What is it about boys? My girls will sit quietly and do their grammar work, but not so with my boys. I have been actively homeschooling for over 14 years and throughout all those years, getting my boys to happily do their grammar work has always been a challenge. Is that just happening at our house? Or is it that way with boys everywhere?
I have a sneaking suspicion that an aversion to grammar is wrapped up somehow in the boy genome.
There are other things wrapped up in that boy genome, too, like noise. And dirt. But I digress…
So how do I do it? How do I get my boys to sit (mostly) quietly and do their grammar lessons?
First, a disclaimer:
If you are an English teacher, don’t read this post.
If you are a public school teacher, don’t read this post.
If you are a private school teacher, don’t read this post.
If you are an English buff, don’t read this post.
If you are part of the Grammar Police, don’t read this post.
If you are a straight-laced, rule-happy person, don’t read this post.
What follows is unconventional, rule-breaking, crazy and a definitely NOT straight-laced. Prepare to be scandalized. Welcome to my school…
1. In all these years of teaching grammar, I have never found a grammar curriculum that I truly liked. Every single one I have tried (and believe me, I have tried many) has had its issues, gaps, quagmires and virtual black holes. It’s frustrating, but it is something I have come to accept.
2. I like to start teaching grammar later than most school models. I prefer to teach kids to love reading, to communicate through the art of language and to enjoy playing with language before I slam them with all the rules of language. Especially with my boys, I start late.
3. I like to rotate when I do grammar. Literature is always a part of our lives, and at least some composition is always a part of our school, but studying grammar is something I like to do every other year rather than every year — or one semester on, one semester off. (Kids learn a surprising amount of grammar from reading well-written books and from doing their own writing — often in the form of journals. Never underestimate the value of good books and journal writing.)
4. I don’t teach grammar every day of the week. I usually teach grammar on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Just knowing they won’t be doing grammar every single day helps my boys stay more focused.
5. I keep grammar lessons short. Fifteen to twenty minutes a day — that’s it. It doesn’t matter how long you hammer that lesson in, honey. If your child has mentally checked-out, there is no more learning taking place. You need to have a child’s full attention if you want them to retain what they learn. I find that even fifteen minutes of active attention can be a stretch for some boys. Tailor that lesson to your son and his attention span. Make the most of his focused attention, then move on.
6. I don’t make my boys rewrite every single sentence. I don’t know what it is about grammar workbooks, but they seem to delight in making kids rewrite long sentences just to insert one comma in the appropriate place. My girls don’t mind handwriting, but my boys don’t like it so much. I allow them to do some annotation, instead. I let them correct the sentence using proof-reading techniques rather than rewriting the whole thing. The goal is that they know where the comma goes, not that they prove they can rewrite a sentence.
7. One son uses a label maker. One of my sons is dealing with dysgraphia (a form of dyslexia). Handwriting had been a supreme challenge for him. He has no problem telling me the answers, but writing the answer down staggered him for a long time. I let him use a label maker to type his answers and fill in the blanks. There is nothing wrong with his typing skills or his intellect, just his handwriting. By using a label maker, he proves his understanding of capitalization, punctuation, sentence structure, etc., but he isn’t bogged down trying to hand write it. Besides, it’s fun, and that helps him keep focused.
Another note on dysgraphia: I worked with this son for years trying to teach him to write legibly in print. Cursive was even more difficult. The weird thing was that he could write in Elder Futhark (Look it up. It’s cool.) and other runes just fine (they use straight lines). One day, I had an “aha moment” and started letting him write in all caps (like an engineer or an architect does). Overnight, his handwriting became legible. I know that many teachers would not approve of my methods. A child MUST learn print, then cursive. However, if the point of handwriting is communication rather than meeting state standards, my method achieved the real purpose of handwriting — legible communication. An added benefit: My son no longer dreads handwriting. He isn’t hand writing any encyclopedias, but he will now pick up a pencil on his own.
8. I give my boys a reward. I’m not talking about bribery here. I’m talking about silliness. When my boys get 100%, I draw them a face. But it’s not just any face. We are talking about random silliness that a boy can appreciate. They love it. They work hard to do a good job because they don’t want to miss out on whatever face I might surprise them with next. Rocket-boy says these silly faces come out of my “mental discombobulation”. I don’t mind. I’m just happy that he knows such cool words.
You’ve already seen some examples of my handy work in this post, but here are a few more — just to prove that our school is from another planet.