Six Ways to Plan a Simple, Excellent, and Affordable Curriculum: Language Arts, Part 3

How to plan homeschool language arts part 3

If we take the time to lay the right foundation, and this can be easily accomplished, then the next stages of language study should flow quite nicely.

We began this journey into language arts with the following graphic:

Language arts progression

Our last post dealt with the beginning stages, this post will begin to deal with the intermediate and advanced stages of successful language arts studies.

Intermediate learners are poised and ready to begin learning to read in earnest, they only lack a system that will help them build on the skills that are in place. In order to help them to move forward, there are many choices set before us. Since I have been homeschooling my own 15 children for the last 26 years, I have strolled down many different avenues. Among the curricula and methods I have tried are the following:

  • Abeka
  • Bob Jones
  • Rod and Staff
  • Literature-based/Charlotte Mason

But none of the above were ever adequate, none gave me the ability to bless my children with marvelous, nutrient-rich stories and vocabulary, until I discovered the McGuffey readers!

Yes, this is my “silver bullet,” the elusive “holy grail” of homeschooling materials that allows parents to give the best to their children with the least amount of stress and expense.

It all seems too simple; the books are old-fashioned looking, even “quaint” (the illustrations are not even in color!). But these old books seem to have what all the newer ones lack; a kind of character and quality that radiates from every page, something that is solid and life-giving that no other program I have ever tried can offer. My children seem to be feeding their souls as well as their minds as they go through their lessons.

Since there are two versions of the McGuffey readers available, I am often asked which ones to use, or asked questions about how to use these texts without any identification as to which one is being spoken of. Here is a graphic that explains the basic differences:

McGuffey Readers

Original McGuffey's

I use a combination of the original McGuffey readers published by Mott Media, and the revised readers that can be found everywhere, even on the Walmart website, in physical form, even on CD in PDF form from Dollar Homeschool. Also, both versions, as well as many other worthy readers of the times, are available for free online from places such as Google Books.

As of this writing, purchasing new, physical sets of these books will cost less than $150, a bargain when considering that these are reusable, and there aren’t ever any extra costs for workbooks, etc. In our house, since each book covers multiple grades, we have needed to purchase multiple copies of some, or at least I have printed and bound extra copies from the Dollar Homeschool CD (which currently costs $39). There is also the possibility of having children take turns with the different texts.

Here is how I use these two sets:

Original McGuffey's(2)

For children who are at the stage of sounding out basic words, I like to begin with books from the original McGuffey series. I have found that the diacritical marks that are added to the words in the revised edition readers can actually hamper reading progression (I have helped to overcome this by producing pages of these words without these marks in my McGuffey’s Primer Flashcards, Helps & Hints eBook). I also like the way the lessons in this primer are arranged; the progression is so gradual, with repetition that does not seem tedious, and a classic simplicity that is not trite or stupefying.

At the beginning of this stage we are striving towards three goals:

1. The practice of sounding out words so that it will become second-nature whenever a new word comes up in future reading.

2. The compilation of a cache of words that does not need to be sounded out but can be recognized on sight.

3. Building proficiency in the formation of letters and the copying and formation of simple words and sentences.

The amazing thing about these old books is that you don’t need expensive workbooks to go along with the lessons. I have found a way to use a 50 cent composition book and a highlighter to create pages that give my children practice in forming the letters and words for each.

Here is an example of how I prepare a lesson:

primer copywork 1

Here is an example of how my daughter used a prepared page:

primer copywork2

I like to include a place for a drawing for each lesson, partly because it keeps a child engaged and helps them to develop finer motor skills, but primarily because my children all love to draw!

You will notice that the copywork is not perfect, and this is absolutely fine. When I first began to teach my own children a close friend of mine and I were quite worried that our young children had trouble forming letters and words correctly. Over the years, I have come to understand that, as long as a child is making his/her best effort, even imperfect practice will help in the learning process, and being frustrated over a few mistakes here and there is a waste of time and energy. The idea is to create an atmosphere of fun and discovery, not one of frustration and drudgery!

One technique to help those who struggle with beginning writing is to use a highlighter to formulate the letters and words so that a child can go over them with a pencil later:

highlighter tracing

If a child at this age sits and moans when given a pencil, it may be that he/she is not quite ready for formal instruction. Pulling back a little and giving more time for maturity to take place is far better than forging on ahead and creating detrimental patterns of unhappiness that will have to be addressed and overcome in the future.

Wow! There is so much more to cover, but this post is already mammoth-sized. Will you stay tuned for yet another “part” to this message–I hope to cover exactly how to use these texts, and a few others, to cover just about every part of language arts, including spelling, grammar, penmanship, and composition in a thorough, systematic fashion.