Grammar Picks for Homeschooling

Grammar matters. The study of language usage helps us communicate effectively.

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This summer I’m presenting a series of posts about homeschooling and afterschooling (read: enrichment) resources that are parent-friendly and designed to boost your child’s education. If you’ve missed previous posts, head here for the “anchor” post and all the links.

This week, we’re talking grammar. Grammar? Why do we need grammar?

  • Because we do?
  • Because it’s what we’ve always done?
  • Because Abraham Lincoln knew a gerund from a present participle?
  • Because I said so?

Trust me when I say that these reasons won’t fly well with your children — or your gut. It’s downright silly to require your kids to learn something that has no purpose in this world. So, if you don’t know why you’re teaching something, you better find out.

Unfortunately, that’s what people think about grammar; that it serves no purpose in this world. In my teaching credential/Master’s program at UCSB almost 20 years ago, my professors claimed that the study of grammar was obsolete. The program as a whole really did not encourage the teaching of grammar at all, neither did the school where I later taught. It was relegated to the ranks of old school teachers who should be retired already, complete with eye rolling by those more hip educators.

Grammar matters.

In my gut I’ve known that grammar was a good thing. As a French major, grammar mattered tremendously in the acquisition of a new language. As a French major, I found that grammar mattered tremendously in my acquisition of a new language. So did phonics.

The parts of speech are, in fact, the building blocks of languages, English, French, German, etc. They basically tell you the job that a certain kind of word does in the sentence. And to communicate effect we need to put words to work in the way they function best.

The argument my professors used for dissing grammar was that we intuitively know when to use which words. They claimed that with abundant reading a child would develop an ear for the right way for things to sound, that we don’t need to formally teach it.

However, in this global society that we live in with multiple languages being spoken, written, and read in one square block, I think this is less likely to happen for the masses, let alone the kids in our own homes.

I help my three year old learn to say “I can do it,” instead of “Me do it.”

In order to acquire fluency in a language — whether foreign or our own — an understanding of the jobs that words do is helpful. Not only does this help us use the words correctly, but it also helps us correct our own errors in writing and speaking.

Grammar helps us learn our own language better as well as acquire fluency in foreign languages.

Grammar resources for the homeschool

Over the years we’ve used three different grammar programs. Here’s a brief review of each:

The Easy Grammar systems – We started out using Easy Grammar when my oldest was in 1st or second grade. At that time, I had four or five kids, mostly preschool and below, so let’s just say that I was in “survival mode”.

While I knew grammar was an important subject to teach, the baby daze was too overwhelming for me to sweat it too much. Easy Grammar, particularly the pink book was, indeed, an easy way to talk about the basics of language usage. My older boys did a page or two a day up into the middle grades at which point I realized that they didn’t completely “get it” when it came to articulating the jobs words did.

It’s about this time that the baby haze cleared and we switched what we were doing.

The older boys switched into Winston Grammar, a very hands-on program in that flashcards are used to teach diagramming and the parts of speech. I liked this aspect of the program since it was very visual and kinesthetic.

We plugged along for both the Basic and Advanced Programs while I used a different program with my younger kids. By using two different programs at the same time, I had a great experience of comparison. I found that the other program was giving ME an excellent refresher course in grammar while I was almost as confused as my bigger boys with Winston Grammar.

While leads me to my best pick for Grammar:

I have now used First Language Lessons, levels 1 through 3 with my younger boys with great success. It is repetitive, but that is good. I feel like I’m really grasping a lot of things that I didn’t previously understand about grammar — and my schooling included weekly grammar instruction for all 12 grades!

The program uses songs, poems, and stories to teach not only grammar, but also basic language and writing skills. I wish we had started with the first level book with all my boys, but better late than never!

And since Peace Hill Press wasn’t making this book when I first started, now a few years later, I know they’ve improved on the original editions, so I still win.

The plan for next year

Next year I’ll be teaching grammar formally with five of my six kids. Now that I understand more of my purposes for doing grammar, I feel like I have a better direction for teaching the kids. Obviously, my two older boys have been products of scientific experiment, so they aren’t getting the benefits as much as the younger kids.

Isn’t that how it is in parenting? They get some of the best of me, and some not.

So, I’ve decided that their grammar this year will be simply review and filling in the gaps. I’m using texts that are designed for lower level grades as a way of doing this. Plus, I’m combining two kids into one program which should make my work load a little easier.

Here’s our grammar plan for next year:

Grammar doesn’t have to have a bad rap. It’s amazing to me that it has in the past. But, words are so important. And when we use them effectively, we communicate so much more.

And I want my kids to be good communicators.

What’s YOUR take on grammar instruction?

Disclosure: Peace Hill Press has provided me with a few complimentary grammar resources to use next year. However, I already knew and loved the program; I would have bought these anyway. All opinions are my own. This post does include Amazon affiliate links. If you make a purchase through those links, I am paid a small amount in way of advertising fees.

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Comments

  1. Melissa says:

    Oh, I’m happy to read this! I see why people may feel that “teaching” grammar is a waste of time that could be better used to teach other subjects, but I don’t think that people automatically absorb it. I also think it’s important. I hate seeing incorrect grammar, word usage, or the like; it causes me to stop and I lose the message of the writer, because I’m focused on the error (or what I think is an error!) I know it’s all too easy to make typos, but I really respect a writer who takes a moment to re-read their posts and comments and make sure that a grammatical misstep isn’t going to derail the delivery of their message.

  2. I love grammar! I was exceedingly fortunate and had a teacher in high school who taught grammar. I loved it. In college, I majored in English and yet was usually the only one in the room (minus the professor) who could identify various parts of speech, types of sentences, etc. It has come in handy through the years as I’ve edited many of my husband’s papers for grad school and even had the chance to edit a book for a friend of mine. I want to make sure my daughter learns grammar, and am appreciative that you gave some recommendations. Thanks!

  3. I love grammar! Thanks for this post. I’m a homeschooling mom of six as well.

    Sorry my first comment on your blog is a correction, but grammar is not a French major. Since this post *is* about grammar I thought I’d point out this little mistake. It’s meant very kindly and with a smile! :) Keep up the terrific work on your blog. I love it!
    ———
    As a French major, grammar mattered tremendously in the acquisition of a new language.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Ha! Duly noted. How’s this? As a French major, I found that grammar mattered tremendously in my acquisition of a new language.

      • Jessica Fisher says:

        I think that since I know the grammar rule, I know how to fix the error you’re pointing out. Point made. ;)

        • Yes, that’s exactly what I would have done… and we all knew that is what you meant. :)

          You’re ahead of me if you know the rule. I usually sputter something like “That thingie before the comma has to agree with the subject.”

  4. I teach in the public school system. We still teach grammar daily in my elementary school. Our problem isn’t that we don’t want to teach it, but our wonderful elected officials keep upping the standards. We are in the middle of a transition to new standards that are going to increase material difficulty. Some things that are currently taught in 3rd grade will be taught in 1st. This has made me wonder if I want to continue teaching and having my children attend public schools. I want to teach the old basics, not these new high level math and science standards. I want my kids to be kids not doing what I did in high school.

  5. Lynette W. says:

    Jessica – is the Faith based at all? Not that I need a faith based language arts program, but just curious. Also – is this a whole language arts program? Or just the grammar part of it? Do you use a separate language arts program? Thanks for sharing! I was just getting ready to buy some Easy Grams for my kiddo, but wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      The only grammar program that I’ve mentioned that is specifically faith based is the Rod and Staff program. First Language Lessons encompasses grammar, narration, and copywork. Peace Hill Press has a separate program for composition which we’re going to start this year.

      • Lynette W. says:

        Also – is there a way to test your kiddos to see where they fall, so you know which book to purchase for them? I’ve got one going into 4th grade and I’m not sure which book I should be using!

        • Jessica Fisher says:

          I don’t think there is a placement test for that. But, I think jumping into the 4th grade book would be fine. My older guys are going to have LOTS of review in doing that, but I just want to make sure we fill the gaps.

          • Lynette W. says:

            One more question! Thanks so much for keeping up! Do you recommend ordering both the teacher edition and the student work-book in them, when you get to level 3? Just trying to figure out if I need both of them for this year :) There are no very detailed reviews that I can find any where listing exactly what I need! Thank you again!

  6. My husband is grammar lover (he thinks diagramming sentences is a blast) and it helped him tremendously when he studied Greek and Hebrew in seminary.

  7. Grammar is a must if you want to learn such languages as German, Latin, Russian, Swedish, etc… I didn’t realize at the time but I’m grateful to my french teacher in grade 9 that made us do a dictation of one sentence everyday and after made us analyse one word of the sentence. I understood a couple of years later when I began learning German (which is a declension language) how important it is in that language the function of the word in the sentence because the endings are different.

    I’m probably a little older than you Jessica, but after grade 10, we didn’t make any sentence analysis, it was wiped out of the programs! I’m originally from province of Québec and same thing happened here as you when you were in college.

    (I apologize in advance if I have made grammar mistakes in my post, English is not my first language, French is.)

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I think you did great. ;) I’m realizing that the tools my French teachers used to teach me a second language (dictation, copywork, etc) are super valuable in teaching my children their first one.

  8. No wonder no one seems to be able to speak correctly! I had no idea they weren’t teaching grammar anymore. We’re about 95% leaning towards homeschool. This is a very timely series for me deciding what to do if we do stay home. It’s funny because I kind of decided kindergarten would be all about grammar and learning to read. Who knew I was so archaic?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I don’t know if this is widespread. But, this was the secondary education philosophy at my university. It may very well be different in other places.

  9. I tried First Language Lessons with my 1st grader and it just was NOT a good fit for him. The repetition drove us both nuts. Good concept, just not the best for us.

    We’re trying Easy Grammar this year for 2nd grade. He’s done a few pages over the summer and the style really works for him. It is repetitive, but introduces concepts frequently enough to keep his interest.

    • I’ve gone back and forth between these two curriculums. Which one would you say can be learned more independently. I have older kids, and a couple younger kids that take more of my time. I want something my older kids can work on their own as much as possible.

  10. Sorry for 2 comments, but I should add that I’m going to try First Language Lessons again when my #2 kiddo is in first grade. I think it will be right up her alley. She’s a totally different type of learner than my oldest.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I was just going to comment on your first comment. Isn’t it interesting how different kids are?

      • It is interesting! And this leads to my problem of not being able to sell/giveaway curriculum that doesn’t work for us. I always think that *surely* one of my other 3 could use this so why give it away?!

  11. I’m the grammar stickler in the house. Not that I’m perfect or remember all the odd rules but my guys know what the raised eyebrow and an “excuse me” (especially if the eyebrow doesn’t work). I purposefully let dad “overhear” certain grammar lessons hoping the more common infractions can be tamed (subject/verb agreement, etc.)

    Love Rod & Staff but the youngest couldn’t handle the diagramming with his concrete thinking issues (still an issue at 11). Although I can understand where you are coming from with Winston Grammar (chuckles at your description), it is a blessing for us for this kiddo in that he can “see” the cards to make grammar more concrete. No more tears! The cards are rarely used anymore, but if he gets stuck he knows to figure it out with the cards before asking for help– it gives him a visual for problem solving skills. I’m hoping to transition back to Rod & Staff when he can handle it.

    I’m glad you posted this as I need to ask my oldest if he wants to do Advanced Winston Grammar or Rod and Staff. I do most of my grammar instruction through IEW composition but want to continue reviewing with a traditional text. I might edit my husbands papers and such, but I’m sure there are rules that I don’t remember.

  12. I had a teacher in highschool who was a stickler for proper grammer, punctuation, etc. Now I find myself being just as picky. As a public school elementary teacher, I have discovered that even though I teach grammar in my class, kids tend to write the way they speak. Thanks to technology, they are even turning in papers to me with “text lingo”, missing punctuation, and so on. I am glad to see that others find good use of grammar to be important. Not using it properly can really mess up what you are trying to say. I saw this in a picture posted on someone’s Facebook the other day, about the proper use of commas. Without a comma, “Let’s eat, Grandpa!” becomes “Let’s eat Grandpa!” I don’t think Grandpa would taste all that good anyway! Don’t get me started on forms of words, such as to, too, two/their, they’re, there/your, you’re…….

  13. I’m not an English teacher or grammar pro, but I have a dad who’s very good with languages, so I grew up hearing proper grammar and even discussing infractions at the dinner table :) It’s very important to purposely teach grammar. Especially with the advent of Facebook, blogs, texting, and easily-accessible internet articles, people are exposed to poor grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax on a daily basis. If you don’t teach your kids correct grammar and the other things that go along with it, they’ll probably absorb all the *wrong* rules from the general public. And even though we can speak/write correctly based on what sounds right most of the time, there’s always that odd situation where you don’t know what sounds right, or when the wrong thing sounds right! :) Thanks for sticking up for good, old-fashioned grammar lessons! (And it’s rather scary to comment on a grammar-rules post–pardon any mistakes! Can’t take time to do a full edit :) )

  14. Thank you for writing this series. Due to an incredibly chaotic spring and summer, I’ve been a bit behind on school planning for the upcoming year. Looking back over these posts has been quite helpful.

    We started Rod & Staff last year with our then second grader and he’s doing really well with it. He hasn’t finished English 2 yet, so he has been working on it over the summer. However, I’m not sure his younger brother, who will be in first grade this year, will do as well, so I’m looking into other programs.

    Funny aside: My husband and I have a running grammar correction joke! If either of us fails to use an adverb in the correct place (ie. verb is used instead), the other will simply say “ly” after the word has been said! Realistically, both of us know when we’ve made the error, but it was too late to correct it when we realized it, so the other simply adds the sound we left out!

  15. I’m SO HAPPY I found your post today (via a google search)! Next year will be our third year homeschooling. My boys had no formal grammar instruction in their private school. I started my younger one last year with FLL level 2, and we are continuing with 3 this year. I love it and plan on using FLL level 4 next year with him. I used Growing with Grammar with my older son these two years (level 5 & 6), since I thought he was too old for FLL. While he is doing ok, I’ve been so tempted to switch him at various points, but have not mustered up the courage because I worry about taking him “back” so many levels. He would really benefit from the systematic approach to grammar that FLL has, though. Now that I see that someone else has used FLL level 4 with a 7th grader, I’m feeling better about this idea! Thanks for sharing!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Just don’t tell my 7th grader it’s a 4th grade book! ;) Most of it has been very easy for him, but I am glad to have filled in the gaps to make sure he got the basics. Now to figure out what to do next year….

      PS. Glad you found me, too. Welcome!

  16. I am curious how this worked for you this year? I have been using FLL and WWE with 3 of my kids this year and I find it to be very teacher-intensive and repetitive. I have found myself wondering if there was a way to simplify without loosing the richness of the curriculum. Thanks for sharing what you have learned along the way!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      You know, I like it. Granted I’m going through four grammar books a day among five kids, so I’m definitely repeating myself. But, I’m thinking the repetition within the grade level is working. My kids seem to be getting it. I will continue with FLL 2 and 4 for those kids next year. Not sure what to do with the big ones for grammar yet.

      As for the writing, well, the jury is still out. It is repetitive. But, I never took the time to read the main book for the WWE series. That could be my problem. Did you read the main book?

      • I did read it, and I highly recommend it. I really like the cirriculum (upon reflection, my comment before sounded very negative), I especially like the repition/review within the grade level. There have been a couple of times after MANY repeats that my daughter has said, “Oh, now I get it!”
        There are so many similarities between grades, I wish there was a way to combine lessons and have individualized work of varied intensity. Also, I would love to teach the lesson and have them work through, rather than teach-work, teach-work, teach-work. I have six children (similarly spaced, but a few years behind you) As much as I like ‘holding their hand’ throughout, I am short on time to do so.
        I read in a previous comment about combining multiple students to one level; maybe I will give that a try!
        Oh, please excuse *loosing*, I really did mean losing! ;)

  17. Also…..Analytical Grammar is FABULOUS!

  18. Thanks for this! Two weeks ago I realized that my my second and forth graders have never studied grammar! I am not sure if the school even teaches grammar anymore. I will be purchasing the level one book soon.

  19. J. Alyson Kelch says:

    My oldest daughter, home schooled and in high school, absolutely loves learning Japanese, with the goal to travel to Japan. Before the end of her first year in an online Japanese course she realized the value of grammar. In order for her to fully understand how the Japanese language constructs sentences, she had to understand English grammar, not a subject that she has enjoyed. Now English grammar is a subject she has a strong desire to better understand, not because she wants to understand English grammar, but so she can better understand Japanese.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight!
    Alyson

  20. Lynette Wilhelm says:

    Hi Jessica!

    Don’t know if you are still checking answers on this or not – but thought I would ask any way! lol. As per your suggestion, we have been using First Language Lessons for 2 yrs now. I have LOVED it! It is a fantastic grammar program, and my kids have all loved it. My oldest is finishing up level 4 this year, and since there is no more levels of FLL, nor will they be making any more :( Wondering what you use these days after FLL is done? How is the Rod and Staff going for you? Do you feel that going from FLL to it was an easy transition? I keep looking at Easy Grammar, but I’m afraid that after FLL it will be to easy for her. Part of me wonders if we really need to do any further specific grammar lessons past level four of FLL. Any thoughts? Thank you so much for your time! I know it is very valuable!

    • I personally thought that Rod and Staff, while good, was a little more in-depth than I think is necessary. It had parts of speech I had never heard of — and I had a pretty in-depth grammar education. I felt it was just a little over the top. I did Easy Grammar for years, but there is really little instruction in the books, so it kinda fell flat for us.

      I like Winston Grammar. It’s very hands on and what I used for my big boys since they missed the FLL wave.

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