Mason on early grammar teaching

composition IX charlotte mason on grammarAs with yesterday’s post, this is just an quick overview from the series. I’ll share more detailed specifics based on reading through old programmes and exams next.

“English is rather a logical study dealing with sentences and the positions that words occupy in them than with words and what they are in their own right. Therefore it is better that a child should begin with a sentence and not with the parts of speech, that is, he should learn a little of what is called analysis before he learns to parse.

It requires some effort of abstraction for a child to perceive that when we speak, we speak about something and say something about it; and he has learned nearly all the grammar that is necessary when he knows that when we speak we use sentences and that a sentence makes sense; that we can put words together so as to make utter nonsense, as,––”Tom immediately candlestick uproarious nevertheless”––a string of words making perfect nonsense and therefore not a sentence. If we use words in such a way as to make sense we get a sentence; “John goes to school” is a sentence. Every sentence has two parts, (1), the thing we speak of, and (2), what we say about it. We speak of John, we say about him that he goes to school. At this stage the children require many exercises in finding out the first and second parts of simple sentences.

When they are quite familiar with the fact that the first part of a sentence is what we speak about, they may get a name for it, subject, which will be made simpler to them if they know the word subject means that which we talk about. For instance, we may say, the subject of conversation was parsley, which is another way of saying the thing we were speaking about was parsley. To sum up such a lesson, the class should learn,

––Words put together so as to make sense form a sentence. A sentence has two parts, that which we speak of and what we say about it. That which we speak of is the subject.

Children will probably be slow to receive this first lesson in abstract knowledge, and we must remember that knowledge in this sort is difficult and uncongenial. Their minds deal with the concrete and they have the singular faculty of being able to make concrete images out of the merest gossamer of a fairy tale. A seven year old child sings,––

I cannot see fairies,
I dream them.
There is no fairy that can hide from me;
I keep on dreaming till I find him.
There you are, Primrose! I see you, Blackwing!”

But a child cannot dream parts of speech, and any grown-up twaddle attempting to personify such abstractions offends a small person who with all his love of play and nonsense has a serious mind. Most children can be got to take in the notion of a sentence as, words making sense, especially if they are allowed a few excursions into non-sense, the gibberish of strings of words which do not make sense. Again, by dint of many interesting exercises in which they never lose sight of the subject, they get hold of that idea also.

One more initial idea is necessary if children are not to wander blindfold through the mazes of grammar ‘as she is’ not ‘spoke,’ but writ in books. They must be familiar with verbs and perhaps the simplest way to approach this idea is to cause them to make sentences with two words, the thing they speak of and what they say about it,––Mary sings, Auntie knits, Henry runs. In each of these examples, the child will see the thing we speak of and what we say about it.”


Series at a glance- see the linked TOC for the entire series

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