Kissing the frog: Our Latin curriculum hunt and what I learned

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Written by Lora Lynn Fanning of VitaFamiliae.

Professor Gerberding stalked into my Latin 101 class in college and slammed a brand new copy of Wheelock’s Latin onto my desk.

“Welcome to Latin! Learn it before you die!”

And I did.

Later, when I had kids, I wanted them to study Latin – and sooner than their poor Mama began to learn it.

The problem is, you can’t just throw a copy of Wheelock’s onto a 9-year-old’s desk and insist that they keep up.

I had no idea how to go about teaching Latin to younger kids. Hence, we kissed A LOT of frogs to find our Latin curriculum prince.

I started by picking the curriculum that appealed to ME as a learner, what I wished I had in college.

Visual Latin was fun, it was… well, visual, and it involved sitting down and puzzling out translations like I loved. My kids thought the guy in the videos was funny, but they weren’t really computing the concepts he was teaching. It moved too fast and demanded too much comprehension from my middle school twins.

(If you’ve got a high schooler wanting to jump into Latin, this might still be a good fit for you. I’m definitely keeping the program to supplement with in later years.)

Next, I went for simple. Amazon told me that “Getting Started with Latin” was a nice basic way to teach Latin if you had no experience. And while I could translate Latin, I was mostly self-taught and had no idea how to TEACH it to kids.

This book was helpful to getting my second son’s confidence back after I had pushed him too hard out of frustration and ignorance. (Isn’t it funny how at least half of our success as teachers is related to our success as parents? Or not funny at all, depending on the day…)

With ten basic sentences to practice translating each day, my boys began to feel like they grasped the concepts. On the most basic of vocabulary and sentence construction, they could proceed.

But as soon as we hit the first verb conjugation or declension, their little brains exploded. They couldn’t seem to make the leap from vocabulary to actual translation.

There was just too much missing from the instruction manual, which suddenly seemed TOO simplified. And I wasn’t quite sure how to make up for that loss.

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Photo by Gordon

Around this time, my family went to a homeschool convention. I’d heard of Song School Latin. I even had a friend who tried it for awhile but deemed it “too simple and silly.” She never took Latin herself so I don’t know how she really knew, but upon her advice, I dismissed Song School Latin out of hand.

So when my kids were wooed into the Classical Academic Press booth with pictures of monkeys and board games, I followed them reluctantly.

It didn’t take long for me to perk up. My kids were poring through the Song School Latin book, pointing out words they recognized and showing me pictures. “Hey! I didn’t know that’s what that word meant! Look at the monkey, Mom! He’s funny!”

I squinted my eyes suspiciously and took the book out of their hands. It was then that I learned there steroids online were videos, too. Fun, age-appropriate videos. And a card game.

Plus workbooks with catchy pictures, even things that my struggling readers could do (although I highly recommend waiting until they’re reading fairly well before you bother with Latin.)

The difference was, I could see the next set of books on the path. Song School Latin was just the beginning. From there, my kids could do Latin for Children, which built on the vocabulary base they would get from Song School.

If we survived that, there was Latin Alive.

The texts were modern, the drawings were from this decade, and the program seemed like a complete package, not something still in development.

We made the purchase and Latin became the highlight of our day.

Everyone down to the two-year-old gathers around my computer to watch the video and laugh over the story of Simeon the monkey. One of my daughters is especially obsessed with learning languages, so she challenges anyone who comes into our home to a game of “Go Piscis” with the vocabulary cards.

My twins quickly moved through the material and seemed to be taking in the words and actually REMEMBERING them.

I made the leap and bought Latin for Children. There was enough of the silly videos attached to the chanting and the grammar descriptions to hold their interest.

The depth is just enough of a challenge to make them work, but not so overwhelming that they want to give up. The lessons look similar each week, but stretch them a little further each time.

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Photo by JeffChristiansen

While we may have indeed “kissed a lot of frogs” on our journey to the Latin curriculum that works for us now, I learned a few things about curriculum shopping in general that can be applied in most situations:

1. Think about your specific needs FOR THIS MOMENT.

I started off with a great curriculum, but it didn’t suit the age and needs of my kids.

2. When you get lost, go back to basics.

A short stint with a simple and cheap book was worth the confidence boost and relationship restoration that we needed before diving into another curriculum whole hog.

3. Think less about what worked for you as a kid and more about who your kids are and how they learn.

4. Other people’s opinions are helpful, but it’s no substitute for perusing the curriculum yourself.

5. If possible, look at the broader scope of a curriculum and see the big picture – how the material is taught over time.

If it works for you now and the direction they are headed makes sense, then it’s probably a good fit for your family.

6. Don’t be afraid to kiss a frog or two while curriculum hunting.

Sometimes the lessons learned on the journey are worth just as much as finding The One at the end.

I’m glad I puckered up to a few of these frogs for the lessons that I learned, but I’d rather not take the hard road to every curriculum choice. What are your Rules to Shop By when choosing a new curriculum? How do you avoid trying every curriculum out there to find The One?

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site, LoraLynnFanning.com.

Comments

  1. Lora, would Song School Latin be your suggested starting point even with some previous Latin? I have twin 10 yr olds and we have completed Prima Latina and are on chapter 7 of Latina Christiana, but they are not enjoying the dryness of it. So I was thinking of trying either Song School Latin or Latin for Children. I was thinking Song School might be too young for them, but after reading your article I’m second guessing that. Any thoughts? Thanks!!

    • Shauna – I guess it depends on their frustration level. Mine were pretty sick of latin and decided they weren’t good at it. So they needed something light and fluffy to reignite their enjoyment of the subject. Latin for Children is simple enough that for 10 year olds, they should be fine to jump right into it, it’s more about their attitude toward the subject than anything. Good luck!
      Lora’s latest post: Kissing The Frog And Wooing The Hamster

    • Shauna, I am using the Song School Latin DVDs with my 9 year old and she loves them. I am not having her do the workbook or memorize the words since she is also studying Spanish. But if you want something fun and low pressure I think the DVDs would be great for 10 year olds, and you could use the flash cards if you want to do more memory work. I don’t know what they have already learned, so you may want to look at the words they teach to make sure it won’t be too much repetition. Also, the DVDs cover derivatives, so it relates the Latin they are learning to English and other languages (Spanish and French at least).

  2. For anyone interested in Latin for their children for vocabulary building, but not so much as a whole language (not translating whole sentences, working with tenses, etc.), you may like to look at the Michael Clay Thompson resources. We’ve really enjoyed them! They’re visually compelling and historically grounded.
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: {Clambake} Link Party

  3. I looked up Getting Started in Latin and noticed it was cheaper on Kindle, so I’m going to use that with my grandsons for now. I didn’t learn Latin myself until I became an elementary school teacher and had to teach Latin and Greek roots to my fifth graders. Wow! It really helped their vocabulary development, especially in science. I’m hoping it will do the same for my young grandsons.
    Nancy Taylor’s latest post: Big Snow – And Teaching the Letter S

  4. I have Song School Latin (book and cd) but didn’t realize there were videos. Will look into those. I haven’t actually started yet, but will soon!
    Johanna’s latest post: January 2015 in Books

  5. The bundle you linked to on Amazon is almost $100. Do you feel it’s necessary to get this entire bundle or would the student book and CD at around $23 be good enough?

  6. I am considering Song School Latin also. I watched the sample lesson on their website and it looked fun and my kids enjoyed it although the teacher seemed to hesitate often when she was to speak, so that made it not flow quite right for me as an adult, but my kids didn’t mind it. But, my kids and I both found the CD’s difficult to understand and the songs are supposed to help you memorize.

  7. I love your style of writing! I have certainly kissed a few frogs in our curriculum hunt.
    I asked my ten year old this morning what language she’d like to learn as a fan next year and she asked for Latin. I googled and came across your article and I’m so thankful for your reviews of Latin curr. and why it did or didn’t work for your family. I’m encouraged to begin where you suggested with the song cure. and see if we get a Latin prince.

  8. Jennifer says:

    thank you for this article – my daughter wants to learn Latin, and I had no idea what program to look at – I just bought the Song School Latin – I’m excited!

  9. Would you recommend starting with the first series for k-3 even if the student will be 4th grade?

  10. Richard Gerberding? If so, oh man he was tough but I knew my declensions and conjugations well enough I could decline or conjugate any word he threw at me in the middle of class.
    Thanks for the review, my daughter has shown an interest and I don’t think she’d enjoy Wheelock. I don’t want to kill the spark.

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