At a time when writing programs seem to be moving irresistibly toward infinite complexity, it's nice to find a simple one. English for the Thoughtful Child is an introduction to composition for elementary students that doesn't rely on frills and games to teach—each lesson is self-contained and ready for both teacher and student with no need for preparation.
Based on two early-20th century grammar/composition texts, Cynthia Shearer's volumes combine elements of the Charlotte Mason method and a more straightforward grammar approach. Students both practice verbal narration (telling a story back to the teacher in their own words) and write sentences and stories independently. If you're looking for an easy-to-implement but thoroughly educational composition course for younger kids, this is probably it.
How Do These Work?
There are two separate volumes available, and while either can be used independently depending on your child's comprehension level, it's a good idea to finish Volume 1 before moving to Volume 2. Students in grades 2-5 are introduced to the nature and purpose of sentences, usage, and grammar rules. In Volume 1 there's an emphasis on punctuation, capitalization and expressing basic thoughts. Volume 2 is more advanced, with more grammar rules and a focus on practical concerns like how to write dialogue.
The first book contains 62 lessons, while the second has 60. Volume 1 has a section in the back called "Summary of Rules" which presents all the rules covered in the book in glossary form. Volume 2 includes a list of websites for selected nature lessons (evidence of the Charlotte Mason influence). In both books, lessons are short (typically 1-3 pages) and require no more than about 15 minutes to complete. Parents will need to interact with their kids throughout most (if not all) lessons, though no work is required beforehand or afterward.
Most exercises are centered on answering questions or retelling stories or statements in the student's own words. While the texts are consumable, with space to record answers in the texts themselves, you could just as easily do all the exercises orally. This would also be a great way to work with multiple children of various levels at the same time—not only would there be no exercises to grade, younger students could learn from the more advanced narration of older students.
In Volume 1 there are usually 1-2 exercises per lesson, while in Volume 2 there tend to be 3-4. Both volumes include attractive 19th-century illustrations which are integrated into exercises, either as inspiration for creative storytelling, or to enhance kids' observational skills. This isn't a specifically Christian course, but it is Christian-friendly and includes no objectionable material whatsoever. There are no additional books—just the two student texts—so you don't have to worry about paying too much or losing important elements.
Our Honest Opinion:
This is an excellent introduction to composition. Because there is no "scope and sequence" (often rather contrived, anyway), you can take as long moving through each element as you need, or as the student is able. Don't skip around because lessons do build on each other, but most kids can move pretty fast through the lessons. If you like bells and whistles, English for the Thoughtful Child won't appeal to you. But if you simply care about your children having a solid foundation in basic writing skills, look no further for the early grades. This makes a great segue into Simply Grammar by Karen Andreola.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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