"As human beings, we can put sentences together even as children—we can all do grammar. But to be able to talk about how sentences are built, about the types of words and word groups that make up sentences—that is knowing about grammar. And knowing about grammar offers a window into the human mind and into our amazingly complex mental capacity."
Being a writer and a general word nerd, I really do love grammar, but I'm quite aware that not everyone shares that passion - including my children! My daughter is entering sixth grade. She has been in a weekly grammar class for the last two years, and tolerated it fairly well (the tutor was great, it was the subject that she tolerated). Recently, however, I have been on the hunt for a new grammar curriculum to use with her, as we have transitioned from the Classical Conversations version of classical education to a new and exciting pathway.
After looking at many different options, I'm delighted to find one that I believe is both thorough and accessible - Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind. I particularly want to share here how it stands up to the curriculum, Essentials of the English Language, that we have used for the past two years.
Essentials of the English Language, 4th edition, is published and sold by Classical Conversations MultiMedia. It is only sold through the Classical Conversations online bookstore, and only to families who are confirmed registered students in a weekly CC-licensed Essentials class, although it may be purchased used through multiple online venues for selling and swapping homeschool curriculum.
The similarities, however, stop there. Essentials is intended to be used only in a CC-licensed class, followed by practice at home. One could continue to use it at home without a class setting, but it is written with that setting in mind. There is no student book, as everything is included in one manual. Essentials also assumes a three-year tour of grammar, while Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind intends to be a four-year curriculum.
Essentials repeats the exact same curriculum every year - the same instruction, the same examples, the same charts, the same assignments. Again, the assumption is that the repetition will help students grasp the grammar concepts, gradually allowing them to dig deeper with each year of experience. Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind, by contrast, keeps the same instruction each year, but provides a completely new set of exercises and writing assignments each year. This requires a new workbook purchase each year (organized by color - red, purple, etc.), but it also allows a family to use the same color for all of their middle school students, even if one is a first-year student and one is a third-year student.
SCOPE AND SEQUENCE
Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind, in contrast, contains a full thirty-six weeks of instruction. It covers the parts of speech in depth, spending many weeks in each area. Exercises for students to complete include identifying and labeling different parts of speech, kinds of sentences, and diagramming.
EXPECTATIONS OF PARENTS AND STUDENTS
Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind is set up with four lessons per week. The Core Instructor Text has an exact script, reminiscent of the First Language Lessons series, that helps the parent deliver the precise lesson to the student. Although it can be used in a co-op setting, it is designed to set the parent and student up for success at home. It is also recognized that first-time students may need more time to complete the exercises, and may take more than one year to finish a workbook. Parents of repeating students are encouraged to complete only some of the easier exercises, allowing more time to be spent on the more advanced topics later in the program.
I also appreciate having a full year of grammar instruction at my fingertips, and doing grammar on our own will allow us to take it at our own pace. As a word nerd, teaching grammar does not intimidate me - but I have seen other parents and students struggle with the pace of the Essentials class, especially those who followed the common suggestion that no "pre-Essentials" grammar curriculum was necessary outside of the English Grammar memory work given in the CC-licensed Foundations program for ages 4-11. Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind does not include spelling practice or editing practice, but we never used these in Essentials, as I did not find them to be well-constructed or easy to implement. I much prefer the IEW Fix-It Grammar series for editing practice (along with some grammar review).
If you are weighing the advantages of enrolling in an Essentials class, I strongly encourage you to take a look at Grammar for the Well-Trained Mind first. I think you will find it to be a complete, accessible, and non-intimidating way to approach grammar with your middle school student, and that it will be part of an excellent preparation for high school writing, and beyond.
P.S. I was not given anything by Well-Trained Mind or Classical Conversations for this review. I purchased the curriculum myself and then wrote this to be helpful to other homeschool parents!