We are well into our 6th year of Classical Conversations. We started when our oldest was 7, just beginning second grade. I had known since beginning to research models of education that the classical approach was for us. We jumped in with both feet and started Kindergarten following a classical model in all areas. Micah loved school. There was just one down side. All of his friends were now attending school and we rarely saw them as their schedules became increasingly busier.
My cousin had mentioned Classical Conversations so I decided to check it out. My initial plan was to join this community once a week in hope of meeting some other families on the same journey as us. So, we began CC and we loved it. Community with other families who homeschool sprang up. It was just what we needed.
That first year my plan was to continue doing all of the work we’d been doing the previous 2 years and just add CC on the side. To be honest I wasn’t sure if the memory work, math and grammar would really be enough to accomplish all of my big education goals. My 7 year old worked hard that year. He did spelling, phonics, grammar, math, science, history, and CC.
I began to realize that we were doing too much. SO, we cut back. You know what I realized – my goals were mixed up. I was hoping to raise up geniuses instead of Godly men. God began to shift my thinking and began to show me that my traditional picture of a classroom wasn’t what was needed at home. We didn’t really need weather charts, or wall calendars, or fancy wall decorations. (Not that there’s anything wrong with these, they just weren’t necessary for us.) What we really needed was to make God the center of what we were doing and see the connections to Him in all things. Yes, we still needed to be faithful in our school work, but character development, compassion, friendship, and flexibility, along with other things also needed to be priority.
Our 3rd grade year looked a lot different. We worked on CC, we did math, we did grammar, and we read out loud. It was a joy. We had time to explore anything my son was interested in and we soaked it all up. The next year our younger son started Foundations and our older son added Essentials.
I’m not going to lie. Essentials terrified me the first year. My grammar background was shabby at best. I had heard Essentials was a 3 year program and that each year covered the same grammar content. I wish I’d understood my first year that we didn’t need to conquer the world. It was in our 3rd year of Essentials I looked back and saw the beauty of 3 years. The first year we got our feet wet. We retained as much as we could and did the best we could. We asked TONS of questions and learned a lot too. The second year the basics were familiar. We’d come to understand that nouns have different jobs. We knew the jobs of transitive, intransitive, linking and helping verbs. Diagramming made sense. The third year I became an Essentials tutor. By the end of year 3 we’d mastered a great deal of the grammar. What was once so complex felt simple. It had taken 3 years of repetition to get to a place of mastery.
This year we made the leap to Challenge. Micah is in 7th grade. A friend asked the other day how it was going. I told her that it is beautiful. After 5 years of doing Foundations and Essentials the transition to Challenge has been astounding. All of the years of memory work, grammar work, and writing work are exemplified in the Challenge A classroom. Students who are now cognitively ready to engage in deep conversation have this beautiful framework of knowledge to pull from. Their time in Foundations and Essentials has prepared them to be diligent and to work hard. They didn’t even know they were learning these skills, but now they begin to see that the years of repetition have begun to develop in them the ability to learn anything.
It is possible to succeed in Challenge without doing Foundations or Essentials, but if you have the option to get started while your kids are younger the benefits are great. As I tutor Challenge A this year I see that Latin, which is tough, is coming quickly to those students who have an understanding of English. They aren’t having to learn 2 languages – they already know English and how it works. They are just learning Latin. They are again beginning a 3 year cycle of mastery. By the time they complete 9th grade they will have covered the same Latin content 3 times. If they stick with it they will understand Latin just as they understand English.
The conversations this year are jovial and deep. These kids are digging in and wrestling with their beliefs. They are also hilarious because they are middle schoolers.
Having tutored Foundations, Essentials, and now Challenge A, I am blown away as I watch the kids who have been in the program through all of these transitions come into their own. I am blown away as I see my son sit down and make his own schedule for the week and diligently complete his 5-6 hours of work each day. I am blown away at the depth of discussion and the depth of friendship. It is amazing to see the connections from Foundations and Essentials to Challenge. So many dots are being connected and every connection allows Jesus to shine brighter.
I know CC isn’t for everyone. And I know that not everyone who starts will finish. But I hope that you’ll see that each piece fits together beautifully and that each piece is doable. Yes, it is hard work, but it is good for us to do hard things.