Do You Have to Teach Grammar?

25 Mar

What do you think?  Should we teach grammar?  It seems that the homeschooling world is pretty divided on this topic.  Some say you absolutely must learn it, regardless of your child, and others say they’ve lived quite well without it, so why bother.

You could certainly learn to write and get along quite well in our world with very little grammar and many of us have had to do so through necessity.  Grammar hasn’t been properly taught in Australian schools for decades.  It went out the door with memorisation and phonics, when self-esteem, cushions and flower power came into the classroom.  However, I believe formal grammar is like the icing on a cake.  It’s what sets a piece of writing apart from the crowd.  It fine tunes it and makes it a pleasure to read.

The grammar debate always reminds me of my music skills.  I had always wanted to learn to play the piano as a child but, for one reason or the other, I didn’t receive lessons, so I taught myself to play a few popular tunes on the keyboard.  Others could certainly figure out the names of the songs I played, however I lacked the skill and training to get the tempo and the fine details right.  I relied on a model and my attempts to imitate it, just as homeschoolers often rely on their students absorbing grammar skills from the books they hear read.  My self-instruction worked to some extent but it didn’t open up a world of opportunities for those skills.  Regardless of the hours I spent practising those songs, no one, in their right mind, would invite me to play in front of an audience, at least not a hearing one.  🙂  My skills are limited as I lacked proper instruction.  This too is the problem that homeschooled children will face when they enter the world having only ‘absorbed’ grammar through osmosis.

Those who say we don’t have to teach grammar are partially right.  We don’t ‘have’ to teach grammar to our children in order to teach them to write, just as we don’t ‘have’ to place icing on a cake.  However, the cake that is highly sought after is the one with the icing, just as writing, where grammar instruction was applied, is a step above the rest.  That is the difference between learning formal grammar or not. Grammar is the icing on the cake.

By not teaching grammar, you limit your child’s writing audiences.  An everyday audience won’t expect top notch grammatical skills, however, a discerning audience, such as a University lecturer, many types of future employers or a paid readership, will demand nothing less than a perfectly ‘iced cake’.  Not learning formal grammar could be the difference between an Honours grade or Distinction at University or getting that highly desired job over hundreds of other applicants.

Yes, there will be children for whom learning grammar has become a major hurdle and a parent has to use their judgement to determine whether the battle is important for that particular child. However, we have to use wisdom when making these decisions.  Are we retreating from the battle as it has become too hard for us or for them?  Have we avoided the battle altogether as the thought of grammar gives us hives?  Or do we just not know what to do as we ourselves weren’t taught grammar at school?  We have to honestly consider our motives when making these kinds of decisions.

So do we really ‘need’ grammar?  Well, not necessarily.  Does grammar make that much of a difference?  It certainly does. Teaching grammar to our children isn’t a waste of time, it’s a gift to them…however, they may not thank for you that gift until much, much later.  🙂


P.S.  Nope, I wasn’t taught much grammar at school either.  Grammar enthusiasts will probably have noticed this already.  However, I’m eagerly learning alongside my children.  There have been many ‘Ah-ha!’ experiences over the years!


Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Language


4 responses to “Do You Have to Teach Grammar?

  1. Jen C

    March 25, 2014 at 9:21 am

    It’s embarrassing how little grammar I know. I thought it was just me, that I must have wiped it from my memory but now speaking with people around my age, we just weren’t taught it in school. So now I have to learn it with the kids. And it shows in my writing. I had thought about being a writer of some sort but my grammar skills are very poor. (like starting a sentence with and 😀 )

  2. Jen in NSW

    March 26, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    I am doing an Academic Writing uni prep course and I am learning a lot. I was one of those who wasn’t taught but absorbed it fairly well. The problem I had was explaining to someone whose work I was editing why something was wrong. I knew instinctively it didn’t work but couldn’t say why. Now I am learning the language about my language and it is definitely creating some a-ha moments here too. I didn’t realise there were so many rules for commas and semi-colons, but I love knowing when to use them properly now. By the way, got 90% in my first editing assignment. 🙂 Best wishes, Jen in NSW
    ( Did you know that if I had left out the pronoun after the but that there should no comma before the but? )

  3. Lisa

    March 29, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    My eldest (12) finished her grammar package a year or so ago so has simply been working on her writing. I have noticed some bad habits creeping back in so as I thought it was too soon to finish grammar but wasn’t sure what package to move her onto at her age. Have been looking at lots of grammar programs as I don’t want to go over the same thing again too much but polish up and refine her skills. Have you any ideas what you’ll be using for grammar in High?

    • Tracey

      April 2, 2014 at 8:54 am

      At this point we haven’t committed to a grammar program for highschool. We’re currently using Michael Clay Thompson grammar series so for a while we’ll be continuing on with those. I’ve personally found my greatest understanding of grammar from the MCT products. Latin has also been instrumental in our grammar program so that will also continue. Currently we’re using a little workbook called “Diagraming Sentences” which has been wonderful and fascinating. But I can’t see beyond where we are at this point. We’re just happily plodding along with our current grammar programs.


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