Classical, Christian Education in Community: My Experience with Classical Conversations

Being the principal leader of your child’s schooling is a daunting task–even if you outsource that role to the public school down the street. Staying involved, watching over things is very important.  (I have seen the classroom from both sides–and the helicopter mom that goes with it!) After 10 years in the teaching profession, teaching high school and middle school English and math, SAT and ACT tutoring, I came home to keep my babies out of daycare, never thinking this would slowly lead me to  begin homeschooling them.  When I began learning about the classical model, it shifted my entire educational paradigm and gave me confidence to take on the role of overseeing their education. As a Christian, helping my kids develop their God-given callings and adapting their education in this department was also just as important. I also knew I could not homeschool 100% alone, and I would need some kind of group, co-op, something!  I began with the classical christian community of Classical Conversations, not knowing if I would continue, but I did year after year. I can’t say enough about these 3 components of homeschooling: (1)using the classical tools to take the LOAD off, no matter WHAT books or WHAT curriculum you choose! (Classical conversations is more about a method than a curriculum.) (2)Keeping your eyes on Christ helps you escape the trap of comparing your school to any others’. Training up our children is a unique process that requires the individual enlightening of the Holy Spirit. (3)Then, doing this in community… I mean…leaning on another parent who has more overflow in her season to give–this keeps us alive.

My Experience with Classical Conversations Foundations & The Foundations YearsK-6: My first child was 5 when we started. These years go quickly!!! I really saw the 4 shifts that are labeled according to an estimate age.  As you read through, this was my experience as well as what I had expected.  I never had to stress the memory work. By the time my child was at the master level, he could help me devise a plan with him to master every cycle.

The 4-5 Abecedarian Years are not a time to make them sit still and memorize things.  You will find yourself singing songs while cooking dinner, desperate to get them to “review” because other attmempts just don’t work as well. They love to play and dance and run around to the chants and songs.  We shouldn’t worry about them giving the information back to us without prompts.

Our 6-7 Apprentices are still a little quiet in vocalizing the memory work with accuracy and boldness.  It could be the student’s first time through the cycle.  They are apprentices, watching and learning through observing. They are soaking up the confidence of those around them who are confidently learning the memory work.

8-9 year old Journeyman is getting a great deal of the memory work under their belts and starting to be more confident, able to say it back without prompts.

Then something happens with our 10-11 year old Masters.  They are ready to leave the songs behind and are self-motivated to learn it. It is as if something has switched in them. They are called “masters” because this is what they crave. They are ready to demonstrate that they have mastered it.

My Experience with Classical Conversations Essentials: in 4th – 6th grades.  Here comes the dialectic phase. Becoming a student of the dialectic is as important in itself as diving into the language arts curriculum of Essentials. Like, for real! Of course, I was, like many, learning this the hard way. I appraoched the class from a traditional minset. Even though the Essentials Guide does a beautiful job explaining what is about to happen in this 3 year class, you really don’t believe it until it is happening.

Is it possible to keep my composure in an environment where I don’t know everything that is going on?

A child can do it–the youngest in the family suffers the discomfort of learning Monopoly while everyone talks over his head and counts his money for him. Why? Because he wants to learn. He wants to play.  This is real life. We don’t get to control the environment before we get there.  Well, we try, don’t we? We get the degree so that we can catapult into a company at the high level of specialized expertise that we ‘deserve.’

We want to BYPASS the mess of people on all sides being at different levels. We are not used to this. We are not good at this. We want to run away. We want to find things at ‘our level.’

But there is always something to learn or wisdom to give.

The dialectic is  time to take the pieces of foundations and begin the trial-and-error learning process that each person does at their own pace.  Asking questions, wrestling with them when the results are different than expected. This phase is grueling to a parent’s I-just-want-to-nail-it fleshly mindset.

The first time up the trail, you just want to avoid scraped knees and not look stupid. The parent does 80% of the work sometimes. The second time up the trail, it is familiar, and you can begin to enjoy the things you learn along the way. The parent and student are working 50/50. The third time up the trail, you are taking in the views, and you hardly feel the cramps anymore. The student is able to do most of the work himself.

The point: we learn that struggle doesn’t mean something is going wrong. We learn that we learn through ASKING QUESTIONS…looking for answers.

I have seen all kinds of responses in this class–but I have learned from them all.

I highly recommend it for all students–ALL THREE YEARS OF IT!