The goal of all language arts is clear communication.
It's also one of two main required subject areas (along with math) in state standardized testing. A knowledge of language arts is required to drive a car, order from a menu, be understood, read subtitles on foreign films, pray, and most other useful activity known to humankind. Language is one of the primary ingredients for successful human culture and civilization.
Yet we at Exodus Books talk to parents every day who are unclear exactly what constitutes language arts, how to teach them, if composition is as important as reading, etc. They might think terms like English, composition and reading are interchangeable. Or they teach a single element of language arts (like vocabulary) and are confused when their kids score poorly on a grammar test. Or....or....or....
The term Language Arts refers to the tools needed to read, write, speak, and understand a given language. Yes, it's a broad definition. But it also means the collective language arts are all interrelated, and that should actually be a cause for relief rather than fear.
Because of this interrelatedness, splitting the various topics into stand-alone subjects is nearly impossible. At the same time, all kids have strengths and weaknesses, so you can apply focus and de-emphasis where needed. Topics that fall under the LA umbrella include (but aren't limited to) phonics, penmanship/handwriting, reading comprehension, listening skills (dictation), spelling and vocabulary, grammar, composition, research skills, speech, rhetoric, and more.
Does that mean you have to find a single program that covers all this territory? By no means. There aren't many "total language arts" programs available, and fewer still that live up to that promise. So does that mean you have to find curricula for each topic, and then somehow manage to correlate everything into a unified whole for your kiddos? Well....yeah, kinda.
Yes, this sounds like a lot. Be assured: it doesn't just sound like a lot, it is a lot. That's why you set and keep goals. You don't have to teach ten language arts topics a day. Most of the skills represent means, not ends. The end of language arts study is the acquisition of good communication skills; the means to that acquisition include phonics, spelling, composition, and so on.
Phonics is a means to deciphering words; grammar provides the rules for clear writing; a large vocabulary increases a student's ability to understand and relay information effectively. Don't forget the big picture: language arts translates directly into communication skills. If your student is steadily aquiring the tools needed to communicate well, you're on the right track. If not, set some goals.
Well, set some goals even if you're on the right track. Does your child understand the rules of grammar but still can't spell? Devote extra time to spelling and vocabulary. Are there gaps in her knowledge of sentence-construction? Focus on composition for awhile. Does he excel at each of the language arts? Press him further and have him study rhetoric.
Don't tie yourself to one program; keep your kids' abilities and learning styles in mind, and find coursework that caters specifically to their needs as well as your own. Remember that there is a progression within the language arts spectrum, that phonics precedes reading, spelling precedes vocabulary building, grammar and composition precedes writing the next Pulitzer Prize-winner.
Keep the short- and long-term goals in mind at every stage so you don't get bogged down in unnecessary details or try to get all the way to homeplate when you haven't even rounded second. Why teach phonics? So kids can learn to read. Why teach kids how to spell? So they can be understood through writing. All language arts instruction boils down to the desire to form good communicators.
Finding what works for your children will take effort. There are several learning styles, and gajillions of teaching philosophies. Not all of them work; not all programs stay consistent in their approach; not every child responds negatively to straight-up instruction vs. colorful pictures and hands-on activities. Our product reviews are intended to help you navigate the many options, but ultimately the decisions are yours to make.
Just below you'll see the main topics included under the "Language Arts" umbrella. We've tried to group them in difficulty order (phonics first, rhetoric last) to help you understand where your student currently stands. And though we've said it a thousand times already, never ever forget that teaching spelling isn't about teaching spelling—it's about equipping students to be the kinds of people who can express, understand and exchange ideas (from "Clear the table!" to "I doubt, therefore I am.") with a high degree of grace and proficiency.