What we do for language arts now

After trying out quite a few textbook and workbook approaches in the last year or so, I have come to the conclusion (and now I can almost hear an “I told you so…” when I say this! ) that my kids do not like textbooks or workbooks all that much. I mean they will do them, but there is no spark of enthusiasm in there. I hate to see learning done that way.

I decided on a whim one day that we could try out lapbooking again. We did do a couple of lapbooks with my eldest when we first started out home educating many years ago but it didn’t work out well and she didn’t seem to enjoy it. I thought perhaps my little ones would like to have a go, so I went and bought a pack of 100 file folders from Amazon.co.uk right here. Well I would prefer a pack of multicoloured folders but could not find one so I went for this. They are all yellow, as it turned out.

Our first lapbook was on Ancient Egypt. Well when we were doing the Galore Park Junior History Book 1, this was one of the first topics, and since she didn’t really enjoy doing the textbook, I thought of doing this topic with her via lapbook. It went down a storm. She was constantly asking everyday if she could work on the lapbook. I got my son to join in, and at first he was a bit grouchy. He thought there was too much writing involved. Then his writing improved because of the daily copywork we did – we are kind of following the Charlotte Mason way now. Well I don’t follow any curriculum anymore as I used to and found the book suggestions weren’t always the best fit for my kids, so I kind of pick my own books, following Sonlight and Ambleside suggestions sometimes, but other times I try out books used in the excerpts in Writing With Ease Book 1. I don’t actually use Writing With Ease any more simply because it uses very short excerpts from good classics, but my kids would often ask if I could read them the whole story because the excerpt sounded really interesting to them. Eventually, I decided to stop Writing With Ease as I felt since my children’s interest was there in some of those classics, why not just pick up copies of those books and then read them the whole thing, and then do copywork off the passages we read?

So this is what I’ve been doing so far. I’m really fond of my Kindle for this reason. So many of these classics are free to download, and those that aren’t are really cheap to buy and download too. And I only need one Kindle to manage all the books. I don’t need to find shelf space any more. And the font is totally adjustable, so after we read passages off their chosen books, we decide which part of the passage they’d like to do copywork on, and then I highlight their copywork sentences in my Kindle, and adjust the font so it becomes real big enough for them to see what they have to write. The nearly-7 year old does a sentence of copywork a day, and these being classics, sentences can sometimes be pretty long, so what I do is I choose shorter sentences relevant to the part of the passage he wants to do copywork on, or I rephrase the part of the passage he wants to do copywork on so it is a sentence of about 10 words long. Now this is something I got out of Writing With Ease Book 1. That was basically what the author thought a child of about 7 years old could be capable of. And it worked well for him too. So copywork takes no more than 5 minutes a day really. He does it as best as he can, and because it is short, he can focus his energy on the activity and really take in what he writes. And the improvement in his handwriting is so dramatic. I mean, we’re only about a month or so into doing this, and now he can write in cursive about anything out of his head! Okay he still has incorrect spelling, but that is normal for a child of his age, but he can write in cursive very comfortably. More than in print – but that’s because when we do copywork, I have him write it in cursive.

He is my first “guinea pig” in a way when it comes to teaching cursive first. I’ve never done this with my other children, but with him, I actually quite early on in his writing, taught him to do cursive, as he always found it hard to write and letter reversals were common. If you don’t know what the benefits of teaching cursive first are, I recommend reading this article (although if you Google, there are several more online).

My other children have always had great pen control and were able to draw and write from when they were 4 so they had no problems writing in cursive later. My eldest only started learning cursive when she was 11, and my middle child started when she was 7. They both write in cursive today and actually prefer cursive. They write in cursive for everything. Even greeting cards. My eldest, who is very arty, loves script and writes very beautiful script handwriting in her cards for instance.

Okay so what do I do after I get hold of a classic to read to my little ones? Well I always read them the first chapter, and gauge their reaction. If they seem bored of it – it’s usually very evident! – I put the book away and find another one for the next day. I have no problems with doing that, because these books are often free to download on the Kindle or are very cheap anyway. And who’s to say they won’t like it if I have the chance to reintroduce them to the book 3 years down the line? We’ve had to do this for “The Railway Children” recently by the way. I am not in the least bothered if they don’t like a book I’ve chosen. We simply move on with another, until we find one that fits. I have not  had time to read all of Charlotte Mason’s volumes, but the general idea I get from her is that it is all about teaching through living books, because living books bring things to life and make new information more interesting and personal. I believe then that it doesn’t matter how many different classical home education curricula recommend a particular classic as a good living book to read to children. It must firstly appeal to my kids. If it holds no interest for them, then it may as well be a “dead book”. So I let my children take the lead when it comes to book selection, with me controlling it somewhat – in fact I’m the one who gives them the choices and I’m prepared to give them endless choices… but I haven’t had to so far because I kind of know what interests them and excites them and what doesn’t, and try to pick accordingly.

My 8 year old usually does copywork by writing out about a paragraph long of her favourite part of the book passage I’ve just read to her for the day, from a book she likes and chose, from a selection I picked.

I don’t know how long we’ll keep doing this for. I’ll always be on the lookout for the necessity to change to suit current circumstances, but for now, this works well.

Also, on the side, I have my little ones pick books from the library or I use Sonlight readers and read aloud once a day. My son does about a page a day. My daughter does about 5 pages a day, but that’s because she currently reads Sonlight readers and they are a bit too easy for her, but I would like her to finish them up before I sell them off – I doubt I’ll ever use Sonlight Language Arts material again. Also I think from now on I’d probably not be bothering with Sonlight IGs or with getting all of the Sonlight books. I’ll only pick the ones that I can get easily and that my children would be interested in (if there is a preview on Amazon, we use it).  Sonlight was a great curriculum to try and I’m glad we tried it and discovered a lot of wonderful books my children will always be fond of. But it isn’t cheap, and some books were flukes. I’d prefer to go with previews these days to judge before buying.

My daughter isn’t fond of most of the books in the library and often comes out of the library empty handed, so I have to pick books she likes – I even have to buy them if they cannot be found in the library. But once she finds a book she likes, she wants to read it every day without fail. My son however, is not that picky and actually is a better and more enthused reader than my daughter, so he always comes out of the library with lots of books.

We still use All About Spelling (both little ones are on Level 2). It is fun and good for a change. On days we do AAS, we skip the copywork, because AAS already comes with spelling tests usually. Yes we try to do one unit in one or two days usually. Perhaps we’re going a bit quick. We hardly do reviews. We scratch for the keycards and look through past pages if we find we’ve forgotten a spelling rule, that’s all we do for review, so not really the recommended way, but we don’t really feel like having spelling take up a lot of our time.

My daughter is following Catherine Mooney’s Word Weaver’s course. She learns her parts of speech, etc. from it. Far more fun than learning from the First Language Lessons Book 1 that we used to do. I think I am going to have my son do the Word Weaver course eventually when he is old enough.

Oh yes and my kids now want MORE lapbooks to do. So I asked them each what topic they’d like to do for their lapbooks this time. One said Spiders, the other said Dinosaurs, so I went and bought some lapbooks on the TeachersPayTeachers site for them (it’s a fantastic resource – there’s so much stuff there!)  So more lapbooking on the way!





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