By Dachelle McVey of Hide the Chocolate
Grammar… just the word makes me cringe. Indirect objects, past participles, comma splices, split infinitives –they all give me cold chills. I’m immediately thrust back into 7th grade with feelings of overwhelm. Why do I have to memorize all these prepositions? When will I ever diagram a sentence outside this classroom?
So when we started our homeschool journey, I thought I would break out into hives if I had to teach grammar. Maybe I could do spelling, but grammar? No way. It took me a few years and the thoughtful advice of some veteran homeschoolers, but I eventually discovered that teaching this dreaded subject might not be so bad after all. Here are six tips for teaching language arts in a fun and engaging way (and won’t make you break out into hives).
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Tip 1: Not all language arts curriculums are the same.
If you are at a loss on where to begin, you may want to start with a language arts curriculum that is already made for you. You can easily take a ready-made curriculum and finesse it to your style. But, here’s your fair warning… not all language arts curriculums are the same. Some are down-right boring. These are the ones that make me want to hide in the closet with Nutella until the crying abates (mine and the kids’).
You need to find a program that gives you some flexibility and one that is fun for your kids. We’ve found two that work beautifully together, Brave Writer and Grammar Galaxy. These two relaxed literature-based programs give us all the grammar, spelling and literary elements we need without all the stress of learning why sometimes I comes before e and sometimes it doesn’t.
Tip 2: Kids learn while playing better than when they are memorizing rules.
My husband has a photographic memory. He looks at a page, and he can see it in his mind for weeks or months later. When he decides to memorize something, he almost never forgets it. It’s easy for him, and he enjoys it.
He, friends, is the exception to the rule. Most of us don’t sit around looking for rules to memorize. Most of us don’t enjoy trying to keep up with the plethora of comma rules or spelling rules that plague our grammar lives. So, we look for other ways to learn that aren’t so “brain-frying,” like games.
There are so many ways to play language arts games. Playing a language arts game can be simple. Grab a bag of Bananagrams and see who can spell the most words. Toss out the Story Cubes and make up tall tales. Find funny phrases from your favorite books and write them on the windows with chalk pens. Learn vocabulary words from funny definitions. Discover adjectives by touching objects while blindfolded. Let your kids come up with a game. You will be surprised what they think up.
Tip 3: Add snacks to your language arts studies.
Once a month we sit around a long wooden table at the library eating snacks, drinking tea (or lemonade), and reading poetry. We read all of the poets, not just the classics like Whitman or Poe, but the fun ones like Silverstein and Seuss. This is our Poetry Teatime. Sometimes we have a theme like a holiday or a particular poet. Sometimes we just read all our favorite poems and laugh while we eat cookies and sip vanilla almond tea with four cubes of sugar.
Then we break out the pencil and paper and start writing our own poems. My favorite are concrete poems. I love to write poems in shapes. The kids like limericks. The rhyme is fun and usually silly. And, we get to have fun with our friends… which brings me to tip number 4.
Tip 4: Invite friends to join in your language arts studies.
Poetry Teatime is just one of the ways we add friends to our language arts studies. We also invite friends over for book club parties. Inviting friends makes writing and learning a joint effort. We get to bounce ideas for poems off each other and admire someone else’s writing at Poetry Teatime. At book clubs, we get to talk about the exciting and not-so-exciting parts of the book we just read. The kids learn about the literature by taking a step inside the book and doing something the characters did. And, because they are doing it with their best buddies, reading takes on a greater appeal. You can’t discuss a book you haven’t read.
Tip 5: Go on language arts rabbit trails and add some magic dust.
Take the time to discover new adventures. As you are reading this month’s literature selection, find some interesting side notes or rabbit trails. Did the character learn to play baseball? Then learn the history of baseball. Discover who the greatest pitcher of all time is and which current player has the best all-time hitting average.
Next, sprinkle in a little magic dust. Go out and toss the ball around. Get tickets to a ballgame. Talk to a professional ballplayer. Take that step to bring the book to life. Make the kids want to read the next chapter because they can’t wait to find out about the next adventure.
Tip 6: Don’t feel guilty about letting others help you teach language arts.
For years I struggled with the fear of having to dissect, well, anything. I do not like worms, mice, or fish – all things listed on my daughter’s dissection list. I’m the gal who conned her friend into dissecting all those creatures in college biology, so I didn’t have to touch them. I was NOT prepared to dissect them in my kitchen! So, I didn’t. I sent her straight off to a co-op biology lab because even though I hated the idea of dissecting anything, she relished it.
And, so I learned that I didn’t have to do all the work of finding and ordering materials, researching the best experiments, or preparing the lab. I could let someone else do it, and I could do what I do best (which is most definitely not biology).
Take my advice. If you struggle with teaching a subject like language arts, the world will not end if you get a little (or a lot) of help. And, hey, if you are looking for a fun and engaging literature study that is already prepared for you, I’ve got your back. I created Literary Adventures for Kids for my kids and after much convincing decided to put them into a course format for other moms who were having the same struggle as me.
Teaching language arts doesn’t have to give you hives. With a little bit of imagination, you might even enjoy it!
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