Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Classical Conversations In Detail: Part I

I've been meaning to write a review of our journey with Classical Conversations this fall. It's only taken me 11 weeks to get around to it, but I've been busy!


Back in June, I shared about our decision to register with a new Classical Conversations group starting up in our town, including why I was initially hesitant then why I changed my mind. (You can read that post here. If you want to read an overview of the program, be sure to check out that link.) I'll be sharing in this post more about what we've personally experienced in the past 11 weeks. This is going to be extremely long, so I'll break it into three (still really lengthy) parts: what our CC classes are like, why I value CC, and then how we continue lessons at home during the week.

First off, I can say without hesitation that CC was the best decision we could have made for our homeschool this year. Looking back over the past 11 weeks (with just one week left this semester), I am astounded at what the boys have learned and had the privilege to experience!

Our community is rather large for a brand new group. The CC Foundations classes are divided into age-based groups: Abecedarians (4-5), Apprentices (6-7), Journeymen (8-9), and Masters (10-11). Leif, Luke, and Levi are in the first three groups, respectively. Each class has a maximum of 8 students. Our community has two classes each of Abecedarians and Apprentices and one each of the older students. There is a trained parent-tutor leading each class. (My sister, Holly, is Luke's tutor.) These classes meet every Monday morning from 9-12 just 5 minutes from our house! [Not all CC communities meet on Mondays.]

[Essentials is an afternoon program available for grades 3 or 4 through 6th. The kids study additional language arts and some math during this time. Though there is an Essentials group at our CC, Levi isn't participating in the afternoon session this year, so I won't go into details about it here.]

[Challenge levels begin at age 12 and are all-day programs. Our group has a Challenge A class with around 11 students, ages ranging from 12 to 15. My niece and nephew are both enrolled in the Challenge class and seem to be really enjoying the lessons and friendships.]

Monday mornings come very early. Early in the week. Early in the day. Just plain early. I try to get as much together and organized on Sundays as possible. Clothes out. Snacks and lunches packed. Anything we might need for presentations gathered. Tin whistles. Diaper bag. All that fun stuff. Have I mentioned that I'm not a morning person? And that I had a baby during week three?

After a hot, protein-heavy breakfast we head out the door. A few minutes later, we meet my mom at the little country community church down the road. Not one stop light or sign between us. Lovely. All the other families (moms, dads, grandparents, children, and babies) are trickling in. We say hello to friends, old and new. So many of our family and friends are participating, it is like one big party!

The morning begins in an assembly, all the families sitting together. The program director (she's fabulous!) says a few opening words and leads us in prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a patriotic hymn (we sing the same hymn for a few weeks so the kids can gain familiarity). One family does a short presentation (we are each assigned a specific week), introducing themselves and sharing something that helps us get to know them better.

The director goes over the eight new time line cards and Bible verse. Over the course of the year (24 weeks), we learn roughly 180 time line events in chronological order with hand motions using the Veritas Press time line cards, the U.S. presidents, and a passage from the Bible. The time line events and presidents are repeated each year; there are different Bible passages for each of the three year-long CC cycles.

Children are then dismissed to go to their classes. Parents are required to be present in the classes. I can't be three places at once (unfortunately), so I take turns in each of the boys' classes. Most of the parents have more than one child enrolled, so we try to space ourselves out and make sure there are a couple parents in each class. Many grandparents and fathers are there helping out. My mom is there every week in one of the boys' classes, and Russ has been able to be there a few weeks, as well. This gives us a little wiggle room when someone is sick (or new babies are born...).

Parents sit in the back of the class and help with various tasks or discipline issues during the morning, which allows the tutors to spend their time teaching. I'm not quite as helpful now that I'm holding a baby and occasionally have to leave class to calm her down or change a diaper, but the other moms (and family members) have been gracious and helpful with my boys when I can't be there or have my hands full.

We parents also learn along with the children in the class as we listen and watch the tutors introduce the information so that we are able to teach and review at home during the week. I can't tell you what a difference this makes! On the two weeks I was unable to attend classes, I had a much more difficult time absorbing the information from the memory guide and CD.

The tutors have worked so hard during the week getting ready for their classes. The memory work is outlined and consistent throughout all the classes (and there is only a short amount of time for each subject), but the tutors have some flexibility in how they choose to present that memory work to their students. Songs, chants, silly stories or poems, occasional worksheets, picture clues, puppets, games, maps, and hand motions are just some of the creative ways we are helped through the learning process. Classes are never boring, and the kids are obviously having fun and interacting with the tutor and their classmates.

Class time lessons include new memory work in science (list of biomes, characterisics of light, parts of the food chain, how animals react to environmental change...), Latin (this year we are chanting verb conjugations), English grammar (defining parts of speech), and a history sentence (we are working in chronological order from the 800s this year: Charlemagne, Magna Carta, Reformation, European exploration...all the way up to free elections in South Africa). (These four subjects have new material each of the 3 year-long cycles.)

For math, we memorize skip counting songs up to the 15s, skip counting squares and cubes, and math laws and formulas. (The math material is repeated every year.)

We are learning many, many geographical locations: seas, rivers, countries, cities, mountains, peninsulas, and more all over the globe. (I think the whole world is covered within the 3 cycles.) We often use dry-erase markers to outline or label locations and features on maps in page protectors to build our map-drawing skills which will come in handy when the boys hit Challenge A and have to draw the whole world free-hand from memory. (My Challenge level niece's maps are incredible!!!)


We walk to the gym or outside for a science project, experiment, or presentation with the Foundations director. My favorite was the phases of the moon demonstrated with Oreo cookies.

We had drawing lessons for the first six weeks and are currently learning music theory while playing the tin whistle. Next semester we will learn about artists and composers (and the orchestra). I believe the art and music theory is repeated each year, while we learn about new artists and composers for each cycle.

Snack time is always a favorite...

The boys have to prepare something to present to their class each week. The topic schedule we've been given has been extremely helpful. The younger classes usually have simple topics (or very short presentations), but Levi's class is transitioning to more difficult topics. These have included: reciting a poem, giving a how-to demonstration, telling the class about a famous person, show-and-tell, sharing your favorite book, etc. This has been a great experience in public speaking (and listening) for all of the boys!

The tutors spend time at the end of each morning reviewing previous memory work, usually with a game.

And all this happens in three hours. Whew!! When classes are dismissed, everyone heads to the gym with their lunches, where we get busy socializing. Homeschoolers socializing... Can you believe it? Half of the gym and lunch hour are open for the kids to participate in active games. The families are responsible for helping with facility clean-up. Sometimes we stay to clean up. Sometimes one or more of my children are in melt-down mode and we jet out without finishing our lunch.

Many of the families have kids involved in the afternoon classes, so they stick around. But I am glad we are only registered for the morning, because I am EXHAUSTED by 1:30. I drag us all home and send everyone to their beds for quiet time. I was correct when I guessed that being in a social but structured classroom situation all morning with my super-duper extroverted, wiggly, talkative boy-boys and a newborn would drain me like crazy.

I'll share in my next posts more about why we value Classical Conversations, how each of the boys is adjusting to CC, and how we utilize the program during the week at home.

Is anyone still reading? Anyone actually wanted to know all the details? Any questions, so far?


jeana said...

Thank you for posting about this. I truly appreciate and respect your opinions. We have a class similar to these here, and I have been thinking and praying about them. I am on board with most everything about it, except that we have a son with autism, and I'm just not sure this would work well for him (all the sitting and listening he'd have to do ha) I'm sure that I too would be exausted just getting through the few hours! I love hearing your experience with it!

Misha said...

I am still reading and I am so thankful to learn through you. I wish so bad we had one in our town. My kids (and I) would eat this UP.

Bella Art Girl said...

ahhh FUN are doing a great job posting this...-- I keep wanting to write something up but it just keep slipping down the list..maybe I will work on it later...I love how my thoughts have come together after being in this program for 3 years. We'll chat more later


Yevette said...

I'm so glad you wrote this! We are participating in CC in our city and experience basically all that you described. (I even have an infant although most weeks, my mother-in-law keeps her in my home while I and my older 2 go to class). If I ever need to explain to anyone what we do in CC, I'll send them to your blog! Thanks!

Mary Laughlin said...

I'm so glad you are giving the details! We are considering it for next year and I appreciate you taking the time to outline it and look forward to reading more about how you utilize it during the week.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing ! I have been curious about CC and have enjoyed your posts!

Rachel P. said...

Thank you so much for putting some detail behind your mentions of CC. I have been told so many different things about it (it's a homeschool group, no, it's a tutoring center, no, it's a...). It sounds like it would exhaust me too! Good for you making it happen for your children though. I have a couple questions though: CC is christian based? and what do families with younger children (like two years old) do with them? Are they welcome to come or is childcare encouraged?

Laura at By the Bushel said...

Thank you. This is sooo helpful. best, always, Laura

Heidi said...

Rachel~ Those are great questions. Yes, CC is Christian based. Younger children are allowed to be with parents in the room, though most communities have on-site child care available for a small per-day cost. Ours has a nursery with two young ladies just down the hallway from the classes. I think that is the option we'll choose when Lola gets a little more wiggly and vocal (unless she is a very quiet, still baby). I don't want the students to be distracted or spend all my focus on her, but I'd like to be available to her for feedings or if she's having a rough day!

Kelly said...

Good post! Very glad that CC is meeting your needs this year. We're doing great with it as well. I'm looking forward to the break, but also looking forward to finishing well.

NW said...

Thank you for posting this. We have been contemplating CC for next year.

Heather Brandt said...

Wondering what your workload/activities are like at home for homeschooling since you've been in CC group?

heatherlbrandt (at) frontier (dot) com

Alissa said...

I just love CC! I'm so glad you posted this. Such a great summary of what we do. Only a few minor differences but the gist is the same for my campus. I'm looking forward to reading your next segment on CC.

If you ever get the chance to visit, I'm a tutor for CC and I post on my blog ideas for CC at home. (Okay, truthfully, I'm really slack about it but I'm trying to do it more.) Your post might be the catalyst for me to post more.


Ang said...

wow! found you via simple homeschool today and i have to tell you what your article (there, but here especially) meant to me. i'm currently trying to get my husband on board with homeschooling our current kindergartner (starting this fall for 1st grade) and soon to be preschooler... I feel like CC just might help him convert!

thanks again, i'll definitely be following you now.


Jennifer said...

Thank you so much for this post! I really enjoy reading in more detail about CC. My husband and I are excited about this program and classical education in general. I'm so excited a group has started in our area and more groups on the way. We have to postpone putting our oldest (4) in the program because we two younger kids besides him (3 and1.5) and twins on the way! Once our twins are a year or so we'll probably jump in. Keep posting! It's great encouragement. Gob bless!

Danielle said...

But what do you do with the baby??? :) I'm wondering if I'm close enough (geographically) to inquire into your group. . .

Jennifer said...

Thank you for sharing so many details. I followed your links from TWTM forum.

Anonymous said...

Hi, great feedback.. just curious of the rest of your week at home, how much time are you working on the info daily, what other items are you teaching during the week? I am about to start CC and just want some details or set some guidelines on time I should be spending with my son. thanks.. great blog.

April said...

I am also due to have baby #4 in the first weeks of CC. :) And I hear you on the exhaustion at the end of that morning. We ALL came home and crashed last week. So glad you've pioneered this,-- even down to having a newborn!

Unknown said...

Nice article. We are currently looking into CC and this good read is very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this. It gives me a much better understanding of Classical Conversations.