Weekly Wrap Up – The One With The Snow

Homeschool weekly wrap up Navigating By Joy

We had our annual snow this week, so snow fun was top of the homeschool agenda. The highlight was hitting the sledging run on Monday morning when all the other kids had gone back to school (tee hee!).

We just about managed to  fit in some other types of learning around the edges, too. 🙂

History

We’ve been reading about the rise of Islam and the Islamic Empire in The Story of the World Vol 2: The Middle Ages. This has sparked some interesting questions and discussions about Christianity, Islam and other belief systems.

C and J are 9 and 7 so at the moment we’re learning history as an exciting story without much detailed examination of complex causes and motivations. But I love, love, love it when I notice them making spontaneous connections.

It happened this week when we learnt about how the Visigoths who had settled in Spain invited Tariq bin Ziyad over from North Africa to help them deal with internal conflict. I was so excited to see C’s eyes light up as she exclaimed, “That sounds like when the English invited over the Anglo-Saxons and ended up being conquered by them!”

Geography

This term I’m bringing maps in wherever I can. We use the WonderMaps software which lets you view and print maps showing as much or as little detail as you require.

The WonderMaps package also includes historical maps, so to complement our history study this week we’ve been looking at a map of the medieval Islamic Empire, side by side with a map of the area as it is today. As we learn about each important place in history the kids find it and mark it on the map.

I try to select maps that show Britain on the same map as the area we are studying.  If that’s not possible, I have to hand a separate, smaller scale map showing where we are in relation to the area. I think this helps the children (and me!) form a joined-up mental map of the world.

This week we all enjoyed learning how the name of the British colony at the south of Spain is derived from Jabal Tariq (“Tariq’s Mountain”) – the rock of Gibraltar!

Maths

We use Life of Fred as our main maths curriculum, but from time to time we supplement with other materials, to consolidate learning, practise techniques and fill gaps.

This week we’ve used Maths Made Easy workbooks and Mathletics as our supplements. C has been learning about factors and J has been practising arithmetic. Workbooks can be fun when you don’t use them all the time!

English/Language Arts

The People In Pineapple Place

C and I have been enjoying reading our current Arrow book The People in Pineapple Place and doing copywork and dictation from it. We also restarted Spelling Power which had fallen by the wayside about a year ago. We’re going to try doing it once a week, instead of daily,  to try and keep it fresh.

Luckily I don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel when it comes to J’s language arts programme, which is progressing nicely.

I’m pleased to see him choosing to write a bit more.  One evening this week he produced a “magna carta” for the family to sign.  “How sweet,” I though,  adding my signature to his charter declaring that “Mummy gets to do what ever she wants” – shooing away cynical thoughts about the location of the small print.

Five minutes later a triumphant J reappeared, revealing the rest of the “magna carta” which he had written in invisible ink before we signed – “Jasper gets to do games all the time”! (Honestly, you’d think we kept him in chains!) It’s so true that a child will write if the desire is strong enough!

Music

Appreciating classical music is so easy with You Tube! C chose our current composer, Chopin.  We’ve all enjoyed listening to the pieces she’s selected this week.  Sometimes we have the music on in the background, other times (especially if it’s a funny clip or original instruments are being played) we watch the accompanying video via Apple TV.

Science

We made an acid/base indicator with red cabbage! I’ll be writing a separate post all about the fun we had with that.

Red cabbage acid base indicato original  2

We hope you’ve had a great week too.

We’re appreciatively linking up here…

Homegrown Learners
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Homeschool Language Arts Curriculum – Grade 3

Homeschool language arts grade 3 at navigatingbyjoy

Our Grade 3 (UK Year 4) language arts programme is centred around Brave Writer’s The Arrow.

We love how The Arrow exposes us to new literature and inspires us to use language in new and exciting ways.  I say “us” because part of the Brave Writer philosophy is that parents learn alongside their kids – I probably get as much out of The Arrow as Cordie does!

Goals

Our language arts goals are for Cordie (9):

  • to enjoy using language to express herself
  • to improve her written communication skills so as to enhance her self-expression
  • to appreciate great literature, and
  • to learn in a fun way how to spell accurately and use good grammar

Curriculum

The Arrow

Books

This term we looked at the “hero’s journey” plot structure as we read the fantasy story Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  We also enjoyed Frindle, a funny and thought-provoking story about a ten year old boy who makes up a word.

Copywork and Dictation

Each Arrow contains four passages from the month’s book to be used for copywork and dictation. These simple practices help teach punctuation, grammar and spelling and  and introduce concepts like paragraph indentation and how to write dialogue.

Grammar

In my heart I know that The Arrow probably provides all the grammar practice Cordie needs. But sometimes I get to wondering why, then, do schools and most homeschool curricula spend so long teaching the mechanics of grammar? My compromise was to look for a grammar book that Cordie would enjoy using independently.

Nelson Grammar is an old school book that was donated by emigrating friends. Cordie loves it.  Each unit is nicely set out over a double page spread. Cordie’s using Pupil Book 4 which is apparently for Year 6 (Grade 5) students. You can preview the inside of each book at Google Books if you’re not sure which level would best suit your child.

Nelson Grammar

Spelling

Our shelves also contain a number of spelling books collected over the years. We selected CGP  KS2 Spelling (Book 3) because Cordie can work through it independently and the wordlists were pitched at about the right level.

Each list of 23 words is designed to be read, copied, then covered and written again, and finally clues are given for each word so that the student can test herself.

In theory Cordie learns one wordlist a week; in practice she doesn’t do it that often. I don’t insist – I’m not convinced spelling programmes are the best way to learn to spell.  But I like knowing that one is available to Cordie should the mood take her!

Language Arts Websites

There’s lots of practice available on subscription websites like Grid Club, Education City and Study Ladder, and free websites like BBC Bitesize. These sites make learning good English so much fun – incomparable with the mind-numbing reading comprehensions I endured at primary school!

Poetry Teatime

Last term we celebrated poetry tea every Monday afternoon with local homeschooling friends. Sadly our friends have now moved to the other end of the country, but the poetry tea habit is firmly in place and we have several other friends keen to join us.  We even held poetry tea with Daddy over the Christmas break!

poetry tea

Other Writing

I never set Cordie writing assignments other than those we work on together using The Arrow, but she writes spontaneously and often – comic strips, a diary, recipes, stories, songs, letters and poems and posters (usually aimed at her brother).

She also from time to time writes “mini essays” (her description) about aspects of her project work, like this one about electrons.

electrons mini essay

When we have time, Cordie creates history notebook pages. I like the way notebooking helps organise thoughts on a topic.  It also develops planning and organisational skills which will be increasingly used later on.

Writing Mentor

Finally, Cordie is going to be having a few creative writing sessions with a home-educating mum friend who is also a homeschool tutor, an arrangement which came out of a casual conversation between us. Cordie loves the idea.

I think it will be a great opportunity for her to have the benefit of someone else’s perspective and will add some positive accountability to inspire her to write.

Reading

Of course, no language arts curriculum would be complete without a mention of reading.  Luckily, this requires very little planning in Cordie’s case as she reads (or listens to) everything book can find. (I have to warn her off certain books in our shared Audible account.  I’m not sure she’s quite ready for Stephen Fry’s autobiography!)

Recent family car-listens have been The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and Gerald Durrell’s wonderful My Family and Other Animals (part of his Corfu trilogy). We’re just starting on the Narnia series which Jasper (7) hasn’t read – Cordie made me read them to her back-to-back a few years ago, but we’re both more than happy to re-experience C.S. Lewis’s magical fantasies.

Other Posts You Might Like

Grade 2 Language Arts: Brave Writer’s The Arrow

Our Homeschool Curriculum: English (Language Arts) – Grade 2

Grammar Land: A Living Book about the Parts of Speech

Shakespeare for Younger Children in 3 Easy Steps

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

Poetry Tea

Homeschool Language Arts for the Dyslexic and Dysgraphic Child

Homeschool Language Arts for the Dyslexic and Dysgraphic Child

handiwriter - homeschooling dyslexia & dysgraphia at navigating by joy

Our homeschool language arts curriculum has changed a little since we discovered that Jasper (7) has mild dyslexia, dysgraphia and fine motor delays. We’ve always had a fairly relaxed homeschooling style, but knowing more about how Jasper’s brain works has allowed us to use the most appropriate tools to bring out his best.

Assessment and Diagnosis

Jasper rarely reads books for pleasure or writes voluntarily. I’ve never been too concerned – he’s only seven, and I know enough about the development of boys’ brains to trust that this will change with time.  In the meantime, I knew he was busy developing other other skills.

Dyslexia and Dysgraphia

We took Jasper to see an educational psychologist because we wanted to know how best to leverage the small amount of time we spend doing structured homeschooling with him. The psychologist gave us useful insights into his relative strengths and weaknesses. (I see these as a snapshot of his current development, not set in stone.  The brain is more like plastic.) She assessed Jasper as having “mild dyslexic and possibly dysgraphic markers”, and recommended a number of resources specifically tailored to his learning needs.

Sensory Processing Disorder

I had suspected for a few months that Jasper had Sensory Processing Disorder, and this was confirmed in September by an assessment with a paediatric occupational therapist.  Sensory Processing Disorder has many manifestations – the biggest challenge Jasper faces is emotional self-regulation. But SPD also tends to bring with it with motor delays – mostly, in Jasper’s case, fine motor delays.

General Approach

The psychologist and occupational therapist recommended a little-and-often approach to help improve Jasper’s reading and writing. He is having occupational therapy (daily, at home, and weekly with a therapist) to help with his sensory integration and motor function. Because these skills act as a foundation to all higher level functioning, including academic learning, it makes sense for now to focus most of our efforts here.

Curricula

Reading

Despite his mild dyslexia, Jasper’s reading comprehension age was assessed at more than three years ahead of his chronological age (thank you, Dennis the Menace and Zelda!). This type of dyslexia is sometimes described as “stealth dyslexia” because it so often goes undiagnosed in bright kids.


Toe by Toe - homeschooling dyslexia at navigating by joyToe by Toe
 describes itself as a “highly structured multi-sensory reading manual”. It requires no preparation, you just sit down together and follow the format each day. The pages are black and white, clear, and un-busy, and as it’s designed for all ages (including adults) it doesn’t patronise. As a visual-spatial learner with a good memory, Jasper has always relied on sight-word reading. I knew from hearing him read aloud at poetry teas that he lacked the skills to decode more complex new words, but he’d always strongly resisted any phonics coaching. That is, until we found Toe by Toe.

Phonics rules are introduced and thoroughly practised, and each word has to earn three ticks over three consecutive sessions before it is considered mastered. Phonics concepts are practised using both real and nonsense words – it’s the latter that seem really to cement the learning.

homeschooling dyslexic child - navigating by joy

Toe by Toe suggests sessions of up to 20 minutes a day. We do six minutes. I might increase this as Jasper gets older, but we’ve been using the programme for just a few months and are already a quarter through so that may not be necessary.

The other day I snapped this picture of him not only reading a book, but doing so on a car journey next to a bag of electronic games devices!

Handwriting

Thanks to several years of Handwriting Without Tears, Jasper’s handwriting is neat and legible.  The problem is, outside of his handwriting sessions, he never writes! The process is just too effortful for him. The occupational therapist told us that because of his sensory processing issues and fine motor delays, he’s having to use big, tiring muscles to write, whereas those of us who’ve developed what’s known as automaticity in writing use smaller muscles.

One of the ways we’re addressing this is by using a handiwriter to encourage Jasper to hold his pencil in the correct position. Although I had shown him how to do this many times, I had come to wonder if maybe there was no “correct” grip and that children should be left to hold a pencil however they please.  But if working on a new grip is going to make writing easier for Jasper, I’ll do what it takes to encourage him.

Write from the Start - Homeschooling the Dyslexic and Dysgraphic ChildThe educational psychologist we saw recommended Write from the Start, “a unique programme to develop the fine motor and perceptual skills necessary for effective handwriting”. The books are full of simple exercises like drawing the spines on a dragon’s back, which Jasper does with enthusiasm. Write from the Start leads onto cursive handwriting so we’ve skipped ahead to Handwriting Without Tears – Cursive Handwriting.  Jasper happily does a page a day, after Write From the Start.

Typing

The psychologist emphasised the importance of Jasper learning to type well and recommended Nessy Fingers, an inexpensive programme designed for dyslexic students. Cordie (9), (who does not have dyslexia) also enjoys using Nessy more than the other typing programmes we’ve tried (Type to Learn 4 and the free BBC Dance Mat Typing).

Creative Writing and Other Subjects

Of course, there’s more to language arts than reading and writing.  One of the many advantages of homeschooling is that delays in reading and writing don’t have to hold a child back in other subjects or from having fun with language.

Jasper can dictate stories, poems and emails to me, and ask me to write down or spell search terms. I don’t put pressure on him to write or spell for himself outside our dedicated sessions. I want him to feel the joy of expressing himself, of seeing his words recorded, unhampered by the fact that other skills haven’t fully developed yet.

I act as Jasper’s scribe when he writes history or science notebooking pages. His French teacher (who has two dyslexic sons) lets him to play or draw in their lessons while his sister writes. He learns the parts of speech playing Mad Libs.  He relishes participating in poetry tea, a superb natural opportunity for reading aloud to an audience. He grabs pencil and paper to writes plans, treasure maps and notes to himself, uninhibited by worries about what other people will think. His favourite game is Consequences; it didn’t bother any of us that for years every character he invented was called “poo” 😀 . He’s listened to many, many audiobooks, including the complete Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games trilogy, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. He’s enjoying language; the skills will come.

How has a Dyslexia Diagnosis Changed Our Homeschooling?

Having Jasper assessed and diagnosed with mild dyslexia and sensory processing disorder hasn’t much changed how we homeschool. When you spend every day with your child, you understand him better than anyone. I’ve always known it was important to trust Jasper to develop at his own pace.

Each of us comes as a unique package.  The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain offers an incredible insight into what the dyslexic mind is capable of (I can’t recommend it highly enough).  We don’t try to make babies to sit, crawl or walk before they’re ready.  We trust that they are born with everything they need to develop at the exact right pace for them. Let’s trust our older children to do the same.

Grade 2 Language Arts: Brave Writer’s The Arrow

The Arrow: Grade 2 Language Arts at Navigating by JoyC and I had so much fun – and learned so much (yes, me too) – this week doing an exercise from Brave Writer’s The Arrow.

What is The Arrow?

The Arrow uses one classic novel each month to teach language arts to children aged from 8 to 11.  It places strong emphasis on literary elements – elements which “make writing pop”. C has a great imagination and her writing is naturally crafted from vibrant language.  I think The Arrow will help refine her grammar, punctuation and spelling skills while nurturing her unique writer’s “voice” and giving her the means to use, in her own writing, literary tools she enjoys in her reading. As she becomes more consciously aware of these literary elements, I think she will also begin to appreciate literature more deeply. We’re are using The Arrow in combination with other aspects of the Brave Writer lifestyle, such as Poetry Tea.

Novel of the Month: The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth: Grade 2 language artsOur first novel (from August 2011’s The Arrow) is The Phantom Tollbooth, which grabs the reader’s attention in the opening paragraph with the magical words “There was once a boy named…” and then hooks us in with a series of contrasts using the literary element of surprise.  The Arrow points out how punctuation – in particular, the em dash – is used in the passage to create literary power, for example in the very first sentence:

“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.”

Opening Hooks Exercise

To look at more opening hooks in action we gathered a pile of novels – old favourites and some from my read-aloud wish list – and took turns reading the opening lines aloud. We talked about how each opening introduced us to the flavour of the novel – humorous, magical, etc – and described characters, places or situations we wanted to find out more about. We piled the books in order of how effective their opening hooks were, with the most powerful at the top. (C had the casting vote!)

C”s favourite hook was from her old favourite, “You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!”:

“Mr Gum was a fierce old man with a red beard and two bloodshot eyes that stared out at you like an octopus curled up in a bad cave.  He was a complete horror who hated children, animals, fun and corn on the cob.  What he liked was snoozing in bed all day, being lonely and scowling at things.”

This reminded C how much she loves Mr Gum, and she spent the rest of the day re-reading Mr Gum books!

I liked the start of “The Return of the Twelves”:

“Max sat on the bare stairs below the attic, wondering whether to tell anyone.”

We haven’t yet read The Return of the Twelves but I’m sure we soon will – we want to find out what had happened to Max!

Interestingly, we decided that the opening of “Heidi”, which we we have just finished, and enjoyed immensely, had the least effective opening hook (at least in the opening paragraph) out of our selection  – which was a nice reminder of how authors use a variety of ways to appeal to readers.

More Brave Writer: Language Arts for Grade 1

Next time I’ll post about J and I’s first experiences using Brave Writer’s The Wand.

Grammar-land: A Living Book about the Parts of Speech

We use living books in our homeschool for most subjects:  history, science, music, art, and even maths.  Books which are passionately written,  bring their subjects to life, and are as enjoyable to read – for both adults and children – as they are educational.  But a living book to teach the names and functions of the parts of speech? Surely not!

Enter Grammar-land – 135 years old and brimming with more life than any twenty-first century workbook ever did!

Where is Grammar-land?

The story takes place in – you guessed it – Grammar-land, “a place every bit as real as Fairy-land, and much more important”.  Grammar-land is ruled over by stern, old Judge Grammar, who is “far mightier than any Fairy Queen, for he rules over real kings and queens down here in Matter-of-fact-land”.

The Parts-of-Speech

We are told that just as William the Conqueror divided England among his nobles, when Judge Grammar took possession of Grammar-land he gave all the words to his nine followers.  He called these nine followers the Parts-of-speech, “and to one or other of them every word in Grammar-land was given.”

Included among the Parts-of-Speech there is “rich Mr. Noun, and his useful friend Pronoun; little ragged Article, and talkative Adjective; busy Dr. Verb, and Adverb; perky Preposition, convenient Conjunction, and that tiresome Interjection, the oddest of them all.”

The Premise

As some of the Parts-of-Speech are richer (have more words than) the others, they are given to quarrelling, and one day they make so much noise that they wake Judge Grammar from a very comfortable nap.

Angrily, Judge Grammar summons his learned counsellors, Dr. Syntax and Serjeant Parsing, and demands an explanation for the noise.  The counsellors explain to Judge Grammar that some of the Parts-of-Speech are greedy, and have stolen their neighbours’ words:

“Some of them have got hold of new words, which the others say they had no right to make, and some of them are even inclined to think that Dr. Syntax is old-fashioned, and need not be obeyed.”

To prevent the laws of Grammar-land going to wreck and ruin, Judge Grammar summons every Part-of-Speech before his court, intending to settle any disagreements once for all.  The judge also invites “our friends in Schoolroom-shire … to keep an account of what we do”, since “if we wish to have peace among the Parts-of-Speech it is most important that the people of Matter-of-fact-land should know how to use them well.”

Sneaky Practice

In subsequent chapters, Judge Grammar cross-examines each Part-of-Speech in turn to find out which words properly belong to it, and how those words may be identified.

To help the children of Schoolroom-shire in their role of keeping account, Judge Grammar sets a short practice exercise at the end of each chapter.  Jessica Cain  has generously shared beautifully formatted versions of the exercises here.

How We’re Using Grammar-land

Listening to one chapter of Grammar-land per week has been a fun part of our Grade 2 English curriculum this term.  I’m not a fan of repetitive grammar drills or rote-learning of lists of prepositions and the like, so the rest of our grammar curriculum consists of good quality literature, daily copywork and games like Mad Libs.

C (8) is going to start learning Latin soon (we’re both loving the look of Visual Latin) and what she’s learning from Grammar-land is a great foundation for beginning to understand concepts like adjective agreement and verb declension.

Grammar-land for Free

You can find the complete text of Grammar-land free online,  here, for example, and there is also a beautifully narrated free audio version.  I came across Grammar-Land among various other gems I bought as part of a bargain package from Yesterday’s Classics.  It’s also available from Amazon.

Now, to find a living book on punctuation.  Suggestions welcome!

More Language Arts Posts

Grade 2 Language Arts: Brave Writer’s The Arrow

Shakespeare for Younger Children in 3 Easy Steps

Our Homeschool Curriculum – English (Language Arts) Grade 2

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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