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05 June 2017

Latina Christiana {Crew Review}

Memoria Press

Latina Christiana Complete Set
I've had my eye on the Memoria Press Latin materials for quite some time (they have a number of interesting offerings), but hadn't bought it yet, so when we were given the opportunity to review the Latina Christiana Complete Set I was really excited. The plan is to make Latin a long-term part of our schedule.

The best approach to Latin grammar is to consider it a basic subject, like arithmetic, that is to be mastered by consistent effort over a period of years. If Latin is presented to students as a fun enrichment course, they will want to drop it when the novelty wears off and it becomes routine and hard. 
-Teachers' Manual: Preface

Before we started trying to do the Latin with Hero(10), I sat down and spent some time looking over the materials and orienting myself to the course; there's quite a bit of material to look over, and I wanted to have a pretty clear idea of what a lesson would look like before I started. In reading the introductory materials in the Teachers' Manual, I found this:

There is much to memorize in the first few years of Latin, and because group recitation is a pleasant and effective way to accomplish this task, I strongly recommend the formation of a "class" for Latin study. You may have a ready-made class in your homeschooling family, or you may want to recruit some children from a neighboring family. Even preschoolers will want to chime in and merrily chant: amo, amas, amat...
-Teachers' Manual: Preface

I spent some time mulling this over and praying, and decided to order a second workbook for my younger son. At almost 7, he's a little bit younger than the recommended ages for the course, but looking at the materials, I think that we can support him so that he can handle it, and the benefit of having a "class" to do the work with looks like it's going to be significant. I also took a day or two to adjust my lesson plans to reflect that we'll be doing a little bit of Latin most days for the foreseeable future.

As we dived in, the prediction that preschoolers would happily chant along proved to be true: Peanut loves it. She is blissfully unaware that, officially, she is not taking Latin yet, and participates in every lesson. The one that needed some persuasion was Dragon: he thought that once he'd said it once, it was done, and resisted doing it again, until I explained to him that when he learns something new, there are new connections made in his brain, but they start out small. It's through repetition that the brain realizes, "Hey! This is important stuff -- I'd better remember this," and builds up the connections so they get strong. After that, he was all in: who doesn't want to grow their brain? His new-found enthusiasm was pretty cute, and I caught him saying parts of the Table Blessing on his own.

By the end of the first week we'd completed the first lesson, and both boys had a reasonable grasp on the things we'd been introduced to. As I had expected, Hero was very comfortable with the materials and presentation, and Dragon needed a little bit of scaffolding, but with the proper help he was successful, too. I felt like the amount of work the lesson entailed was really very do-able, even with our already busy schedule. The hardest part the first week was making sure that everyone understood the grammar involved - verbs and pronouns - since Dragon had not run into those concepts before; Hero has, through his English grammar and a little prior dabbling with Latin, but it was all new territory for Dragon.

When we started the second lesson, it became apparent that, while we'd done well with learning the grammar, we had skimped on our work with the vocabulary. So we broke out the flash cards (I'd been slow to find a container for them). There's only 15 words in the first two lessons, so this is not a big deal. It looks like time spent drilling the vocabulary now should pay rich dividends later -- which is true in any language, really.

Lesson two introduced the concept of conjugation, and so we also started practicing chanting our conjugations. This works really well in the car, which was where we first tried it: I brought the boys' workbooks, so they could reference the vocabulary lists, and then told them that it was their job to keep me doing it right, since I'm learning too, but I can't look at the lists while I drive. It was hard at first, for all of us. Hero was quickly able to start looking at the verb we were working with and then closing the book, to work from memory. Dragon had to work harder to figure out what to do, but he was also able to be successful in figuring out how to conjugate the verbs and even lead our chant near the end. I thought it was cool how quickly we all improved; chanting really did help.

I am really appreciating the very clear instructions in the Teacher Manual. This course is for the teacher who does not know Latin, and the instructions are clear and informative, but do it without talking down to the teacher, and without resorting to scripting every single sentence that you say, and they've just struck a very nice balance. Things like **Before you teach this lesson, re-read the Grammar Overview, page x.** are really helpful to keep me a step ahead of the kids in learning how this language is put together, and there are clear instructions about what to do and how to be prepared throughout the lessons. It makes it easy to present the material.

Looking ahead, there are review lessons built in, and the first one includes some encouragement for the teacher:

The oral work in Latin is to aid the memory in retaining vocabulary and grammar forms. It is not to develop speaking fluency as in modern languages. Oral recitation work is extremely important in learning Latin. There is too much to learn in Latin to rely on visual memory alone. Do not be overly concerned about whether your pronunciation is exactly right. Say Latin with confidence. Act like you know what you're doing. If you find out later that you are saying some words or sounds wrong, great! Correct yourself and go on. Remember, there are no Romans around to correct.

This philosophy is really nice to have emphasized. In our work with Japanese, I work hard to minimize my accent, and encourage my kids to do the same. I put in a lot of effort trying to create a semi-immersive environment to assist in learning that language, but those things are not possible with Latin. It's a good reminder to not worry so much about pronunciation. This is encouraging all by itself, but they're not done:

Teaching Latin is a real art. As your skills as a teacher grow, then the progress of your students will accelerate. The progress of my students was very slow the first year. As my experience and confidence increased, the rate of student learning increased also. Be content with a slow pace at the beginning, and lay a good foundation. Be grateful for what God has allowed you to learn and teach, and do not be dissatisfied with your rate of progress. Rome was not built in a day, and your knowledge of Latin won't be either.

Being content with a slow pace is hard for me, so this is a great reminder. I'd hoped to be able to do a lesson every week, but with supporting Dragon, we're just a little slower than that, at least for now. However, he's building a good foundation, and I am comfortable with where we're at. Hero could probably do faster, if I was going at his pace: he's really taking to this course.

By the third lesson, things were beginning to be more routine. The first concepts were much more familiar, the conjugations came much more readily, and everybody knows what to expect in a lesson. There is a lot of new material in each lesson, but I feel we are doing well with learning it. Each lesson has a video portion, which goes over new vocabulary and grammar. We end up pausing this a lot, and in lesson three, we even split it into two sessions, as I wanted to be sure that the boys understood what a direct object is: that was new to them both, and the video goes over it very quickly. There are breaks in the video intended for student responses, but they're a little short for our family's needs. What ends up happening is that I pause in those breaks, which works out nicely. After we watch the video, we work with flashcards, do the worksheet, and practice until I feel that they boys are pretty solid in what they're doing, and ready to add on. Then we move to the next lesson.

I really like the way it's easy to regulate the pace with these materials. It's tidy to plan to do a lesson a week, but with summer coming on, the pace we keep for school is slowing down, and book work gives way somewhat to more time outside, which we don't get a lot of in winter. These lessons are easy to adjust to that sort of thing, which is great. Overall, I think that this is a program that I can see is working for our family, and I'm looking forward to continuing and eventually completing it.

If you want to read more reviews of this and other Memoria Press products, click the banner below. There's other Latin materials, as well as two different science/nature study packages that Crew members have been looking at so they can share their thoughts with you.

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