24 Jan 2012

A chat about grammar

We find that, while children are tiresome in arguing about trifling things, often for the mere pleasure of employing their reasoning power, a great many of them are averse to those studies which should, we suppose, give free play to a power that is in them, even if they do not strengthen and develop this power. Yet few children take pleasure in Grammar, especially in English Grammar, which depends so little on inflexion...Perhaps we should accept this tacit vote of the majority and cease to put undue pressure upon studies which would be invaluable did the reasoning power of a child wait upon our training, but are on a different footing when we perceive that children come endowed to the full as much with reason as with love; that our business is to provide abundant material upon which this supreme power should work; and that whatever development occurs comes with practice in congenial fields of thought. At the same time we may not let children neglect...(this)...delightful study. The time will come when they will delight in words, the beauty and propriety of words; when they will see that words are consecrated as the vehicle of truth and are not to be carelessly tampered with in statement or mutilated in form; and we must prepare them for these later studies. Perhaps we should postpone parsing, for instance, until a child is accustomed to weigh sentences for their sense, should let them dally with figures of speech before we attempt minute analysis of sentences, and should reduce our grammatical nomenclature to a minimum. The fact is that children do not generalise, they gather particulars with amazing industry, but hold their impressions fluid, as it were; and we may not hurry them to formulate.

Charlotte Mason, Towards A Philosophy Of Education pp151-2
A bit of a waffle about grammar for my friend, Silvia, who asked. Not that she asked about all that I'm going to tell you, but she did ask the question that got me started.

Charlotte Mason is under the impression that children are not too fond of grammar. She acknowledges this in her first book, published in 1886, and reiterates the almost identical thoughts in Toward a Philosophy of Education written almost 40 years later in 1923. Despite that, we are not to leave off the study of grammar until our children want to learn, but rather we are to prepare them for the time that they will delight in the beauty of words and will want the information that a knowledge of grammar will provide.

Perhaps because of this natural reluctance of the child to study words in any great detail, Miss mason recommends commencing grammar around the age of 10 years of age. She also recommends that "it is better that the child should begin with the sentence, and not with the parts of speech; that is, that he should learn a little of what is called analysis of sentences before he learns to parse; should learn to divide simple sentences into the thing we speak of, and what we say about it––'The cat-sits on the hearth'––before he is lost in the fog of person, mood, and part of speech." (Home Education p96)

Ambleside Online recommends introducing formal grammar in AO4, and so, being a compliant child, that's what I did. I always do what I am told. Ahem.

When we began grammar, I was keen to follow Miss Mason's recommendations fairly closely, but at the same time, I hoped to prevent grammar becoming a drudgery as much as I could. I love grammar. It is conceivably possible that my daughter might like it too.

It is perhaps because of this aim of making grammar interesting, that we have used a number of different methods already in the short while we've been studying formal grammar and I thought I'd tell you about some of them. And answer Silvia's question at the same time. Alright with you?

Simply Grammar

I introduced grammar using Karen Andreola's Simply Grammar for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the text is a revised and expanded edition of Charlotte Mason's own text for grammar, First Grammar Lessons Parts I and II. I figured that if Miss Mason wrote it, it was likely to stick rather closely to her methods. Logical, huh?

Secondly, it was recommended on the AO Yahoo group within a couple of months of my finding AO back when my daughter was four. I was still in that feverish, "This is what I need to make my whole life complete" stage that we all go through at the start. Okay, that I went through at the start. I placed my very first in my whole life Amazon book order pretty soon after, and along with a whole heap of how-to-implement-the-Charlotte-Mason-technique-in-your-homeschool-and-otherwise-change-your-life-in-ways-you-could-never-expect type titles, was Simply Grammar. And then it sat on the shelf for another five years until it was the obvious book to use when I needed to actually teach grammar.

When I finally came to look at it, I didn't like it much. Simply Grammar is basically a reformatting of Miss Mason's original books with page sized 19th century pictures added into the exercises. Personally, I dislike it when Charlotte Mason's techniques are Victorianised like this, and neither Jemimah and I liked the 'boring old fashioned pictures' (her words not mine).

Still, that's what I had, so that's what we used initially.

First Grammar Lessons I and II

In the middle of AO4 I was lent copies of the recently reprinted First Grammar Lessons written by Miss Mason herself without any alterations. You can order them here for $10.00 the set, but apparently it is hard to have them shipped anywhere outside the US. The text of these two little books is basically the same as Simply Grammar without the Victoriana - much more our style.

We used Part I in term 2 of AO4 and vastly preferred the layout to Simply Grammar. If we had had to purchase them, I liked their price better as well!

I like the fact that these original books - and the revised Simply Grammar - are written using the precepts that Mason elucidates in the quotes above. Each short lesson uses a number of predominantly oral exercises to cover subjects and predicates, verbs, nouns, adjectives, and so on, in a slow and thorough way that sinks in and makes sense. As a new part of speech is introduced, some important facts to be learned are provided. Jemimah wrote these into a grammar notebook for copywork as she came upon them.

Little Grammar People

By the beginning of AO4 Term 3, Jemimah had covered subjects, predicates, nouns, verbs and adjectives. It was time for a break and some consolidation. In this final term of the year we read through the delightful Australian book, Little Grammar People by Nuri Mass. You can read my review and how we used this book here.

The book is basically the parts of speech explained in a fairy story. We used the book very simply, reading a chapter covering one of the parts of speech each week. After Jemimah narrated, she thought of examples of each of the different types she'd been learning about, for example personal, demonstrative, relative and interrogative pronouns or common, proper, collective and abstract nouns. Before each week's lesson we review the one before. I was particularly impressed with what she retained from this book.

Unfortunately, Little Grammar People is almost impossible to obtain at a reasonable price. If you can't find it, use M L Nesbitt's Grammar-Land instead.

Mad Libs

After a successful first year, I was reluctant to return to formal grammar this term. Instead we're playing Mad Libs once a week, covering nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and plurals as we play. It is terrific fun, although we do get rather silly. Currently we're laughing our way through Happily Ever Mad Libs. Very silly grammar fun, this.

Painless Grammar

A while ago I was introduced to Painless Grammar and Painless Junior Grammar. The former is written for kids a bit older than Jemimah, who have already studied some grammar. It reviews those areas most likely to trip up young players (and some older ones as well) using humour in the best possible way. I uploaded the free sample chapters of this book onto my Kindle, and Jemimah and I have been having a bit of a read through the chapter on Nouns this week. We like it.

Painless Junior Grammar is written for kids at about Jemimah's level or slightly lower, perhaps. It uses a journey to Grammar World - a make-believe amusement park to introduce kids to the types of sentences, parts of speech, punctuation, capitalisation and abbreviations. I liked it enough to purchase the e-book. I haven't used it yet, but it looks to be lots of fun. I'll let you know.

The funnest bit of Painless Grammar... (Yes, I know that it is probably inappropriate to use incorrect grammar in a grammar post, but it wouldn't be A Peaceful Day if I didn't use at least one hyperbolic neologism, now would it? I digress.)

Anyhow, the funnest bit of Painless Grammar is that there's an iPad App to go with it. Jemimah today managed to unlock the first Cat Level, and she is pretty pleased with herself.

Take a look.

Latin Grammar

And that, finally, is about me done. Except for one last thing.

Latin grammar. Again, Miss Mason has something to say:
English grammar...depending as it does on the position and logical connection of words, is peculiarly hard for him to grasp. In this respect the Latin grammar is easier; a change in the form, the shape of the word, to denote case, is what a child can see with his bodily eye, and therefore is plainer to him than the abstract ideas of nominative and objective case as we have them in English. Therefore, if he learns no more at this early stage than the declensions and a verb or two, it is well he should learn thus much, if only to help him to see what English grammar would be at when it speaks of a change in case or mood, yet shows no change in the form of a word.

Charlotte Mason, Home Education p295
We are not yet up to the nominative and objective cases in Latin, but we have learned about nouns, adjectives and verbs. It is much easier to recognise a noun and a verb in simple Latin that it is in the types of English that we use at this level.

Yesterday we wrote out all the verbs in the little story we were reading, jumbled them up and put them back into the story. The result was a sort of Latin Mad Libs, and it was terribly funny. Recognising the subjects of the sentence and the accompanying verb was easy, and we practiced out Latin vocab at the same time.

So far, grammar is not a groanworthy subject in our homeschool, but it is still early days. Perhaps the day is coming that Jemimah too may join the tacit vote of the majority and argue about that trifling thing called English Grammar. If and when that day comes, I'll let you know.
Then I'll cry.

Then I'll pull out the old Mad libs and see what we can do.

At least at the moment, this very day, grammar is fun.

Do you like grammar? Do your kids? What sooper-dooper wonderful grammar programme have you ferreted out for use? Do let me know!


  1. Thank you very much, Jeanne. I expected a comment as an answer, but a full post! Oh boy, what a treat!

    I'm also buying Simply Grammar for the future, it will sit at my shelf for three years too, even now after you've done your review I'm going to like having it, if only for my own reference in case it doesn't work. I like the Victorian illustrations, maybe my girls don't, but it will be a good starting point since I am the one that, as Cindy from Ordo Amoris says, has to learn grammar herself.

    I have a card under my sleeve. My mentor and CM extraordinaire, Stephanie, has a grammar course that I may take when the moment comes. She loves grammar, masters grammar, and has effectively but specially with a passion, taught grammar to her five children. To the point that she had to develop her own course to do it right. I know she has gone to the heart of CM, she always does.

    I love grammar, but I learned Spanish grammar, though much of it transfers into English grammar, not all. I learned it in Junior High, I think I was ten at least, if not older. I never remember those silly watered down grammar attempts that populate the expensive but cheap text books I dealt with as a teacher. That is why I loved reading Nesbit's book. I believe you'll enjoy it too. And the mad libs...that sounds good even at a young age, they are a game, and as long as they are enjoyed, I don't think they'll hurt.

    I wish you a long lasting relationship with grammar.

    Thanks for your blog, your posts, and your through research, it definitely helps a lot.

  2. Sigh... I can never type anything fully right. I meant thorough research.

  3. Oh dear, just lost my looong comment.
    English for the Thoughtful Child for dd no.1 & 2, a great book covering all of CM's language arts - narration, dication, copywork, poem memorisation, basic grammar, picture narration...Susan Wise Bauer's First Language Lessons very similar, but has a little more grammar, and modern pictures vs Victorian pictures in EFTTC. DD no.3 di mostly FLL, dipping into EFTTC when we needed a new story for narration. Both are suitable for grades 1 & 2.
    Beyond that dd 1 carried on with A Beka, dd 2 carried on with FLL 3 & 4. FLL has scripted lessons, very helpful when explaining new concepts, and also includes memorisation of the definitions, helping verbs and prepositions. I am pretty sure dd no.4 can recite all of those simply because she's listened to us learning them. I might do a combo of FLL & EFFTC with dd no.4 this year.
    Older girls will continue with A Beka grammar to Grade 9, and then we'll concentrate on writing (IEW), Latin and other languages they'd like to learn.
    I tend to lean more towards the classical for grammar, I believe grammar trains children to think logically, and to think logically is so important in this day and age!

  4. Hi Jeanne. I'm kind of a grammar nut. I did not care much for Simply Grammar, either, nor did I like English for the Thoughtful Child, which many CM adherents use. Up until last year, I used a hodgepodge of grammar resources: FLL 1 and 2, Schoolhouse Rock, my own made-up activities, etc. Last year, we used Scott-Foresman's free, online curriculum, and I'd planned to use that this year as well, since it runs through grade 6. However, I had difficulties logging on this past fall, so the hunt was on. After a stint with Groovy Grammar, I now use the Daily Grammar website. I print out a week's worth of lessons (this week, we're studying conjunctions, both coordinate and correlative) and the quiz. I'm very pleased, and the girls seem to like it as well. Grammar study is not onerous to them, and I'm going to strive to keep it that way.

  5. I have searched for Little Grammar People (reasonably priced) and I've not found one, but we do have Little Grammar People (which I forgot about) and we'll look at reading that. I love it when things like grammar and maths can be turned into a story because then it doesn't seem like work. Love the thought, research, honesty and passion put into your posts. Thanks Renelle

  6. Oh this is a fabulous, very helpful post. Thank you for your insights. I will looking carefully at what you have listed here :-)

  7. Thanks for these recommendations! I love Charlotte Mason, but the Victoriana -- eh, ... not so much. I'm placing these books on my wishlist straight away!

  8. Oh dear, Jeanne. I just read my comment above. We are nearing the end of our 2012 year and dd no.3 (10 yrs) is nearing the end of what would be 4th grade. We have hit a wall with her grammar, went well through FLL3 but with FLL4 she is not retaining anything, she's even getting her nouns and verbs mixed up! With baby no.6 on the way I am sick of the scripted lessons especially if they're not working. Maybe the Daily Grammar website is worth a look...any ideas? I might look up that mad libs it looks like fun.

  9. You don't care if I'm nearly a year late in commenting, do you? We didn't do much formal grammar, but I did purchase Michael Clay Thompson's Grammar Island set and the kids like it! He uses classic literature to illustrate his examples - I think you would like it (but it's not Charlotte Mason).


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