Finding our Greek and Latin Roots in the American Museum of Natural History

Language Arts Field Trip to the American Museum of Natural History / By Miranda Norris

 In my language arts class we play a game I developed for learning Greek and Latin roots. These roots form so many words in English, it’s a great way to give real kids ownership of the language. They get to truly shine, even in the world of adults.  All year we play the game, until we can pick apart words we know, and words we don’t, to see if we can find out what the roots in them tell us about their meanings.

 The game is really fun, and the kids enjoy it, regularly choosing to take a different card because the first was too easy, or to have the word in English and find the root in Greek or Latin. It starts slowly, but by the end of the year they can’t believe what they know. It’s a marvel to watch them grow in their knowledge and confidence. At the end of each term parents and siblings are invited to come play with us. It’s fun for everyone to take the challenge.

 It was an unschooling-inspired idea. I proposed we go to the Natural History to see all the writing underneath the main headlines, meaning the names of all of the displayed items, but in Latin. We also knew there would be many, many words in English the kids could pull apart.

 The rules were simple. When we walked in the door, the hunt began. The students could use any word they saw, and the points were based on which ones they saw, and knew, and could translate. All the words in the museum could be used. The prizes were small sillies. The real prize was the order in which the students got to choose from the dark and mysterious bag of dollar-store magic. And they had to keep the prizes still in there a secret from the others while they selected their item.

 We wandered grabbing roots from North American mammals, shells, early humans, gems, a few bugs and birds, and ended under the big whale hanging over the hall of marine life. They did an honor-system tally, some chose to team up and average their scores, and everyone won, big time. Each kid had 40-80+ roots, translated! It was really impressive.

 We all ran into the jellyfish hut, and oohed and ahhed at the projection of them above us as we lay there together, finally relaxing. Having started at the playground on a beautiful June day we ended there as well, enjoying the weather and the wonder of these very cool kids. It was so much fun!

 Miranda B. Norris has been teaching Language Arts in the homeschool communities of NYC and FL for 10 years. Mom to three free-range kids, she is a writer, artist and Brooklyn-dweller.