The best thing about homeschooling is the ability to be different than the public school system. You can try different methods, change curriculum, and throw out what doesn’t work. That’s what I’ve been doing since I began homeschooling in 2000, and I’ve put everything we do in one convenient post.
Reading is most important
Everything I’m sharing below on homeschooling and language arts hinges on the ability to read, and read well. Phonics is the superior method for teaching children to read, and a lack of phonics tends to hamper people for life. A solid phonics program is the key.
Samuel Blumenfeld, author and teacher, believed that the whole-word method of teaching reading is to blame for the sharp rise in dyslexic students in America. He is not alone. But while many well-informed people have fought the whole-word (or look-say) method of reading instruction for decades, it has won a permanent place in public education. There are some school districts trying to bring back phonics, though many are implementing a blend of the two methods.
I highly recommend Blumenfeld’s book Crimes of the Educators. At least half of the book is devoted to the disaster that public education has caused in reading instruction alone. He also published a simple and affordable phonics program called Alpha Phonics. It is suitable for teaching a beginner to read, but it also helps struggling older students to relearn reading the correct way.
The ability to read is the single most important thing a child can be taught in school. Everything else follows this. I urge you to use a solid phonics program to teach your children to read. Be patient and consistent. Don’t give up.
Now that your child can read…
…let’s discuss literature. And the first thing I want to stress is that literature is not a high school credit; it’s a whole world that needs to be explored!
Read great books to your children, and with your children. Don’t treat literature as just a school subject. Read books because they are good. (See my book lists here.)
In our home, I am always reading a book aloud to my kids, all the way through high school. I will typically choose a historical novel that aligns with our history time period. We spend about an hour doing this on “school” days. Even when I’ve had younger children, they learned to sit and listen while doing something quiet (like legos, blocks, play-doh, or coloring). If your kids are not used to sitting still while you read aloud, start with small chunks of time and work up from there. It will become a very normal thing if you work at it! (And bonus: this is good training for sitting quietly in church!)
I also assign independent reading to my children. Sometimes they choose the book, and sometimes I do. I require at least 30 minutes per “school” day, but they are welcome to read more if they’re getting into it.
Lastly, our whole family enjoys audiobooks. We use Audible, and over the past 15 years or so we have collected over 400 titles. Now it’s a race to see who gets to use the two new credits each month! (And yes, listening to audiobooks counts as reading!)
I never view books as a “literature credit” or something to put on a report card. I view books as education, entertainment, and (ahem) a connection to history. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I believe reading is something everyone can and should enjoy, and should make a little time for every single day.
Make it a natural and fun part of your homeschool day! Read my post on taking the fear out of literature here.
Next up, I want to stress copy work. This is an easy, affordable, and effective language arts programs all on its own.
Copywork is simply this: copying down sentences, paragraphs, poetry, and more. But it is also a full curriculum, because it allows students to see and use new and difficult words, sentence partterns, correct spelling, and punctuation in context.
Spelling makes more sense when you see, say, and write the words in their normal context. A richer vocabulary is obtained through reading and copying words that a student has never heard or seen from a variety of texts. Grammar concepts make sense when viewed in their natural habitat. : )
And it’s inexpensive because you only need paper, pencils, and a good book. Young children can copy a line from their favorite picture book, while older children may copy a historic speech given by a famous leader.
It’s a form of imitation, learning to write well by copying others who wrote well. Copy work has been in use for centuries because it works. Read my full post on it here (and find links to some free copywork downloads to get you started):
Let me tell you what I learned about teaching grammar: we do it way too much! This is one of those things that showed me it does not take twelve years to educate a child. You can only do so much grammar until your head wants to explode.
In this case, less is more. Quality over quantity. And then practical use takes the place of instruction and drill.
So, I don’t teach grammar in the elementry grades. That’s the time for learning to read and learning to write. (And by learning to write, I just mean physical writing, not composition.) I save formal grammar instruction for the middle years, beginning at about age 10.
We have used Easy Grammar in the past, and now use Fix-It! Grammar from IEW. My kids prefer Fix-It! They will take 2 or 3 grammar courses, and that’s it. (Copywork provides perfect review and reinforcement of what they have learned; see above.)
In the high school years, the focus should be on reading more, writing well, and speaking. Proper grammar will be in continual use and review.
Why we don’t use spelling curriculum
I don’t teach spelling as a separate subject anymore. I don’t use a spelling curriculum. This is another area where you can apply “it does not take twelve years to educate a child.”
I did use spelling curriculum, many years ago. In fact, I tried several. And it didn’t matter which one we used, the results were the same: lists of words that meant nothing except that they had the same rule or sound. Memorizing the list did nothing for long-term mastery.
If you love your spelling curriculum, I’m not here to tell you to stop using it. But I’ve been asked by a LOT of moms what to do, because they were in the same boat as me. I stopped spending extra money for a separate curriculum, and learned how to make our other language arts instruction more meaningful and lasting.
This doesn’t mean you just sit back and do nothing; you need to be intentional about checking your child’s writing, and reminding them of some phonics and spelling rules along the way. But it can be one less “subject” in your curriculum, which is a big deal for a busy homeschool schedule.
Finally: why you should teach your children to write well
Christian parents, just as Esther was put in a certain place at a certain time to do a very important work, our children were also “born for such a time as this.” The culture we live in is disturbing, to say the least. Some days it causes me to mourn that my children and grandchildren must grow up in this ugly world. But then I remember that God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave us kids for the 21st century.
So let’s equip them for important work. Let’s give them the tools they need to communicate God’s love and biblical principles to a confused and hurting world. Yes, they need some high school credits, and a great writing course will definitely fill that need, but let’s look beyond transcripts and credits and educate Christian soldiers to lead future generations.
Read my blog post: Why you should teach your children to write well (and my favorite writing curriculum).