Gentle Grammar for Young Children

There is a stage where the gap between the ability to read and the ability to write is enormous.


Of course, early efforts are so precious and endearing! What cold-hearted person could discourage such amazing beginnings, and yet…

a lovenote from one of my children

…I have observed that, if not corrected early-on, some habits of poor grammar and spelling can become like permanent marker on the walls of a young child’s mind. Even though I agreed heartily with the idea that children learn spelling and grammar best by reading and writing, I found that my own children needed more specific instruction. However, I was not willing to overburden them with a complete English program in every grade, often repeating the same information year-after-year and causing them to feel as though language was a laborious, boring enterprise.

I needed to find a program that was:

  1. Something I could put on “auto pilot”

  2. Quick (for kids who already had trouble sitting still for reading and math)

  3. Not technical

  4. Cheap and easy to put together (not too much printing, cutting, pasting, etc., etc., etc.)

I searched for years for a suitable solution, and early-on I discovered Simply Grammar, an expanded version of Charlotte Mason’s First Grammar Lessons. However, the work was meant to be done orally, which was a bit cumbersome and time-consuming for me, especially while I was juggling so many at different levels and tiny ones who needed my attention.

Finally, I stumbled upon Dollar Homeschool in The Old Schoolhouse magazine. This company specializes in collecting school books from times past and making them available in digital form for modern use. These materials were written before the Progressive education movement in America, a time before humanism and its psychobabble began to rule the way children were taught.

Included on one of the CD’s from Dollar Homeschool was a collection of grammar books, and in particular two which I found very interesting. These were written by a person by the name of C. C. Long and were entitled  New Language Exercises for Primary Schools part one and part two (I like to refer to them as “Long’s Language”). As I read through them I became more and more excited; this was finally the answer, the tool that would help fill the gap and turn my beginning readers into confident, competent writers!

For one thing, the first lessons are not about nouns and verbs. There is actually very little mentioned in the first book about grammar at all, although grammar is the subject. Instead, children are asked to write about themselves, where they live, etc. The lessons present sentences as “statements” including a subject and a predicate without ever mentioning the words and then build on that. Within the first 50 lessons, my little ones have been able to write short paragraphs that describe familiar objects such as a ball, a cow, etc.

First lesson in Long's Language

Long's Language early lesson teaching descriptive writing


For another thing, the lessons are oh, so short! The instructions are usually one or two sentences long, and the exercise is not more than six to twelve short sentences (that follow a formula, so there is not that much thinking involved). If a child is focused, which is easy to do because of the simplicity, the longest lesson takes less than 15 minutes to complete!

Besides all this, the work is mostly self-directed. The learning is gradual, no great leaps are expected from one day to another, so little instruction or oversight is necessary. This is certainly a win/win for us moms of many! My children come away from the lessons feeling accomplished and energized without feeling frustrated. Before I realize it they are well on their way to being successful writers!

All I needed was a physical copy of the books (they are short and easy to print out either from the Dollar Homeschool CD’s or from the Internet–see the links below) a pencil and a composition book and we were on our way!

comparison of work at the beginning of the program and then a year or so into it.



an example of a page printed out and put in a binder

Here are some more samples to whet your appetite:

Within the first five lessons children learn the nominative case without realizing it



long's language presents proper nouns



long's language days of the week and homophones



Long's Language comparatives and superlatives



Long's language spelling and plurals



Long's Language sentence expansion


long's language memory lesson

*Note: Some of the lessons use Spencerian script, so you may have to read and/or write out the information. This is not negative, but can be an opportunity for helping youngsters get used to reading cursive handwriting. 

Here are the links to the free versions online. All you have to do is download the pdf version and then print!

New Language Exercises for Primary Schools part one

New Language Exercises for Primary Schools part two

I hope this simplifies things for you and blesses you!




51 thoughts on “Gentle Grammar for Young Children”

  1. This might be perfect for us. I am about to have a baby (#5) and need my older kids to have a more of an open and go program for language. Until now we mostly did copywork, dictations, narrations. Thank you so much for posting this!

    • You are very welcome. I totally believe in copywork, dictations, narrations, etc. but my children need a bit more focused attention on grammar. This truly is an “open and go” program!

  2. How refreshing to see something so simple, direct, and non-threatening! The awareness you bring of oldies but goodies is one of my favorite things about this blog.

  3. I have the complete Dollar Homeschool CD set (discovered on your blog!) and am thrilled to see thesis are included! These look similar to Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons. Have you head of these, and how to they compare to the Long’s Grammars? At what age do you recommend starting the Long’s Grammar lessons? Thank you so much for sharing all your experience and hard work! I pour over your materials and you have been a big blessing to me. I am expecting #6 and we live overseas. I am also attending language school, so my homeschool time is limited. I need simple resources I can understand and that my kids can enjoy. The Eclectic Education series and Manual of Methods have been very helpful to me and your writings have made using them applicable to my situation today.

    • Thank you, Bonny, for taking the time to share how my writing has been able to bless you on your homeschool journey 🙂 As for comparing Long’s with Serl’s, I think that Primary Grammar takes a bit more input by Mom, whereas Long’s takes less.

  4. I would love to get back into homeschooling.

    We had a major family problem (included infidelity), it caused me to have to use a public school. (These are reasons we still need public education….infidelity, culture difference, major diseases, major accidents etc)

    It is not the BEST form of education, but it is worse than seeing mother’s broken heart every day while trying hard to do simple spelling words.

    This next semester I hope to return to home-education and hope to see spouse restored and overcome infidelity (he has repented of actions)….. he also is within 10 generations or less native american heritage, so that has me wondering what really went on in early USA history. Including the history of polygyny etc.

    When I was doing home-education I used for many grammar lessons. I used bible to develop spelling words and stories to read.

  5. This post is an answer to my prayers! We are going to start using “Long’s Language” lessons tomorrow…thank you so much!

  6. We use Primary Language Lessons by Emma Serl. They are so similar to the curriculum you wrote about. My 7 year old absolutely loves it! I bought a hardcover copy of it on Amazon last year.

    • I haven’t used Serl’ s but I have heard it was similar. Do you find it takes more input on your part, or is it pretty much self-directed?

  7. I loved your posts about Long’s Language on your old site! I went downloaded and printed immediately for my oldest two and we loved it! I hope you will do follow up post about Harvey’s and how you use it as my oldest is just about ready for that.

    • You have also mentioned that you use Harvey’s grammar and composition book with the mcguffeys readers. Is this Long’s language to be added to the harverys grammar book or am I not understanding correctly?

      • Long’s Language is for the early years, Harvey’s for the later years. Just peruse both and you will get a feel for them.

  8. I’m not entirely sure where to ask this question so I’m just posting here. Sherry, would you consider doing a post on how to homeschool with toddlers around? You must have all sorts of experience with this sort of thing and I’m having a really hard time doing anything with my very rambunctious almost 3 year old. Any ideas would be so helpful.

    • I certainly have been where you are multiple times! I had two dear toddlers that chose our schooltime to have meltdowns almost daily–not just a matter of giving them something to do, and we tried just about everything…each child and each season is just so different, isn’t it? I will try and put that idea on my list.

  9. do you require your children to write their exercises in cursive? My girls do cursive handwriting practice, but do not want to use it in any other daily writing.

    • I think it depends on the child and the age. My girls all enjoy using their cursive, but if they have a little trouble with writing in general, it does not seem fun at all and they become discouraged. We have used Spencerian with a lot of them, but a few I taught the McGuffey script first and then moved on to Spencerian. It may help them become interested if you share the way people used to write in beautiful copperplate script in the past, such as some of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.Also, during the time the McGuffey’s were in vogue children did not learn manuscript at all, but were taught cursive from the very beginning. I hope this helps!

    • You will probably want to wait until he can read simple books independently and can write fairly well. My 7 year old is just now starting out. I am actually a proponent of starting academics later that what is recommended today.

    • I wouldn’t start this until my child was comfortable writing simple words and at least attempting to write simple notes, etc.

  10. I have used Christian Light Education for all our subjects and we are burned out. I am switching over to Charlotte Mason Edu. and found your site in the search. I am interested in using these old school books. Loving how short the lessons are. However not sure if we should just start at the beginning of them regardless of how elementary they may be. My son is currently in 4th grade and daughter in 3rd grade. They know much of what is covered in the lessons already , but could use more practice in some of the areas. I thought even though things my be review it couldn’t hurt to have them writing more of their own sentences, as it seems these lessons have them doing. What do you think? Do you think they would be bored?
    I also wondered what to do once these are done or they are to basic for them what would you use. Do you have recommendations for after their fourth grade level?

    • Actually, these old books do not go according to modern grade levels. There are two series of McGuffey’s currently in print; the original series written by McGuffey himself and published in the 1830’s, and the revised versions rewritten and published after McGuffey’s death to be more ecumenical. Neither set are organized according to modern grade levels. I believe you are referring to the original series (the brown books). The third reader in this series is actually written at our current 7th-9th grade level, and the fourth is high school and above. The second reader starts at a general third grade level and goes up to an approximate sixth grade level. The pictorial and other primer are for beginning readers through the beginning of first grade, and the first reader goes from first through second grades.

      In the times these books were written children learned in one-room school houses where pupils moved forward according to skills gained instead of ages and grades. This is why the books are not ordered according to modern grade levels. I believe this is more natural and fits homeschooling better anyway.

      Since each book covers a number of years, I have written a post which explains how to place your child in them. Here is the link:

      How to place your child in the McGuffey readers

      I hope this helps–I was very confused when I first started using these, too, but they are such a wonderful blessing to us all, I just couldn’t do without them 🙂

  11. I am referring to the link you supplied in this post, the free versions online. I do see there are the brown books you can buy. Are the free ones online the first two of the brown books? Maybe that will give me a reference point. Thank so much for your time. Can you find these books used?

    I am grateful for finding out about this, because I am tired of hearing my children say about our current LA workbooks, “This stuff is so easy. It’s the same everyday. Do I really have to do this?”

    These worksheets you supplied are great too. Thanks again.

    • I apologize profusely, Siobhan! I didn’t pay attention to the post you were referring to on my last reply. I thought you were talking about the McGuffey readers in general. No, you can’t purchase these materials in physical form, they are to be found on the Dollar Homeschool website for a fee, or on Google Books for free.

      As for the grade level, these follow more closely the work in the revised McGuffey readers. There aren’t any books past the 4th reader level, but after this we go on to Harvey’s Grammar, which you definitely can purchase new from Mott Media or Amazon. Here is a link:

      Harvey’s Elementary Grammar and Composition

      There is also a key that can be purchased separately. I have used these over and over and they do quite a good job, quite challenging but also very short and sweet.

  12. I am also confused to what the difference is between your dictation and narration worksheet pages are? Could you explain that also? Thanks

  13. This looks really great! I’d like to start using this with my 7 year old. She reads really well, but when she writes, she asks me how to spell everything. I don’t know how to go about teaching her how to spell. I’m thinking that she could do these exercises, but I’d have to sit with her to tell her how to spell everything. Is this how it works with your children when they are just starting, or is there something you did to teach spelling separately? I did about 12 weeks of going through the top 100 words (Fry’s List), having her a few every day for a week, then doing a test on the last day, but she hasn’t seemed to absorb much and still asks how to spell the words that were on the list if she needs them. Any advice on this would be great!

    • I understand your struggle, Jennifer. Some of my kids were natural spellers, others needed extra help.

      Since your child is only seven, you have a lot of years to work. My seven-year-old is not that great at spelling yet, either, and neither were her siblings at her age. I actually do not require her to write very much at all. Instead, we are going to spend a few years copying from her school books (the McGuffey’s) until the patterns of language are indelible. I also take the vocabulary list in the McGuffey lessons and go over different patterns and rules that we come across (syllabication, silent letters such as “-aught”, etc.). This has been the key with her older siblings and almost all of them are excellent spellers, even though some struggled early-on.

      For those who do need help, the best resources I have found (that didn’t cost a whole bunch) were two books: “An Acorn in My Hand” (unfortunately out of print, but you can still find it online) and the “McGuffey’s Eclectic Spelling Book.” The first one is written for the teacher, with lists and rules to teach the subject sequentially and logically. The second one is a book for both teacher and pupil and presents words logically grouped together by the patterns they follow. It also offers groups of homophones for practice and dictation exercises.

      You don’t have to do spelling like schools do, either. You can sit with a chalk or white board and go through a list of five or so words, doing only one at a time and thinking about the rules or patterns you are seeing. This exercise will only take you about five minutes a day, but done consistently will be worth 200 pages of a silly workbook!

      You can even find the speller online for free (there are two listed on Google books, but you don’t want the older one, you want the revised).

      I hope this helps!

  14. Hello Sherri,

    Would you use these for what grades? I have 2 middle schoolers as well as high schoolers and elementary.

    Your Blogs all of them have been a blessing for us large families.
    I am sure every family.

    • Actually, I would not use these for high school. They are great for elementary, though. For the older children I use Harvey’s Grammar (which you can either buy already printed up or find for free on Google Books–I have a tutorial on how to print and bind these on my sidebar, or you could use a tablet).

  15. Hi there! I am a mom of 11 and am loving this blog! I’m having trouble getting a printable version of the longs language? Any tips?

    • I’m sorry you are having trouble, Season. Have you tried clicking the little gear icon on the top right corner of the screen when viewing the book on the Google Books site? This is where you should find a drop-down menu that allows you to download the book as a pdf. Then you should be able to print it out.

  16. I would just like to let you know that, I am so so glad I found your site on Pinterest. I just pulled my son out of school. We will be starting to homeschool him this year. Your blog has given me so much hope and inspiration, on how to start our new journey. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing ideas and bank of information. Thank you again.

  17. Hello my name is Laura and I have a 14 year old daughter that I believe is dyslexic she struggles with spelling and reading and also writing sentences and paragraphs I was thinking of getting your books of the gentle grammar and was wondering if you think that they would be okay for a middle schooler that has difficulties in grammar and writing? If so what level should she start with?

    • Yes, I think this could help. You could download and print out these books for free and try them out if you like 🙂

      • Would you reccomend we start with book 1? She has a basic grasp on nouns, verbs and adjectives and different types of sentences already. But struggles with other parts of speech and writing paragraphs etc.

  18. Hi Sherry,
    I have a 10 year old and an 8 year old. I’ve never used a grammar program with either, but I would like to start this year. This sounds like it will work well for us, but I’m wondering if you would recommend putting both children in the first level, or should I put the oldest in a more advanced book? She is an excellent reader, but her spelling and grammar leaves much to be desired. I am afraid, though, that my younger daughter will become discouraged if she sees her older sister zipping through her lessons when she moves more slowly. What do you think?

    • I think I would put both in the beginning level. You might stress the fact that everyone moves at her own pace, and different ages can do different things. It may actually spur the younger child along (I’ve had children close in age who were competitive and it actually helped each one move more quickly, which was a great help since one of them had a short attention span). Hope this helps!

  19. Hi, Sherry! We are using these lessons and are really enjoying them. Thank you so much for making them available! How might you suggest we tackle the memory work sections? I’m sure I’m over thinking it, but I would like to get it right as we haven’t done memory work before. Thank you so much!

    • Well, you could just read the same one over and over for a number of days until memorized, but my kids like to sit and do it all-at-once. They just read and repeat and practice with someone until they get it. Hope this helps 🙂

  20. I just downloaded and printed these lessons– they look wonderful! Wish I had come across this link a few years ago 🙂 Thank you for posting the links!

    • You are so welcome–makes me happy to be a help! Thank you for taking valuable time to leave me such a sweet comment 🙂

  21. Hi! Just came across this site from a YouTube video. Very excited for the qua you reformatted the CC Long Primary books! Question- I read in the comments you move to Harvey Gramar after these Primary lessons- what did you think of CC Longs Leasons in English? Did you like Harveys better?

    • Thank you for this link! This looks great–it would be great fun to reformat it just like I did Long’s other books–what a great find! (And perhaps a future project for Mom Delights…)


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