Great Books and Language

Great Books FoundationChildren’s House is a Great Books school. Our students read high-quality literature that inspires curiosity, imagination, and love for reading and writing. Our children are passionate readers, discussing enduring ideas – the idea that inspired the use of great literature in education. We truly believe that children are great readers – that they respond to the nuances, complexity, beauty, and artful use of language that is found in great books. Children’s House has always been a school where children have been exposed to great writing at all levels – in our Primary classes, the teachers read good books aloud, later the children read to themselves, for their own reflection, use in their academic work, and for group discussions.

We use age-appropriate materials, and as of Kindergarten, we include materials from the Great Books Foundation, in particular as the students start the Elementary section. The following is inserted from the Great Books Foundation’s website:

Junior Great Books

Extending the Great Books program to younger readers was a natural outgrowth of the mission of reading for all, and within a few years, Great Books programs cropped up in high schools and even elementary schools. Following successful pilots in Detroit and elsewhere, the Foundation launched the Junior Great Books program in 1962, offering five boxed sets of paperback books for grades 5-9. Slow to start, the program got a tremendous boost when the Junior League of Chicago became a sponsor and placed hundreds of volunteers in schools to lead discussion groups. Within two years an estimated 48,000 children were enrolled in 3,200 groups in public and private schools across the country.

Initially, most of the selections in the Junior program were works from the adult program, shorter works of Virgil and Tolstoy, for example, and excerpts from Pilgrim’s Progress and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. With each new edition, though, the program’s range of literature was broadened to include more folktales, children’s classics, and respected contemporary works. The program was also expanded to include younger readers. The 1975 and 1984 editions of Junior Great Books added literature for grades 2-4, and in 1991, Junior Great Books Read-Aloud brought the program’s outstanding literature to pre-readers and beginning readers in kindergarten and first grade.

From the beginning, Junior Great Books demonstrated that even very young children can handle the complex tasks asked of them in Shared Inquiry. Still, throughout the eighties, most programs in schools served students who were already reading well. In response, in 1992 the Foundation introduced a major expansion of the program that integrated reading, writing, and discussion. The new Junior Great Books Curriculum made it easier for schools to incorporate Great Books into the mainstream reading and language arts curriculum.

Source: http://www.greatbooks.org/about/history/

Language

The vast majority of loan words in English come from the French and Latin languages – and many of those Latin words have French words that are similar. Our spelling methodology is based on etymology – the science of the history of words, since studying the origins of words, in addition to spelling, lets us learn about culture, history, and other countries. Studying French, therefore, helps us build a large, complex, and useful vocabulary of English words. Furthermore, since there is a large repository of classic Western literature written in French, the study of French ties into our Great Books Curriculum. In terms of the structure of language, French provides a particularly exacting grammar that helps understand the function and importance of proper grammar. Finally, French is a language that exposes the children to many other sounds than English, further facilitating their study of other languages in the future. As the children advance in science, literature, and the arts throughout Elementary, they start recognizing the large number of words with French and Latin roots (and from the Greek through French), which helps them not only with the understanding of scientific language and terms, but also with a richer, more precise English vocabulary.

In our Elementary program, children are exposed to French language every day, and we aim to become a semi-immersion French language school. Both our Elementary teachers speak French – one of them is a native of France – and our Cimarron after school voice class is conducted in French once every year. Our francophone parents visit the class in order to read French books with the children.

For the avoidance of doubt: we use the foreign language as much more than a language that enables visiting one or a few other countries or speaking with first generation migrants. We use the foreign language as a tool for the acquisition of better English skills and the acquisition of specialized vocabularies that are heavily influenced by French and Latin, such as science, arts, law, etc. The French your child learns at Children’s House will eventually make university studies easier.

For the importance of early exposure to foreign languages, we recommend Arturo Hernandez, The Bilingual Brain (Oxford, 2013)

For the origins of English words, see Philip Durkin, Borrowed Words: A History of Loanwords in English (Oxford University Press, 2014)