Home Education; Language Arts – beginners

I am beginning to realise that there is an order for children to learn the language arts. Not just an order for their learning, but the whole process of acquiring, learning and using language has an order. For me this is a new discovery, but if I dig just a little into the history of education, especially the model set up in the schools of medieval Europe, I see, they already knew there was an order, and in fact they understood this from pre-Christian Classical times.

The Liberal Arts of classical days consisted of the Trivium and Quadrivium. The Trivium is grammar, logic and rhetoric and it was taught in that order. Alongside this the  Quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

So how do I ensure my children have the language skills they need for all their learning and to work through life? The classical approach is to start with a Grammar stage.

Language in children begins before birth. Research shows that the language centres of a girl’s brain are already active well before birth. She is hearing her mother’s voice and tone and reacting to that. Boys language centres respond slightly later. Before the age of two children are not “learning” language, they are acquiring it. Research has clearly shown that the only way a child can acquire language is through interaction with his or her parents and family, especially the mother. Research showed that the silly way we mums talk to our babies, named Motherease by the linguists, actually helps the child acquire language. The constant touch and play and close face to face contact is all part of the process.

Conversely it has been shown that passive observation, such as with a TV, radio or even in a large group with no contact with the speaker – does not help a child’s language development at all. 

One of my Sign Language tutors told us about her baby. She and her husband are profoundly deaf and have no spoken language. Their son was born hearing, so they decided to buy a radio and have it on by his cot. One day her brother, who was  hearing, came to see his nephew and asked her what was the strange noise coming from the nursery. It turned out she hadn’t tuned the radio in, so it was just fuzzing. Even so, when her brother tuned it in properly, her son did not learn English. He learned BSL because that’s what his parents used with him. He began to pick up some spoken English from hearing family members, but he had to learn English when he went to school. His acquired language was BSL.

I have known a few hearing people whose first language is BSL because they were born to Deaf families.

Essentially, if children are going to have the tools for early language arts, they need to have been with their mother to acquire the language. From the age of two onwards they begin the process of learning. Through interaction with older children and adults they begin to correct miscues and mispronouciation and build their spoken vocabulary.

Oral and aural skills are important for children to be able to learn. Reading stories together, looking at pictures together and talking about what we see are all ways to help a child, listen and speak well. This seems to have been much better understood in the  late 19th and early 20 century as language arts books have a lot of discussion excercises in them for the elementary levels. The other thing I notice about these books is the higher level of language expected of the children than I am used to from modern English school books.

Grammar is important for children to learn the rules of language use and to lay the foundation for the future rhetoric stage, when a pricise understanding of how language works should mean the ability to clearly put forward an idea or arguement, both verbally and in writing.

I wish I had learned these things in school. As it happens I am having to learn with the children and a little ahead of them, just to keep up with it all. Fortunately we have Latin and Greek which works like the morter among the English bricks, so that, not only their vocabulary can grow, but their basic understanding of how language works.

The tradition Classical education provuded children with a very sound and broard language base to learn from. This is not about literacy. In fact the more I learn about how children use, build and structure language, the more I realise the “Literacy hour” every day in school is pointless. If the children cannot speak, they cannot write (as teachers are noticing).

Charlotte Mason’s writing assumes that children will spend the first seven years with their mother and family. She is appalled by the German idea that children should go to school much younger, pointing out that even in Sparta, boys were left with their mothers until the age of seven.

By the time children went to her PNEU schools, she expected children to be able to recite, speak and read at a fairly high level. She was not aiming at a certain section of society- this was the way children were supposed to learn.

We are getting something wrong these days aren’t we?


One response to “Home Education; Language Arts – beginners

  1. I did not send my son to kindergarten because I knew it would be torture for him to sit still at that age. I am homeschooling first grade but had a slow start because of a newborn at the end of July. Now about five months later, he is reading above level and his vocabulary is vast for his age. This must be due to the phenomena you write of because it is not a reflection of my teaching or organizational skills or even of his desire. I think math is truly his first language.

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