Our Homeschool Curriculum – English (Language Arts) Grade 2

C (aged 8) began homeschooling a year ago.  Words are a strong suit for her  – she is very articulate, has great cursive handwriting, and reads quickly and fluently. She also has strong opinions about what she does and doesn’t want to do, and one of my challenges is to find a careful balance between boring her and demanding too much!

In this area, my aims for C are:

  • to develop her skills in the mechanics of writing without subjecting her to excessive drilling,
  • to provide an environment which stimulates her creativity and enriches her vocabulary,
  • to provide access to a steady stream of resources to help satisfy her appetite for words.

I mentioned in my post about our Grade 1 English that I am quite “unschool-y” about language arts; I want these skills to be learned as much as possible in a real-world context, and there are plenty of opportunities for that to happen.

General Approach

It’s important for all writers to keep the mechanics of writing from getting in the way of creativity, and this is especially true for children, for whom the gap between the two skill-sets is larger than for adults.  By “mechanics” I mean not just the physical process of handwriting but also the niceties of grammar, spelling, punctuation etc.  I’m not under-estimating the importance of getting those things right – as a former lawyer I’m all too aware of how a misplaced comma can change the whole meaning of a sentence –  but I also know that sometimes it’s best just to get the words down on paper and then tidy them up later.  I love that the very first exercise in the Nanowrimo Young Writer’s Program  (which C and I dabbled with and will return to later this year) is to draw a picture of your inner editor and then lock him/her/it somewhere out of reach where they can’t intrude on the creative process!

Strewing  reading material works very well with C.  If I leave a book on the table she will be read over a meal, near the sofa and I will come down early in the morning and find her engrossed, or on the upstairs landing and it will disappear into her room. With the recent loss of our guinea pigs (RIP Oscar and Ollie) and the consequent freeing-up of floor space, I’ve installed a new bookshelf in our living area with slanted shelves for displaying books relating to our studies. (Ikea magazine rails  work great for this.)

Resources

Grammar

Evan-Moor Daily Paragraph Editing (Grade 2)

Daily Paragraph Editing  provides near-real-world grammar practice.  Each unit is made up of four related paragraphs containing various spelling and grammatical errors.  Different genres of writing are covered, such as non-fiction, biography, realistic fiction, historical fiction.

I print out the relevant paragraphs from  the e-Book, and C puts on her editor’s hat and hunts for all the mistakes the “copywriter” has made, keeping to hand the book’s list of standard proofreading marks and checklist of proofreading errors while she works.

I look ahead  to see what’s coming up, and discuss anything new with C in advance.  I stay close by while C works so she can raise any queries with me as she goes along.  If I notice that she’s unsure about a new concept (for example, plural possessive apostrophes recently)  I plan a bit more practice on it over the next few weeks.

Mad Libs

Both C and J love mad libs. They’re such great practice for both creativity and knowing the parts of speech, yet it doesn’t feel like “school” at all – win win! We’ve been using Best Of Mad Libs .

Spelling

I wasn’t sure whether to use a specific spelling program with C at all as she is such a naturally good speller.  But there are words that she misspells and although these might naturally be picked up over time, I followed Jimmie’s  tip and invested in Spelling Power, on the basis that it will last right through school and I can use it with J as well.  Spelling Power has placement tests so the student begins the program at exactly the right level, and C seems to be really enjoying it so far.  Her biggest complaint is that she gets so few words wrong on the pre-tests, she doesn’t get to do many of the fun exercises like spelling out words with her finger in a tray of salt!

Creative Writing

I’d love for C to write more stories.  She wrote some great ones back when she was at school (though often with much whining, at least when they were set for homework).  A few times I’ve suggested some writing, but so far C hasn’t been keen.  She’s enjoyed a couple of exercises from The Writer’s Jungle, but I’m encouraged by Writer’s Jungle author Julie Bogart’s advice that most children start writing in earnest when they’re about 9 or 10 years old.  In the meantime one of her favourite pastimes is to invent characters in picture form, giving them names and qualities; I’m hoping this is good practice for character-development in future story-writing!  (Incidentally the Homeschool Buyers’ Co-op is currently offering a 50% discount on Brave Writer products.)

We’ve also been reading aloud Spilling Ink, a light-hearted look at the creative-writing process by two female novelists,  which is a fun and nicely aligned with my motto of feeling good around “school subjects”.

Literature

C reads a lot on her own – mostly library books and books on her new Kindle. She also listens to library audiobooks and we listen to Audible  purchases together – we recently finished Anne Of Green Gables and we’re onto Anne Of Avonlea.  I always read aloud a chapter book to C and J together as a bedtime story.

This term I plan to do more reading aloud of good quality literature and great stories – stories from Shakespeare, Homer and other classics – as part of our school day.

Extra Resources I’m Planning To use

I’ve just subscribed to the Evan-Moor subscription service Teacher-Filebox  which gives unlimited access to all Evan-Moor’s eBooks.  (30% off  via the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.)  I’m looking forward to exploring Filebox.  For language arts we already use Daily Paragraph Editing (C) and Building Spelling Skills (J), and it looks like there are some good grammar resources there, like Language Fundamentals.  More about this when we’ve had a chance to play with it some more!

I’d love to hear of any extra resources people use that we might enjoy.

End of Term Homeschool Curriculum Review – English (Language Arts) Grade 1

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.

Handwriting

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.

Phonics

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.

Spelling

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!

Writing

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. 🙂

Literature/Narration

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”!

My Library Thing

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