Creating Your Own Homeschool Curriculum– Language Arts

Language Arts can be a very divisive subject in the homeschool world. We all want kids who can read and write– but the question is how to get them there. You’ll see one heavy debates about which reading program is best, which grammar program is best, and which writing program is best. I’ve seen very heated debates about the necessity of sentence diagramming in a grammar program.

Let me let you in on a little secret: the program matters less than you just doing something. You could teach your kids grammar with Mad Libs, and I’m pretty sure they’ll turn out just fine. So, don’t get so paralyzed by the big debates around language arts. This is still just as simple as choosing books.

I ignore all other aspects of grammar while my kids are learning to read. Anything else we do will simply be for fun. If it isn’t fun, we aren’t doing it. I just don’t see the point in a kid knowing the definition of a noun if he can’t read the nouns in a book.

Teaching kids to read is my least favorite thing to do on the planet. After having two very struggling readers, I get tired just thinking about teaching the others to read. My first two used The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. They loved it. It was quick and painless. They were both reading well by age 5. I thought I had the golden book that was the only way to teach reading. Then came child 3. (This is how I know for certain that anyone who claims to have the best of any curriculum is just working with too small of a sample size to know. Any curriculum recommendation is just one of thousands of recommendations. Find what you like and hold on to it as long as it works.) He hated The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading. He hated all the other programs I tried. What worked? Time. And Explode the Code Online (not the book version, he hated that, as well) when he was ready. He wasn’t ready until he was 7. You wouldn’t know that now that he is 11. A delay in learning to read has not held the kid back in the slightest. He’s now well above grade level according to all his testing. I thought I had a plan after him. Nope. Not a chance. The next kid, even worse at reading. We went through a dozen or so programs, apps, books, etc. Nothing stuck. Nothing worked. I tried Explode the Code Online, hoping for another reading miracle. Nope. Not happening. Eventually, again, time worked. He finally started reading at age 8, very slowly. It took him a lot longer to get to a mastery level. Maybe because I was so pushy with the phonics. Maybe he was just going to take longer no matter what I did. The next two are currently learning to read with Teach Your Child to Read with 100 Easy Lessons. It is going well for them. They like it. I still hate teaching it. We just grit our teeth and bear it, knowing that this too shall pass. Until the next kid. And the next. Lord, help me, I’ll be teaching phonics forever.

Handwriting can wait until reading is accomplished. If they want to do handwriting sooner, you can let them. I just wouldn’t push them. Climbing trees and riding a bike are great activities to build up the motor skills they’ll eventually need to write. As far as which handwriting– just pick one. You can teach them yourself. You don’t need a curriculum. We like Draw, Write, Now. They draw a picture and then write. My younger kids love that. My older kids don’t do handwriting at all. If I can’t read it, they rewrite it. If penmanship is a big deal to you, there is no shame in that. You can have them writing beautiful Spencerian Penmanship and I’ll be super impressed with them. But if you don’t care all that much, no need to make someone else’s priority yours.

I do read good literature to these kids all the time. I read in Morning Basket. I read to them until they can read for themselves. And even once they can read for themselves, I still read to them from time to time. (My high schoolers and I are currently reading The Iliad out loud.) You can choose a literature program if you like. I just pick books I want to read to them. We have a fairy tale year every couple years where the little kids and I read all the fairy tales we can get our hands on. We compare. We contrast. We read the same story told by different authors. They love it. The next year, we’ll have Story Time With A Bear where I’ll read through Winnie the Pooh and they bring their bear to class to hear the stories. We’ll read through Peter Rabbit. We’ll read Aesop. We’ll read through Narnia (probably more than once by the time they graduate). We read a lot. You can choose a curated literature curriculum. Or you can curate your own.

When my oldest was 6, she found a copy of Oliver Twist. She insisted we read it. I warned her it was a very grown up story. She was insistent. So we read Oliver Twist. And she loved every second of it. I would have never planned Oliver Twist in first grade, but she thought it was great. (And her much younger brothers enjoyed it, too.)

My 7-year-old is a Jules Verne fanatic. He keeps a copy of Journey to the Center of the Earth under his pillow. While I won’t read only Jules Verne for him, I do make sure I read enough Jules Verne to keep him happy.

You might be surprised what books young children will love. Don’t be afraid to read the big classics to them. Yes, let them read Dr. Suess (those make excellent first readers), but if Little Women is calling your name, read it!

I also choose simpler stories as they become confident readers. I don’t shield them from twaddle, as some homeschoolers do. (Because if I’m honest, I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of twaddle in my life. I distinctly remember reading every V.C. Andrews book our library carried one summer in middle school.) But twaddle is for their own free time. During school, we try to read better books. Charlotte’s Web, Ralph S. Mouse, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Encyclopedia Brown come to mind as good chapter books that fall between “high literature” and “twaddle”. They’re good, solid options that kids will love reading. (You can check out my ever growing and changing list of beginner chapter books here.) While I might read Around the World in 80 Days to younger kids, I’m not going to assign that for them to read. I want them to build confidence in reading before tackling more difficult reads. However, if you want to let them build confidence reading things others deem twaddle, you go right ahead! Don’t let someone else’s priorities become yours.

There are also plenty of beginning readers out there. While most, I’d say, are poorly written and a chore for everyone involved to get through, others may be worthwhile. We really like Christian Liberty Press Nature Readers and the Treadwell Readers (Primer, One, and Two).

If you have a larger family, or more than one kid, really, I will give you some advice. Write down what you read to them and what they read. My 7-year-old recently had no idea who Eustace Scrubb was. I realized he’d never heard Narnia. So, we broke out Narnia for literature for the little ones this year. (And this is an example of one of my “must read” books that may not be one of your “must read” books. You may not know who Eustace is either.) Keep a list either in a special journal or just a file on your computer of what each child has read so you’ll avoid graduating a kid who hasn’t ever met your favorite character.

Once my kids are proficient readers, it is time to break out the grammar. Again, you can teach them grammar with Mad Libs or School House Rock if you want. My personal favorite grammar program is Beowulf Grammar. It is fun and funny and my kids have loved it. It isn’t on any specific grade level, so it can be used at any time or over and over. (And for you sentence diagrammers, it contains diagramming.) Beyond that, my kids like Easy Grammar. They like it because it is easy and to the point. No frills. Just the basics. We move to 180 Daily Teaching Lessons once they hit high school to keep up their grammar skills without giving them long assignments to do or read. If you’re into sentence diagramming, Diagramming the Scriptures is a good resource. Again, there are hundred of grammar program all claiming to be the best. Just pick one and move on. Don’t stress about it. If you hate it, you at least narrowed down the options for next year.

Writing is another area where you’ll find very dogmatic programs that claim to be the best. If you want to use those program, go ahead. Use them! If they seem daunting, don’t feel bad skipping them. In my experience, well read kids can write pretty well. You can hand them a journal and ask for a journal entry each day. You can grab a TpT writing pack and go with that. We’ve done both of those things before. You can just sit and show them how to craft a paragraph, an essay, a short story, a poem. I know some of you program followers are about to die reading that. And I say to you, if you like the program and it works for your kid– good for you and your program! Keep it up. Enjoy it. The rest of us don’t have to enjoy it for you to enjoy it. My kids expressed interest in crafting better stories and poetry. So, they’re doing The Creative Writer this year. It fit, so we went with it. And they’re really enjoying the process. A few years ago, they used Writers in Residence, and they enjoyed it. Use what works for you.

Spelling is another hot topic issue in education. With the invention of autocorrect, is spelling necessary? If kids can’t spell, we’re all doomed to Idiocracy. I don’t care if you teach spelling to your kid or not. You know where you stand. I did develop this super simple spelling program for my kids if you’re looking for something for spelling. I don’t think you’ll ruin your kid either way. Spell or don’t spell. I was the Spelling Bee runner up two years in a row. It hasn’t affected my life in any way. No one commends my excellent spelling skills nor do they advance my life goals in any way.

Literature for older kids is a little different than it is for younger kids. I encourage you to have your kids read difficult things. If they want to read Goosebumps, cool, but in their own time. With me, you’re reading Poe, kid. I usually align literature selections with their history cycle. Again, that is my personal preference. We don’t have a stack of books for “8th grade reading” or “9th grade reading”. We have books that align with Ancient History, Medieval History, Early Modern History, or Modern History. I know some people who just have “books you’ll read before you graduate” and they let the kids pick what they’ll read and when. (You can check out my middle school and high school growing and changing book lists here.)

I have certain books I want my kids to read for themselves. Then there are other books that I want them to hear. So, some books, I choose to read aloud, even though the kids could read them. Sometimes I choose a book and we realize it is way more of a challenge than we anticipated. We have a few options when that happens. I can shelve the book until they are ready for the challenge. I can read it with them, making sure they’re getting it chapter by chapter. Or I can read it to them. There is no “right” answer– it usually depends on the book and the issue.

Choose whatever literature you want your kids to read. Don’t be afraid to give them difficult books. Don’t be phased when they declare they hate a book. Learning to critique what you read is just as much of a skill as learning to appreciate what you read. Make them keep reading. Make them dig deep and figure out why they dislike it. “It’s boring!” isn’t enough. Why is it boring? Too much detail? Not enough detail? Not enough action? Characters you just don’t care about? How could the author have made it better? Really dig.

What you choose to do with literature is up to you. You can find comprehension questions and worksheets on Teachers Pay Teachers. You can have them narrate what they’re reading. You can have them write old school book reports. You can have them write reviews for the books they read. You can keep character sheets, create illustrations, or just discuss what they’re reading. Since I have several kids in close ages, I tend to have them all read the same thing at the same time so we can take full advantage of having a built in book club for discussions. You could also partner with other homeschoolers and have a homeschool book club for literature. There are so many options for what to do with literature. I mix it up. Sometimes we’ll use a study guide for a book. Sometimes I’ll pull out reading response worksheets. Sometimes they’ll just read to discuss as a group later. If worksheets drive you batty, skip them. If study guides annoy you, skip them.

You can choose a prepackaged language arts curriculum. But putting one together on your own can be as simple as grabbing some Mad Libs (my kids are big fans of Mad Libs, y’all) and picking a book to read. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The biggest help to writing in college for me was simply being well read. Formatting can be easily learned and applied. If you want them to have content worth writing, have them read.

I know most people look at my choices for literature and get very overwhelmed. We didn’t start with The Odyssey. We worked up to that. We first read Tales from the Odyssey, then The Children’s Homer, then The Odyssey. That said, your high schooler may never read The Odyssey. That is fine. Do you know how many adults haven’t read The Odyssey? Quite a lot of them! You choose the books that you think are “must reads” or even books you just want to read. I’d just encourage you to grab something more challenging for them now and then. You might be surprised.

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