According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the academic subject known as language arts is composed of “composition, language, literature, media, and reading.” And, according to some experts, reading and writing are two of the most important components of a language arts program, especially for early learners. As a matter of fact, reading and writing are so important to young students that they are viewed as the basis for success in nearly every other academic subject.
Language Arts Instruction for Homeschooling Parents
Many studies and publications exist to help teachers understand the importance of reading comprehension in subjects other than language arts, but one of the most important tools that educators can provide children with is their own ability to understand that children learn to read differently, at their own pace, and in their own way. This understanding is especially important in the homeschool environment where parents and homeschool educators are relatively free to employ whatever teaching methods work best for the individual child.
Reading instruction is a component of the language arts curriculum that should be introduced across multiple subject matter content. Children ultimately have to understand what they read in a variety of textbooks, not just as part of a language arts class. Yet, reading instruction begins long before formal education begins, especially for homeschooling parents and educators.
Teaching Reading to Preschoolers
Teaching reading and other language arts skills to preschool learners relies heavily on a concept known as modeling. Modeling merely means exposing young children to the types of behaviors and habits we want them to learn. Many parents and homeschooling educators employ this kind of instruction naturally, without giving it much thought.
To model reading behavior to young children, adults and other children should read to, and with, early learners. This type of instruction can take place from the moment of birth and can significantly impact a child’s love for reading. In addition to a love for reading and stories, children who are read to at an early age learn skills such as book knowledge and word appreciation.
Book knowledge is the ability to recognize book formats and purpose. Early readers learn how to hold a book properly, to read English from left to right, how pictures supplement the story, and that books have basic components such as a front and back, spine, pages, covers, and more. Children automatically learn these things at a conceptual level long before they understand the purpose of each component.
Children who have been exposed to reading modeling also learn beginning phonics. Children who are ready, learn basic letter sounds, word and phrase inflection, and the alphabet. From this point, children will often enjoy participating in simple letter recognition and pronunciation games. They don’t even realize they’re learning!
Teaching Reading to Students in Kindergarten and First Grade
Ideally, children who have been introduced to reading modeling behavior enter kindergarten and first grade ready and eager to read on their own. For most children, the formal teaching of reading begins in these grades. Most educators, homeschool or otherwise, use a combination of phonics programs, worksheets, and actual books to teach reading. These are all tried and true methods and can result in reading success. A relatively new methodology, syllabics, extends the focus of phonics programs on the sounds associated with the consonant letters to simple rules for correctly using the variable sounds associated with the vowels.
However, the basis of homeschooling is the freedom to modify and tailor any learning program to the learning style of the child. This means that children who need extra phonics or syllabics instruction, additional reading practice, or who learn better with computer software or worksheets than traditional instruction, are taught using whatever teaching method works best for them. In the early grades, reading and phonics, supplemented by introductions to syllabics, take precedence over vocabulary, grammar, and even spelling.
The early language arts curriculum should also include basic writing skills. At this age, there is little need to concentrate on anything other than how to hold a pencil and how to shape letters and numbers and, for the thoroughly modern child, the location of each letter on their computer keyboard. The specifics of how to write words, sentences, and paragraphs will come later.
Language Arts for Students in Grades Three Through Five
The language arts curriculum for students in grades three through five builds upon the basic reading and writing skills that students mastered in grades K-2. Journaling, preparing basic book reports, and group discussions all help students to develop writing skills and enhance their reading comprehension. Reading becomes not only a situation of pure story enjoyment, but also encourages students to start thinking about such things as cause and effect, story lines and progression, and story meanings.
There is no better time than the present for educators to begin to use more than basic instructional texts to help students learn to read. As a matter of fact, some educators warn that reading programs that use only developmental reading texts fail to expose early readers to real life books, i.e., literature. Yes, children should be exposed to actual literature at a young age, not merely books that were written specifically to teach reading. It is important to note that the literature that early readers are exposed to is not the same literature that adults read. Early reading literature merely means creative books written by authors who write to entertain, not just teach.
Middle and Upper Grades Language Arts
Students who have successfully mastered the basics of reading and writing in the lower grades are ready to spread their wings and read! Upper grades language arts curriculums emphasize further reading comprehension by requiring readers to tackle increasingly more difficult literature. Students in grades six through eight gain comprehension by analyzing what they’ve read and participating in critical discussions and writing assignments.
One of the most important factors in reading, at any level, is to find a genre that interests the reader. Forcing a child to read “The Catcher in the Rye” when that student prefers “Cujo” is one sure-fire way to destroy a child’s interest in, and love of, reading. Permitting students at least some leisure reading can be critical to maintaining their interest in reading. There will certainly come a time when reading Chaucer might be necessary, but the language arts curriculum should never be so rigid as to require only one source of literature over all others.
More information on the teaching of reading and language arts instruction can be found by visiting the National Council of Teachers of English website at www.ncte.org.
Michael Levy is a well-known teacher and university researcher who has published more than 250 articles about learning. His latest project is Reading Buddy 2.0, software for teaching children to learn to read basic English using the innovative syllabics methodology. Michael invites traditional and home school teachers to explore this new method. Claim your free copy of Reading Buddy 2.0. –>