What does a homeschool language arts curriculum need to have to make it useful, interesting and comprehensive?
Are there language arts lesson plans which I can use over a number of ages?
Well, firstly we need to consider what language arts lessons makes a language arts curriculum. It would need to include reading, writing, speaking and listening. Getting to finer details, it would need to teach writing skills from handwriting to written sentences, paragraphs, essays and writing in a wide variety of forms. It should teach interesting use of words, sentence grammar and the use of a variety of sentence structures. It should include listening, reading aloud, discussion of character, themes, actions, morals and personal application.
Quite a range of skills!
How do we go about selecting a homeschool language arts curriculum which achieves all our aims?
There are a few options available to the homeschooling family:
Firstly, one may decide to choose a number of textbooks or workbooks to teach the various language arts lessons. Unfortunately, this leads to a number of purchases for each child for each year. You would need to check out whether the books are consumable or used as a text?
The positive in using this method, is that the parent would feel like the bases are covered - all the boxes are adequately ticked and the child should therefore be educated in this area. The downside is that a workbook style usually does not engage the child and parent in a meaningful, interactive, thoughtful discussions. If literature is used in the textbook or workbook, it is often just an excerpt and is difficult to get excited about. Another negative is that the language arts lessons in the workbooks are spread out over a convenient (for publishers) 12 year period, as though those being educated need 12 years to get it. This means there is usually a lot of repetition of concepts from one year to the next. Also, it is hard for a parent to really see what the student is learning in language arts if there are a number of children.
On the other hand, reference books on language arts contain the essence of language arts and can be used as guides which one refers to in order to answer a question on grammar, usage, spelling, writing skills in the context of learning.
The second option is to choose programs which focus on a specific language arts skill and use that homeschool curriculum to consolidate the skill. This can be done effectively if you treat the skill area as a body of knowledge which can be taught over a short period of time. Grammar, for example, does not need to be taught over 12 years.
I like to teach grammar in stages - for example, teach the parts of speech, and then refer to it in incidental learning. Then, after a few months of consolidating what we have learned by natural immersion, we would continue our study of grammar and look at noun functions, or diagramming a sentence. We would study the concepts, and then implement it in our every day studies. A curriculum we have enjoyed using with this approach has been Winston Grammar.
The third option is to teach language arts across all curriculum areas, in the context of other studies.
Each curriculum area (History, Science, Literature) have texts to read. The best thing you can do is to choose the most excellent literature in each subject area and use that as a basis of their reading.
Each book you read aloud in these curriculum areas, or each book your child reads from in these areas will provide topics which will be the content of their writing. All you need to do is to be creative to suggest a response to their reading in different forms.
As you engage with an author of a classic novel, historical fiction, poetry, play, history or science classic, everyone will be affected. Through this simple approach of reading, enjoying and discussing what was read, all language arts skills can be covered.
The classic brings us into a time period, allows us to live alongside real characters, experience life in their shoes for a while. It compels us to question, analyze moral judgments, enjoy and be moved by characters, their decisions and the circumstances of their lives. The classic brings us in touch with excellent literature, not only based on the content, but also on the writing style of the author. It encourages us to model our writing on what we have read and enjoyed. Once encouraged to model our writing on the excellent literature, we need to be familiar with grammatical terms to describe structure and style. We need to copy and learn from what is great.This method allows us to improve our own writing by a natural immersion method of enjoying what is great.
A young child will copy the most excellent passages - practicing their handwriting or cursive as they copy. An older child will investigate the structures which made the writing so excellent - describe the methods and then use it as a base for his/her own writing. All children and adults can be engaged in conversation and discussion about the author, the techniques used, the allusions and metaphors used by the author, the characters, the plot, the decisions made and the outcome.
Will a child be engaged in this type of learning? Does this integrated approach to language arts cover what we normally think of when we consider language arts lesson plans? Yes!
So, how can this be done? Once again, programs which I have found to be most useful are those which have become more like reference guides for the teacher. In a sense, through my homeschooling journey, the materials which have shaped me are those which have taught me to teach, rather than those which tell me what to do each day. One such program is "Teaching the Classics: A Socratic Method for Literary Education."
You may also be interested in how I develop my own language arts lesson plans based on literature.
I used this same approach to write an e-book titled, Modeling the Classics: Language Arts Lessons from The Hobbit."
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