Thursday, January 15, 2009

Language Arts

Christi asks: How and why did you choose the particular curricula or resources that you are using, and how do you put lessons together for each subject?

Heidi answers: Terrific question, Christi! I'll be going through each subject individually to tell you why I am using that particular curriculum or resource, how I chose it, and how I've put the lessons together. (At the end, I'll post about how to put it all together.)

Today, we'll go over our Language Arts.

Phonics and Reading: I chose The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading because it was created by the co-author of The Well-Trained Mind, and I trust both authors' writings and recommendations. I like the systematic phonics approach. I like that the lessons are complete and scripted, meaning the parent simply follows what is written, and no lesson planning is necessary.

I didn't make goals for the number of lessons to complete with Levi. It seemed to work best if we went at his pace, simply allowing a specific amount of time each day or week to work on phonics. (For example, 4 days a week, 10-20 minutes each day, enough to be consistent but flexible.) I tried to mix it up with very simple readers. This is the sort of thing you gauge depending on each student's ability and focus level. (I posted more about learning to read here.)

Levi is now beyond the phonics program, reading fluently on his own. I try to have him read out loud to me on a regular basis, so that he can practice reading with fluidity and emotion, as well as give me a chance to correct any mistakes that crop up. I don't plan this, but let it come about naturally. Sometimes he reads a portion of our history, poetry, science, literature, etc.
Luke decided he wanted to read just before his fourth birthday. I didn't want to push him into the lessons (which he wasn't particularly interested in), so we only did magnet letters and early phonics readers. My main goal, because of his age, was to be consistent and keep 'lessons' short and interesting. When he started to space out, we moved on to something else. (I'll be answering a question about early reading lessons for young kids later.)

I love the Nora Gaydos and Bob Books readers because they are phonics-based and move at a slow, incremental pace. I ended up using these exclusively with Luke the past year, simply explaining new phonics rules as they were introduced in the books (using The Ordinary Parents' Guide as my guide rather than having Luke do the lessons). He is now at a second grade reading level, so I think I will continue to have him read aloud to me daily rather than start official phonics lessons. Hopefully, Levi and Luke will both benefit from a good spelling program down the road (more on that down below).

Handwriting: I chose Handwriting Without Tears after reading glowing reviews over and over again. It is an excellent choice for boys, kids who struggle with fine motor control, and left-handed children. Levi didn't care for any sort of writing, drawing, or coloring at the age of four, and I thought this would be the best method for slowly easing him into the skill of handwriting. I was right, and I'm very happy with the results!

We began with the Kindergarten book. The teacher's manual is helpful in the beginning as it gave me a better feel for the program and how to teach handwriting. I simply planned (as with phonics) to spend a certain amount of time on writing (again, 4 days a week, 10-15 minutes per day). We went page by page through the workbook, repeating letters as necessary for mastery (I copy the workbook pages so we can do them more than once). We are somewhere in this process for Luke, as well.

Once Levi finished the Kindergarten book, I felt comfortable creating my own copywork for him to complete. I schedule the copywork just as I scheduled the workbook pages, trying to write 4-5 papers at the beginning of the week (during planning time) so that I can simply hand him a page to complete when it is time for handwriting. Often I quickly make a page for him to work on right before lesson time. I use the Handwriting Without Tears paper and take a hymn, Bible verse, science definition, history summary, quote, poem, grammar rule, Latin vocabulary, or whatever else corresponds with our week's lessons. I write just as I want his copywork to appear, leaving every other line blank for his work.

As Levi's ability increases, I increase the number of words he writes each day and decrease the line size. He has been asking to learn cursive, so we will begin the cursive workbook sometime soon.

Grammar: First Language Lessons was written, again, by Jessie Wise, coauthor of The Well-Trained Mind. Knowing that my educational goals very closely matched the education outlined in this book, chosing curriculum written by one of the authors was an easy next step. First Language Lessons is a gentle, systematic, thorough approach to grammar for early elementary. The lessons are scripted and take very little time. Planning amounts to 'doing the next thing,' or lesson, in this case. At 100 lessons per year, I plan 2 or 3 lessons each week.

The first book in the series contains both first and second grade. Levi has completed the first grade portion, and we have moved on to the second half of the book.

Spelling: This subject has been a little more difficult, decision-wise. We tried Spelling Workout last year, and I didn't care for it. (It just felt like busy-work to me.) I know that I want to use Phonetic Zoo as soon as Levi is able (maybe next year). Reading reviews of this program, it is wonderful for auditory learners (LEVI!!). I've listened to Andrew Pudewa in person (four seminars) and watched his Spelling and the Brain DVD. Fascinating. The decision I need to make now is whether to do something else in the meantime. I believe that Sequential Spelling has a similar approach, and I may add that in to the line-up in a couple months.

Poetry and Memorization: I've written a lengthy post on poetry memorization here, and won't repeat my thoughts, links, and resources on the subject in this post, other than to mention how I schedule the subject. I don't. We usually work on one poem at a time, planning time into our routine for review, as well as listen to our CDs at home and in the car whenever possible.

Reading Aloud (and Independent Free-Reading): Our literature studies are tied into our history studies (I'll get to that later), but we do enjoy reading great children's literature together. Levi also spends a great deal of time reading on his own. Many homeschooling parents plan quiet time into their routine, specifically using this time for free-reading. Levi does much of his reading at bedtime. I love to read a chapter or two of our current read-aloud to Levi (and the other two boys) at bedtime, as well.

I keep our shelves stocked with good books and often pull out a couple that I think Levi might enjoy. When he finishes his current read, he chooses another and moves on.

I get book ideas from the 1000 Good Books List, Honey for a Child's Heart, friends, other blogs, my favorite homeschooling forum, or Amazon (I do *a lot* of surfing and reading reviews on Amazon). When we finish a book, we move on to the next one on my never-ending list.

(Any language arts updates will be posted with the Language Arts label.)


Skeller said...

Those are questions requiring lots of words. ;-)
The abbreviated version: I have a friend who follows TWTM religiously and changes not a thing. I've always used it more as a guide (btw, I only have the original edition). So I follow the recommendations re: courses, but I've chosen specific *curriculum* (many of which weren't even available when TWTM was published) for those courses that I think best fit me & my kids. ie. I use Latin Prep, not LC or LP. I use Dolciani Algebra, not Saxon. I use Classical Writing, not Writing Strands. That kind of thing.

Skeller said...

whoops. I'm not sure how this jumped windows. I thought I was answering in yesterday's post...

Beth@Pages of Our Life said...


This is great info. I will be using you as a reference for some friends interested in TWTM. We love HWT. TWTM helped me catch a vision for school outside the box.

Heidi said...

I know what you mean about lots of words.... these posts take forever. :)

Yes, I think we will be doing things similar to the way you are. I have both editions of TWTM, but it seems like it would be so difficult to keep a book current on the best available curricula. Choosing some of my own resources is also an easy way to customize the courses to be the best for our family and kiddos. It sure is nice to have a place to start from, though!

Christi said...

Heidi, thanks so much for your in-depth responses! I am enjoying reading about this so much!

Aja Jenise said...

Its helpful gauge and compare ourselves to other homeschoolers rather than public schooled children. Thank you for your thoughts on this...

Do you have any thoughts or experience with Phonic Pathways?

Renee said...

These choices sound a lot like ours. Thanks for taking the time to share all of this info!! Isn't it amazing how the second child learns just by being there as a toddler/preschooler? Amazing. We bought 100 Easy Lessons for #2. By lesson #30 we decided it was a waste. He could read! We just bought lots of books and went from there. Why have you chosen to start spelling a little later? Just curious. We use Spelling Workout A for Toot (6 yr old kinder.) and B for Jaybird (8 yr old 2nd gr.). So far they have not missed a spelling word, so is it a waste of time? Hmmm...

Heidi said...

Aja~ I know that many people use Phonics Pathways successfully, but I haven't looked at them myself. Sorry to be no help!

The Good~ I don't have a good reason for not doing spelling right now. How is that for pitiful? Maybe it is laziness on my part! I do hope to add it in this year (Levi is technically a just turned 7 yo 1st grader).

Mandy said...

We use Spelling Power. I started using it because my kids were getting all of the words right on their pre-test on Mondays and I felt it was a waste. I think Spelling Power is similar to Sequential Spelling (could be wrong though). What appealed to me was they only had to work on words they did not know how to spell.