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  1. #1

    Default English curriculum when living abroad?

    I live in (very, very rural) Japan with a Japanese spouse and our kids (preschool and kindergarten). It's important that they're able to utilize English at an academic level. The kids attend a public school that's great for other subjects. We're looking for curriculum ideas for teaching English that are:
    1) Manageable when already in school
    2) Comprehensive
    And bonus if they:
    3) Have some kind of credit/recognition/tracking/etc, even just at later levels

    I teach EFL, but that's a whole other beast. The kids have no issue with conversational English. I'm also comfortable with teaching initial reading skills. It's making sure I cover all the reading, composition, literature, and subject-specific language that has me overwhelmed when trying to plan on my own.

    If you can help, I'd appreciate it!

    (I realize there are people who believe a full curriculum isn't needed at this age. Please understand that we have spent time with their teachers to determine that it is. Suggestions to just read a lot and that sort of thing would not be helpful.)

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  3. #2


    Hi Heather,

    Im not sure exactly what youre looking for. Your kids are fluent English speakers, so you want a language arts program that teaches them “the other stuff”?
    1) Manageable as addition to school time. No matter what curriculum you pick, at this age, your kids attention spans probably arent more than 15-20 minutes per topic per session. Probably not too hard to tuck into their routines.

    2) Comprehensive. Language Arts for 4-6 year olds is almost exclusively focused on learning to read, learning to write, and enjoying stories. Not until after they have functional literacy does work begin on spelling and formal grammar. (Per All About Reading / All About Spelling.)

    3) Credit / progress tracking. Ummm, you could make a sticker chart for any program, if it sparks joy for your family. (Many programs come with sticker charts geared for the littles.)

    You might want to investigate Handwriting Without Tears (now branded as Learning Without Tears) for the writing aspect. The workbooks are inexpensive, and the letter style is better than the ball-and-stick method taught in grocery-store variety workbooks.

    For reading (phonics), there is a homeschooling joke: “What is the best program for teaching reading? The eighth one you try!” One factor you may want to consider is whether to have one that involves writing, or one thats more visual.
    Whatever program you find, you will probably want one that teaches with the Orton-Gillingham method.
    This site explains a little about it, and lists 2 reading programs, (All About Reading is secular). What is the Orton-Gillingham Approach to Teaching Reading? | Homeschooling with Dyslexia
    (The article addresses dyslexia, but OG is solid regardless, and your littles probably will do better with not trying to learn 4 writing systems (hiragana, katakana, kanji, and the crazy English) all at once.
    I would recommend one that allows reading without writing. Find one that looks appealing, and isnt very expensive. (I cant think of any awesome curriculums that are expensive.) You may find success looking at computer apps, since they inherently dont require writing. Teach Your Monster To Read was a free app that I remember my little one enjoying, although Im not sure how much it helped, at the end of the day.

    If youre looking for something to make you feel better about all-around language arts, Critical Thinking Company makes “Language Smarts” workbooks you might enjoy.
    The price is a little steep, my caveat about inexpensive applies! But these are generally better than other products Ive seen, and address all the possible aspects of language arts. You will have to make your own sticker chart!

    Sorry if this doesnt address your needs or help!
    Homeschooling DS13, DS6.


    My spelling was fine, then my brain left me.

  4. #3


    I think because what you want is quite different to what most people here have used and we might not fully understand what it is you want from a curriculum, then you will be best looking at a bunch of different curricula and seeing if it fits what you are after.

    So to add to AMS list, the ones I know of that include reading and language arts for the early grades (but some start later than the ages of your kids) are:
    Bravewriter The Wand and Jot it Down
    Moving Beyond the Page language arts packages (but these only start at age 7–9)
    Michael Clay Thompson (Grammar Island etc., recommended to start at age 8+)

    My DD6 uses Handwriting Without Tears Printing Power and Building Writers C, and Draw Write Now. However, they are just really writing, copy work, and letter formation practice, and I am not sure if that is what you are after.

    From the sounds of it, our approach would be too loosey-goosey for you, but for if it helps to hear how others do it, my DD6's language arts is:
    –Good literature (we just pick stuff out from the library or I get stuff off various lists online). She reads to herself, she reads to us, we read to her, she listens to audiobooks, we discuss and discuss and discuss her reading and ask lots of questions.
    –Lots of talking about language and word play. I am an editor so am probably overly onto to correcting things in spoken and written language that we encounter but both my kids, including DD6, enjoy finding errors in written language now. I tell them they are great little editors and they think it is a fun game, all the while practicing grammar and spelling.
    –Copy work
    –Draw Write Now
    –Handwriting Without Tears Printing Power and Building Writers C
    –Narration cards for ages 6–8 from Build Your Library,
    –Free writing (free composition of anything she wants that is not judged at all for spelling, letter formation, neatness, form, length or anything)
    –Jot it Down writing projects from Bravewriter
    –Poetry teatimes (reading poetry with tea and treats; its a Bravewriter thing)
    ...and more that I cannot remember now. So its a giant mish mash of things and what is done each day is mainly guided by what DD6 wants to do, with a little guidance from me if I feel some areas are getting neglected. On the face of it, I would probably describe it as lots of good reading with a bit of this and that, but you can see that it is a lot more than just reading. So maybe the whole "just reading" thing might be more than you imagine it to be.

    For what its worth, I have an older daughter who is now 11 who went through 3 years of regular public school language arts (ages 5–8), which it sounds like you are somewhat trying to emulate, and it made her detest writing. She had huge anxiety, hated it, and it greatly stifled her creativity. I started homeschooling her at age 8. It took almost as many years to get her over it but she will happily write of her own choice now (diary, pen pal etc.).

    Academically, she just had a cognitive and educational assessment by a psych, so I can say that her reading comprehension, oral fluency, and word reading are 99th percentile for her age. Her spelling is 95th percentile. Her sentence composition is 99.5th percentile, and her essay composition is 55th percentile. [edited to add: she is academically "gifted" at 98the percentile for her IQ on the cognitive side of things, so these results are not to say that I homeschooled her to that, but that our approach to homeschooling her for language arts has not affected how able she is to perform to her abilities. Her results from a similar test when she was age 7 and in school, she was slightly underperforming for her abilities].

    Her essay composition score is average for her age, so she is still achieving as expected, but it is brought down by the fact she has a slow processing speed and the essay had a time limit (10 min), which reduces her ability. We have also only just started working on essays this year after our rebuilding her love of written language after public school decimated it. So think she did pretty darn well for only having a few weeks of learning how to write an essay.

    For the three years that I have been homeschooling DD11, I have done exactly as I do for DD6. Slowly moving onto to products from the same places for older grades, and this year adding in some workbooks from The Critical Thinking Company (one about writing practice and an editing one). So it is an approach that has worked for us.

    I hope you find something that fits for your situation.
    Last edited by NZ_Mama; 03-27-2020 at 04:49 AM.
    New Zealand-based freelance science copyeditor. Homeschooling DD 11 (year 7) and DD 6 (year 2).

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English curriculum when living abroad?