Literature Based Education – Language Arts

Literature Based Curriculum | Ordinary Happily Ever After

This is the start of a new series.  Over the next few weeks (or however long it takes) I will walk you through the nitty gritty of our homeschool and how we utilize literature as the core of our curriculum.  First a little bit of explanation.

I’m a curriculum hog.  It takes all of my self-control to wait longer than a week to buy something new and exciting.  You can imagine this tendency makes for a lean bank account and one crammed bookcase (ok eight crammed bookcases and three armoires… don’t judge).

Having all of this awesomeness also makes for just a tiny bit of stress since I also want to USE it all.  The birth of my fifth child has forced me to accept that there are only 24 hours in a day and as much as I want to, it’s not necessary or possible to use five different curriculums with each subject.

That’s right… each SUBJECT.  I don’t nee five language arts, two maths, four geographies, two foreign language, four histories (ok fine, seven), four science… you get the idea.  More is not always better, sometimes it’s just more (name that movie… no seriously, name it because I can NOT remember!)

This epiphany came to me during an English lesson with Lucy.  I got to the point in her fourth grade curriculum that I was teaching her material that I had never learned before.  Not material that I have forgotten and had to relearn, but had NEVER learned.  In a clear case of “if it was good enough for me…” I looked for ways to make our lives easier.

After a little bit of research and a whole lot of prayer we have decided to move to a literature based education.  Most of you might think “well, duh!” and some might think “what’s that?”.

TJED fans will recognize this philosophy as key #1… Classics, not Textbooks.

Stories are the very best way for my children to learn.  Stories can teach them history, values, patriotism, and civics.  All you have to do is read Shakespeare to know that literature can also teach poetry, creative writing and grammar.  In my experience it can also teach science and math to a certain extent (though I admit that text books are still necessary in those cases).  While I’m sure a literature based education looks different in every home (it is homeschool after all), I thought I would share with you what it looks like in our home (even though we don’t have it all ironed out yet).

With the help of my sisters, my own research and other homeschoolers I have compiled an ever growing list of of books that I want my children to try to read before they fly the nest.  It starts with things like The Courage of Sarah Noble and ends with the unabridged Les Miserables, the complete works of William Shakespeare and the several biographies that I have been collecting lately.  In between they will read Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, the Inheritance series, Faith of Our Fathers, Prelude to Glory, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, and more.  These books are the basis for each person’s education in our home (including my own).

Since this entire philosophy began in response to an overwhelming language arts lesson, I thought I would kick off this series with my explanation of how a literature based education works on language arts.

I look at my book list for an age appropriate book that we already own and hand a book to Lucy for her to read during our designated “school” hours.  After finishing her math and the family lesson for the day (family lessons are the lessons that I formally teach each day that everyone participates in such as spanish, science, history, etc.) Lucy will usually curl up with the book on her bed or on the sofa with earmuffs on to keep the noise from distracting her.  Once she has finished the book she will write me an essay answering some generic questions that I have.

These questions are designed to train her to find the deeper meaning of a book.  I want to know what she learned, what her favorite part was, if she liked it or not and why, what she thought the author was trying to teach… those kinds of things.  What I DON’T want from her is a summary.  I get an oral summary from her at the end of every day so it’s not necessary for her to write them down in the essay.  I know she read the book, I want to know what she has learned (if anything).

Once I have her essay I read it and highlight the spelling and grammar mistakes.  We still have All About Spelling lessons every so often so that she can learn the rules of spelling rather than just “what looks right” (which is basically what I rely on) but the vast majority of her spelling is from correcting the mistakes she makes in her writing.  With one book we have covered creative writing, vocabulary, grammar, spelling critical thought and depending on whether she chooses to write her essay by hand or type it we also hit handwriting or typing.  In just the last few weeks she has done this with Naya Nuki, The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and Little House in the Big Woods (on her own during non-school hours she has read The Lost Hero, Son of Neptune, Eragon, Eldest, and is currently reading Brisinger.  I am not asking her to give me essays on these books because she is ten years old.  She will likely reread them as a teenager and I can get the essay then).  With each book she improves just a little bit.

Here is her essay for Naya Nuki:

Naya Nuki by Kenneth Thomasma is a VERY good book.  Naya Nuki is the hero in this book, and the prairie indians are the villains.

My favorite part of the whole book (and it’s harder to find a favorite part in Naya Nuki than you would think) was chapter nine, “Inches From Death”, now I am not going to tell you why it is my favorite part [she didn’t want to spoil it for me]. I don’t really have a part in the book that I don’t like.

Some of the things that I learned are some good survival tips.

What I think the author was trying to teach through the book was that most things that you want you have to have faith that you can do it and that everything is possible if you have enough faith.

I think people who are interested in freedom would really like this book.  I also think people who are about 8 – 14 years old would really like this book too.

This is just an example of how our literature based method helps in our children’s individual, self-directed learning (aka this is what fourth grade Lucy does when I send her off to work on her own).  Emma reads books on her own and tells me about them but does not give me a written essay.  You may be wondering what I do with the other children who are not yet able to work as independently as the girls can.

I’m glad you asked :)

Brian Cleary has some excellent children’s picture books on parts of speech, punctuation, poetry and other language arts rules that we read on a regular basis.  I can’t tell you how much I love these books!  In his “Words are Categorical” series Brian has books on nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, pronouns, synonyms, antonyms, similes and metaphors, prepositions, homophones and homonyms (yes there is a difference), and more, more, and more!  This dude is seriously talented and manages to put all of these different parts of speech into verse in a fun and understandable way.  My kiddos love these books!

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.57.05 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.57.22 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.57.48 PM 51cPpeo4ChL._SS500_ Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.59.39 PM  Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.56.27 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.56.45 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.58.46 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 8.59.06 PMAnything beyond these principles that they might need for their SAT’s or ACT’s they can learn when they are preparing for those tests (let’s be honest, who really cares about the difference between subject, object and predicate of a sentence other than English teachers and those who write the SAT’s?  No one, in my experience).

As I close I would like to share my opinion on creative writing.  I am a far better writer now than when I was in school.  You may entirely disagree but I happen to think I’m pretty good at it (at least for the types of things that I write about, I think I would be hopeless as a novelist).  My writing has improved so dramatically in the last few years because I follow three main principles:

  1. Practice.  To be a better writer you have to write.  I have this blog and I very much enjoy writing for it.  I know people read it so I have to be careful with my grammar and punctuation (though I do still make many mistakes).  I cringe when I read the things that I wrote five years ago but I’m so much better now because I wrote anyway.
  2. Reading.  Read, read, read, read, and then read some more.  Read the classics, read books that were written over a hundred years ago.  Expose yourself to the old English language.  Not long ago my sister read Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice in the same month and the emails that she sent to us shortly thereafter were always so poetic and witty even while describing the mundane things of our daily lives.
  3. Passion.  If you don’t feel it, don’t write it.  You can tell from exploring this site that there are a lot of subjects that I am passionate about.  That being said I don’t foresee myself ever writing about the evils of white flour and granulated sugar.  Much to the chagrin of my friends and a few of my siblings I just don’t care about it.  I can go on and on about flavor, or the changes that happen within a food during the cooking process, or how happy it makes me to be canning food for my family or how I am trying to curb my inner demons regarding food… but I just don’t care about how bad refined sugar is for you.  Oh, I will read books about it and maybe a fire will light underneath me for a while; but that fire only lasts as long as it takes for someone to wave a Snicker’s bar under my nose.  Freedom, history, education, children, family, politics, motherhood, creativity, running, books, Jesus Christ; THOSE are the things I am passionate about.  To paraphrase Immanuel Kant, there are many things which I believe that I shall never write; but I shall never write the things which I do not believe.

I draw from my own experiences as I teach my children.  I started this whole thing because I had piles of books and curriculum collecting dust on my shelves.  I learned vocabulary and creative writing from reading extensively.  I learned spelling… well let’s just say I’m grateful for spellcheck (which is probably why All About Spelling has survived our language arts curriculum purge).  I learned proper grammar, not because I learned it from a textbook in school, but because my parents corrected me EVERY SINGLE time I made a grammatical error.  My parents drilled into me when it is appropriate to use “take” when to use “bring” and I learned about double negatives the same way.  There ain’t no better way to learn about double negatives ;)  (and apparently ain’t IS a word now).  This is what worked for me and this is how I will teach my children.  If one of my children continues to struggle than we are certainly open to suggestions but I’ve got to keep it simple.

What about you?  I would love to hear your practical solutions for teaching language arts.  How does literature play a part in your home?

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. Cari says:

    Great overview! We had an awesome day yesterday, reading about Nebuchadnezzar (SOTW) and I stopped after the first chapter. They begged to keep reading the second chapter and then wanted to read it straight from the Bible. Talk about a mother’s dream come true! I have never heard of the Brian Cleary books, I’m so glad you shared them, I’m adding them to my cart! I am not teaching anything formal for that quite yet- but we’ve started the 1st language lessons wtm and I was wondering how on earth I was going to find a fun way to teach boring language rules. So glad to find these, thanks!!!


    1. Yeah, 1st Language Lessons did not survive the purge :) Brian Cleary takes care of that!


      1. Cari says:

        So glad to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t care for it! I love SOTW and Ordinary Parents guide to Teaching Reading so I assumed I would love language lessons as well, but I don’t. It’s way too repetitive and seems like so much busywork we really only got through a few pages before I gave up. I’m ordering all of these for this next year!


      2. I feel the same way :) We use SOTW too.


  2. Amy Lowert says:

    Great post, very informative! I will have to check out the Brian Cleary books I think my boys would enjoy learning from them!


  3. Maria Hendershot says:

    Are you going to share that book list with us?!! :)
    I have a working booklist that I check off in my child’s “color” ( I have 6 kids and they all have their assigned color) so I know who has read what and at what age they were. I always love comparing my list to others. :)


    1. Sure! I try and get that up this week :)


  4. Maria Hendershot says:

    Thank you so much!! :)


  5. Heather says:

    It’s wonderful, doing it this way, isn’t it?! Great post!


  6. Cellista says:

    The movie is Sabrina! That is one of my favorite movie lines. In fact we quote that movie frequently at our house!

    Great post, we love literature here as well. We do really well with the lit recommended in SOTW Activity Guides. Now that my boys are getting older, I need to get better about using literature that doesn’t tie into our history. I used to try to read those aloud, but I’m a failure at long readalouds, picture books are fine, but we do much better with audiobooks in the car for the longer classics.


  7. Sanz says:

    Naya Nuki?!?! I won the Naya Nuki look alike contest when I was in grade school. I won an illustration of Ken Thomasma’s. :) I am looking to do something more of a literature based year and a more relaxed schedule this coming year.


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