Here’s a question I received recently –
“I saw a photo of your son diagramming sentences – I don’t know how to do this but lots of people talk about it on homeschool groups. Where do I even START teaching something like that to my children?” Steph.
Ah, that would be this photo. I’m only too happy to answer this question because it talks about one of my favourite subjects – grammar! Here’s how I’ve turned out family into grammar nerds with no knowledge myself.
Seriously. After 13 years of full-time education, my total grammar knowledge could be summed up in two sentences.
Nouns are naming words.
Adjectives are describing words.
Of course, I’d unconsciously internalised a lot of grammar due to reading, and I could mimic it well enough when writing. But when a sentence or paragraph didn’t work I often couldn’t work out why, or how to fix it. When reading about how to improve my writing I couldn’t work out how to apply the knowledge, because most of it used grammatical terms that I didn’t understand. And when learning a second language I was great at memorising vocabulary, but struggled when it was time to put it all together – I couldn’t use make a noun – adjective – verb sentence when I didn’t understand what those things were.
Susan Wise Bauer describes the same problem in The Well-Trained Mind when telling how she tutored her peers in introductory grammar in college – the stuff she learned before she was a teenager. They were lost when it came to writing essays and foreign language, just like me. They were smart enough to learn the content in advanced subjects, but they lacked the core tools to study and understand these subjects without being frustrated by basic problems.
I decided my children wouldn’t have the same problem. But how would I teach something I didn’t understand myself?
The solution, when homeschooling, is easy – get great resources and learn alongside your children. We really don’t need to be the experts. Often a keen and interested co-learner is just as good, if not better, than an expert teacher – as long as you have the right resources.
Here’s what we’ve used to learn grammar.
First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind
First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise (Susan Wise Bauer’s mother), provides a fantastic and comprehensive foundation of grammar. It teaches parts of speech, diagramming, punctuation and more. It also includes poem memorisation, narration and dictation.
It assumes no prior knowledge – it starts with the absolute basics, it explains concepts clearly, and there’s enough repetition to make sure it sticks. Lessons usually take less than 15 minutes each. The parent book is completely scripted so there’s no need to understand anything before you start a lesson, you simply open it and start reading aloud. Honestly, I thought scripting sounded awful and boring before I got this, but I love it. It makes my job incredibly easy.
There are four levels in the series, each with a parent’s book and student book. They’re designed to start using Level 1 at around age 5-6, but because of the repetition we completed books 3 and 4 starting at age 8 and didn’t miss anything.
With the grammar just from First Language Lessons my children have been able to learn foreign languages without stress – including understanding noun declensions and verb conjugations in Latin.
You can do them at any age if you’re late to grammar – my husband did them in his thirties (our daughters were the teachers) because he was about to start studying after never really studying before – even at school.
For us, these are a must-do.
Grammar Galaxy is a story-based curriculum that follows the English children and their adventures fixing language problems in their galaxy.
I’m currently working through Grammar Galaxy Nebula (the first level) with my boys. It covers all language arts, not just grammar, so it’s more in the nature of a great all-rounder supplement rather than a complete grammar course.
The best bit? They both LOVE it and get excited about it in a way that most people don’t really get excited about First Language Lessons. They actually track me down and tell me it’s time to do it. They love the stories, the havoc that the Grammar Gremlin causes, and the chaos that ensues when people are unable to use suffixes or homographs disappear.
Grammar Galaxy isn’t like most curriculums, where you buy it and your contact with them is finished. We receive monthly mission calendars, with links to extension activities and other fun challenges, and get access to an active Facebook group. And if you tag @grammargalaxybooks on social media you can also win monthly prizes!
Purchase direct from Grammar Galaxy (samples available)
Bonus: International postage is FREE. Seriously. I actually ordered and printed the PDFs before realising this, but I’ll be buying Protostar (the second level) as a hard copy.
Grammarly is like your word processor’s spell check, except it actually works. Really well.
Installing it on your computer or device, plus your web browser, means it automatically checks everything you write. And it really is automatic – one click on an underlined word brings up a suggestion for correction. Simply click on it to change it automatically.
Plus, I really enjoy the weekly progress emails I get. My vocabulary and word count are usually great – my accuracy isn’t (I’m a fast but clumsy typist). But now I know it’s improving.
Having it check everything we write makes it great for maintenance and those times when something we’ve written isn’t quite working. As we type out emails or write stories it’s all checked and corrected. I never realised that my comma usage was pretty random, that I used ‘there’s’ all the time when I should be using ‘there are’……..and although I knew I should be capitalising the I in I’m I was too lazy to train myself to actually do it until the little red lines started popping up everywhere.
There’s also a plagiarism checker I’ve used for my university essays, which will be useful for the children in a few short years (where has the time gone?).
Bonus – They have fantastically nerdy jokes on their blog – I use cartoons and funny sentences like these for incidental learning – check them out.
That’s what we’re about to start on. Although First Language Lessons, Grammar Galaxy and Grammarly will give your child above-average grammar knowledge (isn’t that mind-boggling?) we’d like to learn more. Writing and speaking well are incredibly important in nearly every area of life, and strong skills in grammar will provide a solid foundation for our children to reference and build on.
We reviewed a number of advanced programs when we finished First Language Lessons, but none seemed to suit us (and the postage to Australia was obscene). Then we found out that Peace Hill Press had released the next level, Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind! There was much geeky excitement (and maybe some groans from certain children).
I bought it the same day. I bought hard copies of the Core Instructor Text and the Comprehensive Handbook of Rules (both cover all four years) from Book Depository, and the PDF version of Student Workbook 1 and Key to Student Workbook 1 from Peace Hill Press. I’m currently in the middle of printing out three copies of the student workbook for my girls – at 602 pages each it’s huge!
But you’ll have to give us a few months before we can review that.
Hopefully, this gives you the resources and guidance you need to become a grammar nerd yourself, and together we can reduce the number of times we see abominations like alot, or loose weight!