At its most basic level, language arts is about communication: taking in information and sharing information with others. Sounds simple, right?
So why is language arts such a difficult subject to plan and teach?
One big reason that language arts can be difficult is that the single subject area of “language arts” actually encompasses more than ten related topics: phonics, reading, handwriting, listening skills, spelling, grammar, writing, poetry, literature, vocabulary, and speech! It doesn’t seem quite so simple anymore, does it?
Many homeschool parents long for an all-in-one language arts curriculum, but an inclusive approach to teaching language arts can be difficult. Most kids learn to read faster than they learn to write or spell, so although an all-in-one program might be just right for reading, it may be too advanced for writing. For another child, a program may be perfect for spelling but too slow for reading.
Would you like to hear how a seasoned homeschooler makes language arts work in her household? Merry Marinello homeschooled two children of her own, so her language arts expertise comes from years of experience in the trenches, figuring out exactly how to teach this multifaceted subject to her kids. As part of our customer service team, Merry has also responded to thousands of questions from parents about using All About Reading and All About Spelling with their children.
When I realized that an all-in-one curriculum just wasn’t a viable option for my children and that I would have to go another direction, I knew I had to begin by identifying what my goals were. I started by asking myself a few important questions:
After considering my answers to these questions, I worked out a progression for teaching language arts that looked like this:
I knew that just figuring out a logical sequence for teaching language arts wasn’t enough. I still had to figure out how to fit all those content areas into our school day and apply some time limits for daily instruction. I like to do 30 to 60 minutes of daily language arts instruction for kindergarten and first grade, and 60 to 90 minutes each day for second grade and up.
Sticking to these time limits requires some prioritizing. Here’s how I ended up fitting it all in—but keep in mind that these recommendations are what worked for my children. You may need to increase or decrease your instruction time depending on your child’s attention span, abilities, and progress.
A basic beginning plan for kindergarten or first grade might start like this:
When just starting out, handwriting doesn’t have to involve putting pen to paper. Instead, you and your child can do things like writing with an index finger in sand or in pudding or on carpet squares or any other tactile surface. Writing is fairly complex and involves both gross and fine motor muscle tone as well as neurological involvement and working memory. I remember thinking that pre-writing types of activities weren’t all that important when, in fact, they are very important. I was too anxious to get to “the real thing” (pencil to paper). If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time doing fun pre-writing activities.
When a child becomes fluent in reading simple words, it’s time to add in:
And when a child can read chapter books fluently, your phonics and reading instruction time can transition to:
There are lots of great reasons to read aloud to your children. I recommend reading aloud to even your older children for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes each day. Read-alouds teach many valuable language arts skills, such as vocabulary. I often stop to see if my kids know a word, or they will stop me and ask for a definition. Syntax and grammar and the flow of our language are also taught informally. Poetry can teach rhyming, alliteration, and the musicality of language. You can work on listening skills and comprehension by asking simple questions like “What do you think will happen next?” or “Why do you think the character did that? Would you have done that?” Most of all, reading aloud can help your child develop a lifelong love of learning. I still read to my high school and junior high students, and I will continue as long as I can get away with it!
When your child is ready for more, you can begin to add in writing and grammar.
I started off by working on these topics informally. I found it easier to add a formal writing program after my children could spell around a thousand words. Writing and grammar do not have to be taught simultaneously. There are many ways to customize instruction in these areas. You can choose to focus on one per year, or do them on alternating days. Try breaking instruction up into 6-, 9-, 12-, or 18-week segments, or use a program that incorporates both content areas.
With older children, speech can be woven into the writing/grammar time slot as well.
Remember, you don’t have to do every language arts topic every year. The most important thing is to think through your goals, consider the individual needs of each child, and build your language arts plan step by step.
Do you have a system for teaching language arts that works for your family? How is it different from this system? Let us know in the comments!