I have tossed back and forwards on teaching my kids grammar. I went to an ACE school and grammar was a very big part of our English lessons but they were sooooo boring and I wonder if I really use what I learnt. How much is taught from extensive lessons and how much is taught by using it? This is the question I have pondered over my homeschooling years.
In the end I’ve chosen the “learn it as you need it” model. My older two kids wrote a lot and spoke a lot and I felt they were doing okay. My younger two don’t write as much and each of them have had different difficulties. Naomi’s have been mostly fixed by correcting her speaking and Daniel’s issues are connected with his learning difficulty so I’m putting them in a different category.
One of the things that my kids have wanted to know (and they have felt bad, or inferior, for not knowing) is what is a noun, verb, adjective, adverb. Now I have told them, over and over, but it could never stick! So I wonder if that is the purpose of those very boring lessons? Maybe!
This year I decided to do a crash course in grammar and was delighted to find these fun little books – Words are Categorical. These books are silly little stories that explain our language by using our language. Very clever.
A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink – What is a Noun? Listen to the first few pages: Hill is a noun. Mill is a noun. Even Uncle Phil is a noun. Gown is a noun. Crown is a noun. In fact, our whole hometown is a noun.
And it goes on. A few pages later it says: Nouns can sometimes be quite proper, like Brooklyn Bridge, or Edward Hopper, London, Levis, Pekinese – Proper nouns name all of these.
Several pages later it wraps it up by saying: If it’s a person, place or thing – your dad, Detroit, a diamond ring, if it’s a boat or coat or clown, it’s simple, Simon, it’s a noun!
My kids loved these – though sometimes they did really have to think in order to understand what they silly story was really saying. If you like Dr Seuss you’ll like these books! They cover topics such as: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverts, conjunctions, homonyms, homophones, pronouns, synonyms and antonyms, similes and metaphors, and prepositions.
So where do I stand with grammar now? I still think the same – learn it as you use it. But as always we need to be flexible and find resources that help where our children have struggles. I also think it has been fairly easy and painless to do formal lessons at a later age – especially when there is a context and need that the kids themselves can connect with instead of doing it when they are young where it becomes an extra worksheet to get through. (That being said, I still haven’t been able to put them through the strenuous exercises of labelling and diagramming – for better or worse!)
I can never know if I’m comfortable teaching grammar and language arts this way because of what I learnt in those boring lessons, or because I read and write. So I thought I’d mention a few other tools that I use as well.
- The spell/grammar check on Microsoft Word. My kids type most of their work and I encourage them to use the spell/grammar check. When they notice a red or green squiggly line under their work they stop and think and change it if they can. If they don’t know how to change it they ‘right click’ and see the options. I have found that if they have an issue with a particular aspect of our language this will come up often enough that they will start to be taught by seeing the right choices. To be honest, my own writing has improved by this method.
- The Write Source books have a reference section in each book that makes it easy to brush up on grammar, or use it as a check point for either the kids when they are writing or for me as I edit their work.
- Worksheets – As a follow up to the Words are Categorical books I am using a workbook activity. This is very brief, one page activity per subject, but it gives them an opportunity to do something immediately with the information we’ve talked about.
Lately I’ve found the following infographics which we’ll use next term to be aware of our word choices.
I think it is important that we teach our kids to communicate well, both in the written and verbal forms. But there is more to communication than just grammar – but grammar is certainly a part of it. Like many things we are teaching our kids, there is more than one way to do it. When we choose a curriculum or resource or method, we need to know our objective and check to see that we are making progress.