How to Choose a Language Arts Curriculum
Making a Curriculum Choice
Choosing a language arts curriculum is a very important decision for your homeschool. Furthermore, the plethora of options can make choosing a language arts curriculum an overwhelming task. Where should you start? What do you need, and what is optional? Here are some guidelines to set you on the path of choosing a language arts program that fits your needs.
The Elements of a Language Arts Curriculum
A language arts curriculum should cover these four broad areas.
Within those categories, you will want to cover these specific areas:
As you design a language arts curriculum, be sure to evaluate how balanced it is. Does it cover all the areas adequately?
Young children, grades K-3, need to focus on reading more than anything. Then starting around third or fourth grade, introduce formal lessons on spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and mechanics. By middle school, students should be mastering paragraphs and essays. High schoolers need to move from simple reading comprehension into literary analysis. Each grade builds a little more on what was learned before, revisiting old topics, but studying them to a deeper level of understanding.
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Strengths and Weaknesses
When evaluating your language arts curriculum, you should take stock of your child's strengths and weaknesses. There are two ways to look at strengths and weaknesses, and both have value.
Some moms focus on their children's weaknesses and teach to improve them. This is a good choice if the weakness is something as foundational as reading comprehension (for any grade) or essay writing (for upper grades). The other side of the coin is that constantly dwelling on a weakness can be demoralizing. So be careful here.
Another approach is to emphasize a child's strengths and develop them to the maximum. For example, if your child is an avid reader, you make loads of quality literature available and give him plenty of time for free reading.
Realizing a child's strengths and weaknesses in language arts can help you choose a curriculum that fits. If a child struggles with spelling, you may need a very rigorous but slowly paced program. If your child excels in writing, you can consider advanced materials that match his ability, accelerating past the areas he has already mastered. If a child is a natural at grammar, a brief overview each year may be adequate. But if your child lacks attention to punctuation and capitalization, a daily editing practice may be in order.
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Reading & Writing in Your Other Subjects
How much reading and writing are in your other subject areas? If there is a lot of it, say in science and history, for example, you may not need as much reading and writing for your language arts curriculum. If, however, your other subjects are largely void of either reading or writing, you will need to add that in with specific language arts lessons.
I am a big fan of multi-tasking in homeschool. When I can have one assignment cover two or more topics, I think that we have been very efficient with our use of time. So I am careful to look for areas where language arts overlaps into history, art, music, science, and even math. When it does, I take advantage of the opportunity to get a "two-for-one" homeschool bargain.
If your history curriculum is full of living books, then you may not need to add many additional language arts readers. But if you use a textbook approach, you will certainly want to make sure your child is reading other quality books for language arts class.
If you require a good bit of writing in other academic areas, then you probably do not need as many language arts writing assignments as other homeschoolers. For example, if you use notebooking and written narrations for history and science, you know that your child is already getting daily practice with expository writing.
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What is Your Teaching Style?
Are you a laid back "let's just wing it" kind of homeschool mom? Or do you prefer everything laid out clearly, even with a word for word script for what to say to the children? Probably you fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. But take a good look at the structure provided in any curriculum you are considering.
- Is the material scheduled for you or will you have to do that yourself?
- Are there answer keys or suggested answers?
- Are tests and quizzes included?
- Is it a comprehensive program or just something that covers an area or two?
If you need a lot of structure, a textbook or a program with a highly detailed instructor's guide will be a better fit. If you need less structure, you can probably use most any curriculum and adapt it to your own style, ignoring the directions that don't suit you.
If you like an eclectic approach, you will feel comfortable with selecting from a buffet of language arts options -- one company for grammar, another for writing, and an assortment of word games and library books. But if you are very fearful of gaps, you may prefer the comfort of an inclusive plan that covers all the bases (like Abeka, Bob Jones, or Sonlight).
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