Sonlight’s Language Arts 1, intended for first graders, is available in two versions, one for four days per week (144 days in all) and one for five days per week (180 days in all). Both cover phonics, spelling, vocabulary, handwriting, beginning grammar, and compositions skills.
These courses blend traditional learning with Charlotte Mason’s ideas and natural learning (described below). While some parts of the lessons use direct teaching in a traditional fashion, other parts draw upon stories, copywork, interactive discussion and activity, narration, discovery, applications, and work with word cards (provided with each lesson). There are many open-ended, creative activities where children can make up their own stories (narrating to a parent), practice pretend phone conversations, dictate a friendly letter to someone they know, and play silly games such as making up their own compound words or coming up with synonyms for a form of Mad Libs™.
While most parents are familiar with traditional language arts programs with direct instruction, and many are familiar with Charlotte Mason’s use of real books and discussion, the natural learning approach is less familiar to many. Natural learning has more of a discovery or experiential aspect to it, just as we learn things in real life through experience. With natural learning, students might learn about dialog by creating their own stories in response to a prompt, including the dialog that their characters would say. Parents can show children how to punctuate the dialog to differentiate it from other connective or explanatory language. Thus, children learn to write and punctuate dialog for their own stories rather than by examining sample sentences written by others. Because they know what they intend to say, they learn to use proper punctuation to help their dialog make sense.
For phonics and reading, you will need the I Can Read It! Word List book plus I Can Read It! Book 1 through Book 3. Other books for the reading portion of the program are books for beginning readers such as Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, and A Big Ball of String. Teaching notes and discussion questions for the readers are in a section of the instructor’s guide after the weekly lesson plans and activity pages. While these supplemental readers are scheduled into the lesson plans, you can adjust their use and pacing to suit your child.
Phonics instruction is at a review and reinforcement level, moving along fairly quickly through short-vowel words, consonant digraphs, long-vowel words, and vowel digraphs. Children who need additional work on phonics can use the optional workbooks from the Explode the Code series. These are included in the schedule since many parents will use them. (If you are not certain whether or not this course is the right level for your child, you can use Sonlight’s free reading placement assessments by clicking here.)
This program also teaches sight words. The instructor’s guide provides a URL for accessing printable, sight-word flashcards for each reader in the course. Other pages of word card are included after student activity pages in many of the week’s lesson plans. These are to be cut apart and used to reinforce phonics concepts as well as for practice alphabetizing or categorizing, for creating sentences, or for other activities that stretch beyond phonics. A Letter and Word Bingo game and the Go Blend! card game are both included in the course as a fun method for phonics reinforcement and practice.
Much of the phonics is taught from within the spelling portion of the lessons. Children often learn to read quickly without thinking about phonics, but they need their phonetic knowledge when it comes to spelling. Spelling lessons are taught through multi-sensory interactive lessons rather than spelling worksheets.
Grammar and language instruction occurs each week as well. Children learn introductory grammar and language concepts such as capitalization, complete sentences, singulars and plurals, apostrophes and possession, synonyms, antonyms, homophones, syllables, similes, the use of articles, correct word usage, alphabetizing, rhymes, the writing process, and oral presentations.
Children participate in writing-related activities every day. These include copywork, writing words or notes from brainstorming, creative writing, and occasional editing or revision of something they’ve written previously. If children are not ready or able to complete a particular assignment, parents should assist as needed, perhaps just having a child do an oral narration or maybe taking dictation as the child narrates. Copywork plays a vital role in the course since it helps familiarize children with proper sentence structure, spelling, and grammar without direct instruction. At the same time, creativity and imagination are encouraged and developed by some of these activities.
Student activity sheets are included within the instructor’s guide at the end of each week’s lesson plan. These pages are consumable, so you will need to purchase an extra set of these student activity pages if you intend to use the same guide with another student, now or in the future. On these pages students will complete copywork, grammar activities, alphabetizing activities, written narrations, creative writing, and other written work.
Handwriting without Tears: My Printing Book is recommended for teaching printing, so that book is also scheduled into the lesson plans. You can substitute a different handwriting program if you wish.
Differences between the four-day and five-day programs are relatively minor. In the four-day course, two fewer readers are used, and it occasionally skips a story within the I Can Read It! books. A second copywork activity each week is optional rather than required. Occasionally, another activity is skipped or presented elsewhere in the schedule. In the five-day course, Fridays are lightly scheduled compared to the rest of the week, so the four-day course does not have to shift or drop very much. Both courses end up teaching essentially the same content. Whichever course you use, it is important for parents to ultimately decide which lesson material to use. For example, a parent might find that her child has already mastered the idea of changing words by changing only the initial consonant such as changing ball to hall, mall, and tall (in the week 11 lesson). In these instances, the child might skip the instruction and phonics activity that practices this.
These courses must be presented by the parent. The lesson plans have detailed instructions for what the parent is to say and do as they teach each lesson, so lessons are easy for inexperienced homeschoolers to use. Some notes are more extensive the first time a repeating activity occurs. Parents should preview lessons, but little preparation time is required other than for such things as cutting apart word cards or printing out and cutting sight-word flashcards.
The Language Arts 1 course offers a gentler, interactive approach to language arts and reading for first graders than do traditional programs. Its flexibility regarding the amount of writing children need to do as well as other activities encourages parents to present lessons in a manner best for each student.
(Note: there is no Christian content in this course.)