Most people think of Language Arts as a formal, tedious grammar program. but essentially, language flows naturally from listening and mimicking (copying) and speaking to reading and writing. (Think how a baby learns to speak.)
Reading good literature is the best way to learn grammar. Using living books and reading aloud regularly, your child will not require formal instruction to naturally learn new vocabulary and the essential grammar concepts for quite a few years.
Begin this natural language learning with this simple Charlotte Mason approach = Read aloud + active listening followed by oral narrations (retelling the story in their own words). For older children, continue with dictated narrations (child tells the story while mom jots or types it word for word. (Read my post Mom the Narrations Scribe) and finally the child’s own written narrations. No formal written Language Art lessons yet.
I discovered how true this was when my preschooler narrated the story I had just read aloud to her. When she retold the story, she used an unusual, new word, “skittered”. She enjoyed this lovely, descriptive word in the story and made it her own in her narration. A 4-year-old can narrate with detail and passion! Read how I capture preschoolers and junior schooler’s narrations in a jotter.
You can start some Copywork once your child starts mastering their handwriting. Select a simple sentence or two, such as a memory verse or from a reader and encourage your child to first read it aloud and then copy it out neatly. This daily practice reinforces meaningful handwriting practice, but, more importantly, it provides daily examples of good language and sentence structure. You’ll be amazed how such a simple activity can build your child’s own language and writing skills! (You can find loads of my free copywork pages here.)
Wait until your child is about 9 or 10 years old before including formal grammar rules and language art lessons. Use extracts from their current read aloud (or other suitable examples) and examine the building blocks; the formal aspects of how the sentences are built and arranged.
Now, don’t get too stressed about what extract to use. Your extract can be anything simple. Bible verses, memory verses, famous quotes, poems or simply a sentence or two from the real aloud will be good. I must emphasize that this is the great part of this natural language learning = it is meaningfully in context. In other words, your child is not doing numbered sentences or lists applying a rule to random sentences, but can see its significance and importance in the relevant extract.
Ruth Beechick’s “A Strong Start in Language” (ISBN number in my Book List page) is perhaps the best simple book on how to teach language! Ruth Beeschick gives loads of basic examples, lays out all the suggested grade levels and makes simple and easy-to-apply suggestions. With this book in hand, you can create all your children’s language arts lessons!
Note: Do language arts as a short separate lesson and not while reading aloud. If you constantly pepper reading aloud with grammar and vocabulary extension tips and lessons, you will kill your child’s enjoyment and frustrate their listening. I did this in my early years of “mom-the-teacher” enthusiasm and in my desire not to “miss a learning moment”. Silly me. When I learnt to trust a child’s natural learning process through listening, reinforced with short, sweet separate LA activities, I relaxed and let the reading flow.
What are the basic Language Arts? Grammar is the building blocks of language. Essentially it is not necessary to get too technical and do sentence analysis and sentence diagraming. Simply let your child find the proper nouns or nouns/ or verbs/ adjectives/ etc. in the given extract. My kids loved underlining, circling, boxing, ticking or highlighting the correct words. They enjoyed drawing ticks and arrows above punctuation marks.
Include some word searches, dictionary work, finding or writing their own antonyms and synonyms and you have a great vocabulary extension exercise.
Then, importantly, encourage your child to apply this in their written work. I often include a “make it your own” prompt and encourage creative writing.
Another important note: Don’t kill your child’s own written narrations with grammar corrections! No one enjoys seeing red pen marks all over their work! Make a side note when you notice repeated, glaring and important grammar mistakes in your child’s written narrations and then find examples in extracts from readers to point out the grammar rule. in a short copywork exercise, let your child practice this rule and then encourage them to apply it to their written work. Keep reinforcing the grammar activity until you see that they have understood and can apply it naturally in their writing.
Be creative with language arts. Use relevant magazine and newspaper articles or comic strips, especially for older children. (Read my suggestions for a Charlotte Mason approach for Remedial Course For Older Children.)
Once you embrace the nature language learning method, you can apply short, formal English lessons to the same extract for 5 days, focusing on new skills each day as follows:
- Monday = Copywork (copy the passage, taking note of new, unknown words, sentence structure and punctuation)
- Tuesday = Language Arts (analyzing the grammar elements)
- Wednesday = Vocabulary Extension and Spelling (learn thematic words, work on spelling rules or spelling lists)
- Thursday = Creative Writing (apply the concept from the extract or reader in a creative written exercise)
- Friday = Dictation (The child reads and learns the extract each day and now writes it as a formal dictation without looking at the passage)
These are all about a 10-minute lesson. Keep your formal English lessons short and sweet!
I trust that this post encourages homeschool parents who feel concerned about their child’s formal language arts. Relax. Trust me. It will work!
In Grace, Nadene