Last month I shared my favorite language arts curriculum (and truly, I think there is so much good stuff to choose from!), but in my excitement over sharing the formal curriculum options available, I managed to skim over what I believe is the most important part of the subject: quality literature.
Reading aloud, listening to audiobooks, filling your home with books (whether purchased or borrowed), reading in front of your kids…these are the things that lay a foundation for strong readers, writers, and communicators long before they read their first word.
I’ve always believed this to be true, and it’s the main reason that we started out with the Sonlight curriculum. How can you go wrong when you’re focusing on beautifully written books?!
Although the curriculum didn’t work for us for a variety of reasons, the Sonlight booklists played a huge part in filling our first bookshelves, and books have always been a significant part of our homeschool budget each year.
That said, it wasn’t until my oldest struggled with learning to read that I really realized the beauty of this approach outside of feeding a love of books…
You see, in 2011 our then-seven-year-old still wasn’t reading, and it was tearing me apart. I learned to read early, and I always assumed my kids would as well, and I was desperately afraid that she would never develop a love of books if reading continued to be a struggle for her.
During a series of heartfelt conversations at a weekend retreat with Susan Wise Bauer and several other classical homeschoolers, though, I realized that not yet being able to read was such a small part of the equation. This was a kid who had literally memorized several volumes of Story of the World at seven years old. A kid who used words I didn’t know in sentences and regularly corrected my pronunciation. This was a kid who was enchanted by stories and the written word, even though she couldn’t quite decipher it herself.
And you know why? Because not only did we read aloud a lot, but we also used audiobooks constantly—during bedtime and afternoon quiet time and whenever she needed a few minutes alone. She fell in love with stories and the written word, she developed an innate sense for good writing by hearing it read aloud, and she expanded her vocabulary and imagination beyond anything I could have purposefully taught her in those same 7 years, all by hearing words and ideas used by great writers.
And now that she can read (and this goes for her two sisters who picked up reading more easily than she did as well), a love of books continues to be the foundation of our language arts program. I can see the effects of the books they’ve read in the stories they write—in their creativity with sentence structure and dialogue, in the vocabulary they use, and in their ability to build toward a climax even when we haven’t talked about the importance of doing so.
Although we haven’t always been faithful about reading aloud because of my work schedule, we have more than a hundred audiobooks in our Audible library, and they’ve always listened to stories at various times each day. We’re reprioritizing reading together as part of our morning time, and as I read the words from classics like Lad, the Dog, I’m reminded of the importance of quality literature. Not only are the girls are enchanted with the story, but they’re being exposed to words and sentence structures from the early 1900s that they might not encounter otherwise, and yet they’re able to decipher it as they hear it read aloud, expanding their understanding of grammar and good writing in the process.
I think language arts is so, so important, and I enjoy using a formal curriculum for teaching grammar and writing. But if I had to choose between the two, great books would win every time!
What role do great books play in your homeschool? Do you think quality literature is enough for teaching language arts?