We’ll be adding two new Language Arts components to Alex’s curriculum in second grade. I’m pretty excited about both of them.
I heard Michael Clay Thompson speak at the Royal Fireworks Press conference last June, and ever since, I’ve been looking forward to starting his elementary-level language arts program with Alex. He designed it for gifted children in schools, but has attracted a large and devoted following among homeschoolers as well.
The program is hard to describe. There are five books: Grammar Island and Practice Island, which provide a simple introduction to parts of speech, phrases, and clauses; Building Language, an introduction to studying vocabulary through Latin roots; The Music of the Hemispheres, a startlingly complex introduction to poetry; and Sentence Island, a writing book which focuses on understanding, analyzing, and composing sentences. These are intended to be linked together, each informing and amplifying the study of the others. (An insane yet inspiring slide show describes Thompson’s grand vision here.) The books are full of word play, stories, extended metaphors, Socratic questions, and offbeat activities. It’s the furthest thing imaginable from the boring fill-in-the-blank grammar and usage lessons I had as a child. I’m totally excited.
The second thing we’ll be implementing is some assigned reading.
Looking back at my quarterly reports, I see that I’ve been dithering about whether and how to assign reading for quite some time. I knew I didn’t want a “reading program” with quizzes and assignments, but sporadically handing Alex books and then not really following through hasn’t gotten us anywhere, either. Mostly I’ve been leaving her alone to read what she wants. She’s read some good books that challenge her, but she’s also read, and re-read, and read again, a lot of easy series fiction. I don’t have a problem with that, but I want to make sure it’s not all she reads. So I decided to try a reading list for the year, with periodic “book talks” to explore the books together but no structured assignments.
Homeschoolers love reading lists. There are a lot of them out there. Among classical homeschoolers (we more-or-less identify as classical, sort of, with amendations), there is an abundance of children’s reading lists in the “great books” tradition, designed to prepare students to read the classics of the Western canon in high school and college. Here is a prime example. Not only does it not assign a single book written in Alex’s lifetime, or my lifetime – it doesn’t assign a single book written during my father’s lifetime. These may be great books (although I think some of them are questionable), but I’m not classical enough to accept that nothing worth studying has been written for children in more than seventy-five years. On the other hand, many modern school reading lists feature books which are chosen to appeal to reluctant readers, but which don’t meet my literary quality standards. So I patched together a list of my own, trying to mix styles, genres, and age. For second grade, I’m hoping to have Alex read:
The Water Horse, Dick King-Smith. (1990).
Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher. (1916).
All-Of-A-Kind Family, Sidney Taylor. (1951).
Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White. (1952).
The Daydreamer, Ian McEwan. (1994).
Nim’s Island, Wendy Orr. (2000).
The Door in the Wall, Marguerite di Angeli. (1949).
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin. (2010).
A Lion to Guard Us, Clyde Robert Bulla. (1981).
Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary. (1981).
Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan. (1985).
On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder. (1937).
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Bette Bao Lord. (1984).
Paddle-to-the-Sea, Holling C. Holling. (1941).
Follow My Leader, James B. Garfield. (1957).
The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting. (1920, but we’ll read the modern edition which has had racist passages removed).
I had a lot of fun coming up with this list, and with additional tentative lists for future years. If you have suggestions (additions or deletions), I’d love to hear about them!