Monday, January 5, 2015

Relaxed Homeschooling: Language Arts in the Early Elementary Years

I am excited to be participating in the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair again this year.  Essentially we're sharing more about our curriculum and how we homeschool!  The fair is hosted annually by Susan at Homeschooling Hearts and Minds and this week's co-host is Chareen at Every Bed of Roses.

The week's theme is Playing with Words:  The Language Arts.  There are several of us participating, and we're free to take our own take on the theme, which includes phonics, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, literature and anything that falls under the umbrella of language.

This year in our homeschool, we have a 5 year old doing a light Kindergarten year, and a 2nd grader, but the beauty of homeschooling is that they get to do so many things together as a family, rather than separate just because they are not the same age.  We are also relaxed homeschoolers, and that is the general approach I take for all subjects.

Letting Go of the Rules
My primary goal for the early years is to create a love of learning.  In terms of language arts, that means I desire to create a love of literature, respect for the written word and how it can be used as a tool for expressing our thoughts and feelings, as well as a tool for gaining knowledge.  Yes, I want the kids to understand that the rules of language (grammar, phonics, spelling, etc.) are important and to know when and how to apply them.  I want them to be fluent readers and profiecient spellers.  I could spend my days drilling, reviewing, doing rote memory exercises, and forcing pen to paper to achieve this. . . but I believe the rules can be learned more quickly and efficiently when the child is ready and sees a need.  Children "get it" a lot sooner when they are more mature and they make the connection between the real life applications of the rules and their uses.

Rules are important, yes.  But I don't want the kids to be bogged down by all the technical stuff at a young age.  Working at their pace is virtually painless.  We learn a lot through reading living books and having natural, meaningful conversations.  The rules begin to teach themselves.

Elliott used a hodgepodge of different methods/curricula to begin reading.  He was my guinea pig after all.  He was the reason I set the rules of early education aside.  Now he is mostly practicing with real books and real-life reading and writing.  Last year we reviewed Spelling You See, but we ended up setting it aside for a long time.  He asked for it recently so we've worked it back into our routine.  Since we haven't used it long-term, I can't attest to its effectiveness yet, but I can say we both like it.  It requires no prep work on my part, and it's quick and easy to use.  It is vastly different from the traditional spelling curriculum, as it's not full of memorizing lists and rules and weekly spelling tests.  It does work in punctuation and other "rules" but it's from Demme Learning (of Math U See fame) and is mastery based.  It uses a coypwork and dictation approach, so it fits fairly well with my love of Charlotte Mason as well.

Spelling You See

Emory is a young five, and isn't quite ready for a phonics curriculum.  Right now we do a lot of informal learning, and that means we play word games, make up rhymes, and he likes to play around on a variety of online programs and fun apps for diverse exposure.

   Starfall (free)
   Reading Eggs (paid subscription)
   Essential Skills Advantage (my review)
   Red Apple Reading (I won a free subscription)
   Bugsy Kindergarten Reading School iPad app

Emory also does some "worksheets" that tie into Five in a Row.  I generally try to find or create a simple copywork page for him, such as P is for Pizza, when we rowed Little Nino's Pizzeria.  He really enjoys these, as long as I offer him variety.

We go at his pace.  Sometimes he will do a full online lesson and ask for more.  Sometimes he will do three or four phonics worksheets in a sitting.  Sometimes I can tell he is getting overwhelmed, and we stop.  It's about going at his pace and respecting his needs.  There's no need to "push through" because the lessons will still be there tomorrow.  The love of learning may not, if I squelch it out with rules and artificial timelines.

Literature and Everything Else

The focus of our homeschool, academically speaking, is great literature.  We've always used living books, but this year we are using Five in a Row as our core curriculum.  I've always shied away from core curricula, but I needed a way to add Emory into our routine more, at his request, and I like the family-style approach that Five in a Row promotes.  I wanted a curriculum that would cater to our relaxed approach and delight-directed whims, but give me just a little bit of structure so I didn't have to do too much thinking and planning on my own with a toddler and newborn in tow.

Five in a Row fits the bill!  It uses great children's books with wonderful themes, and it's easy to adapt to different ages and maturity levels.  It is a unit study approach, which is different that what we've done in the past, but I find the language arts element to be fairly diverse.  We can obviously practice narration with every book, and I choose a quote from the book (or a closely themed quote) for Elliott's copywork.  The language arts lessons that are presented are often a bit much for Emory, but he still gets the exposure.  The lessons are right on target for my 2nd grader though.  So far with just the few rows this year, we've written letters, learned about homophones, personification, similes, reminiscing and flashbacks.  We've told our own stories and learned about properly sequencing the events of an activity or story.  Vocabulary is woven right into the lessons and we frequently discuss various elements of literature.  It's not a "traditional" scope and sequence, but it's very natural, nothing is forced, and the kids usually do remember what we've learned.

**Poetry-  I often add related poems (and nursery rhymes for the boys to teach to Eleanor!) that tie into our rows.  Other times, I pull out a book of poetry and just read through it daily.  We do silly and whimsical, and other times we do poems that weren't specifically written for children but are still appropriate and appreciated by children.  The boys actually really like our poetry time.

**Audio Books - This is often how we get a lot of longer literature selections into our homeschool.  The boys listen to stories at night sometimes, but we also spend 25+ minutes driving to almost everywhere we go, so we get a lot of "reading" done in the car!  It's a great way to make up for otherwise lost time, and we enjoy a larger and more diverse selection of books this way.

Teaching language arts in the early elementary years doesn't have to be a structured, rigid and daunting task.  Taken at a relaxed and child-led pace, and done in a natural way, it is virtually painless.

Week 1 - Relaxed Homeschooling: Language Arts in the Early Elementary Years
Week 2 - Relaxed Homeschooling: Mathematics in the Early Elementary Years
Week 3 - Relaxed Homeschooling: Science and Social Studies in the Early Elementary Years
Week 4 - Relaxed Homeschooling: Fine Arts in the Early Elementary Years

2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair Participants

To check out how other families approach Language Arts in their homeschools, check out what this week's participants shared.  If you have a recent post that is relevant to this theme, look for the linky so you can share with us.

Graphic Credit:  StoryRock

Building a Foundation of Words by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Language Arts for 2015 by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

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

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

©2011-2015 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.


  1. We love FIAR. My youngest two are a similar age to your eldest two but we used FIAR when they were quite young probably really Before FIAR age. They probably would have loved FIAR even more if I had waited until they were older. They still love the books for bedtime stories.

    1. I think the beauty of FIAR is that it can be used with different ages and can be easily adapted to meet everyone's needs. My 8 year old definitely gets a lot more out of it than my 5 year old, but they both love all of the book selections so far!

  2. I've never used FIAR, but heard good things about it. This was a nicely done post showing a lot of different options for "I need a curriculum" moms as well as "whatever works" moms.

    1. Thanks Wendy! I've been eyeing FIAR for years, and finally made the plunge this year when my middle child said he wanted to start Kindergarten. I definitely wanted to stay true to our literature-based roots, but I wanted the kids together, and I wanted something that could be as gentle, or even as intense, as we wanted to make it. Five in a Row is very flexible and I think can work for both the relaxed and the structured homeschooler.

  3. We love FIAR, too! I'm using it with my 5-year-old and my 9-year-old (who I'll be moving to Beyond shortly)---I love its flexibility and the kids love all the cool things they are learning. I wish I had tried it earlier in my homeschool career. I was not a relaxed homeschooler early on, but am enjoying teaching my youngest now with a relaxed approach.

    Thank you for joining the VCF!

    1. I'm not sure when I'll move my 8 year old to Beyond, but that's mostly because we just started FIAR and I too wish we had started sooner! I hate for him to miss out.

  4. I used Five in a Row for a while when my kiddos were younger. I love having a literature based curriculum. I agree with keeping things relaxed and letting them learn at their own pace.

    1. I think no matter which direction we take, we'll always be a literature based homeschool. You can't go wrong with good books!

  5. This is so great, and now I wish my kiddos were little again! We loved FIAR, Starfall, and Reading Eggs! I wish I had been more relaxed when my kids were younger--sounds like you have found such a nice rhythm. Have a fun, fun year!

    1. I feel lucky that we were able to transition to a more relaxed approach early in our homeschool career. It's definitely a blessing when life doesn't go as planned. :)

  6. Pretty good post. I have just stumbled upon your blog and enjoyed reading your blog posts very much. I am looking for new posts to get more precious info. Big thanks for the useful info. Language of Desire