Make Your Child a Punctuation Princess (page 2)

Make Your Child a Punctuation Princess

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Updated on Jan 28, 2008

Dump the red pen. Giving back writing with red marks all over it, referred to as “negative teaching”, does little more than teach a student to hate grammar and the subject of English more generally, Neuleib says. She compares this with teaching a child to play the piano: “If we corrected someone every time they did something, they would never learn to play.” And fussing over the details isn't worth it in the long run, says Neuleib; it's more important to encourage kids to write as much as possible.

Humor helps it stick. When teachers and parents approach grammar as a set of rules to be followed, kids immediately start searching for the mute button. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves (Gotham Books: 2003) author Lynne Truss shows grammar sticklers and delinquents alike that using punctuation with a little imagination can be an art form. She encourages readers to see punctuation marks not as so many blurbs on a page, but as characters with their own sense of purpose. Truss describes the comma as an overworked sheepdog. “The comma has so many jobs as a 'separator',” she says, “that it tears about on the hillside of language, endlessly organising words into sensible groups and making them stay put: sorting and dividing; circling and herding; and of course darting off with a peremptory “woof” to round up any wayward subordinate clause that makes a futile bolt for semantic freedom. Commas, if you don't whistle at them to calm down, are unstoppably enthusiastic at this job.” The point is really to switch your mental point of view about punctuation—from an oppressive force of evil to a cast of colorful characters who are there to help you communicate more effectively... whenever you're ready to meet them.

So, don't rush your child into wielding the semi-colon quite yet. Instead, focus on giving her a solid literary foundation and a love of the language. Who knows, she might even become a punctuation stickler, and wind up correcting you a few years down the road.

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