Comparing Phonics Programs

Writing involves a complex and hierarchical skill set. Think of all the ground-work that must be done before a person can write an essay. The student begins as an infant acquiring spoken words. She eventually begins to string words into babbled sentences and then into reels of spontaneous spoken narrative—about her thoughts, what just happened, what she’s seen or observed. In elementary school each student has to muscle up to the daunting projects of phonemic awareness, phonics, penmanship, and spelling. Then come years of fluency, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing development. Phew! It’s a lot.

Let’s take a quick look at one of the primary building blocks to reading and writing success: phonics. It’s never too late to fill in any gaps with a student—or even as an adult teacher/parent!

In a previous post, I highlighted three popular phonics programs that are all based on the best research currently available. This post takes a closer look at the pros and cons of the different programs.

Spell to Write and Read, my favorite, is known to be difficult to get off the ground. And it’s true. Spell to Write and Read (SWR) requires a good deal of teacher time and investment. At first, SWR can be difficult to implement because you, as the teacher, have to learn the program (and wrap your mind around all the spelling concepts you weren’t taught yourself in school!) and then map out an individualized plan for your student(s). While this makes it a lot to learn at first on the teacher’s end, the upside is that it is extremely flexible for personalizing for individual students and situations. Personally, I’ve found it totally worth it. And after the first year or so of figuring it out, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

All About Spelling/All About Reading and Logic of English are both based on much of the same research as SWR. Those are good options, too, especially if you want everything laid out for you grade-by-grade. I received a review copy of All About Spelling (AAS) along with the PAL materials from IEW. I tried using it a bit with my youngest, and it’s a good program. I haven’t seen Logic of English (LoE) in person, but you can get a pretty good feel for the curriculum from their website.

Pros & Cons:

AAS is easier to use than SWR in that every lesson is laid out for you in order and scripted; it’s an “open and go” curriculum—after the initial set-up of the materials. However, AAS doesn’t necessarily take any less teacher time than SWR because each lesson requires intensive teacher-student interaction. AAS is distinctive in using “letter tiles” for hands-on phonogram learning. This might be especially helpful for children who are very young or who have difficulty writing letters with pen or pencil.

Like AAS, LoE lays everything out for you. Unlike AAS, LoE has student workbooks with full-color activity and practice sheets that students can mostly do on their own. Additionally, the teacher’s guide provides scripted lessons as well as other suggested multi-sensory activities to further student learning. Some of these workbook pages and suggested activities seem unnecessary to me—either busy work or too cutesy-clever. For example, in the Foundations A Teacher’s Manual sample page online, they suggest eating grapes, gingerbread, and granola when learning the letter ‘g’ as well as wearing green and gold and maybe learning about geckos, etc.  

All three programs—SWR, AAS, and LoE—are multi-year programs that teach the 70+ basic English phonograms and 28 foundational spelling rules. All three use flash cards, recommend games, and encourage other multi-sensory learning processes and activities.

As I see it, SWR offers three main advantages over the other programs that are based on the same research:

  1. SWR is a total steal since the initial package covers you for phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, plus other language arts foundations for grades K through 12 and beyond. It’s comprehensive. And all for about $100 as an initial investment, plus $6 to $12 per student in consumable learning logs each school year. Compare this with around $50/year for AAS and with $176 to $213 per year of LoE! 
  2. SWR is designed to be adaptable for any student at any level and at any age. While this makes it a bit unwieldy at first for the teacher, it’s a powerful benefit. You’re not stuck going through a bunch of pre-designed lessons ordered for generic classes/students; you have the flexibility to use the provided diagnostic tools and lesson components as best suits the individual person and situation. The corollary of this is that there are no cutesy gimmicks to wade through, but there are tons of practical hands-on tips for multi-sensory learning organized by skill or concept in the SWR teacher’s guide. SWR does not distract teachers or students with unnecessary activities or program elements. Which leads us to reason number three. . .
  3. SWR offers the most effective, efficient, and sound phonics program. If you read SWR author Wanda Sanseri’s speech to the Oregon senate, you might note some principles that make SWR unique. Instead of the “phony,” “pokey”, or “fickle” phonics of other programs, SWR offers all of the 70 basic phonograms and 28 spelling rules early and fast through a direct, uncluttered method that is systematic and intensive. After one year of SWR, a student will have all of the basic phonics knowledge they need to start reading almost any English book. From what I can tell of AAS and LoE, this is not the case. A student would have to complete multiple years of either of those programs in order to cover the same breadth and depth of phonics knowledge delivered in the suggested plan for the initial year of SWR. (And AAS is meant to be combined with All About Reading as a separate track—for more money!) This is why SWR is not merely a spelling program per se, but rather a comprehensive language arts foundation in phonics, spelling, reading, and beyond. (It even covers manuscript penmanship and an impressive amount of grammar.)

So if colorful student workbooks and/or prescribed, ready-made lesson tracks are important to you, SWR is probably not a good pick for your homeschool. But if you’re looking for a resource that will equip you to be the best possible language arts teacher for your students and give you the best bang for your buck, SWR is where it’s at. 

N.B., I am not affiliated with SWR in any way, and I receive no material benefit for endorsing the curriculum.  I’m just a fan girl who’s been happily using the program for about eight years now with both my own children and also other students.

[This post originally appeared on a personal blog and has been revised.]

Outdoor Life & Nature Study

In Janary at the Saint Emmelia Homeschool Conference, I had the privilege of co-leading a session with a wonderful colleague on incorporating nature study and outdoor play in the home school. Elizabeth Lewis did a fabulous job discussing the hands-on details of gardening with children. An audio recording is available online (see our talk titled, “Land Ahoy! Making Gardening and Natural Play Part of Your Homeschool” from the 2019 South Conference). While I don’t have Mrs. Lewis’s material to share, here are the notes from my part of the presentation dealing with outdoor life and nature study:

Research & Trends—Nature Time Is Critical to Spiritual, Psychological & Physical Well-being

  • Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005) drew attention to the alarming, growing divide between nature and children.
  • Screen time is replacing outdoor time and is leading to depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, low academic performance, and other problems. (See www.waituntil8th.org/why-wait/.)
  • A growing profusion of studies continue to investigate the psychological benefits of the natural world:
    • People who lived in city neighborhoods with at least 20 to 30% vegetation cover showed reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.[1]
    • The number of visible birds of any kind in an urban neighborhood correlate with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.[2]
    • The Japanese forestry ministry coined a phrase—shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”—for the increasingly popular pastime of intentional relaxation in forest environments which has been shown to heighten feelings of well-being, lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, and even improved immune system functionality.[3]
  • Even short visits to urban green spaces have positive results and benefits.[4]
  • There is a “forest school” movement in western European with roots reaching back to the 1800s; currently there are over 1,500 waldkindergartens (forest kindergartens) in Germany which have resurrected educational reformer Friedrich Froebel’s ideal of children learning through hands-on outdoor experiences.[5]
  • Building on the Scandinavian heritage of friluftsliv, literally, “fresh air life,” hundreds of nature schools similarly thrive in Denmark and Sweden.[6]
  • More than one-hundred Japanese waldkindergartens (a number that was expected to double by 2014) address the worries of many parents “that Japan is becoming too stressed and high tech and there is not time to communicate with nature.”[7]
  • In the U.S., a small but growing number of forest kindergarten leaders have joined together to found the American Forest Kindergarten Association which shares information about the many benefits supported by “the growing body of compelling scientific evidence” which indicates that “introducing children to the natural world at an early age has a profoundly positive impact on their mental, physical, and social well-being.” A handful of similar organizations—such as Natural Start Alliance, Nature Explore, and Forest Schools USA—are also devoted to helping establish nature preschools throughout the country.

Foundation for Nature Learning in the Christian Home

  • Many saints have shown us how holiness reunites us with nature: St. Francis, St. Herman of Alaska, St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, St. Blaise, Bishop of Sebaste, and many more!
  • The garden of Eden remains an important image of a full life with God. Like Adam and Eve, we are entrusted with stewardship over creation. And, like Adam, our vocation begins with wonder and enjoyment.
  • The natural world directs us to the Creator and heavenC. S. Lewis describes nature as a “first sketch” of “that greater glory”[8] promised to those to thirst and who overcome. “We are summoned,” says Lewis, “to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.”[9] God summons us to experience a foretaste of his glory in the riches of his creation.
  • Familiarity with nature awakens and sustains the aesthetic sense, a right sense of beauty, and also a love of creation that motivates stewardship.
  • “Forest Schooling” approaches involve a deep respect for children that is essentially compatible with a Christian understanding of persons as image-bearers and participants in divinity. Nature learning flourishes with child-led exploration where teachers are guides and fellow learners before God, the Creator.
  • Many contemporary homeschoolers are revisiting the writings and wisdom of Christian educator, Charlotte Mason, who advocated for nature immersion play, or “out-of-door life for the children,” in 1886, long before it was trendy.[10]

Nature Study & Outdoor Life in Practice

Charlotte Mason’s recommendations from more than a century ago remain sound. She suggests ways to weave in informal, age-appropriate lessons during outdoor time in subjects as varied as language arts, geography, botany, biology, physical education, and world languages.

1.     Meals & days in the open—Mason recommends dining outside whenever the weather permits and also taking the children out for “long hours” (4 to 6 hours) on “every tolerably fine day” or as much as possible. Children should be allowed to wonder and explore for most of that time, but some “vigorous play” and a short “lesson or two” can also be worked in. This applies mostly to children under 9, but is wonderful for all ages.

2.     “Sightseeing” & “Picture-Painting”—Habits of attention and observation can be honed through narration games/activities and “taking mental photographs.” E.g., “Tell me all you can about [an object or “some patch of landscape”].” Supply names for flora, fauna, items, or concepts so that vocabulary and concepts expand.

3.     Flowers, Trees & Living Creatures—Explore, identify, and learn to recognize and name the flowers and trees, birds and insects, lizards and mammals of your neighborhood and region. Use field guides, keep nature notebooks, and track cycles of growth and change in a “Nature’s Firsts” calendar. Don’t underrate the “kindly fellowship” of family pets. Encourage careful observation and beginning habits of deduction.

4.     “Living Books”—Read books, fiction and non-fiction, that portray facts about flora and fauna in a beautiful and compelling way that sparks the affections and imagination.

5.     “Out-of-Door Geography”—Parents can weave in informal lessons in geography by drawing attention to and naming geographical features of the land and waterways; directing children’s attention to observe the position and movement of the sun, moon, and stars; asking/answering questions about clouds, wind, and weather; introducing children to concepts of distance, time, and direction, as well as to compass and map skills.

6.     “The French Lesson”—Mason encourages oral instruction in a modern language starting informally at a young age. The lesson should be short (~10 minutes; 2 to 6 new words per day + review) and worked naturally into the outdoor time as the words taught tie into the sights, sounds, and activities at hand.

7.     “Noisy Games”—Part of the outdoor time can be devoted to vigorous games that involve the whole body and contribute to well-rounded physical health, e.g. jumping rope, climbing, and various games children select for themselves and pass along to each other.

8.     Scouting, Stalking, and Imaginative Play—In the outdoors, children can track small animals and birds by sound, scat, paw prints, etc. They can re-enact adventures from their readings and role-play characters who captivate them such as Robin Hood or Sacagawea.

9.     “Walks in Bad Weather”—Mason encourages parents to not only take their children outside in intemperate seasons but also to celebrate the unique offerings of each season. She suggests “an hour and a half in the morning and as long in the afternoon.” 

10.  “The Child and Mother-Nature”—While Mason encourages parents to integrate short lessons, she is firm about respecting the child’s personhood. She insists on child-led exploration with a caregiver near to answer the occasional question or provide the occasional name or fact. “The mother must refrain from too much talk” so that Mother-Nature can teach directly. Mason encourages the infrequent “look and gesture of delight” as the parent models delight in God’s creation.

Practical Considerations & Resources

Finding nature:

  • Your back yard and the street where you live
  • Neighborhood parks and green spaces
  • Local arboretums, Audubon societies, parks, and nature preserves

Scheduling nature time:

  • Regional climate
  • Homeschool routine and yearly rhythm

Staying safe:

  • Weather-appropriate clothing
  • Bug spray/repellent
  • Sunhats & sunscreen

Nature study supplies:

  • Nature notebooks
  • Pencils, colored pencils/dry-brush watercolor tools
  • Nature’s Firsts calendar
  • Field Guides
  • Living books

Challenges:

  • Start wherever you are, and do what you can.
  • “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.”
  • Play to your strengths, and consider outsourcing for non-strength areas.

“It would be well if all we persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.” — Charlotte Mason

Resources

Books & Links for the Parent:

“Nature Study.” Ambleside Online. www.amblesideonline.org/NatureSch.shtml

Kenny, Erin. Forest Kindergartens: The Cedarsong Way. Cedarsong Nature School, 2013.

Mason, Charlotte. Home Education: Training and Educating Children Under Nine. Tyndale House, Wheaton, Illinois, 1989 (1935).

Sobel, David., Ed. Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning. Redleaf Press, 2015.

Living Books to Read Aloud:

Ambleside Online: (geography/natural history/science by year) amblesideonline.org/curriculum.shtml#years

Memorial Press: www.memoriapress.com/curriculum/science/ (esp. Insects and Trees)

Simply Charlotte Mason: simplycharlottemason.com/planning/curriculum-guide/individual-graded-subjects/nature-study/

Nature-Immersion Learning Support Organizations & Research (Benefits & Best Practices):

American Forest Kindergarten Association: forestkindergartenassociation.org.

Arbor Day/Dimensions Foundation: dimensionsfoundation.org/research/research-findings/

Natural Start Alliance: naturalstart.org

Nature Explore: natureexplore.org

North American Association for Environmental Education: naaee.org

Christianity & Nature:

Aidan Hart Sacred Icons, Icon commissioned by Panorthodox Concern For Animals, aidanharticons.com/this-is-a-new-icon-commissioned-by-www-panorthodoxconcernforanimals-org-two-of-its-themes-is-that-we-ought-to-treat-animals-with-love-and-respect-as-creations-of-god-and-that-christ-has-come-to-red/

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodox Environmentalism—www.theoria.tv/orthodox-environmentalism/

Orthodoxy and Animals—facebook.com/orthodoxyandanimals/

Theology and Ecology: English Saints and the Animal World— orthodoxengland.org.uk/ecology.htm

Safety Standards:

“Child Care Weather Watch,” Iowa Department Public Health, Healthy Child Care Iowa. Champaign Urbana Public Health District. 2009. c-uphd.org/documents/wellness/weatherwatch.pdf  See also usa.childcareaware.org/advocacy-public-policy/crisis-and-disaster-resources/heat-index/

Texas Master Naturalists:

Texas Master Naturalist certificate program, Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation: tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/master_naturalist/

Texas Master Naturalist organization, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: txmn.org/


[1] Daniel T. C. Cox, et al. “Doses of Neighborhood Nature: The Benefits for Mental Health of Living with Nature.” BioScience, vol. 67, no. 2, 2017, pp. 147-155. doi: 10.1093/biosci/biw173.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Livni, Ephrat. “The Japanese Practice of ‘Forest Bathing’ Is Scientifically Proven to Improve Your Health.” Quartz, 12 Oct. 2016, qz.com/804022.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Quetteville, Harry de. “Waldkindergärten: the Forest Nurseries Where Children Learn in Nature’s Classroom.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 18 Oct. 2008, www.telegraph.co.uk/education/3357232/Waldkindergarten-the-forest-nurseries-where-children-learn-in-Natures-classroom.html.

[6] Guy, Geoffrey. Forest School Essays. Academia.edu, www.academia.edu/4813212/Forest_School_Essays.

[7] Quoted in Neate, Rupert. “Campfire Kids: Going Back to Nature with Forest Kindergartens.” Spiegel Online, 22 Nov. 2013, www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/forest-kindergartens-could-be-the-next-big-export-from-germany-a-935165.html.

[8] Lewis, C. S. “‘The Weight of Glory.’” The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1996, 25–40.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Mason, Charlotte. Home Education: Training and Educating Children Under Nine. Tyndale House, Wheaton, Illinois, 1989.

[This post originally appeared on a personal blog and has been revised.]

What Is Demanded of Us: Charlotte Mason Admonishes Us to Get on Our Game

Many private and home educators have been rediscovering and implementing the ideas of British educator, Charlotte Mason, and with good reason. She understood children and respected their value as full persons made in the image of God. Throughout her long career teaching children, training other teachers, running schools, and organizing parent-run schools, she refined a truly lovely and life-giving approach to educating that is still just as valid and valuable now as it was when she lived in the mid 1800s to the 1920s. Thankfully, she wrote down her wisdom in her six-volume set of books now in the public domain, and we can continue to glean from it today. In fact, many organizations have sprung up to help people follow Charlotte Mason’s educational plan as closely and faithfully as possible. These organizations provide many fantastic resources for parents and teachers.

Yet, when trying to discern the best curricular choice or course of action, the most helpful question a contemporary Charlotte Mason teacher and parent can ask is not, “What would Charlotte Mason do?” or even, “What has Charlotte Mason recommended that teachers and parents do?” but rather “What would Charlotte Mason do if she lived now and were in my situation?”

Because Charlotte Mason, in her day, would have gone home from teaching mid-afternoon to a child-free, spouse-free house and a nice, quiet cup of tea.

She also recommended that a mother outsource nurse-maid/nursery duties so that the children have mother only at her best. (See Volume I: Home Education, I.iv, pp. 17-18.)

So, if you are married, with children, and homeschooling, you are already not doing what Charlotte Mason did during her time, or even what she recommended doing.

But what would she do if she were married, homeschooling, and living now in the twenty-first century? Now that is a different question. And an interesting one.

Charlotte Mason is one of my heroes for many reasons including not only her brilliant insight into how children best learn, but also her dedication to following and investigating the best thought and research available to her at the time. For example, she studied the latest, breaking findings related to the physiology of the brain and frequently referred to it in her own writings as a basis for many of her practical recommendations for parents and teachers. She read widely in various fields related to child development, psychology, educational theory, and natural law. She was eager to circumspectly incorporate “whatever new light modern research puts in our way.”

In the Preface to the Fourth Edition of Volume I, she writes,

My attempt in the following volume is to suggest to parents and teachers a method of education resting upon a basis of natural law; and to touch, in this connection, upon a mother’s duties to her children. In venturing to speak on this latter subject, I do so with the sincerest deference to mothers, believing that, in the words of a wise teacher of men, “the woman receives from the Spirit of God Himself the intuitions into the child’s character, the capacity of appreciating its strength and its weakness, the faculty of calling forth the one and sustaining the other, in which lies the mystery of education, apart from which all its rules and measures are utterly vain and ineffectual.” But just in proportion as a mother has this peculiar insight as regards her own children she will, I think, feel her need of a knowledge of the general principles of education, founded upon the nature and the needs of all children. And this knowledge of the science of education, not the best of mothers will get from above, seeing that we do not often receive as a gift that which we have the means of getting by our own efforts. [emphasis mine]

We have, she tells us, a maternal duty to study the science of education.

Under “Some Preliminary Considerations,” she further clarifies what it looks like for mothers to “owe a ‘thinking love’ to their Children”: (I note here how she herself quotes other contemporary educational thinkers, such as Pestalozzi, revealing her own commitment to ongoing study of developing educational thought.)

“The mother is qualified,” says Pestalozzi, “and qualified by the Creator Himself, to become the principal agent in the development of her child; … and what is demanded of her is––a thinking love ….”

We are waking up to our duties and in proportion as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will […] take it up as their profession––that is, with the diligence, regularity, and punctuality which men bestow on their professional labours. That the mother may know what she is about, and may come thoroughly furnished to her work, she should have something more than a hearsay acquaintance with the theory of education, and with those conditions of the child’s nature upon which such theory rests. [emphasis mine]

These strongly-worded admonitions suggest to me that, if Charlotte Mason were alive today, she would urge us not to look back to her late-1800s/early-1900s curricular recommendations as a static educational plan to imitate without question. On the contrary! She would urge us rather to rouse ourselves to get on our game and continue to research.

If we want to imitate Charlotte Mason, we ought to look at, evaluate, and incorporate the best of current educational research and related fields.

Take reading instruction and phonics, for instance. Since Mason’s time, we have learned much more about how English is best taught and learned.

Just within the homeschool world, there are now several powerful phonics/spelling programs available that have recently been developed on the basis of the ground-breaking research Orton and Gillingham conducted on English phonograms and spelling rules shortly after Mason’s time.

Additionally, because of both national legislation like No Child Left Behind and also because of the school system’s need to accommodate a wide diversity of students (including those who do not speak English as a first language at home), much research has been done on how to best teach reading and writing (e.g. phonics vs. whole word reading instruction and such).

Would Charlotte Mason encourage us to ignore all that and keep doing what worked best for her in turn-of-the-century England? Her admonitions and her own example make that highly unlikely.

Best research (like the meta-study here; get it free at a university library) suggests that a systematic phonics program is by far the best foundation for reading and writing. The whole-word approach that rolled through U.S. schools on and off during the last several decades has been debunked. And, while informal, laissez-faire approaches can accomplish good, systematic phonics remains the most sound and reliable method for ensuring success for students of all abilities.

Curriculum author, Wanda Sanseri, further argues that a program that overtly teaches the 70 basic English phonograms along with the 28 foundational spelling rules is the best kind of systematic phonics instruction. Her presentation to the Oregon senate is revelatory and compelling. She bridges the gap between Orton-Gillingham and contemporary practice.

Since Sanseri delivered her presentation, several programs have debuted in the homeschool market that draw on the Orton-Gillingham research base. I personally prefer Sanseri’s Spell to Write and Read, but there are several other curricular options that follow the same research and are also great. Two such programs are All About Reading/All About Spelling and Logic of English. Before any of these, there was also The Writing Road to Reading. All of these programs are great with different trade-offs. Different programs will certainly work better for different families depending on the needs and temperaments of those involved.

Discussing these options and the underlying research lands us firmly in the spirit of Charlotte Mason’s approach to education. So, rather than closing off curricular options because they do not seem to neatly match the instructional progression prescribed by Mason more than a century ago, let us think critically and research widely in imitation of Mason herself, our beloved paragon of “a thinking love.”

[This post first appeared on a personal blog and has been revised.]

Writing Workshop for 7th–10th grades

ENROLLMENT UPDATE: This class has met the minimum enrollment and is a go! Please contact us regarding late applications if interested in joining the class.

Coming this fall: School-year classes for homeschoolers grades 4 through 10!

This post describes the 7th–10th grade Writing Workshop class. (Information regarding the 4th–6th grade class is available here.)

Who: Students entering grades 7–10 in fall ’19 

When: 2:15–3:15 p.m., Tuesdays, August 27, 2019 to May 13, 2020, with holidays (See Academic Calendar.)

Where: Sugar Land, Texas

This workshop class is designed to help students who have mastered the basics take their writing to the next level. The class will combine the advantages of private tutoring with the benefits of a group of peers. Families can work with the teacher to personalize each student’s learning experience. For example, students can bring in writing projects they’re working on for other classes, and/or the teacher can assign writing assignments to maximize the student’s progress as a developing author. Teacher and peer critique will help each student develop an editor’s eye along with habits of revision—both essential elements of the craft of writing. In-class writing activities will help students find their voice, master grammar, hone structure and organization, and refine their writing style. Students will be expected to carefully and thoroughly follow through on revision assignment instructions and to make diligent progress on assigned grammar work as arranged with parent and teacher.

To receive the full benefit of the writing class, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to weekly class sessions, students should plan to spend another one to three hours each week completing assignments at home. Families will need to secure the following supplies before the start of class: (Linked brands are suggestions.)

Students will also need to be able to type, print, and email assignments using a sharable word processing program such as Microsoft Word.

The teacher will supply the following course materials:

  • 3-ring notebook binder with tab dividers, course handouts, and reinforced lined notebook paper
  • Composition book
  • Graphing notebook
  • Grammar curriculum
  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—classroom copies to share
  • Classroom colored pencil sets

Supplies fee: $55/student—or $100 w/late fee if registering after August 16

Tuition is on a sliding scale and will be collected quarterly. Pay what you can within the following range: $500 to $800/student/year ($125-$200/quarter)

This class will be offered if a minimum of six students is enrolled by August 15. Full refunds will be made if the class is cancelled due to low enrollment.

Writing with the Masters 4th-6th Homeschool class

ENROLLMENT UPDATE: This class has met the minimum enrollment and is a go! Please contact us regarding late applications if interested in joining the class.

Coming this fall: School-year classes for homeschoolers grades 4 through 10!

This post describes the class, Writing with the Masters, for grades 4 through 6. (Information about the 7th-10th grade class is available here.)

Who: Students entering grades 4–6 in fall ’19

When: 1:00–2:00 p.m., Tuesdays, August 27, 2019 to May 13, 2020, with holidays (See Academic Calendar.)

Where: Sugar Land, Texas

Along with Louis, the young trumpeter swan in E. B. White’s book, Trumpet of the Swan, students will journey to find their voice as they study and enjoy the writing of master author, E. B. White, co-author of the classic writer’s handbook, The Elements of Style. With White and other master authors as models, students will gain a higher level of stylistic mastery through imitation. Students will also develop narrating and outlining skills as they summarize and tell back passages from the novel and other sources. Throughout the school year, students will learn how to incorporate style and literary devices into their writing while also increasing their awareness of sentence structure and grammar. When imitation, narration, and syntax are combined with the IEW structure and style syllabus in this high-flying course, students will find their own writing voice resonant with new-found stylistic prowess.

To receive the full benefit of the writing class, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to weekly class sessions, students should plan to spend another half an hour to 1.5 hours each week completing assignments at home. Families will need to secure the following supplies before the start of class: (Linked brands are suggestions.)

Students will also need to be able to type, print, and email assignments using a sharable word processing program such as Microsoft Word.

The teacher will supply the following course materials:

  • The Trumpet of the Swan, by E. B. White
  • 3-ring notebook binder with tab dividers, course handouts, and reinforced lined notebook paper
  • Composition book
  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—classroom copies to share
  • Classroom colored pencil sets

Supplies fee: $45/student—or $100 w/late fee if registering after August 16

Tuition is on a sliding scale and will be collected quarterly. Pay what you can within the following range: $500 to $800/student/year ($125-$200/quarter)

This class will be offered if a minimum of six students is enrolled by August 15. Full refunds will be made if the class is cancelled due to low enrollment.

Narration: Path to Writing Fluency

In April I was honored to present at Houston Baptist University’s annual Writer’s Conference. This year the conference focused on teaching writing, and I enjoyed sharing from my exploration into the art of narration as a writing practice. Here are my presentation notes:

Overview: Narration, or retelling, is a gentle yet powerful way to develop both writing fluency and also reading comprehension. Consistent practice with narration builds habits of attention and observation, depth of understanding, and breadth of vocabulary and syntax as students imprint the writing of master authors through retelling. Teachers can incorporate oral and written narration in the classroom to help students benefit from their readings and verbalize their experiences.

What is Narration?

  • Narration is a natural and universal human activity.
  • Narration is retelling experiences, observations, interactions, facts, story.
  • Narration can be oral or written, even visual or kinetic.

“Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. A creative fiat calls it forth. […] This amazing gift with which normal children are born is allowed to lie fallow in their education. Bobbie will come home with a heroic narrative of a fight he has seen between ‘Duke’ and a dog in the street. It is wonderful! He has seen everything, and he tells everything with splendid vigour in the true epic vein; […] here, if we have eyes to see and grace to build, is the ground-plan of his education.”

—Charlotte Mason, Home Education, p. 231

Benefits of Narration in the Learning Process

  • Narration is simple and easy to implement.
    • It requires no special materials or costs.
    • It requires very little teacher preparation time.
    • It can be accomplished in short time slots during the school day.
    • It taps into natural capacity and appeals to students.
  • Narration is versatile.
    • It can be used across grade levels and subject areas.
    • It can be used with groups, pairs, and individual students.
    • It is accessible to students of all abilities & easy to adapt for individual needs.
    • It can be oral or written, verbal or nonverbal.
  • Narration is effective.
    • It develops foundational habits of attention, observation, and critical thinking.
    • It helps develop reading comprehension, recall, and depth of understanding.
    • It links writing to reading and allows students to imprint style and structure.
    • It does double duty as an ongoing informal assessment tool.

The Process of Narration

A basic lesson outline is as follows: (See Mason, Home Education, pp. 232–3.)

  1. Preparation for Input—Review context if applicable; possibly introduce key terms.
  2. Input—Read passage aloud to students or have students read silently. (Input can also be from non-print media, lecture/interaction, observation, and experience.)
  3. Narration—Have students retell what they have heard/read/observed.
  4. Follow-up—Discuss and reinforce topics or questions of interest from the passage.

“But, it will be said, reading […] and then narrating or writing what has been read or some part of it,—all this is mere memory work. The value of this criticism may be readily tested; will the critic read before turning off his light a leading article from a newspaper, say, or a chapter from Boswell or Jane Austen, or one of Lamb’s Essays; then will he put himself to sleep by narrating silently what he has read. He will not be satisfied with the result but he will find that in the act of narrating every power of his mind comes into play, that points and bearings which he had not observed are brought out; that the whole is visualized and brought into relief in an extraordinary way; in fact, that scene or argument has become a part of his personal experience; he knows, he has assimilated what he has read. This is not memory work.”

—Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, p. 16

Principles for Implementing Narration at Home & School

Several guiding principles and best practices to keep in mind: (See Glass ch. 3.)

  • Select only high-quality material with rich vocabulary and literary merit.
  • For greatest benefit, allow students to hear/read the passage only once before narrating.
  • Develop a student’s autonomous ability to guide their own narrations without external questions or prompts.
  • Do not interrupt, or allow other students to interrupt, a student’s narration.
  • Allow students to complete/correct a peer’s narration when it is their turn.
  • Correct, complete, question, or discuss narrations only after the students finish narrating.
  • Request a second narration of some passages at regular intervals.

“‘The mind can know nothing save what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put to the mind by itself’ […] This is what happens in the narrating of a passage read: each new consecutive incident or statement arrives because the mind asks itself,—‘What next?’”

—Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, pp. 16–17

Scope and Sequence for Narration & Composition

Narration skills develop through consistent practice over time:

  • Under 6 years old: Enjoy and encourage spontaneous oral narration. Don’t require it.
  • Grades 1–3: Require oral narration of read-aloud episodes once to several times/week.
  • Grades 4–6: Continue oral narration and add written narration 1 to 5 times/week.
  • Grades 7–9: Continue oral & daily written narration; develop writing fluency & composition skills. Fluently write 150 to 300 words/day; follow basic rules of mechanics.
  • Grades 10–12: Continue oral & written narration; study the craft of writing and refine composition skills through formal writing assignments, editing, and revision.

“Children should read books, not about books and about authors […] Their reading should be carefully ordered, for the most part in historical sequence; they should read to know, whether it be Robinson Crusoe or Huxley’s Physiography; their knowledge should be tested, not by questions, but by the oral (and occasionally the written) reproduction of a passage after one reading; all further processes that we concern ourselves about in teaching, the mind performs for itself; and lastly, this sort of reading should be the chief business in the class room.”

—Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, pp. 341–2

Resources

  • “AmblesideOnline Narration Discussion.” AO Narration, AmblesideOnline.org, 2017, www.amblesideonline.org/Narration.shtml/.
  • Breckenridge, Donna-Jean. “AmblesideOnline: Some Thoughts on Narration.” AmblesideOnline.org, 2017, www.amblesideonline.org/DJBNarration.shtml/.
  • Glass, Karen. Know and Tell: The Art of Narration. Karen Glass, 2018.
  • Hilgeman, Mariellyn. Now, Tell It to Me: Using Retelling for Literacy and Language Development. Purposeful Design Publications, 2008.
  • Mason, Charlotte. A Philosophy of Education: Curiosity—The Pathway to Creative Learning. Tyndale House, 1989 (1925).
  • Mason, Charlotte. Home Education: Training and Educating Children Under Nine. Tyndale House, 1989 (1935).
  • “Topical CM Series: Narration.” AmblesideOnline.org, 2014, www.amblesideonline.org/CMM/topicalnarration.html/.

2018 Advanced Essay Camp

UPDATE: This camp has been CANCELLED for 2018. Let us know if you’re interested in this camp for next summer, 2019.
Who: Grades 9–12, returning students only
When: August 6–10, 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Where: Houston Baptist University, hosted by The Academy at HBU in the University Academic Center (UAC) classrooms, 7502 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX, 77074

Business woman writing in notebook

In addition to reviewing sentence structure and stylistic elements, returning students will read essays by master writers, analyzing and imitating their respective styles in a series of response essays of their own. Studying an array of the best American essays from the past century, students will gain exposure to different essay structures and themes ranging from opinion piece to social appeal, from personal essay to literary theodicy. The skill and insight of great authors serves as inspiration for students who are finding their own individual voices. By imitating the sentence structures and essay organization of great authors, students can be empowered to compose their own beautiful, powerful work as they join the larger conversation. This advanced essay course makes a direct bridge for the student between imitating great writing and composing beautiful writing in their own words. Students will also gain practice with timed, in-class writing as well as with the revision and critique process.

To receive the full benefit of the writing camp, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to the three hours of class time, students should plan to spend another two or three hours each day completing homework. One or two weeks before the start of camp, enrolled students will receive an electronic packet of essays to read in preparation. The reading level of the packet is challenging, so students may want to plan ahead to get the most out of their reading experience. Discussing the reading material with family and friends may also aid comprehension and enjoyment as students head into the camp week.

Students should secure the following supplies before the start of class:

  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—Consider apps such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the English Thesaurus.
  • Pack of 6 different colored pencils: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & purple—Preferably erasable!
  • Pens/Pencils
  • 3-ring binder with 5 or more dividers and lined notebook paper (If you have the binder with handouts from a previous writing camp, please use that!)
  • Composition book

Students in the Advanced Essay Writing camp will also need to be able to type, print, and email assignments using a sharable word processing program such as Microsoft Word.

Camp tuition is $250/student. Enrollment will be confirmed and your spot reserved once payment is received.

 

 

Note: This Advanced Essay camp is open to highschool students who either are participating in another of the camps this summer—the Basic Essay camp/the Thesis Essay camp—or who have participated in a writing camp with An Elegant Word in a previous summer. Accomplished writers who have not previously studied with me are welcome to inquire about an exception by submitting a writing sample via email.

2018 Thesis Essay Camp

Who: Students entering grades 9–12 in fall ’18 (Students in grades 6–8 who have completed previous camps or classes with me are also welcome to apply—Please inquire!)
When: July 23–27, 2018, 1:00–4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
Where: Houston Baptist University, hosted by The Academy at HBU in the University Academic Center (UAC) classrooms, 7502 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX, 77074

Students at classes

Students will learn a five-step process for developing a thoughtful thesis statement that interacts with the great conversation of ideas. By attending to sources and engaging in group discussion, students will be able to find their own voice as they search for the truth through their reading and writing. Incorporating both report-style and descriptive writing, students will learn the structure and style of a compelling essay. An intensive overview of style elements will assist students in developing vivid vocabulary and sophisticated sentence variety. This class is ideal for students with previous experience writing multiple-paragraph compositions who are ready to advance to the thesis essay. Because we have only five days together, students will practice developing a thesis argument within the five-paragraph essay structure, but we will also discuss how to adapt the basic essay structure to various lengths and purposes.

To receive the full benefit of the writing camp, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to the three hours of class time, students should plan to spend another two or three hours each day completing homework. One or two weeks before the start of camp, enrolled students will receive an electronic packet of poems and articles to read in preparation. The reading level of the packet is challenging, so students may want to plan ahead to get the most out of their reading experience. Discussing the reading material with family and friends may also aid comprehension and enjoyment as students head into the camp week.

Students should secure the following supplies before the start of class:

  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—Consider apps such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the English Thesaurus.
  • Pack of 6 different colored pencils: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & purple—Preferably erasable!
  • Pens/Pencils
  • 3-ring binder with 5 or more dividers and lined notebook paper
  • Composition book

Students in the Thesis Essay camp will also need to be able to type, print, and email assignments using a sharable word processing program such as Microsoft Word.

Camp tuition is $250/student. Enrollment will be confirmed and your spot reserved once payment is received.

This class will be offered if a minimum of ten students are enrolled by July 15. Full refunds will be made for any classes that are cancelled due to low enrollment.

ENROLLMENT UPDATE: This camp has met the minimum enrollment and is a go!

Enroll today before seats fill up!

 

Note: This camp may be a good next step for middleschool and highschool students who have previously participated in the Basic Essay camp and are ready to take their essay writing up another level.

 

2018 Basic Essay Camp

Who: Students entering grades 7–9+ in fall ’18 (Upcoming 6th graders may also benefit—Please inquire!)
When: July 23–27, 2018, 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
Where: Houston Baptist University, hosted by The Academy at HBU in the University Academic Center (UAC) classrooms, 7502 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX, 77074

Positive Afro-american woman studying at home

Incorporating both report-style and descriptive writing, students will learn the structure and style of a basic five-paragraph essay. By the end of the week, students will produce an original essay including integrated quotations, MLA in-text citations, and a properly formatted “Works Cited” page. An intensive overview of style elements will assist students in developing vivid vocabulary and sophisticated sentence variety. Throughout the week, students will gain an awareness of sentence structure and grammar that goes hand-in-hand with their growing ability to amplify and manipulate the parts of a sentence.

To receive the full benefit of the writing camp, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to the three hours of class time, students should plan to spend another one to three hours each day completing homework. Students will also be required to secure and read library books and encyclopedia articles as instructed a week or two before camp begins. Each enrolled family will receive specific instructions by email.

Students should secure the following supplies before the start of class:

  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—Consider apps such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the English Thesaurus.
  • Pack of 6 different colored pencils: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & purple—Preferably erasable!
  • Pens/Pencils
  • 3-ring binder with 5 or more dividers and lined notebook paper
  • Composition book

Students in the Basic Essay Writing camp will also need to be able to type, print, and email assignments using a sharable word processing program such as Microsoft Word.

Camp tuition is $250/student. Enrollment will be confirmed and your spot reserved once payment is received.

This class will be offered if a minimum of ten students are enrolled by July 15. Full refunds will be made for any classes that are cancelled due to low enrollment.

ENROLLMENT UPDATE: This camp has met the minimum enrollment and is a go!

Enroll today before seats fill up!

2017 Writing Camp Testimonials

Thank you to all the families who participated in this year’s Basic Essay Camp! And thank you for the encouraging feedback.

One-hundred percent of surveyed parents strongly agreed that the camp met or exceeded their expectations and that they would highly recommend the camps to others. They said they were happy with their students’ experience and were interested in enrolling their students in additional writing camps with An Elegant Word. Here are some of their comments:

“My daughter is actually very excited that things are making more sense to her. Before this camp she would make fantastic outlines after reading her materials and making notes, but she could not get those outlines into paragraph form organically. This week helped her learn how to bite off tasks she can accomplish in logical, consecutive steps and avoid melt downs. This has been very good for her! Even watching my daughter work helped not only her but was also a good refresher for older siblings who were not enrolled in the camp. Thanks so much!”

“We will do the next camp next summer.”

“This course helped solidify essential writing skills.”

“It was a great review of aspects of English grammar, and it was great to learn some new ways to analyze writing and incorporate a greater range of style in future writing assignments.”

“The writing camp helped my daughter to think systematically and be able to organize her thoughts and put them in writing.”

Most students reported that the camp helped them improve their writing and said they enjoyed the camp and would recommend it to their friends. They especially enjoyed the games and writing warm-up activities. They said it was especially helpful learning how to structure and organize their essays using key word outlines and topic-clincher sentences. They also appreciated learning how to proof-read and to take notes from a lecture. Here’s what they said about their experience:

“It has helped me improve my writing, and I created a great essay with the help of your materials.”

“It was fun and engaging. I have a better understanding of how to execute the steps of the writing process.”

“Writing camp has improved my vocabulary and helped me discover all the new words I can use. It was also helpful to learn specific writing terms.”

“It was fun and helpful for me to improve my writing.”

“The camp was fun, and I also learned how to improve my essay introductions and conclusions.”

“The experience was fun.”

“The camp got better and better as the week went on.”

“I enjoyed learning how to organize my thoughts and put them on paper. I also enjoyed learning how to take lecture notes. It was very fun and very helpful and interesting as well.”

There are still spots open in the Thesis Essay Camp which starts next week on July 10!