We began Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts (MCT)materials about a year ago, starting with the first level of vocabulary (Building Language) and the second level of grammar (Grammar Town), vocabulary (Caesar’s English I) and writing (Paragraph Town). I considered the semester a trial run on a program I’d heard rave reviews about in the gifted homeschooling community. Last fall, my younger started the first level while my older began the third. They enjoy the books, I like to teach from them, and we’re all learning.
Prior to the MCT series, my older and I tried many other combinations of grammar, vocabulary, and writing instruction, none we stuck with for more than a year (and many for much less). After a few months with MCT, we were hooked.
For those unfamiliar with the materials, I’ll run over some basics, at least for the first three levels. Each level contains four strands: grammar, vocabulary, composition, and poetics. While the grammar could stand alone, the other three rely on the terminology and skills taught in the grammar book. To a lesser extent, vocabulary walks with the composition books, but they’re not as tightly linked. Literature isn’t formally included, although numerous references to classical literature fill the strands, familiarizing the learner with the names of authors, great works, and well-crafted sentences. (For guiding literature choices and discussion, Thompson’s book Classics in the Classroom offers support but not specific assignments.)
Some parents find the transition to MCT difficult. It’s not a traditional curriculum in either form or function. A practice sentence analysis book at each level in the only workbook. The lessons are meant to be discussed, and this where understanding grows. Simply put, this isn’t an independent do-a-page-a-day curriculum, at least not when executed as planned by the author. Therefore, it may be more time-consuming than traditional curriculum, and that’s been true for us. However, it reaches deeper than any language arts program I’ve used before, and my boys appreciate that difference as much as I do. I’ve heard of families handing the books to their children to do alone, but I can’t picture that being either as effective or enjoyable as discussion the materials together.
So how does it work? Grammar instruction only occurs for the first few months of the year, with regular practice sentences to analyze mixed into the vocabulary and composition books and in the “Practice” book for each level. Composition, vocabulary, and poetics begin after the grammar is complete. This gives the learner firm foundation in the workings of our language to use for understanding the new words and ideas in those three volumes. Different that other programs? Certainly. But it works. For more information on scheduling the books, refer to the Elementary Curriculum Guide. A yahoo group, visited regularly by the Thompson and some Royal Fireworks Press staff, serves as a forum for questions about the books, errata, concerns about choosing a level, and general support. Your feedback is appreciated by the RFP folks, and Thompson answers many questions himself.
These unique books break from traditional language arts materials in many ways. They’re deeper and more challenging yet highly accessible for the elementary-aged child. They incorporate the classics across the series, making authors from the last several hundred years familiar names to young learners. Studied with a parent or other mentor, they provide discussion points around words, grammar, poetry, and writing. Our family is hooked, and I’ll share more particulars about the first three levels in a future post.