One problem I have in homeschooling these days is what to do when my children start surpassing me in subjects. In math, this has meant passing teaching off to my husband. I held to the idea for a very long time that I would simply learn alongside my daughter, but I recently had to face the reality that I was holding my daughter back. We learn at the same pace, but it is hard to pass on an understanding of something when you have only just tackled it yourself. Grammar has been another challenge. Although I spent many year believing my kids could learn it by osmosis, we have tackled it as a formal subject in the last few years. It has been good for Catherine but has emphasized my limitations; however, I am not passing grammar off to the husband. Partly because as tenuous as my grip on it is, his is worse and partly because there are excellent resources out there for people in just my position.
First let me go on a bit why I don't hold to the idea that grammar is something you can pick up by simply immersing yourself in good books. The simple fact is that you don't know what you don't know. Often I will write something that sounds wrong but I won't have the knowledge to strip it apart and analyze exactly what is wrong. While reading good literature will give you a sense of good grammar, that's a very limited tool. Imagine walking down a forest path with a general sense of danger but not the specific knowledge to discover if you are, in fact, being followed by a hungry mountain lion.
Another great reason for formal grammar study is to develop style. How you use wording, phrases and punctuation all affects how exactly you communicate your message. The more familiarity you have with the tools required to write clearly, the more flexibility you have when it comes time to construct something with those tools. Whether my children pursue writing as a career or simply need to write a clear and intelligent letter to the editor of a local paper, their formal grammar training is going to come in handy.
So how do I assure they get a firm grounding in grammar when my own grasp of grammar is shaky?
Good direct instruction grammar programs with answer keys are a great start. I have tried more informal approaches but I find that when you aren't intimately familiar with a topic then generally the best approach is a scripted program. No surprises. No struggles to find out how to describe something.
When kids are old enough there are a lot of good programs that are self-directed. I have no qualms at all about being taken completely out of the loop. The bulk of my daughter's work in foreign languages and English is independent now (I sometimes suspect that's why those are also her favourite subjects).
Of course, I can't completely get away from having to check grammar and style and that's where I'm often a little lost. When my daughter completes a writing assignment, how do I give her specific and accurate critiques when I'm operating with just a sense of good grammar? Thankfully, I was recently told about an online grammar checker, Grammarly.com, that looks like it might be a huge help in this area. All I have to do is enter text (copy and paste does the trick) and it gives me a run down of mistakes and issues to address. I copy and pasted this post and was thoroughly embarrassed by just how much work Grammarly suggested it needed. Embarrassed and amazed. Grammar seems like a rather loosey-goosey thing at times but here's a website telling me I need a comma there and that sentence isn't properly balanced. It's not free (between twelve to thirty dollars a months depending on the length of your subscription) but if you're heading into middle school or high school with your kids and find that your lack of knowledge is holding their grammar and writing back, I think it's probably well worth it.
None of this is to say I'm going to give up on learning grammar myself. I already know much more then I did just a year ago (go ahead, ask me what a gerund is), but I can't hold the kids to my pace. Especially not my daughter who, when it comes to writing, seems to exceed me not just in skill but also in talent.
Note: I was compensated by Grammarly.com for this post. They probably didn't need to though - the site is so darn nifty I would have been raving about it anyway and likely will again as I discover more ways to incorporate it into our homeschooling.