If you came into my house right now and asked Lena, “Hey Lena, can you tell me about the Hundred Years War?” she would sing:
“Yes! During the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc and King Charles VII led the French to defeat England at the Battle of Orleans. In the late 1340s, fleas on rats carried the Plague, which killed one out of three Europeans.”
“Can you tell me about how animals react to environmental change?”
“In reaction to environmental change, animals will adapt, migrate, or hibernate.”
“What about skip counting by 2s?”
And she would sing a clever little ditty to the ABC tune that ends with, “Would you like to hear some more?”
And at that point you might or you might not like to hear some more, but she can go on for a long time!
All of this information comes from different things Lena has learned in Classical Conversations. In my last post, I discussed our kindergarten curriculum, and I mentioned that we joined Classical Conversations as well. Deciding to join was a big decision for us this year, and I think we’re still adjusting. There is a lot to get used to!
For those who are unfamiliar, Classical Conversations (CC) is a homeschooling support organization. Communities or campuses are everywhere, including overseas. Last year, as we were considering homeschooling, I learned a lot of my friends were attending the weekly “schoolhouse” meeting and loving it. Since the closest CC community meets just four blocks from our house, and because we already knew half the group, it seemed a shame not to join! We have enjoyed it a lot, but it has also been challenging. (More about this at the end of my post.)
Every Tuesday we meet with the other homeschoolers at CC for three hours. Lena is in a class with other 5- and 6-year-olds, Gil is in a nursery/preschool room, and Forest hangs out with me — which is challenging because I am required to be with Lena the whole time and help in her class. This ain’t no drop-off program! Parents are involved in every aspect.
During those three hours, Lena and the eight other kids in her class are taught by a fellow mom, called a tutor. Lena learns the new “grammar” for the week (one item from history, math, English, science, Latin, and geography, and seven new points on the timeline), participates in an art project and a science experiment, does a 3-minute presentation on an assigned topic that she has prepared, and spends 30 minutes reviewing information she learned previously in the year.
It’s like drinking from a fire hose. A fire hose that never turns off!
That said, I have found a lot to appreciate about CC. I love that she is learning history and geography, that she is learning alongside other kids (they have so much fun!), that I am not her only teacher, and that she already is learning good public speaking skills.
And now — how do we “do” Classical Conversations in our home? I think there are about four main ways:
- Displaying the “memory work” for the week
- Review games and questions
- Timeline cards with the song
- Dry-erase maps
- Songs from CC Connected and the CC cds
If it’s a good week, on Monday morning I will print (or write/make, but that doesn’t happen as easily) the history, geography, math, science, and English facts for the week and display them in our dining/school room alongside the seven timeline cards for the week. (CC moms, I mostly find these on CC Connected under “File Sharing” and by searching for “Tri-Fold” downloads for the week we’re on.)
A lot of moms have tri-fold or bulletin boards that they tape everything to, but in our current house I don’t have a good space to display one, so I just use painter’s tape to attach things to the wall.
Review games and questions: This little photo album of the weekly CC information has been so helpful for me. I made it at the beginning of the year by using downloads I found on the CC Connected file sharing. (CC moms, I searched for username “barledge” and “4×6 Flipbook,” printed all the files as photos at Walgreens, and put them in a 48-photo album I found on Amazon.)
Lena and I use this review book when we knit together on the couch, or when we play Candyland. If Lena lands on a red square in Candyland, she has to answer a science question because the science questions are red in the review book. If I land on a blue square, I answer an English question, and so on.
If Gil wants to play… well, we don’t get very far in our review!
Timeline cards with the song: Each week we learn seven new points on the timeline, which starts with “Age of Ancient Empires” and ends with current events. Each point on the timeline has a laminated card (see above), and I keep all of them in 5.5 x 8.5 binders with page protectors.
There is also a timeline song that we use to memorize all the points on the timeline. We even learn hand motions for each point! (Well, we try… those are hard for five-year-olds.) The video above includes the entire song if you’d like to hear it. Lena and I sing the song as we flip through the timeline cards, stopping to ask questions about different ones.
Dry-erase maps: Another thing we do is use these laminated maps to review geography. I’ll ask her to find Portugal or the Aral Sea or the Scandinavian Peninsula, and Lena will check each location with a dry erase marker. We also occasionally use our globe instead, which I purchased with charter school money.
Songs from CC Connected and the CC cds: CC has put a lot of the material children need to learn to song, such as the timeline song above. This is so helpful with memorization! The kids and I listen to songs I’ve downloaded from the CC Connected file sharing. Today they were singing about pints, quarts, liquids, and plasma with me in the kitchen as we made cookies.
We also listen to the CC cds when we drive in the car. We spend very little time in our car, though — maybe 30 minutes total every week — so this isn’t a great way for us to memorize and learn material. This is the “disadvantage” of living in a walkable community!
One question you might be asking is, “Does Lena get it? Is all this memorization worth it?”
I think the answer is NO, she doesn’t get it, but YES, she is learning, and by the end of the year she will have grown exponentially in her knowledge of history and geography. (The English, some of the science, and a lot of the math facts will be over her head for a while yet.)
If we stick with CC, Lena will learn almost all new information each year for three years. (The timeline and some of the other information stays the same every year.) Each year, the tutor in her class will introduce the material at her level and expect more of her, as will I at home. After three years, she’ll repeat all three years. This way she’ll get this information twice over the course of six years from Kindergarten-Fifth Grade. It takes some of the pressure off of this year for sure.
Is all this memorization worth it? I think so, at least to some degree. She will not remember everything she learns this year, but it’s ok. There are no tests. She might remember it in three years when she repeats all this information, but in the meantime she is exercising her memory muscles, learning so much about the world and her place in it, and gets a sense of pride and accomplishment from working hard and learning the information. These skills are worth a very great deal.
Do I love CC? Will we stick with this for all of elementary school, or all of our homeschooling years? I have nooooooo idea. I do think one of the greatest gifts of CC is community. It is hugely encouraging to hang out with other families each week, to eat a picnic lunch at the park together after class (every week because this is Southern California and the weather is always gorgeous!), and to talk and be inspired and be refreshed every Tuesday.
However, if I were presented with another homeschooling co-op with awesome classes and friendships, I am not so sure I’d do CC. I think this is because I am more excited about the community than about CC itself. I like the approach CC takes a lot, but I was also homeschooled K-12 myself and then went to a public university and had an incredible experience with like-minded believers there, so I know there are many, many ways to do homeschooling and do education in general.
I think our bottom line is: we’ll just take each year at a time, evaluating thoughtfully how each of our kids are doing, how we are doing, and what educational approach would fit our family and our kids best. We’ll stay humble, we’ll stay flexible, we’ll all keep learning together.
What do you think? Would you ever do CC? Why or why not?