I’ve been wanting to review Lively Latin for a while, because it’s one of my favorite parts of our school day. We started in mid-February, after Alex abruptly decided that Song School Latin was for babies. Lively Latin definitely isn’t. It’s colorful and fun, yes, but it’s also a real and systematic introduction to Latin grammar.
Lively Latin is woven together from three main components: language lessons, which focus on grammar and vocabulary; English words derived from Latin; and the history of Rome. There are also a number of “extras,” such as art history lessons about paintings with classical themes, mini-features on the organization and equipment of the Roman army, and a section that Alex loved about the genealogical relationships between languages. The curriculum provides materials for students to create their own book of Roman history, but we’re skipping that part so I don’t know anything about it.
There are videos of the Magistra teaching concepts, but we’ve never needed them; I find the text to be very clear. If Alex were a year or two older, she could probably follow it without my help. (As it is, she completes the exercises orally and I do most of the writing.) A nice feature of the language lessons is that they don’t assume any prior grammar knowledge on the part of the student. So the curriculum will first teach what a predicate nominative is, with English-language examples and exercises, and will then explain how to use predicate nominatives in Latin. This is a really useful adaptation for teaching Latin to younger children. Now that Alex is also studying English grammar, we’ve found that Lively Latin complements her English grammar program nicely.
Each “lesson” takes about two weeks to complete and includes each of the components listed above. New vocabulary and grammar chants are introduced in roughly every other lesson. Typically, you are asked to memorize something first and are later taught to use it. For example, students begin chanting the imperfect tense verb endings in lesson 8 and are not asked to use them until lesson 10. Since each lesson takes about two weeks, Alex wound up chanting those forms for almost a month before putting them to use. I think this works well, but other people have reported that their kids find it frustrating.
Sometimes the memorize-first principle feels as if it’s carried to extremes. By lesson 2 students are declining nouns, yet in the full year of Big Book 1 they are only taught how to use the nominative and ablative cases. Similarly, students memorize all four principal parts of each verb, but because Big Book 1 only teaches the present, imperfect, and future tenses, only the first principal part is explained in the course. Big Book 2 goes on to teach the use of the other declensions and verb tenses; the two courses together are approximately equivalent to one year of high school Latin. Since Lively Latin is for younger students, the slower pace makes sense – but it does require memorization while trusting that understanding will come later.
What we like most about Lively Latin is the variety in the exercises. You may be asked to label clip-art pictures with their Latin names or to translate sentences from English to Latin and vice versa, but it’s equally likely that you will be asked to draw a picture that illustrates a Latin sentence, or to look at a picture of a Van Gogh painting and label as many things in Latin as you can, or to label a set of Latin sentences as verum aut falsum (true or false). In a given day’s work, you’re likely to be asked to do several of these things. This variety really keeps Alex’s interest up. She particularly enjoys the drawing assignments.
(I particularly like the lower left picture above, in which Alex chose to illustrate Erant frumenta in carro, “There was grain in the cart,” with a picture of a cart that has fallen over and spilled grain onto the ground. “Because it doesn’t say that there IS grain in the cart, Mom.”)
Derivative study is probably our least favorite element of the curriculum, although we did like this exercise in identifying words derived from bonus (good), malus (bad), primus (first), and magnus (great, big):
The history component is mostly taken from old public-domain books such as Famous Men of Rome, heavily supplemented with maps, illustrations, activities, discussion questions, and even battle plans. We find the history enjoyable, but I suspect that there isn’t a whole lot of retention happening. That’s okay with me. I don’t need Alex to have an extremely detailed working knowledge of events and people in Roman history; I value the history portions of the curriculum because they are interesting stories which give some context and interest to the study of the Latin language.
I think Lively Latin is an outstanding introduction to Latin at the elementary level. Using this program, Alex has learned an impressive amount of Latin in a short time. Even Colin has picked up some of the grammar chants. Most importantly, Alex enjoys Latin and sees it as a valuable and unintimidating subject to study. We couldn’t be happier with this program.