Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our Roman Roots: So Far So Good (review)

Our Roman Roots: A Catholic Student's Guide to Latin Grammar and Western Civilization, by James R. Leek, Ed.D. Review at

This is not a state-of-the-art Latin program, especially in its 1997 coilbound edition with cassette. It will not give you the ability to translate Virgil or to read the Vulgate Bible. But if you're looking for something more than just a prefixes/suffixes curriculum for students from grades 4 to 8, but aren't sure where to start, you might want to consider this book.

We are only up to lesson 5 of 15, which is just about where we should be in the one-year course; so I can only base our review on the first third of the book. But so far, I'm pleased.

Ease of use?--very, very easy, except that you or your students will have to set up separate notebooks with tabs before beginning the course. Occasionally I photocopy one of the pages for the Squirrelings to use instead of copying everything out, for instance if there is a multiple-choice written activity.

It's set up in 15 5-day lessons; unless you have only older students, I wouldn't think you'd want to take the whole thing in 15 weeks. You can either teach a whole lesson every other week and then use the next week for review; teach a lesson over two weeks; or mix things up as we have done (we started off slow but have done two full lessons in the past three weeks, leaving French aside until January). The books are set up with one activity after another, so it's easy to just pencil a mark or leave a Post-It note at the last activity you completed, and go on from there.

The fifth day of each lesson is a one-page quiz; sometimes these are quite tricky and they bring in concepts from previous lessons, so I would recommend a bit of extra review before doing them. We have done things like make Concentration cards with vocabulary words and Roman numerals.

Recommended age? I wouldn't consider it with children below about grade 4, at least as far as the grammar goes; they need to be able, almost right away, to grasp the concept of the genitive or possessive case, and that's not the easiest thing to explain. An example of that is "agnus Dei" (lamb of God), where the "of" is understood by the ending on "Dei." Also, many of the daily "Word Power" quotes that are to be copied into the notebooks require a fair amount of maturity to grasp, such as "Silent leges enim inter arma" (Laws are silent in war). Ponytails (grade 8) can complete some of the written activities faster than Crayons (grade 4) can, and I expect she will find some of the more advanced grammar easier; but Crayons has been doing just as well as Ponytails on the quizzes and the oral activities.

Most enjoyable activities: The Squirrelings, having some Catholic family history, like being able to astound everyone by saying grace in Latin. The songs (like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) are fun; we have added in two Christmas carols this month that are featured in later lessons. Ponytails has found a couple of opportunities lately to tell people "Errare humanum est"; and Crayons picked out the word "donum" in a Latin song heard at a school concert last night. (You-tube video, not from that concert though.) They also like acting out the imperative forms of verbs (commands) as given on the tape: the voice commands them to Sta! (Stand up!) Sede! (Sit down!) Verte! (Turn around!) and so on.

Most enjoyable aspects for me, after trying out two other Latin programs previously with The Apprentice: no long lists of vocabulary to learn, at least not so far anyway. No chants, at least not so far, unless you count chanting the numbers 1 to 10. The program is not too difficult for me to teach with my one year of high school Latin and that bit of previous experience. I enjoy seeing the Squirrelings make some of their own connections with the vocabulary rather than having to have me point everything out. When the tape commanded them to "Audi!" and "Vide!", Ponytails was quick to point out the connection with "audio" and "video."

I also like the fact that this is not a colouring-page, word-search kind of curriculum. Although it's simple and enjoyable, it avoids busywork.

Downsides? 1. Occasionally--very occasionally--a word or concept will come up that isn't explained right away; one example is that the words "est" and "sunt" (forms of "To be") suddenly pop into use without definition. If you don't have any Latin knowledge at all, you might want to have a friend around to call on occasionally, or at least look things up sometimes online if you get stuck.*** 2. If you don't want any Catholic material at all, you would not like this course. Protestants can use it although there are a few things you might want to omit. 3. Pronunciation is Ecclesiastical, not Classical (Ecclesiastical is pronounced more like Italian); this is fun for singing, but might cause a bit of confusion if you move on later to materials from other publishers. 4. We skip a lot of the "extension activities" (short essay or research topics) unless it seems it would be particularly meaningful to do them.

I think this course could be alternatively titled "Wow! You can speak Latin!" Latin isn't always fun; but this book keeps it from being a chore.

***UPDATE as of Lesson 6:  Starting in again after the Christmas break, I noticed that Lessons 6 and 7 introduce the Ablative and Accusative cases, although you don't really do much with them.  We took one extra session to sort through the idea of conjugations, declensions and cases, comparing what we know of English and French grammar with Latin, and I gave the girls a photocopied chart showing noun endings.  This was one place where I think the program could have used a bit more explanation, although, as I said, all you're actually doing with the Ablative at this point is just saying that someone is "In such-and-such-a-country," and changing the ending for the names of some countries.


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

So sorry I missed this- it was in my inbox, I just somehow skipped it. It's added now.

Mama Squirrel said...

No problem! Thanks too for your very nice intro.

Annie Kate said...

We're not doing Latin (at least this year) but this is the kind of program I'd be looking for.

Thanks for the review.

Annie Kate