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!