Our Second Year in Essentials- How We Are Scaling Up


My daughter (and I) are beginning our second year in Essentials.  Since this is our second year, we are going to be scaling up our work in a few ways that I will share with you below.

First, my daughter will be doing more handwriting.

As you can see from the picture above, I made my daughter hand write her first assignment this year, a short paragraph about Columbus. Handwriting the first assignment was one way we have already scaled up from last year. I never even attempted to make my daughter hand write any of her writing assignments last year.

Our first year through Essentials was difficult enough without adding that kind of stress. She’d hand write the keywords into her keyword outlines last year, but when it came to the writing assignment, I just had her use the keyword outlines to speak what she wanted to write and I would type everything into the proper format.

But her tutor asked us to do have our kids hand write the first paragraph this year, if possible, so that we will have at least one sample of our child’s handwriting to cherish. My daughter’s handwriting skills have improved so much since last year that I felt comfortable doing what the teacher asked. Having to write it by hand herself, my daughter got practice with arranging, spelling, grammar, and capitalization. She took even more ownership of her work than usual, so I will probably continue having her write at least the first draft of her assignments for the rest of the year.

I am pretty sure her teacher wants the rest of her assignments after this one to be typed, so I will still have to type the final drafts because my daughter can’t use the keyboard yet.  But I think I will have my daughter start keyboarding this year so she can be ready to type her own papers by the beginning of her third year in Essentials. It will be glorious when she can write her own papers from start to finish and all I have to do is proofread and facilitate. Oh to dream.

As a second year student this year, my daughter will be doing even more writing.

The tutor gave us a copy of the suggested writing schedule that comes with our US History Based Writing book. If you read the photo, second year students are assigned two paragraphs the first week.  We are going to attempt to follow the schedule for second year students, so doing more writing will be another way we scale up this year.


I knew that doing two paragraphs this week meant we needed start right away. One year in Essentials taught me that much.  We have Classical Conversations on Thursday, so on Friday, I had my daughter read the first source paragraph on Christopher Columbus and fill in her own keyword outline. Again, that’s something she got used to doing herself last year, so that was easy enough for her to do on her own.  Then I made her use her keyword outline to tell me out loud what she wanted to say about Columbus in her paragraph.


After that, she thought we were done for the day, but then I asked her to write her paragraph onto loose leaf paper, skipping lines, etc. She gave me a little push back since that was more than she ever had to do in one day and she never had to hand write an assignment before, but told her, “You’re a second year Essentials student now.” And since she has heard her tutor talking about the expectations for second year students and since her tutor honors the work they do, she got right to work.

The next day, yesterday, I proofread her paper, circling the words that were misspelled, etc. After I was finished proofreading, I had her make the corrections.  She is not a natural speller and we are only on the third level of All About Spelling, so most of the mistakes were spelling errors. She had a lot of practice using the dictionary Saturday night. I gave her the correct spelling for some of the words, but most of them, I made her find herself.


This morning, Sunday morning, I asked her to add vocabulary words to her rough draft and add one -ly word. We are following the checklist in the USHBW book for the first assignment. Then I had her write her final draft in her neatest handwriting and put it in her folder.

Tomorrow is Monday, so we will begin the second assignment on Europe Meets America in the morning and that will give us three days to complete that assignment, too, before we have to go to Classical Conversations again.


As a second year student, my daughter will also be copying all the charts.

Last year, my daughter and I always reviewed the assigned charts together out loud, but I only made my daughter copy some of the charts. And, when she did copy a chart, I always gave her a blank copy of the chart to fill in. She never had to copy a chart onto a blank sheet of paper.

But she is ready to do more this year with charts, so my plan is to have her copy every chart she is assigned this year onto blank paper or onto a blank copy of the chart, depending on how complicated the chart is.

This week, our Essentials guide says we are supposed to focus on Charts A and B. I already made her copy Chart A on a blank sheet of paper this week because that’s one of the easier charts, so she didn’t need a blank chart to fill in. We are also supposed to review Chart B, but that chart is a lot more complicated, so I don’t think I will make her copy that one onto blank paper. I will probably give her a blank copy of Chart B to fill. But this is her second year, so she will have to copy all 112 model sentences before this week is over.  That is much more work than she ever had to do on any chart last year. Being diligent to copy charts so we can memorize them for use in future years is another way we are scaling up this year.

Are you an Essentials mom with an Essentials student?  How many years have you been in the program?  How are you scaling back/ scaling up?

Weekly Prep for Essentials


I couldn’t sleep, so I got up early, made coffee, and decided to look over the lessons for this week and last week in my Essentials guide.

I knew I needed to really dig in to our Essentials work this week because we missed Classical Conversations last week because we were out of town on vacation.

(I never want to miss a week of CC again! I knew we were learning a lot each week, but now that’s really apparent after missing only one week and feeling the need to play catch up. We felt a little confused yesterday after missing only one week of material.)

Well, looking over our materials in a quiet environment like this was one of the nicest things I could have done for myself.  It gave me opportunity to ask and answer some of my own questions about the material before I was faced with my daughter’s questions. Trying to really master material while you’re in the middle of teaching it is stressful, if not impossible.  I know this study time is going to make such a difference in how effectively I teach my daughter this coming week.

I was surprised at how much I learned today and I was reminded of how much we have yet to learn in Essentials. It confirmed again in my mind why we are doing CC.  Essentials is so challenging and thorough! So many charts! And even though I am overwhelmed at the thought of all that’s left to learn, I am truly excited about what we are going to understand and be capable of if we stick to this program.

So after this morning, I’m making a promise to myself to get up every morning the day after we go to CC and look over my Essentials guide before I diagram even one sentence with my daughter.

Our Essentials Experience So Far

This is our very first year in Classical Conversations and I have two kids enrolled in their Foundations program- one nine year old, one four.  And that is all we were planning to do this first year of CC, just attend Foundations, and then come home and add the Foundations memory work to our school day.

But, that’s not how it happened. After two weeks of Foundations, my nine year old’s tutor strongly suggested that my daughter was ready for Essentials.  I took her words seriously, since one of the reasons I joined CC in the first place was to have a community involved in our education and submit myself and my children to other informed, caring opinions about their progress.

So my daughter and I attended an Essentials class to sample it and see if I thought my daughter was ready, too. I agreed with her tutor and enrolled my daughter (and myself) in Essentials, but only once I thought it through and committed to myself (and to my husband) that I would actually do the Essentials work with my daughter in addition to what we were already doing for school.

As many of you probably already know, Classical Conversations is not exactly cheap when compared to other home school co-ops and I didn’t want to pay for Essentials if I wasn’t going to do the work.  I have purchased home school resources that I didn’t end up using for ten or twenty dollars here and there, money wasted since I didn’t end up using the materials, and I have hated those experiences so much.  So I knew I’d be just sick to death if I spent hundreds for Essentials tuition and materials and didn’t end up using it.  Therefore, I was diligent and we added Essentials work to what we were already doing for school.  It’s been worth every dollar I spent on tuition.

Essentials work has a few components- language, grammar, math, and writing.  I could talk about all the benefits Essentials has added to our study of all these subjects, but I want to focus on how it has improved our study of writing.  IEW, The Institute for Excellence in Writing, is the writing program Essentials uses and it has empowered my nine year old daughter to begin writing beautiful paragraphs and essays, work she and I really could not have accomplished without the framework that IEW sets up for us. Here is a story my nine year old wrote using IEW’s keyword outlines and checklists.


Aladin and the Lamp

 Aladin quietly crouched behind one of the bushes that surrounded the enemy camp. He tried to open a little hole in the bush to see through, but too late, he realized the bush was a rose bush covered with thorns. Aladin leaped up ten feet in the air and screamed so loud that he could be heard twenty five miles away! The enemy soldiers saw that Aladin was wearing their enemy’s uniform and they immediately realized he was a spy. They tried to catch Aladin. He almost got hit by the fast arrows that the enemy soldiers fired, but he dodged them.

 Aladin found a small cave to hide in. “What a terrific place to hide,” he thought and he jumped in just as the enemy soldiers reached the cave opening. One of the soldiers asked, “Do you think he’s in there?” But another one announced, “There’s a spider web over the opening. He can’t be in there or else he would have broken it.” Another solider agreed, “You’re right. Let’s get out of here.” And they left. Aladin heard them talking and he was thankful that he didn’t hit the spider web.

He decided to stay in the cave and squeezed into a tunnel that led into a room that led into another tunnel that led into another, much larger room, but it was very dark. Aladin managed to see a small lamp on a table. “What a magnificent lamp,” thought Aladin. “I wish I had some oil. But why is it so dusty?” Aladin rubbed on the lamp to get the dust off and out popped a genie and immediately all the torches on the walls of the cave light up and the cave was apparently filled with treasure. Aladin, who isn’t very surprised since he had heard of that kind of thing happening to other people, commanded, “Get rid of my enemies.” Immediately, he heard a gust of wind and the genie confirmed, “All of your enemies are now soldiers for your sultan instead.” Then Aladin commanded, “Take me to my sultan. No, wait. Better yet, make me the sultan!” The genie declared, “Your wish is my command.”


A few months ago, I would have thought it impossible for my daughter to write this.  And don’t get me wrong, my daughter didn’t do this entirely on her own. I had to sit with her and supervise her keyword outline and help her spell the words and then type her story into the computer as she spoke. Then I had to talk to her about the wording choices she made and then talk to her about her wording choices again and then again as we worked from the rough draft of this story to what you see above.  But the IEW program really works if you work it.

Of course, you could use IEW without being enrolled in Essentials, but I didn’t even know about IEW until we started Classical Conversations. Now that we know about it and know we love it, I could choose to do it at home, apart from CC.  But I like the accountability that the CC group is providing us.  I am motivated to get the most out of Essentials because I pay for the group.  My daughter is motivated to write so that she can share her stories with her Essentials tutor and with her friends when she is given the opportunity to read her work to the class.

If we didn’t do the Essentials work at home on our regular home school days, Essentials would be a waste of time and money.  My daughter and I just can’t learn enough in those few hours in class to make all the material stick, and there is a lot of material when you include all the components of grammar, language, math, and writing.  But we work hard at home, so the Essentials class on CC days provides us a nice compliment to what we are doing. It refreshes and excites us both for the new material we get to cover during the week ahead.

The reason my daughter is becoming a better writer is because of the work we are doing at home every day, not because of her Essentials class on CC days per se.   I think that the community and support I receive is worth the price of tuition, but if, for some reason, I couldn’t afford to pay for CC anymore, I would still do IEW at home with my daughter from now on because it works so well.  And IEW is just the writing component of Essentials.  I didn’t even tell you about the language, grammar, and math components! Needless to say, we are more than satisfied with our Essentials experience thus far.



First Language Lessons

We did our first lesson on verbs in First Language Lessons, Level 1. To add some spice to the lesson, I had the bright idea of letting Norah find photos of verbs in an old camping magazine I was getting ready to throw out. (It was Monday and Fly Lady says to purge your old magazines on Mondays.) Norah cut and glued and then told me what verbs to write under the photos. I think she did well!