Language Arts

May 16, 2006 @ 3:07 am | Filed under:

Kristie asks:

One quick question…
Language arts…looking at your day, do your kids write, do dictation, read etc. or is this in tides (besides the reading, it is obvious that is the lifestyle in homes where literature is loved..)

B00005jkty01_aa_scmzzzzzzz_I can tell you what we do, but I’m not sure I’m the best person to go to for advice on this subject because I think Scott and I tend to take a lot for granted when it comes to helping our children become good writers. Writing is a way of life around here. The kids see us writing, read our writing at various stages of completion, and hear a lot of talk about story structure, characterization, and revision. It’s difficult for me to parse out exactly what they’re learning. It’s like trying to pick onions out of your soup: they’ve already imparted their flavor to the broth.

So that’s the disclaimer, but here are some things we have done. First and by far the most important: the reading aloud. I absolutely cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of reading aloud, lots and lots and lots, even after the child is a fluent and eager reader herself. Just keep picking books a little beyond her reading ability; keep stretching her powers of comprehension. This is how to expand the vocabulary and instill a sense of what ‘sounds right,’ which takes one a long way toward the mastery of correct grammar.

Next most important (in my opinion): Narration. Even at my unschooliest, I am an advocate of gently eliciting narrations from your children. Get them to tell a story back to you after you’ve read it aloud, or after a child has read it to himself. “Tell me what you remember,” “Tell me everything you know about volcanoes,” “What happened to Tintin after he got on the boat?” Narration improves the memory and accustoms the speaker to putting events and ideas into words.

Charlotte Mason recommends waiting until age ten or so to begin asking the child for written narrations. Until that point, all narration is oral. When Jane was little, I did (as many homeschooling moms do) a lot of transcribing the narrations she dictated to me; I printed them out, got her to illustrate them, put them together in a notebook. I know this works beautifully for a lot of people, and I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing it if it brings joy to you and your child. But I’ll say this: don’t feel obligated to write down your child’s oral narrations. Don’t feel like you have to make a notebook or else you’re not doing it properly. After a year or two of compiling Jane’s narration notebook, I realized the whole process had become for us an exercise in creating a product. Jane was beginning to be proud of her notebook, or perhaps “prideful” is a better word; she had seen me show it off enough times that she too began to view her work as something to be shown off, something done for the purposes of impressing one’s friends and relations. I was horrified by this little epiphany. Of course it was completely my fault. I ditched the habit of typing out her oral narrations; for a time, I ditched narrating altogether. When we returned to it, it was to the simple Charlotte Mason method of asking the child to “tell it back”—no notebook, no product to display.

What I found that was that in addition to curing our little show-off problem, this took away the pressure that had turned narration into a burden. No longer was it necessary for me to be prepared to scribble down her words as fast as she said them: I could listen to her narrate with a baby in my arms. And instead of the type—print—illustrate—bind production line, narration could lead to discussion. The whole experience became warmer, richer, and her narrations improved. Her memory improved; her appetite for ideas increased. I’d read aloud, she’d tell it back, we’d chat about the people in the stories and the problems they encountered.

So this is how narration works in our house today. Rose is narrating now, too, and Beanie frequently chimes in, unsolicited. When Jane turned ten I began asking for occasional written narrations. Currently she is writing two or three a week. I give her something to read, a chapter of Famous Men of Rome, perhaps, and ask her to read it only once, carefully, and then write out everything she can remember. We go over any spelling or grammatical errors together.

I don’t use spelling or grammar curricula; I simply keep an eye on what sort of mistakes the children make and offer bits of instruction as indicated. (And of course grammar comes up in our Latin and ASL studies.) Rose, however, is one of those workbook-loving kids, so I keep a spelling workbook on hand to satisfy her occasional cravings for nice little blanks to fill in.

We go through spells of doing copywork, all of us: if the children see me taking the trouble to copy out quotes into my commonplace book, they become interested in doing it themselves. I encourage them to record their favorite poems, but I very seldom require it. I find that supplying them with nice notebooks and enticing gel pens is incentive enough.

As for writing curricula, I have reviewed many of them and have disliked most. Scripted writing exercises leave me cold. The program I do like is BraveWriter; you can read my thoughts on that here. I have just received a copy of Classical Writing (the Homer book) and will talk more about it after I’ve had a chance to read it (and work with it) a bit.

Last thing: we are big fans of word games around here! Mad Libs, Scrabble, crossword puzzles, riddles, and so on. And Schoolhouse Rock!

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10 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Courtney says:

    Your comments on narration really struck home with me! I have become too product oriented and it has killed the interest of narration for my 8yo. I found last week when I tried it as you mentioned (letting dd tell me about what we read without my scribbling away) it led to much more discussion and she actually really took hold of the information. Thanks for these reminders!

  2. Elizabeth M says:

    I totally agree about the value of reading aloud for building writing skills. I have one child who writes a lot, another who writes very little, but both are excellent writers who demonstrate so much creativity in expressing themselves, and I put it down to reading aloud and listening to books on tape.

    I still read aloud a lot to my 12yo son. Sometimes it feels a little silly to be reading aloud to a grown boy, but we can get through a lot of material that he probably wouldn’t be motivated to read on his own, including material that’s a little too advanced for him. As we read we’re constantly discussing the material (social studies and science, mainly) and relating it to past reading and current events.

  3. KimC says:

    Great post – thank you! This sounds very much like our goals and best intentions, but much of our reading aloud has gone by the wayside. Thank you for the encouragement to kick it up a notch or two.

  4. JoVE says:

    AHA. So now I know what to call what I do. Mostly I worry that I’m not doing anything but if that is narration, then we do a bit of that. The oral kind. And I’M glad to see in the comments that even a kid who doesn’t write much can be a good writer. It think mine is too but if I try to get her to do more of it, it creates more resistance than good. Reading. Reading aloud. Asking lots of questions. Thanks.

  5. ivy says:

    Hello! I’m a new visitor to your blog and just wanted to thank you for all the helpful information. Also, I’m curious about how you came up with the nickname “Beany” for one of your children. Are you a Beany Malone fan?

  6. Rebecca says:

    Lissa, this post is so helpful to me as I try to figure out whether to go with any LA curriculum for dcs or not. We have used a variety of things and liked very little. The kids love Schoolhouse Rock, Madlibs and Scrabble as well. I always thought of those things as supplementary but perhaps with the narration that we already do, that can be enough…

  7. La Kooka Rancha says:

    Article on Language Arts/ writing for homeschoolers

    Excellent article with good reminders for the homeschool mom.
    Check it out!…

  8. La Kooka Rancha says:

    Article on Language Arts/ writing for homeschoolers

    Excellent article with good reminders for the homeschool
    Check it out!…

  9. Melissa Wiley says:

    Ivy, believe it or not, I never have read any of the Beany Malone books! I’ve heard good things about them from so many people…

    Our Beanie’s nickname is just one of those names that grew on us naturally. She’s such a little jumping bean!

  10. La Kooka Rancha says:

    Teaching Language Arts

    This is a good post on teaching Language Arts. A good refresher for those of you whove been doing this a while.Check it out at the blog cal…