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.



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