Language Arts Overview (click each icon above to learn more about each specific area)
Most of the accredited schools across the country and around the world have long switched the title of "English" to "Language Arts". This is so that there is a more universal reference to what encompasses reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and conventions (rules), and the term "language arts" could be used in all languages and all classrooms. When Language Arts was first conceived as an idea for renaming the subject of English, it was to include cultural, history, science, and math as part of the "whole". This didn't last very long, at least not in the U.S. as the majority of teachers have not been able to implement the "whole" concept successfully in the classroom.
So here in the U.S., schools are going back to calling English - well, English! Many other countries are leaning back to naming the language arts courses "Grammar" (obviously English would not work well in let's say.....France).
That said, at Home Education Council of America, our professional opinion is that English does not need to be taught as a separate subject at all. The entire concept of "Language Arts" would probably have worked better if the curriculum designers had not created it as an overloaded, boring, tedious subject. We have found through years of experience in home education, that the sub categories of reading, writing, spelling/vocabulary, and grammar/conventions can be learned successfully through history, science, and math. If a child needs to write an expository essay, why not write it about a science topic? Or why we need to learn fractions? How to write a narrative essay can easily be learned while indulging in a particular history topic. Or having the child place themselves as the scientist and narrating in first person about their latest experiment.
But what about the "standards"? How will you know that what you are teaching is not going to put your kids behind?
Let's start with high school.
The new "Common Core" standards are now ditching the use of the course terms "Literary Analysis", "American Literature", "British and World Literature", and "Creative Writing" - terms which have been used for over two decades. The new standards are now simply calling the courses: English 1, English 2, English 3, English 4 - OR - 9th Grade English, 10th Grade English, etc. to connect more with the federally backed Common Core project. In many cases, they are still offering Honors English (which is essentially English 101 at the college level) and advanced courses. But the first three terms in this paragraph are now going away.
Why should we care about standards anyway? Well, if you want someone to take your child's transcript seriously, you need to have the correct courses listed that universities will be looking for. Even if you taught your child American Literature, you will need to list it on the transcript as English 2 and place it in the 10th grade slots. The content is essentially expected to be the same, it's just the title of the course has changed. At HECOA, we are not proponents or advocating for Common Core, as a matter of fact we are very much against Common Core, but we think you need to be aware of the course titles for the purposes of record keeping.
Again, Honors English is the same material as what used to be English 101 at the college level. If your child is taking English courses at the college level, be sure to list it on their high school transcript as Honors English. You could do a journalism course or a course more particular to a specific major in lieu of Creative Writing (English 4), however, most universities will not recognize the high school credit until 11th grade or higher. They really want to see the composition in 9th grade and the literature courses completed somewhere between 10th and 12th. Universities can be very particular about these requirements and how they are worded on the transcript. If you need transcript assistance, see the Toolbox page for that topic.
Now let's talk about middle school.
It is of our opinion that most students who have mastered elementary grammar conventions at the 6th grade level (prior to common core dumbing it down, of course), really can skip ahead to 9th grade English courses. If you don't want to skip ahead, then it's a good idea to just keep reading and polishing up grammar and conventions while increasing vocabulary as much as possible. That way they will be well prepared for high school. We don't recommend purchasing a complete English or language arts course for middle school merely for the sake of staying on grade level. Just work on the pieces that need improvement. Reading classical literature aloud is an excellent way to polish grammar skills and conventions. In our High School and Beyond Course, which is exclusive to Plus members, the very first module discusses the details and steps to completely eliminating middle school. It is not about rushing kids through, it's about leveraging the time to the student's advantage.
A great free resource for increasing vocabulary and usage is an ACT or SAT study guide. You can find one at your local library. Once you find the guide your child is comfortable with, then you might choose to purchase it online through Amazon or at a local book store. Daily journal prompts are also important to keep your child writing. (In our experience, the Kaplan guides have had the least amount of errors.)
Elementary - this would generally be grades 4 through 6.
Here it is essential to increase grammar and vocabulary, which of course includes spelling. Reading classics and creating vocabulary lists from the books is a great way to improve. Understanding root words and origins of words is an excellent area to work on. Again, daily journal prompts are essential to keep the creativity going. It is important to have the child read orally, so that you can correct grammar and style. Often we don't realize how much a child doesn't know about grammar until they read orally - regardless of how many workbook pages they have completed correctly.
Have them read out loud - a lot - every day. When someone reads silently, and they come across a word that is unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce, human nature is to skim over the word. As adults, we know we do this. Our kids are no different. Spelling is learned best by reading and pronouncing words orally on a repetitive basis, not necessarily by worksheet drills. Then have them put the new vocabulary into sentences on their own. Make sure they understand that the sentence needs to make the reader clear as to the meaning of the word. (for example, if the word is mountain, their sentence should be more than: I see a mountain. Rather, what is a mountain? Use adjectives to express what a mountain is in a complete sentence - I see a mountain which is very high and will take a long time to climb to the top. Or, the Andes mountain range is in South America and is one of the highest mountain ranges in the world.) If you can place correct meaning, annunciation and pronunciation with spelling, they will retain the concepts much better.
One point though - please don't correct your child while they are reading out loud, or make a point that you are noticing errors on the spot. Let them finish, and then use your notes of errors as another lesson. They need self-confidence and will build it faster if they are permitted to continue. Sometimes children will argue (really? whose kid argues with them? ha!) about whether they made mistakes. If this is your child, it might be a good idea to video their presentation (not in front of a group, but just you, the child, and the crickets) and then play it back for them. Let them critique themselves and encourage them that they can improve.
Reading orally will improve their writing skills as well. They will know when to pause, when to intonate "voice", and how to flow their words with correct structure. Be sure you read orally every day!