Friday, April 3, 2015

Grammar for Your Child

Grammar is important for you and your child when reviewing a composition.  If your child cannot write well, then all the college classes that grade on written essays will pummel your child mercilessly.  If you can ensure your child learns grammar, then written assignments have a better first draft and editing goes more smoothly.  But why discuss grammar?  Is it not taught in the schools?  Sadly, you cannot rely on the schools to teach grammar, or to teach it competently.

Grammar, writing skills, and vocabulary are all part of the mixture for good writing.  Grammar has lost respect in the schools for a number of reasons.  One reason is that it is viewed as a skill and the educational philosopher John Dewey has disparaged the teaching of skills, calling such instruction stultifying and mechanistic.  Another reason is that Noam Chomsky's theories of grammar were misinterpreted, leading teachers to believe we are born with grammar programmed into our minds, making it unnecessary to teach the subject.

As a parent with two children having gone through the Plano schools, I can tell you that if you care about writing skills, then you would be wise to coach your child on grammar and writing (and math, but that is another topic).  In elementary and middle school I have found the series of books called Spectrum Language Arts to be very worthwhile.  You can find them at if you cannot find them at your local bookstore.  If you do not go over every single page of these workbooks with your child, pick some parts to review with your child. Do not neglect your child's education if you value education.

Vocabulary is definitely neglected in the schools.  In middle school I used a book with my son called "Picture These SAT Words."   I found it very helpful.

I made the mistake of taking my eye off the ball in middle school with regard to grammar.  I did use the 6th grade Spectrum Language Arts.  It was a good resource and I still have it because it did a better job covering linking verbs than some college handbooks.  Yes, by the time your child is in college there is an expectation that many of the topics in grammar have been mastered.  Some opportunities are lost forever if you do not exploit them when you have the chance.  I failed to use Spectrum Language Arts in grades 7 and 8 and I regret that.  Honestly, Connected Math drove me to distraction in 7th and 8th grades and it crowded out grammar and writing.  I would also suggest Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliot for middle school grammar. There is a section in the back called "Cleaning Up Messy Writing" that is very worthwhile, even for adults.

Spend time with your children on grammar and writing in elementary and middle school.  Your children will reap a lifetime of benefit.  By the time your children reach high school it will be too late to help them.  Too many years of neglect cannot be made up in high school, and your children will probably be too independent in high school to accept your help.

Elementary and middle school is your time to help your children.  High school and college are the times your children show the world what they have mastered, or not mastered, in grammar and writing.  The years pass by quickly, don't miss your chance to help your children.


PS: My focus in this post was education for grades 1 to 8.  If you want the long view, the goal of where your child should be headed with regard to grammar and writing, then I can recommend a couple of books.  My favorite grammar handbook is The Hodges Harbrace Handbook, 18th Edition.  My favorite style guide for writing is The Practical Stylist: The Classic Guide to Style by Sheridan Baker.  These are both outstanding books.  I think they are the best, and I own quite a few great books on grammar and writing.  If you wonder about the difference between the 8th edition of The Practical Stylist and the latest edition, I can tell you they are exactly the same book.  There is an 8th edition with readings that includes essays. "Shooting the Elephant" by George Orwell is included.  This is a well regarded essay.  "Relinquishing Oz" by Bonnie Friedman is a skunk of an essay,  So you cannot count all all the essays matching your taste.  Of course, I've yet to see an eclectic essay collection that I liked whole-heartedly.

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