AmblesideOnline: Some Notes about Grammar

Grammar is a very finite subject--like the multiplication table. There's just a certain quantity of information to learn/comprehend. It's very abstract, and that's why we don't suggest more than parts of speech for elementary. You can get through it all in 1-2 years, easily--and middle school (grade 7 or 8) is the perfect ages for it. There are lovely grammar curriculums, and there are really basic get-it-done curriculums. I would not call this a "CM" suggestion, but if you need an introduction that your older kids can do alone . . . try (Here's hoping I don't get evicted for suggesting that.)

~Karen (on Facebook, 2018)

Dr. Edward Vavra's Grammar for Elementary and Up, which is available for free, is at; in the past, many members have had trouble actually figuring out how to use it, so AO stopped listing it as a resource on its booklists. Since then, Dr. Vavra has done some work on his site and it's much improved.

Dr. Vavra is extremely lucid on the subject of grammar. His description of how to teach grammar fits perfectly into a CM-style education, because he uses real writing (sometimes the students' own) to analyze grammar, and he recommends very short lessons. He builds slowly, in a rational way. I used the 3rd grade part of his program last year with a 2nd and 5th grader, and will be moving onto the 4th grade part this year.

When I was in the states (for 10 months or so), I looked at nearly every grammar program available to homeschoolers. I bought and sent back more grammar curricula than I care to remember. I think it's funny that the two very best programs I found were written by college professors who love their subject. My favorite textbooks were the Rod and Staff series, because I liked the way they talked to the student in a narrative style, but that still wasn't what I wanted. I looked at old books and I looked at new books--and my favorite grammar resource so far is still this web site!

BTW, although this is recommended at the 7th year level for AO, it can be used with younger children. CM introduced grammar around 4th grade, I think, but moved very slowly (covering about 10 pages in a grammar book, per term!). Dr. Vavra's course is perfect. You can move more quickly. He actually teaches the whole thing to his college classes in one semester.


For a tenth grader, would the English Grammar Handouts (or try his homepage) would be more appropriate than Dr. Vavra's program?

Yes, provided the 10th grader is at least familiar with the 8 basic parts of speech. Dr. Einarsson's English Grammar Handouts is not a "complete" grammar program, but because he wrote it for his college freshman with NO grammar background, it serves the need very well. I really appreciate the way both of these men link grammar to writing, and make it "real," rather than an abstract subject full of tedious exercises.

You could use Dr. Vavra's program just as successfully, but it would require more from you, while Dr. Einarsson's program is written to the student. Dr. Vavra couldn't find a publisher for his book--they didn't think there was a market--but I think the homeschooling market would welcome a print version of his grammar program with open arms. Maybe someday!

One thing I like about the KISS program is the "analyze a sentence per day" recommendation. This doesn't take long, and if you lift the sentences variously from books the child is reading or the child's own writing, you get loads of practice with real-life sentences. Five minutes of grammar per day--you can't get much shorter than that!

Whichever way you decide, I think you will be pleased. At $10, including shipping from Canada, I think Dr. Einarsson's book is well worth the cost. (Keep in mind, though, that you just get 3-hole-punched sheets, which you have to put in a cover.) If you use the KISS program, I would let a 10th grader use the "self-teaching" part of the curriculum on the KISS site.


I was asked some time ago to elaborate on how we used the KISS grammar program. I had to put this on the back burner, and subsequently lost the email. My apologies! I'll describe what we did briefly, and I hope this helps those who inquired. Again, I am sorry about the delay.

Last year we did the "prepositions" lessons, outlined for grade 3. I taught my children what prepositions are in this way. Prepositions are words that show relationship between two things. I have the children stand in the middle of the room. Where are you in relation to the celing? Under the ceiling. In relation to the floor? On the floor. In relation to the walls? Between the walls. In relation to your sister? Beside my sister.

I wrote down all the words we came up with, then discussed a few others, especially "with," which is a common preposition. I asked my children to make up sentences in this way: Where is Katherine in relation to the couch? I asked them to identify the preposition they used, and we wrote down a few more on the list.

After they understood what a preposition was, I explained phrases the way KISS explains them: a prepositional phrase is the preposition, plus whatever answers the question "whom or what?"

Now we started looking for prepositional phrases in books. I would read a sentence, and the children would try to find all the prepositional phrases in that sentence. We just did one or two sentences at a time.

And that's about it! This all took place across the span of many weeks. We used the list to remind us of prepositions, and after a while, they got excited about finding a new one to add. I suppose we didn't spend more then 3 or 4 hours total on this "grammar" for the year, but I hope it was enough for them to be ready to move onto the next part this year!


May I recommend once more this site:

This is a free "grammar program," but it's more than that. It's a whole philosophy of teaching grammar. I have to admit that it did not mesh perfectly with my own ideas about grammar, but I have decided to adjust my philosophy to incorporate this, because it blends so well with CM's.

The basic premise is this: you spend a teeny, tiny amount of time on grammar every day (we're talking 5 minutes--or less). Doesn't that mesh beautifully with CM? If you miss a day here and there, it's not a big deal.

You begin by teaching prepositions and learning to identify prepositional phrases. If you are beginning with a 3rd grader, that's all you do for a whole year--become very familiar with prepositional phrases, and learn to pick them out in any sentences.

Next, you learn to identify the verbs and subjects in the sentences (much easier to do with the prepositional phrases have been eliminated). You get to spend 2-3 years doing this, during which time you will also learn about adjectives and adverbs.

So this is how it works (at our house):

Mom: It's time for grammar. This is the sentence we are going to analyze today--"One morning Pa went away before daylight with the horses and wagon, and that night he came home with a wagonload of fish."

J (11yo): Of fish!

E (8yo): With the horses!

Mom: Yes, okay, let's identify the prepositional phrases. "With the horses" needs to include "and wagon." That's two--are there any more?

(Kids figure out that "with a wagonload" is a prepositional phrase, but need help with "before daylight.")

Mom: Be sure to write the preposition "before" on your preposition list (kept in their work folders). Now, what are the verbs in this sentence? Action verbs or being verbs--what is happening?

J: came!!

E: went!

Mom: Right--there are two verbs. Let's test each one for a subject. Who went?

E: Pa went.

Mom: Yes, Pa went. How about came--who came?

J: Pa.

Mom: Yes, Pa. But the sentence says, "he came home."

J: "He" is the subject?

Mom: Yes, there are two subjects, because there are two sentences, really. This is a compound sentence. "Pa went away" AND "He came back.

Grammar is over for today. :-)

This sentence came from "Little House in the Big Woods." I use sentences out of various books, because analyzing the sentences of different authors stretches us more. I've taught my kids to put the prepositional phrases in parentheses, draw a double line under the verbs, and a single line under the subjects. Sometimes, I just print out a page with five sentences on it (usually consecutive sentences from a single paragraph in a familiar story--Beatrix Potter, for example). I ask the kids to mark one sentence each day, and at the end of the week, we discuss them all at once.

I didn't do any grammar with my oldest (now 11) until he was 9. At that time, we began Simply Grammar. In the end, I decided I'm not really fond of that resource (notwithstanding the fact that CM wrote it). I like Dr. Vavra's program at the above web site much better.

I believe that the KISS program is perfect for CM families, but because the curriculum online is minimal, and offers no support, I have considered starting a list so those using it could help each other. But, the truth is, I don't have the time or desire to moderate another list. If anyone else wants to start such a list, I will join it and offer what help I can. :-) For example, I've saved all the sentences that I've typed into the computer, and would be glad to share them with others.


The AmblesideOnline curriculum does recommend a formal study of grammar starting in Year 4. This doesn't necessarily mean using the same book CM used, although that could be a possibility; just as with CM's arithmetic textbooks, Meiklejohn's or Morris's books may be too out of date, not appropriate for North American students, or just not fit the needs of your students. (Besides being hard to find.) That's why we've left the choice of books and methods open, although we do obviously have some favourites. But we do want to encourage at least some careful and detailed study of English grammar, whether it starts in grade 4, 6, or 8. [Meiklejohn's has now been put online; you can see it here.]

May I also offer an opinion as one who had little more formal grammar in school than "this is a noun, this is a verb"? I couldn't agree more with Ruth Beechick that if children hear and read good English, they will be able to speak and write it correctly without knowing what a "bare predicate" is. Agreed! However, for anyone attempting to learn a second language, knowing some of the terminology of English grammar will make it easier when it's time to conjugate verbs, use a past participle, put certain endings on words used as subjects, etc.

Also, I used to type papers for graduate students who could NOT write a decent paragraph (or spell, usually). I would not go so far as to say that knowing about past participles would have helped them much when they couldn't even frame their thoughts coherently. (This is what I think Ruth Beechick is saying too.) However, a basic knowledge of grammar would not have hurt either.

Anne W.

Grammar was taught as a separate subject, beginning in Form II (the junior grades) and continuing through high school, using a traditional textbook (at one time they used Meiklejohn's books, another time they mention Morris's English Grammar; at some point after CM's death her book now known as Simply Grammar was published). If you've ever seen Harvey's Grammar, those books were probably very similar.

~Anne W.

I don't recommend not teaching grammar, nor did CM. She taught it quite formally, albeit slowly. In the few sample sections we have, you can see that the children worked through only about 14-20 pages in a grammar book (per term). The fundamental point here is that learning formal grammar will probably not help you with correct speaking and writing--those things are better learned from hearing and reading correct speech.

Grammar will help in some of the areas that others mentioned--foreign language study and tests which many are forced to take. I actually like grammar myself, and enjoy teaching it. <g>


We don't ignore grammar, but I didn't begin to teach it formally until my daughter turned 9. I had some this-is-a-noun teacher's store workbooks etc. (from yard sales) that I was going to use, but I decided in favour of an older textbook (Grammar Is Important, by McGuire) that is very similar to Harvey's and concentrates right away on the elements of a sentence--predicate, subject, phrases, etc. I found this approach worked well--we did it a little each week, mostly orally. We did only the first bit of the book, and I'm planning to continue it this year.

Another book you might find interesting as a writer is Pinckert's Practical Grammar: A Lively, Unintimidating Guide to Usage, Punctuation, and Style, published by Writer's Digest. It is not a traditional grammar text at all; the grammar review is, as it says, practical, and it's sandwiched in with choosing right and wrong words, building strong sentences and paragraphs, arranging ideas and making transitions, revising your writing, and developing "your own personal style", which is really what it's all about, right?

I decided to start with the formal grammar text, but I'm planning on using Pinckert's with my daughter when she gets to junior high age, probably spread out over a couple of years.

Anne W.

The KISS grammar is only available online--and it is free! It may take a little time to read the material at the site, because you will have to understand the scope and reason behind the program. You can begin as early as 3rd grade, but Dr. Vavra uses this program with his college students, so it's appropriate for all grades--at different levels.


Dr. Vavra's grammar uses a very slow approach to teaching grammar using techniques which are fairly compatible with CM methods and require only about 5 minutes a day.

Leslie S.

CM taught grammar as a separate subject, beginning in Form II (the junior grades) and continuing through high school, using a traditional textbook (at one time they used Meiklejohn's books, another time they mention Morris's English Grammar; at some point after CM's death her book now known as Simply Grammar was published). If you've ever seen Harvey's Grammar, those books were probably very similar.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by Language Arts, as that's one of those terms, like Social Studies, that can mean a whole lot of things. The process of oral and written narration--not an easy exercise!--covers quite a lot of ground in composition and comprehension skills. If you mean some of the little things like homonyms, they're quite easy to teach informally or in a couple of lessons (online worksheets and puzzles).

Anne W.