It is always a fun honor to chat with Andrew Pudewa and this conversation was no different. First, this guest comes prepared. In the podcast Andrew dives into three different modes of teaching grammar — and what we think of as traditional grammar instruction is only a part of one of those modes.
We also chat about why grammar (and words and thinking) are so important — especially in the times in which we live today. There is so much good information in this one, it is going to blow you away. Enjoy!
Links and resources from today’s show:
- Institute for Excellence in Writing
- Meet Andrew Pudewa
- Morning Time Plans
- Fix It! Grammar
- Paper and Pen: What the Research Says
- YMB 86 Liberal Arts in the Age of Stem: A Conversation with Martin Cothran
- The War Against Grammar
- English Grammar for Students of Russian
- Enough About Grammar
The War Against Grammar (CrossCurrents Series)Paper and Pen: What the Research SaysThe Baby-Sitters Club Graphic Novels #1-7: A Graphix Collection: Full-Color Edition (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix)English Grammar for Students of Russian: The Study Guide for Those Learning Russian (English grammar series)Enough About Grammar
Andrew: I mean we could wax philosophical and go even deeper and say, well, grammar is the thing that makes everything possible. What are all these things called? And what are the rules that govern their behavior? And when we start failing to identify things, and when we start failing to understand the rules that govern their behavior, and that extends beyond English or a foreign language or anything that, I mean, there’s the grammar of stuff in life. And when we fail to understand the rules that govern behavior, we’re actually failing then to understand the thing itself.
Pam: This is Your Morning Basket where we help you bring truth, goodness, and beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone. And welcome to episode 99 of the Your Morning Basket podcast. I’m Pam Barnhill, your host. And I’m so happy that you’re joining me here today. Well, on today’s episode of the podcast, we have the very wonderful Andrew Pudewa who is probably one of the biggest influences in my own home school, started all of that, reading the loud and memorizing poetry, thanks to Andrew.
And he's just had such a huge impact through the years, as we've used more and more of IEW’s, wonderful materials, teaching the kids to write to handwrite and to do composition as well. So love having Andrew on the show as always, and today he's going to be talking all about Krammer now hold onto your hats, because this is not the podcast that you might expect it to be. We do talk a little bit about nouns and verbs and things like that.
Andrew also talks about kind of the three modes of learning grammar. I'm going to let him share with you what those are and how one of those Morning Time is absolutely the perfect fit for that. So we're going to be diving deep into what grammar means and how we can learn it in our homeschool. And why is it even important for us to teach it?
So we're going to get on with that conversation in just a minute, but before we do, I would like to invite you over to download our free month of morning, time, morning, time plans. These Morning Time plans help you bring truth, goodness, and beauty to your homeschool day. And we have done all the hard work for you. We've chosen the art. We've chosen the books. We've chosen the poems for you, the songs, everything that you need to make it super easy on mom, to begin a wonderful Morning Time habit in your home. And you can find this free sample set of plans pambarnhill.com/month. And now on with the podcast.
Andrew Pudewa is the founder and director of the Institute of excellence in writing. And he is a father of seven. He is a beloved voice in the homeschooling community who speaks on issues related to teaching, writing, thinking, spelling, and music with clarity, insight, practical experience, and humor through his work, he has helped to transform reluctant writers into confident ones and has provided educators with valuable tools to improve their students' skills. He and his wife, Robin have homeschooled their seven children and are now proud grandparents of 14. They make their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Andrew, welcome to the podcast.
Hey Pam, it's so good to be with you. And I want to be sure. And let you know that I have a couple of homeschooling daughters who love Your Morning Basket. Oh. So glad to hear that. So glad to hear that. So, so much fun.
Well, listen, I want to talk to you a little bit before we get started diving off into grammar about what you have seen happening in homeschool education in the past year. Has this been kind of a big explosion that you've seen?
Oh, sure. It was in a way kind of the perfect storm for us unexpectedly, but when the COVID hit and the schools mostly shut down and people were just looking for “Now what am I going to do for the rest of the year? What am I going to do next year? If the schools don't open?” And so we just had a huge influx of traffic to our website, I think mostly through searches and word of mouth.
We also didn't do any conventions as you know, in 2020. And so we took that convention budget and put it into more online outreach and we got a whole lot of good results from that effort. And then the third thing that happened was we released our new program Structure and Style for Students, which had been three years in the making. And so we were able to release that at the beginning of 2020.
And so new products are always a good thing for us and people finding out and getting interested. So yeah, we were up almost to the point where we couldn't handle the volume by the late fall of the year. So now the big question on everybody's mind is how many of those people who were unintentional homeschoolers or accidental homeschoolers or reluctant homeschoolers or COVID schoolers, how many are going to continue and stay outside the school system that they were part of previous to that.
Okay. Okay. So yeah, that was one of the places I was going to go with this question. Do you have any insight into that? Do you think that we're actually gonna, we're actually gonna keep some of those folks in the homeschooling community?
Well, I think so I've been to a few conferences this year, as I think you have. And I met a lot of people who came to my talk or came to our booth and said, yes, you know, this was our first year homeschooling. We really didn't know much about it, but I found some friends or people at my church and they helped me figure out what to do, and my kids are happier and we're going to keep going. In fact, this very day, this morning, I got two letters from kids. One was nine years old and one said she was in seventh grade, one in Massachusetts, one in California. And both of them said in the letter, we're doing your writing course. That's why I'm writing to you to tell you how much I love your jokes. And I've learned a lot about writing and I never did anything like this in school, and now we're homeschooling and I hope we are going to continue. So if you know, that's any reflection of the sentiment among the kids out there, this could be kind of a permanent expansion.
Yeah, yeah. You know, I think that the greatest thing that I've heard this year and what has just been so wonderful for me are the moms who have come to me and said, “This was something that I always wanted to do. And I never thought I could. And now, because we were thrown into it now I know I can do it and I want to keep doing it.” And I just love to hear that. I love to hear, you know, people just kind of being empowered to take this on and take a little more, being a little more active in their kids' education. I mean, obviously, you know, I was a school teacher for a number of years and the kids who really succeeded even in the public school system where kids who had parents who were involved and active in their education, but now they're, they're being filled with this confidence that, Hey, I can keep doing this. And so I love that so much.
Yeah. The other thing of course, is the explosion of resources that are available from online classes to video courses like we have, and then kind of an explosion of alternative programs like hybrid schools or charter schools in states where it's legal and strong. These programs are all thriving. In fact, I have a few friends who run hybrid school programs and they say, they've just been blown away by the increased level of interest and enrollment for, you know, even in the fall. So I think people are, are basically saying, Hey, it's possible to break free from this every day, five days a week, send your kids to school. And like you said, be more involved, be more aware and the resources are so, so abundant right now.
Yeah. Yeah. I agree. I agree. And I will tell you, we did a structure in style for students this year with my two boys and we absolutely loved it. The boys loved your jokes. And we did level a for both of my boys, cause I have one who was about that right age and then another one who struggles with dyslexia and it was perfect for him.
I had talked to some of your folks there at IEW and said, where should I put this kid? And that's where they told me to put him. And it was perfect because he was able to be so independent in the program. You know, the readings were interesting and just so many things and we actually got lizards, there were so many, we got lizards for Christmas and it was, there were so many of the articles and the stories and everything in that particular level had to do with reptiles and lizards and things like that. I'm like, okay, I'm pretty sure that these lizards are Andrew Pudewa’s fault.
We, we didn't try to create a theme like we have for our theme based writing lesson books, you know, ancient history based writing lessons or Narnia based writing lessons. But we did want to have some kind of thread that kind of connected the source text and that was deserts. So a while we did have some rattlesnakes and lizards, we, we also visited Antarctica which unbeknownst to many is a desert it's so little precipitation. And of course, you know, I'm, I'm always trying to make source texts that are boy friendly that kind of attract the imagination of the child, especially if they're kind of a reluctant writer, because that just makes it easier when, when they kind of can say that's cool.
Yeah. Yeah. And it totally worked. It did. And so now we're the proud owners of a leopard gecko and a bearded dragon, so
So much Fun. So yeah. Well, let's, let's kind of dive off into our topic today of grammar.
And you know, the other thing we did this year was we used Fix It Grammar, the boys use level one and it was, it was a great program for them. They really picked up on a lot of grammar and were able to have conversations about things like strong verbs and good additives and LY words and all kinds of things. But why, why is grammar important? Why should we even bother to teach it to our kids?
Well, you know, that's a question that has been asked for some time in many schools and by many academics is, you know, why teach this? And Hey, you know, it kind of goes back to the idea of, do you want to just do something haphazardly,
like speak and write English? Or do you want to understand it better so that you can do it better? I would say that we're reaching kind of a, a very, that there is a very vocal group of people out there who are now starting to say things like not only is grammar, unnecessary, it's actually racist because when you say that there's a correct way of doing things, well, then what about all the people who don't do it that way? Are you making them wrong, invalidating their communication, et cetera, et cetera. And so you do have to kind of walk through now carefully because I think there's a lot of misinformation about what Grammar is and why you would teach it. And then of course, you know, how do you teach it?
One of the quotes that I came across as I was kind of researching a little bit about this, I think is, is very, very insightful. So I'm going to throw that at you. It's actually from Confucius. So it goes back a long, long way, about 500 BC and Confucius is said to have said, and I'll quote this as exactly as I can. “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant. If, what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone. If this remains undone morals and art will deteriorate. If justice goes astray that people will stand about in helpless confusion, hence there must be non arbitrariness in what is said, this matters above everything.”
So that kind of blew me away because it's, you know, he was talking about the nature of accuracy in language and the morals and the art and consequently, the justice of a society.
Yeah. Like everything in the society hinges on that, on that language, on what words are chosen. Wow. That's a big quote.
Well, and we've, we've seen various incidences of public figures saying things that came across as rather ridiculous from a grammatical or logical point of view, but remained unchallenged. There was a president who said, “that depends on the meaning of the word is.” Okay, there, there was a speaker of the house that said, “We need to pass this law so we can find out what's in it.”
Now, if you have even the simplest apprehension of language and logic and its grammar that makes logic possible, those should strike you as being misinformed at best and unintelligent. And yet very little repercussions of this. So, you know, we could go into a deep dive of how language is, has been used throughout history to manipulate, mislead or control people. And, I think as a teacher of language and as a homeschooling, I have to say grandparent now, cause all my kids are grown, but all of my daughters who have children are homeschooling or are intending to homeschool their kids, it goes against our gut level instinct. That correct use of language is kind of core to learning anything and particularly to communicating well, you know, you, I think are familiar with that whole idea of the Trivium and the quadrivium and the liberal arts and the trivium being grammar, logic and rhetoric. Well, it's grammar that allows for logic and rhetoric to happen. And so if we degrade the value of grammar, we then also will see a corresponding decline in the quality of logic and of rhetoric in the, in the sense of seeking truth. You know, the word rhetoric kind of has a bad rep these days. You know, if you hear it or read it on a blog, it's usually, oh, that rhetoric as if this is some horrible, person's attempt to convince us of something we shouldn't believe. But really, you know, our rhetoric is not just the art of persuasion, but the art of truth seeking. And how can we seek truth if we don't have a common understanding of what makes language accurate? And I mean, we could wax philosophical and go even deeper and say, well, grammar is the thing that makes everything possible. It's it's what are all these things called and what are the rules that govern their behavior?
And when we start failing to identify things, and when we start failing to understand the rules that govern their behavior, and that extends, it extends beyond English or a foreign language or anything that, I mean, there's the grammar of stuff in life. And when we fail to understand the rules that govern behavior, we're actually failing then to understand the thing itself.
Oh, I love that. I love that. Well, when we think of the idea of English grammar then, and we think about the ideas of, we need to understand the rules that govern so we can understand the thing itself. So we need to understand the rules that govern language so we can understand language and we can use it to communicate.
I think a lot of moms who are kind of struggling with this idea of do I need to teach grammar or a lot of moms, honestly, I feel like teach grammar, but don't understand why they do it. They just do it because you know, it comes with the curriculum or somebody says it needs to be done, or it was what they did in school. So how does something like learning to identify nouns and verbs help us to understand the thing itself?
Wow. So I'm going to recommend a book. We don't sell it and it is a fairly expensive and small book. So you might, you know, go to Amazon or, or Barnes and noble and look at this book and say, wow, that's expensive.
But you know, diamonds are small too, but it's entitled The War Against Grammar by David Mulroy. And Mulroy was a professor of classics, classic literature at, I believe the University of Wisconsin for many years. And he noticed over his tenure there that the students coming to him had a decreasing ability to understand just the literal meaning of things that they were reading.
And he wondered, you know, what, why is this? And so he tried a little experiment. It's really quite a humorous, tragic, painful, but humorous at the same time, a little chapter in his book, he decided to give all of his students the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, which is, and, we will acknowledge is a 72 word sentence. So it's not a simple sentence, but it is kind of foundational to the whole rest of the declaration and everything that stems from that. And he asked them two questions as bonus points on a quiz, right? So for extra points, answer these two questions. Number one, do you recognize this? And if so, where's it from, and number two, in your own words, what does this mean? Now? These were not bonehead English students. This was a classics literature class, large public university. So these weren't stupid kids, but what he found is that fewer than half of them could recognize it at all, had any idea where it came from.
And only about a third of them had any idea what it meant. And in the book. And the humorous part is he actually put some of the responses that he got from the students in the book, and you could read what they wrote to paraphrase it. And what was very clear is that they couldn't understand it because they couldn't parse the sentence.
In other words, they didn't know what the subject of the sentence was. And this, this little experiment, he tried it many times found this pretty much the same results caused him to take a sabbatical and go and research. And the result of this research was the book he wrote the war against grammar that there has actually been an active opposition to the teaching of formal grammar in schools for close to 50 years now.
That okay. So I had to pull up the Declaration of Independence. Cause I knew like the first couple, you know, the first little bit I could get you to through like the pursuit of happiness. Right. But yeah. Wow. That, that is, I'm going to have to go find that book now. Well, you'll, You'll love it. And your kids will think it's interesting too.
It's a little book. I've probably read the whole thing four or five times and I've read parts of it more than that and quoted from it. But you know, I think that if we have a generation of people who cannot read a complex sentence from our own founding documents and understand what it means, well, I think that should be considered kind of problematic by most of us.
My good friend. I know, you know, my friend, Andrew Kern, he weren't said I quote him because I think it's, it's tragically humorous again. He said, “If you cannot read a complex sentence and understand it, you cannot think a complex thought. And if you cannot think a complex thought, please don't vote.” Yeah. Yeah. There is something to be said for literacy of our heritage, unless what we want is to just throw it all out and start all over again, light years behind.
Well then you could make arguments that that is sometimes what it seems to be that people want as well. And boy, we could go off on a rabbit trail as to why there has been a deterioration of the teaching of grammar in schools. You know, it's funny because my kids often ask me, well, mom, why do we have to learn to write cursive? You know, why do, and, and I said, you know, I said, learning to write cursive is a good thing. I love it when I take you into the bank to open an account, or a couple of my kids just got jobs this summer and they had to actually sign the forms and they knew how to do that, which was fabulous. Cause I still have one little one that's working his way into being able to sign his name. But I told him even more important than this is the ability to read cursive. Because if you cannot read cursive, then you cannot read a lot of these source documents, these founding documents. And you'll just have to rely on somebody else to tell you what they say.
Yeah. You can also tell those kids since they know me a little bit, that I've done some research and I have this in a talk that I gave and I think it's recorded and available online. It's called Paper and Pen: What the Research Says, but evidently you can tell them writing in cursive stimulates areas of the brain, particularly in the artistic and intuitive areas of brain function that are not stimulated in the same way with printing on paper.
You actually use more of your brain and, and very possibly promote a creative side to your writing by doing cursive. So there's some real practical application as well. But you know, I would say that for a lot of parents and kids, there is this question of, well, okay, why study English, grammar?
I already speak English. I already know it. So it's irrelevant to me. And that's one of the paradoxes. Grammar is hugely important. And yet it seems irrelevant because you know, you, you speak English pretty much perfectly, and you've done so since you were six or seven years old. So why, why study, how you do what you already do? It makes about as much sense as sitting through a lecture on how to ride a bike, right? It's like, yeah, I know how to ride a bike. Why do I have to sit here? Well, you need to know all the biology and physics that makes bike riding possible. Could I just go ride my bike, you know, would that be okay. And so there is that kind of thinking.
And so I've pointed out that I believe there are three divisions or aspects of the study grammar. One is inherent grammar. It is the just absorption of language that you get pretty much accidentally through growing up the people you live with and talk to the environments that you go into more significantly would be the books that you hear or read because you're more likely, as a child growing up, you're more likely to encounter a higher level of complexity of language in a book than you are in a day to day interaction with anybody or online or whatever.
So when parents read and I know you're a huge fan and we've talked about this before, but when parents are read to children from books that are maybe even above that child's decoding level that's and talking about it, that's pulling up comprehension, that's giving them what I would call inherent grammar. And that is by far the most important thing, I would guess that Mulroy’s students didn't necessarily fail to understand the sentence because they didn't diagram it or, you know, parse out all the parts of speech in it. But because their sense of language in general has been declining since the advent of screen-based entertainment and kids not being read to a lot decrease in reading, even among people who want to read more, we're all reading less because we're distracted by continuous interference of technology and current information. So I always say to parents, look, if you read a good or great book to your kids out loud and talk about it a little bit, to find some words, you know, explain some idioms, connect the dots with the illusions whatever's happening there. You're actually teaching grammar in the fundamental and most important way you can do it. So if you have no other time to do anything else, except read out loud to your kids, that's going to accomplish more than half of what you want to try and accomplish in teaching language skills.
I love that. I love that because so often we feel like, oh, we've got to pull out a workbook or we've got to, you know, we've got to kind of set aside this formal time. And, and there certainly is a place for a lot of that. I really think as kids get older, not so much with kids who are like really, really young, like a first or second grade, but so much of that inherent learning can come from reading really good quality books to your kids and having those different kinds of conversations about figures of speech and idioms, as you mentioned, and things like that. And I think as we see the language has changed so much since the Declaration of Independence, because as the grammar has become it's, the writing has come down in quality too. And so the kinds of things that our kids have the opportunity to read when they do read are not written in this way at all.
Right. And you know, a lot of kids, they kind of do lateral shifts in their own readings. So they start out and they get their, you know, tools for decoding. And then someone throws at them, some drivel like Babysitters Club or Star Wars and they practice their decoding and they're titillated by these stories and that's okay. But then, you know, they get a little older, so they have to read something that looks like it was written for someone a little bit older. So they do a lateral shift and they pick up, you know, whatever is popular at that time.
And then they get a little bit older. So I have to read something that looks like, you know, is written for someone older. So they pick up popular young adult or teen fiction, and then they become adults and they do another lateral shift and they pick up popular stuff that looks like it's written for adults, but really the only difference between Danielle Steel and Babysitters Club is the length of the book and the debauchery of the characters, the yeah, the complexity and sophistication of language is not much different. And that's why it's so important for parents to read to children and maybe supplement that with audio books too. But to do that at a level above their own decoding skills. So that there's something that pulls up their comprehension. And you, you can sure. Tell a kid who's read too a lot because their vocabulary just kind of pops out at you.
Like, wow, how did that kid know that word? He heard it not in daily life, not in conversation, not on the internet, but because someone read to him a good or great book. So I would call that inherent grammar. And it is by far the most important thing, because that creates the database of vocabulary and syntax and understanding of the relationships between words and how they work together to create meaning, all of that stuff.
That's by far the most important thing. And one thing you said just a minute ago reminded me of something, my friend, Todd Wilson once said, he said sometimes the best homeschooling doesn't look like school at all.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I think the great thing is you have a whole bunch of moms who are listening to this podcast right now. And I can just heard this collective sigh of relief because I, one of the questions I, you know, that was going to come up in the conversation was what do you do about the mom? Who's like, I can't diagram a sentence. I hated grammar. When I was in school. I don't know what to do. And you know, we've just given them permission, read to your kids above their reading level and have some just general good conversations about the words on the page and the ideas in the book. And that is the best way to teach grammar with your kids, this inherent kind of grammar.
Yeah. So that's the first of the three divisions. The second is what I term applied grammar. And that would be okay. Can you use words to say what you wanted to say? And can you use a variety of grammatical constructions to make your expression engaging, interesting as well as, as accurate as possible. And that mostly comes through writing. When you teach composition, you're kind of forced to learn grammatical stuff. Assuming you want to get beyond just the stream of consciousness, random flow of words, coming from a kid's brain onto the paper. But if you want something that's organized, something that is a little bit stylish, something that maybe pushes the limits of the sophistication of which that child is possible. Then you end up having an opportunity to teach those things through a composition, you know, particularly our approach. You, you know, it well structure and style. We have these checklists, so, okay. There's going to be a strong verb. And the checklist will to do that. You now have to know what is this, what is a verb and what makes it strong to do, you know, and to do a subordinate clause, an adverb or a dependent clause, you have to know what that is, but you learn it best by doing it and not just trying to identify it. And so by using the tools, and this is true in anything, you know, whether a child is studying some other art form like music or, or painting, or whether it's a sport, you don't learn things by saying, aha, I know what that is. You learn it by doing it and showing that you know what it is.
And that's a hundred times more powerful. So I always like to say to people, you know, we teach grammar surreptitiously, we sneak it in on you. Yeah. You don't have to know what an adjectival clause is to do one.
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's, I think, you know, as moms are listening right now, like never once this year, did my kids, the word subordinate clause or anything like that, we just did it in the writing, you know, as it came up. So it's not like they're throwing the big words that the kids know that they can't handle big words, but sometimes it's just you practice doing it first before you find out what it is, especially when you're in elementary school, you're able to, to use those, some of those clauses and things like that without necessarily having to use the name of it in the conversation.
Right. And once you've learned to do something, then if someone says, oh, by the way, that is innovative. And they're like, oh, well I know how to do that. Then you've got something to attach the idea to.
Whereas if you, you know, you just turned chapter 12, verbals, participles, infinitives, and gerunds, you know, who cares, but if you, if you know how to create those things, and then someone gives you the label for it, you've got something to attach it to, and it works better. And that kind of leads us to the third division of grammar, which is what I would call analytical grammar. In other words, knowing all of the details of what are those things called and how do they work and what are the variations under what circumstances, what do they exactly mean? And like taking the whole motorcycle apart and figuring out what every little piece is called and then following a diagram to try and put it back together.
For most people, you learn that better by just trying to take a piece of your motorcycle off and put it back on rather than deconstruct the whole thing. So I think we tend to dump analytical grammar on kids at an age when it is least likely to be engaging, least likely to be useful. And then again, using the wrong method, by trying to teach grammar in English. English is actually the worst language to study grammar because you already speak it. It's also got crazy number of oddities and exceptions because English is this mishmash of Greek and Latin and French and German and Anglo-Saxon and who knows what else? So I always say, if you actually wanted to study analytical grammar, the best thing to do is study a foreign language because you don't already know it.
Therefore now you have a need for the information to be able to read something in French or Latin and understand what it means as well as write something in French or Latin and communicate what you're trying to. So, and I I've talked to any number, probably if I counted them all many, many dozens, if not hundreds of people who have said to me, something like, I never understood English grammar until I took German in college. That's when it made sense.
Yeah. Yeah. I'm a, I'm actually one of those people that a little book, I can remember it very fondly. I kept it for years and years, but it was English Grammar for Students of Russian. And because I took Russian in college and that was the book that taught me more grammar than, than anything else. But you, you hit upon something. And I have said this for years and I have absolutely no scientific data to back it up, but I feel like the brain, when it, when it's ready to handle algebra, then it's ready to handle analytical grammar. There's almost like a, to me they're kind of the same, they idea of algebra and analytical grammar and kind of like the kinds of thinking that it takes to do both of those things seem to come about the same time to me.
Yeah. I would agree. It is very, it is a very abstract thing. And so there is a level of maturity. I mean, kids reach that age at different levels. You know, I've met ten-year-olds who couldn't actually grasp the concept of variables and equations and start to do, you know, some algebra at that age. And then I've met, you know, older kids who are still not quite ready for that. Same thing with the grammar, I would point out a significant difference between grammar and math. And that is that in math, you always get the same answer. If you do, if you solve the problem correctly, it's concrete, it's absolute, it's black or white it's right or wrong.
And that's really very comforting when you compare it to grammar, there are lots of opinions about things and those things make it more of an art than a science. It's not something you can just know, and it's always the same. It is one of the liberal arts. It's something you do, you practice it and being in art, it changes over time.
You know, the correct English that we would look at is say, Microsoft Word grammar, checker standard today would be different than declaration of independence. Thomas Jefferson, even Charles Dickens, you could paste in a bunch of Charles Dickens to Microsoft word, and it would green light, green, green underline, huge chunks of it. You can go back even further and say, well, Shakespeare used words we don't even have in the dictionary anymore. Does that mean one is right or wrong? No, it's changed. So, the standards and rules are somewhat fluid in that they do change from generation to generation, from country to country. Sometimes even from classroom to classroom within one institution. And, you know, I could throw at you a very simple sentence that any English speaking person would say without a thought and ask you a question about it. And there would be at least three, maybe four different answers that people would give. You want to try it.
Oh sure. You can just display my ignorance for the world to see.
No, no, you know, this is, so this came from a book that I had many years ago called Enough About Grammar by Joe Floren. It was a book for business people, how to use, but not be hindered by the bugaboos of English grammar. So anyway, the second chapter was entitled, Pay Your Money and Take Your Choice. So here's the sentence he gave this sentence to four to six grammar experts, head of department, high school, head of department college grammar hotline. This was, you know, this is five, six decades ago. So before the internet, here's the sentence. “We went camping every summer.” very simple, short, natural English sentence. We went camping every summer. Now the question he asked is what part of speech is camping?
You want to hazard a guess? I am going to say, give me just a second. I'm trying to just, sorry. Cause it is hard.
It's good. And I hope all the listeners are having that same question. Like, okay, what part of speech has camping given my knowledge of grammar? How would I label that? If it were, you know, in a workbook or someone tried to make me do that? What, what would you do? My gut reaction is it's a nail down.
Because it is an activity that we are doing, but I'm trying to figure out how that fits with the burb. So this is a problem almost specific to English. There are other languages that this would not be a problem with, but he gave it to six experts and get this four different answers. So answer number one. And I don't know if there was a, he didn't say which got the more votes, but of six people, there were four answers. So two them must have been repeated, but one answer was kind of what you said, which is camping is a Gerund.
So it's, it's a verbal, but it's operating like a noun receiving the object of the verb go. So you, you, you got one of the answers. So feel Good about that. The second answer was “go camping” is a verb. So you can't separate the went and the camping because it's operating as a single verb. And that would probably be the way it was in a different language, like Latin, where you'd have, you know, you'd have a, a particular construction and it would be an ending rather than a separate word. So the third answer to me, this was a real stretch, but Hey, this is an expert who gave the answer. Camping is operating as an adverb because it tells how or where or when you went.
That opened a big big can of worms for me, because if you start calling things like that, an adverb, then you've almost redefined a part of speech for most of us. I wouldn't vote for that one, but my favorite answer was the expert who said camping isn't anything. Well, wait a minute, That violates every principle you're supposed to be able to lay well, everything. So I always point that out to people and say, you do have to relax a little bit because grammar is an art, not a science. There are lots of different ways to get to the end and it's changing. But that doesn't mean that we don't want to attend to the particulars of how we use language here and now, and for what purpose.
So kind of a humorous problem. But I do find that that also gives the mom this little sigh of relief, like, okay. So I don't have to know every single right. Answer to everything in order to teach this.
Yeah. And that, and that's very much the case. So many times that, that you really, really don't. So that's a great example and it really is true. I've had these conversations with friends before where we were trying to figure out, you know, what part of speech specific words were in the sentence and they're usually you could make an argument for more than one answer. And so I do think for moms, just take this deep breath and step back and it's okay. Because, you know, it's all about the conversation that you're having about words and language at that point. And just the fact that you're having the conversation is sometimes more important than getting some of these little nitpicky things. Exactly. Right. You know, so I love that.
Okay. So how can we do some of this in our homes? You've already given us some great examples with inherent grammar, which I think is probably the best way to bring grammar into Morning Time reading aloud to that group of kids, reading a little bit above their level, having conversations about what you're reading and the words and the different figurative language and things like that, that you're seeing in there. What are some of your other favorite resources for grammar education in the homeschool?
Well, I, of course like our structure and style writing programs, because I, you know, I've actually had adults, I've even had teachers, you know, professional people who are teaching come to our seminar, learn our program of Structure and Style practice with all the dress-ups and openers and decorations. And then say to me, you know, sometime after that, wow, I feel like I've learned more grammar in this course than I knew before. So there is that tremendous value of just practicing it, practicing it, practicing it.
And then, you know, I encourage everyone to do a foreign language for sure. The questions then are when to start and which language to teach. And again, you know, you can kind of get into conversational foreign language with young children. And there are a lot of curriculums and programs available to promote that idea. And we know that the younger a child is the more readily their absorbent mind will catch on to the pronunciation or the combinations of words and gain fluency, given the right conditions and opportunities more easily because they're younger.
However, when it gets to the more formal study of the language where you want to be able to read and understand, and also write to some degree in that foreign language, you know, usually that's somewhere around, you know, kids being 10 years old, like, like you said, you know, getting into that abstract math phase, 10, 11. One school I know starts their formal Latin instruction in grade, but you know, there's no reason you'd have to start that young. It would be great to start, you know, somewhere around the middle school. And in terms of the best language, probably it's Latin, but a lot of people say, well, Latin's a dead language. You don't even use it.
So why would you waste your time learning that there's a huge argument that can be made as to why Latin is actually the most useful foreign language to study. If you are an English speaking student and that's almost the topic for a whole nother hour's worth of podcasts. But, you know, the short answer is Latin is extremely well-organized. So it's convenient for learning grammar and you learn more grammar faster by learning how to conjugate verbs and decline nouns and memorize the lists of prepositions and understand how, you know, gerunds work and all that stuff. That's going to happen after a few years of studying Latin and it'll make a whole lot more sense. As I said, you know, the college, you know, the adult who said, I didn't get it till I went to college and studied German because then you have to know that stuff. So I would strongly encourage people to consider Latin as a foreign language to adopt in their homeschool, probably starting, you know, grade four or five plus or minus a little bit. But, you know, even if you've got teenagers, it's not too late, it is better to have studied a couple of years of Latin when you're older than two, haven't done none of it at all. And then if indeed, you do want to study Spanish because you live in a place where there's a lot of Spanish speaking people or French, or honestly, even Japanese, I lived in Japan three years and I will tell you that studying Latin in high school gave me a quicker access to learning Japanese because I understood more about the structure of languages, right? And then you can get into, you know, the fact that over 60% of English words of three syllables or more are derived from the Latin.
You get into the idea that if you go into any kind of thing, like law or medicine, the vocabulary, any science, the vocabulary is all derived from Latin. There's just so many advantages. And I'm by no means the best person to talk about it. I can speak from experience, but not from academic mastery.
It's funny. We had Martin Cothran on the podcast earlier this year, and we were talking about being a logical thinker and critical thinking and things like that. And his answer for that was, oh, you need to study Latin. And so we just keep coming back to this idea, this kind of the versatility of this language and, and all of the things that you gain from a study of Latin, it just keeps coming up again.
And again and again. So yeah, I wouldn't want any new homeschool mom out there to be, you know, frightened by the idea that, oh, no, if I don't someday teach Latin to my kids, I'm failing them. Or I guess I can't be, you know, I can't be a, a good homeschooler if I don't do this. That's, that's ridiculous. I mean, there's 101 ways to homeschool and more, there's a thousand ways to homeschool and it's kind of like a smorgasbord there's, you know, there's main dishes and there's, you know, side dishes and their salads and there's desserts in it. You don't have to do it all to have a really great meal. And so you'll choose and maybe say, well, no, I'm more comfortable learning French or I'm more comfortable learning Spanish. That's okay.
But I do believe that one of the best ways for a student to understand his or her own language, which for us would be English, is the study of any other foreign language. Even if it isn't connected with English, even if it's Chinese or Arabic or whatever.
Yeah. Yeah. I agree too. And yeah, the Barnhill family, we don't, there are some kids who are not studying Latin, so yeah. Homeschool in a way that works for your family. So well, Andrew, wow. This was a fascinating conversation. It always is. I always start with this big, long list of questions and then add you just take me to places that I hadn't planned on going. And it was all that much more fascinating because of it. So thank you so much for coming on and chatting with us today about grammar and, and how we can do it in our homeschools.
Well, thank you so much. It is always a joy to talk to you. Whether informally as we meet here and there, or making a recording like this, and you're doing such a great workout, they're encouraging so many moms. And hopefully that will continue to grow as the parents that are finding out about the, the potential and the potential joys of homeschooling grow in the ranks.
Well, thank you. And there you have it. Now, if you would like links to any of the books or resources that Andrew spoke about today, or a link to check out the wonderful materials on the IEW website, you can find them in the show notes for this episode of the podcast. That's at Pambarnhill.com/ymb99. And, oh my goodness. Did you hear that 99? That means our next episode is our hundred, Your Morning Basket podcast episode. And we are so excited about this one. Dawn Garrett, and I will be back in a couple of weeks and we will be counting back and talking about our favorite episodes of the podcast and some of your favorites based on download numbers as well. So you're going to want to join us for kind of a look back through the years as we take a peek at all the different Morning Time topics that we've talked about until then keep seeking truth, goodness, and beauty in your homeschool day.
Key Ideas about Grammar in Morning Time
Grammar is essential to being able to understand and communicate complex ideas.
Andrew discusses the three divisions of the study of grammar: inherent grammar, applied grammar, and analytical grammar.
The most fundamental and important way to teach grammar is simple. Read good books with your kids that are above their reading level, and then talk about new words they may not know, explain idioms and figures of speech, or discuss illusions that may be present in the text.
Being able to use words to convey what you mean, as is done in written composition, is applied grammar. Analytical grammar is the skill and ability to recognize the different parts of speech and how they can be used in a sentence.
Studying a foreign language, particularly Latin, is an important and useful tool for better understanding grammar.
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