In the UK National Curriculum, English at primary (under 11) level is divided into five sections: Speaking and Listening, Reading, Handwriting, Creative Writing, and Spelling and Grammar. You may not want to follow the National Curriculum, but these pages will help you see that these skills are easily developed naturally if you decide to study English in home education.
As children increase in reading and writing fluency, it’s important to give them the freedom to choose a variety of books, and to encourage them to write (or type) different kinds of documents, such as letters (formal or informal), email, reports, etc. For some children these things come so naturally that there’s little need to ‘teach’ anything beyond basic reading and letter formation.
If you are interested in a slightly more formal approach, or need some ideas to encourage your older child to read or write, you could turn to the page about English in the secondary years of education (age 11-16). Further general links to sites helping children learn or have fun with English can be found on my English resources page.
Speaking and Listening
At home with your children, you have plenty of opportunity to listen and speak with them. Make sure you help them to express feelings and questions, and let them know how important they are. You probably read to them already, and take them to the library. In home education you have the ideal opportunity to read longer books, to introduce them to classics at an early age, to read myths and legends and stories connected with topics you are studying. Talk about what your read, about places you go, about programmes you see on TV.
Part of speaking and listening in schools is taking part in group mime or drama. This is not easy at home, particularly if you have only one or two children, or if they are widely different in age. However you may find that they will spontaneously develop their own play worlds with teddies or dolls, or the tiny Lego people. Nancy Wallace in her excellent book ‘Better than School’ (no longer in print) describes her home-schooled children having ongoing play sessions in which they developed an entire micro-world full of people of all sorts. They created laws, conducted trade, and explored in mini-drama all the topics the children studied.
I found that my children, over time, played similar games. When they were four or five, their worlds were full of teddies and other soft toys with a hierarchy of kings and queens and princes. As they grew older, a wonderful Lego-land developed, one room containing knights and castles and dragons, another full of space ships. The children and their friends would spend hours acting out mini dramas and sagas with these people. Don’t write this off as ‘just’ playing. Take time, sometimes, to listen without being too obvious and see how children learn to speak, as they pretend to be adults through the tiny characters in their worlds.
Playing with words
Some concepts taught at length in schools can be covered easily at home in general discussion. For instance children are expected to know about ‘synonyms’ – words with similar meaning – and ‘antonyms’ – opposites. While you probably don’t want every conversation to be overtly ‘educational’, we found it fun to talk sometimes about words that meant much the same, and what subtle variations there were between similar words. The dictionary often came out at mealtimes when we wanted to know the exact definition of a word, or to find out its opposite.
Sometimes you’ll find yourselves inventing new words which should be antonyms, even if they’re not. For instance, one of our cats sometimes looks disgruntled. We wondered if she ever felt truly ‘gruntled’….
Homographs (literally ‘same writing’) are words which are spelled the same way, but have different meanings. For instance the word ‘bow’ (the verb meaning to bend at the waist), ‘bow’ (meaning part of a ship) and ‘bow’ (the weapon used with arrows) are homographs. Homographs are sometimes pronounced the same way, sometimes not. Moreover, two homographs may be the same part of speech (the latter two meanings of ‘bow’ are both nouns) or different (the first meaning is a verb, although there is also a related noun, (‘he gave a polite bow’).
Homophones (literally ‘same speaking’) are words which are pronounced in the same way, but spelled differently. For example, ‘bare’ and ‘bear’ are homophones. So are ‘see’ and ‘sea’. Homophones can also refer to different ways of spelling the same sound, for instance ‘f’ and ‘ph’ in English.
Homonyms (literally ‘same name’) are words which are pronounced OR spelled the same, but have different meanings. So homonyms can include both homophones and homographs. All homonyms, and particularly homophones, are fascinating because they reveal linguistic differences between the various English-speaking countries. Even within England there are differences of pronunciation. In some parts, for instance, the word ‘look’ is pronounced the same as the name ‘Luke’.
Readers from other English-speaking nations, particularly those in the USA, may be surprised at some of the words which we count as homonyms, and at some of the ones we don’t. For instance, ‘do’ and ‘due’ are homophones in US English, but not in British English. Differences between American and British English can sometimes be spotted in films or books – it can be fun to make one’s own list of the variations, including, sometimes, completely different words. Obvious ones are ‘elevator’ for lift, and ‘pitcher’ for jug.