Latin with Pigs and Mice: Conversational Latin in the Early Elementary Years

or - Latin with Pigs and Mice - Carolyn Bales - HSLDA Blog

I’m the sort of person who rushed out and bought the first Harry Potter book in Latin when it came out, and read a good chunk of it, until I got distracted. Latin is my happy place. I’m not a top-of-the-line blue-ribbon translator, but I find it all endlessly entertaining, so now that I’m a homeschool mom, my children were pretty much doomed to take Latin.

I’ve been keeping an eye on Meg to try to decide when she’d be ready to start. Dorothy Sayers’ father taught her when she was about eight. Normal Latinists seem to start around middle or high school. On the other hand, younger is supposed to be better for language acquisition, at least if you can do it conversationally, and conversational Latin should definitely be a thing, right? Last spring Meg was reading fluently and making up her own invented language and needed a new challenge, so we started Latin. She was finishing up kindergarten.

I had Amy High’s translation of Olivia by Ian Falconer. Meg knows, and well I love, the English Olivia, so she was already familiar with every page. We started by memorizing the first sentence of the book. “Haec est Olivia.” “This is Olivia.”

Latin with Pigs and Mice: Conversational Latin in the Early Elementary Years | HSLDA Blog

We made up our own silly sentences. “Olivia crustula edit” – meaning “Olivia eats cookies.” We jumped up and down while reciting first declension endings, because nothing is more amusing than shrieking nonsense. “A, AE, AE, AM, A! AE, ARUM, IS, AS, IS!” I made it as approachable and playful as reasonably possible, though she did actually have to do it, and all in all, it was an encouraging start.

I’d heard of the Minimus the Mouse curriculum and it sounded like a great fit for our family, so I ordered it for this fall. It’s built around a series of graphic novel pages (!) about a mouse who lives in a Roman Britain family’s villa. (Squee!) My inner archaeologist is thrilled that the story is set in a real villa and the book is full of photos of artifacts they’ve dug up. Meg’s native language is graphic novels, so she approves too. I do think it should have had higher production values for the price they’re charging, but I will forgive them since the content is great. Minimus’ people ask very reasonable questions like “Who are you?” and “Will you come to my birthday party?” and it’s hard to beat that. Even Kate likes Minimus and asks to do Minimus for school.

Latin with Pigs and Mice: Conversational Latin in the Early Elementary Years | HSLDA Blog

I’ve been able to describe “translation” activities as “search and find” activities, because Meg can rock those in her Highlights magazine. So whenever she finds an unknown word, it’s a game: can we find that word in the list at the end? Yes! It means that in English! Minimal frustration and drama. We’ve done a d  ifferent search-and-find through the graphic novel pages to see if we could locate all six basic to-be verbs in their natural habitat. I showed Meg how to chart out the six to-be verbs by person and number, which appealed to her love of graphing things. (She again graphed her dinosaur oatmeal eggs yesterday morning. Apparently some things never get old.) We also sit around and chat about, and somewhat in, Latin at the dinner table. Come to think of it, I ought to send a shout-out to my husband, who sees nothing weird about Latin at dinner and joins in cheerfully. Yay for homeschool dads.

I even came up with a Latin craft both girls could do, and I felt super clever about it. So, I had the estimable Dr. Noe for college Latin. A proverb among his Greek students was “The fear of Noe is the beginning of Greek,” and we all agreed. Except, you know, for Latin. Before quizzes, Noe would say “…and it will form a beautiful mosaic of dancing grammar,” which always baffled me. In what way–? Never mind. But as I was meditating on Latin in the bathtub, it occurred to me how to make a grammar mosaic in real life. So I leapt up and got ready, dashed to the grocery store, and bought posterboard all in a frenzy of craftiness.

“What’s that for?” Meg asked.

“We’re going to make a grammar mosaic!” I said.

“What’s a mosaic?”

Ack! We looked up a few Roman ones on Pinterest. (Art history.) The girls cut up paper into squares and sorted them into bowls by color. (Scissor skills, color identification, and sorting, for Kate.) Meanwhile, I labeled the posterboard and drew out six rectangles in a chart, each a little larger than an index card, so that we can use the chart for sorting flash cards all year long. The girls glued papers onto the rectangles to create their own mosaics. (Craft time!) Then I handed Meg her pile of to-be verbs and had her sort them into their tidy columns of person and number. (Latin and grammar practice.) She managed it with aplomb.

Latin with Pigs and Mice 3 - Carolyn Bales - HSLDA Blog

This approach obviously wouldn’t work for every kid. I’m really relishing getting to customize our school – we pick things up and put them down as they fill a need or get in the way, and we start from what we love and move out towards harder things. I love hearing how other homeschool parents customize curricula for their kids – nobody knows your kid better than you. Nobody is better suited to share what you love. And nobody else, I‘m guessing, would have started Meg on Latin at age 6.

Anybody else have any good stories of teaching Latin to very young kids? Or older kids, for that matter?

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Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images by Carolyn Bales.

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  1. Curriculum Review—Minimus: Starting Out in Latin by Barbara Bell | Homeschooling Now - May 15, 2017

    […] was cautiously positive at the beginning of the year. Now that we’re almost done, I can definitely say it didn’t do what I had hoped, though it […]

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