When your child doesn’t want to read the suggested book?

In our Charlotte Mason homeschooling, we followed literary-based learning curriculums, learning through recommended lists of living books.

It is inevitable that not every recommended book in the curriculum will appeal to every child, and we have had our share of books that just didn’t “fit” some of us.

Young children and middle schoolers often have a preference for certain gender characters, and my young girls often groaned when I started another story featuring a young boy as the main character.

Some aspects of History don’t appeal. My younger teenagers did not enjoy political history section of their Footprints curriculum.  And although I insisted on their reading every book on the schedule, I realized that they did not connect with the narrative or the information shared through the story.  Because I related so emotionally to some of these stories, I expected that they would as well, and I was disappointed in their unfazed attitudes.  It took me a while to realize that it was a waste of time to insist on the reading when they were uninterested.

Some literary styles don’t appeal. Some children prefer action, others love descriptive passages, and others love dynamic dialogue.  By the time they reach junior high, my children had a very keen sense of good books and they quickly refused poorer literature that they called “schlock”.

There have been books that I absolutely dreaded reading.  The chapters were long and the narrative terribly tedious.  I even fell asleep while reading aloud!  I couldn’t manage to drag myself through the required reading every day.  Eventually, I admitted defeat and put aside the book and looked for alternative ways of covering the subject matter.

From several bad experiences, I learnt that it doesn’t help to plod and slog on through a book when a child or mom has disengaged. It is a complete waste of time. Rather look for different options.

Here are some ways to approach a roadblock book-block ~

  1. Put away the book and look for something similar at your local library.
  2. Find audiobooks but ensure that they are well narrated.
  3. Look for suitable children’s movies or DVDs, especially if you are covering a specific historical era.
  4. Make a curated YouTube video playlist of suitable, relevant videos on the subject or era.  (Always preview and block adverts if you can.)
  5. Find relevant newspaper and magazine articles.
  6. Look up Wikipedia for specific people, dates, events and situations etc.
  7. Find someone who lived through that experience and encourage your children to interview them.
  8. Visit a museum or workshop.
  9. Do a road trip and go on an outing to the actual place.
  10. Look for photos and letters and memoirs of the time, place or period.
  11. If all else fails, simply move on.

Don’t worry about the gaps. We all have them! Even folks studying for their master’s degrees in a subject don’t know everything about their field of study!

Ditch the guilt and look for what your child is really fascinated by and interested in and follow their spark with food that flames their passion. This is what works!

Blessings as you find what works, Nadene

Rewards of Following Rabbit Trails

Recently I asked my 17-year-old daughter, now in her final year of homeschooling, what fun things she loved and remembered most in her homeschooling and this is what she said ~

“I loved learning to count in Japanese!” and she proceeded to count out loud in Japanese!

I was stunned!  This memorable little lesson was learnt while watching a  3-minute YouTube song we found “by chance” in an online search over 12 years ago.  My children loved this hip-hip counting song and it stuck with my daughter all this time.

But more importantly, her reply emphasized again how important it is to plan a wide margin of time to allow the freedom to follow “rabbit trails” or to allow your family to “take the scenic tours” in your themes and topics.

Back then, I was re-using our Sonlight World History core and I had discovered the joy of allowing the schedule to suggest and guide us, and not necessarily feel that I had to stick to their time-frame.  If I can remember correctly, their schedule allocated a mere 2 weeks to the Japan study, but we spent over a month covering all the aspects we found on our delight-directed studies.

Not only did my daughters learn to count in Japanese, but they enjoyed their free time and dressed up in kimonos, complete with make-up and hair accessories, and acted out stories.  They cooked and ate Japanese foods using chopsticks and our Chinese dinner service,  and they practised a tea ceremony.  We all learnt origami and my daughters still make origami in their creative projects to this day.  We tried our hand at ikebana (flower arranging), made fans, wrote haiku poetry and so on.

May I encourage any mom who is battling with a child or children don’t want to learn or participate, to get creative and look for other ways to find your fit.  Not only will your reluctant child rarely learn anything when she is nagged, urged, bribed, cajoled, or even punished, (and, yes, I did all this in my first few years of homeschooling when I was ignorant and idealistic), but this negative energy and relational conflict will rub off onto everything else.  If your children show signs of boredom or flat-out refusal, don’t force the issue.  If the lesson doesn’t work, then mom, please, for the sake of your sanity and your child’s happiness and their learning joys, look for something similar that might work.

Try a different approach.  Look for a video or song or hands-on activity instead of plodding on through a book and tailor-make their learning experience.  Remind yourself that homeschooling is actually like offering a learning buffet and you should allow your children to decide what and when they want to eat something.

I have learnt never to underestimate the value of those wonderful, almost magical rabbit-hole learning moments.  Sometimes, these happy discoveries may forge a lifelong fascination and enthusiasm for learning.  They are the whole reason we homeschool and it may be the one thing that they will remember for a lifetime!  I know that this is what works!

Blessings as you give yourselves extra time to follow those rabbit trails, Nadene

All the photos featured are the origami gifts that my daughters have made.

5 Things to do when you start homeschooling after a break

The start of a new homeschool year is just weeks away for many of my readers.  Here’s What Worked for us when we started homeschooling after a long break ~

1.Prepare

Start with a basic overall year plan for each child.    I like to plan my year with a page for each month, listing each subject and I break down the themes or topics for each month.  This plan also serves as my record of work.  

Print out your notebook pages, copywork pages, and/or lapbooks.  Store your topics and pages  for your work in files ready for each child.  Copy or create an index page for each subject or topic or lapbook activity to go with your overall year plan.

2. Practice sleep and wake up routine

A good morning starts the night before.  Re-establish simple bedtime routines a few days before schooling starts.

3. Pace

Gently ease into your schedule.  Start with the most exciting aspect of the course to ignite everyone’s enthusiasm.  Usually this is the Core reader or spine of your curriculum.  But don’t overdo it.  It is far better to start with short, sweet lessons and stop, leaving your children begging for more!  Short, sweet lessons serve as a wonderful motivation.   Kids love to feel that they can master their work and eagerly look forward to the next day.  Include quick, fun games in your school day.  The Amazing Arrow game is fantastic!

4. Perfect one area before moving on

Focus on one skill/ habit/ subject until it is mastered.   Break down each subject into manageable skills and encourage your child through each step.  If your child feels anxious or overwhelmed with the full schedule, work on just one new subject for about a week before adding another subject.  Sometimes, we focused on just one subject for a whole week to get to grips with the subject matter, the new skill or the lapbook or hands-on project.  Don’t worry about “falling behind”.  Simply focus on the lagging subject for a few days, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can catch up and flow into a new routine.

5.Read Aloud

Read alouds are the superglue of homeschooling and build a sense of unity and a focus.  Read alouds are relaxing, yet, with a child listening attentively, provides enormous learning experiences.  When in doubt, when if your kid has a melt-down or when mom feels burnt-out, stop, snuggle together and read aloud.  All will be fine.  They will learn.  Trust the learning journey through living books.

I hope these tips help you work through your transition days when you start your new school year.

Blessings, Nadene
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Prepare for High School exams

What Works! 

I often say to new homeschool parents,

It doesn’t take 12 years to prepare for Matric/ final exams.”

https://practicalpages.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/4955e-310882_285912091448900_996350184_n.jpgMany new homeschoolers worry about homeschooling through high school and how their children will cope with formal exams.  As a result, and very sadly, many new homeschool parents opt for strict curriculums that require regular tests and exams to ensure that they cover their bases.  It is really a shame to waste early homeschool years of a love to learn by following a strict, rigid, formal, school-at-home approach.

Tests and exams are used to evaluate what the child has learnt and remembered.  It is often the means to prove that the teacher is good at her job and so that parents can see specific results to show how their child is progressing.  With large classes, it is often the only way a school teacher has a good idea how each child is learning.  Homeschooling is a one-on-one approach and, especially with daily narrations, parents can immediately assess their child’s knowledge and skill set.

Over the past 20+ years of homeschooling I have used a Charlotte Mason approach for https://i1.wp.com/kibabiiuniversity.ac.ke/library/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/kibabii-exam-papers.jpgall my children until they decided how and what they wanted to do to graduate/ matriculate.  In 2013 my eldest daughter opted for a NSC Matric (National Senior Certificate = South African nation-wide public school matriculation) and she used a curriculum that required regular portfolio assignments and quarterly exams at done under strict exam conditions at home.  She only wrote her first external, formal external exam for her Prelims exams (the exact version of the final exams in the same exam venue) and these prelims helped her prepare for formal her formal exams more than anything else!

Here are some tips to prepare your children to write formal exams ~

  • Complete the work~  It seems obvious, but it is vital that you ensure that your child completes their course material and portfolio projects.  Marks given during the year are a very important part of the final mark, adding to the exam marks.
  • https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/38/0b/84/380b845b4f227133d16ca6795d3eabcf.jpgSummaries~ Teach your child to make good, clear summary notes for each subject.  Show them how to simplify summaries with mind maps/ drawings/ labels or numbers or first letters of each main point in the margins.  Use colored markers and highlighters.
  • Use past papers ~ We downloaded past papers for each subject and printed them at a printers.  It cost a bit, took up an entire box file, but it was an excellent investment.
  • Exam memorandums ~ Ensure that you include the answers to all these past exam papers. This is a vital component!  Allow your child to work through an exam under exam conditions (timer and no books or notes) and then they need to work through the results. Check the mark allocations and ensure they do not miss steps that would cost marks.
  • https://emergencypedia.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/90-0019-2.jpgUse a timer~  This is a vital skill = to first check through the whole exam and look at the mark allocation and then work out how many minutes per section.  (You can find an example here.) Do this will all past papers!  It is vital to prepare your child to keep on track in exam situations.  Many exam centres have a clock on the wall, but if your child sits far from the front, they may struggle to keep their eye on the time. Many exam centres allow the entrant to use a small clock on their desk.
  • Prelims~ Prelims taught my daughter how to write matric exams!  Read the post here. Everything was learnt in this experience = from a good night’s sleep the night before, eating a good breakfast, time needed to travel to the exam centre, comfy clothes, the necessary identity and other documents, her stationary, meeting other exam candidates, to the exam room protocol and the actual exams.
  • Manage stress ~ Exams are stressful. While studying, eat well, take breaks, exercise, stretch, meditate, write motivational notes and messages to yourself, take extra nutritional supplements and herbal nerve support.  Teach your child slow, abdominal breathing.  Pray together.  Write out faith-building scriptures and promises.
  • Join the group~ Learning with others in a study group is important, especially for isolated homeschoolers.  It may help to join some other exam candidates for an early coffee and chat to discuss issues, fears, and share important tips.  It somehow helps to know that others fear and feel the same as you!

In the end, I believe that these exams are NOT about information my highschooler may have learnt. Exams are simply a life skill = learn how to complete the course work in the prescribed format.

Dear moms with young children, enjoy a simple, relaxed homeschooling journey.  Take your time.  Enjoy your child and their unique learning styles.  Focus on these delicious years of freedom.

Wishing you and your child writing the 2016 matric exams the very best!

Blessings, Nadene

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3 Things to avoid in handwriting lessons

What Works! 

Are you new to homeschooling or facing a crisis with your child’s handwriting?  Here’s some practical advice ~

Here are 3 things to avoid in handwriting lessons:

  • Boring  laminated chartYoung children want to write real words as soon as they can and find endless pattern pages and those pages featuring one. letter. at. a. time. very boring.  These expensive handwriting books take almost a year to complete and many young children become frustrated and negative about handwriting.   We use laminated handwriting charts to learn to print and write cursive.  It is quick, free and painless, and within weeks your child will be able to start using copywork pages and practice their handwriting in real sentences.
  • Bad form – Everyone struggles and makes mistakeHandwriting arrowss when learning something new.  Some children become extremely stressed when they cannot control their fine motor muscles or struggle to remember how to correctly form each letter, and this adds to a negative attitude towards handwriting.    With my method, children use a whiteboard marker on the laminated handwriting charts which rubs out in a jiffy.  Any mistake is quickly and easily erased and the child feels much more satisfied at the end of their lesson.  To teach correct form, mom demonstrates writing each letter on the chart while talking through each movement and shape and then the child copies on the chart.  Watch carefully for correct starting points, directions of the stroke and when and where to lift the pen.
  • Basicshttps://practicalpages.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/p1070277.jpg?w=300&h=225Practice the basic letter formation.  Learn the upper case letters as soon as they master the lower case letters.  Go on to real handwriting as soon as possible using copywork pages.  Practice daily in short, sweet handwriting lessonsCopywork is an excellent handwriting exercise because your child will use almost all the letters, join cursive letters, combine upper and lower case letters in meaningful sentences.  This also is a great help in learning spelling and memorizing Bible verses. 

Here are some helpful downloads on my Packages Page

Handwriting Tips Booklet (US$R7.00 / ZAR70.00)   This comprehensive 20-page E-book is packed with practical tips and activities covers pre, early and basic writing skills .  It includes helpful activities and fun pre-writing games to build up your child’s gross motor strength, develop fine motor control and develop their spatial awareness.  Important guidelines to promote correct posture and pencil grip for maximum control and minimum stress while learning to write.  I recommend you also purchase the step-by-step guides below for specific guidelines to teach print and cursive.

Teaching Print step-by-step (US$2.00 / ZAR20.00)    An 8-page booklet with practical advice, clear examples and step-by-step instructions on how and where to place letters and how to form each print letter.  I share remedial and junior primary teachers tips, which have proven very effective in our in our homeschooling.

Teaching Cursive step-by-step (US$2.00 / ZAR20.00)   A comprehensive 8-page booklet with practical advice, simple instructions, clear examples, step-by-step descriptions on how and where to place letters and how to form cursive letters.

Pop over to order you handwriting booklets on my Packages Page.

Wishing you every blessings, Nadene

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Perseverance

Another “What Works!” Post ~ 

After more than 14 years of homeschooling I have found that despite all the ups and downs, fears and failures, tempers and tantrums, (yes … we had had all of these!)  it is only a success if you persevere.

Simply stick to the goal … work around and through the glitches … and keep on going … all the way.

“Do a Dory” (from Nemo) andjust keep swimming … just keep swimming…”

Homeschooling is our choice that has never been “cast in stone“, but it did require a flint head at times.

There have been years when it was a slog and we just “did school”.  Sometimes it was simply easier to keep going and maintain a forward momentum, rather than stop and start.  Just by doing read alouds, we did our school work when everything threatened to fall apart.  Reading aloud was the glue that held us together!  Other times we just did our disciplined studies; short, sweet little 3R lessons, then abandoned the books for time outdoors and nature study or a leisurely art appreciation lesson … thank you, Charlotte Mason!

There were seasons when my young teens were unmotivated and unwilling.  Some of my Charlotte Mason subjects became “boring” and my teen kids refused to do them, I felt like a failure.  Their choice to move to textbook approach made school dry and dead.  But we kept on.

Worse, we used a curriculum provider for high school that did not provide, but with no other real options, we had to make it work. Impak Education became my “means to an end”.  Boy, did I learn about perseverance!  They did not post my eldest daughter’s books, then “lost” her study materials and portfolios in the post.  When they finally emailed me the files, which I then still had to print, we were far behind schedule. I had to pray hard for a strategy to fit 25 portfolio assignments into 2 weeks … and not lose my head!

No feedback was given … for anything.  We couriered away huge portfolio assignments and never heard a word.  Nothing. The curriculum provider did not mark a very important final assignment and after about 15 emails and desperate calls, I think, hope, pray that the portfolio was re-marked.  I felt like we were flying in the dark. Blind.  My daughter wanted to give up, but I held the goal in mind and we persevered.                                                      

When I prayed to the Lord in desperation one day, I clearly imagined what the end of my eldest daughter’s homeschool would look like.  I saw her standing with me, with the blue-green sea gently rolling behind, and her long viscose dress and loose hair waving in the summer breeze.  We were clinking our champagne glasses together in a toast.  She was thanking me and I was congratulating her.  Although it was winter when I had this vision, it warmed my heart and I shared it with her.  Somehow, this goal kept us going.

Just a few weeks ago, after her final exam, our family surprised her with a celebratory lunch at our favourite beach-side restaurant and toasted her success with pink champagne!

This week we will receive my eldest daughter’s matric results!

Many homeschool moms swap, abandon and doubt their packages. Many moms watch as teenagers leave homeschooling in favour of public schools, and they secretly, deep down, doubt their decisions.

Your homeschool journey may take its twists and turns, it may have a few delays, punctured wheels and unplanned detours, but if you keep going, you will reach your destination

While it is complex, sticking to your homeschool goals may require desperate perseverance.

All I can say for my experience is that it is truly worthwhile, because these decisions are important.

In the end I gratefully praise God and say,

“Thank you Lord.  It has been a privilege to be on this journey!”

Blessings as you persevere into 2014.

Much grace,

Maths Matters – What Works!

Another “What Works!” post ~ 

After tutoring my eldest daughter through her high school maths course all the way to graduation, and now working with my junior high daughter in her maths course and doing middle school maths with my youngest, I know that maths matters … but it also can bring tears and the mutters!

Here’s 12 maths principles that I’ve seen work ~

  1. Maths needs daily exercise – much like having to walk the dog!  My kids do 2 pages of maths exercises every day except for Fridays. We mix it with maths drills, times tables practice or word problems.
  2. Use manipulatives. Maths comprises of abstract concepts. Young children especially need to work with real objects.  When teaching any new concept, start with real objects and teach with examples. Use blocks, Unifix cubes, real measuring jugs and scales, work with tape measures and rulers. Use number lines, pie pieces, apples and oranges.  Whatever works, use it.  Keep trying until you find the “one thing” that clicks with your child.  Let your child practice with these objects. (Pop over to my free Maths pages for these manipulatives.)
  3. Take your time here at the physical level.  Don’t rush.  Make sure the child understands the concept well and is confident before going back to the books.  If your child forgets, revise with manipulatives.  If they get stuck, go back to manipulatives.  This is vital.  Confidence is a huge factor in maths success.
  4. Encourage mental maths muscles.  Train your children to think maths problems. Exercises with number order (what comes before/ after a number), bonds (adding numbers to each other) and times tables are essential.  This follows the manipulative stage. Train them to get the answer quickly.  Speed and confidence here will make the rest of problem solving and other exercises a breeze! (Check through my mental maths pages here.)
  5. Do drills.  Even just 2 minutes of drills (oral, physical fun or mental maths pages) daily will help ‘cement’ the maths skills.  Do this before the maths book work.
  6. Make it physical and fun.  Do fun physical workouts when ordinary drills and manipulatives are not working to combat tears and tantrums. Recite the tables while jumping on a mini trampoline, while skipping with rope, when bouncing a ball, clapping hands, doing hopscotch … it is fun and it stimulates the brain!  Use playing cards and dominoes for fun maths drills and mental maths.
  7. Maintain the course ~ if it works.  Stay on the same curriculum if it works. Don’t switch around too much.  Each curriculum has been designed to follow concepts. Some conceptually spiral, each year developing the concepts to the next level.  Jumping from curriculum to curriculum may cause your child to stumble across ‘new’ concepts without having the introductory work.  Many moms I know have shelves of maths books and courses and still haven’t found a good ‘fit’.  May I suggest that you choose the best of the lot and supplement here and there with other exercises or examples.
  8. Tutor high school maths.  If you or dad can tutor, great. It worked for me and my daughter.  If not, find a friend, student, retired teacher or professional tutor to help your child.  This is especially important with high school maths.  Don’t let maths tantrums and upsets cause you to ditch homeschooling!  Often a 3rd party person makes a huge difference in a teenager’s attitude. The student must report regularly to the tutor and be accountable for the work they understand and the concepts that they struggle with.  Often tutors are great for pre-exam revision.  The tutor can prepare the student for the type of work to focus on and the questions to practice.
  9. Practise the skills.  Many maths books give an example, lay out brief explanations and then go on to the exercises.  Generally most students need to practice with the introductory examples several times to completely understand the new concepts.  When the child starts a maths problem, they have some doubts and questions.  When they manage the examples and the initial, easy problems, they gain confidence.  But they need to establish this process with a few more similar problems before moving on to more difficult sums.  Where maths books progress too quickly, or provide too few similar problems, children lose confidence.  If they haven’t “got it” with the easy work and then struggle with more complex problems, they become afraid.  Fear forms into frustration which then manifests into anger.  Supplement your child’s books with examples or go online to find similar work.
  10. Do maths early, when your child is most awake and fresh.  Maths requires mental fitness and this is most often early in the day. My teens often put off their maths lessons because they didn’t enjoy it much, but when they finally had to do their lessons, they were tired and they struggled more. I advised them to do it first and get it over with for the day.  For young children, maths and handwriting should be done at the table, early in the morning.  We do our seat work (or disciplinary subjects = those 3R’s) first and then go on to read alouds and narrations.
  11. Estimations are essential skills!  Along with mental maths and confidence, the most important maths life skill is to estimate within range.  I only discovered this as an adult, but I find that it is perhaps the most underrated skill at schools.  Teach your children to “guess” quickly and then “prove” their guess.  It is fun, quick and it builds enormous confidence in their maths ability.  This can be done as “living maths”; in the kitchen while cooking and baking, in the garden when laying out vegetable beds and planting seedlings in rows, while cutting material, making dresses or designing woodwork patterns, while packing away toys, doing hobbies and crafts, or travelling on road trips.
  12. Many children will always “hate” maths.  Their brains are just not wired to excel in maths.  However, maths literacy is vital and will greatly improve their independence and confidence in daily life.  Stick to the most reasonable maths program and assist your child to at least master the basics. My artistic, creative daughters have been unhappy about maths for years, but I have not negotiated with them that they drop maths until at least grade 10.  For matric, maths or maths literacy is a compulsory subject and your teen will still need the above skills. Our South African maths literacy course is excellent.  It is real, relevant and within the ability of a ‘non-maths’ student.

I share this all with this background ~ My early childhood years of insecurity with maths made me literally throw up with fear, especially in high school!  Then, when I was a student teacher, I was once assigned to a school’s maths teacher for all the grades 3, 4 and 5 maths classes.  I spent hours and hours on my lesson preparation because I was terrified that I couldn’t teach maths.  It quickly made me realize that the best method to preparation and understanding was lots of “scratching of pencil on paper” and using several different textbooks to see the different approaches to teach the concepts.

A brilliant mathematician does NOT necessarily make a great maths teacher!  In fact, the teacher who may have struggled with maths may make a more compassionate teacher and will know exactly how they learnt the maths skills through practice.

When I tutored my high schoolers, I did the maths work for them (with them sitting watching and listening), then with them, and finally I sat next to them as they worked.  If they were stuck, I would try another approach or break it down differently.  Even though I taught these lessons, I didn’t always have time to prepare before hand, and so the two of us figured it out together.  We battled, struggled, sympathized and encouraged each other as we went along.  It was the one place in their independent studies that we were vitally connected!

Mom, you can teach your child maths!  You just do not need to be a maths whizz!

Blessings,

Taking Time for Tangents

What Works! What Works logo

Another “What Works!” post ~ where I share and encourage moms with some of my tried and tested homeschool approaches that worked from pre-school and all the way through high school!  (If you missed the previous posts, please follow the links at the end of the post.) I found that using a literature-based curriculum is the most rich, rewarding and inspiring way to teach.

More importantly, living books open delightful “rabbit-trails” or tangents!  And following these delight-directed paths made all the most important connections and enriched the book in wonderful ways!

Here’s some tips of enriching your literature study ~

  • Follow the spark of interest!
  • Chat, discuss, talk at the dinner table about the new ideas, characters’ choices, moral issues, those “why” and “what if” questions.
  • Read-up or “Google” it!  (I love my smart phone’s wonderful reference apps loaded at my finger tips … but that is a post on its own!)
  • Explore it in other books.  Find supplementary books at the library.
  • Do it! Go and build a real raft, make a Khoi grass mat hut, make a mould of an animal track … bake the cake, make the butter, tie sailor knots, make the corn doll, make Lego models, make paper models.Some of these activities became the cornerstone memories of many of our read alouds!  My kids will never forget them!
  • Make interesting and diverse notebook pages
  • Create puppets and dramatize the story.
  • Add lapbooks, especially for younger and middle school children.
  • Travel to places in the story with your family.  Go on the journey with your story as a family.  We loved our real-life “Footprints on Our Land” journey when we travelled for 18 months looking for our farm.
  • Visit museums, art galleries, historical sites.Girls find garnets in the gravel at Kimberley Big Hole
  • Visit real artisans, craftsmen, professionals, hobby enthusiasts, the elderly or veterans and learn from them.  Let them show your family and make it real!
  • Don’t rush. Keep the pace your family needs.
  • Extend your schedule. You can safely extend any 12 month (1 year) schedule to 18 months without adding any more books.  Just look for those hands-on activities that will enrich your studies.  See your schedule as a guideline!  This is my most important homeschool tip!

In other words ~ make time for those tangents!

Links to previous “What Works!” posts:

Blessings,

 

What Works! Learning Language Arts

What Works! 

Once again I want to share what works when you use Charlotte Mason’s principles. In the more than 14 years of homeschooling until graduation my children have learnt the nuts and bolts of English grammar and language with copywork and dictations.

Dictations and copywork  = effective Language Arts lessons

Ruth Beechick’s “A Strong Start in Language” is perhaps the best book on how to teach language!

She explains the powerful and natural method of how to use reading and writing to teach a child language and grammar.

I highly recommend her book because she 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!

In essence, you will use these skills to teach writing, from forming a child’s name to writing an essay ~

copy, dictate, compare and repeat

Children are tutored through a natural writing process to learn language in the same way that Benjamin Franklin’s taught himself.  Instead of using textbooks and exercises with isolated parts of language and innumerable technical aspects, copywork and dictation leads from the whole-to-the-part.

What is the whole?

It is any meaningful piece of language or passage of writing. 

Writing in its natural setting.

From the passage, language is learnt in context.  They learn to identify the grammar basics and learn the mechanics just by reading and copying the extract.

Even if your child just copies a sentence or paragraph, and spends some time examining and identifying its nuts and bolts such as punctuation, capitalization, parts of speech, they will naturally learn language arts.

What is more fascinating is that they will naturally find these same mechanics during their read alouds.  As I read aloud my young kids call out, “There’s a compound word!” or “That’s a simile!”  Almost every week my kids would eagerly wait for “their” dictation paragraph to be read aloud in our chapter readings.

And may I share a secret?

I haven’t even done the “proper” Charlotte Mason dictations … the ones where the child writes the passage from memory, without copying.  Nope. Not once.  Not even my high schoolers.  We have tried it, but somehow we never arrived at that level.  Instead of feeling defeated, I simply carried on with what we found worked and we all coped with, and it was enough!

Also, even as an English teacher, I worked with a year plan, but never “did it all“.  Homeschool moms, you will have gaps.  Just breathe and let it go.  You will not cover everything.  Not even if you use textbooks and brilliant bells-and-whistles programs.  Use the grade levels as a guide line and trust that you cover most of the aspects as you go along.

But daily dictation lessons on their own will give your child a strong foundation to language arts and creative writing!

Here’s an example  of dictation lessons for a third grade child up ~

  1. Select a passage from a “real/ living” book, a verse from the Bible, a well-known nursery rhyme.
  2. Let your child copy it carefully.  Very young kids start by tracing over the neat, large print.
  3. Next lesson, ask your child to print it out as you read or spell the words for him.
  4. Lastly, he should print the passage without looking at the selection.

For Language Arts ask questions from the same dictation passage ~

  • ask your child to find the full stops
  • find the capital letters, why are they there?
  • which word rhymes with …?
  • circle all the quotation marks
  • tick all the commas
  • why are the exclamation mark used?
  • who is the first sentence about? (this is called the subject)
  • underline the action words or verbs (what the subject is doing is called the predicate)
  • can you find a compound word (a word made up of 2 words)
  • draw a squiggly line under the shortest/ longest sentence
  • draw slashes through the word with 4 syllables (sound parts a word can be broken into)
  • draw a box around all the question words and draw an arrow from this word to the question mark at the end of the sentence

So, here’s an example from an easy Bible verse:

I love the Lord. (Psalm 116:1)

A young child can first trace, then copy, then write out this verse.  Each day he writes the same verse, finally writing it out on his own from slow, assisted dictation.  At the end of the week, ask the child to study it and write it from memory. Encourage him to compare and correct his own work  This will help him learn from any mistakes.   For Language Arts, simply reinforce the grammar rule: Every sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop.  Can you find another capital letter?  This is a name.  All names are written with a capital letter and we call these words “proper nouns“.  And there you have it ~ 10 minute Dictation and Language Art lessons ~ short, simple and effective!

Let’s look at a nursery rhyme:

Lucy Locket 

Lucy Locket lost her pocket,

Kitty Fisher found it;

Nothing in it, nothing in it,

But the binding round it.

(from Mother Goose)

I look for the obvious grammar lessons in this rhyme, for example:

  • Circle all the capital letters.
  • Tick those capital letters that are people’s names.  These are proper nouns. A simple lesson.
  • Which 2 words rhyme in the first sentence?
  • Draw a box around a word that ends 3 sentences.  Can you find the 4th one?
  • Can you find all the commas?  There is a special comma with a dot above it.  Circle this punctuation mark.  It is called a semi-colon.  Why do you think it is used?  Look for examples in other nursery rhymes and try deduce the reason for a semi-colon.  Suggest that the child looks for this punctuation mark in the week’s readings.

Our weekly Dictation and Language Arts Lessons:

  • Monday = copy passage (10 minutes max)
  • Tuesday = copy passage & do language arts questions (10 – 15 minutes)
  • Wednesday = copy passage as assisted dictation (10 minutes)
  • Thursday = write out memorized dictation and do language arts questions (10 – 15 minutes)
  • Friday = free day (we normally only do our spelling test, but if needs be, we add the dictation)

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Often I use the copywork lesson to teach and practice handwriting.  Because the child must write slowly and clearly, this is the one lesson where I emphasize and encourage neat handwriting.

My young kids do their copywork with their laminated handwriting chart propped up in front of them.

I sneak mistakes that I notice in my children’s narrations into my language arts lessons.  This way they learn the mechanics from an “expert” author and apply it to their own written work.  I almost NEVER mention grammar when I mark my children’s narrations, because I want to encourage them to capture their thoughts and ideas.  But, here, analysing someone else’s work, we can tear it apart and pull it back together in a very objective way.

Finally, let me emphasize – keep it short & sweet!  Do language arts as fun and discovery!  My kids called our LA lessons “squiggles and circles” because I asked them to underline with a wiggly line and draw circles.  This kept the lessons short. Most the LA lesson is oral; with simple discussions.  There is very little writing and no tedious exercises.  Note, discuss and move on.

Here are some other copywork & dictation posts:

Once again, I encourage moms to share and ask their questions in the comments below as we discuss “What Works!”

Edited notes: In the years where I used Sonlight, I have bought Sonlight’s Language Arts programs which accompany their reading programs in which Ruth Beechick’s approach and principles are very effectively used.

Blessings,

Ruth Beechick’s books:

  • An Easy Start In Reading  ISBN 0-940319-00-4
  • An Easy Start In Language  ISBN 0-940319-02-0
  • An Easy Start In Arithmetic  ISBN 0-940319-01-2

Handwriting Free & Easy

What Works! 

Looking back over our homeschooling journey to graduation, I am grateful to recognise and promote some of the simple things that really worked!

You need NEVER buy a handwriting program to teach beautiful, functional handwriting.  I discovered a fantastic, simple method ~ and all my children have learnt to write cursive this way ~

Laminated handwriting charts and copywork

I created simple print and cursive handwriting charts.

I taught them the letter formation with simple demonstrations and oral step-by-step descriptions.  The kids spent 5 minutes daily tracing over the letters with a whiteboard marker and they learnt their letter formations within a week or so.  First the lower case, followed by upper case letters.  Finally combination of the upper case with its lower case partner.

Now, rather than spend a fortune on exercise books and tedious practice pages, we went straight on to copywork. We started with copying the memory verse for the week, or a sentence taken from a read aloud, or we simply used our Language Arts dictation as copywork.  I also made a whole selection of quotes from famous artists, or world leaders for older children ~ here are my free copywork pages. Once again, Charlotte Mason’s principles have worked!

They start by tracing over the letters on the laminated chart with a whiteboard marker and then work in pencil on nice wide-lined paper.  Draw a margin and start by drawing a head, body and tail (you’ll notice those little cats in the print chart) in the lines so that the child can see where to place and where to start each letter.

Read all my handwriting tips, step-by-step lesson ideas, relevant posts and free chart downloads ~ Handwriting Page, Print Handwriting, Cursive Handwriting

What they copy is not important at this stage because they are learning to master the physical, technical, fine motor work of handwriting.  The content just adds to the real purpose of writing.  Real sentences with capital letters, punctuation marks and words that convey meaning.

What is important is that this is functional handwriting.

It is real.

It is in context.

These factors are a wonderful motivation.  A young child is not merely filling exercise pages with patterns and repeated letters.  They are actually WRITING!  A young child can run and show dad a whole sentence that he wrote by himself!  What joy!

What is important is that you sit and watch the physical process and encourage your child as they learn.

  1. Look to make sure that they sit correctly.  For this short lesson, posture is vital!

    Booster cushions and feet supported

  2. Make sure that the seat height to table height is correct.  You may need to add a booster cushion or place a foot stool under swinging feet.  (Look at how I use a flexiband to support the legs and provide some movement stimulus.)
  3. See that they hold and grip the pencil correctly.  Train the right grip and reinforce with a soft rubber pencil grip if needs be.
  4. Use a suitable pencil – soft and yet sharp.
  5. Keep your lesson short and sweet.  It doesn’t matter how much is written, but how well each letter is formed.
  6. If your child is uncertain how to form the letter, pull the laminated chart closer and trace over the letter again before trying to write on paper.
  7. Repeat the same copywork daily.

Before long, maybe within a month or so, your child will simply refer to the chart for those odd letters they are unsure of, but they will be writing capital and lower case letters in the correct lines, with the correct size and shape as they do their copywork.  From this point on, they need to refine and polish their style.  I often asked my kids to put a star over their “best” or “favourite” letter or word.  Even on their worst days, (remember that fatigue, stress, illness affect handwriting) every child can still find one letter or word that came out right!

Finally let me encourage you to keep handwriting lessons to the copywork or dictation lessons.  Allow your child to develop their “own style” for narrations and other written work.  My eldest daughter had to forsake her totally perfect handwriting she used in all her work for a slightly looser, informal script when she reached high school.  She needed to work faster.  Her perfect handwriting slowed her down.  I don’t mind if my teens use print.  When it comes to formal assignments that need to marked by external markers, letters posted to real people, filling in official forms, etc., then neat, correct handwriting matters!

You can teach your child to write for free in short, simple lessons!

Please write and share your handwriting tips or ask questions in the comments below.

Blessings,