How do you approach teaching your child a new subject? Especially for those less familiar to parents like, say, science or Latin, starting to learn a new subject can be a challenge.
That’s where the Five Core Habits of Grammar can help! This set of classical tools can be applied to understand the foundational knowledge (or grammar) of any subject, helping parents and students grasp the basics so they can study the subject in more detail down the road.
So, what are the Five Core Habits of Grammar and how can you use them in your homeschooling journey?
What Are the Five Core Habits?
The Five Core Habits of Grammar are tools of the classical model of education, like the Five Common Topics of Dialectic and the Five Canons of Rhetoric, that can be applied to all areas of learning. With our Classical Conversations curriculum, we introduce these tools to students in our elementary and middle school programs, Foundations and Essentials. Even so, they can be used by anyone of any age to better discuss and understand a subject.
Lucky for us, the Five Core Habits of Grammar conveniently spell out the acronym NAMES. In this order, they are naming, attending, memorizing, expressing, and storytelling. Using the Five Core Habits, we can more easily approach learning any new subject and foster a natural curiosity in our children.
The first core habit of naming simply means assigning the appropriate word for something. Before we can understand a subject or idea, we must first be able to know the basic definitions related to that subject.
For example, when teaching your child astronomy, it’s important for him or her to be able to define certain terms, like planet, star, orbit, solar system, galaxy, and constellation. After all, how can they later understand the complexities of the universe without first understanding this foundational knowledge (what classical educators call the grammar of a subject)?
If you’re struggling to teach a new subject to your child, simply begin with naming. Start asking your child to give general definitions first, then get more specific (ex. define planet first, then Mercury, Mars, Earth, Venus, and so on.) By laying this foundation, both you and your student will be able to progress onto more detailed conversations about your topic.
Attending means differentiating a word from other known ideas. It’s a simple compare-and-contrast exercise that enables your student to see what something is and what it’s not.
Let’s apply this tool to learning about trees. After naming certain terms like plant, tree, trunk, leaf, bark, pine, maple, and oak, we can then practice the core habit of attending.
Encourage your student to see how terms are organized from general to specific. For instance, what’s the difference between a plant and a tree? Well, a tree is a plant. Are all plants trees? No, of course not. Also, encourage your student to see similarities and differences in the terms they defined in naming. How are pines, maples, and oaks similar? How are they different?
Through this simple exercise of attending, your child will hone observation skills essential for studying all subjects.
The third core habit, memorizing, is simply that—memorizing the terms defined in naming as well as the differences and similarities between those terms understood in attending.
Wondering how to teach a foreign language to your student effectively? Simply practice memorizing the basic vocabulary and endings of a language on a regular basis (we believe Latin is the best one to start with). Over time, your student will have a foundation to build upon as they go on to study, say, more complex Latin or a different (yet related) language like Spanish or French.
There are many ways to help our students commit terms to memory, from songs to chants to mnemonics. If your child is in our Foundations program, use the memorization resources in your curriculum or on CC Connected to help your student master basic vocabulary, events, locations, and ideas.
For parents who are more inclined toward the humanities, you will love practicing the next two of the Five Core Habits of Grammar with your child, beginning with expressing. Expressing means using the body and senses to share knowledge.
For example, returning to our example of studying astronomy, your student might build a model of the solar system using painted foam balls as planets. Or, when studying geography, you could encourage your child to try drawing a map of the world from memory.
Expressing through models is one of the best ways to learn about something because we are required to carefully observe a subject first to then create a representation of it. After your child creates a model, engage in conversation about it. Why did they choose to express their subject that way? How could they have done it differently? What is accurate in their model and what is not?
Finally, the last of the Five Core Habits of Grammar is storytelling. If you’re practicing with a young student, you’ll find this tool to be not only helpful in better understanding a subject, but also a whole lot of fun.
Storytelling is using written or spoken words to share knowledge about a particular topic. When studying astronomy, perhaps have your student write a short science fiction story about the different planets they defined in naming. Or, when studying a historical event, you and your child could reenact it in a short play, dressing up and playing roles.
We often learn best from stories. Like with expressing, storytelling helps students reinforce the foundational knowledge learned earlier in a memorable and fun way.
Understanding the Five Core Habits of Grammar
Hopefully you can see how the Five Core Habits of Grammar can be used to have conversations about any new subject, from science to Latin to history. If you’re interested in reading more in-depth about the Five Core Habits of Grammar, consider reading Leigh Bortins’ book The Core.
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