Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Classical Conversations

A friend recently asked me what curriculum I would recommend she uses for her daughter who is entering kindergarten in the fall and she wanted to know what I thought of Classical Conversations. I decided to post this response here for others to read as well.

I have been meaning to write about Classical Conversations for several weeks anyway. Although they have a website, I did not feel it had nearly enough information on it. When I was first looking into the program, I found myself googling Classical Conversations and trying to find blog posts like the one I am writing now. So I hope others will find this information helpful.

First, a note about home schooling in general: I truly believe in my heart of hearts, that the most difficult part of home schooling is not figuring out when to do your grocery shopping, it’s not what to tell your relatives and neighbors, it’s not the problem of socialization, it’s not finding time to scrub those grubby toilets, or nurse and diaper that darling insatiable baby, or what to do with that mess-making toddler while you try to educate the older ones (Naomi mostly got into the spice cabinet while we were trying to do school.)

The very hardest thing about home schooling is….. (drumroll please)….figuring out what in tarnation home school curriculum you are going to use!!!

Furthermore, knowing where to start in gathering information can make your situation seem even more hopeless. Visiting a gargantuan vendor hall at one of those nifty home school conferences is perhaps that worst thing that an aspiring mommy teacher could possibly do to herself. And perhaps a close second is gathering a variety of home school moms into a room together and having them go around in a circle and say what they use. If you’re looking for an easy answer, these situations can be quite terrifying. I’ve literally had one mom tell me she absolutely hated a particular curriculum only to have another mom tell me minutes later that she absolutely loved said curriculum. What’s a mom to do?

To make matters worse, it’s not just a question of what particular curriculum to use, but what philosophy of education you are going to ascribe to. Are you going to educate them text-book style (Abeka, Bob Jones), learning through literature (Sonlight), hands-on approach (Konos), Charlotte Mason-style? There are also web-based schools (K12) and there are a gazillion all-in-one packages available. Last but not least, there is the rapidly-growing Classical Approach, which has a world of variety in itself. So I ask the question again: what’s a mom to do?

Like we all do with any decision we are making, we try to gather as much information as we can before making a decision. But the problem quickly becomes information overload. Furthermore, many of us do not have a good reference point through which to sift through the abundance of information. I know of a few younger moms who were home schooled themselves, and they have a tremendous advantage. But for the rest of us, we simply don’t know where to start.

I have written all this so far simply to say this: if you are thinking of starting home schooling and you are feeling overwhelmed, you are completely normal.

Now it’s time to cut to the chase and get opinionated. I’ve tried “it all” (at least as much as you can in 9 years) and I’m sold-out classical. I mentioned that there is quite a variety within the classical movement, and I still firmly believe that some within the movement are advocating an approach that is way overboard in the amount of time it requires. We are not classical on steroids, but we are classical.

For those interested, here is a post I wrote a couple of years ago summarizing the classical model of education. And here is a personal note about the approach.

And now about Classical Conversations: I have been attempting to do the classical thing at home on my own for years now, but it wasn’t until joining the group recently that I realized how little understanding I’ve had about how to implement it. But who can blame me? The public schools that I attended were actually quite good as public schools go, but they were not classical. In fact, I have yet to meet a home school mom who was educated classically herself. It is very difficult to know how to implement something you were never modeled.

This is the beauty of Classical Conversations. It is a program that understands that moms do not come to home schooling remotely prepared for what’s ahead of them. Furthermore, we are low on time and energy to begin equipping ourselves. By the time our youngest reaches kindergarten, we are usually steeped in diapers, laundry, and grocery shopping. Embarking on a philosophy of education pilgrimage is not usually feasible. We need to be mentored and given direction.

At your weekly meeting, you will be able to join with other families who are all following the same curriculum at home. A tutor will model for you how you and your children will be able to commit large amounts of material to memory. But most importantly, the curriculum will give you a frame-work to follow at home.

The accountability has been huge for us since joining. I have had difficulty in the past motivating my son to do his work well, but if he has the prospect of competition with other boys his age, it is a different story all together. All of the sudden he’s ready to memorize everything, write the longest paper, recite the most Bible verses, etc. The second week we were there, there was an assignment given to see who could use the most vocabulary words in their writing assignment. Since we had just joined, he wasn’t familiar with any of the words, while the rest of the class had been learning them all year. But still, he managed to get all 52 into his paper, and used correctly, and so tied for first with another boy. I could have never gotten him to do that at home! If he was a perfect son, he would do everything well because it is the right thing to do and because his mother told him to. But I have to admit something to you. I do not have a perfect son. Competition with other boys is everything for him.

Another thing I love about the program is that it is organized so that everyone in the family is learning together. This is a huge headache-saver for big families! Someone has done all the hard work for me of planning out the basics of what my family should be memorizing. I am amazed. I wish we had done this from the beginning.

The junior high and high school program is another post altogether, so I’ll save that for another day. For now I’ll just suffice it to say I am very impressed and we are planning on participating in both next year. Classical Conversations’ website has more information (click here to learn about Challenge). Also, many campuses are hosting open houses this time of year so look on the website for a contact in your area. The best way to know if the program is right for you is to visit one.

For those of you who do not have a program in your area, starting one is very, very easy if you can find a few other families to join with you. Everything is completely planned out for you, and each state has a director who will help every step of the way.

Lastly, because I found the CC website not nearly in-depth enough for me, feel free to leave comments with more questions and I will try to answer them as best I am able. Blessings on your home schooling endeavors!

1 comment:

Rachel Flores said...

I know you wrote this a long time ago, but I am curious what a typical day looks like. For instance, what does CC cover, what subjects do you pick on your own? I have a preschooler.