*Note: I received a free copy of Song School Latin in order to be able to provide this review.
Over in our Language Learning At Home Facebook group, a number of classically educating families have asked me to provide a comprehensive review of Song School Latin, Classical Academic Press’s curriculum for young Latin learners, and I’m happy to present you with that today!
Having reviewed the product thoroughly over the past few weeks, I’m now ready to offer my official opinion of it. By the way, if you’re curious to know how I review homeschool foreign language curriculum, here’s a post explaining my review process and how it helps me write informative and unbiased evaluations of these products. While I don’t test every single curriculum with my own children, I did test some parts of Song School Latin with my four-year-old, so I can offer you not only my opinion of it as a homeschool mom and language educator, but also his perspective!
Target Ages: Grade 1—Grade 2
Cost: $82-87/one yearlong course
Materials Included: Student workbook, instructor’s guide, instructional DVD (or streaming video), vocabulary flashcards
Summary: Song School Latin is a gentle, yet effective way to introduce Latin to young language learners. It can be used in a co-op setting or by parents who are able to invest 2-3 hours per week in the subject. Teachers do not need to have prior Latin experience in order to be able to use this curriculum, and can choose between learning Classical or Ecclesiastical pronunciation—both are options within the curriculum. For families who are serious about Latin study and wish to begin it at an early age, Song School Latin provide a fun and pedagogically sound “hook” to get kids interested in Latin and build their confidence for future study.*
*I reviewed Book 1 of Song School Latin, but there is also a second book (the appropriately named Book 2) that is a continuation of this curriculum.
My evaluation of Song School Latin (as a language teacher):
Does Song School Latin curriculum use best practices in language teaching? Yes.
Song School Latin combines a number of different approaches to help children learn their new language—and that combination is precisely what makes this curriculum an effective teaching tool. I like that Classical Academic Press (CAP) was willing to think outside of the box with this curriculum; instead of teaching Latin primarily through reading and writing exercises (as it is often taught in the Grammar-Translation model), Song School Latin makes the language accessible to young children by teaching it the way that they learn best—aurally. Simple songs and chants are the foundation of the curriculum and this musical approach helps children pick up new words and phrases painlessly. I tested it with my own four-year-old son, who has no prior exposure to Latin. After listening to the CD just a few times through, he had memorized a number of the curriculum’s catchy tunes and could correctly define the Latin words that he had learned. He even made up his own versions of some of the songs—they were a big hit!
Video lessons are also provided in the curriculum to deepen kids’ understanding of the vocabulary and grammar introduced on the audio CD. Appropriately short lessons (about 15-20 minutes each), use vocabulary in context and introduce the idea of derivatives by showing the relationship of Latin words to words in other languages. They are kept kid-friendly with the use of cartoon characters as well as other children.
The workbook focuses on reading and writing, and as Latin is no longer widely spoken, there is appropriately little emphasis on developing speaking skills.
Is it developmentally appropriate for the ages that it is marketed to? Yes.
One of the most obvious strengths of Song School Latin is that it is FUN—which is particularly important with this age group. Since you can’t expect a first grader to be particularly self-motivated to learn a new language, any materials that you use must be able to get (and keep) their attention. The songs and games included in the curriculum ensure that this is the case for Song School Latin students.
Moreover, vocabulary acquisition, versus the memorization of grammar rules, is the emphasis of this curriculum. This is completely appropriate for young children—even those that we consider to be in the “grammar” stage of their development. Because they must first be comfortable with a language before they can learn any of its rules, vocabulary should be the main emphasis for a student of this age.
However, I do have one thing to note with regards to the developmental appropriateness of this curriculum. Song School Latin presupposes reading and writing ability, so if you’re using it with a younger student, you may have to provide some extra support, unless your child is a very confident reader and writer.
Does it have realistic expectations for student learning throughout its course of study? Yes.
Song School Latin has realistic expectations of both students and parents in terms of amount of material covered and how much daily/weekly practice is needed.
Is it logically sequenced? Yes.
Here is a picture of the table of contents to give you a sense of how Song School Latin progresses through its 31 lessons. The chapters build off each other in a natural way, so that more and more Latin can be used in practice activities as children continue throughout the curriculum—and students loop back around to earlier concepts as they progress through the book.
The 31 chapters also include 7 review chapters, which are essential to children at this age. I’ve written before about the value of paced review for foreign language learners and am glad to see this built into the curriculum.
Does it introduce new material clearly and provide adequate practice opportunities? Yes.
New material is presented to children in a number of ways, which is ideal from a comprehension perspective. Not only do kids hear new vocabulary in the songs and chants included in the curriculum, but they get plenty of practice with multiple choice exercises, light copywork (appropriate for this age group), matching activities, and other vocabulary-reinforcing work.
Note that instruction is provided in English, as this curriculum does not require parents to have any familiarity whatsoever with Latin.
Are the assessments included in the curriculum aligned with its teaching? Yes.
No formal assessments are included in this curriculum, but the practice activities are aligned with the concepts that are taught in each unit.
Does it include cultural learning to help students put language in a broader context? Yes--but perhaps not in the way you'd expect.
Song School Latin doesn’t go too deep into the history or culture of Ancient Rome, though the video lessons do touch on it somewhat. The curriculum's strength, however, is in making Latin relevant to 21st-century children—which it does principally through emphasizing derivatives. By demonstrating the relationship between Latin and modern languages (with a focus on English), it helps kids feel comfortable with their new language and understand its historical value (though perhaps not in such sophisticated terms!).
If you do want to pursue more historical/cultural study about the Roman Empire with your young children, don’t forget to check my Homeschool Latin Pinterest board for ideas.
My evaluation of Song School Latin (as a homeschooling mom):
What level of language proficiency does it require of the teacher (i.e. homeschool mom)? None.
None—but if mom chooses to listen to the accompanying CD and watch the video lessons along with her children, she will quickly pick up the same vocabulary and grammar that her kids are learning. This is something that I highly recommend parents of young children do, if at all possible, since the human element of language learning is so important at this age. Of course, kids also benefit from the accountability of having someone else go through the curriculum alongside them.
What level of preparation and teaching does it require from mom? Very little.
This is an open-and-go type of book. Mom really doesn’t have to do anything aside from having the materials at the ready. And while younger children may need mom’s help with some of the actitvies—as I mentioned above—second or third graders could likely handle this themselves, and even work through the activities together.
If it does require mom's involvement, are the lesson plans and schedule presented clearly? Yes.
I didn’t find a single activity in this book that left me unclear about exactly what I (and my child) needed to do—and the teacher’s manual contained a number of helpful additional tips for parents unfamiliar with Latin. Here’s a sample so that you can see:
How much instruction is provided via screens? Some—but the focus is on real-life practice.
Video instruction is provided in this curriculum (either as a DVD or streaming video) and the lessons are clear, approachable, and appropriately short for this age range. If you choose to use them, I would recommend watching them alongside your children, so that you can encourage their participation and check for understanding. Also, younger kids may need more support with the videos than older ones, since the videos include a good amount of text (and assume that your child is reading well).
Can it be used for multiple children (either at the same time, or reused later on)?
This could definitely be used for multiple children, though you’ll have to purchase additional workbooks in order for them to have their own. Older children will likely move through this curriculum faster (as is the case with any multi-age curriculum), but if they do, I would just send them over to Headventureland.com, where Classical Academic Press has provided additional practice activities and games for language learners. That could keep them occupied while you help younger children through the material.
Does it align with any particular homeschool philosophy? Not perfectly—and that’s okay.
Although Song School Latin is published by Classical Academic Press, it can be used by families who ascribe to nearly any homeschooling philosophy. Yes, it has elements of the Grammar-Translation approach (the most “Classical” method of teaching languages), but they are appropriately light, so as to keep the curriculum suitable for young children. In addition, the audio-lingual activities in Song School Latin even echo some of the principles of Charlotte Mason’s direct method of language instruction. The curriculum isn’t “purely” Charlotte Mason, of course, but it’s close enough that CM families should feel comfortable using it and confident in knowing that this is an extremely well written and effective language curriculum.
Does the cost reflect the value offered in the curriculum? Yes.
All in all, Song School Latin is a well-rounded and carefully constructed Latin curriculum that offers the structure and support that parents need to introduce the language to their young children enjoyably and prepare them for future story. It’s worth the (relatively minor) investment.