The Lesson Book is perfect for doing primary language arts lessons. Not only does it offer freedom for you to choose what your child concentrates on, but it also lends structure so that you are more able to form consistent habits that will help your little one build his skills gradually, bit-by-bit.
I know from long experience that consistency is one of the hardest things to implement, especially if you have a number of children you are teaching at the same time. This is one reason a lot of moms shy away from unspecified curriculum. It’s simply too much of a strain trying to keep track of it all!
With The Lesson Book you don’t have to strive so hard. Yes, there is still a little bit of work involved, but there are ways you can formulate a plan that will keep you from thinking too much. (You know, for those days when you have too many tabs up in your brain!)
If you have a tiny one who does not know his basic sounds and does not have any experience sounding out simple words, you probably want to hold off on using The Lesson Book. Instead, you will want to do these simple things (you’re probably doing most of them already) to prepare him for his journey towards independent reading:
- Help him practice oral language (in order to learn written patterns) by including him in natural conversation. Share your stories and insights, answer his queries, and make sure and ask open-ended questions (instead of questions that can only be answered with a “yes” or “no”).
- Read aloud, not only from picture books, but from chapter books with little or no illustrations.
- Read and memorize nursery rhymes. This develops an ear for the rhythm of English while making tiny ones more aware of different parts of language, such as syllables, ending sounds, etc. This also increases vocabulary so what is read can be better understood (for more, read the article at this link).
- Practice the art of oral narration, or “telling back,” as Charlotte Mason suggested (if this concept is new to you, read this post).
- Allow him to observe and partake in every day activities. Running errands, fixing things around the house, etc.
- Make sure he has loads of time for free-play. This means hours that are unstructured (without screens as much as possible). Loads of learning happen during this time.
- Memorize the basic consonant and vowel sounds. You don’t have to get too quirky and technical, a basic knowledge will do fine.
After all this, and when your child is able to sit still without losing his mind (this is a different age for each child), you can begin in earnest.
For the purposes of this explanation, we will be using these materials:
- The Lesson Book, Level One
- McGuffey’s Pictorial Primer (the original, brown version published by Mott Media and/or Hop on Pop by Dr. Seus
- A pen
- A pencil
- Some color crayons or colored pencils
- Index card
- Glue stick
Step One: The Reading
With my littlest ones I like to sit and cuddle a bit, or at least start out in some funny way, such as saying, “Hello there, my name is Mommy, what is yours?” and then shake hands. Then I might ask them something about themselves, such as what they thought of breakfast or some recent event in our lives.
Then I take out the book we will be reading from. If it is new, we take it in our hands and talk about its cover, what size it is, how it feels or even smells. We open it and talk about the first pages and what they are called, what sorts of information they include (such as the title page, contents, etc.).
With the book Hop on Pop we look at the first few pages and talk about the pictures. Since I have read this one over and over, it is pretty easy for them to guess at the words. This is perfectly fine, as guessing isn’t the evil we make it into. There is a place where guessing hampers reading, but making educated guesses can actually be a help. The problem comes when we don’t have enough knowledge to do anything but guess (there are exercises you can use to combat this–I should write about them and send a list to my email subscribers).
I use the familiarity with the words as a platform to help them practice sounding out. If the child has no trouble remembering the individual sounds of the words such as “up,” practicing sounding out will be no problem.
If, however, the child is having some difficulty, it may be good to review the phonic alphabet, talking about the differences between the consonants and the vowels.
The book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons is one of the best tools for teaching how to teach reading (it may be worth purchasing if you are unfamiliar with reading instruction). There are exercises suggested at the beginning that stress practicing saying short, one-vowel words slowly, then quickly. This could be applied to Hop on Pop in this way. You could have the child begin with words that aren’t written down, such as hat, cat, and pot.
What I mean by slowly is this: “Hhhhaaaatttt” then fast, “hat.”
Then we move on to the printed words on the page. In this case, they are “up,” “cup,” “pup,” etc.
Next comes the copywork.
Charlotte Mason stressed that a little done well is much better than a lot done poorly. In the beginning, especially, you want to make sure your child takes just a small bit and does it carefully. If all you accomplish the first few lessons are three to six words and these are done as neatly as possible (without expecting perfection), count it a victory and make sure you celebrate accordingly.
Don’t fret if the first lessons are not astounding! As you continue consistently, daily to produce micro-advances, you will see that it will all add up to huge steps of progress.
Just remember this little ditty which was popular when the McGuffey’s were being used in schools:
Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
The first lessons in the McGuffeys are pretty easy to use. There are words for “spelling” (in McGuffey’s day this was what we now call “sounding out”) and words for reading. These are what would be used for the words and copywork sections in The Lesson Book. The words presented in the first lessons are repeated often enough that they will be learned by the end of the book, so don’t try to use every single one!
Here are simple sentence preparation examples:
Then we have the narrative drawing.
Narration is an integral part of the Charlotte Mason method. I can attest that it is an amazing tool for developing cognitive skills. Having a child “tell back” what they have heard or read in their own words is far superior to answering a series of “comprehension questions” at the end of a reading.
Besides having a discussion with your child about the reading, giving him a chance to think about what he has just read and then draw a picture about it takes even more thinking and skill development. Even if he can only produce a stick drawing, the benefits are still there. He has had to process and organize his thoughts so that he can use his hands to communicate what he has been thinking about to others.
Finally, there is the dictation.
Dictations should reveal what a child knows, not what he doesn’t know. This is key.
In other words, you should take the copywork you have done with your little person and go over it until he knows it inside-out and upside-down. You do this by having him study each word, close his eyes, and then spell it out loud before he ever begins to write. You also want to go over any punctuation and grammar points and explain them to him.
In this way he is learning grammar, punctuation, and spelling in the natural flow of the written word, instead of as isolated parts that are not connected to real language. This is the kind of learning that “sticks,” and one of the greatest strengths of the Charlotte Mason Method.
Here is an example:
Remember: You don’t have to do a whole lesson in a single day.
Split the whole process up into three or four days. Let your little guy have short, concentrated, happy times learning instead of marathon, boring, hateful times. This will give him the idea that learning takes effort, but it is also fun. As he sees his lesson book fill up with his own excellent work he will beam with the pride of accomplishment!