I almost changed this topic to something “more interesting.” But then I thought maybe it’d be worth it to dig around Miss Mason’s volumes and see what turned up. Maybe there was something about grammar worth sharing here? It turns out that there is.
Here’re a few things I learned during my little journey:
1. Grammar is one of those areas where the teacher really, really matters.
The success of the scholars in what may be called disciplinary subjects, such as Mathematics and Grammar, depends largely on the power of the teacher, though the pupils’ habit of attention is of use in these too.Vol. 6, p. 7
It is worth noting that if you are like me, and went to school during the time that the public schools decided that grammar wasn’t important beyond knowing the difference between a noun and a verb (I also remember something called a “predicate” ahem), it will be worth it to study up. While we can often “let the book be the teacher” in history or literature, that is not the case in grammar. Our students will have questions, and it is our job to know the answer.
2. Teaching formal grammar to children under ten is a waste of time.
One limitation I did discover in the minds of these little people; my friend insisted that they could not understand English Grammar; I maintained that they could and wrote a little Grammar (still waiting to be prepared for publication!) for the two of seven and eight; but she was right; I was allowed to give the lessons myself with what lucidity and freshness I could command; in vain; the Nominative ‘Case’ baffled them; their minds rejected the abstract conception just as children reject the notion of writing an “Essay on Happiness.”Vol. 6, p. 10
In the first place, grammar, being a study of words and not of things, is by no means attractive to the child, nor should he be hurried into it.Vol. 1, p. 295
I often think of this like tying shoes. You can spend a year teaching a four-year-old, or you can spend a very short amount of time teaching a six- or seven-year-old. So maybe a younger child can be taught, but it’s not efficient. To my mind, if Miss Mason couldn’t do, I likely can’t do it either. I didn’t even know English had a nominative case until I was 33.
3. Don’t expect your student to love grammar, because most students don’t.
[F]ew children take pleasure in Grammar, especially in English Grammar, which depends so little on inflexion.Vol. 6, p. 151
Miss Mason doesn’t suggest using Latin to teach grammar, but this is basically an argument for that. Latin, being highly inflected, makes grammar a lot more fun, in my opinion. Having good grammar ability can also be useful in improving your speaking skills. There are a variety of ways to improve your speaking skills, but most include knowing written grammar.
4. Start with sentences, not parts of speech.
[I]it is better that a child should begin with a sentence and not with the parts of speech, that is, he should learn a little of what is called analysis before he learns to parse. It requires some effort of abstraction for a child to perceive that when we speak, we speak about something and say something about it; and he has learned nearly all the grammar that is necessary when he knows that when we speak we use sentences and that a sentence makes sense; that we can put words together so as to make utter nonsense, as, — “Tom immediately candlestick uproarious nevertheless” — a string of words making perfect nonsense and therefore not a sentence. If we use words in such a way as to make sense we get a sentence; “John goes to school” is a sentence.Vol. 6, p. 209
It is in reading this that Cindy’s approach to grammar begins to make a world of sense. Just talk about sentences. Diagram them at the table. No. big. deal. (We imitated her approach and I wrote about it here.)
5. Grammar is not a list of rules our students should memorize.
A long time ago it was perceived that the pabulum given in schools was of the wrong sort; Grammar rules, lists of names and dates and places, — the whole stock in trade of the earlier schoolmaster — was found to be matter which the minds of children reject …Vol. 6, p. 246
Grammar is an art. This is another reason why Cindy makes so much sense.
I shall commence calling her Sensible Cindy.
6. Remember that grammar is a gift from God.
[T]he Florentines of the Middle Ages believed in “the teaching power of the Spirit of God,” believed not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, be it in geometry, or grammar, or music, was directly derived from a Divine source.
Whether we receive it or not, and the Scriptures abundantly support such a theory regarding the occurrence of knowledge, we cannot fail to perceive that here we have a harmonious and ennobling scheme of education and philosophy.Vol. 6, p. 323
We do not mean that spiritual virtues may be exhibited by the teacher, and encouraged in the child in the course of a grammar lesson; this is no doubt true, and is to be remembered; but perhaps the immediate point is that the teaching of grammar by its guiding ideas and simple principles, the true, direct, and humble teaching of grammar; without pedantry and without verbiage, is, we may venture to believe, accompanied by the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, of whom is all knowledge.Vol. 2, p. 274
7. Study it from ages 10 to 12.
In Language, by twelve, they should have a fair knowledge of English grammar, and should have read some literature.Vol. 3, p. 235
I’m not saying to stop at 12; I’m just saying that if you start around age 10, your student should qualify as having “fair knowledge” by age 12.
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