Grammar, What Is It Good For?

Okay, okay, I know I shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition (although I’ve heard that rule is more relaxed now than it used to be). Some of us remember grammar studies from grade school with all the joy of a dentist visit. The thought of teaching it is daunting and unpleasant.

Fortunately, just as with so many sticky areas of study, Montessori takes the pain out of learning grammar. The hands-on materials are visual and sensible; the child quickly learns the parts of speech and how they function, and then moves on to the parts of a sentence and how they function.

We have an advantage when we teach grammar, over another area of study like math or geography: we are simply making the child conscious of something they already do subconsciously. A toddler can speak his or her language and use the parts of speech correctly. What we need to do is make sure the child understands the names, definitions, and functions of each part of speech.

I initially thought I would write one post about grammar, but that quickly grew until I have about four of them. That surprised me, too! Stay tuned in future weeks for more fun with grammar. On with today’s post!

Grammar Symbols – What Do They Mean?

Maria Montessori, knowing that children respond well to shapes and colors, decided to use a system of colored shapes to represent the different parts of speech. Each shape and color has a meaning:grammar_symbols

1. The Noun is represented by a black triangle. The triangle stands for the pyramid, one of the first human structures, and black is for carbon, believed to be the first mineral discovered by humans.

2. The Adjective (small dark blue triangle), Article (smaller light blue triangle), and Pronoun (large purple triangle) are part of The Noun Family and so use the triangular shape with different colors.

3. The Verb is a circle, to represent the shape of the sun which gives life. The red color also symbolizes life (blood). The verb gives life to the sentence. The Adverb is a smaller circle and is often pictured orbiting the verb like a planet; it depends on the verb for existence.

4. The Conjunction is a small pink bar which represents a link in a chain; the Preposition is a green crescent to symbolize a bridge. There’s no known significance in the color of either.

5. The Interjection is a gold triangle with a circle on top; it combines the symbols of the noun and the verb together. Interjections function as both noun and verb in a sentence; it may have been the first word spoken by humans (ow!). It is gold because they are the “king of all words”.

Why Do We Need To Know?

Sometimes when we read about the origins of some of the Montessori materials, they might seem a little silly or outdated. The grammar symbols are frequently used by adults and children who don’t know the meaning behind the shapes and colors, but nevertheless find the symbols to be a great way to learn grammar.

However, I do think it can be helpful to know the “why” behind the materials we use; they can help us remember what makes each part of speech special, as well as the relationships that they have with each other. I’ve found that kids enjoy learning the meanings of the shapes and colors.

The Importance of Grammar Study

The study of grammar is to language what the study of anatomy is to science. By studying grammar, we become better writers and readers. Generally, the grammar materials are started in second grade. The child, at this age, has learned to read but is still interested in words, their meanings, and their functions.

Some of the simple introductory lessons (which I’ll cover in the next post) can be done with the 3-6 age group. They are done as sensorial lessons, that is, lessons that evoke a certain feeling or imagery. They are not done with the intention of having the child understand the concept in an academic way.

After the child has been introduced to grammar on a sensorial level, they are ready to understand it in a deeper way. The elementary lessons are done with the intent of academic understanding.

Interested in the rest of this series? You can find the other installments here: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.