This is the first post in a 2 part series. Read the second post, “Classical Conversations TUTOR Reflections: Year 1 vs. Year 2″ here.
Our Classical Conversations Community had a Mom’s Night Out this past week, and many of the women present have just joined CC. Their families will be starting in a Foundations class this fall. Many of the “newbies” asked questions that I asked 365 days prior. Our first year of Foundations was the first year of our community; 99% of the moms in our community were also “newbies.” I didn’t have many “seasoned” CC Moms that I could talk with and ask my litany of questions. So, I did as any homeschooling mom would do! I jumped in and navigated our first year of Foundations to the best of my ability.
For my family there were a few successes our first year; this led us to sign up for a second year of CC. However, there were many, many choices that I made, which I never wanted to replicate. The consequences of those decisions my first year left me in a state of complete and utter burnout. I took the summer “off” in between year 1 and year 2 recognizing that I was burned out. I was in such a state of physical and mental exhaustion that, honestly, I was not completely “back to normal” when we started our 2nd year of CC four months later. However, God was so gracious! He sustained me, restored me physically and mentally, and led us down a drastically different path for year 2 of CC. Our second year finished about three weeks ago, and I can summarize it with these words: joyous, exhilarating, and FUN!
Because year 1 and year 2 ended in such different ways, I have spent the past several weeks reflecting on why. I decided to put my reflections down on paper so that I can re-read them later in the summer and throughout the months of our family’s third year of Classical Conversations. I hope and pray they will be encouraging to those of you preparing to start CC for the first time.
1) “Let Your First Year of Classical Conversations Wash Over You.”
“Let your first year of Classical Conversations wash over you.” One of the CC moms shared this at the Mom’s Night Out this week. She was given this nugget of wisdom by a close friend who is a CC Challenge tutor. As soon as she said it, I looked at her and said, “Wow, that is so true! I wish someone had told me this our first year of CC!”
I was not classically educated as a child, and I knew little about how to practically educate my sons according to the classical model. My classical model “learning curve” our first year was the size of Mount Everest. Instead of taking our first year to soak up CC and to learn more about the classical model, I was intent on implementing it! Can you say, “cart before the horse?!?!”
I think it’s safe to say that you can not implement what you do not know. So, if this is your first year of Classical Conversations, drink deeply from all 24 weeks. Yes, you may feel like you are drinking from a fire hydrant, but take lots of deep breaths along the way as you immerse yourself in CC. The other beautiful component of Classical Conversations is repetition. Even though our first year was treacherous and exhausting, I knew that we would do CC again the following school year and most likely three years later when Cycle 1 rolled around again! If you have “gaps” in your Classical Conversations learning your first year and plan to do CC in the future, know that those gaps aren’t permanent. They can be filled in during your subsequent years. Your depth of wisdom, insight, and understanding will increase with each year (and with each week of CC your first year, for that matter!). So, take a deep breath and repeat after me, “I will let my first year of Classical Conversations wash over me.” There! You feel better already, right?!!?
2) Seek To Understand the Classical Model.
I have a confession to make. We just finished our second year of Classical Conversations, and this is the first year that I’ve made it my aim to do an in-depth study of the classical model. I am just finishing Echo in Celebration (FREE download) and The Core both written by Classical Conversations founder Leigh Bortins. My first piece of advice for a new CC mom is “Let your first year of Classical Conversations wash over you.” My second piece of advice is to read Echo in Celebration and The Core. These books will give you a breadth of understanding regarding the classical model and why CC is created and mapped out in its particular way. On a personal note, I felt “freed up” after reading both of these books. Many of the expectations that I was placing on myself as a home school mom and my children, my students, were obliterated after reading these books.
Also, if you have already purchased your Foundations Guide know that it is a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips! Make it your task this summer to read pages 8-40 in the Foundations Guide. The logic and reasoning behind the structure of Classical Conversations is presented, which may prevent many “Why does CC do it this way?” questions your first year. Another question that I am always asked regarding CC is, “What curriculum do I need to buy?” If this is your question, read, “The Classical Model at Home” article on pages 31- 37 of the Foundations Guide. Leigh Bortins. Her encouragement is: “1) a rigorous language arts program that progresses with your child’s ability, 2) a complete math program, 3) memorization to train the mind, and 4) lots of reading, writing, discussing and relating centered around the best God has to offer” (page 32-33). I also loved the simplicity of her encouragement to “remember to focus on language arts and math until your child is an excellent reader” (page 33), which is the place where I am currently with my sons. Isn’t that wonderfully liberating?!?!?
Leigh Bortins also shares how her family breaks down their school day into 4, one hour segments. The discussion begins on page 33. This 4, one hour segment approach was eye opening and invaluable to my family this past year. I plotted our 4, one hour segments over the summer in preparation for the 2013-14 school year. We followed the 4 segment approach this school year, and it was glorious! I especially loved how the 4, one hour segment approach served as a “budget” for me regarding what curriculum we did or did not use this year. If a curriculum did not fit into one of the 4 segments, I omitted it. I am notorious for having too much to accomplish in a day or a school year. The 4 segments aided me in trimming the “fat” from my curriculum list and focusing on the essentials that my sons needed. The curriculum that I had already purchased to use for the 2013-14 school year prior to reading the article (like Apologia Astronomy!) I was forced to shelve. I decided that we’d go through the additional pieces during our non-CC weeks or during the summer.
3) No, You DO NOT Have To Read A Book About Every New Grammar Fact Your Child Memorizes.
Just thinking back to our first year wears me out. I think I’m still recovering from it! HA! The root cause of this was my effort to find a book to read about every factoid that my sons were memorizing each week in New Grammar. For the sake of all that’s good in the world, please don’t make this same mistake as I did! I made this error in judgement because of my lack of understanding about the classical model. The Foundations level of Classical Conversations is based on the Grammar stage of the classical model. This is the stage where a student memorizes the “grammar” of a variety of subjects (in the case of CC, the 7 subjects of History, Timeline, English, Latin, Math, Science, and Geography). I assumed that my boys needed to completely understand every factoid that they learned during the 24 weeks of Foundations. However, this level of understanding is associated with the second stage of the classical model, the Dialectic stage (see Foundations Guide page 27). My boys are ages 8, 6, and 4 and no where close to the Dialectic stage; they are purely Grammar-ites these days. Their desire and ability to understand the “why” and “how” behind the grammar that they are memorizing will come with age. (For more information on the freedom of the Grammar Stage, read this article by Brandy from Half A Hundred Acre Wood. I promise you will be freed up even more after reading it!)
At our Mom’s Night Out this past week, one of the mom’s asked me, “Do you just go to the library and pick out books related to what your kids learn in CC that week?” My first answer was an emphatic, “NO.” Follow the lead of your child. If he/she wants more information about a piece of New Grammar, he/she will ask you. When they want to know more about a History Statement or an event on the Timeline Card, look on the back of the respective Timeline Card and read it to them. If he/she is curious about this week’s Science question, read the “Science Snippet” for that week that is accessible on CC Connected or the CC App. Or, sometimes a one word answer will do.
Son: Mommy, who was Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Me: He was one of the Presidents of the United States.
Son: Oh, okay! (He scurries off to build again with Legos.)
Me: I release a huge sigh of relief, realizing that he wasn’t asking for specifics of the New Deal. ha! :)
It is okay to check out books at the library about the week’s New Grammar. Don’t get me wrong! Just know that a successful Foundations year is not based on your child’s ability to explain each piece of New Grammar in dissertation-like form.
4) A Classical Notebook is my BFF
One tool that we used in year 2 that we did not use in year 1 is a Classical Notebook. I learned about a Classical Notebook from Half A Hundred Acre Wood’s article last summer. The Classical Notebook serves as a means of built-in review for the week’s New Grammar as well as handwriting practice, and it is an independent activity that my sons can accomplish. All of these reasons had me “sold” on the idea of a Classical Notebook before ever using it! I made documents for our Classical Notebook over the summer, and off we set on this new adventure. Our CC school year is over now, and I am happy to announce that the Classical Notebooks were fabulous! After only a couple of weeks, my sons were in the routine of doing their Classical Notebook each day. Their favorite days were Wednesdays and Thursdays because they got to illustrate a Timeline card and the History statement. I enjoyed watching them flourish with independent work. Also, I loved knowing that they were reviewing New Grammar while also cultivating discipline and self-control; the Classical Notebook required them to sit for an extended period of time at our school table. (Now, my boys can always use extra practice with that!) We will definitely use a Classical Notebook again for year 3 of our CC adventure!
5) Give yourself grace, your child is learning a vast quantity of information (probably more than you learned at this age)
When I first started homeschooling, I had idealized views of what a typical school day looked like. In those visions of grandeur, my sons were joyous about each moment of each subject, they never complained about learning, and the 3 boys and I got along splendidly during each school day. Then, my visions of grandeur melded with reality, and school days transpired very differently. :) The majority of our school days involve accomplishment of what needs to be done for “school,” but it’s not always with a “happy heart” (theirs or mine :) ). Most school days are pleasant, even fun, but there are those days when our sinful flesh results in broken relationships where confession and repentance are required. Then, there are some days when, honestly, life happens and little appears to be “accomplished.” In those days, the guilt and self-doubt creeps into my brain. “Am I doing enough? Are my sons learning anything?”
The beautiful addition of CC to our home school has allowed me to give myself grace in the midst of self-doubt. I can look self-doubt and guilt in the face and scream, “YES, they are learning; they are learning a lot!” After 2 years of CC, I am flabbergasted at the quantity of information that my sons have learned! (This includes my 4 year old, who has yet to be in a formal CC class but has learned as much as his brothers through our review time at home!) If I accomplish nothing in a school day except reviewing the CC New Grammar, I have done a lot! This is helping hammer the memory pegs of the New Grammar even further into their little brains. If your child only remembers the New Grammar from any given cycle, he/she will still be ahead of the curve! So, if you are having a challenging home school day, give yourself grace! Take a few moments to review the New Grammar and then, go spend the rest of the day at the park! Rest in knowing that your kiddos are learning more than you realize!
Enjoy your first year (or 2nd, 3rd, or 4th) of Classical Conversations! Enjoy learning with your children and finding God in all things! Here’s another post from the archives that offers encouragement to those of you beginning Classical Conversations!
Are you a seasoned Classical Conversations parent? What advice and wisdom would you offer to a new Classical Conversations family? Please post your sage words in a comment below. We will all benefit greatly from what you share! Looking forward to reading it! :)