The ultimate goals of a good language curriculum should include fostering a love for reading for pleasure and study, helping a student to express his ideas articulately and providing the necessary tools like grammar and spelling to express himself appropriately in written language.
It is not necessary to purchase an expensive curriculum to achieve these goals. Rather spend curriculum dollars on quality literature. Gladys Hunt in Honey for a Child’s Heart [Zondervan Publisher, 2002] says there are literally thousands really good books available for seven to ten year old children. The starting point of any good language curriculum should be a list of good, exciting books to read.
Once a selection of books have been made, language instruction can start. This type of language arts curriculum is suitable for 7-9 year old children who are able to read chapter books independently. All that is additionally needed is an exercise book and a pencil or pen. A typical homeschooling language arts day can be divided into the following sections:
Targeting Spelling and Vocabulary During Quiet Reading
Instruct the student to read a chapter of the book by herself. Ask her to underline two or three words she does not understand. Do not aim to let her underline all the words she does not understand, let her choose two or three. In this manner vocabulary expansion is broken down into small steps that are easier to achieve.
Ask the student to copy the underlined words in her workbook. Help her to look the words up in a dictionary and ask her to explain the meaning of the underlined words.
The Use of Copy Work in a Charlotte Mason-Type Language Arts Curriculum
Instruct the student to choose her favourite sentence, phrase or paragraph from the chapter. The length of the passage depends on her ability to write. Her next task is to copy the chosen passage into her workbook. Copy work helps the student to internalize the good use of language and grammar present in quality literature. Help her to self-assess her copy and make corrections.
Grammar is not taught explicitly at this stage. Rather, the student are exposed to excellent writing and required to copy a sentence or paragraph word by word. From the age of nine, a grammar primer like Simply Grammar, An Illustrated Primer by Karen Andreola [Charlotte Mason Research & Supply Company, 1993] can be used for more formal grammar instruction.
Narration – A Key Element in Charlotte Mason-Based Language Instruction
Narration helps the student to own the text and ‘cements’ it into her memory. The student is instructed to tell what she read in the chapter. Avoid asking leading questions and give her ample time to structure her thoughts. If this is difficult for her, gently probe with general statements such as “What I really liked about this chapter is…”
In her workbook, create a heading “Narration”. Use this space to write down key points while she is talking about the chapter. Writing down what she says shows her that what she remembers of the chapter and how she interprets it, is meaningful to her teacher.
The Importance of Dictation in an Language-Arts Curriculum
Lastly, compose a sentence for the student to write down, making use of the vocabulary that she has underlined and the passage she has chosen to copy. The length on the sentence will depend on her writing proficiency. Start with short sentences of four to five words and gradually build the dictation to longer sentences. Dictation encourages the use of newly acquired skills and language.
Once these sections are completed, one language arts lesson is considered done. One lesson can be done in one day or over several days, depending on the reading proficiency of the student. Continue in this fashion until all the chapters in the book have been read.
When finished with the book, allow the student a day of reflection. On the day of the reflection the student can:
- develop a rating system for language arts books and rate the book explaining why the book got a specific rating
- do a project about the life of the author of the book
- read and/or copy a poem with a related subject to the book
- explain what she liked about the book and what she didn’t like
- make an additional illustration for the book
- or copy/trace a illustration in the book
Charlotte Mason’s (1842-1923) ideas are as relevant to education today as they were when she developed them. Using living books to instruct children in language arts puts them into contact with the minds of great authors, both past and present.