We started attending Classical Conversations a few weeks ago. It’s a Christian, classical, home school co-op. My kids have never been to daycare or school, so CC is the closest thing to school that we’ve ever done. Here’s a photo we took of the girls on their “first day.” They were so excited. So was I.
And after only a few weeks, we love Classical Conversations. And I mean love. I’ve always been classically bent in my home school, using many of the resources and strategies laid out in The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home. My husband and I are Christians and we are encouraging our children to love Jesus, too, so Classical Conversations is a perfect fit for our family.
Two of my daughters are doing the Foundations program. This program focuses on teaching kids the grammar or basic knowledge of every subject. After only four weeks, the girls and I have learned so much. We can name and identify the continents and oceans, the bodies of water in Europe, the western European countries, and the rivers in Europe. And that’s just the geography portion of what we have learned so far. We’ve also learned just as many facts about science, history, math, English grammar, Latin, and the timeline. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I wasn’t sure where Ireland was until last week when it was on the list of places we had to learn to find on the map. But it’s nice to be redeeming my own education once and for all while I am teaching my kids. We are all getting an old fashioned grammar school education.
Classical Conversations provides songs that help you retain all the facts you are learning. I wasn’t sure how well I’d like the songs. I thought they were weird at first. But they’ve turned out to be catchy and fun. They are always popping into our heads throughout the day and we’re constantly singing them to one another. We sing them so often even my husband has learned a few of them. All I have to do is sing out, “England’s king John…” and then my kids will start in singing “signed the Magna Carta… in 1215… limiting the… king’s… power!” Here’s a video of a kid singing this song for the history sentence we are learning this week.
The idea behind having kids memorize a ton of information like this is so they will have a framework of general, yet critical, knowledge that they will be able to take with them into the future and use to connect to other things they will learn throughout their school years and their adult lives. Even after only a few days of carrying this week’s new history sentence in my head, I am making meaningful connections about history that I have never made before. For instance, the Magna Carta is very important to us in America, or should be, since it was, in essence, the beginning of constitutional government. The founding fathers considered themselves Englishmen, right? So they probably shared a common history with other Englishmen. So when they stood up to King George III at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, they weren’t doing something that was entirely original. Their ancestors had united against another one of their king-tyrants in the past to limit his power when they made “…King John sign the Magna Carta in 1215…” See the song just pops into my head! All this just came to me as I went about my day, singing the song, thinking about the facts in it, and connecting it to things I already know about history. Of course, my kids aren’t going to be able to make the same connections that I am making. At least, they won’t be able to make those connections yet. But they will have all the same facts in their heads and they will be able to process them and make those same kinds of meaningful connections as they get older and learn more about history. And that’s the point of the Foundations program. In fact, it’s the essence of the classical model of education. Teach kids the grammar of every subject when their brains will just soak it up easily and then let them carry it with them into the future and grow into the knowledge they already have and connect it to everything they will learn for the rest of their lives. It’s a brilliant system. It’s already working in my head after a few weeks so I know it will work for my children the way it’s working for me once they get a little older. This is the kind of education I started homeschooling in order to give my kids.
We practice our memory work almost everyday. It takes about half an hour. That’s half an hour on top of the hours of other school work we are already doing including math, phonics, spelling, handwriting, etc. Here’s a photo of the girls working on their geography at the kitchen table this morning.
We practice finding the new locations we are learning for that week and we also find and review the old locations from previous weeks. Naturally, my nine year old is much quicker to retain the information than my four year old. So I have her help her younger sister find all the places and label them. In that way, my oldest is still reviewing the material everyday, but in a way that is fun for her and really, really fun her younger sister. My younger daughter enjoys when her big sister is giving her so much attention. This is the way one room school houses used to work. The older and younger kids worked together. Everyone was learning the same material, absorbing what they could on their own level. My four year old labels the continents and oceans with only the first few letters of the name, so Africa is “Af” to her right now because writing the entire word “Africa” would be too much for her. But she is still learning where the places are. It’s impressive what their brains and my brain have already been trained to retain with only a little bit of practice everyday. Ask me where the Rhine, the Po, and the Elbe rivers are. Go ahead. Ask me! Better yet, ask my four year old. She’ll tell you!
The kids do presentations every week. Every kid, every week, from youngest to oldest, gets up in front of their class of peers and speaks. It’s incredible to watch. All the kids do so well. Even the shyest children crack a smile when they are done presenting and get applause from their friends and the tutor and the moms who happen to be in the room that day. Classical Conversations provides some informal guidelines for the students’ presentations, but you don’t have to follow the guidelines strictly. A lot of kids enjoy bringing in souvenirs, toys, pictures and talking about personal things instead of the suggested topic for that week.
Last week’s suggested presentation topic was “Recite a Bible verse” or a “Bible passage” for older kids. My kids are already learning Scripture verses with the Charlotte Mason Scripture memory system, so it was easy enough for us to go along with the suggested presentation topic for last week. My four year old’s favorite Bible verse is Matthew 6:26 right now, so that’s the verse she wanted to recite. Her grandmother gave her this stuffed, red-winged black bird and the two of them made a bird’s nest out of a paper coffee filter, string and construction paper, so my daughter took in her bird and nest since it went with her verse and in her sweet, four year old voice, she held it up and said, “Wook at the birds of the air, that they do not sew, nor weep, nor gather into bawns and yet your heavenwy father feeds dem. Are you not worth much more dan dey?” Seriously. How cute is that?!
My kids relish thinking about, planning, and practicing their presentations for their friends in their classes. My nine year old has already prepared her presentation for this coming week, even though we have several days before we go to CC. The suggested topic is to do a “Historical Presentation” on a person or event that we’ve learned about in history in the last few weeks. She chose to talk about Charlemagne. She is very artistic, so she drew this picture of Charlemagne being crowned emperor of the Roman Empire by Pope Leo III. I’m so thrilled that Classical Conversations provides her with a good reason and motivation to be creative and use her artistic skills every single week. She is being encouraged to do better and better since her tutor, other moms, and kids will see and praise her efforts.
In Foundations every week, the tutors are also doing a science experiment and a fine arts or music projects with the kids. I can’t tell you how nice it is that someone else is doing science, art and music with my kids. Those are things that I usually tend to skip because I don’t have time or energy for them after I’ve worked so hard to cover the basics and I’m usually not in the mood to create an extra mess that I will have to clean up after a long day of lessons. Last week, the tutor did a science experiment to demonstrate why the planets spin, but never slow down or stop. In the middle of the experiment, my nine year old made the connection between what was happening with the marble, the round pan, and the sheet of paper that the teacher was using and what must be happening with the planets in space. She jumped up in her seat and yelled out, “There’s no friction in space! That’s why the planets never slow down!” It was an “Ah-ha!” moment that took my breath away. My brain wasn’t working as fast as hers was, but once I realized what my daughter meant by what she said, I had an “Ah-ha!” moment of my own. I was amazed at the wonder of the galaxy and I wondered out loud, “They can’t slow down…” and then another mom smiled and asked, “But I wonder how they began spinning in the first place.” And then I smiled. And the other moms smiled. And some of the kids smiled. And the tutor smiled and said like she says almost every week, “In Science, one question always leads to another!” And we all laughed because this experiment happened to lead us to ask a question about the most foundational topic that science seeks to answer. How did it all begin? Like I said, Classical Conversations is a Christian co-op and it’s nice that we are free to discuss the topic of origins and be unafraid about how that topic might intersect with the topics of God and faith. How does anyone talk about science without being free to at least ask those fundamental questions?
My nine year old is also doing the Essentials program at Classical Conversations in the afternoon. We weren’t planning to enroll our daughter in Essentials until next year, but after two weeks in Foundations, her tutor strongly encouraged my husband and I to consider enrolling her. The tutor spoke so convincingly that we decided to sit in on an Essentials class the third week and just see. After five minutes, it was clear that her tutor was right and I was wrong. My daughter was throwing her hand up, shouting out answers, clearly understanding concepts about English grammar that I didn’t think she was capable of understanding yet. And therein lies the power of being in community with other parents who are really getting to know your children by teaching them, not just playing with them. I allowed my daughter to be under another tutor’s guidance by enrolling her in Foundations and letting her be taught by someone else and that tutor, that mother, saw things in my daughter I hadn’t seen and believed things about her that I didn’t believe. And just that fast, we are benefiting from another person’s involvement in my daughter’s life and education.
Essentials focuses on English grammar, writing and math games and drills. This is the optional paragraph my daughter wrote at the end of her homework today because she thought it would be fun to write it. Fun to write it?! Yes. She actually said that. Here’s the paragraph she wrote.
“It was a freezing Christmas morning in Londontown. There was a massive crowd moving towards the aged church in the distance. Among the crowd there was Sir Ector and his family, Sir Kay, Arthur and his wife. ‘Come on! Come on! Double come on! We don’t want to be late!’ said Sir Ector and he pushed through the crowd. He would not be stymied by the huge crowd.”
Essentials just works. It just works. I am already so impressed with what my daughter is accomplishing and I am so thankful that we decided to take her tutor’s advice and enroll her.
Classical Conversations really is the learning environment of my dreams. It’s a powerful synergy of the best that home and school have to offer one another. All the parents sit in on their childrens’ classes. We learn what the kids learn so we can reinforce it at home all week until we meet again. We help the tutors maintain discipline. We assists the students at their desks so the tutors can move through the material with ease. We communicate with tutors throughout the week via email or phone. We are moms working with other moms to give their kids the very best we have to offer. I am so thankful for Classical Conversations, even after just a few weeks. God willing, we will be in this program for the long term. I can’t wait to see what the years ahead bring!
To learn about Classical Conversations, you can go to their website.