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Literacy: Teaching Reading, Phonics and Literature in a Home School Program

Teaching Reading"Reading." That is the answer you would get if you asked nearly any educator what the most important academic skill is for children to have. Literacy is the key to understanding every other subject not just language arts. If you teach a child reading, they will be able to succeed in life as well as in academics. The rhetorical question "Why isn't Johnny reading?" has been asked for decades. Obviously there is more to reading and the other language arts than phonics or simply sounding out the words, although this is one of the main skills which leads to literacy. The language arts of phonics, reading, writing, spelling, and grammar should be one of the main supports for any educational program whether it is in a public, private or home school.

Recent Developments in Language Arts Instruction and Literacy
How do we teach reading and literacy? For many decades, most children were taught reading at home or in small community schools if they were taught to read at all. Many relied on the Bible or other types of religious based texts or primers for their language arts instruction but it was all very basic curriculum. Classical literature, for many years was used only in the finer schools where the elite and wealthy could attend. Early public schools taught a lot of penmanship, grammar, and spelling, with primers used to teach reading, rather than classical literature.

The Debate about Early Literacy and Whole Language to Teach the Language Arts
In the recent past, there was a huge debate in the educational community about the topic of teaching language arts and early literacy. Many educators felt that early literacy was achieved by simply reading to the child from "real" books and literature (not text books), having discussions about the book, and writing their own stories, and that going through basal readers (such as Dick and Jane) and direct phonics instruction was secondary or not necessary at all. It is called the Whole Language method. It was based on the literacy theory that children learn any language through using the language both spoken and written and being exposed to real literature-phonics, if it was taught at all, was not emphasized to a great degree in this language arts approach. After all, children learn to talk from the people around them without any direct instruction. Many school districts adopted this reading program for their primary grades as a more "developmentally appropriate" way to teach children about language arts and literacy.

The uproar about literacy came from teachers in the upper grades who said that many of these children could not read, spell, or write. They didn't understand phonics or how words were made. There were holes in their literacy skills that would have to be filled before they could achieve academic success in reading and language arts as well as in other areas. This placed a larger burden on language arts teachers in the higher grades who already had a full plate of required curriculum.

Back to the Basics of Literacy
Now, many schools have gone back to more traditional language arts instruction and curriculum. They use direct instruction to teach phonics, reading and literacy. But, they still use some of the literacy techniques used in the Whole Language program, such as encouraging beginning readers to write and edit their own stories, and keep personal journals and also through reading real literature rather than relying solely on texts and basal reading programs. In the older grades, students are reading real literature as well, in addition to their instruction in grammar and spelling. They write book reports, stories, poetry, newspaper articles, and even advertisements as part of a more “real life” curriculum.

Homeschooling and Language Arts:
If you look at homeschooling curriculum you will find a wide variety of ways to teach reading and the other language arts. Many use classical literature and real books to teach children a love of reading, because if a child is not interested in what they read, they will most likely not learn to read. Most home school curriculum programs for early literacy include instruction on phonics and spelling. If your child is older, you can find programs that are thematic and deal with a particular subject, or unit studies programs that connect language arts with other subject areas for a more comprehensive curriculum. An all-in-one curriculum package will include a language arts program as well as all of the other necessary subject areas for each grade level.

What Makes a Home School Language Arts Program Successful?
The key to any successful language arts or reading curriculum is to make it fun and interesting as well as motivating for your child. While some children can learn to read simply by being read to and reading themselves, many children need direct phonics instruction with texts that have rhyming words and word families. Older students may struggle with parts of speech or comprehension and will need extra help and literacy training in these areas.

Look at each home school curriculum carefully to see if it matches your personal philosophy or belief about literacy. If you don't believe it, you can't teach it or share it effectively. Consider the learning style of your child as well. A kinesthetic learner can learn to read and write, but it may take a lot of tactile experiences such as drawing letters in the sand or walking in rhythm while reciting a short poem. An auditory learner may prefer to hear you read a selection first before they try it the first time. Adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of the child.

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