Yesterday I wrote about the curriculum we used last term for maths, and the tweaks I’m planning this term. Today I’m going to do the same for the English (language arts) I do with J (age 6).
What we’ve been using
Like many homeschoolers, we don’t use a complete curriculum for English but rather different methods and books for different skills. It is probably the subject I am most “unschooly” about. This might be because we are a small, talkative family and I tend to think that, an elementary level at the very least, being surrounded by words, books and good quality conversation counts for a lot.
J has been using Handwriting Without Tears for the last two terms. He moved from My Printing Book to Printing Power at the start of this term after a never-before-seen two-week spurt of enthusiasm for handwriting (seriously. We would find him in bed at night, fast asleep still clutching “My Printing Book”, mid-pencil stroke.) I think maybe he thought if he finished the book he would be done with writing; alas for him Printing Power arrived, and on handwriting went.
Despite the self-imposed handwriting-boot camp, writing continues to be a chore for J, but I’m reassured to know that this is very common for boys and that things usually fall into place by the age of eight or nine once the requisite neurological and motor skills have been acquired. So for now we shall continue with a page or two of HWOT every day, while in other subjects I often let J dictate his work. One big plus of homeschooling is that a dislike of handwriting need not slow down progress in any other subject.
J is a natural right-brained whole-word reader which is why I think it’s important to continue teaching him phonics until his reading is completely fluent. As it is, he can read pretty much anything he wants (mostly comics, his favourite websites, and comics and books about his favourite websites) and he has read several chapter books, but I intend to continue with dedicated reading instruction until I see J regularly reading chapter books. (I know he loves stories from our read-alouds and the number of audiobooks he gets through!)
We use Schofield & Sims Sound Phonics workbooks (currently Phase 5 Book 2) which we’re both very happy with. J does a page a day for the four days we do formal school (the other day the children do music lessons and we attend a home education centre). The Sound Phonics series continues for several more workbooks so at the moment my plan is to continue with them.
At J’s level I see spelling more as additional handwriting and phonics practice than as actually building spelling skills for their own sake. (Or does that give away my utter lack of teaching expertise in this area?) I am a naturally good speller, as is C (8), so J’s seemingly random approach to constructing words leaves me baffled (how can anyone spell “come” correctly and immediately afterwards spell “came” as “kame”?!) We’ve been using the word lists and some of the exercises in Evan-Moor’s Building Spelling Skills Grade 1 and J scores well on his weekly spelling tests. But next term I’m thinking of switching to a Spelling Power approach, which I’ve just started using with C. Although J is too young to use the full Spelling Power system, there is a section in the massive tome book on working with younger children which I’ll hopefully get round to reading soon!
All J’s creative writing is ad hoc and informal. He enjoys composing poems and stories (would probably choose do it all day if only I could keep up with his dictation!). Occasionally I can persuade him to write his own work, which he’ll agree to if it’s something short like an acrostic poem. And I’m thinking at some point he might benefit from learning about beginnings, middles and ends – but there’s plenty of time for that. 🙂
We’ve always got a read-aloud fiction chapter book on the go ( it feels like it’s been one Harry Potter or other for as long as I can remember!), and J listens to lots of audiobooks from the library. Poetry Tea is a regular event in our house. We like seeing movie or theatrical adaptations of books we’ve read (yes, Harry Potter, but we also enjoyed the film version of E. Nesbitt’s Five Children And It, and were lucky enough to see an excellent adaptation of The Phoenix And The Carpet at the theatre recently. During the months between our reading of the book and seeing the play, I enjoyed hearing J’s wonderings about things like “I wonder how they’re going to do the bit where the children go to the theatre, in a theatre?!”)
Sometimes I read aloud Greek myths (which ties in with this year’s ancient history) or from Geraldine McCaughrean’s Stories from Shakespeare or we listen to children’s versions of Homer’s works. One of the things I took from the classical education handbook The Well Trained Mind is the idea of exposing children to great works of literature when they are young, so that by the time they are old enough to study them in their original form they’re already familiar with the stories.
As J and C get older I’d like to be a bit more organised in the planning of our literature choices, and also – in keeping with my desire to become a bit more Charlotte Mason-like in our homeschool – getting J to narrate back to me in some way. While I sometimes suspect that C (8) almost has the auditory equivalent of a photographic memory (anyone know the name for that?), most of the time I really have no idea how much J is taking in. Often nothing much is forthcoming when I ask him to tell me something about what he’s heard, but then with J you never know if that’s because nothing went in, or because he just doesn’t feel like jumping through that particular hoop for you right now! I know narration purists eschew prompting, but with J I’m thinking of using some who/when/where/what/how-type prompts following short read-aloud sections, to get him into the habit of active listening (and to reassure me that he’s listening at all!)
Overall I try to remind myself that J is only six, and that in many countries (with excellent education systems) he wouldn’t even have begun formal schooling yet. Indeed Charlotte Mason herself believed six year olds should mostly be left to their own play. So my priority will continue to be to provide J with an environment rich in great stories, poems and language, while staying quietly alert for signs he is ready to move onto a new level of using written words himself. I’m thinking another large sign would be useful, reminding me of that on the “bad days”!