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Monday, January 5, 2015

Building a Foundation of Words

Welcome to week 1 of the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair (VCF)!  Chareen at Every Bed of Roses is joining me from the other side of the world to co-host Playing with Words:  the Language Arts.  The VCF is a month-long blog carnival and we have a great crew of homeschool bloggers joining us---you will find links to their word play at the bottom of this post.  If you’d like to join us, share a post in the linky.

2015 vcf wk1 tall_2-001Our language arts are a bit of a mixed bag this year, which will happen when you’re teaching everything from beginning reading to high school literature and composition.  But there is one important thread that runs through our language studies, a fundamental ingredient that without which it would all just fall apart…

It isn’t a particular phonics program or method of teaching grammar.

It isn’t a particular schedule of skills or list of objectives.

It isn’t Latin (although Latin is groovy and I highly recommend it).

It isn’t a daily routine, drill, or practice.

It isn’t a book list.

It is something that weaves its way through all that we learn, do, and say…

It affects what we know and understand about the world we live in, our ability to connect with and communicate with others, our ability to make decisions, and our ability to be all we can be.

It’s all about quality content.

Content really is king when it comes to learning.

The single thing that most keeps kids from acquiring new knowledge is not having the necessary background knowledge to make sense of it.  Skills are important, but they don’t work in a vacuum.  They need to be mastered around a strong base. 

Content gives us context and foundational information from which to draw when we are learning new things.  It gives us pegs to hang new information on and purpose for our skills as we practice them.

Imagine a child trying to learn to read who has a cognitive vocabulary of about 100 words.  When kids learn to read, they are making an important connection between the symbols on the page and the fact that they represent words and ideas---if they are unfamiliar with the words and ideas that are represented there, they may (may) be able to sound out the words as you point to them, but they won’t understand what it is that they are reading.

If you’ve ever taught a child to read, you know this. 

She will start by sounding out the letters, she’ll blend them together, and it will sound stilted at first…a little like a computer generated voice reading a word.  But then there’s an “a-ha” moment when she recognizes the word.  She remembers it, it is something she can retrieve from her long-term memory banks. 

And at that moment, she understands.  If there are words in the sentence that she’s never heard before, she will stumble over them.  She might be able to pick up their meaning from the context, but really it is enough for her brain to handle learning the skill at this moment.  Being able to recognize those words is a gateway to improving her skill in reading.

So the child with a very limited vocabulary will not only be taxed by the hard work of decoding in the first place, but also by the challenge of trying to make sense of it once he has.  He has the chips stacked against him.

IMG_6131We’re not reading for reading’s sake, right?

Ultimately it is the understanding that we are going for here, reading is just a tool we use to get there.  If we read without understanding, we are only decoding the symbols on the page without transferring the knowledge and ideas that are being shared there into our own minds.

But beyond the information contained within those words, as we expose our children to more and more articles, books, literature, poetry, and other written bits, we are giving them more and more familiarity with how writing works, how arguments are formed, and how ideas are communicated---we are giving them powerful models that they can imitate and assimilate into their own work.

We’re giving them a familiarity with complex grammar, a feel for poetic devices, and an appreciation for the meaning that lies underneath the words that appear on the page.

So a key part of our family’s language arts “curriculum” isn’t a program that you buy from a homeschool publisher.

We make it a priority to give our children an environment filled with the written and spoken word. 

We read good books together.  We talk about them. 

That’s it.

It’s not a magical formula, certainly, but it works. 

Through our read alouds, my children have been exposed to new vocabulary and ideas that wouldn’t normally come up in everyday conversation.  The younger children have acquired knowledge that they cannot acquire on their own by reading simple texts. 

As their own reading ability advances and they read about those things on their own, they already have a familiarity with the content that allows them to dig deeper and make even more connections.

It’s a endless cycle that continues on into adulthood---the research I’ve seen shows that a child will get the most out of book if the words they don’t already know are few and far between and they have some familiarity with the topic they are reading about---the more familiar it is, the easier it will be for them to acquire the new things that they haven’t learned yet. 

This is perhaps even more important if your child has learning issues---audiobooks and read alouds will keep him from being limited by his ability to decode.

So we read a lot.  We listen to books on cd.  And we do this from the beginning.

IMG_6461

Not only are we sharing knowledge with our children, but we are sharing warm, fuzzy experiences.  Can’t get enough of them. Winking smile

In practical terms, keep a basket of books to read to your children. 

Add books from your childhood.  Pick up books from your library with beautiful pictures.  Read and talk and learn together.

Gosh, I’m boring.  You know what inspired me to talk about this today?

My 14-year-old.  He just finished writing his first draft of his first completed novel.  And he’s ready to edit.

His current passion is writing. 

And when I look at his writing, I know that I did not teach him this---he learned it by being exposed to all manner of writing.  He incorporated knowledge he acquired from reading, knowledge that I myself don’t have (yes, in some areas he does know more than me).  He assimilated various turns of phrase from other authors. 

Good grammar and complex structures became automatic for him from constant exposure---he doesn’t even think about it.  He knows that comma goes there.  Which means that in his formal grammar studies all he needs to focus on is the why of that comma…and say, “Ah!  Now I know.”

And I see evidence of this in my younger children.  I may not have taught them Latin (yet), but they already have a strong knowledge base and mastery of language that no one can take away from them.

So, if there are days that all you do is read to your children (and there may be some days like that, because life happens), those are never wasted days.  You can’t give them everything they need that way…I’m not advocating throwing out the math books or  tossing the science kits…but what you are giving them is integral to a strong educational foundation.

What should you read?

Well, everything, of course!

But since that’s impossible…there are oodles of great reading lists out there and a lot of overlap between them.  I didn’t have a particular reading list when my children were young, so my husband and I started with some books we had fond memories of and learned about some other books.

IMG_6205Here are some suggestions to start with (note:  There are affiliate links here.  Thank you for your support):

Andrew Lang's Fairy books

Winnie the Pooh by Milne

Thornton Burgess' Animal Stories

Aesop's Fables for Children There are many different versions with different illustrations---preview a few to see what you like (we have a few different ones on our own shelves).

A Child's History of the World

E. Nesbit's various stories of magic

Chronicles of Narnia---but you simply must start with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Little House on the Prairie series

There's no way I can list all the books that our family would put on our suggested reading list...well, I could, but I’d forget to include many and it would take me all day!  So I’m going to direct you to the reading lists that Kathy Jo Devore at Barefoot Meandering has put together.  They are free lists, downloadable, and have many of the books we have read and still plan to read:

Reading Pathways for pre-K to K (includes a suggested schedule)

Reading Lists has suggested lists for all ages (scrolls down, it will be on the right side)

Please visit these other lovely homeschool bloggers who are Playing with Words this week for the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair:

Language Arts for 2015 by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Bible-Based Language Arts Resources by Tauna M @ Proverbial Homemaker

Relaxed Homeschooling: Language Arts in the Early Elementary Years by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Loving Books and Words by Sarah@Delivering Grace

5 Language Arts Resources We Love by Becky @ Milo & Oats

Teaching Reading at Home: A Tale of 5 Readers by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset

A More Simplistic Approach to 7th Grade Language Arts by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Language Arts Reading for Delight-Directed Learning by Susan @ The Every Day of Education

How To: Spelling Dictation by Heather @ Only Passionate Curiosity

The World of Words in our Homeschool by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Unschooling and Words, Words, Words by Nicole @ Schooling in the Sun

Learning With Literature and Language Arts Resources by Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road

Words and More Words! by Michele @ FamilyFaithandFridays

Language Arts in Our Homeschool (2014 – 2015) by Laura O @ Day by Day in Our World

Our curriculum choices ~ Language Arts by Renata @ Sunnyside Farm Fun

The 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair ~ Language Arts in Our Homeschool by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

Loaded Pistols: Virtual Curriculum Fair Playing with Words by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

A Renewed Focus on Reading Aloud by Debra @Footprints in the Butter

Language Arts in our Classical / Charlotte Mason Homeschool by Sharra @ The Homeschool Marm

Logic of English Foundations: The Grand Prize Winner of Phonics by Chelli @ The Planted Trees

A Sentence a Day Teaches Grammar the Fun Way by Amy A @ One Blessed Mamma

Tackling Language Arts by Jacquelin @ A Stable Beginning

Middle School Monday - Lightning Literature and Composition by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

The Great Grammar Discovery by Laura @ Four Little Penguins

Disclosure: This post does contain affiliate links. When you purchase or browse through an affiliate link, there is no cost to you, but Homeschooling Hearts & Minds may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

8 comments:

  1. You included a few of my favorite books in your list. Thanks for hosting this year after year.

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    1. Thank you for participating each year, Jennifer!

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  2. Hi Susan, found your blog via the Carnival of Homeschooling. Just linked a post on Encouraging Late Readers to Write. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you for visiting, Carol! I hope you are enjoying the Virtual Curriculum Fair. -Susan

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  3. Susan, I so enjoyed this! There have been a number of times when I've been reading aloud to my kiddos and felt the need to "simplify" the language because it was really above their level. Most of the time I didn't, and now I understand why I didn't. Thank you for much for doing the VCF again!

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    1. Yes, I don't generally simplify the language. I do often pause and ask them what they think a phrase means or they will ask me what something means when they don't understand---another advantage to reading a book aloud is that we can combine our knowledge to understand it together.

      Thank you for joining me again this year!

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  4. I agree whole heartedly with every bit of this. Our approach is quite similar. It's amazing, utterly amazing, what words can do. Thank you for writing this!

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