Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Words. By Request.

My oldest suggested last night that I write about learning spelling and grammar.

First, a little bit of background to the request.

We have been associated with a local homeschooling group for many years. I started the e-mail list for the group way back when, before most people were online. I met with some resistance, too, from people who didn't think most people would be interested. Now, years later, the group exists primarily through that list.

When I started the list (I didn't start the group, that had happened several years earlier), we also had a print newsletter that went out, and had a couple of "meetings" each year. In between, we had a park group that met weekly, ice skating in the winter, and for a while, we had an indoor play group get together.

Most of the families involved back then were unschoolers, and those who weren't, were pretty relaxed about things. We didn't have many people who were doing "school at home" or such things. The group had no actual "leadership," and no specific requirements to join. It was VERY loosely organized, and that was what people were happy with.

Several years ago now (maybe ten? give or take) things shifted. We started to get a lot more people, and a lot of those people were very interested in organized classes and activities. A fairly large group of families started a learning co-op, rented a space, and offer parent-taught classes on a semester basis. They have a wide variety of things they offer... none of which my kids had any interest in whatsoever.

Now, most of the unschoolers in the group have either grown up, or split off to do their own thing. Although the group still has "unschoolers" in the name, it isn't, really, at all an unschoolers' group. I think it's time the name is changed, to avoid confusion.

One of the obvious signs of this shift in style, in priority, in philosophy, is that many of the posts to the e-mail list are asking for suggestions for textbooks or curriculum. People discuss this math book, or that class, or some method of teaching.  Most of these posts are of no interest or use to us, so we don't pay a lot of attention. My role on the list has changed from "active participant" to "hall monitor."

Recently, there has been a discussion of how to teach grammar. How to teach spelling. What drills should we use? What grammar or style manual?

My son, who is also on the list, saw those posts and suggested I write something here about how we have addressed this need. Since he asked, I'll make a list here.

First, understand that we didn't do ANY of these things in order to learn anything in particular. We did them -and still do them- because we enjoy them.

1. Read. A lot. Read everything.  When asked what they like to read, most of us would say something on the order of  "words, printed on pages." We like to read pretty much anything and everything, from serious medical reference books, to "trashy" novels, to the cereal box.

2. Play with language. This involves many different activities.and this is the part my son wanted me to write about.

Our family suffers from a condition someone once called "pun tourettes." An uncontrollable urge to pun, often badly, and in public.

Mad Libs. Buy the books, or make your own. There are also apparently a bazillion of them available online.

Schoolhouse Rock. I watched this when it was originally on TV, on Saturday mornings. Now you can get them all on DVD. Conjunction Junction and Interjections! are classics. I confess a fondness for Mr. Morton. I never saw that one as a kid, and you may not have either. Go check it out.

Make up new words to songs. Pay attention to making them both rhyme and scan (the new words must fit the same rhythm as the original). It's best if you can do this on the fly, rather than sitting down to come up with them ahead of time. That's part of the fun, trying to think fast enough to get the words to FIT. Some people find this much easier than others, but with practice, it gets better.

We have a few games we play that developed from our unique personalities, shall we say. One is where we come up with zombie riddles, I guess you'd call them. Every answer has to at least sort of rhyme with "brains" and be spoken the same way typically associated with "braaaaaaaaaaaaains." It quickly gets ridiculous, and the "rhymes" get more and more forced. The kids once played with this until they exhausted every possible rhyme, or so they say. It took a few days.

Another game we used to play a lot when they were younger was the "No P" game. It started on a road trip, in a parking lot where some places had signs prohibiting parking. You've seen them. A large white sign with a red circle and slash, with a P in the center. "No P."  What else might that mean, besides "no parking"? Maybe it's no peeing. (Yep, that's where it started.) Or no pants. Or no pandas.  We have played this through every word in the dictionary that starts with "p." That's a lot of words.  Of course, you could substitute any letter, but we never have. No sign for those, I guess. (No pink polyester pantsuits!)("Extra credit" for longer phrases.)

On a camping trip once, we had not taken into account that the campground was at a higher elevation, and the temperatures at night got colder than we had anticipated. While we were all awake late into the night, trying to stay warm, we needed some way to keep everyone happy. We ended up all learning to sing the alphabet backwards. That was about 16 years ago, and I can still do it, without hesitation. It created an entertaining moment once not too long ago, when someone tried to use the alphabet as an example of how everyone knows it one direction, but not the other. Various people were asked to recite it backwards, and stumbled after three or four letters. Except for me. Also, we adapted the end of the song. The original goes "Now I've sung from A to Z, next time won't you sing with me." The backwards version has "Now I've sung from Z to A. So shut up and go away." (This is from the American version. For any of you elsewhere, your song may well be different, and "z" may not rhyme with "me." You'll need to come up with your own backwards sentiment.) Try it. It even fits.

Another game we play is where one person starts by saying a word. The next person says that word and adds a word. The goal is to tell a story, adding one word at a time. Every turn, the next person has to repeat the entire sequence and add another word, and it has to make sense, as far as sentence structure. One of the most fun parts of this is that people tend to add a word with some specific idea of where the sentence should go next, and I like to find a way to use it differently, if I can. Either using a homonym, or taking advantage of when the same word might be a noun or a verb, and choosing the other option if I can. I enjoy the challenge of being creative with it. Also, sometimes, it can create a challenge of the next person figuring out what I was thinking.  For example: "I once saw a bird..." can lead to "I once saw a bird fly..."(the next word is a verb) or  "I once saw a bird brain..." (the next word creates a compound noun) or even "I once saw a burred piece..." (I substituted a word that sounds the same, and therefore, leads to different things. It may take someone a second to figure out I mean "burred" rather than "bird.")

An ongoing game is turning everything, and I do mean everything, into a euphemism for something else, usually unspecified. "Would you cream cheese my bagel?"gets "Sure, I'll cheese your bagel anytime..." or "If you don't stop that, I'm going to cheese your bagel." in response. Warning: these often turn into sexual innuendos, so if you are uncomfortable with that, you may not want to play with this one. Or spin them differently through context, body language, and inflection.

There are more. That's enough for now.
Enjoy whatever games you play.


Ooh!  Late breaking addition: Bad grammar jokes!  Saw this on facebook. I hope it's still available. It should be an image with a list of some jokes, and then, a bunch of comments, many of which have more jokes.

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