Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Review of First Language Lessons Level 1

Rose and I have been using First Language Lessons Level 1 for a few weeks now, so I thought I might do a little review of it.

First of all, we don't have the exact copy of the book that I am linking to, we have the first edition, where levels 1 & 2 were combined in one book. So keep that in mind. I am not sure exactly how the new version differs from the older one, but I imagine that the overall feel and content of the program are the same. This is my fourth time using FLL! Our copy is getting a bit dog-eared...

FLL 1 is a very gentle introduction to grammar. Very little writing is required from the child, which makes it perfect for a first-grader who is ready for the concepts and ready to work on some narration and memorization skills, but isn't quite ready to do a lot of writing. The child is sometimes asked to copy short things, like their address or name, but I will sometimes skip that part if I think Rose has already had enough handwriting for the day.

Most of the program is done orally and we usually do it on the couch before we do our read-alouds for the day.  Rose and I are on about lesson 30 of the 100 lessons, and so far she has memorized two poems, learned her address, done some story narrations, learned what common and proper nouns are and how to give examples of each, reviewed the proper full names of all of her relatives, and figured out what exactly an uncle/aunt/cousin is. She has also done a couple of picture narrations, which I will talk about in a bit.

Obviously, you do not need a scripted program to teach your child all of these things, but I enjoy having one just so I have less to think about and plan for. I also find that a lot of things that I would think would be obvious to her- like that her uncles are my brothers- are actually things she finds confusing and has benefited from going over.  When I say this program is "scripted",  I mean that the program tells you exactly what to say to the child and that it also tells you what sort of answer to expect back from them. I do not usually read the script word for word, but I find it helpful to fall back on when I don't know exactly how to explain something. Or when I am tired, which is pretty much always!

So some things that FLL focuses on....

Grammar: Obviously there is grammar in this book! But it is very gentle, with lots of repetition built in. There are about 46 lessons that mention common and proper nouns before pronouns are introduced.  That sounds kind of excessive, but it doesn't feel that way when you are doing it. One day we talked about nouns that are things and looked around the room naming some "things", another day we talked about places and brainstormed some common and proper nouns for places: "store" and "Target", for example. And another day, when we talked about proper nouns, she got to try to remember the full names of all of her cousins. One thing we do feel like we are constantly doing lately is reviewing the definition of a noun. I am sure that she can say: "A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea" in her sleep. But you know what? I find it kind of funny to hear a six-year-old spouting off stuff like that. She does, too. My older kids know the definitions of all of the parts of speech by heart and it is definitely due to FLL!  So yes, there is a lot of repetition, but it is not mind-numbing, at least to us.  Later on in this level, we are going to be learning about pronouns, action verbs, abbreviations, capitalization, initials, titles of respect, and the four kinds of sentences.

Poem Memorization: Every few lessons we are asked to memorize a poem. The poem is included in the book and we read it several times the first day. On subsequent days there is a little reminder at the top of new lessons to review the poem we are working on and/or to review some of the older ones we have already learned. The poems are the perfect length for this age, and Rose has been very happy to learn them.

Story Narration: Sometimes, instead of a grammar lesson, we are given a story narration to do. We read a short story together from the book, something like "The Tortoise and the Hare". Then, there are some questions in the book that I can ask her to help her summarize the story. Finally, she narrates the story to me while I write it down. The idea is to help the child condense the story into just 3-4 sentences, though I will often let Rose's go longer because she loves detail so much. 

Picture Narration: Picture narrations include a black and white picture with accompanying scripted text to help you discuss the picture with your child.  These are often used to reinforce a grammar lesson. Recently, we were given a picture of a family baking cookies and we were asked to guess what each person's proper name might be. The picture narrations are short and fun and a nice break from the grammar.

Copywork: We have not quite reached the lessons where copywork is included as part of the lesson, but when we do, I suspect we will skip that portion of the lesson because we are also using Writing with Ease.

Optional Enrichment: Many of the lessons include a short "optional enrichment" activity for children who are ready to write more. These include thing like having the child decorate a copy of a poem they learned or having them do a short copy-work exercise, perhaps writing a sibling's full name or a short letter to a friend. We skip most of these.

Other Things of Note: Very few materials are needed to complete this program. If you have the book, some paper, and a pencil you are mostly good to go. Some of the enrichment activities call for basic art supplies.  It looks like you can't see a sample of FLL on Amazon, but there is a sample on the Peace Hill Press website. Rose and I do three lessons per week, usually on three separate days, though I sometimes double up if a lesson is very short. Lessons usually take no more than 5-10 minutes.

After all of this,  I will say that I don't think grammar is really needed at this age at all.  Everything introduced in FLL 1 is covered again in the later levels, and waiting a few years will not cause harm, at least in my opinion! I never finished FLL 1 with James, for reasons I can't even remember, and he has done no formal grammar since. So he is really getting grammar pretty much for the first time this year, with First Language Lessons Level 4. He is doing just fine with it and I will review that level at a later date.

Since Rose is enjoying this program so much, I do plan to continue it with her. I do think there is a lot of benefit in the "other" parts of the program (narrations, poetry, learning your address etc..) and would continue the program just for that.

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