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    31 Days of Charlotte Mason: On Grammar

    October 25, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    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

    See here for more on this idea.

    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.

    Click here to go to the 31 Days of Charlotte Mason series directory.

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  • Reply Amy October 7, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    Cindy’s approach to grammar link isn’t working 🙁

  • Reply Nancy Buterbaugh August 23, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    The link to Cindy’s ideas about grammar are not working… Any chance you could update that link? I’d love to follow it? Does Cindy refer to Cindy Rollins?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 24, 2016 at 11:59 am

      Yes! Cindy Rollins! Unfortunately, she took her blog down a few years ago. 🙁

  • Reply sara October 26, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    I will never forget my abject horror that my daughter could not grasp the difference between a verb, helping verb and linking verb at age 9 when we first started homeschooling. I went through three programs, including a drill and kill program that we still joke about. We wasted a lot of time, and a lot of money. So far, the best grammar program for us has been Latin. And, we started Latin when she was 11, so the timing was probably much better too.

  • Reply Nelleke Plouffe October 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Interesting! I was a grammar lover as a child. Since I was homeschooled, I got plenty of it from grade three all the way up through grade twelve. (This was back in the day when most homeschoolers did “school at home”.) Now that I think back, most of it was probably unnecessary. At least I enjoyed it…

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 26, 2013 at 11:38 pm

      I didn’t realize you were second generation, Nelleke! I always get excited when I meet someone who *was* homeschooled and now *is* homeschooling. 🙂

  • Reply Cindy Rollins October 25, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks for linking to my post, I had kept forgetting to fix that ‘advise’ to ‘advice’ and thanks for giving me a moniker. My family will laugh that someone called me sensible.

  • Reply sara October 25, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    oh phooey. My almost-nine-year-old, year 4 student just started Latin, and I found that a crash course in English grammar was necessary first. I had been hoping to put it off a couple more years but he really needed to know noun, verb, adjective, and “to be.” Predicate and subject were helpful too. Now that we have that down (It only took 9 weeks) we’ll be putting the grammar aside for another long while. It now occurs to me that I probably should have put off Latin for another year.

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