this family talent?

Steve and Jane Lambert For the most part- yes. Art is an important means of communication, like public speaking and writing. We emphasize all 3 of the "communication skills" in our curriculum.

Do any of your books have tie-ins to your Web site or to the Internet?

Steve and Jane Lambert Yes... Beyond FIAR uses lots of Web sites for further research. At the end of each chapter in the brand new, revised, 2nd editions just out last month, you'll be referred to our website where you'll find up-to-date links to relevant Web sites. The internet is a *POWERFUL* tool- for good- or for evil. We want to teach children (under supervision) how to use it for good.

Our website is GREAT because of the more than 20 volunteer homeschoolers--wise, veteran homeschoolers who run more than 10 message boards. You can find help, encouragement and friendship with like-minded homeschoolers, prayer support, help with special-needs children- on and on and on. You can also talk directly with the curriculum authors, Jane and Becky Jane themselves. We don't really know of ANY other curriculum that offers this sort of support and encouragement and CONTACT with the authors.

Homeschooling is, by definition, a "lonely" experience and our website is a lifeline... a 24-hour a day "community" where like minded women provide friendship and support to one another. It's great.

What plans are there for future books?

Steve and Jane Lambert We've just launched the first volume of Above & Beyond FIAR for ages 12 and up. There may be future volumes as well. And Jane is working on some new lesson plans for a possible 4th volume of FIAR itself. Beyond that- we have several other ideas we're exploring.

Audience question: What would complete the curriculum in the upper grades?

Steve and Jane Lambert Depends on what you mean by "upper grades". More importantly it depends on your child and what they plan to do. Certainly by late grade school years you need to be working systematically in math, spelling and grammar.

By middle school, there will be increasing emphasis on math and some specialized electives- dependent on each child's aptitudes and callings perhaps including speech, drafting, music, drama, etc.

By high school those "differences" become more pronounced with some children working on technical training toward a career... others in pre-med sciences heavily, etc.

It's hard to say "this is what you need to add" at that level. And that's the JOY of homeschooling is giving EACH CHILD a uniquely personalized education rather than having to "settle" for a standardized textbook/workbook cookie-cutter education.

How is Beyond FIAR different than FIAR?

Steve and Jane Lambert Beyond utilizes "chapter books" rather than "illustrated books" like FIAR. It also places increasing emphasis on a child taking increasing responsibility to develop their own lesson plans with mother's input and help. And of course the level of work and the subjects become much more challenging at the Beyond level.

Audience question: In Beyond, does the Mom do the reading or the student?

Steve and Jane Lambert Either way. We *REALLY* like mothers to be involved with their children... or even the whole family. NOT because she "has to"... but because she "wants to". These are precious times to read stories aloud together. But sometimes circumstances dictate that a student read on their own. We provide brief "parent summaries" of each chapter for those times. We still read aloud to one another nearly every day!! We read to one another, read to our adult children, read to our grandchildren- we even read aloud to friends!

Audience question: What do people need to supplement Beyond FIAR with?

Steve and Jane Lambert Beyond needs math, spelling and grammar essentially. Some parents may WANT to add other materials of unique or special interest... but it covers language arts, history, science and fine arts very thoroughly.

Mary Leggewie: And Above and Beyond FIAR?

Steve and Jane Lambert A&B is a little different. For some students it will be a very intense few weeks- supplemented with math, spelling and grammar. For others... it will be a long-term "supplement" to a more traditional curriculum. In either case, A&B does a TERRIFIC job of helping students in several new areas including: Developing Research Papers... Career Path Investigations... and developing and maintaining a "Service Project" to give back to their community.

Audience question: What are your thoughts on having children tested?

Steve and Jane Lambert We think that having children tested for things like vision, hearing, learning disabilities, etc. is important- we ARE their safety net. *IF* you have reason to suspect a problem in any of those areas. As for "academic testing," it can be very helpful... but primarily for YOU as teacher... to help evaluate at the end of each year. We always had our daughters independently tested using standardized testing each year. The results were generally reassuring... but occasionally called our attention to areas that needed a little extra emphasis in the coming year.

Mary Leggewie: Did you have any preference as to which test to use?

Steve and Jane Lambert Let us add that in a VERY REAL sense we "test" our children every day in 100 ways--by asking questions--and then LOOKING IN THEIR EYES as they respond. If they engage in a meaningful response.. they just got an A+... but if they roll their eyes and fold their arms... we have work to do!!! We used Iowa Test of Basic Skills as a rule.

Audience question: How much time a day should an 8-year-old boy be reading to himself?

Steve and Jane Lambert Wow! There's SUCH a difference. We know some 8-year-olds who are JUST beginning to read successfully, and others who read at the high school level. We would *HOPE* they might read 30-60 minutes on their own. And don't forget... the very BEST ways to turn your children into "readers" is to read aloud to them... and keep reading... and reading... and reading... and reading. They'll "get it" in time.

About How much time during the day does Beyond take?

Steve and Jane Lambert Beyond typically takes 60-90 minutes a day. There will be days where a student becomes engrossed and spends several hours, but 90 minutes or less is typical.

Do you think homeschooling is here to stay? Should we be worried?

Steve and Jane Lambert We're probably not qualified to address that but the fruits of homeschooling are becoming more evident every day and the teaching industry is worried. It's a time to pray, pray and keep praying that our leaders make wise decisions which EMPOWER parents rather than governments. Let us add that the problems with schools today aren't USUALLY teachers or administrators. Most are dedicated professionals. The problem is with our culture--a world gone awry in which children are abandoned wholesale as toddlers so that parents can indulge themselves at the children's expense. Teachers and administrators are being asked to do the impossible, frankly- to be both moral authorities, parents in loco, teachers- and all without the ability to discipline or teach spiritual Truth.

Many thanks to the Lamberts for sharing their thoughts with us here at!

Visit Christian Book Distributors' Five in a Row Specialty Shop for a full selection of the Lamberts' products! Resources Related to this Interview:'s Preschool and Early Learning Resource Section