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Learning Language Arts Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

Learning Language Art Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

"Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there in every child's mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education." ~Charlotte Mason

A few months into the year, when I watched my fifth grader floundering, going through the motions during language arts time with glossed-over eyes, I knew it was time for something else. I knew we needed a change. The program we were using was good. It just wasn't good for him. As a traditional textbook approach to grammar and writing, it was lacking both the spark to keep him interested and the gentle, immersion of language and language skills found only in real books.

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He could do each day's worksheet with ease, checking all the boxes and underlining all the right words. But he struggled with real-life, everyday writing. He just couldn't seem to transfer the grammar, mechanics, and sentence structure that he was learning in his book to the blank page of real writing.

He was frustrated.
I was frustrated.

And if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that learning and tears never mix well.

By mid-October, I was at quite an impasse and knew I had a decision to make. I could have him continue with the current program -- plodding along with one begrudging step after another, OR I could count the textbook-style curriculum as a loss and find something that would meet his needs. I chose the latter.

As in the past when I've needed a little gentle guidance, I looked to Charlotte Mason, the avant-garde, 20th-century educator who believed learning was a lifestyle that should be infused naturally, wholly, and gently.

She believed that children learn language skills best with daily exposure to quality literature and a relaxed introduction to grammar, integrating vocabulary, narration, copywork, and composition into all other subjects.

Quality literature
This was her power-packed triad for language arts.

With these three in mind, I went looking for a program to help my son. Now, in truth, I didn't necessarily need a "program." With a wonderful home library at my disposal, I could, in theory, just use any and all of these to teach the basics of grammar, mechanics, and sentence structure, just like Miss Mason did so many years ago. But, as a momma of five with many plates to spin every day, I value my time too much to invent the wheel. I knew that a good "program," while not necessary, was a luxury worth my investment.

Learning Language Art Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

At the urging of a friend who knew of my son's struggles, I purchased Learning Language Arts Through Literature, The Purple Book (designed for fifth grade).

Since boldly making the big curriculum switch many months ago, my son and I have slowly been working our way through grammar with the help of quality books, famous speeches, well-known poems, and stories. 

And we're hooked.

Learning Language Art Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

Learning Language Arts Through Literature (LLATL)

Following Charlotte Mason's tenets of education, the program uses an integrated approach to cover the following subject areas:
  • grammar
  • reading
  • spelling
  • vocabulary
  • composition
  • research
  • study skills
  • reasoning
Each book is divided into units. While each unit contains elements of almost all of the subject areas, they each focus primarily on two to three. 

The three main units that get rotated throughout the book are as follows:

Book Study

While all of the daily lessons of the Purple Book feature excerpts from real literature, famous speeches, or noteworthy writings, four units are specifically focused on entire books. Students are encouraged to read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Meet Addy by Connie Porter, and Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink. Each book study unit includes vocabulary words, discussion questions, and other reading-related activities.

Learning Language Art Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

Everyday Words

Grammar, mechanics, and spelling are taught primarily through copywork, dictation, and a handful of practical exercises. In the purple book, students analyze and dissect passages from the following:
Each Everyday Words section of the workbook lasts for a few weeks and is divided into several lessons. Each lesson focuses on one particular section of the book or poem being analyzed and is designed to be completed over one week.  

A typical week's lesson begins with the introduction of a short literature passage. A student is encouraged to read it to himself, briefly discuss any unknown words with his teacher, and then listen as his teacher dictates a few sentences of the passage out loud for him to copy word-for-word. 

In true dictation fashion, after he writes the excerpt, he checks his work against the original, looking for mistakes in spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. He corrects his mistakes and gently learns the skills of self-editing. 

Misspelled words are recorded for further practice throughout the week.

In the following days, the passage is dissected, and the student learns specific grammar, mechanics, and writing basics found in those particular paragraphs. At the end of the week, the passage is dictated and copied again, and the student sees his improvement from the first dictation of that week to the last.

For instance, in Lesson 12 of the Purple Book, students are asked to analyze the following excerpt from The Trumpet of the Swan

Learning Language Art Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

These paragraphs show examples of homonyms and their dictionary definitions, dialogue and appropriate use of quotation marks, comparative and superlative adjectives, interjections, and prefixes. So, each day's section of Lesson 12 focuses on one of these topics.

In this way, grammar basics are taught as needed and therefore take on a more relevant role in a child's education, unlike most traditional grammar programs, which teach principles in a random, somewhat arbitrary fashion. 

A one-to-two-page review section is included after each Everyday Words unit so that students can review all of the skills they have learned throughout the unit.

Learning Language Art Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

Oral Presentations, Research, and Writing Skills

Several practical units are dispersed throughout the book which each focus on one of three skills -- oral presentation, research, or writing. Each process is broken down into smaller chunks throughout the week. A student works on one small portion each day, and by the end of the week, he finds that he has written or recited an entire speech, poem, report, letter, etc.

Additional Activities

In addition to the three main types of units, the Purple Book also contains assessments that are sporadically placed throughout the units and are designed to give the teacher a better understanding of the student's progress. They are not tests. But like tests, they clearly show struggles and strengths.

Short enrichment activities are also included at the end of some lessons. These are optional critical thinking and reasoning sections that include higher-level word puzzles to develop analytical skills.

Learning Language Art Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

What I like about LLATL

It begins and ends with great literature.

The very backbone of my entire homeschool has always been quality literature. I recognize that a reading-rich life enhances all areas of academics. Really well-chosen books not only nourish the mind, but they can also help shape the soul. In regards to teaching language arts, there is nothing that will drive a child to write better quite like good writing.

Sadly, so many language programs are centered around twaddly, basal readers and the contrived, non-sensical writing examples from make-believe children. But, if I aim to foster good writing...to build exemplary writing skills in my children, why would I want to use a shoddy blueprint? Why would I want to have the writing sample of one make-believe fifth grader be the writing standard for my fifth grader? Basal readers and textbook writing samples are boring, uninspiring, and mediocre at best.

LLATL, on the other hand, recognizes that for a child to learn to produce GOOD writing, he has to first be introduced to GOOD writing. He has to study it, copy it, and model his own writing after it. The entire program begins and ends with wonderful literature.

It's an open-n-go program.

A student book, a teacher's manual, and a library card -- that's all you need to complete LLATL. There are no tests or additional manipulatives to purchase. You won't need to carve out any extra time for teacher prep. You don't even need to read a bunch of "front matter" to be able to figure out how to use the program. It is designed to be an open-n-go resource -- a Charlotte Mason-for-the-busy-momma language course. 

I have seen marked improvement.

I took the leap so many months ago and switched programs because what I was using wasn't working. My son's language progress had plateaued. Since starting LLATL, I have seen so much improvement in his sentence structure, his use of basic mechanics, and, most importantly, his ability to self-edit as he writes. He is finally understanding the value of proper grammar and structure outside of "language class."

Learning Language Art Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

How I've tweaked LLATL to fit our homeschool

I save room for delight-directed reading.

There are four book units in the Purple Book, each designed to be completed in a week. However, because my son has a mild neurological condition that sometimes inhibits his ability to read very quickly, he needs more time to complete these units. In addition, while I think that all of the books selected are exemplary and well-worth reading, I value delight-directed book selection -- the kind that is driven by my child's own natural interests, spiritual or academic needs, or growing curiosities. I find that books vetted with a child's delights in mind are enjoyed so much more. So, while my son has done one entire book study and is soon to start the second one, he will not be assigned the third or fourth. I've used these book units as the flourish of his reading time, not the foundation of it.  

I incorporate the spelling words into our current spelling program. 

Like all of my other children, my son's spelling has really improved and blossomed while using an Orton-Gilligham-based program. When I introduced LLATL to my eclectic homeschool day, I did so knowing that I'd have to find a way to weave the LLATL spelling words into our current spelling plan. In other words, I'd have to find a way to do both (without losing my mind!).

To my great surprise, it was an easy-peasy transition! Following the instructions in the Purple Book, each week, my son selects up to six words that he misspelled during the first round of copy work. He writes these down in his workbook. But instead of encouraging him to rewrite these each day in his LLATL book like the program suggests, I jot them down in my homeschool planner at the beginning of the week and use them as "real-world" words in our spelling sessions each day.  

I slow down, speed up, and skip as needed.

One of my most favorite parts of homeschooling is creating a tailor-made education for each of my kids. Unlike a traditional classroom teacher who only has a student for one year and doesn't have the full scope of what he has or has not mastered before that particular year, I can see the complete picture. I know what my son has learned, what he struggles with, and what he excels at. With that in mind, I see no need to belabor academic points or beat dead horses. I can slow down, speed up, or skip material as needed.

Because I knew that my son had a very in-depth look at Tall Tales last year in his previous grammar program, I chose to fly quickly through the Tall Tale grammar portion of the Purple Book and skip the Tall Tale writing portion altogether.

Since I'd rather use the "extra" of our days for project-based learning, I usually skip the enrichment sections entirely. It's not that these sections are a waste of time or unnecessary. It's just that he already gets wonderful lessons in reasoning and analysis in other parts of our homeschool. So, for him, those sections are a bit redundant.

Learning Language Arts Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education


Before purchasing Learning Language Arts Through Literature, you should probably know the following about the Charlotte Mason approach and about the program in general:

The Charlotte Mason approach to learning is about endurance. It's about slow and steady progress through gentle modeling. It focuses on quality, not quantity, and recognizes that education is about nurturing the whole child, not about checking a box or passing a test. It is about creating an atmosphere of learning by spreading a feast of rich language before your child and allowing him to absorb it all at his own speed. With that in mind, the CM method of learning is not a quick fix. You won't always see immediate, earth-shattering results. But over time and with consistency, you will create a lifetime of deep learning. 

If you have used a traditional/textbook-style language program in the past, the LLATL teacher's manual might take some getting used to. Unlike other teacher's manuals that replicate the student's page completely and insert correct answers into the blanks, the LLATL manual abbreviates the student page a bit and places the correct answers in the margin of the text. The format is neither good nor bad; it's just different.

Learning Language Arts Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

Learning Language Arts Through Literature has really bolstered my son's overall attitude towards language arts because it has given sterile topics like subject-verb agreement and prepositions relevance in his life. We have had so many lovely conversations about books while going through the program and have both come to see language time as "us time" each day. He's always enjoyed creating stories. Now, he's finally enjoying writing them down. 

Learning Language Arts Through Literature: An Open-n-Go Charlotte Mason Education

For more information about LLATL, head to Common Sense Press and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

Use promo code unlikelyhomeschool at checkout to snag 15% off your entire Common Sense Press order.

More thoughts on a Charlotte Mason Education

5 Days of Notebooking: A Notebooking Primer
Charlotte Mason Education Pinterest Board

*I was given a complete set of Learning Language Arts Through Literature in exchange for a thorough review. All opinions expressed were true and completely my own. I am not responsible if your experiences vary.


  1. Thanks for this review. I'm with you--I could homeschool for free if I had unlimited time, but with a dozen darlings to watch over, I need open-and-go ease. :) This has given me some good information to ponder.

    1. Glad to know I'm not the only one who feels this way!

  2. Hi Jamie, I have been following you since my husband and I decided to home school our youngest last fall. We love the English 3 you have suggested in the past, but from this particular blog, I can see why you are excited. I have a question. Our daughter is finishing up English 3 Grammar and writing. We really enjoyed it. However, Jael (our daughter) only liked writing the "Poem & story" portion of the curriculum. Would you suggest we keep going with English 4 or switch to LLATL this fall? Your thoughts are appreciated, thanks!

    1. I suppose it depends upon your daughter. I think they are both really good programs. If she is doing well with English 3, then I see no reason to switch. That being said, I plan to switch all of my kids over to LLATL next year because I'm not a huge fan of the BJU highschool grammar. Since my daughter will be starting 9th grade, she will need something else for language arts. For sanity's sake, I don't really want two of my kids in one program and two in the other. However, should I get into the new year and find that LLATL isn't a good match for one or both of my two middle sons, I won't have any problems going back to BJU English.

    2. Hmm...You may be right about sticking with BJU because it's a good fit, and I only have one student! I think I may wait another year to see what your thoughts are having another year under your belt. Thanks for getting back.

  3. Love your review. I also like how you adapted the spelling, great idea for us to incorporate next year. We started using LLATL this year and the kids love it. One of the things that they really like about this curriculum was that they could actually see how the grammar was being used in the literature versus random sentences. It makes more sense to them and is easier to understand. Thanks again.

    1. Yes, my thoughts exactly. Grammar makes more sentence when you look at it through the context of paragraphs, not just random, unrelated sentences.

    2. Sounds good,I just have one concern about how to cover different stiles of writing such as opinion or expository ? Thanks

  4. I've used LLATL for all my kids, from 2nd grade to high school. I love how easy it is to use and it's gentle, "no tears" approach. When newbie homeschoolers ask me what I use for LA, I have no hesitation recommending this program. Thank you for your review!

  5. I always trust your opinions on curriculum. I've used All About Reading with my oldest (she is 8) and we are currently in Level 3. However, I feel I need a "deeper" curriculum now that she is not sounding out words and is an avid reader. I think LLATL might be a good fit for us. She is the oldest of 4 children, so I really need open-and-go curriculum that gets the job done without fluff and a ton of prep before I can even sit down to teach a lesson! Thank you so much for this review. It is very helpful in helping me make this decision on what I should do for my daughter.

    1. I've not used AAR, so it is difficult to make a comparison. I do think that LLATL is a great resource. It's not over-rigorous like some popular homeschool language programs. But, it gives a great foundation.

    2. I know this is an old post but I have a question: I'm currently homeschooling one kindergartner and I've been leaning towards doing a charlotte mason language arts. But I have three more littles I'll eventually be homeschooling also. Do you think it would work to do a complete CM language. Reading, narration and copywork. And then switch to a program such as this when he hits grade 4. (If I start feeling like it's too much work inventing the wheel with four kids)

      Or would it be hard for a kids that's never done workbook style language to jump into a program like this?

      Thanks so much for your blog. It's really helped me as I am starting to figure out how I want to homeschool my kids. I do many of our subjects the same as you. This is one I just can't make up my mind on though.

    3. I don't think it would be difficult at all. I have my youngest kids give most of their answers to me orally, so there's no worksheet feel to it at all. It is as close to Charlotte Mason as I've ever found in any pre-fabbed curriculum.

  6. Excited to see that there is now a 3rd edition!

  7. I don't know if you read comments on old posts but figured I would try! We have been looking into LLATL for next year for my 6th grader. I have read some complaints that it seems to jump around a lot. I see that you have actually used the curriculum for multiple years and was wondering if you feel like the content is well organized.

    1. Like any Charlotte Mason type program, it does jump around because it teaches grammar in context and not through a scope-and-sequence like a traditional textbook curriculum would. That's actually why I love it for the elementary and middle school years. There is plenty of time to switch to a more rigorous program in high school.

    2. Thank you for replying. This is true there is plenty of time for that! We have used a more formal grammar program and it is just not enjoyable. I think we will give this a try. Thank you for your thorough review and helpful response.

  8. If I remember right you homeschool 4 days a week, is that correct? I really want to use this program next year but we only do formal schooling 4 days a week. How did you get this to fit into one school year? Thank you!

    1. We do it 4-days-a-week and get as far as we get by the end of the year. Like all spiral review curriculums, this one reviews all previously learned material throughout the year. So, should we not complete the book, I know that we'll hit those missed topics next year. (FYI...I've only completed a book three times in the 20+ years I've taught both in and out of the curriculum because curriculums were not designed to be completed. I worked for the largest homeschool curriculum company in the country for four years and know the statistics and reasoning behind this.)

    2. Thank you for getting back to me so quickly!