become a writing mentor to your child, part 5: grammar, by ear

become a writing mentor to your child, part 5: grammar, by ear post image

A few years ago I sat in a coffee shop, preparing for a homeschool conference workshop I’d be giving at the hotel next door, on writing with kids.

There was a family a few tables over. They wore conference name tags so I knew they were homeschoolers. The two parents chatted while their son did a worksheet. Or ostensibly did a worksheet–he seemed to be getting distracted. The parents kept directing him back and then resuming their conversation. He kept getting distracted. The mother admonished: You’re having a hard time keeping your focus. You’re a third grader now!  She and the father chatted; the kid got back to the worksheet, but soon resumed his dawdling. This went on for almost an hour. Look, the mother said finally, frustrated. You just need to write a complete sentence with a subject and a predicate!

If I’d been drinking my cappuccino at that point, I would have choked. The kid was eight or nine!

Plus, I couldn’t remember what a predicate was myself.

(I didn’t tell the parents to come to my workshop because I felt guilty about eavesdropping. But I wanted to.)

This little episode broke my heart a little. It demonstrated everything wrong with grammar programs: a) they teach stuff kids don’t need to know; b) they’re boring; c) they assume that kids can’t learn grammar and punctuation in the context of their reading and writing.

how grammar programs teach stuff that kids don’t need to know:

Why would an eight or nine-year-old need to know what a predicate is? I’ve published work as a writer and I don’t know what a predicate is. (Okay, I looked it up.) Make no mistake: I know how to use predicates correctly, for the most part. But there’s really no reason for me to know the nomenclature for what I’m doing.

“I discovered that for all my fine talk I was no match for the parts of speech—was, in fact, over my depth. Not only that, I felt uneasy at posing as an expert on rhetoric, when the truth is I write by ear, always with difficulty and seldom with any exact notion of what is taking place under the hood.”

–E. B. White, Essays of E. B. White

You know who E. B. White is, don’t you? In addition to being a most excellent essayist and the creator of Wilbur the pig and his spider friend in Charlotte’s Web, he is the coauthor, along with William Strunk, of the writing guide The Elements of Stylea book likely required for some course or another in your past life as a student.

I figure that you might listen to the author of a classic writing guide if he says grammar is something even he didn’t fully understand. He wrote by ear (and ignored much of his own grammar and usage advice in his essays and novels.)

Your kids can learn grammar by ear too. They don’t necessarily need to understand what is going on under the hood. In other words, they might be able to, let’s say, avoid dangling modifiers without knowing that the things they’re avoiding are called dangling modifiers.

Grammar programs tend to introduce reams of terminology and rules in order to teach concepts, in order to have a language to teach with. Honestly, kids don’t need to know that language. (I would argue that the only people who really need to know detailed grammar terminology are editors and people who want to know it.) Oftentimes these terms and rules confuse kids and ultimately confound their writing process. On the other hand, if you allow kids to learn grammar and punctuation more naturally, and in the context of their own writing, they will intuit, like E. B. White, what’s going on under the hood. (More on this below.) When they’re older, they may take an interest in the specific terminology and rules–at which point the rules and terminology will make more sense. It’s much easier to apply names and rules to something you already understand.

how grammar programs are boring:

Consider the exclamation mark.

Many young kids, upon meeting the mark, become infatuated with it. They use them at every opportunity! They end sentences with whole cabooses of them!!!!! One Wonder Farm reader shared how her daughter used one after her name for two years!!!!!!!!!!

Young kids love exclamation marks because they allow them to express themselves with all the natural enthusiasm of their youth.

Consider then, how fun it would be to insert exclamation marks after appropriate sentences listed on a worksheet.

It would be no fun. If the sentences aren’t yours to begin with, there’s no thrill in expressing them enthusiastically.

In the first case, those exclamation marks are a really cool tool that enables kids to say things just as they want to say them. With the worksheet, exclamation marks are simply a symbol representing yet another rule to be learned.

It’s boring to learn grammar and punctuation in isolation. Plus, information “learned” in isolation tends to get forgotten. Like the kids in my last post who couldn’t apply what they’d mastered for spelling tests to their everyday writing, kids often forget to apply practiced grammar and punctation rules when they write on their own.

“Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power.”

–Joan Didion, “Why I Write”

There’s that “by ear” thing again, from another esteemed writer. Like White, Didion may not know the rules, but she uses them to great effect.

If you want kids to learn grammar, you would be better off boring them less with the rules, and focusing more on its infinite power. On its potential as a really cool tool. Unless your kid absolutely loves his or her grammar program, you would probably be better off using that time to read and write.

how kids can learn grammar and punctuation in the context of their own writing:

“I can remember picking up my father’s books before I could read. The words themselves were mostly foreign, but I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph. I didn’t have the vocabulary to say ‘paragraph,’ but I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence. This knowledge delighted me.”

–Sherman Alexie, “Superman and Me”

Your kids may not pick out how paragraphs work as precociously as Alexie did, but I’m guessing that if you snuggle up and read to them on a regular basis, they will make similar insights on their own. Listening to Farmer Boy at five, Mr. T pointed to the last word in a paragraph, which appeared on a line by itself. “Why is there only one word there?” he asked, and I explained the notion of paragraphs. I wish I’d thought to describe them as fences.

We’ve already explored, in this post, how kids who grow up in language-rich homes pick up qualities of good writing–including grammar and punctuation–by osmosis. Through being read to, through reading, through writing, through family conversation. This constant immersion in language saturates kids. They absorb more than you might imagine. They’re like infomercial miracle sponges.

At one point when H was, maybe, twelve, and paying attention to how his little brother talked, he became fascinated with how, in English, we learn to use the word a before words beginning with consonants, and an before words beginning with vowels. A cookie. An ice cream cone. Young kids don’t do it–they tend to use before all words–but as kids get older, they eventually begin using an. Correctly.

“How do kids learn to do that?” H marveled. “You don’t teach them.”

Nope. You don’t teach them. They pick it up.

There are so many opportunities for kids to learn about grammar and punctuation in the course of what they’re already doing. For example, you might take dictation from your child because he or she doesn’t want to write independently. But did you consider how much grammar and punctuation might come up in the process? I didn’t, until I found myself describing semi-colons to my seven-year-old during a dictation session. From that day on, I started paying closer attention to what happened as I took dictation from him. I became astounded at how much he was learning.

You can look at interesting punctuation in books you read together; you can talk about intriguing sentence construction as you come across it. I have never done grammar programs with any of my three kids, but grammar and punctuation came up plenty. My older son learned to use question marks before he knew they were question marks–he called them huh signs. My younger son often instructed me to add parentheses into his dictated writing by telling me to put in those things and demonstrating with cupped hands. My daughter loved to revise paragraphs she’d dictated in which a character’s name appeared a bit too often, replacing those instances with an occasional he or she. 

Why did my kids do this? My older son had asked about question marks when he saw them on the page during a readaloud. My younger son learned about parentheses when he’d dictated particular lines and I’d suggested that parentheses might be appropriate, considering how he’d said something. My daughter recognized that saying a character’s name too often sounds funny because she was an avid audiobook listener.

They learned about grammar and punctuation eagerly, in their everyday lives as readers and writers. Grammar has always been a fun, wordy-nerdy thing in our home. My older two, after they decided to go to high school, encountered English classes which required lots of essay writing, and fairly comprehensive grammar instruction. They didn’t like the grammar instruction–bo-ring!–but it came easily to them. They already intuited what was being taught. They already applied it, for the most part, to their writing. They may not have previously known the terminology for what they were doing; they may not have known what was going on under the hood–but they knew how to drive the car just fine. They were enthusiastic readers and writers. It came with the territory.

tips for helping kids with grammar and punctuation:

  • Take dictation from kids. This post explores how grammar and punctuation might come up in the process.
  • Many of the same notions hold here as they did for spelling:
    • Encourage your child not to worry too much about grammar and punctuation when they initially sit down to write. Fixing grammar and punctuation is mostly an act of proofreading, which should happen after the piece is written, and after the ideas in the piece have been reconsidered and revised (if the child chooses to revise.)
    • Don’t expect a child to fix all grammar and punctuation errors on everything they write. That’s a sure way to undermine a love of writing. Save fixing for writing that will have an actual audience.
    • Even when a piece of writing will be seen by an audience, focus on just a few types of grammar/punctuation errors. Placing capitals at the beginning of sentences for younger kids, say, or looking for run-on sentences for older kids.
  • You might help your child develop a personal proofreading checklist, which he or she can consult when proofing a piece of writing. Help your child add, one or two at a time, errors that he or she struggles with and should look for. (This is a good tip for adult writers too!)
  • When your child wants to remember how to punctuate correctly, have him or her consult a favorite book to see how the author does it. I once knew a master writing teacher who equipped every second grader in her class with a copy of Frog And Toad Are Friends to use for punctuation reference!
  • Delight in grammar and punctuation as it comes up when you and your kids read together. Pay attention to your child’s comments and observations. Read advanced picture books to older kids, as they invite kids to look at the text with you, along with the pictures.
  • Read poetry. Poets often play with grammar and punctuation in interesting ways.
  • Play Mad Libs to learn the parts of speech painlessly.
  • Read fun books about grammar and punctuation together. Leave them lying around. Some recommendations:
  • When approaching grammar and punctation with your kids, don’t treat it as tedium. Explore grammar and punctuation as really cool tools of writing.
What experiences have you and your kids had with grammar and punctuation? Have they been a chore? Points of interest?  Please share!
You can read all posts in this series here.

32 comments… add one
  • Robin Apr 23, 2013 @ 16:51


    After years and years and years of grammar, I finally realized we really don’t need to do it formally anymore. We now tackle it as we come to it in son’s assignments.

    • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 9:22

      And grammar does come up in your son’s assignments, doesn’t it, Robin? Just my point! That’s when grammar becomes useful.

      Glad you hopped off the formal grammar bandwagon!

      • Robin Apr 24, 2013 @ 15:27

        Oh, yes, indeed, Patricia! We are also finding the grammar check on the word processing to be quite a teaching tool as well. We had a big debate with the pc yesterday over noun/verb agreement. We finally left it in order for Hunter to finish his typing. We shall tackle it later using a writing handbook.

        On a side note: we began an online writing class this week through Coursera. I know this open courseware site is not valuable (yet) to most of your readers, but I thought I’d mention it for those with older (high school) kids. We don’t normally do courses like this, but this particular one struck a chord. It has the students write personal pieces and respond to published pieces. It isn’t a format writing course. It actually lets the students write without all the constraints so commonly seen in “high school” level classes…no five-paragraph essays…thank goodness.

        I enrolled also. I want my son to see that everyone struggles with writing to some degree. I think he has this false idea that he’s the only one that gets stumped. I want him to see me working through the same thing he is and wrestling with it a bit.

        Thanks for your site…I am still re-reading so many pieces…I just love it.


        • Noel Apr 27, 2016 @ 4:03

          Robin, I would love a link to this class! Sounds like just the thing for my rising 9th grader!

      • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 16:54

        Yes, computer grammar checkers can be particularly educational, because they’re often wrong! Or at least debatable. Or worth overriding for the sake of style! Glad yours is promoting good conversation and research.

        I look forward to hearing how the Coursera class turns out. It sounds intriguing. You enrolled also! That’s awesome. Both for you and for the modeling it provides to your son. Sounds like homeschooling at its finest, my new friend!

  • Dawn Suzette Apr 23, 2013 @ 16:59

    Thanks for another great post Patricia!
    The little man just discovered the awesome and fun power of the exclamation point, when I asked him about a sentence he had just dictated to me. That lead to talk about questions marks and words that can indicate a question is being asked. He was so excited. He spent the rest of the day asking questions and making very excited statements!
    I can vividly remember filling out worksheets placing the right word at the beginning of the question and diagraming sentences… Very boring. And now, just like spelling, I still struggle with grammar and constantly look things up. It does not come naturally for me even though I read a lot now as an adult. I am so happy to see him so excited about “grammar” and writing.

    • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 9:33

      Love this, Dawn: “The little man just discovered the awesome and fun power of the exclamation point, when I asked him about a sentence he had just dictated to me. That lead to talk about questions marks and words that can indicate a question is being asked. He was so excited. He spent the rest of the day asking questions and making very excited statements!”

      I always hope parents will stick with dictation long enough to get to the point where they’re asking their kids questions about *how* to write what they’ve said. Because, just like you experienced, fantastic opportunities arise to discuss punctuation, grammar and such in a meaningful way. How can a kid not think punctuation is cool when it helps him convey his sentence JUST as he wants to?

      Thanks so much for sharing, Dawn. Go, Little Man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Nancy Apr 23, 2013 @ 18:52

    How funny that this was your post today! (I know you like my exclamation point and now, my parentheses.)

    I have wondered lately if I am doing the kids a disservice by leaving out more formal spelling and grammar instruction. Oh yes, it gets tough hearing other homeschooling families talk about what they are doing. It’s so easy to question yourself and your own instincts. After reading your blog, I’m feeling much better.

    Earlier today, I gave my boys copy work from “The Book Thief.” (We’ve been listening to the audio book together. It works well with our study of WWII.) In the passage I chose, the author has his narrator use three consecutive one sentence, dare I say, paragraphs? I wanted to show them how this affected the cadence of reading and emphasized what was said. The author does this a lot in this book and to great effect. This lead to a whole discussion about indentations, paragraphs, cadence, pauses, emphasis and so on. Of course, there really shouldn’t be any one sentence paragraphs, as all of us who went to regular school know. You must have the topic sentence and at least several supporting sentences. RIIIGGGHHHTTT. Try telling that to Death, the narrator of “The Book Thief.”

    • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 9:41

      Oh, those insidious “other homeschooling families”! Best to keep them as friends, but out of your brain when you consider what to do with your kids! Glad the blog helped, Nancy.

      I happen to be a total sucker for the paragraph-long sentence when used to good effect–and love to share good examples of it with kids. Look at the depth of conversation your three sentences led to! Next time those other homeschooling families start talking about what they’ve been doing, mention that you’ve been discussing indentations, paragraphs, cadence, pauses, emphasis and so on. That should pique their curiosity!

  • Gina Apr 23, 2013 @ 19:04

    Thanks for this post and the one about spelling! They really calmed my doubts and helped me realize I am going in the right direction with our homeschool even if I am different than other homeschoolers. I plan to print this post out, too, and put it with my homeschool books.

    • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 9:43

      I’m so glad the posts have been helpful, Gina. Keep going in the direction you’re going!

      Thanks for reading along, and saying hello.

  • tereza Apr 23, 2013 @ 22:36

    I love your blog. You are such an encouragement to me.

    For the past couple of months, I have been using the Logic of English curriculum with my DD10 and DS7. DD10 is an avid reader. She reads everything she can put her hands on. While her verbal communication is prolific, her spelling is horrible. She wants to write so badly that I have taken dictation before and she even published a newspaper. Remember that? 🙂

    DS7, on the other hand, reads but doesn’t do it as often or as much as DD10 does. But he can spell!! The boy can spell hard words!

    So we are doing a lesson a week. We break it down into 2 or 3 sessions a week. They last about 40 minutes, 20 minutes of goofing around and making each other laugh and Mom lose her cool! 🙂 The other 20 minutes they participate and spell out loud, learn spelling rules, make sense of words, question every rule (always showing me the exceptions. Like today… supposedly English words do not end is I, U, V or J. So DD10 says “that’s not true. What about YOU??” I replied, ” Good point. I have no clue. We need to find what’s up with that.”)

    As a rebellious teacher, I do not stick to the teacher’s guide whatsoever. So I give them written assignments, I make them sing their words, we have competitions (we haven’t played any of the suggested games yet. Too boring! Who wants to do spelling bingo?!!).. we have a great time and they are learning. I have noticed an improvement on DD10 spelling. Another thing I noticed is how much grammar they know. Grammar that I did NOT teach them or make them do worksheets about. They picked it up reading and listening. That’s how I picked up spelling. I didn’t know ONE single spelling rule until I open the Logic of English curriculum… but I can spell most words. (And English is my second language).

    So yeah… as long as the kids are enjoying the classes we will continue them.

    I have a question for you: do you see any value in copy work?? (sorry I love double question marks! It makes more sense to me. 🙂

    I used to do copy work when I was a child to improve my cursive handwriting. A lot of Christian parents use it to instill values or help kid memorize bible verse, and practice handwriting. I hated copy work. While I don’t make my kids do it… I have fallen for it a couple of times, and they hate it too. What do you say?

    • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 9:59

      Tereza, it sounds like you and your kids have such fun together. That’s great!

      I love that your kids point out exceptions to the rules. They’re thinking! (And it sounds like they take after their “rebellious” mother!)

      When it comes to copywork, my question would be, does the kid like it? If you and your kids hate it, it’s hard for me to see the value in it. What are they learning about writing if writing means doing something they dislike? On the other hand, I imagine that there are some kids who might enjoy copywork. My daughter liked practicing her handwriting when she was younger, and she liked historical fiction, so I imagine she might have enjoyed occasionally doing the sort of copywork that some of her favorite fictional characters did. Know why we never did it? She had too many of her own ideas to write about! And those projects were enough to keep her developing as a writer.

      • tereza Apr 24, 2013 @ 18:26

        My thinking exactly on copywork. My kids walk around with notebooks and pens. They are writing all the time.. but sometimes outside the lines! ha 🙂

        thanks again, Tereza

  • Heather Caliri Apr 24, 2013 @ 15:29

    I’d completely agree that grammar is largely useless for writing. I did find my lack of grammatical knowledge a bit of a hinderance when I learned another language (I kept asking what the word for “would” or “do” was, not understanding that those were verb tenses :). I understand Spanish grammar a lot more thoroughly than English, but it does not exactly help me write–if anything, it hinders me, because I have to think through rules instead of using language intuitively.
    All that said, I often wonder if my hands-off approach is helping my kids. The things we DO are often the markers we use to judge how successful we are; to do less feels like failure sometimes, even if I see progress with a hands-off approach. It seems like learning should be harder than this.
    But perhaps that’s another post 🙂

    • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 17:05

      You know, Heather, I don’t think of what I’m promoting as a hands-off approach. If you have a conversation with your child about question marks because she wonders about them while you’re reading a book, you are doing something. You are doing something very powerful. You are responding to your child just as she’s wondering and curious, and the conversation is likely to lead to deep, meaningful learning. Two weeks-worth of grammar worksheets might not lead to as much.

      What I’ve learned from raising two kids to adulthood or almost-adulthood is that those little moments can add up to a fantastic literacy education. I want to help parents understand that–and to believe it!

      Learning should not be hard–unless the learner is taking on something hard by choice. And there’s a whole lot of internal motivation fueling that sort of endeavor!

  • Aadel Apr 24, 2013 @ 18:09

    I love this! We tried the grammar (and spelling) lessons for years with our oldest. We both cried a lot. I love writing and am naturally good at spelling and other lingual talents. She is more of a visual artist type. When we finally backed off and stopped using curriculum, she improved her grammar naturally through chatting online, writing for NaNoWriMo (something she chose to take on), and just living life. She is still not the best speller – but I see her progress and get stronger each year.

    • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 22:13

      Hi Aadel! Good to hear that you and your oldest stopped crying over writing. (I’ve was there with my oldest too.) I love hearing your examples of how your daughter has actually learned grammar and writing–all good stuff! Any kid who decides to take on NaNoWriMo is bound to become a better writer.

      Thanks for stopping by and saying hello!

  • Wendy Apr 24, 2013 @ 21:35

    So glad to hear that E.B. White learned grammar “by ear”; as a teacher, I have always felt guilty that that’s how I deal with grammar.

    • patricia Apr 24, 2013 @ 22:15

      I agree, Wendy. If the author of The Elements of Style learned grammar by ear, then I figure it’s good enough for the rest of us!

  • Robin Apr 25, 2013 @ 7:25

    Just an update—after further review this morning, the writing course is not what we thought. Unfortunately, all the participants are MUCH older than my son and some of their shared experiences for the writing assignments are not kid friendly AND a huge number of them are writers by profession. Part of the point of the class is to do peer review…that’s hard to do when the subject matter is questionable or the person is a published writer. Disappointing.

    After reading through the forums this morning, I came to the conclusion that many of the participants are seeking praise for their stories not instruction. We were hoping to get some good feedback from the instructors, but apparently, most of the feedback is from other students…I was hoping for instructor feedback for my son in addition to peer review. Most of the comments on the student submissions are overly complementary and “feel good”. There doesn’t seem to be any actual “teaching” or constructive criticism going on…just “everyone’s a winner” comments…we need real feedback at this point in his high school career.

    I was so excited about this course…what a bubble-buster…

    • patricia Apr 29, 2013 @ 9:56

      That’s a bummer, Robin. Writing classes can vary so much, and they really have everything to do with the instructor and peer feedback.

      Does your local adult school offer writing classes? Some of the best writing courses I’ve ever taken were with a particular adult school instructor. She was fabulous–and the courses were dirt cheap! Older teens can often take those courses as well.

      I don’t have personal experience with Brave Writer online courses, but I have friends whose kids have liked them.

  • Patricia Apr 27, 2013 @ 7:00

    My son never used a capital letter, punctuation mark or paragraph until he was in ninth grade. He wrote great stories, but if he was in school I am pretty sure he would have failed English. In grade 9 he started playing World of Warcraft online and started asking about grammar and spelling because he wanted to sound smart when he was writing to other players online.
    We did do some copywork with him from grade 6 on, 5 minutes from whatever book we were currently reading together. You can do anything for 5 minutes!
    When he went back into school in grade 10, we were lucky enough to have my brother in law, who teaches at a university and whose passion is English, proofread for him. Doug is an amzing teacher and did not actually correct mistakes, he would make suggestions, and helpful comments.

    • patricia Apr 29, 2013 @ 10:02

      Hi Patricia. Love this, “In grade 9 he started playing World of Warcraft online and started asking about grammar and spelling because he wanted to sound smart when he was writing to other players online.”

      This is just the sort of thing I try to reassure parents of. If kids find writing venues that matter to them, then learning to write will matter to them. I particularly love that your son’s incentive came from a forum that many parents would dismiss as trivial and time-wasting!

      And it’s great that your son has his uncle as a writing mentor. Mentors are so important in a writer’s development–which is why I’m writing this series!

  • Rita@thissortaoldlife Apr 27, 2013 @ 7:33

    Hello–Found you through Simple Things, and just want to tell you how much I like what you’re saying here. I blog about home renovation, but I’m a former English teacher turned literacy instructional coach. At first, I found myself frowning a bit–I think knowing the names of the parts under the hood is really important for many things. But I kept reading, and I can see that you do, too. When I think of my own learning experience, I know I didn’t truly learn grammar (and all the terminology) until after I graduated from college and was working as an editor; then, I needed to know it. As you said, I was able to learn it easily at that point because I already understood so much about how to use language from years of reading it, hearing it, and producing it. I do think it’s important for that more formal learning to begin no later than high school, though. I found it really difficult to teach my students the rule-based conventions of writing if we didn’t have common vocabulary and if they couldn’t articulate their understanding of grammar. Thanks so much for the good food for thought this morning.

    • patricia Apr 29, 2013 @ 10:23

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Rita! I’m glad that you kept reading and recognized that we have similar views.

      I think that learning more formal grammar in the teen years makes sense; kids (particularly those who have grown up in a word-rich home) have an intuitive sense of it at that point. Even then, I think it’s best if that instruction can be mostly in the context of the kids’ writing, and not a separate study. It’s so much more powerful that way.

      • Rita@thissortaoldlife Apr 30, 2013 @ 9:19

        Absolutely agree with you on learning it in context. Research supports that, too. Learning rules/grammar in isolation doesn’t transfer to writing, which is the whole point of it!

  • Kika Apr 29, 2013 @ 8:17

    This is how we roll:) I’ve never formally taught grammar to my kids (though it comes up in the context of their writing) and yet they have a good command of it. I don’t remember every being formally taught grammar either and yet enjoyed writing and certainly did well in University. I do not have natural spellers in my home but with my oldest tried myriad spelling programs only to discover that performing on a spelling test did not transfer over to his writing…and yet he has a fabulous “voice” and writes for pleasure. I was also impressed by how he was capable of spelling very big, interesting words that were important to him (for instance, if they were from a novel or movie he loved). I believe he currently has the highest grade in his highschool English class – fortunately the students do most of their writing on the computer and, therefore, have access to spell check.

    As a young adult I moved to Quebec and taught ESL to francophone uni students there, at which time I had to learn some more formal grammar terms (but I’ve since forgotten them). At the same time I became bilingual in French – I did take a year of French instruction that included grammar (bleh!) but really I learned the language by speaking, listening to the cadence of the language around me or on news programs, by picking up novels I’d previously read in English and struggling my way through them. I also dove right into University there, in the French language, of course, and learned quickly because I was doing something I cared about. It will always be the same with our children, I think. When they care about something, the learning happens quite naturally.

    • patricia Apr 29, 2013 @ 21:27

      These are such great examples, Kika. I know it’s comforting for parents of younger kids to hear voices like yours, urging that this sort of learning works.

      “When they care about something, the learning happens quite naturally.” Absolutely. That’s my belief concentrated into a single lovely sentence. Thank you!

  • wanderingsue Jan 8, 2014 @ 3:47

    Can I be cheeky, and add a couple of things to your list of what’s wrong with grammar programmes? d) they damage your relationship with your child, e) they waste time that could be used to learn something else, and have fun!

    I remember starting to learn Spanish, and being hugely impressed that they have those upside-down question marks at the beginning of questions, so that as you start to read, you know how to intonate. But then, we usually start questions with question words, huh?

    Loving it, as always. Thanks, mate.

    • patricia Jan 10, 2014 @ 9:41

      Sue, I love your added reasons. They are spot on. Reason e) is pretty much my philosophy about homeschooling: use your time doing things that are interesting and fun. If you do that, all falls into place.

      ¡Sí, and I love upside down exclamation marks as well! So smart.

      Seeing your comment, I remembered that you sent me a sweet email during the throes of the holidays, and it’s been pushed down into the depths of my inbox. Know that I enjoyed it on a busy day, and that I’m sorry I didn’t find the time to tell you so.

      Happy 2014, dear wanderingsue! xo.

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