The Good and the Beautiful Language Arts and Literature Courses includes courses for Levels PreK through 3, Level 5, and Level 7. Levels 4, 6, and 8 are in the works.
Levels correspond somewhat to grade levels, although they are more advanced. For example, Level 2 is for an advanced second grader or an average third grader. The advanced nature of these courses is especially evident in the early levels. Level K, for instance, begins the first lesson with identification of vowels and consonants. It assumes that the child already knows the alphabet and the most common sounds of each letter. You can use the free online placement assessment to determine the correct starting point for each child.
These courses are more comprehensive than courses labeled only as “language arts.” All levels include reading, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, literature, and art. Courses up through Level 3 include complete phonics and reading instruction.
Phonics is taught thoroughly but not with a heavily rules-based approach. Children quickly begin to read words and sentences. Children learn a phonogram, learn words containing the phonogram, and practice reading sentences containing those words. All phonograms are introduced by the end of Level 2.
The curriculum includes reading practice passages plus mini-books for Levels K and 1. Parents are encouraged to have their children read additional books of their choosing. To insure that children get enough reading practice, Reading Challenges are built into the curriculum beginning with Level 1. Reading Challenges direct students to read specific books, and follow-up activities are included.
Plenty of review and repetition is built into the program. Even so, it will generally be better to start at a lower level rather count on review activities to fill gaps in a child’s knowledge.
Some composition work is included beginning in Level 1, but serious composition work begins with Level 5. When using Levels 1 through 3, you should try to use the “Writer’s Workshops as a Family” suggestions found at the front of the Course Books. There you will find suggestions for writing letters, thank you notes, a nature notebook, and other ideas.
Grammar is included although it is very minimal in the first few levels since the emphasis should be upon reading. Grammar coverage is thorough each year beyond that. The course introduces sentence diagramming in Level 2.
The front matter at the beginning of the Course Books for Levels K through 3 includes charts of high-frequency spelling words. Children should work on groups of them until they are mastered. Some spelling activities are incorporated into lessons, but parents also need to work on spelling using the information at the front of the book. Beginning with Level 1, children begin to memorize and apply spelling rules. Children can spell words with letter tiles if that works better for them than writing.
Children learn to print lower- and upper-case letters in Level PreK, but you will need to supplement with another resource for handwriting instruction beyond that.
In the front section in Levels K through 3 are a few pages with a number of poems that vary in length. Children will memorize three or more poems they or their parents select from these pages.
Geography is added beginning with Level 2. Principles of geography are taught each year. In addition, each year shifts geographical focus for map work and cultural studies to specific parts of the world.
Art work images included in all Course Books are incorporated into the lessons with teacher-directed questions. Art works are not used for picture studies in an open-ended, Charlotte Mason fashion. Instead, children learn something about the artwork, and then they respond to specific questions presented from the course books that require students to look closely and think about each image. Beginning with Level 2, art lessons are often integrated with geography as well as language arts and literature. In addition, children will develop drawing skills and work with some art media.
The curriculum is written from a Christian worldview, incorporating biblical principles and character building. As author Jenny Phillips explains in the introduction to Level K, “This course is designed to foster a true love of learning by exposing children to and helping them love the good and the beautiful, with a focus on God, family, nature, and high moral principles” (p. 1). However, religious content in these courses is limited and sporadic; the courses are not designed to provide comprehensive religious instruction. Some of the content in the Course Books, especially reading material and poetry, is from out-of-print sources. Some recommended books are also older and out-of-print, yet available as ebooks or from the library.
Courses include some worksheets, but they balance worksheets with interaction, exploration, discussion, and hands-on activity, especially in the early levels.
Periodic assessments are included in each Course Book. Children should generally be able to pass an assessment before going on, but you might need to move ahead with some parts of the course while reviewing previous lessons in some areas. Lessons include check-off boxes so you can clearly see what has been completed.
Levels 1 through 3, and Level 5 are available as free downloads while downloads of the course sets for all other levels are only $10 each. You can also order physical copies of all levels.
Phillips recommends printing each Course Book in color and assembling it in a three-ring binder. At the younger levels, Course Books are used by both parent and child. Instructions to the parent for some lessons are in a pale blue font while words the parent is to say to the child are in a black font. Of even more importance in terms of color printing are the full-color game board pages, art work images, and a few of the worksheets. It seems to me that you could selectively print some pages in color if you need to save money, but it would be a bother to sort this out. If you use the downloadable files for a level, you will need to do some prep work before beginning—primarily cutting out and assembling course materials. More such prep work is required at younger levels than older levels.
Mini-books for reading practice for Levels K and 1 should be printed out on heavy paper, cut, folded, and assembled. Levels PreK through 1 have companion activity packets that are essential for each course. These include letter memory cards in PreK, sight-word cards in Levels K through 1, and pages with games, manipulatives, and activities for all of these levels. These should be printed out on white card stock, and at least some of them should be printed in color. Levels K through 2 also have a set of phonics cards. These can be purchased ready-made or you can print these out on cardstock along with other items. Level 4 introduces a similar set of Geography and Grammar Cards that will be used for this level and above.
Once you’ve got your course materials ready to go, this is pretty much an open-and-go curriculum with just a few exceptions. However, it does require one-on-one teaching time plus read aloud time each day with younger children. Older children will be able to complete more of their work independently.
No answer keys are provided for Levels PreK through 3 since answers should be obvious. However, some activities have answers in brackets after questions that are to be read to the child. Answer keys for subsequent levels are included in the Course Companion books.
There is a lot of material in these courses, and the overall quality seems quite good. But I have just a few concerns. Instructions to the parent in Course Books up through Level 4 frequently use “child” but without an article or possessive pronoun in instances such as this: “If child takes longer….” This usage of child avoids the problem of dealing with masculine and feminine pronouns, but I find it very awkward. I also spotted a number of sentences with errors in the teaching instructions, errors such as missing words or misused commas. Phillips tells me that these lower level books are already in the revision process to address these issues. New editions will be out in 2017.
To produce a curriculum like this for free or at very low cost means cutting corners in some areas. The main area seems to be the frequent use of older reading material and artwork that is available for free. Some parents and students might be put off by some of the reading material while others might find it charming and appealing.
Even with some imperfections, the quality of these courses is surprisingly high when you consider that much of the material is free.
Reviews of individual levels follow below.
Level PreK is suggested for children ages three through five. This course is available as physical books or PDF files. For the physical books, both the 112-page Course Book and the four Alphabet Flip Books are full-color and spiral-bound. You will probably use the Alphabet Flip Books frequently, so purchasing the spiral-bound printed books might make more sense than trying to create durable versions of these yourself. The course also includes an activity packet, and there’s a free “Vowel Song” recorded by the author that you can access through the web site.
This level teaches letters and sounds, the concept of vowels, numbers, and colors. It teaches only the most common sound for each letter, leaving the alternate sounds for later.
Children work on fine motor skills with cutting pasting, drawing, and pencil-and-paper activities as well as paining and working with Playdough. You will need additional resources for some activities, resources such as flower seeds, cotton swabs, wiggle eyes, and ping pong balls. (These are listed at the front of the course book.)
The minimal amount of math included at this level should be sufficient for most young students. Children learn to count and recognize numbers up through 10, but the course does not teach them how to write numbers.
While this course goes beyond most preK programs in academic instruction, it does include lots of hands-on and interactive learning. The amount of time required each day will depend upon the child. Some children will need much more repetition and review than others. You should move at a pace that is appropriate for each child, stopping to work with the Letter Memory pieces and the Alphabet Flip Books as needed.
As I mentioned above, Level K expects the child to already be familiar with letters and sounds as well as some letter formation (handwriting). The set of phonics cards that comes with the course should be used for practice every day. Children should be mastering the first 58 of these 168 cards during the Level K course. There is also a set of sight word cards that students will practice with every day. You might need to spend more time with the phonics cards up front if children are not quite ready to put the sounds together into words.
The first lesson teaches consonants and vowels as well as short vowels and long vowels. Since long vowels were not taught in Level PreK, you might need to spend more time on this first lesson teaching the long vowel sounds.
As with other The Good and Beautiful Language Arts courses for younger students, a parent needs to work directly with his or her child. For example, in the first lesson, following instructions in the Course Book, the parent might write letters on a white board or on individual cards to help children practice vowel recognition. The parent works through the lesson, reading the lesson material to the child, asking questions, and sometimes pointing to pictures in the Course Book for the child to identify whether the name of the image has a short or long vowel. The lesson concludes with review of key concepts. The second lesson introduces a poem. The parent explains what a poem is then reads the poem aloud. The parent will then read it again line by line with the child repeating each line after him or her. After this second reading, they will discuss the meaning of the poem.
There are 44 lessons in the course, and some lessons have multiple parts. So you will be spending more than one day on some lessons.
Reading instruction moves very quickly. The third lesson in Level K works on blending letters for words such as at, in and up. Spelling and writing these words is practiced simultaneously, so children need to already have done some practice with letter formation. By the tenth lesson, children are expected to be able to read sentences such as, “We can be nice,” and “The bug likes me.”
Children read through a number of mini-books as part of their course work, with the Course Book telling parents exactly when children should read each one. At the end of the course, they are reading sentences such as, “Can Emma do it?” and “She tells Jan how to do it and smiles at her.” Other supplemental readers are recommended for additional reading practice, but they are not included with the course material.
Occasionally, there are project or research suggestions such as those accompanying the poem, “An April Day.” One suggestion is for the parent and child to research spiders together, and another gives instructions for a “spider handprint” art project (p. 55).
The Level 1 Course Book expands to 310 pages to make room for significant coverage of grammar. This level continues with phonics while introducing nouns, verbs, adjectives, and prepositions along with other topics such as verb tenses, the use of commas, and possessive nouns. Three “Writer’s Workshop” lessons introduce the writing process as children write two simple stories and a thank you note. They will also write a book report on books in the Little Bear series by Else Minarik as well as on Christian Liberty Nature Reader, Book 1. (You need to obtain those books on your own.)
Students will continue to work with the set of phonics cards that was begun in Level K, using cards 1 through 124 this year.
This level incorporates some stories and artwork by Beatrix Potter, poetry from the public domain as well as some original poems by Jenny Phillips.
The Level 2 Course Book is split into two volumes, Parts 1 and 2, for a total of more than 450 pages. Lessons should take from 50 to 90 minutes each day. You will continue to use the set of phonics cards that was used in Levels K and 1, but there is no activity packet. Children will read significantly more at this level. The Course Book contains a number of fiction and non-fiction passages plus stories for children to read. Comprehension questions often follow these. You will also need four specific books plus others of your choosing. The prescribed books are The Beatinest Boy; Sarah, Plain and Tall; Prairie School; and Lumber Camp Library. Forms are included for the child to write about each of these books.
Even more reading takes place with Reading Challenges. Students are to read six books from the Blaze series by C. W. Anderson, five biographies from the On My Own History series (Carolrhoda Books), Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 2, and three historical fiction books by Clyde Robert Bulla. Phillips suggests that students read from personal books for an additional 20 minutes a day and that parents read aloud to children for at least another 20 minutes per day. I suspect that children who are not fluent readers will struggle if they try to do this much reading, but see what works for your child.
The amount of writing increases this year as you would expect. Children will write sentences for some assignments as well as lengthier compositions. For example, they will write a comparative essay about two of the required books they will have read, and they will write a personal narrative. Sometimes worksheets with instructions help them through the writing process.
The story of the Ugly Duckling is turned into a play for a “Readers Theater.” Parents and children will read the parts for different characters. You might want to involve other family members in this activity!
Geography lessons cover foundational concepts such as maps, continents, and seasons. They also teach specifically about the countries of North America and a number of European countries. [Note: I came across one questionable geography statement on page 35 of Part 1: “When the world was ﬁrst made, the land was all together in one landmass (a big area of land). The Bible teaches us that many years after Noah and his ark, the land dried apart. Today we have seven continents (main areas of land.)”]
Even though phonics has been taught thoroughly up through Level 2, Level 3 includes some phonics practice. It presents more challenging vocabulary and continues to develop grammar and composition skills.
Required reading this year includes A Penny’s Worth of Character and The Good Master. In addition, Reading Challenges require students to read one of five “classic” books, two biographies from Phillip’s eight recommendations, Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 3, one of five recommendations for historical fiction, and one of four humorous books. These reading selections ensure that students are becoming familiar with different genres of literature.
Geography this year reviews the countries of North America and Europe, then focuses upon 17 states in the United States. It also covers foundational topics such as the Equator, hemispheres, the compass, and the poles.
Lessons should take from an hour to an hour and half or more each day.
Level 5 students have comprehensive work in writing, reading, literature, grammar, spelling, art, and geography. Components of this course include a Course Book, a Course Companion book, the set of Geography and Grammar Flashcards (same set used with earlier levels), the Louisa May Alcott Reader, and the Evaleen Stein Reader. The readers contain public domain material written by each author but with small modifications to update the language. Specific assignments from the readers are built into the lessons. Geography this year focuses on South America and tropical rain forest biomes. As with other levels, Phillips integrates all subject areas with one another.
Students are expected to work more on their own as they mature, so beginning with Level 5 they are given Daily Check Lists to mark off assignments as they are completed. However, parents still need to dictate sentences to students every day. Dictation sentences have been carefully constructed to reinforce spelling rules and patterns, grammar and punctuation rules, troublesome homophones, and other easily confused pairs of words. The Course Companion book includes an entire section for sentence dictation with sentences to be presented grouped under rules and categories. Occasionally, the Course Book indicates another type of activity that requires parental interaction. Otherwise, students work independently.
The Course Companion book is used by both student and parent. Students will frequently use the “States and Capitals Ladders,” poems for memorization, reference section (with an extensive grammar guide plus maps for geography), course readings (written by Jennifer D. Lerud), and editing symbols and explanations. The answer key at the end of the Course Companion book along with the sentence dictation will be used by the teacher. Personally, I’d print these pages and separate them into teacher and student groups rather than keep them together.
Students will do quite a bit of writing, so Phillips requires them to have two blank notebooks in which to write. One will be for writing assignments and the other for ideas and notes. Among the types of writing this year are essays, stories, articles, a South American country report, descriptions of art, poetry, and book reviews.
The Course Reading Challenge at the front of the course book helps track which books students have read. Check-off boxes remind them to choose books from different genres. Some recommended books are listed, but Phillips recommends students choose books from her own “The Good & the Beautiful Book List.” (This is an annotated list of 416 books available in PDF format for $5.)
Drawing, colored pencil, and watercoloring skills are developed through art projects. Some art projects stand alone while others connect to other subject matter in the course. Art appreciation lessons like those in earlier levels continue to develop familiarity with both art and artists.
Students will rotate practice with “States and Capitals Ladders” and poetry memorization, working on one of these each day in addition to Course Book assignments. Similarly, they will also practice with either the geography or grammar cards each day. The memorization and drill should take a total of about 10 minutes per day. Students should spend about 40 minutes per day on Course Book work then read independently for another 20 to 30 minutes each day. Sentence dictation should take about 15 minutes. All activities should take a total of about an hour and a half per day. Since there are only 140 lessons, students need to work on them only four days per week.
Lessons are laid out in sequence for students to easily follow. They will be writing directly in their Course Books, so it should be easy for parents to check their works. Parents will need to check composition work separately and ensure that students are actually completing drill work each day that they check off on their Daily Check Lists. This balance of independent work and interaction should work well for most students at this level.
Level 7 components include the Course Book, the Course Companion book, Level 7 Favorite Classics Reader, Geography and Grammar Flashcards, and the Daily Checklist (same list used for Levels 5, 7, and 9). The Reader comes only as a printed book while other course components can be purchased as either PDF files or printed items.
The layout is very similar to Level 5 including daily dictation sentences, ladders and poetry to be memorized, lessons from the Course Book, independent reading, and composition work. The length and number of lessons is very similar as well.
Geography covers Russia, Wales and the United Kingdom, Pennsylvania, regions and sub-regions of the U.S., and geography principles. It also reviews states and capitals learned in Level 5.
Grammar, literary skills, compositions skills, spelling, and vocabulary become increasingly challenging. Phillips adds something new at this level with links to four teaching videos presented by Phillips. In one of these videos, students are to practice listening and taking notes as Phillips discusses one of the required books as well as the criteria for judging the quality of books. In another, she teaches how to diagram prepositional phrases that modify other prepositional phrases.
This course helps students learn how to write research papers, but it begins gently by supplying research material in an easily accessible format in the Course Companion rather than requiring students to do their own research. This is good preparation for high school level research papers.