Part one of my review of Michael C. Thompson’s Language Arts curriculum give an overview of the elementary series (the first three books) and how my boys and I have found it valuable to our homeschooling. This portion discusses in more depth our experience of the grammar and poetics books.
I enjoy grammar. My first experience with formal grammar and sentence diagramming came in seventh grade, my first year in a Catholic school, and having had almost no grammar prior to that class, I was forced into the deep end from the start. No dipping toes into the shallow end, spending weeks on each part of speech or part of the sentence. My teacher dove in, knowing most of the class had years of grammar exposure. And thank goodness she did. Seeing all the parts at once and learning how to parse them on lines, angled and straight, made the function of each part of speech more clear, I feel, than presenting them one-by-one. Give me the whole picture, please, then let me digest.
That’s how Thompson’s grammar series works. In a short period of time, in the clearest language, he clearly explains parts of speech, parts of the sentence, phrases, and clauses. All eight parts of speech present themselves in Grammar Island (level I). Well, of course. The learner needs all of them to understand phrases, clauses, subjects, predicates, and all the rest. To some degree, one must jump right in to understand English grammar. Understanding the whole requires knowing the parts, but the parts are meaningless without the context of the whole. In subsequent books, additional details about verbal phrases, dependent versus independent clauses, and nuances of punctuation deepen the grammar toolbox the learner acquires. The sentences to parse grow in difficulty, but the tools are there to break them down.
In two months (give or take, depending on the learner), study of the grammar book for the year is complete. No need to worry about retention, however. The practice book for each level, consisting of 100 sentences for four-level analysis (parts of speech, parts of the sentence, phrases, and clauses), allows a learner to work with progressively more complex sentences throughout the year. The grammar is reiterated throughout the corresponding vocabulary, writing, and poetic books, worked naturally into these subjects as well. Grammar sits in the center throughout all the books. Intimately understanding grammar leads to deeper understanding of poetry, literature, and nonfiction. Grammar knowledge leads to understanding punctuation rules: commas and semicolons lose their mystique with knowledge of phrases and clauses. Apprehension of the parts of speech grants writers greater confidence using new vocabulary appropriately (and the vocabulary books emphasize this lesson). Grammar is the base of the MCT series, and a mighty base it is.
While I’ve taught from the first three grammar books and own the corresponding poetry books, I’ve only taught from the first of his poetic series, Music of the Hemispheres. Despite an undergraduate major in English, I’ve never appreciated the beauty of poetry’s language. I often felt lost in a search for the poem’s meaning. (Does the mountain symbolize something in this poem? Am I missing some other deep theme here? I had no time for the music of the language itself. What does the poem really mean already!?) That’s no way to enjoy poetry, and Music of the Hemispheres has shown me what I’ve been missing. As my younger child (8 years) and I enjoy this volume together, his vocabulary for poetics expands. Alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, meter, and rhyme scheme become terms he throws around when we’re away from the book as well as during lessons. He’s soaking it in and applying it to all sorts of writing. Now that’s appreciation of poetry.
Grammar and poetry are half the program. I’ll review the first three books of composition and vocabulary soon. Stay tuned!