The arts or skills of language are one of the things that set human beings apart from the rest of creation. It is one of the ways that we are made in the image of God. It is the vehicle which allows knowledge to be passed on. As a result we have fellowship, progress, beauty, and a glimpse of our Creator. Is there any more important subject in the business of education?
The teaching of language has had its share of philosophies and politics, and today has become ridiculously complex. I am setting out here to offer an option for homeschoolers who may wish for a simpler schoolday, while still achieving a rich and solid education.
We should take a step back to get the big picture. First of all, what are the language arts? And secondly, how do children, in general, learn?
Most people, when asked what the language arts contain, will say reading and writing. But actually those are only half of the language arts. There are two more that correspond and actually form the foundation for reading and writing. Listening relates to reading (both are input) and speaking relates to writing (both are output). So there are four language arts and in order of complexity they are
Writing, as the last thing on the list, is a surprisingly sophisticated skill and cannot be well-performed without the three preceding skills in place. You cannot put out what has not been put in. And yet our modern-day education often jumps immediately to writing as soon as a child is placed in school.
My second question was “How do children learn?”
Children learn Whole-To-Part. That is, they first form a relationship with a recognizable whole. Then that whole is broken down and analyzed. For example, a child first learns about a maple tree by climbing it, raking its leaves, eating maple syrup, or perhaps by reading a story about one. Then the child learns about the seasons’ effects on the tree. Then they learn about things like pollination and photosynthesis. Then they learn about things on a cellular and molecular level (Biology and Chemistry).
Consider this Whole-To-Part concept in the realm of language arts. Again, our modern approach tends to be backwards. We begin with breaking down and analyzing, rather than ending there. Look at most curricula of home, private, or public school and you will see isolated sentences, blanks to fill in, a spelling list over here, grammar rules over there.
So how does one teach the four language arts–listening, speaking, reading, and writing– in order and with a Whole-To-Part method? Thankfully we live late in history and have the benefit of smart people who have gone before us. . . if we are smart enough to look back and see what they learned. So has anyone mastered the process of teaching language arts along the principles mentioned above?
Enter Charlotte Mason. This British educator of the late 19th/early 20th century is a hero to homeschoolers for many reasons, but I believe her methodology on language arts is her most valuable contribution. In my next post I will describe how her methods teach all of the language arts in a brilliant and simple manner.
–>NEXT: The Language Arts – Part Two