It’s both fascinating and frustrating to go from the teacher in a classroom to homeschooling. Fascinating because so much we were led to believe (and I mean staunchly, don’t-dare-question-the-system believe) about how children learn isn’t true and it’s easier than we think, and frustrating because so much we were led to believe about how children learn isn’t true and it’s easier than we think.
Grammar is one of those things.
I was an English teacher after being an avid English student, thoroughly enjoying everything from diagramming sentences to detecting rhyme schemes in poetry.
And even as I loved the tedious parsing of sentences, with a little thought, I realized it wasn’t helping my students become better communicators–the sole purpose of teaching language. Which was good news, because most kids hate it anyway so it ends up being a huge waste of time.
Now as a disclaimer, I don’t discourage teaching grammar. I still teach some, though I don’t panic about sticking to a strict regimen of completing every exercise in a workbook. I try to ask, “what will help them become better communicators?” and work around that. But I’m also suggesting that copywork alone is a sufficient foundation for learning to become an excellent communicator. The focus should be on the use of language. If and when they need to put the proper names with it, that can be easily taught.
So what started in the classroom and has followed me to teaching my children at home, is a complete revolution in my thinking about grammar and language, confirmed by results that overturn a long-standing belief about grammar.
Another thing that confirmed we might be spending too much time on technicality and not enough on usage, is that few people I question as adults can tell me what different parts of speech are. They might be able to identify a noun and pronoun, a verb and adjective, but beyond that, we forget. That doesn’t mean, though, that they can’t craft great written works.
How to Do Copywork
Copywork is copying other well-written work. Just like artists once copied other artists, so did early scholars copy good writers. Even in Hebrew culture, the bulk of education was copying the Torah.
From a young age I let my children copy sentences from their books, from the Bible, from poetry or any other work they wish. A few sentences for the younger ones, moving to paragraphs for the older ones.
It is important that they learn to copy the text exactly as it written, including punctuation and capitalization. Over time, the habits they copy will become ingrained in their command of language.
One of my children’s favorite hobbies is becoming pen pals with friends. This is a great exercise in penmanship and practicing proper grammar. This is one of the first writing “assignments” my children have. I help them a little with grammar, punctuation, etc., encouraging them to use what they’ve learned in copywork.
As they get older, we do written narrations once a week. This is simply a short essay about a particular book they are reading. I check it for spelling, grammar, punctuation and have them correct their mistakes.
With very little formal grammar, my children are all, so far, good writers and communicators. Interestingly, they know when they hear wrong syntax that it’s wrong. Like most of us. Most of us know when an irregular verb has been misused, or an objective case pronoun should be in the nominative case, even if we can’t name the mistake. The names aren’t important. Being able to recognize and use the proper language is.
To help your children know whether to use an objective or nominative case pronoun when multiple pronouns are used, just have them do a simple test:
For example, if they are writing the sentence, “Do you want to ride bikes with Amy and (I, me)?” Just leave out “Amy” and see which one fits.