I’m working on a series of posts about our non-FIAR curricula. The last one I wrote about was math.
Song School Latin has been a huge hit at our house. I originally intended to cover one chapter a week, but instead, at Alex’s request, we’ve already done 11 chapters since June 1st. (Even though we took two weeks’ vacation!)
The core of the Song School Latin curriculum is a CD of songs introducing basic Latin vocabulary in a child-friendly format. (The musical quality is pretty amateurish, but my kids both love the CD anyway.) Each chapter has one or more songs, often set to familiar children’s tunes. For example, in the chapter on family relationships the song is set to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean:”
My pater is really my father
My mater is really my mom
My frater is my little brother
And I am the soror, you see.
The program teaches longer conversational phrases as well as single words. For example, to the tune of “Skip to My Lou:”
Quid est tuum praenomen?
Quid est tuum praenomen?
Quid est tuum praenomen?
Tell me what your name is.
The CD runs through all the songs twice, once using the classical pronunciation and once using the ecclesiastical pronunciation. Both pronunciations are supported in the text as well.
Each chapter also has simple paper-and-pencil activities like matching and fill-in-the blank exercises, or perhaps the suggestion to draw a picture and label the objects in Latin. Typically, four new words or phrases are introduced in each chapter; this is a slow-moving curriculum with a lot of repetition. Every fifth lesson reviews the four previous ones. For extra practice, videos and simple games are available on the Classical Academic Press website.
There’s a teacher’s manual available, which we haven’t purchased. It’s trivially easy to figure out the correct answers to the workbook questions without a teacher’s manual, and I also find it easy to come up with my own games and activities for extra practice. For example, when Alex was learning the words for family members, I gave her a trivia quiz (“Whose birthday is in January?” “Pater!”), and after we learned nouns for common household objects I made her a little treasure hunt (“Your next clue is on a sella where a puer sits”).
Song School Latin is an awesome program for a six-year-old who wants to learn a little Latin vocabulary. It’s clearly building affection for, and identification with, Latin as a language. It’s a great choice for a family with younger siblings; Colin is learning the songs right along with Alex and feels included in the lessons. Song School Latin would also be a great choice for a family in which older siblings are making a serious study of Latin and younger children don’t want to be left out.
It’s important to be clear about what Song School Latin is not. It is not a grammar-based program. The chapters often have little infonuggets about Latin grammar, such as the idea that Latin nouns have gender. But the program does not introduce any verb conjugations or noun declensions. As a result, children aren’t able to put together their own sentences in Latin – they can only repeat canned phrases or put Latin words into English sentences. I am totally okay with this for a six-year-old; I think it would be a very rare child in grades K-2 who is ready to dive in to the difference between accusative, dative, and ablative cases. However, if you’re looking for a program which promotes deep understanding of grammar, Song School Latin will disappoint you.
Similarly, Song School Latin does not teach the vocabulary needed to decode Latin texts. The vocabulary focuses on simple conversational exchanges (“Quid agis?” “Sum bene!” is “How are you?” “I am fine”) and child-friendly topics such as animals, foods, parts of the body, and seasons. These words don’t tend to pop up in the passages from Caesar or Cicero that more traditional Latin texts teach you to translate. Again, I think this is perfectly appropriate for the age group.
Finally, Song School Latin is not secular. Classical Academic Press is a Christian company. There are two chapters about Christmas which teach the Bible story (with vocabulary words like infant, star, lamb, etc.), and some of the “grow your English” lessons linking Latin and English vocabulary use religious examples (e.g., the word “disciple” comes from the Latin word discipulus, meaning student). Our kids are already familiar with the religious Christmas story, so we’re fine with teaching the curriculum as written.
The bottom line is that Song School Latin is an enjoyable, easy to use program which is developmentally appropriate for early elementary children and which encourages a love of Latin. There’s no reason why you couldn’t just skip it and start with a “real” grammar-based Latin program at age nine or so, but we love it anyway.