Saturday, January 5, 2013

Etymology at the PBA

I decided during the first year of the PBA that we really needed to beef up our vocabulary. I got to thinking about Mr. Maguire (and yes, his first name is Jerry, in fact, but he’s nothing like the one from the movie…sorry if that disappoints) and his etymology class which I took in high school.

And though I do not recall exactly how the class was structured (sorry, Mr. Maguire), I do remember mostly just working with the stems and the definitions…memory work for sure. And frankly that was fine with me…I was the type of student who would gladly memorize all day long; it was easy-breezey for me. Not bragging…it was simply a gift given to me.
Even now I’ll sometimes quote lines from things I haven’t seen in YEARS, and Mr. Always Random will just look at me and say, “Why do you remember that?” So maybe it’s a gift AND a curse. Might be where the 9yo gets it. Maybe.

By the way, in case you did not take etymology and are slightly confused, I am talking about the study of word stems, not the study of bugs. That is entomology. You were close, though…don’t beat yourself up. “Ology” means “the study  or the science of”. “Endo” means “insect”. “Ety” means “words”. 

See how fun this is? Who WOULDN’T love this?

I could never understand why etymology wasn’t taught to younger children. Like when they are sponges. I remember even thinking this when I was in high school. When you are 17 or 18 even, that stuff is a lot more difficult to memorize. In my humble opinion, doing etymology with younger students makes more sense…it give them a firmer foundation for language comprehension.

Granted, the English language makes very little sense but at least etymology can help give you some guidance on the rocky path.

Plus much of it is applicable to foreign language…some crossover in Spanish (which the 9yo is currently taking)…and French as well; I took French and my mother taught Francais (pretend there’s a cute little squiggly line on the c for the c├ędille…I don’t know how to do that). All that to say, I can definitely see it possibly helping out in language work too. Not so much in the Japanese, which the 11yo is study, but still worthwhile, to be sure.

See, look at all these reasons why etymology is a glorious idea for children!

So after all this ruminating, I decided I should somehow incorporate etymology into the PBA curriculum. Mind you, I am fully aware of the laundry list of gifts and talents of both PBA members. They are gifted, for sure, but that’s not even one of the reasons why I endeavored to attempt etymology with them in elementary school.

It was for the reasons listed above, AND also because I knew they would enjoy it so much. They just love to learn, those boys do.

OK, that’s not really true at all as a blanket statement. There are SOME things they love to learn. Etymology is not one of them, though they do well and have actually grown to appreciate it. Kind of.

So here’s how it works at the PBA: each week they get a list of 4 new stems, as well as the meaning and some word examples which include that stem.  They make flash cards for each, write sentences with the words, and quiz each other. And then at the end of the week, I quiz them – not just on the new stems but the whole stack. OK, it’s not usually the WHOLE stack, but enough to make sure they’ve been studying them.

The most exciting thing is when we come across a word they may not know and they can figure out the meaning, or at the very least a loose translation of the word, based on a stem (or sometimes two) that they have learned.

Case in point: as I was quizzing them the other day on their stems, one of them had a lightbulb moment, which immediately translated to a lightbulb moment for the other one. And just to explain the dialogue a little further, when I quiz them, I give them the stem and they have to tell me its meaning and a word example.

Me: What does “mani” mean?

9yo: Hand…manicure!

11yo: And pedi means feet…pedicure!

Hallelujah! (insert your preferred version of the Hallelujah Chorus here…just in your own mind how it sounds…trust me, you DO NOT want to hear me sing it!). This homeschool thing is working! But mostly: thank you, God, for those glimpses that things are sticking in those brains you gave them!

Editor’s Note: Just to clarify, I have to say that it’s not that I typically go for a manicure or a pedicure, but it warms my heart to know that the PBA are aware of such things, should their future wives want to get a mani/pedi.  See, it’s the truly important things we’re working on at the PBA…growing them up to be great husbands: Happy Wife, Happy Life!

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