Language-learning is a progression.

My understanding of (mother-tongue) language-learning is along the lines of a progression from hearing language spoken: listening -> speaking -> reading -> writing. Therefore, we will concentrate on reading to our children first of all, encouraging discussion on everything we read (actually, that seems to happen instinctively – the trick is not to discourage it). See also “narration” below.

LISTENING – Read-aloud literature

We do a lot of reading together, and I try to be discerning, concentrating on classic children’s literature and the most excellent quality modern literature. See “Recommendations for Literature” below. It’s also important to continue reading aloud once your children can read for themselves – even much older children can gain a lot from listening (and can often understand a lot more than they can read for themselves).

SPEAKING – Narration or Comprehension

We also encourage “narration”, a word that Charlotte Mason used to mean the children telling-back stories in their own words (similar to “comprehension” in schools, but it is oral rather than written). This practice is central to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education as it is said to encourage concentration and aid memory, with children never needing to “cram for exams” (short term information-gathering) as this method leads to long-term retention of knowledge. (Note: CM did not require narration until the age of 6).


When I was at school the in-thing was the ‘look-say’ method of learning to read, whereas current thinking rejects ‘look-say’ entirely and concentrates on “phonics”. (English is not a truly phonetic language, but “phonics” does take account of this, and attempts to show the child “phonemes”; that is to say, letters and groups of letters which can represent sounds in English). Ruth Beechick has written extensively about these two approaches in her book “The Language Wars”. My view is that the two approaches can be complimentary, and each child will respond differently to the two systems, so you just need to go gently and see which is best for your child.

    Reading Readiness

How do you know when to start teaching reading? One of our main reasons for choosing to home educate was in order that we could avoid the teaching of reading (or formal education generally) at too early an age, having read reports that European children [who do not start formal education or reading until 6 or 7] are far in advance of English children [who may have started at 3 or 4] in terms of reading ability, when compared at the age of 9.

Generally speaking, the child will show you when he/ she is ready to learn to read. The signs to watch out for are (a) a knowledge that printed letters and words carry meaning, and (b) an interest in knowing what letters are/ what words say! Obviously the age at which this occurs will vary from child to child, and whereas it can be as early as 3 it could well be as late as 7 or 8.

    First Step: Learning the Alphabet

In Scandinavia, children are encouraged to become familiar with letters individually by way of, for example, finger-painting their shapes. We started out with our own home-made giant (filling A4 size paper) lower case and capital letter “worksheets” (letters printed in light grey or border only) with pictures for each letter of the alphabet, using words that are familiar to the child.

We enjoyed the “Alphabats” series by Paul Sellers as well as Letterland resources.

NOTE: recommend covering one letter a week, making sure that your child is confident with a given letter before moving on to the next.

    Reading Schemes

We have used several different reading schemes, and my favourite remains the traditional Ladybird Key Words scheme (12 sets of books – 2 readers and a writing book). We have found that we only need to use the first 4 levels and then go on to something else. We’ve also used Sonlight Curriculum’s “I Can Read It”, “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons”. After learning the basics, we recommend the “I Can Read” series (“Little Bear”, “Frog and Toad” and more).


I am confident that a child will follow a natural progression and want to learn to write if encouraged, especially by example. I am a keen letter-writer, list-maker and note-taker, and we often make greetings cards rather than buy them.

    Learning Reading and Writing Together?

Whereas the progression from listening to speaking is clear, reading and writing may not necessarily have to follow that order, and may indeed develop together or in reverse order (in our experience we have noticed in one child a keen interest in reading but great reluctance in writing, and in another child the opposite).

    Learning to Write

We used the “Early Writing” workbooks from Schofield and Sims and graduated to “The Italic Handwriting Series” by Getty & Dubay, Books A-G

Also available from Ladybird: “Learn Cursive Writing”


We use the Essential Spelling List by Fred. Schonell. We have also used the spelling worksheets in the Jolly Grammar book 1.


If you’re interested in a traditional, gentle literature-approach to grammar, try “Simply Grammar” by Charlotte Mason & revised by Karen Andreola. And for a more modern worksheet approach try Jolly Grammar books 1 and 2.


I generally discourage the use of textbooks or worksheets for English with the exception of handwriting, (for the obvious reason that they’re not fun, and don’t necessarily equal the best way of teaching and learning), but if you’re interested in that way of working, there are lots of resources available. Look in WHSmith or at your library.


Librivox http://www.librivox.org is a place were you can access lots of great literature in audio form for free.


I previously recommended avoiding picture books, the idea being to have few enough pictures to emphasize the importance of the text, and of a sufficiently high quality to get the idea accross that the text contains something exciting. However, my view has changed slightly over the years, as I have dsicovered there are lots of really excellent and delightful picture story books for young children that I highly recommend! (Shirley Hughes, Penny Dale and Kim Lewis are some of my favourite illustrators).

“Read-aloud” books with quality literary content right from the beginning will fire your child’s imagination and encourage them to want to read in a way that picture-books will not do, at the same time as they’re advancing their knowledge of the language without realising it! (our primary language learning is absorbed in this way, doesn’t it make sense to carry on?!)

    Reading Primers

What about “readers” or “primers” (works of literature, abridged or re-written for a younger age-group than that intended by the author)? This is a tough question – obviously we want our children to read “the best” literature on offer, but why the rush? Charlotte Mason was dead against it. There are plenty of really nice, high-quality children’s literature available. Why not leave the reading of more advanced literature for an age when the child can really appreciate it in its original form!



Some of our favourites are included in the box to the right. (Winnie the Pooh, Thomas the Tank Engine, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Little House books, My Naughty Little Sister, etc. We have also used Sonlight curriculum’s literature selection amongst lots of other books.

The Twaddle-free bookstore and Reading List is a list of literature categorised by age:- http://members.aol.com/BeeME1/bookstore.html

In addition, the following books contain lists of literature for children:-

“Honey for a child’s heart” by Gladys Hunt

“Books children love” by Elizabeth Wilson

Above all, enjoy!

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