By infusing language arts instruction with Montessori techniques, ShillerLearning repeats its unique formula that has worked so well for homeschoolers in ShillerMath. ShillerLearning Language Arts Kit A is for pre-kindergarten through first grade, and Kit B follows, covering grades one through four. Each kit can be used for a number of years.
ShillerLearning Language Arts covers phonics, reading, handwriting, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, typing, and speech. The emphasis changes at each level as you would expect. Each kit has four Language Arts books that are also available individually in case you need books for additional students. (Kits also include lifetime access to free downloads to print replacement consumables at no cost.) All ShillerLearning curriculum is multi-sensory, covering the visual, tactile, kinesthetic, and auditory learning modalities, which is why the songs, manipulatives, and ancillary reading material form such an integral part of each kit.
The Language Arts books have a few pages of introductory explanation at the front plus a Concept Index and a Materials Index at the back. The bulk of each book consists of lesson plans. The introductory explanation provides tips and suggestions that help parents grasp the essentials of Montessori methodology, especially how to encourage and guide rather than demand and command.
Each lesson is clearly laid out step by step, and each lesson teaches one topic. Charts for keeping track of completed worksheets are in the front and back of each book. Parents should also use these to keep track of lessons that need to be revisited. There’s also space to log time if you need to do that.
Following Montessori principles, lessons are intended to be flexible so that children spend as long as they need on a particular topic or skill to gain competence and closure. This “2Cs” concept of gaining competence and closure, a key element of ShillerLearning programs, helps students become self-aware of their learning pace. Children may do a few lessons in one session if they quickly achieve the 2Cs, but speed isn't the goal.
While review and repetition are built in, children are also encouraged to go back and review whenever they like or as seems needful before they move on. So while a kit might have material sufficient for three or four years, a child might complete lessons in more or less time.
Each book concludes with a thorough review test for you to easily identify areas that need more work. The prescriptive review tests identify the lesson (or lessons) in which each concept was taught so that it is easy to identify which lessons to revisit before moving on.
Consistent with ShillerLearning’s desire to build a solid foundation, hands-on resources play important roles in the lessons. Lessons use the Montessori teaching strategy of the “three period lesson” for new concepts: 1.) "This is": Introducing the new concept to the student, 2.) "Show me": Asking the child to identify the new concept, and 3.) "Tell me": Asking the child to name and utilize the new concept.
ShillerLearning Language Arts should be very easy to use. It should take just a few minutes to read the instructions and get started. As long as you keep your materials handy, there is no real prep work to be done for lessons. However, lessons do require parental direction and interaction.
ShillerLearning has done a nice job adapting the Montessori approach for homeschooling while keeping it affordable.
Following are some details for the two kits.
Language Arts Books 1 through 4, included in Kit A, lay a solid foundation in phonics. Children first learn to recognize letters and their sounds, with the sound introduced before the letter name. They learn the primary sounds for consonants and short-vowel sounds for vowels. The two sounds of g and the digraph ch are introduced toward the end of the fourth book.
Working with a movable alphabet, a bowl of grain, and Play-Doh, children learn to identify and form letters. They learn to recognize the sounds within words both orally and visually. Professionally-recorded songs (28 songs provided as MP3 downloads) reinforce lessons on the alphabet.
Children learn to form words with the movable alphabet starting at the end of the first book. The movable alphabet is a lovely set of wooden letters with consonants in red and vowels in blue, all of which are in a sectioned wooden box for easy storage and access.
In the books, the same pattern is used to teach each of the letters of the alphabet, so parents will probably find that they can refer to the lesson plans for teaching the letters sparingly once they are familiar with the pattern. Lessons teaching letters of the alphabet are interspersed with lessons teaching other topics and skills, so parents will still be using the lesson plans most of the time.
While a large proportion of the lessons are devoted to phonics, the books also cover many other early learning and language arts skills. Children learn to identify and form lower-case letters by forming letters with Play-Doh, with large body motions, or in a shallow tray filled with Quinoa grain, but not with pencil and paper. Children work with a Montessori Shapes Set to learn ten basic shapes and do a variety of tracing activities designed to develop the fine motor control needed for writing. They listen to and tell very short stories and perform eye exercises designed to increase reading speed. They learn vocabulary, Mother Goose Rhymes, and about nouns, verbs, adjectives, and articles. Basic learning readiness concepts are taught such as left and right, days of the week, and colors. Children practice basic introductions for personal communication and learn about their senses. Interestingly, children are also taught the keyboard at this early level which serves to reinforce familiarity with letters of the alphabet. There is even a lesson introducing Shakespeare and his sonnets.
The Language Arts Kit A includes the four lesson books, a book of Mother Goose Rhymes, 28 downloadable songs, a Vellux work mat (22” x 34”), the set of 10 Montessori Shapes, four small tubs of Play-Doh, a box of eight large crayons, the 155-piece movable alphabet set (that comes in a divided wood tray with lid that doubles as a tray for the quinoa tracing activities), and a bag of grain. Your purchase entitles you to free, lifetime, downloads of the lessons and songs.
Kit B continues with Language Arts Books 5 through 8, providing a program that covers approximately first through fourth grade. It also includes four readers: McGuffy's Eclectic Primer, The Story Hour, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Just So Stories. Students are encouraged to read additional selections of their choice.
One of the key manipulative sets that comes with this kit is the Montessori Grammar Symbols. These are colored, wooden shapes that are used by students to identify parts of speech in sentences. For example, noun-related words are identified by triangles: black for nouns, purple for pronouns, and other colors for adjectives and articles. Verbs and verb-related words are identified with different colored circles. Both the shapes and colors help students understand how words in a sentence relate to one another. The Circle Kit, also included in Kit B, has red and blue foam disks that students use as bases on which to create their own movable letters, written in their own handwriting. These are used to identify vowels and consonants, mirroring the colors of the wooden moveable alphabet.
Book 5 further develops the phonics, sight words, keyboarding, eye movement exercises, and storytelling skills taught in Language Arts A. Book 5 teaches traditional handwriting (printing) skills and adds cursive in Lesson 31. It also introduces sentence diagramming, working up to identifying all nine parts of speech in later books. ShillerLearning has also chosen to teach keyboarding skills beginning in Book 5, but students continue with printing and cursive so they are not dependent upon the keyboard. Writing the Alphabet, a penmanship book for both print and cursive, is included. Some of the lessons in Books 5 through 8 are printed in cursive, so the child is learning to read cursive, in addition to writing it. Kit B also includes work on some unique topics: goal setting, principled thinking, writing a family preamble (modeled on the Preamble to the United States Constitution), basic phrases in a variety of foreign languages, international currency, the peg system of short-term memory practice, and more. Since work in Kit B is more challenging than in Kit A, pdf answer guides are included for the Kit B books.
As with Kit A, there are 28 Shiller Language Arts songs delivered via MP3 downloads. Kit B also includes a 100-pack of index cards for student-created word/picture cards. Finally, a three-ring binder that comes with the kit has book report guides and word game score sheets for games that are explained in the Language Arts Books.
There are virtual kit options for both Language Arts Kit A and Kit B. You can download the lesson books, song files, and printable manipulatives. Manipulatives offered in a printable format are the movable alphabet, Montessori Shapes, and Montessori Grammar Symbols, and these should be printed on cardstock.