Homeschool language arts is perhaps the most difficult subject to teach. It’s not difficult because of the actual subject itself. It’s often difficult because of what we make of it as parents. We realize the importance of it and as a result often put so much pressure on this one thing that our kids begin to suffer.
So before we even get started, let’s agree not to panic, deal?
It’s incredibly important to note here that the national average for becoming a proficient reader is age 8. <— Please go back and read that again. Did you see AGE 8? I meet so many kindergarten and first grade parents in a panic because their child is not yet a proficient reader. Granted, this can be a huge problem in the public school because it’s run more like a factory and kids must keep up or get tossed aside. But your homeschool isn’t a factory and your child can learn at his/her own pace.
It harms nothing if he/she doesn’t learn to read until the 3rd grade. Or even the 5th grade. My friend, just keep doing the right things, keep a healthy perspective, and be patient with your sweet little person. (I would encourage you to read the rest of this post, but if you can’t wait one more minute, please read What to do When Your Child Struggles With Reading.)
Getting the right perspective: why is teaching reading so important?
First things first, let’s make sure we are on the same page about WHY this subject is so important. For much of the history of education in America, reading has been the most important subject, and rightfully so. If you can’t read well you can’t fill out a job application, read signs in the grocery store, or figure out how to get from one place to another. Being able to read is a crucial life-skill.
The trouble is, we’ve become so focused on life-skills we’ve lost sight of WHY we ever taught this subject to begin with. American children were originally taught to read for one reason only: to be able to read the Bible. Of course, our kids have much more to read than the Bible these days, as literature and text is readily available to everyone. But the primary purpose should still be to help our kids learn to read so they can read God’s Word themselves.
I find that when I keep this as my primary purpose it relieves the pressure of needing to feel like my children should perform at a certain pace in reading. It also helps me motivate them to learn. Most children raised in church have a natural and healthy curiosity for the Bible when they see older people reading it and loving it. Why not capitalize on this natural curiosity to help motivate your little ones to keep at the task of practicing words?
What exactly is language arts?
Many homeschooling parents are confused about the term language arts. Is reading the same thing as language arts? What parts are needed? How do they fit together? Do I need a curriculum for each component?
I can understand the confusion, as there are so many different ways to answer those questions. Let’s break each part down one at a time. First, language arts is the overall term used to describe the entire process of becoming literate (learning to read and write). This term encompasses parts you are likely familiar with such as reading, writing, grammar, comprehension, spelling, and critically analyzing text.
The important thing to remember here is that all of these parts have the same common goal: to help children become literate members of society. Or in my homeschool: The purpose of homeschool language arts is to help children become literate Christians able to discern God’s truth and share it with others.
I’m often asked the question, is it enough to just focus on teaching my child how to read? The answer is- not exactly. But don’t fret. The other components don’t have to be as difficult as we make them.
The main focus of language arts is learning to read and write. The other parts are a support structure for these two pieces. Keep that in mind when purchasing curriculum. Sometimes we get so gung-ho about this we have 25 workbooks and a 1st grader in tears. This is not a happy place to be. So let’s dig into some practical curriculum solutions for teaching homeschool language arts.
No doubt reading is our primary focus in language arts. We want our children to be able to look at a word and say it. We also want them to be able to understand what they are reading and get information from it.
Initially focusing on this part is crucial. Until your children can say the words (phonics) and understand the sentences (comprehension), focus your time and energy on sharpening these skills. If you put too much in the other areas, you’ll likely frustrate the little one and cause animosity toward school. This won’t work to your benefit or theirs.
Remember, if reading is a struggle, every other subject is just a reminder of that struggle. So don’t push back on this. Focus on fun ways to learn to read and let that be enough.
For younger children (first grade and under) focus on fostering a love of reading and the practical steps to teaching reading. I love All About Spelling for this task. Yes, I said spelling. We spend 10-15 minutes in this daily, then grab whatever leveled books we can find and practice reading. The more you read, the better. We tackle a new book or story for 15 minutes a day and then spend 20-30 minutes practicing books we’ve already mastered. (Hint: this is crucial for building fluency and comprehension.)
Personally, I believe this simple method teaches everything I want my kids to know when they are little. I don’t want them to be tied to the desk for long. But if you feel the need for more, All About Reading would be a good fit.
For all children under 5th grade, we use Reading Eggs. It’s a systematic method for teaching reading using a computer program. It’s not free, but it’s great fun. The kids don’t always realize they are learning and mom can focus on the others during this time, too. That’s always an added blessing for little ones who aren’t independent learners just yet.
Once children begin to have a general understanding of phonics and comprehension, I like to let them choose their own books and utilize a reading journal to track comprehension and thinking skills. Read more about creating your own DIY Reading Curriculum Journal here.
One final thought about this. If you prefer more of a textbook style reading program, I have used BJU Press with some of my kids. For many, this isn’t a very independent option and it can be overwhelming because it’s such a meaty curriculum. However, many kids and families love it for just that reason!
Once a child reaches middle school, I allow other subjects to cover the topic of reading. This really is the goal. We learn to read when younger, so we can LEARN through reading when older. Now is the time to explore history, science, and so much more. You can learn anything! (Note: more on high school later.)
Before I give you my opinion on the rest of this, please note that not everyone agrees with me! There are many differing views on what should be taught and when it should be taught. I’m not seeking to refute anyone or call names. I’m sharing only what has worked well for our homeschool after combining my experience in the classroom with teaching at home. Remember, that’s your job, too. Seek out what works best for your family and don’t worry about the rest.
Under 3rd grade, we don’t use a spelling curriculum per se. As mentioned above, I use All About Spelling to teach reading, which essentially teaches reading through systematic spelling. Once they reach the 3rd grade we move on to IEW’s Phonetic Zoo.
We use this program through middle school. There are 3 leveled CDs that are self-paced for independent learning. They teach rules and jingles. Kids write the words and keep practicing them until they are mastered. This program was a game changer for my 4th grader who really struggled. I won’t say she’s now perfect, but it helped tremendously.
Once these CDs are mastered, spelling is no longer a subject in our homeschool. Occasionally it comes up naturally in writing and we learn from there, but no additional curriculum is needed.
This is the one subject that often tips parents over the edge, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Grammar is simply learning to understand how sentences are put together to convey a clear thought. When your kids are first learning to read, grammar is relatively irrelevant to them. That’s understandable. However, it quickly can become a natural part of the conversation.
For little ones, focus on subject-verb agreement. At this stage, learning to say “The dogs ARE in the backyard” is important. It also helps them learn to recognize the linking verbs which are largely sight words (don’t follow traditional phonics rules). You don’t need a curriculum for this. Just do it naturally as it comes up.
Next is the discussion of nouns and verbs. Teach these two simply and help your child see that every sentence has to have both parts. This way they can answer questions in a complete sentence and learn to write (more about that below).
Around 4th grade, we pick up formal writing. At this time, we add in a more in-depth grammar curriculum. We love Easy Grammar for this. It really is, well, EASY. The goal is simple and short assignments to help teach the concepts that will help your kids become better writers. Between 4th grade and high school this is a skill we want to focus a bit more time on. This will enable you to focus on writing killer essays when it’s crucial instead of needing to figure out an adverbial clause in the thick of it.
Before 4th grade, writing should be informal and fun. Let your kids keep a journal to record fun events and information they learn, or to respond to a great book they read. Don’t fret about spelling and grammar. This isn’t the time. Of course, you can help them if they ask though.
I don’t like to do any type of curriculum before 4th grade. This is a great time to focus on handwriting, which is just the formation of letters. You might also take a little time to teach the make up of a complete sentence as described above.
I have detailed my particular choices for Teaching Children to Write here. That post covers elementary and middle school. We will deal with high school in the next section.
High School Curriculum
As your child enters high school, an English credit will be required. This is truly the combination of all of the above elements. You don’t need separate curriculum pieces for this. In fact, if you had that, your child would really struggle to keep up. There’s a lot going on in high school. No need to make it harder than it already is.
You’ll find a wide variety of available options for high school English. My favorite is actually Notgrass History. This combines the social studies credit, a Bible credit, and an English credit all in one curriculum. It is strongly focused on a biblical worldview and the supplemental literature is a perfect fit for an English credit.
After the 3 history credits are done, you can easily pick something for contemporary lit (English IV). We plan to create and maintain a blog, but the sky is really the limit.