Friday, March 23, 2007

Language Lessons

A handful of people asked through comments and email about what LA program we use. I had really hoped to dodge that one. Why? Because I have never found the single one-size-fits-all approach to LA that has made me happy. I used to think it was just me--that my own background in writing and English has made me entirely too jaded and just impossible to please. Then I discovered a soul-mate in my cousin, who laments every year at about this time that she, too, can not find the perfect LA curriculum. Since she is not a former English major (she's the family artist ), I've come to the following conclusion: either it is just in my genes to be dissatisfied with LA curriculum, or it has very little to do with my own personal background; LA curriculum are dizzyingly inconsistent and hopelessly complicated.

As an aforementioned English snob, I want my kids to have a solid grounding in grammar. Yes, grammar--boring, awful, stodgy stuff that it is. My favorite English teacher told me once as I was lamenting the entire concept of a future author (humble, wasn't I?) diagramming sentences: "You have to know the rules before you break them, dear." And he was right. I break the rules all the time in my writing--fiction and nonfiction. But the fact of the matter is that I know the rules. Breaking them (or bending them), I like to think, is style ... not ignorance.

Another component I look for is ease of understanding. Frankly, I think a lot of LA programs over explain things to the point of boredom. Who wants that? I also look for a variety of genres to be touched upon. The field of LA is so vast that you really have a lot of territory to cover to give your children exposure to the full gamut.

There are, of course, other things I look for. But the most important element, by far, is the ability to actually write creatively. And I'm sorry to say, but this is where a good 90% of LA curriculum fall far short. The practice is just not there for kids (homeschooled or not).

That being said, what, exactly, do we use?

I have found it best to mix and match a variety of resources specific to each child. Here's a list of what I'm currently piecing together.. Some are resources available for purchase, others are homemade. Try to follow me here ...

A Beka Language Arts workbooks
I use these as a "spine" around which I build the other components of our program. I don't buy the Teacher's Guides, and chances are that I am not using them in the way A Beka intended. These give solid practice. I am not a slave to their protocol, however. It's pretty rigid.

Simply Grammar
I love the way that this book explains grammar concepts. I also love the way that the exercises can be worked orally. If there was a bit more practice included in this book, I might drop the A Beka altogether.

Spelling Power
Don't tell Beverly Adams-Gordon, but I use the book in my own way. My kids are very good spellers, so for us, the book is really just a compilation of lists that I present orally each week. Works for us. I would quit spelling with Jo at this point, but she's loves competing in spelling bees, so ...

I don't do a formal vocabulary program; we read enough that vocabulary is introduced naturally on a constant basis. I would like to do a more formal etymology program, though. Let me know if you've got one you love.

Portraits of American Girlhood Unit Study
I was blessed with elements of this resource when my cousin passed it on. While it says "American Girlhood" (and is actually based on the American Girl books), Atticus has been happy to do it. There are so many LA activities in here. It's been a joy to use in shaking up the LA schedule.

Readers from Sonlight and WinterPromise

I like to include journal activities about twice a week. Since both of my writers become paralyzed when faced with a blank page, I tend to give them topics. Being a sentimental slob of a mommy, I like to ask them personal questions and have them reply. These journals have become absolute gems to me. How else would I remember Jo's favorite dinner when she was six or Atticus' impression of falling leaves when he was five?

Story Starters
We have a rotating game that involves all family members (even Dad) adding a line or two to an ongoing story. This has been a fabulous way to keep creative juices flowing. I also pull an idea out of my hat every once and a while and have a particular child work on it. They love that!

Family Newspaper
My husband works for a newspaper, so being a reporter is a big deal in our house. Jo, Atticus and Logan started their own family newspaper about a year ago, and it has been probably the best LA experience they will have in all their years of education. Not only is it self-directed, it's also peer-edited. They work on it together and take great pride in the finished product they manage to produce each month or so. This summer, I plan on giving them some training on how to use the computer to craft a printed product.

Please keep in mind that we do not do everything every day. These are just the pieces I fit together on an as-needed basis.

See why I didn't want to post about LA? Now you all think I'm nuts ...

1 comment:

Pam said...

As a former newspaper reporter (and jack-of-all-trades) and journalism teacher I love the newspaper idea. There is nothing like an audience to make one a better writter. Have you ever looked at Bravewriter? I have my eye on that one for the future.