Monday, April 9, 2012

How We do Language Arts, Part 1

One of the unique features of a Charlotte Mason education is the way that language arts is handled.  The CM approach to language arts is different from what most of us grew up with – it is very holistic, does not involve a lot of busywork, and can be integrated across the curriculum once you understand the methods.   Much has already been written about CM language arts methods already (I will link to a few helpful resources at the end of the series), so I won’t go into too much detail on that.   But, I do want to give you a snapshot of how we translate those methods into everyday life in our home, right now.  (I will revisit this post from time to time as we progress and things change.)  Currently I am teaching a first-grader who is already reading well.   This has turned into a monster of a post, so I will divide it up into a couple of parts.  So for us, this is what first grade language arts looks like….

Literature (including poetry)
Excellent literature is one of the cornerstones of a Charlotte Mason education.   In addition to literature to be read for its own sake, Charlotte advocated the use of ‘Living Books’ across the curriculum – for history, for geography, for science and nature, and so on.   That is not to say that there isn’t a time and place for textbooks, but when at all possible Charlotte encouraged the use of interesting, well-written, and appropriately challenging books to feed the mind with ideas, rather than dry lists of facts.
Currently, we are using literature as the basis for our history, geography, nature, and character studies (see the Goals and Curriculum Link in the sidebar to see our specific resources.)  We also read aloud from both chapter books and picture books daily – we have a story time mainly for the little ones right after lunch and also a chapter book going as part of our bedtime routine.
Charlotte also encouraged the regular reading of poetry.  I did NOT grow up with an appreciation for poetry, but by simply reading a quick poem at the start of our school time each day, my kids are gaining more of an appreciation for it than I had.  (We actually increased our poetry reading to daily at Michelle’s request!)   At this stage in the game we just read and enjoy – we don’t analyze, we don’t write.
  Narration is the cornerstone of CM education.   At its simplest, narration is simply the child telling back something that she has read (or had read aloud to her.)  Sounds simple enough, but in the act of telling back involves hearing, understanding, organizing the information in your mind, and then choosing the correct words to express your ideas.   Not as easy as it sounds!    For young children, narration is done orally.   Later on, as narration skills develop and the mechanical skills of writing become more natural, narrations can be given in writing.   Because narration is complex and demands the use of a lot of the brain, it is not recommended to require narration from a child younger than age 6.

Because of this, narration is still fairly new for us.   We are still working on building up Michelle’s oral narration ability.  She is not a natural narrator, but has been progressing nicely.   Right now, we narrate:
-          Aesop’s Fables: we are reading through Aesop’s Fables this year specifically because they are highly recommended as practice for beginning narrators.  They are short and usually amusing.   We read one just about every day, and after I’ve read I ask Michelle to tell me what happened.   Her narrations for these are usually quite good.

-          Bible:  I also ask her to “tell me what happened” when we read Bible stories.  Since these are often longer, I usually stop every couple of paragraphs to track what has happened in the story so far. Sometimes we 'buddy narrate' - this helps to model what I am looking for to keep the details in a complex story straight.

-          History and Nature: Our history curriculum this year consists of short stories taken from the lives of various famous people throughout history, both from America and around the World.  Since my goal for history at this point is simply to familiarize her with famous people and events I don’t expect terribly detailed narrations.  I usually ask her to tell me the most interesting thing she learned about ______.   The same goes for narrations from our nature-related books.

-          Geography:  For our geography book, I usually ask her “what was your favorite part of the story?".   I record this and she draws and accompanying illustration.  We usually look up pictures of the area in question on the internet when we read, and she uses these pictures as inspiration for her drawings.

-          Character Study: For our character development book, we usually walk back through the basic plot together, and then I might ask her to tell me what the character in the story learned.
At this stage we aren’t narrating literature, just because she is still a beginner and I like to keep our family read-aloud times more lighthearted.  But as she grows into reading more independently, I will expect narrations from literature selections as well.

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