Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Classical Conversations


(You're in for a long one.)

Classical Conversations: An Overview

Classical Conversations is a nation-wide program that helps train and equip parents to provide their children with a Christian classical education. Individual communities hire parents to be trained as tutors through Classical Conversations practicums, who then lead small classes of children in weekly meetings.

For the grammar stage (grades K4-6th), the Foundations program meets for 24 weeks during the school year. This allows for a full month off in December, two weeks for spring break, and ends the year in early April (though, I believe, individual communities set their own schedules). The Foundations classes meet one morning each week for 3 hours. (Leaving plenty of time during the week as well as during the year for additional studies.)

During the morning classes, students are led by their tutors through individual oral presentations (to learn public speaking skills). They are then introduced to memory work in timeline/history, science, geography, English grammar, Latin, math, and Bible. The memory work is followed by science and fine arts projects. Parents are required to attend classes with their children so that they observe and learn from the teaching modeled by the tutors, which will in turn help them guide their children in reviewing the memory work at home.

The memory work outlined in the Foundations classes is designed to prepare the students for the higher-level classes. CC recommends that parents supplement with phonics, math, and handwriting studies at home.

Beginning in 3rd or 4th grade, an afternoon session is available to supplement the Foundations classes through 6th grade. During Essentials, students learn language arts and structure with The Essentials of the English Language Guide, writing through the Institute for Excellence in Writing programs, and math through challenging problems and games.

Day-long (30 week) Challenge programs for logic and rhetoric stages begin in 7th grade. These classes cover math, Latin and Spanish, literature and writing, science labs, debate, rhetoric, and geography (mapping the whole world free-hand from memory!). Students complete lessons and assignments at home during the remainder of the week.

Why I Was Initially Hesitant:

When first presented with the idea of Classical Conversations, I thought it sounded wonderful.... but not for us. I love planning our curricula and sequence. That is one of my favorite aspects of homeschooling. The CC sequence doesn't correspond with our history/literature and science sequence. And we're in the middle of a 4-year rotation. CC employs a 3-year cycle and the history memory work is not perfectly chronological (Old World History, Modern World History, and American History). I didn't want to stop what we are doing and have planned, so CC would just be additional (and possibly distracting) work.

I knew that parents are required to be in the classrooms. The idea of monitoring my older boys while juggling Leif was overwhelming. Confession: I (as a very self-conscious introvert) find parenting my very outgoing BOY boys in social situations very stressful. Imagining watching as they adjust to a structured classroom situation (particularly for my wiggly Luke) just topped off the anxiety level. Add a baby due a few weeks into the fall session, and I assumed it wasn't going to be possible.

Other negatives I've heard proposed: the program's high cost (particularly when the parent continues to teach phonics, handwriting, and math at home), the intense focus on memory work without context, it is something a parent could implement at home without committing to the classes, and the simple fact that any program is only as good as the people (directors, tutors, parents, and children) involved. (Or, obviously, a dislike for classical and/or Christian programs in general.)

Why I Changed My Mind:

My sister became interested in Classical Conversations particularly for her daughter, Ilex, who will be entering high school this next year. They have just finished their four-year rotation of chronological history and literature as well as covering the four main sciences. They (her 8th grade daughter and 6th grade son, Drake) had years of intensive Latin, grammar, logic, math, and some Spanish. Her youngest daughter, Ivy, and cousin, Jake, just finished a fabulous K year. This is perfect timing for a transition in their schooling.

My mom has been participating in history with Ilex and has discovered an interest in education in general and history in particular. She also has been helpful in watching Leif an afternoon or two each week while I work with my older boys. A while ago, she let me know that if I was at all interested in trying CC, she would love to help by taking the boys to their weekly class and being the observing 'parent.' A CC information meeting was being held that evening. I decided to check it out.

The information meeting was excellent, and I really liked the director who is starting the program in our city this year. She seems very intelligent, well-spoken, calm and unflappable, organized, and personable. I found out that classes are available for ages as young as four, which means that Leif will be able to participate. Not all 4-year-olds would benefit from CC, but I think Leif will really thrive in that environment. My three boys will be in separate classes (which is a GOOD thing), but learning the same material (which will make weekly review much easier).

It occurred to me that Classical Conversations provides exactly the elements that are weaknesses for me and opportunities that my boys need: 1.) Consistency and discipline in memory work across all subjects. 2.) Accountability. 3.) A social network of families interested in the same educational goals. 4.) Experience in a classroom situation. 5.) Opportunity to make new friends. 6.) Learning from other adults and mentors. 7.) Hands-on science and fine arts projects. 8.) Practice in public speaking.

The cost wasn't a concern for me. Not that we had nothing else on which to spend the money, but that I felt it was worth what I would be getting. The bulk of the money goes to the director of the local program and the tutors of the classes my boys will be attending. I know that I will take the program more seriously (as will the other parents) after writing that check. And I assume that tutors will take their position and responsibilities more seriously than a volunteer. The registration (which goes to the national headquarters), supplies, and location fees are reasonable. And I'm very pleased with the materials I purchased.

It felt like Christmas the day my Foundations Curriculum Guide (and other materials) came in the mail. I poured over it and felt my excitement growing. It contains all the memory work for all 3 cycles. (We will only need one copy for all 3 boys for all the years of Foundations.)

Every year, Foundations students memorize all of the Veritas Press History Timeline cards from ancient history to modern times. These are memorized with hand motions. (The cards have additional information on the back that can be read during the week, as well as references for additional information in resources such as the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia or Victor Journey Through the Bible for Biblical events.) Students also memorize the U.S. presidents yearly.

Math memory work is also the same each cycle: skip counting numbers up to 15 and other math facts such as the formula for finding the area of a circle.

Students memorize a HUGE amount of geography (new material each cycle): not only countries but also mountains, bodies of water, ancient civilizations, deserts, the original 13 colonies, etc. Cycle 3 consists of all the U.S. states and capitals, bodies of water, mountains, territories, trails, canals, and more.

Classical Conversations now offers beautiful cards (very similar to the VP timeline cards) to correspond with the 3 years of science memory work, such as ocean zones, types of volcanoes, parts of an animal cell, kingdoms of living things, seven biomes, laws of thermodynamics, parts of the circulatory system, and the definition of catastrophism.

Other memory work includes weekly history sentences (the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the Bill of Rights, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, Charlemagne...), Latin (declensions, conjugations, and Bible translation), English (parts of speech, participles, irregular verb tenses, and clauses), and Bible memory. In addition to weekly hands-on science projects, students participate in four 6-week fine arts studies (drawing, famous artists, composer/instruments of the orchestra, and music theory/tin-whistle lessons).

Since my teaching/homeschooling strength (as well as Levi's) is content/context (rather than discipline/skill), I am very excited about using the memory work as a spring-board for supplemental studies during the week. All of the memory work is on a CD, so that will make it very easy to review every day. We'll be doing CC work and bare-bones studies during the week throughout the fall (when baby arrives), and adding in more when January rolls around. I'll share more about how Classical Conversations will play out in our over-all studies in a future post.

One last comment about people. I've already mentioned that I am impressed with our local CC director. But I am so excited about the friends who have also registered for Foundations classes! My sister's daughter, Ivy. Her cousin, Jake. My best friend's kids, McKinnon and Monet. Heather's boys. My mom has expressed interest in attending the classes even when I'm able to take the boys. I'm thrilled about seeing these wonderful people each week, and am looking forward to meeting the other families involved. Now, we are just praying for the tutor positions to be filled. And praying an exceptional tutor can be found for Ilex's (and C's) Challenge class.


Threebusybs said...


Thank you so much for posting this. CC just may be a nice compromise for hubby and me. I'll have to check it out.


Heidi said...

Aimee~ Let me know if I can get any info to you. Albany would be the closest location, and I'm afraid they might be looking at a place east of town... That would be AWESOME, though, if I got to see you every week, too. :) Plus, I think you'd make an awesome tutor. :)

Susan said...

I hope it is as good a fit as you anticipate. For us CC is cost prohibitive but I guess I wouldn't do it if we could pay for it. It just doesn't fit my style or ours as a family. It's good to know those things about ourselves and be confident in who we are. I have quite a few friends who are in CC and like it really well. You are definitely blessed to have such a supportive and close knit family, but I suspect you know that! ;-)

carole said...

Hmm... So does that mean you're leaving Story of the World behind for now? I feel so attached to that. (Apparently there will soon be a CC opening in our city as well. Maybe we'll wait for our 4 year rotation to end and then jump in .... )

Sounds like a wonderful fit with a lot of wonderful people and a lovely grandma helping out a lot.

Heidi said...

Susan~ I figure we can give it a solid try for a year and see how it goes. If it works... awesome. If not, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming. :) I certainly understand how it wouldn't work for everyone!

Carole~ We are absolutely going to continue with SOTW. We'll go through the summer, break for fall, and pick it back up in January. I think the timeline memorization will go really well with our studies (particularly since we'll be starting Vol 4 next year). This year we'll read the info on the back of the cards and do additional reading, but if we continue with CC, I don't think that will be necessary to do over and over. But going over the cards in CC each year will help solidify the timeline in their memories, which is wonderful. The history sentences will hopefully remind them of what we've already studied and cement it in their heads. CC itself actually recommends SOTW for study at home.

heather said...

It was good to read what you are doing this summer. I had not intended to take a break, but the last two weeks we basically just put school on hold. C still does a few things, but she does them mostly on her own. I think I was the main one that needed a break.

There are a few things that I hope to cover before starting CC in the Fall. But mostly, I am enjoying having a break and knowing that CC will help me with some of my weak areas come Fall. It is like a weight lifted. I can hardly wait to get started, both for the academics and for the social part. It will be great to see you and the other families each week! Can't wait!

Chrissie said...

Hi! I'm so excited you're looking forward to starting CC in the Fall. We joined the program last year and absolutely loved it! It's really a great program, and I hope you'll like it too :)
BTW, Leigh Bortins, the founder of CC, wrote a book called, The Core, that is a great read for anyone interested in the classical model of education (not just for CC people or even homeschoolers). It's a handbook of sorts.

Anonymous said...

I was hesitant last year when I put my oldest (12) into the Challenge A program in Springfield, OR. It turned out to be a wonderful learning experience for him and surprisingly for me! This year we are plunging in by enrolling our two younger daughters (9 and 6) into the program. I have asked you photo questions over the years, and you photographed my lovely friend Susan, so I feel like I have "met" you. It would be fun to do so in person. Will you be attending any of the practicums? I will be at the Salem meetings. ~Faye

Mandi @ Life Your Way said...

We just registered for our first year of CC as well, and I'm very excited about how it will fit into our homeschooling.

I was using Sonlight (and will continue to use their read alouds), but trying to figure out how to combine my four girls so that we weren't doing four separate cores was driving me NUTS. I love that CC has them all studying the same things at varying levels. The overall philosophy matches our schooling philosophy as well, and I held my breath for weeks while we waited to hear if there'd be space for us!

Margaret said...

OH I love popping over here to see what you're thinking about and learning... CC sounds just lovely and you've explanined how it works better than what I've skimmed from thier website. Thanks for all the info. CC keeps popping up around me...maybe I'm feeling a nudge of sorts. Best of luck in your new adventure.

alaskamommy said...

I read your post a few days ago, searched for CC in our area and didn't find it. I checked my email today for our local homeschool listserv, and there was someone holding an informational meeting about CC! Too bad it was last week and I missed it. But she's emailing me back with the info, and I'm hoping that it fits within our budget and time. Thanks for sharing what you know about it!

Mama J said...

I'm excited to see how you and your boys like it! My oldest son (of 3 boys) has been doing CC since Kindergarten. This will be his third year. We just love it for all the reasons you listed above. It's a great community for both of us to grow in! I pray the Lord will bless you and your CC community as we have been blessed.

Heidi said...

I've loved reading all the responses, and glad to hear that so many of you have enjoyed your CC experience.

Faye~ I would love to meet you in person sometime. Unfortunately, I won't be at the practicum this week. My sister is there, though!

Kelly said...

Thanks for stopping by the Accidental Homeschooler! I love your blog, and actually, I had read this post before. You have good insights and I really like your honesty about the social settings. I hope you don't mind if I link to your blog on mine...We can follow each other's CC progress through the year!

Jennifer said...

Heidi, The kids and I are headed to a CC open house tomorrow. I decided against it last year for VERY similar reasons to the ones you had initially. Thanks for these CC posts... it was good for me to re-read them tonight.

LOVE the recent Lola photos... she is so beautifully expressive!


Marsha said...

I found your blog by doing a google search for "CC for 4-year-olds" as I'm trying to make a decision about next year. I have a 4th grader, 6th grader, 4-year-old, and baby on the way. CC appeals to me in so many ways but I am also hesitant, particularly about if the class will engaging enough for my 4-year-old. I would love to hear how you have liked it after being in the program for awhile. Maybe I'll search around on your blog and see what I can find. Thanks for sharing so many great details!

Heidi said...

Marsha~ My 4 yo has done SO WELL in CC. His tutor is incredible, he loves having a class of his own (makes him feel important :)) and yet know the same information as his big brothers, it has really helped him be a part of our homeschool this year, and he is always asking if today is CC. :) I don't know that I would start a kiddo out at 4 if he is the oldest, but it has worked VERY well for our family to have him in along with his older brothers. I can't believe how much he has learned and it is nice for him to be in a class with other kids his age so that the tutor can approach the information and activities toward their age group rather than aiming it higher and just hope they get something out of it. So far, it has been a perfect choice for our family and we are registered for next year. :)

Marsha said...

Thank you so much for answering my question and for finding my blog to let me know. :) Your blog is amazing, I have really enjoyed reading it. After reading your comments I decided to sign up but unfortunately I waited to long and the closest group is full. I am on the waiting list and hoping it will all work out. Thanks again for all your helpful information. Your family is beautiful.

Kristie said...

Thanks so much for this...very helpful!

Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you for all the inspiration. I didn't see anywhere how you decided to leave Classical Conversations. I was wondering because I have a family a bit similar to yours and really enjoyed this post about your great hopes and plans for CC in your family. Thank you! Carlen

Heidi said...

Carlen~ We are still part of our local CC community. This will be our 3rd year. We still love it and value the experience and friendships more than ever!

Anonymous said...

I am afraid CC is going to implode...They have far too many training demands for homeschooling moms. They have a great curriculum, but they have terrible customer relations. I also can't believe that they did not add songs for their history, science, and geography subjects for Cycle 1 this year. Every time I turn around their corporate culture disappoints.

Heidi said...

I don't expect everyone who reads my blog to have the same experiences or share my opinion on subjects. I welcome discussion, but I also appreciate grace and a willingness to own one's comments.

CC isn't right for every family. And the dynamics of each community depend *greatly* upon the leaders and families involved.

CC isn't perfect, either. No program will be *perfect* for *any* family, much less every family.

But CC has worked wonderfully for our family for the past two years. I am thankful for the content, the structure, and the leaders and families involved in our community. In fact, just this past week, I was contemplating the fact that I have NEVER been involved with such an incredible group of people. I not only *like* them, I adore them. And that is saying a lot from an introvert who doesn't care for large groups.

Not only has CC worked well for our family, but we have had a very large return rate for families in our group, there is a long waiting list, and we have started two new local communities.

I am not sure what you mean by adding songs for cycle 1 subjects. We enjoy the history songs and I (though I hate change and wasn't happy to be switching timelines) LOVE the new timeline and song. Do you mean that they should make new content and songs each time? Because that would make it less appealing to me, personally. There are many additional songs for the science and geography memory work on the CC Connected site. I really don't know what CC could do to make the information more pleasing or accessible.

Are you saying that there are too many training demands for the tutors and directors? I have heard people complain that they are under-trained and over-paid. I have found our tutors to be very capable, loving, and under-paid for the amount of time and energy (and often their own money) invested in my children. I'm sure that also varies by class and by community.

If CC doesn't work for your family, you are under no pressure or obligation to participate. By all means, do what is best for your family.