Guest Hollow’s Language Arts is a one-year, literature-based course that can be used with students in grades two through six. Written by Jennifer Guest, the program very much reflects her relaxed and relational approach to education that provides learning activities to suit different learning styles.
The program is presented in a guide that is used with a number of other books and resources. Some books are textbooks such as English from the Roots Up: Volume I, but the majority of the recommendations consist of literature, poetry, information books written in an entertaining fashion, internet sites, games, and manipulatives. Altogether, the resources cover grammar, composition, vocabulary, spelling, poetry, and literature. Suggestions are included for those who want to teach phonics.
The first third of the guide explains the course and the resources to be used. It includes both a detailed resource list and a briefer, easily printable list. Parents need to make some choices regarding what to use with each child. The guide ranks the resources at four levels of importance. Only items identified as “#1” are absolutely necessary for all students. There are more optional resources and activities than you will be able to use, so don’t be overwhelmed by the number of them.
The last two-thirds of the guide presents weekly lesson plans for 29 weeks. The lesson plans have specific assignments that use the #1 resources and many of the others, but you will need to schedule some of the optional resources on your own. Even with the lesson plans, you will need to customize some assignments, such as those for spelling, to target the appropriate level for each child. The lesson plans have embedded links to the resources on Amazon™, so you can easily locate them. The lesson plans are also available online under your account, but Guest Hollow cautions that they cannot guarantee their availability forever, and you should download a copy that you can keep. You can either print out the lesson plans so that you can check off boxes and add notes about which optional resources you use, or you can use the Word™ version of the file and type directly in it.
Parents will need to oversee and assist younger children, but those in fourth grade and above should be able to do much of their work independently. Even with older students, there will still be lots of read-together time, discussion, and shared enjoyment of fun activities.
When you purchase the guide (in either Word or PDF format), you also receive a 16-page file with reproducible activity pages, most of which will be used with lessons about writing business and friendly letters.
Optional education for parents is included as “Parent/teacher homework” at the bottom of each week’s schedule, but it’s up to you whether to use those. It provides parents with reading in books such as Uncovering the Logic of English and Breathing Life and Encouragement into Your Homeschool.
The guide includes some valuable support links, sometimes as printed out URLs. For example, there is a link to their blog post “How to Save Money When Using a Literature-Based Curriculum” that has tips for saving money on books along with links to online resources—some of them free.
Guest Hollow also hosts Facebook™ groups for their curricula, with one group specifically for language arts. The URL is in the guide.
Coverage of grammar relies primarily on the use of Guest Hollow’s Beowulf’s Grammar. For those who want more, the guide recommends supplementary books, such as If You Were a Noun, that you should be able to borrow from the library. The only absolutely essential book other than Beowulf’s Grammar is Best of Mad Libs. However, some of the second-tier items have comments saying, “DON'T MISS THIS ONE! One such item is the book Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale—a delightful story featuring punctuation marks as the characters.
This course takes a relaxed approach to composition that covers creative writing, letter writing, poetry, stories, essays, comics, writing related to other subject areas, and more. The instructions for the course tell parents not to use rubrics or require completely polished final compositions this year.
A number of resources are labeled as #1 for writing. These include Illustration School: Let’s Draw a Story, Q&A a Day for Kids: A Three-Year Journal, Writer’s Toolbox, Don’t Forget to Write, and at least five other inexpensive books. Among the optional resources are some like finger puppets and Rory’s Story Cubes that are good for hands-on learners
While students develop specific writing skills, the emphasis is on creativity and becoming comfortable with writing. This is especially evident in resources such as Illustration School: Let’s Draw a Story. The lesson plans also schedule journal writing four days per week in response to prompts in Q&A a Day for Kids.
Using books that are available free online, the course presents a traditional approach to spelling that includes copywork and dictation. The lesson plans have students use Fridays to play games at Vocabulary Spelling City® or play physical spelling games that can be purchased.
The guide recommends creating your own handwriting sheets using Startwrite.com (a program you purchase). Startwrite lets you create fat letters for beginning writers to trace and letters with dots indicating starting points. It also lets you print out letters, words, and sentences that have dotted-line letters or smooth-line cursive and print letters. You can choose from a lengthy list of fonts, including fonts similar to those used by the handwriting programs Getty-Dubay Italic™, D’Nealian™, Handwriting Without Tears™, and others. You can choose the size and style of the lines and add borders, clipart, and color.
You can have children practice with whatever handwriting content you wish, although the guide suggests using copywork assignments from The Modern Speller, the free online spelling book. Any content that you can copy can easily be pasted into Startwrite.
Literature includes independent reading by students as well as read-aloud selections. Recommended classic literature is scheduled into the lesson plans for the read alouds. For independent reading, children are supposed to make their own selections and maintain a log documenting them. Students who still need work on phonics are directed to resources such as the free version of Alpha-Phonics.
Parents often want to use books children read as springboards into other assignments, but author Jennifer Guest says, “I recommend you don’t ‘bog’ down most of the books with extras like lapbooks, vocabulary lists, and lessons unless your student really enjoys these activities, and you have the time for them. My suggestion is to just read the books and enjoy them” (p.14).
Students learn about poetry in general, as well as particular poems and their authors. You will use A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry along with two collections of poems that appeal to children. Parents can select which one or two poems to read from the collections each week and decide with their child which one to memorize. (Depending upon the length of a poem, children might spend more than a week memorizing one poem.)
Guest Hollow’s Language Arts is a family-friendly way to teach multiple ages together. It incorporates some aspects of classical and Charlotte Mason approaches, such as the use of real books, copywork, dictation, and learning Greek and Latin root words. Between all of the activities, students will do quite a bit of writing. Even so, the overall approach is less pressured and more fun than most language-arts programs.
By the end of the course, I expect that many parents will have become comfortable with this multi-resource approach and will want to continue it. The methods used for poetry, vocabulary, spelling, and literature can easily be continued, perhaps using additional material from the same spelling resources, choosing other collections of poems, and moving on to the second volume of English from the Roots Up. There are many composition resources such as Jump In! and the Big Book of Writing Prompts for Kids, Vol. 1 that continue in a similar vein. You might continue grammar with something like a Fix It! Grammar course or go deeper into diagramming with Drawing Sentences: A Guide to Diagramming. And don’t skip fun resources like other Mad Libs® books.
It would sure be great to have additional language-arts courses from Guest Hollow that select and schedule resources for us, but this one course might inspire you to do it yourself the next year.