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Homeschooling on a Shoestring

Spotlight On: Language Arts

Additional Resources

Free classic audiobooks for your homeschool—a list of various sources of free audio classics for children of all ages.

“Homeschooling on a Shoestring Budget” HSLDA Homeschooling Toddlers thru Tweens

“What Does It Cost to Homeschool?”

“Navigating the Used Curriculum Route” by Vicki Bentley, Practical Homeschooling magazine

“What Should I Be Teaching?”

“Where Do You Start? Placement Tests and Other Orientation Tools” Includes reading assessments.

Use multi-level curriculum. Use grade-specific materials for each child for skills subjects such as language arts and math, then use multi-level materials for content-area subjects such as science, social studies, character/Bible, art, health, etc, working with all of your children together, to economize on time and money! (See the earlier newsletters in this series for more suggested multi-level curriculum ideas.)

“Five Must-Have, No-Cost Resources for Homeschooling” by Terri Johnson

• Search for free homeschool + subject

From Scripture

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.”
(Proverbs 15:1–2, KJV, emphasis added)

“I will not allow before my eyes any shameful thing … .”
(Psalm 101:3, The Complete Jewish Bible)

“Be very, very careful what you put into that head, because you will never, ever get it out.”
(Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York, Prince-Bishop of Durham)

A few language arts resources:

“Write Now” by Cathy Duffy (originally printed in Practical Homeschooling No. 4, 1993)

“How to Run a Super Story Contest for Your Group” by Linda Burklin (from Practical Homeschooling No. 60)

Sounds Like Learning! Audio CD from Discovery Toys (preschool, primary)

Mathematical Reasoning through Verbal Analysis series from Critical Thinking Press

• Think-It-Through tiles team children with a series of progressive booklets and an ingenious system of double-sided tiles that actively engage students in the lessons and supplement their studies. Each booklet features 24 pages of math or reading challenges of increasing difficulty. Sets range from preschool through elementary. For example, the three-booklet Unlocking Word Power set is appropriate from age 7 years through elementary school and covers synonyms, antonyms, usage, word meanings, homophones, sentence and paragraph structure, and spelling.

Timberdoodle language arts resources

Learning English with the Bible

Comprehensive Composition, Natural Speller, and Critical Conditioning guides from Kathryn Stout’s Design-a-Study series; for all ages

Movies as Literature by Kathryn Stout

Learning with the Movies by Beth Holland

• Many homeschool online groups have subject-specific content. For example, the Workboxes Yahoo group highlights ideas for English, language arts, and/or literature on Wednesdays.

• Composition tutoring programs such as The Writing Well or Write at Home

• Curriculum Resources listing at HSLDA’s Homeschooling Toddlers thru Tweens

Book lists for preschool through high school—Reading Roadmaps (Center for Literary Education & Exodus Books)

Learning Language Arts Through Literature is a fully integrated language arts program that teaches grammar, reading, spelling, vocabulary, writing mechanics, creative writing, thinking skills and more, using real books.

Queen Homeschool’s Language Lessons series is a gentle approach to language skills, a la Charlotte Mason. You’ll find picture study, narration, copywork, dictation, poetry appreciation and instruction, creative writing, grammar instruction, and more, depending upon the level; 180 daily lessons in each volume make these books a simple introduction to the Charlotte Mason style!

• For free downloads and tips on using English from the Roots Up, check out Cynthia Albright’s website.

Another list of suggested classic kids books for preschool through grade 8.

• Beginning Poetry and Bookbinding, The Word Artist by Susan Kemmerer

Webinar: Classical Writing Primers - Preparing Young Students for Writing by Kathy Weitz.

Latin for Young Children, Latin for grades two through five.

Learn Grammar with songs

By Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Early Years Coordinator

A few months ago, we introduced this series on homeschooling “on the cheap” with our Spotlight on Social Studies, followed by Science on a Dime and Math on a Budget. This month, we’ll wrap up the series with a quick review for newer readers, and then some inexpensive, fun, multi-level ideas for language arts!

What Does it Cost to Homeschool?

While the average cost is roughly $500 a year per child, this figure usually goes down with subsequent children, since resources can be shared, membership costs are not multiplied, etc. During the four years that we were without a full-time income, I was able to homeschool seven children at a time for less than $100 total in a year, once I had accumulated a few non-consumable resources.

It is possible to homeschool with just a Bible and a library card, but most of us will buy at least a few things. You’ll want to invest in your core curriculum materials first, then add other items as your budget allows. (See sidebar for more ideas.)

How to Save on Textbooks and Other Curricular Materials

  • Use multi-level, language-based study materials such as Prairie Primer (based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series of nine books), Five in a Row (based on Caldecott- and Newbery-Award-winning books), Wisdom Words, or Sonlight materials.
  • Borrow or rent books—check with your local support group.
  • Use a curriculum guide such as Heart of Wisdom Teaching Approach, a Bible, and library resources.
  • Purchase used books. Some sources include used curriculum shops, exhibit halls, library sales, support group sales, online swap boards (and of course, the HSLDA Curriculum Market!).
  • Combine a framework such as Language Arts at Home with your Bible, children’s classics, and an online grammar guide such as KISS Grammar.
  • Provide educational “wish lists” to family members for gift-giving occasions.
  • Use your state’s standards of learning as a guide to check out appropriate library books. (Search for Standards of Learning + Your State. You are not required to use these standards, but it can give you a starting point.)
  • Use World Book’s typical course of study with library books.
  • Use a major textbook publisher’s language arts scope and sequence.
  • Use What Your Child Needs to Know When or The Checklist (or Teaching Children by Diane Lopez) as a guide to what to teach, then use library books or living books. (Are you sensing a pattern here that includes library and card?)
  • Search online for free homeschool ____ (spelling, handwriting, grammar, composition, vocabulary …).
  • Laminate your books and answer keys with clear ContactTM paper for durability.

What is Included in “Language Arts”?

Language arts encompasses various subjects involved in communicating in your native language, such as:

  • phonics/reading instruction
  • reading/literature comprehension
  • listening skills (sometimes called auding)
  • handwriting
  • grammar
  • composition
  • spelling
  • vocabulary
  • speech
  • study skills

Language arts study is a skills-based subject (as is math); most content is covered sequentially. For example, a child progresses from letter sounds to words, then to sentences, which are the building blocks of paragraphs. It is realistic to expect a child to write a cohesive report only after he can organize his thoughts into paragraph, which may not happen until third grade.

Most children cover only some facets of language arts at any given time, depending on maturity and skills. For example, a very young child who is just learning to read will generally focus on decoding the words, but cannot easily comprehend what he is reading. A primary student might focus on spelling, while an older elementary student who has mastered most spelling rules might concentrate on vocabulary instead.

Everyday Activities for Language Arts for Lean Budgets

Because language arts is a sequential, skills-based subject, most of us will use a textbook or organized teaching approach of some sort to teach it. However, the most effective learning—or at least reinforcement of concepts—often takes place in the context of everyday living or family activities, and many are free or very inexpensive:

  • Read-alouds for all ages. Don’t quit reading aloud when your children learn to read on their own—it is still a valuable family activity! Hearing good literature read aloud encourages in children a love for language, builds vocabulary, motivates them to read, and encourages them to use their imagination. They have a much higher receptive vocabulary than reading vocabulary, so it’s okay to read books aloud that are well above their reading level, and stop to let them narrate back to you or to dramatize what you've read. Leave time for discussion and enjoy the experience!
  • Brain teasers and puzzles help build logic and thinking skills as well as spatial reasoning.
  • Jigsaw puzzles teach visual discrimination, a pre-reading skill, as well as other spatial skills.
  • Read the Bible to not only learn God’s instruction and His character, but to appreciate the loveliness of Scripture, the poetry of the Psalms, and the patterns, imagery, and application of other literary terms throughout the various books.
  • Cook together, letting your child read the recipes. Check out Single-Serve Recipes by Joyce Herzog.
  • Do you feel guilty building an occasional household catch-up day into your lesson plans? Putting the Legos away, sorting the Matchbox cars, tidying the colored pencils vs. the markers, reorganizing the linen closet or sorting the pantry, and other such tasks are classification and organization—valuable language arts, science, and math skills!
  • Collections can also encourage organization and classification skills, and can provide opportunities to teach alphabetical order.
  • Play language games such as Scrabble, Guggenheim, Taboo, The Play’s the Thing, Scattergories, Balderdash, MadLibs, etc. Click here for more information on using games in your homeschool.
  • Keep handy a few reference books such as a dictionary, thesaurus, and grammar or usage guide.
  • Do you have a tape recorder or video camera? Language Arts is about communication—not just the written word, but also oral communication. If your child is more interested in video than book work, a taped interview or video report could substitute for a written project.
  • The computer offers word processing, desktop publishing, and research opportunities, as well as online sites with “word of the day” emails, etc.
  • Toss a sheet or tablecloth over a tension rod in a doorway, add some dollar store or lunch bag hand puppets, and you have a puppet theater to encourage your children to write skits, develop characters, etc.
  • Read Shakespeare and other plays. Let your kids write their own!
  • Set up reading and writing stations.
  • Encourage your child to write to a penpal to build letter-writing skills. No cousins or grandparents? The children of missionaries (or the missionaries themselves) would probably enjoy news from home.
  • An online search for student essay contest or student writing contest can motivate your children to write for an audience outside the home.
  • Start a book report club in your local group or community.
  • Visit a book signing at your local bookstore to show your child that authors are simply real people who shared their thoughts on paper. (Of course, use your discretion—the child may then want to read the book!)
  • Many of the language arts catalogs you collect at the homeschool convention contain book lists, many even by categories or reading level—these can provide a great starting point to select books at the library.
  • One of my girls learned to read when I gave her a spiral notebook with some magazines, child-size scissors, and gluesticks. By cutting out things that make a B sound and gluing them onto the B page, then cutting out M words and gluing them onto the M page, and so on, she learned to listen for sounds in words.
  • Debate develops listening skills, writing proficiency, research skills, speech composition and delivery, and more. Capitalize on the logic stage of the average middle school student!
  • Explore other alphabets such as the military alphabet, Morse code, or sign language finger-spelling.

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