Practice makes perfect, they say, and while many of the things that we learn in life don’t need to build on previous learning there are some subjects that are more skill based and where learning builds on learning. You couldn’t ask a child to learn to multiply fractions who didn’t already know a thing or two about adding and then multiplying and fractions and so on. Piano students and athletes know only too well that you can’t expect to excel without a lot of consistent practice. Language Arts also falls under this disciplined study banner. (When labeling the subject “Language Arts” we are really encompassing several sub-categories of learning like phonics, grammar, punctuation, spelling, vocabulary and handwriting.)
In Educating the WholeHearted Child, the Clarksons, like most, advocate a happy medium in approach between the traditional “phonics” and “whole language” approach. They do this, as expected by encouraging lots of reading time with our children and while still using a phonics based programme to learn to read. They do however stress that you should focus on phonics principles rather than on memorizing many phonics rules.
Don’t schedule reading success! (While extended family, neighbours, and church acquaintances may define educational success by how well your kiddos are reading don’t fall into that trap yourself.) What freedom this word of advice gave me when my oldest was learning to read. She, like me, is a bit of a perfectionist and was often reluctant to read without knowing exactly what to expect, she wanted to know all of the rules before she would read just for fun. It wasn’t until she finished grade three that that special time came along. My second daughter on the other hand wasn’t terribly concerned with rules and just started reading and writing at about age four. She quickly beginning reading well above where we expected she would having had a reluctant first reader but was not terribly concerned with the specifics. (She used to write long letters using an “a” everywhere that a vowel seemed appropriate before she knew all of her vowels. Very entertaining: “I lav u mom. U r mi bast frand.”)
In language arts, as with most learning areas, the Clarkson’s stress that you don’t need age-graded curricula. They advocate for a simple phonics based learned to read programme and they say that most spelling, vocabulary, grammar and so on can be learned through quality literature and Bible reading.
They used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons because it was simple and straight forward but stressed that it wasn’t the only or best curriculum.
In our little gathering, other mama’s praised Teach Your Child to Read Well as being very similar.
I found the Clarkson’s ideas to closely echo those of Ruth Beechick and have used her very simple little book, The Three R’s, as the starting point for reading for all of my girlies. After that, we really like Learning Language Arts Through Literature for a few reasons. The first is that I don’t want to have to be a grammar and vocabulary and composition and … expert. LLATL ties together all of the important disciplines and helps us to make sure we are covering all the bases all while getting into some of the amazing literature that we have been raving about. With very few exceptions, my kids love the chosen books. It’s not hard to use great literature to learn from. Learning Language Arts is actually based on Ruth Beechick’s principles and as such is a systematized version of what the Clarkson’s advocate. The drawbacks: as with so many resources, it is a very American curriculum and so I always feel the need to refocus on Canadian history and geography every so often. It is also pretty grammar heavy and I don’t think that we need to get bogged down in the fine print of grammar rules too young. (I solve this by treating the grammar segments lightly, knowing that there is a lot of review and so we will be able to better assimilate ideas again later.)
I don’t know that anyone mentioned any other comprehensive curricula so here are a few of the other favourite resources that folks mentioned (since most of us aren’t able to throw out the idea of curricula completely as the Clarkson’s would like us to do.)
*** Please lend us your comments on the resources below or add your favourite resources to them so that we can all shop a little more wisely.***
Spelling Power (Okay, this is the one we use. It really isn’t Charlotte Mason style because it is just lists of “related” words but they are arranged by frequency so I’ve always figured that we have reached the same end as other curricula but in a very comprehensive and systematic way.)
Writing Jungle by Brave Writer
Writing with Ease by Susan Wise Bauer
Story Starters by Karen Andreola (My oldest daughter is enjoying this one for a change here and there. It is what it says, many story starters that the student is encouraged to finish creatively.)
The Daily Journal Series by Cyndy Regeling and CoriDean (These booklets each contain a year’s worth – or more – of journal or creative writing prompts that help to get the creative juices flowing. Gotta love the Canadian content – yes, I’m biased.)
Handwriting and Vocabulary:
Draw, Write, Now (This is a yummy set of learn to draw books that incorporates handwriting practice, learning about various topics. My kids have always picked them up as fun time drawing books with the added learning and handwriting just a bonus for teacher-mamma,)
There are also a lot of copywork books out there. I like to start my girlies with My Character Printing Workbook and My Keepsake Book both by Andrea McLellan at Ontario’s Joy Center of Learning as they integrate character training with handwriting lessons. After they complete these, I like to get my kids a nice notebook to record their best handwriting in by way of nice poems, quotes and scriptures.
English for the Thoughtful Child by Mary F. Hyde and Cyndy Shearer. A more primary look at grammar. Cathy Duffy calls is a good introductory course for children (in grades 1 or 2?) who can write and print but need to learn to write complete sentences. She recommends following this with Simply Grammar.
Simply Grammar written by Charlotte Mason and rewritten and published by Karen Andreola. This was Charlotte Mason’s own grammar curriculum which she later decided was best left to older grades (4-8) rather than younger.
Really, we all agreed that the best vocabulary builders were lots and lots of good books!
How’s that for a starter on the Language Arts and some of the resources that we have out there for our students? I look forward to hearing your input, comments, and other resources suggestions…
Wishing you a wonderful day as you enjoy the world of reading and literature with your own tribe today!