Homeschool Chat: Language Arts

Language Arts has always been a bit of a struggle for me in our homeschool journey.  While I have a few thoughts about certain teaching methods I like to avoid (ex: sight words), I have no very strong opinions about how language arts should be taught or what curriculum I like.

Part of the difficulty is that language arts is such a broad term - it covers reading, writing, spelling, grammar, and speech.  That's alot!  I think it has helped me to realize that I don't have to have a separate curriculum for every one of those areas every year, and I don't have to find one curriculum that covers every one of those areas either.  Some areas of language arts are age-specific, and alot of those different aspects of language arts can be touched on in one curriculum.  

In our house, our language arts curriculum for 1st and 2nd grade is only reading instruction, with handwriting practice on the side.  I don't start spelling until my kids are reading decently well.  This is the first year I've really thought about grammar since we are starting to get into more in-depth writing instruction with my oldest.  I'm not even going to think about developing speaking skills right now aside from oral narration practice - we'll have time for more formal speech later.  

Alot of homeschool families might incorporate all those things right in the beginning, but my point is, you don't have to.  Language Arts is a marathon subject if there ever was one, and the skills build on each other throughout schooling.  

All that to say, Language Arts is very messy in our house, but as my kids get older I'm sure I'll develop a more defined philosophy.  It's okay to figure it out as you go.

What We've Used Before

When Wyatt was in Kindergarten we did used Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons, which worked well at first but became drudgery for him about halfway through.  So we switched to All About Reading, and it's what I've used since.  The lessons are scripted, letter tiles are used to build words, there are paper activities, and really great readers that fit with the phonograms taught in each lesson.  I love it.  I will say though, that I still recommend 100 Easy Lessons if your child has trouble learning to blend sounds, because the blending procedure in that book is something I still use.

Spelling - All About Spelling

This curriculum goes along with All About Reading, though you don't start the first level of spelling until your child has completed Level 1 of All About Reading.  It works fine, but in our experience the spelling may be slightly too easy.  Wyatt really started reading complicated things after AAR Level 2, and the spelling was still taking him through words like "lake".  Reinforcement of the spelling rules is good, but I think he could be stretched a bit.

Last year we tried IEW's theme-based writing curriculum, the "All Things Fun And Fascinating" book.  It was the one I had been eyeing, and our co-op was using it anyway.  

IEW's theory about teaching elementary students to write is that writing their own versions of existing content or stories is easier for kids to do than to try to think of interesting things to say, hold those things in their brain, and then mechanically get their thoughts onto paper.  That's a set of coordinated skills that alot of younger kids don't have yet.  So the workbooks take a paragraph or short story, have the kids outline the information in the piece using keywords, and then on a different day they re-write the information in their own words, trying to make it better than the original.  This is basically the method Benjamin Franklin used to teach himself to write well.  

I really liked this idea at first - my child would learn outlining, write his own work, learn how to "dress up" his sentences.  It made sense to me and sounded great.  The problem is that Wyatt didn't love it so much.  Part of the problem was writing stamina and those fine motor skills that needed more time to develop, and part of it was that the whole thing just bored him.  By mid-year I was desperately wanting to try something else, but I felt like I was stuck with IEW because our co-op was using it, and I was actually helping to teach the writing class!  

I still like the method, but in practicality, it wasn't great for my particular kid last year.  I don't think we were ready for it, and it wasn't engaging him.  Now I've got a slightly writing-traumatized student, so we are going to have to really change our approach this year.

I will say, Wyatt did really well with IEW's cursive handwriting book though, so we'll be continuing with that.

Grammar - First Language Lessons, N/A

I bought First Language Lessons For The Well-Trained Mind way back when, which is a very early grammar instruction curriculum, but I'll be honest, it didn't get much use.  Aside from very basic noun/verb/adjective/adverb definitions, we haven't done anything formal yet.

What We Are Using This Year

Gwen (2nd) and Clyde (1st) are going to continue with AAR/AAS this year.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Handwriting - Assorted Copywork

I did grab a couple of workbooks for the kids to go through, but I usually just write out a Bible verse and have my kids copy it, and that's their handwriting practice.

It's important to me that my kids learn to read and write cursive.  That's the style in which so many historical documents are written.  Wyatt got about 3/4 of the way through his cursive book last year, and I may order another one for Gwen to start on this year.  I like that way IEW teaches cursive, and there are a ton of practice pages.

After researching a bunch of writing programs, and trying to figure out what would help Wyatt develop writing skills without making him hate the process, I decided to give Language Lessons For A Living Education a try.  These workbooks include grammar instruction, writing, and spelling all in one book.  The pages are colorful, and the daily assignments seem short and doable.  I think it will be a good balance for encouraging Wyatt in writing.  He also will be doing more writing in his history curriculum this year, and that will be plenty of writing for 4th grade I think. 

I also ordered Gwen's level, just because the girl loves workbooks and hates to be left out.  After flipping through the books, I think it will work well for her too.  The only thing I don't love for the 2nd grade book is "sight word" lists, because I don't believe in relying on teaching sight words.  Most "sight words" lists are full of words that can be phonetically sounded out.  But we will be continuing with AAR for reading instruction with her, so we'll skip those sections in the Language Lessons book.


Can you tell that Language Arts overwhelms me?  I don't think I'm alone in that either, but I'm hoping that this curriculum combination will work for us this year.  One year at a time, right?

What do you use for Language Arts?

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