You might think that a mom with a degree in English would have the easiest time teaching writing and grammar to her children, but that is not the case. When I was little, this was my strength. I wrote poetry and stories in my free time, and I never minded my English classes. They were my favorite classes, and I received good grades in them. I read every word of every book I was assigned, and I was the only one in my entire school who actually did the summer reading and wrote reports on those books too. (A shout out and thank you to my Aunt Carolyn for typing up those reports for me! I think she even included my errors so that my teachers would know I wrote them.)
To tell the truth, since I was good at writing, I can’t remember how I learned grammar. Even though I can write well, I can only tell you the most basic grammar rules now. I cannot diagram sentences. I’m still not sure what a direct object is. I do remember learning how to “brainstorm” and make outlines in school, and I found this helpful. I still use these tools today.
I am pretty sure I learned the most about writing by reading. I didn’t read obsessively, but I read plenty. I absorbed the words and learned how our language should sound.
But I still wasn’t perfect. In one of my favorite college classes, Dr. Weinstein would never give me more than a high B on my papers. This was so frustrating to me when I saw another woman (who clearly didn’t enjoy the class as much as I did) get a 98 on all her papers. What was I doing wrong? I went to speak to him about my grade, and he told me that I was a good writer, and he wished more students wrote as well as I did. But he wouldn’t change my grade. He didn’t say much else except that I overused the word “really.” (I still do. I have to edit out my “reallys.” Really, you should rarely, if ever, use the word “really” in your writing.)
While I was in college, I met a woman who was about ten years older than I was at the time. She was a student and a single mom and lived in an apartment across the street from the university. I complained to her about my grade on the paper, and she said that she was a good writer, and she would look at my paper for me. She invited me to come over to her apartment after my classes. So I did. I gave her my paper, and she sat down at her kitchen table and read it.
“Ah-ha,” she said.
She proceeded to go through my paper and eliminate extraneous words that didn’t need to be there. “And here,” she said, “Is there a better way you could say this in less words?” I thought a moment and answered. “Yes!” she said. “If you can say it simple, keep it simple!”
She helped me with 2-3 papers, and after that, I got it. I got it! My grades improved, and I have been a better writer ever since.
Now I’m shouting in my head: Why is it that no teacher ever explained any of that to me? I went through 12 years of public school and 2-3 years of college as an English major before I met someone who wasn’t a teacher but who was a better writer than I was and who didn’t mind taking the time to help me. It had very little to do with grammar. It had to do with word choice and structure. I had learned a lot through reading, and I must have learned grammar in school, but no one had ever gone through my writing with a fine-toothed comb. I was still trying to write with big words as many young writers try to do, and I used words like “really.”
As a homeschooling mom, I am now faced with the task of teaching my boys writing and grammar. If they were like me and loved to write, it would be easy for me. I would allow them to write and slowly but surely correct mistakes. I wouldn’t correct too much in the beginning because you need to let young children be creative and learn to love the act of writing without stymieing them. As they move into high school, you can be more nit-picky. As they were capable, I would assign books for them to read (mostly I would let them read what they wanted to), and we would talk about the word structure and grammar as we go along. If they wanted to be published writers, I would have a wealth of information to pass on to them.
Unfortunately, so far, my boys do not like writing or making up stories. (Well, they have a little in the past, but that was fleeting.) Right now, they will not put pen to paper unless forced to. For the most part, I’m kind of relieved. I am too excited to learn about all the subjects I thought I wasn’t good at as a child like science and history and classical music. Besides this, wanting to be a writer all my life but failing miserably has caused me so much pain that I don’t particularly want to raise another writer.
But I do want to raise competent writers, and I’m sure I will raise competent writers. This is because I’m not in a hurry. Like learning how to read, I believe learning how to write can come when a child is ready for it. If I continue to read to them and do short, simple lessons with them, I am sure we will slowly master the technique of writing. If I push it (like they do in school), I am sure I will raise boys who hate writing and think they are not good at it. Similar to what happened with me with math, etc.
Despite all this, I am still faced with that task of teaching them grammar because like it or not, you have to know grammar to pass standardized tests or college entrance tests. (Let me note that as an English major, I never had to answer any grammar questions in college.) And someone I was corresponding with made a good point to say that it is useful to understand the terms we use to speak about language, especially if one would like to study a foreign language.
As I mentioned above, if my boys enjoyed letting me take dictation or otherwise wrote on their own, I could slowly introduce grammar concepts to them, but they don’t like to write, so I came back to square one and wondered how I could do this without squashing their potential to love writing. I wondered if there were a curriculum out there that I would like to use. Unlike math or science where I have no background and most curricula are helpful, I knew I would be picky about this. So I decided to write a comprehensive review of language arts curricula for home/school/life magazine. I intend to do the best job I can so that you can benefit from this too.
These are the gracious companies who have sent me curriculum for my review:
Peace Hill Press, First Language Lessons
Winston Grammar Program
Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts
Lost Classics: Primary Language Lessons
Institute for Excellence in Writing
These are companies who said they would send me curriculum, but I’m still waiting for it:
Learning Language Arts Through Literature
I am also going to include Grammar-land, which is a free download, into the review.
I’m writing this list here so that you can tell me if I have missed any curriculum that you think must be included in my review. Please note that I prefer secular curricula because home/school/life magazine is a secular resource, but if it’s not secular, and you feel secular homeschoolers would still appreciate it, go ahead and recommend it.
I can already see good things in most of these curricula, and I’m excited to continue to dig into them. I am open to changing my mind about how I would like to approach this subject with my children, but it’s going to take a long time to sort through them and collect my thoughts about them. I am also getting my boys’ opinion about each of them. I will let you know when my review is published in home/school/life.