English in Home Education

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, and there is no reason why you should. But if you decide to study English in home education, these pages may help you see that these skills can develop easily.

As children’s reading and writing fluency, increases, it’s important to give them a variety of books to read. Let them choose from what you have available at home and at your library. You can also 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 naturally so there’s no need to ‘teach’ anything beyond basic reading and letter formation.

If you 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). You can find further links to sites helping children learn or have fun with English on the 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 opportunity to read longer books. You can introduce them to classics at an early age, to read myths and legends and stories connected with topics you are studying. You may find that questions and conversation about the books will arise naturally when you read aloud.

Part of speaking and listening in schools involves taking part in group mime or drama. This is not easy at home, if you have only one or two children. However you may find that they will develop their own play worlds with teddies or dolls, or 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 a micro-world full of dolls. They created laws, conducted trade, and explored in mini-drama all the topics the children studied.

My sons, over time, played similar games. When they were four or five, their worlds were full of soft toys with a hierarchy of kings, queens and princes. As they grew older, a large Lego city developed. One room contained knights and castles and dragons, another was 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. Children learn to speak and listen, as they pretend to be adults through the tiny characters in their worlds.

Playing with words

Some concepts which seem long and complex at schools can be covered at home in general discussion. For instance children are expected to know about ‘synonyms’ – words with similar meaning – and ‘antonyms’ – opposites. We found it fun to talk about words that meant the same, and what subtle variations there were. We often opened the dictionary at mealtimes when we wanted to know the exact definition of a word, or to find 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, homophones and homonyms

Homographs (literally ‘same writing’) are words which are spelled the same way, but have different meanings. For instance the word ‘bow’ (to bend at the waist), ‘bow’ (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). They may also be different (the first meaning is a verb, although there is 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.

See also:
Grammar, spelling and the secondary years
General English resources