Thanks to Bonnie Way of the Koala Mom and Cascia Books, I was given the opportunity to review a Catholic language arts curriculum that is definitely worth a look. I received Lighted Lanterns: A Catholic Language Arts Program in Pre-Level as well as Level B. I also received the Companion Reader for Level B, The Handwriting Practice Book 1 and the Cursive Handwriting Practice Book 1 (Virtues) to use with my children in exchange for this review.
What is Lighted Lanterns?
The Lighted Lanterns series of books was produced by two moms. With the business of raising their own large families, they yearned for a curriculum that would not only help them teach their children to become strong writers, but more importantly, help fulfill their most important role as educators to their children by educating them for eternity. The women believe that an education is not a true education if it does not have for its end Eternal Life. They teamed up to produce Catholic language arts curriculum that they felt satisfied their needs and published it so that other families could benefit from the fruits of their labour as well.
This curriculum, published under the name Cascia Books, is beautifully named when you realize St. Cascia is the patron saint of impossible tasks. These two moms felt they were in an impossible situation, where they weren’t able to spend the proper focus on their children’s school studies and religious studies along with all the other needs of their families. In spite of having never spoken with these women, or meeting them, I have to say, I like them already. It seems homeschooling parents understand each other as we share such similar experiences. I have always found this community, as diverse as it is and spanning across the globe, is always ready to encourage and share.
The Mid-year Slump
One shared sentiment that seems very common among homeschoolers is the mid-year slump.
Midway through the homeschool year, it seems many parents are wondering if they made the right curriculum choice. Ultimately, this sounds like it is so common mainly because parents get worn down and kids get tired at this point in the year, and usually a change of curriculum is not necessary. Choosing well in the beginning of the year is important, but ultimately I think this fatigue mid-year is usually not a reflection of choosing the wrong curriculum, but simple fatigue.
That is what happened to me last year. I was searching the internet for other options, when I stumbled upon Cascia Books. I had never heard of this Catholic language arts curriculum before and am glad I did that search. We didn’t swap over but explored it and made plans to use it for future years. This curriculum seems to be a really good choice to fulfill the advice to keep it simple. You can always add on, but if your meat and potatoes is overwhelming, you won’t have the time to enjoy each other’s company or explore together.
Time and time again, homeschooling advice for large families is given as keep it simple. You can always add more if you find you have more time, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get through a ton of busy work. It makes sense that Lighted Lanterns is written to tackle grammar, literature and spelling in one book. I say this because the authors are both busy homeschool moms of larger families.
These two moms came together to tackle a shared challenge. They came up with a Catholic language arts curriculum that would keep their schooling efforts on track, and allow them peace of mind, knowing they were covering all the important things that needed to be learned and not sacrificing the leisure time needed to allow their children to thrive. There is so much learning that happens outside of a workbook and so much to miss out on in family life when book work takes longer than it needs to.
These diligent women worked together to create their own solution, which they hope will bless you and your family as well.
If I haven’t stressed it enough, I love where this series came from: moms coming together to solve a problem for their families, and then deciding to share their solution as a sort of ministry. In this ministry, they are emphasizing and encouraging parents to fulfill their most important duty to their children of educating them for eternity. The texts chosen help teach the Catholic faith through quotes from saints, preachers, biblical passages and biblical facts.
The Natural Method
The Lighted Lanterns series uses what is described as a Natural Method. This is a return to a style that was abandoned for practical reasons when schools became larger and workbooks filled the school setting. It has become popular again with the revival of home education.
Rather than a workbook for this, and a workbook for that, everything (with the exception of handwriting and companion readers) is covered in one text. Beginning in Level A (approximately grade 2), there are writing selections used for copy work, lesson suggestions, spelling lists, poetry, quotes and interesting facts, dictation, editing practice, character and faith-building stories, and places for narration.
In these texts, students learn by copying a selection and striving to remember the mechanics for a perfect copy of the original text in their dictation sections. During the Narration portions, they try to produce work of their own. Having just studied a quality text, naturally their own narration is more complex and thorough because they have good examples fresh in their mind.
This method challenges the student to grasp concepts about capitalization, spelling, and other grammatical and mechanics in order to reproduce them in the dictation portions, and then to author compositions of their own focusing own developing the text and the details and flow of the story. Each lesson in Level B includes both a dictation and a narration to make sure both aspects of writing are being developed, but not in a way that is overwhelming. Research is supportive of this method offering a stronger understanding and more capable writers later on.
This method allows student to see them, copy them, strive to remember them in order to write a dictation accurately, and then begin to produce their own work that shares similar framework. It seems to me to be a bit like riding a bike with training wheels. By doing so, the student gains confidence and the ability to recognize good work. They copy good work, they dictate their own stories, which comes naturally (every parent of a young child can attest to this). Capturing those creative thoughts as they come out helps a child to build confidence in their abilities. They may be natural storytellers early on, but lose confidence when faced with the task of writing.
When narration is practiced, students don’t skip details or cut corners to save having to write it. When it is their turn to write later on, they know how to go about it, as they have focused on composing and not just the onerous task of writing it down. They have gained experience specifically on composing the text and not only the mechanics. Like riding a bike with training wheels, it is a step in the whole pattern, but unlike fill-in-the-blank exercises, allows them to feel the wind in their face while they ride along, even if they are not yet able to balance a two wheeled bike alone.
In Pre-Level, the dictation is swapped out for copy work on words like scapular and rosary, obey, image. This exposure even in small ways to these items or ideas of the Catholic tradition help to make them more part of our children’s lives. With the setup of the texts being right to the point and combining so many things, we have time to have those conversations that come from this exposure. Some may be items they are familiar with, but still open the door for discussion about their meaning, their sacredness and their place in our lives and the Church.
The Handwriting Practice Book 1 is simple and goes through each letter and each number in a few different ways. The program allows time to trace, then to write the letters inside a bubble outline and then the opportunity to write the letters on their own. For the writing portion, there are printing lines just long enough for one letter, separated by spaces to make sure the letters are properly spaced and not 100 side by side, and finally there are lines given to write the letter with proper spacing on their own. Similarly to the other texts, this book also follows the idea of gently growing confidence and moving through different challenges to reach the outcome of a neatly written letter with proper spacing.
Final Thoughts on this Language Arts Curriculum
Overall I am very impressed and happy to have found this Catholic language arts curriculum. It is wonderful in that it fills all the needs of a good language arts program, but also addresses spiritual education needs. So often it can feel like we are trying to fit in Catholic education around everything else, even when it is our top priority and we are doing our best, there just are not enough hours in a day sometimes to fit everything in.
With this program, everything comes together in one sitting for both religious studies and language arts. We create a world where it is normal and natural to be living and learning our faith. It is not reserved for Sundays or at bedtime, but woven into the fabric of our day, while leaving time to engage with our kids.
As an added bonus, even though it is a complete Catholic language arts curriculum that really emphasizes bringing students to a greater level of confidence and competency, there are not many books to organize and keep track of, which in turn contributes to a sense of peace to our homes. This also lends itself to better learning and a smoother homeschool day. Catholic homeschoolers are fortunate to have a few options now to incorporate the faith throughout the lessons.
I am so glad to have been given the opportunity to review this one though, as it does such a great job of combining things into fewer texts. As well the natural method feels like a really good strategy especially for reluctant writers. If all this wasn’t enough, the tests have beautiful colour pictures and beautiful details, images of our faith throughout. These texts will definitely be used in our homeschool.
All the best for your homeschool journey. If you would like more information on the Lighted Lantern, visit their website for samples and information on where to purchase.