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Grammar Rules to Help the Homeschool Parent Who Hates Grammar
Grammar Rules to Help the Homeschool Parent Who Hates Grammar – Part 1   Almost every homeschool parent has an area of study that intimidates them (if you don’t, then good for you. You can come teach my kids). For me, it’s chemistry and upper-level math. I can read all the books, analyze all the literature, structure all the papers, but ask me to help my child decipher any math problem with more letters than numbers, and I’m out.    I lead with this, because as an English teacher, I have nothing but sympathy for parents (or any adult) who struggles with using the English language well. Or correctly.   I didn’t always have a good handle on grammar and punctuation either. I loved to read and write from an early age, but I was the queen of misplaced modifiers and a comma-over-enthusiast to boot.    It wasn’t until I started teaching the nitty-gritty of grammar and punctuation that I finally wrestled with the content and learned grammar and punctuation.   Many of us carry our school-struggles with the English language into our adulthood. We aren’t necessarily being graded on our e-mails (and definitely not on our texts), so we no longer see where we are making mistakes. I’ve even had friends say, “Nitpicking about grammar and punctuation is stupid and a waste of time. As long as you can get your point across, then you’re fine.”   However, that’s just the thing. When our use of the English language, especially when we are writing, breaks down, so does our ability to get our point across. This applies to everyone, no matter what their profession. Grammar rules exist to help us communicate our ideas clearly. Punctuation exists to do the same.    I remember reading once that punctuation is all the nonverbal communication you normally hear in a conversation, but it’s putting it down on paper. We naturally put in pauses or raise and lower our voices (and even use hand gestures) to indicate how our thoughts are connected and how they are to be interpreted. In written form, all of that goes away. Punctuation is what takes that nonverbal communication’s place.    To take this up a notch, homeschooling parents need to master grammar and punctuation at a whole different level. Not only do we need to communicate clearly as functioning adults, but we also need to be able to teach our own kids the hows and whys of grammar. Even in our program at Northpoint, where I am the English teacher in the classroom, I still partner with the parents in educating the students. Due to time constraints, for some papers, I punt the revision and proofreading parts to the parents.    So parents, here are the first two grammar/punctuation rules that SO MANY students (and adults) get wrong (and your cheat sheet for helping them).    1.     Independent and Dependent Clauses: We have to start here before we can get into some of the punctuation biggies.    Let’s start with the word “clause.” I tell my students to go ahead and think of Santa Claus. I tell them to picture Santa and his big sack of toys. He needs two hands to carry that sack of toys. Those two hands represent the two things a group of words needs to be a clause: a subject and a verb. We actually get out markers and write “subject” on one arm and “verb” on the other arm. Santa CLAUS needs BOTH arms to pick up his sack. You need both a subject and a verb to have a clause.    “Around the corner” is not a clause. It is a phrase. It has no subject. Nothing is going around the corner. It has no verb. There is no action there.   “James went around the corner” IS a clause. James = subject and went = verb. Eureka!   So let’s move to dependent vs. independent clauses. Independent clauses can stand on their own as a full blown sentence. They form a complete thought. They can qualify for a mortgage. They can rent a car. They can sign legal papers. They are in-de-pen-dent. If we put it like a math formula, it would look like this:   Subject + Verb + Complete Thought = Independent clause.    They can be punctuated as a stand-alone sentence. ß This is an independent clause. ß So is that one. They make sense on their own.    Dependent clauses are dependent on independent clauses to make sense. They are like if Santa had children (which some movies say he did, others say he didn’t). Baby Claus certainly has two arms (representing a subject and a verb), but baby Claus is too little to hold the sack of toys or drive the sleigh or rent a car or qualify for a mortgage. If baby Claus wants to do anything, he has to come with his dad.    Ex: When I go to the store   This group of words is a clause because it has a subject and a verb. I = subject, and go = verb. But it does not make sense on its own. It’s dependent. We need more information. We have to pair it with a grown up, independent clause:   Ex. When I go to the store, I always buy llama food.   Baby clause “When I go to the store” gets paired with grown up clause “I always buy llama food,” and now everything makes sense. Except that I don’t own a llama.    2.     Commas + Clauses: I had to make sure we got clauses straight because this is where so many people struggle. If you don’t know what a clause is and you skipped over #1, scroll back up, bucko.    Commas aren’t strong enough to hold together two independent clauses. Now – reread that same sentence, but do it in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice. I’m serious. The stupider a memory device is, the more likely you are to remember the lesson. Commas aren’t strong enough to hold together two independent clauses. This is considered a comma-splice: Jane went to the store, she took her llama.  This is bad. Some of you may have read that jumbled sentence, and in your head, it sounded “too fast.” It’s a run on. There needs to be a separation of ideas there, and a comma isn’t strong enough to do it.  Go back to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Picture him flexing his biceps. Picture him grabbing one independent clause with his right hand and pulling it towards his head in a bicep flex. Then picture him pulling another independent clause with his left hand. He needs BOTH biceps to hold two independent clauses together because they are INDEPENDENT. They want to be alone. So you have to have a “two bicep” approach to independent clauses. Arnold’s right bicep represents the comma. Arnold’s left bicep represents a coordinating conjunction. Those are conjunctions that join things of equal value (like two EQUALLY independent clauses). You only got a few options for coordinating conjunctions, and they can be summed up with the acronym FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, and So).  So our sentence should look like this: Jane went to the store, and she took her llama.  If we broke down the sentence into its parts, we could dissect it like this: Subject + verb + complete thought, and subject + verb + complete thought.   Use a comma between the clauses when the dependent clause comes first.  Read this sentence: Because she went to the mall with her sister her friends toilet papered her house.  As we read that for the first time, we may understand it right away, but we may get confused until we reach the end of the sentence. At first glance, we might wonder if the writer is starting a list (she went to the mall with her sister, her friends, toilet paper… – you can technically go to the mall with your toilet paper). We need a comma between the clauses to show where the dependent clause and its concept stops and the independent clause and its concept starts.  Because she went to the mall with her sister, her friends toilet papered her house.  If you say this out loud to yourself, you now know where to make the little pause between the clauses, and you see how the concepts are related clearly.    So parents, readers who might not yet be parents, we know grammar is difficult. We hope this small foray into grammar facts has been helpful the next time your kid hands you a five-page essay on the rise of existentialism in the west and asks you to proof-read it. If you have a grammar concept you want us to review, just let us know!  
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Academics In Their Place
Academics in their Place   The reasons that parents homeschool their children are numerous. One thing that most homeschooling parents would affirm, though, is that they want to give their children the best education possible.  That could mean using a variety of schooling methods. It could mean simply doing something a little different, at a different pace, with a different emphasis, than the local public school.  One of the things we want to encourage our parents at Northpoint to keep in mind is this: regardless of how you came to partner with us in teaching your children, one of the greatest things we can do is help our children see academics in their proper place. Another way to say this is “help your children see academics through the proper lens.”  At Northpoint, we live by the one worldview that holds true through all time: God is at the center of everything.  We believe God created everything that has been made (John 1:3). God is sustaining everything that has been made (Hebrews 1:3). Everything and everyone our children will ever see, including themselves, has been made by him, through him, and the purpose of all things is for his glory (Romans 11:36).  So where do academics fit in to this God-centered lens? Where is their proper place? God is the origin of all that can be learned about or known.  You may be familiar with the phrase “All truth is God’s truth.” This concept is laced throughout scripture. Some important elements of this phrase to talk through with your children are as follows: A) There is absolute truth. Trees are trees. Wind has certain properties. Boys are boys and girls are girls. There is right and there is wrong. Many true things can be learned through creation (general revelation). Other true things can be learned only through the Scriptures (special revelation).   B) If God is the origin of all that can be known, then learning is a noble thing. Too often, student culture in America sees school as burdensome and learning as an obnoxious interruption to their pursuit of entertainment. This is a result of our human nature - our sin nature (Prov 22:15) - and as parents, we must actively combat wrong thinking about learning itself. Because all that can be known, all that has been created, from the veins on a leaf to the laws of physics, points to our Creator. He himself gives learning its value. Knowing the Creator is infinitely more important than knowing about the world around us.  Though God is the origin of all things, we can’t place creation above the Creator. For some of us, that is a struggle. The prestige of academic achievement is a powerful lure. There are whole countries who place academics on a pedestal so high that their students commit suicide if they don’t receive certain marks or pass certain tests. The rest of student’s lives, in some places in the world, are determined by final tests before graduation. The lives of each generation rise or fall based on achievements at school.  To keep us grounded, Scripture is very clear that knowing the Creator is the primary need for everyone. In Luke 10, Jesus tells a frazzled Martha that her sister, Mary, has chosen the one thing that is needed - to sit at Jesus’s feet and learn from Him. God incarnate says that this will not be taken from Mary.  Matthew 7 gives us a sobering warning that many will stand before God at the end of time and even list off a litany of “religious” achievements, but God will say to them, “Away from me, I never knew you.”  In chapter 6 of the book of Micah, one of the Old Testament prophets, God tells his people that He has always been clear on what was required of us: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.  We must help our children understand that just as God is the origin of all truth that can be known, he also supersedes all other academic achievement. If have no relationship with Him, all other achievements will be worthless. Then we can give them the hope of John 14:6 - 9 that it is only through Jesus, and his righteousness (Romans 3:22 and following), that we can truly know God.  Parents can use academics to point to the One person our children must truly know.  God has given us a world that screams to us that HE IS. However, it is far too easy with our busy schedules and buzzing notifications and hurried activities to blow through a day without ever helping point our kids to the truth.  Incredible, isn’t it, how what God has revealed about himself through his Word is pictured in creation? Here are just a few examples.  Astronomy: The planets of our solar system whirl through space around our sun - a burning mass of light and heat that gives order and life to our little world. We live our lives so self-centeredly here on earth, yet our world is not the center even of our own solar system. Instead, Earth revolves around the sun; just like our lives are not meant to be the center of our existence, but we are meant to revolve around the only true Son of God.  Anatomy & Physiology: Scripture says that Christ is the head of his church, his body. In our earthly bodies here on earth, when the head and the body do not communicate properly, it can have a devastating effect. Cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, paralysis, and Motor Neuron Disease are some of the living examples we see of what happens when the brain and body no longer work in tandem. What a picture to us, then, of how important it is for followers of Christ to communicate with the “head” - Jesus - and let Him call the shots for our lives. Literature: The books of Genesis and Hebrews teach that Jesus is the Author and perfecter of our both our physical and spiritual lives. Authors control the story. They introduce characters, write their lives, and give purpose to the existence of every figure on the page. This points our children to the truth that their lives have purpose and that they are part of a bigger story (and it can help them see through the world’s deception that they “can write their lives however they want to”).  Philosophy: The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Psalms and Job are a wealth of wisdom. They point out that our ability to reason and to have a concept of right or wrong comes from God himself. No “ism” will give insight like that. C.S. Lewis said this was pivotal in his conversion from atheism to Christianity: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” Math: The order and rules of addition, subtraction, factors and decimals all come from One who has given order to everything in the world. Isn’t it interesting to see the miracle, then, of the feeding of the five thousand, that God alone can break the rules of math. Where a human could only divide the five loaves and two fishes until none in the crowd would receive a crumb large enough for the naked eye to see, God can multiply them until they feed a multitude.  The list could go on and on. We pray for you, parents, that you would truly know the Author of all that can be known, and we are right here alongside you as you exhort your children to do the same!