Monday, September 29, 2008

Latin for Children

If it were not for other mom's telling me what has worked for them in their homeschools, I think I probably would have given up on homeschooling by now. There are just so many different options out there (do you think the Rainbow catalog can get any bigger?!), that it's just impossible without a little help. I've finally been homeschooling long enough that we've actually completed some books, and I think I have built up enough credibility to give some advice. So for my first ever formal curriculum review, I have chosen Latin for Children.

I'm not going to debate the importance of Latin in a child's education, because it is well-covered in other venues. If you are reading this post, you most likely have decided to teach Latin (or you just have a lot of time on your hands to be reading irrelevant blog posts!). The Well Trained Mind recommends a child start Latin instruction in the 3rd grade. Anna was half-way through her 3rd grade year when we started homeschooling, and despite my best intentions Latin was put on hold until she started 4th grade. Okay, she was already a few months into 4th grade as well before we started blowing the dust off the LFC Primer A materials. But we did finally get consistent with it, and she is finishing the last chapter this week.

Let me also say for the record that I am no expert on Latin curricula. I took two years of Latin in high school, but it was considered a blow-off class. We learned some vocabulary, flubbed our way through some grammar instruction, and spent the rest of the time immersing ourselves in Roman culture by watching movies like Ben Hur. Within one lesson of LFC Primer A, I picked up a couple of things that escaped me during those two years of high school Latin.

Before we made the decision to go with LFC, I had read several reviews -- most of them glowing. There were a few complaints about errors in the texts and answer keys. But after seeing a corrections link on their website, I felt I could live with the errors. I was attracted to the program because it sounded like a solid but fun way to learn Latin, and because the lessons are all taught on DVD.

As early as the first lesson we knew we had a winner. The DVD started with a homeschool dad (Dr. Christopher Perrin) teaching his two daughters at the kitchen table. We learned to sing John 1:1 in Latin (In principio erat Verbum). Weeks later I walked through the grocery store with Gracie, who would often hang around while the older kids did their school work, and she turned a few heads by singing the verse in Latin as we walked the aisles. We also learned to sing amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant (verb forms of "to love") to the tune of The Mexican Hat Dance. Anna proclaimed that Latin was her new favorite subject.

I like Dr. Perrin's teaching style. He gives clear explanations, and he's a likable instructor. The lessons are set up well with a consistent format. Each chapter starts with a Chapter Maxim to memorize. The first week it was the John 1:1 verse, but all the others are quotes from Vergil, Seneca, and such. I personally appreciate the Biblical references, but there are not many; so someone looking for a secular program would still find LFC to be a good choice. Next is the New Chant. This is where we learn the verb and noun endings, often using The Mexican Hat Dance tune. I was a little disappointed at first that the same tune was used so often, but it really is effective. Given the amount of information that was learned throughout the year, it might have been confusing to have a different tune for everything. Finally there is a vocabulary section which is presented in chant form. The Chapter Maxim, New Chant, and Vocabulary are expected to be memorized by the end of the week.

On Mondays we typically just watch the DVD together and practice the pronunciations a bit. Tuesdays Anna starts by practicing the memory, listening to the CD about three times. She then reads the Grammar Page, which is review from the DVD, and then completes the accompanying worksheet. Wednesdays she listens to the CD again and does a page or two from the Activity Book. Thursdays, if needed, she listens to the CD again and completes the Chapter Quiz. I then quiz her on her memory work. On Fridays I will often have her practice her vocabulary with the online drill at the LFC website. As you can see, I have very little to do in the process. I do pay close attention to the DVDs, and I read the text every week so I can help her when needed. I do not have all the vocabulary memorized, but I have learned all the noun and verb endings just by being in the same room when she's practicing. The best part is if I do have trouble understanding something (parsing got a little confusing at first), the website has an excellent discussion forum where you can ask all your questions. Each time I've posted a question I promptly received a response from one of the staff members. So, yes, even a Latin illiterate mom like me can feel like she's not an idiot with this program.

Those who know Latin often commend LFC for having the children learn all the principal parts of verbs, which I guess is not common in other programs. But what Anna really loves about LFC is the short, silly skits that come at the end of about every other lesson. Using what look like fast food meal figures, they put together a western themed storyline with the occasional vocabulary word thrown in. It is so goofy you can't help but laugh. Logic has now replaced Latin as Anna's favorite subject, but she does love the fun approach LFC takes.

I would like to mention that in hindsight I am very glad we waited until 4th grade to start LFC. I think the grammar is a little advanced for some 3rd graders, depending on what grammar program you are using. LFC is compatible with Shurley Grammar, which I think introduces some concepts earlier than other programs. Anna has been using Rod & Staff for grammar, and I think LFC would have been a little tougher for her if we started in 3rd grade. We were very fortunate to have several of the concepts line up together nicely this year. For example, we learned about predicate nouns in both the Latin text and the Grammar text the same week. I love it when that happens! We were also studying the Ancients in history last year, which is the theme used in Primer A. Primer B's theme is the Middle Ages, which will tie in nicely with our history this year.

The program does have a few flaws, depending on what version you get. The DVDs have been revised, and in the new version Dr. Perrin no longer sits at the kitchen table with his daughters. Instead the oldest daughter leads the memory section and it's often hard to understand her. I would be tempted to look for the older version at a used curriculum sale. But even then there is a trade off. The CD that comes with the DVD set is much better now that it too has been revised -- before the chanting was much too fast. In my opinion the CD is a crucial part of the program, so it's best to have the revised edition. The new DVDs are still very good, but I miss the kitchen scenes. Also, there are many errors in the Answer Key and many of them are not listed in the corrections found on the website. The majority of the errors are vocabulary related though, so they are usually pretty easy to catch. I'm sure it is not easy to write a Latin text, but I can't help but wonder how all these errors were missed in the proofreading process.

Nevertheless, I would not switch to another program, even if they paid me. LFC Primer B is waiting for us on the shelf, and Ryne and Grace have recently started Song School Latin, a recently released gentle introduction to the LFC Primers. They both love the program so far. I'm not in a hurry to get Ryne started on Latin, since we need to focus on meaningful communication in English first, but it is certainly doing him no harm to sing Salve! (hello) and Vale! (good-bye) with his little sister. It's a fun activity for them to do together.

Perhaps the greatest proof that LFC was the right Latin program for us was a recent conversation I had with Anna. She was telling me about her swim practice she had earlier that day. Swimmers spend a lot of time, well, swimming. So I asked her what she thinks about as she swims lap after lap. She replied, "I chant my Latin vocabulary."

1 comment:

  1. Readers,

    I forgot to mention that not long after we started actually using LFC, the DVD/CD set was revised, and Classical Academic Press offered a free upgrade to those who had purchased the product within a certain time period. So that's why I am able to compare the new and old versions of the DVDs and CD.

    aka argsmommy