Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Language arts and a thrift-shop curriculum

(Slightly edited in 2018)

How did I come up with a year's curriculum, anyway? What does it look like? Would anybody use it? The last question is the easiest: nobody could, unless you had every book on the list, and that's not the point. The process here is much more important than the product.

What I came up with isn't necessarily a Charlotte Mason curriculum; that needs to be clear. I wasn't writing it for someone who's well versed in CM or who's ready to explore some of the online e-texts that can also make up a great almost-free curriculum. (It would have been too easy just to say that you should go look at AmblesideOnline.) I think it's more like an amalgam of Sonlight Curriculum and Ruth Beechick. It's supposed to be something that could keep you going, even if you were homeschooling for the first time. I try to point out in the workshop that with a few more books around (hopefully a library) or a bit more time, you could easily enrich what I have here; in fact, I did make one more thrift shop trip and I'm going to talk about that at the end.

This is how I put it together:

The first thrifting trip was made mostly for fun and with our own needs in mind; by the time I went to the rummage sale, I was looking more for the workshop. I didn't bother picking up the easiest of easy-reader books, but I did notice that there were several short chapter books, especially among the Scholastic titles: The Secret Hideout, Enemies of the Secret Hideout, The Three Dollar Mule, Casey the Utterly Impossible Horse, The Sword in the Tree, and Johnny Appleseed. There were also a few picture books, some of which might still be of interest to the third grader I was starting to envision. Some of these books I chose as "readers," and some I just kept for free reading or bedtime stories.

There were only a few books I felt really measured up to the best standard for school read-alouds, and on a couple of those I bent a little in favour of interest (I remember how much our fourth-grade class loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I zeroed in on Charlie, The Old Nurse's Stocking Basket, The Peterkin Papers, The Dancing Palm Tree and Child of China, but there was still something missing. So I fudged on one literature book and added The Secret Garden, and also a book of poems; poems are usually easy to find, but these trips didn't yield any.

And at this point we have to talk about language arts and also the two teaching resources I'm drawing from--since the language arts work is drawn from them. I'm not assuming that my hypothetical homeschooling parent (even if it's me ;-)) can figure out everything that needs to be taught off the top of her head. Having at least one scope-and-sequence around is helpful when you're setting goals for the year, and books with activities to meet those goals are also helpful. I chose Ruth Beechick's set of three "3 R's" booklets: one each for Language, Reading and Math, and Diane Lopez's book Teaching Children. [Note: Mott Media re-released the three booklets as one, called The Three R's.] I did not choose Teaching Children because I thought it was the best Charlotte Mason book ever written; it's very classroomish in some ways, and it's not at all helpful as far as recommending easily-accessible resources (other than classic literature). However, Teaching Children does have a good Social Studies section, which might make it worthwhile as a resource for this particular year (more on that later); and if you got it for that reason, you could use it for its math and English breakdowns as well as for some hints on nature walks and other subject areas.

Ruth Beechick's booklets (and her book You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully for older children) have always been one of the best bargains out there; and this isn't meant to be a commercial! There are a few how-to-homeschool books that I've hung onto all these years and never regret buying; those are among them. In a few pages, you can get a pretty good picture of what a third grader might be doing in math; and in a few pages more, you get sample language lessons (the kind you can make up yourself, drawing from any suitable books), Bible copywork, spelling suggestions, and more. If you buy the package of booklets new,  I think you still get a poster-sized hundred chart with them. But the other reason I chose the Beechick and Lopez resources is that you can very easily get them used, usually from other homeschoolers, if cost is an issue. New, I think they'd total about $30. (If you had to pay full pop on those, consider that it's still less than the cost of a homeschool conference where you'd get to hear both of these ladies plus Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, the other contributor to Teaching Children.)

OK--so our bargain-hunting homeschooler has gotten hold of these books and wants to apply them to her stash of reading books. It's easier to show than explain, so here are three sample language lessons based on Ruth Beechick's A Strong Start in Language, Clyde Robert Bulla's The Three Dollar Mule, and (just for fun) the how-to-draw-animals books from the rummage sale. Each of these lessons is meant to be done over at least three days.

Sample Lessons

Week 1 (Read chapters 1 & 2)

From page 12: "Ben Gold was eating grass near the pasture gate. He was a slim horse, with long, slim legs. His color was bay--a light brown that looked gold in the sun."

Copy out these sentences in your best writing. Why is "Ben Gold" capitalized? Why isn't "horse" capitalized? What are some synonyms for "slim?" Why do you think Clyde Robert Bulla chose "slim" and not one of the other words? Try out Ed Emberley's horse lesson and the horse in the How to Draw Animals book. Compare these with Carol Wilde's illustrations of Ben Gold. Which one do you like best? --Write the whole passage from dictation.

Week 2 (Read chapters 3 & 4)

From page 29: "'We've always been proud of the animals on our ranch,' said Father. 'All the cattle come from the best stock. Even our chickens and ducks and geese are from the best stock we can buy. Do you think our ranch is any place for a three-dollar mule?'"

What is the plural of goose? Find three other animal plurals in the passage. (What is the difference between "cows" and "cattle?") Make a list of some other animal plurals and mark the ones that don't end with "s." Copy this passage and/or write it from dictation.

Why did Father say this to Don? What would you say if you were Don?

Bonus: Now that you can draw a horse, can you draw a mule too? (Look at the illustrations in the book.)

Week 3 (Read chapters 5 & 6)

From page 39: "'Mules do sometimes,' said Don. 'It's like a rooster crowing in the morning.' 'I don't mind a rooster, but that mule is something else,' said Father, 'and you'd better do something about him!'"

Copy this passage. (Watch out for the quotation marks!)

Find the two words that start with "some." Make a list of more words that start the same way. Study them for spelling and then ask someone to test you on them.

Why is Father capitalized? Is the word "father" always capitalized? What are some other words that work the same way?

Bonus question: why do roosters crow in the morning?


Along with the third-grade goals and activities described in Teaching Children and A Strong Start in Language, our homeschooler could make use of Bible passages, the rummage-sale dictionary (looking up words that start with certain combinations of letters (like "some" in the lesson above), and practicing alphabetizing skills); the word-search puzzle books (they can also be used for spelling lists); and everyday "paper" like newspapers and phone books. This may seem odd to people who consider grammar and creative writing texts to be standard even in primary grades; but consider the value of copywork, personalized spelling, narration (having the child tell episodes back orally, in writing, or using creative alternatives), and reading/writing across the curriculum. The goal of "language arts" is to increase the child's facility in language, and that can be broken down into areas such as reading, writing, oral and listening skills. All these areas can be well covered by Ruth Beechick's "powerful natural method" of increasing language awareness, and CM-style narration.

So here's a hundred dollar (or maybe a three-dollar) question, and I'm asking it seriously: is this much harder than pulling language lessons from a pre-fab language textbook, even for a fairly new homeschooler? Is this very different from buying a booklet of comprehension questions to go with a novel? Besides the cost advantage, making up your own work is very flexible; if your child already knows all about plurals, you can choose another passage and work on something else. You can stress comprehension where I've focused more on mechanics here; you can draw in Bible passages too, if that's your style. Again I need to stress that you'll need to invest in some teacher tools if you want to teach this way; but once you've learned how to handle your tools, you can use them to build anything you want.

(Part 2, Part 3)

1 comment:

Javamom said...

in fact, I did make one more thrift shop trip and I'm going to talk about that at the end.>>

Aw! You've piqued my curiosity! Good post!

I like the new, nest decoration!