As I’ve poured over and refined my school schedule for this coming year, I have not felt comfortable about my plans for vocabulary. We have not been happy with vocabulary workbooks because they have proven to be ineffective thus far, and we’ve gone through THREE levels with disappointing retention rates. My girls can memorize anything if they only have to work on it for a few days, but then those words fly away, never to be heard of again except in vaguely familiar terms (“I know I’ve heard that word before, but I have not the foggiest idea what it means”). The issue is not with their ability to memorize things because most young children are extremely adept at memorization activities. Rather, the problem lies in the methods of memorization and in the lack of sufficient review.
I have firmly decided NOT to do the workbook approach this year. However, my idea to write lists of unfamiliar words on our white board as we go through our read-alouds each week is not much better. It is still a list of words to memorize that are within context, yet will not have sufficient review in the later weeks. Whenever I decide to send one of the girls over to the huge children’s dictionary on the desk for a word definition, we are interrupted for at least ten minutes as they S…L…O…W…L…Y go through the alphabet each time for each letter of each word. Smoothly returning back to wherever we left off is then nearly impossible. Knowing how to use dictionaries and encyclopedias is important, obviously, but at this age and stage it fails to be a very helpful resource and only frustrates all of us. We will keep the dictionaries and encyclopedias we have as research tools instead of etymology tools for right now.
Over the past few weeks, I have had many forum conversations with the online Sonlight community of homeschooling parents, and have finally come up with a workable plan for this year. Since we have a computer in the school room, I will be able to leave up a website like www.dictionary.com or www.etymonline.com as we go through our school day. The girls are not typing yet, so if we come across a word that is pivotal in the girls’ understanding of something, I’ll quickly type it in and then we will move on with our reading. This will solve the problem of immediate context, but only so that the girls do not get lost in the reading. If it is easier to explain a concept rather than a simple word definition, I can do that as well. I found it very reassuring to speak with some veteran moms about this issue of formal vocabulary instruction. The most important task for me right now is to help the girls master phonics and reading. Vocabulary (understanding the meaning of a word) is secondary to being able to read it.
Being the big picture kind of teacher, however, I am not satisfied with only having a plan for this year. I want to determine where we are going with our vocabulary. What is the purpose of learning about words? Why, to be excellent communicators in the written and spoken word, of course! Then I remembered that learning Latin and Greek was one of the classical educational methods that I really liked when I first came across the Well Trained Mind website. I’ve only ever heard sarcastic comments about Latin being a dead language and completely useless in our children’s education. I was never taught Latin, but only memorized lists of vocabulary words all the way through my senior year in high school. And how many words do I remember? None! However, I did not previously know that more than 60% of our English words come from Latin and Greek roots, so it would follow that I would teach Latin to my children if I want them to have a very solid foundation in their own language.
I already have on my list of “future curriculum” to use something like Vocabulary from Classical Roots. It is in workbook format, but I figure that memorizing roots is still beneficial because most of our language is made by mixing roots together to form different words. Knowing all about roots means you can get the main gist out of just about any word, even if you’ve never studied it on a vocab list before. I cannot start this program until fourth grade, however, and I do not want to wait two more years before teaching the girls more about words. That was when I came across a book called English from the Roots Up. It has 100 Greek and Latin roots with both definitions and derivations. There are no workbooks, only color-coded index cards that we work through as we like. The review is consistent. I thought it would be only for the older students, but it is for anyone who wants/needs to learn roots from second grade all the way to twelfth grade. I purchased the materials because I wanted to look through it and see if it might work for us before we get to a higher level Latin course. I love the author’s tone and clear, concise descriptions. There are no lesson plans, just a page each for 100 different roots. It is so easy and straightforward that I have decided to try it out this year. Even if we only get through a few of the roots, that is still a great foundation for the girls as they move forward, not to mention a great way for ME to learn vocabulary! I feel much more confident knowing that I am systematically teaching the elements of vocabulary to the girls instead of just hoping we have the time and inclination to look at our white board of words often enough to make the words stick in their little brains. This will begin to pave the way for higher SAT scores as well. Of course, I’m not thinking about SAT scores yet. They are only five and six…