I think I mentioned here before that we are now using First Language Lessons as a kind of pre-grammar curriculum. I still think it is a worthwhile book, and very easy to use. However, I noticed something interesting.
This book contains a lot more rote practice than I would do if designing a curriculum from scratch. It has the instructor say phrases like, “a noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea,” and have the student repeat it three times until he has memorized it. It also has the instructor ask questions and then the student is supposed to answer in complete sentences. For example, the book would have me ask Sam, “Is ‘city’ a common noun or a proper noun?” and then later, “Is ‘Oakton’ a common noun or a proper noun?” Well today, as review, I asked Sam about the difference between common and proper nouns and her answer was, “A common noun is the first one and a proper noun is the second one.”
I had to really think about why on earth she would say that before the light bulb went off.
I’m not 100% positive the book always asked about common nouns first and proper nouns second, but it certainly was a trend. And Sam never had any idea what I was talking about. She just caught on that I would always ask common before proper.
And now I think back on a lot of the other Q&A we did using this book and Sam could have fooled me into thinking she understood most of it, just by her pattern-recognition abilities. She does have an excellent memory. (I don’t mean she fooled me intentionally – she just found the shortest distance between two points – the easiest way for her to get the “right” answer.)
Part of the problem is the whole approach of classical education – way too much rote memorization of “facts.” But the other part of the problem is indicated by my scare-quotes around the word “facts.” This book basically starts out by defining a noun, and then adding on the narrower concepts of common and proper nouns. It gives the definitions, yes, but not one time, ever, in this book, is there a sentence with words in it and an attempt to show the child that each word in a sentence has a purpose. It doesn’t touch on why we should figure out the purpose of different types of words – in other words, what is the motivation for learning all this?
Sam didn’t balk at the lessons and I thought that was because she was getting something from them. But now I think all she liked about it was that she could parrot something back to mommy and get my seal of approval on it. It fits in with her love of memorization.
So now I’m stuck again on grammar. I looked at the Montessori curriculum guide again and it’s really not all that different. It has concrete manipulatives, yes, but it still kind of just jumps in by telling you what a noun is outside the context of a sentence. And of course it requires a ton of specialized materials and takes a lot of prep work. I’m willing to do that if I think it’s worth the effort, but I’m not convinced the Montessori approach is quite right either. I never diagrammed sentences when I was a child, so I don’t know if there is a prerequisite for it. But it seems like the sentence is the first-level concept here. (I don’t mean first-level overall, just the beginning concept in the subject of grammar.) Maybe that’s where we should begin. And maybe it is too early, which is fine with me as well.
So, my plan now is to listen to Leonard Peikofff’s course on grammar (which you can now get for a super-low price from the Ayn Rand eStore in digital format) , and then to take a look at Rex Barks, (sentence diagramming) which I’ve had on my bookshself since long before Sam was born. Then I’ll decide whether we are ready for grammar at all, and try to find a better place to start.
We’ll still use First Language Lessons for the poem memorization work and some other exercises. And the Q&A might work as a supplement to whatever we end up doing with grammar. But on its own, I don’t recommend it as a way to start grammar.