I almost feel like it is dishonest to say how I teach language arts because I sometimes feel like I haven’t. I have facilitated a lot of learning. If there is any area where I feel like I’ve really embraced a relaxed approach to homeschooling and can see how well it can work, it is language arts.
I should also say as way of background that I spent a lot of time the first few years working on relationship building with Caroline. Due to health issues I had, our relationship had been through a lot of disruption between the ages of two and a half and four and a half. So more important to me than any learning was making sure our relationship was strong.
Here’s the background to get you to where we are now.
We started “teaching” Caroline when she was about six months old. That’s when she would sit in our laps and look at baby books with us. I consider that the start of her language arts education. We also talked with her all the time. We used adult voices, adult sentence construction, and a rich vocabulary. We talked about the books we were sharing together. We talked about what we saw when we were in the car. We talked about everything. We didn’t let her watch TV until she was almost two. So from six months to twenty-three months, we read multiple books to her a couple of times a day and we had lots of conversations with her. She always had access to a huge basket full of books. We gave her a lot of unstructured play time. We utilized books for conversation.
From two years to four years we pretty much did the same thing. Lots and lots of books, lots of conversation, lots of play, and some selected DVDs. We primarily used the Baby Einstein DVDs and we used them as a discussion tool. She LOVED them. We tied them in with books in the house, drives that we took, places we visited, etc. When she was about two and a half, we even used sticker books as learning tools which worked wonderfully well! I wrote extensively about what we did (and didn’t do) when she had just turned three in How I currently “teach” Caroline.
At four years of age, we did a bit of a trial homeschool preschool. Even though I had always intended to homeschool, I felt a bit angsty about her being an only child and wondered if she would be happier with other kids. (I also wondered if I would be happier if she was with other kids.) It was when we did the trial preschool that I started to realize she was a different kind of learner. She was not interested in doing the same things over and over again. She thrived on variety. Not just preferred it, but required it. I had purchased a Letter of the Week Curriculum from another homeschooler and she was completely bored with it by about the third or fourth day. Once she had done an activity once or twice, there was no way she was going to do it again for another fifteen or twenty letters. I wrote extensively about our trial in Reflections on our practice homeschool preschool.
At five years of age, we did kindergarten. By this time, Caroline had pretty much taught herself to read after playing on websites like Starfall.com, ABCMouse.com, etc. She started out using Starfall, but we eventually also subscribed to ABCMouse (which I wrote about here) and wish I had done it sooner since it had so much great stuff! I sometimes sat down with her while she was working on a concept that I knew she didn’t know, but the repetition and exploring on her own just did it for her. I wrote about Teaching Our Spirited, Active Child to Read when she was six.
However, I would say much of preschool and kindergarten was simply play. I had lots of plans for kindergarten and we even tried to keep a regular schedule, but ended up really having to switch things up part way through the year.
Her sight word vocabulary astounds me. I think the reason she knows so many words by sight is she usually turns on the closed captioning while watching videos. So she’s reading along with the video. I never encouraged her to do this. She just did it and it has been a great thing for her.
Which brings us to first grade (last year) and second grade (this year).
I guess no one will be surprised when I tell you we still do basically the same things. After a few years of trial and error, I’ve learned what works with her and I just go with it. We read a lot to her, we have her read to us, we talk a lot, she uses computer programs, she does stuff on the Kindle Fire HD, and we do some worksheets that I pull from different workbooks I’ve picked up. We play games that relate to reading whether they are games I’ve purchased or my own products that I create.
Like many right-brained children, she is not a fan of writing. This is one area where I am letting her lead me. My intuition tells me that to push it is completely counter-productive. And so she still dictates her journal to me and then illustrates it. I plan work that takes minimal writing. Eventually it will click with her. In the meantime, I make sure it doesn’t prevent us from moving ahead in other areas. I just plan things that don’t require a lot of writing. (Later update: Caroline went to OT for dysgraphia.)
Making these changes to a relaxed approach to language arts (and learning in general) was a huge change for me as a former first grade teacher. But I can see that this is what Caroline needs and that is the whole point in homeschooling her! We homeschool her to give her what she needs, how she needs it, and when she needs it. We focus on keeping strong relationships and carefully observing her so we can provide the learning opportunities she needs in all areas, including Language Arts.
So far we can see that this has been a good thing.
This is part of my Relaxed Homeschooling in the Early Elementary Years series.
Read the Introduction to the series here.
This is also part of the iHN January Hopscotch. Check out all the fun series here!