Saturday, July 29, 2006


This was originally posted at my other site, Twice Bloomed Wisteria.

Our homeschool has been floundering with the study of grammar for a couple of years. Why, you ask, would a trained English teacher let her children flounder in the formal study of grammar? Well . . . I don't have an excuse except an inability to commit to a method and my false belief that I didn't know enough about teaching young children. When my son was 6 we started with First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind by Jesse Wise. I really liked the gentle method grammar was introduced while still imprinting the basic, yet important, lists and definitions. I enjoyed the program so well, that, my then, 3 year old daughter learned all the poetry, prepositions and helping verbs, among other things, along with her older brother because it looked so fun to march and dance around the house. Herein lies the problem. I found something I liked, that fit our family, and was successful using it. I have children who, at a young age, have retained much grammatical information. Now, I have high expectations without a next logical step. I looked at grammar program after grammar program. I never found a next level program that was just perfect. I tried to use many programs and investigated many others.

I tried G.U.M. by Zaner Bloser, the free online KISS grammar program, Shurley Grammar, and the free online Daily Grammar. I looked at several others, but didn't purchase or try to use them. Here is what I found:
  • G.U.M. - The grammar rules are presented in a straightforward manner. I liked that the child was not required to write out sentence after sentence to complete the exercises. The negative is that each sentence in the exercises is so similar to the others that once the first sentence is completed, the child isn't required to think. The patterns are fixed so that without even reading the sentence you could find subject and verb according to position in sentence. There is little to question or discuss. While saying this, I know that combined with other language activities this workbook could work. We completed most of these activities.
  • Shurley Grammar - I know this is the favorite program of many people, but I found it unwieldy. There were just too many components to pull together for each lesson - jingle, study time, test time, scripted grammar time, reference grammar section, practice sentences, improved sentences, vocabulary. I would have liked the grammar songs and chants if we had not already mastered this information earlier. We liked the preposition and helping verb chants we created, not because they are better, but because we already knew them. Grammar concepts were not over practiced and the question and answer flows are helpful in analyzing sentences. Again, I found nothing wrong with the program, it was just not the right one for us. Shurley Grammar was just too comprehensive to work with the other things we were doing.
  • KISS - I really like what is going on at this site. KISS is a work in progress, but could be unbelievable. Ed Vavra has taken excerpts from real books and has created grammar teaching tools. I chose not to use the program for a full year, not because it didn't match my grammar philosophy, but because I found that I spent too much time looking for the next section on the web site. Using excerpts challenges the student because the sentences do not follow an identifiable pattern. Ed has worked to get an organized printable workbook ready. I believe the 3rd grade level is ready now. This is a free resource so if it doesn't work no money is wasted.
  • Daily Grammar - DG is a straightforward program of grammar teaching exercises. You, now, have several choices of how to receive your daily dose of grammar - email, archives, an ebook, or a workbook. The material is the same regardless of your choice. The email and archive versions are free. Daily Grammar gives you a rule and a couple of sentences for practice. We used most of the archive last year, yet I never felt like it was truly integrated into our other language arts activities. Overkill is not a problem, though.
After using or trying each of these methods I still felt that something was missing or off-kilter. I want a program that is gentle, yet rigorous; comprehensive, yet not repetitive; and demanding, yet fun. I want the activities to make sense with the rest of our curriculum, not be haphazard. I want to build on what the children already know. Grammar rules don't change from year to year. Once you learn the definitions and rules they are yours. The reasons you study and teach grammar each year are:
  • New concepts are added as the older ones are mastered.
  • Students (older than 6 or 7) are able to take the memorized definitions and apply their knowledge to understand how sentences work.
  • The ability to analyze sentences increases as reading proficiency increases.
  • Sentence structure patterns become recognizable because more sentences have been viewed.
  • Communicating in writing becomes more important and the ideas communicated become more complex, increasing the need for grammar and usage mechanisms.
I have given up my search for the perfect pre-packaged language arts program for children. I am instead creating my own using an assortment of tools. I am giving each child a copy of the beautiful, illustrated Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk. I have an old copy (non-illustrated) that I feel is almost as sacred as my hard cover, dictionary my mother gave me when I went to college. My copy is dog-eared because the example laden format of Elements of Style creates a clear image of elementary grammar and usage elements while taking into consideration exceptions to rules and common practice. Of course, there are many favorite grammar and usage books. I have submitted to the whims of many professors and teachers, but have returned to the slim Elements of Style again and again. I bought the hard cover, illustrated edition for the children because it is beautiful and useful and I want them to feel the long term value of this specific book, like the dictionary my mother gave me.

In addition to reviewing and learning the grammar according to The Elements of Style, I will teach the children to deconstruct and analyze sentences through diagramming, edit writing, increase spelling efficiency, increase vocabulary, and write. Honestly, there is nothing new here. What is different, for us, is that with these flexible segments I can work with each child where he is, while letting them see the beauty and flexibility of our language, and giving them tools for effective communication. I am trusting myself, rather than a packaged plan. I will post more specifics when we begin using the plan.