Classical Conversations: An Introduction

Written by Simple Homeschool contributor Heidi Scovel of Mt. Hope Chronicles

For many families, homeschooling is a much broader reality than the designation implies. The variety of educational opportunities is steadily increasing along with the realization that school isn’t a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Tutoring groups, homeschool co-ops, community classes, umbrella schools, field trips, online classes — sometimes the sheer quantity of choices is staggering. And very often homeschooling families find themselves out of the home for one or more days each week.

After several years without outside commitments, my family chose to join a local Classical Conversations community this year and found it a perfect fit for our needs. When I was first introduced to the program I had so many questions, and it took a while for me to decide whether it would be right for us.

Now that we’ve been participating for several months, I can say that it has been a wonderful opportunity for my boys. I would love to share some details about Classical Conversations.

Classical Conversations is a nation-wide program that helps train and equip parents to provide their children with a Christian classical education. Individual communities hire parents to be trained as tutors through Classical Conversations practicums, who then lead small classes of children in weekly meetings.

A quick overview of Classical Conversations:

Foundations

For the grammar stage (grades K4-6th), the Foundations program meets for twenty-four weeks during the school year. The classes meet one morning each week for three hours. (Leaving plenty of time during the week as well as during the year for additional studies.)

During the morning classes, tutors introduce the students to memory work in history, science, geography, English grammar, Latin, math, Bible, and the history time line. Each student gives a short presentation in front of their class to learn public speaking skills. Science experiments and four six-week fine arts studies (drawing, tin whistle/music theory, famous artists/art projects, and instruments of the orchestra/composers) complete the schedule.

Parents are required to attend classes with their children so that they observe and learn from the teaching modeled by the tutors, which will in turn help them guide their children in reviewing the memory work at home.

The memory work outlined in the Foundations classes is designed to prepare the students for the higher-level classes. CC recommends that parents teach phonics, math, and handwriting studies at home.

Essentials

Beginning in 4th grade, an afternoon session is available to supplement the Foundations classes through 6th grade. During Essentials, students learn language arts and structure with The Essentials of the English Language Guide, writing through the Institute for Excellence in Writing programs, and math through challenging problems and games.

Challenge

Day-long (30-week) Challenge programs for logic and rhetoric stages begin in 7th grade. These classes cover math, Latin and Spanish, literature and writing, science labs, debate, rhetoric, and geography (mapping the whole world free-hand from memory!). Students complete lessons and assignments at home during the remainder of the week.

Why I decided that Classical Conversations would be right for my family:

After some time of deliberation, I had a list of benefits this program would provide for us.

  • Consistency and discipline in memory work across all subjects.
  • Outside accountability.
  • A social network of families interested in the same educational philosophy and goals.
  • Experience in a classroom situation.
  • Opportunity to make new friends.
  • Learning from other adults and mentors.
  • Hands-on science and fine arts projects.
  • Practice in public speaking.

What students memorize during the three year-long cycles of Foundations:

It felt like Christmas the day my Foundations Curriculum Guide came in the mail. I pored over it and felt my excitement growing. It contains all the memory work for all three cycles.

Every year, Foundations students memorize all of the Veritas Press History Timeline cards from ancient history to modern times. Students also memorize the U.S. presidents yearly.

Math memory work is also the same each cycle: skip counting numbers up to 15 and other math facts such as the formula for finding the area of a circle.

Students memorize an astonishing amount of geography (new material each cycle): not only countries but also mountains, bodies of water, deserts, the U.S. states and capitals, territories, and more! The students practice tracing and drawing maps.

With new science memory work each cycle, students learn facts such as kingdoms of living things, laws of thermodynamics, parts of the circulatory system, and the definition of catastrophism.

Other memory work includes weekly history sentences (the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, the Bill of Rights, Charlemagne), Latin (declensions, conjugations, and Bible translation), English (parts of speech, participles, irregular verb tenses, and clauses), and passages from the Bible.

Each family has the flexibility of using the memory work however they wish during the week. We have used it as a spring-board for additional science and history reading and discovering, to solidify our math and grammar skills, and as a way of exploring our world through geography.

Further Links for Reading:

Have you participated in outside classes or homeschool groups? Have you found the experience to be a positive one?

About Heidi

Heidi documents Living Lovely at her blog, Mt. Hope Chronicles. There she celebrates (in words and images) her journey as wife, homeschooling mother of three rambunctious boys, photographer, book collector, and lover of the little things.

Comments

  1. Great overview! We absolutely love Classical Conversations and see it serving as the foundation for our girls’ education through the high school years.

    Leigh Bortins’ newest book, The Core, really solidified my homeschooling philosophy for me. I highly recommend it for all parents, regardless of schooling choices!
    Mandi @ Life Your Way’s latest post: Cool Etsy Finds- 2-28-11

  2. lovely post about a fantastic program. we too use and love classical conversations. thanks for providing an introduction i can recommend to curious family and friends.

  3. Thank you for spotlighting this – I am looking into this for next year, and I’ve been kind of overwhelmed with the info – this told me exactly what I needed!

  4. We just joined a CC group this year and LOVE it. My children have learned so much and look forward to attending every week. Best of all, my reluctant husband is now sold on homeschooling, after seeing how much my children learned there as opposed to how little they learned in public school (despite ten times as many hours spent at a desk). I’m glad to see the word spreading about this wonderful program! :)
    OrganicSchool’s latest post: A Fun Way to Memorize the US Presidents

  5. We’re a homeschooling family….we’ve been part of CC for two years…I’m a tutor and love it!

    Both of my boys do foundations and my oldest has been in essentials for both years that we’ve been involved.

    I can’t say enough about it.

    It has been the perfect fit for our family….

  6. Thanks for the summary. We have a group that meets locally but I never really knew what it was about. Sounds like an interesting program.
    Alicia’s latest post: Five more great homeschooling groups on Facebook

  7. Sarah Bradbury says:

    This sounds fantastic! I am not homeschooling yet because my son is still too young, but I am planning on doing so. How can I find information about these types of programs in my area? I would totally be interested in being one of the tutors/teachers if this program doesnt already exist in my area

  8. Well, yay about the geography. This is often an easily forgotten part of curriculum.
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Comfort Books

  9. Margarita says:

    Thank u for info about a CC. Is that true that when a child starts a CC ( 1 year ) he may begin in the 2 or 3 cycle instead of 1 ? I have been considering it for my dd ( age 5), but I want to do the Story of the world in chronological order.

    Thanks, Margarita

    • Yes, all CC communities do the same cycle each year. This next year all CC communities (all Foundations classes) will be doing cycle 1. The cycles do not match up perfectly with The Story of the World even if a child begins with cycle 1, though.
      Heidi @ Mt Hope’s latest post: A Thought for the Day

  10. We have been doing CC for 4 years now and we love it. I love the like minded families that we meet with every week. Our oldest is in Challenge 1 so I get to see the benefit of Foundations on a regular basis. They are loving learning!

  11. Hi Heidi, thanks for the super helpful post about CC! I’m starting a CC campus in Portland, OR and was wondering if I could have permission to use one of your pictures (the one with the paints on the table) for an advertising poster. Thanks!
    Christy’s latest post: Psalm 31

  12. Sherry Clark says:

    This sounds great, and I think I might want to check it out, but I have a concern. This is our first year homeschooling and my son is a “5th grader”. Have we already missed out on being able to do this?

    • Certainly it is ideal to have a few years of Foundations and Essentials under a student’s belt before hitting the Challenge level, but you can jump in at any time! My sister started two of her children at the Challenge level, and they’ve done well. Even if your son starts CC next year as a 6th grader, he would still have a year to reap the benefits, particularly the history timeline in Foundations and all of the language arts in Essentials. There is a little bit of wiggle room for students entering the Challenge program. You may be able to wait a year (depending on the age cut-off) and have him do a second year of Foundations/Essentials if you feel he isn’t ready for Challenge–which is a fantastic program for many 7th-12th grade students.

  13. Melanie King says:

    I am praying that we can start a CC group in the rural area where I live next year. We still need someone to be the Director and probably at least one tutor.

  14. I wrote this article three years ago, only a few months into our first year with CC. If anyone is wondering if we’ve stuck with it, we have! We are finishing up our fourth year of Foundations, our second year of Essentials, and my oldest son is headed into the Challenge program next year. I wrote an update with more detailed Classical Conversations information during our 3rd year. Not much has changed. :) http://mthopeacademy.blogspot.com/2012/10/classical-conversations-our-3rd-year.html
    Heidi @ Mt Hope’s latest post: In Loving Memory

  15. Dawnita says:

    Would you recommend starting an only child when he’s 4 years old? Is that too soon if there are no older siblings also in the coop?

  16. I’ve been interested in CC, thank you so much for your explanation of how it works! I have a question. After the material for the week is memorized, is it practiced again after that, and if so, how often? Do you find that it sticks very well until the next year, when they repeat the same history memorization, for example?

  17. (“reviewed” is what I meant when I said “practiced”)

  18. Thank you for this! It sounds wonderful and I am certainly interested – trying to plan ahead for our 4 year-old. One question, do you think it works well for those kiddos who respond best to an extremely interest-led style? My son can NOT be convinced to learn something he isn’t hugely interested in (though he will respectfully try, but it makes him quiet and sad), but he learns extreme amounts about what he does find interesting. When I pinpoint an interest we CAN use curriculums (so far, Montessori, lap books, and unit studies, ridiculous amounts of reading) to expand on that interest. CC sounds like such a wonderful program/process, but I’m trying to decide if he would just shut down during the parts that don’t click for him? Thanks in advance for any insight!

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