Doesn’t it feel like every year homeschooling brings more and more questions? Am I doing the best? Are there better options for our family? Is my kid prepared to take this next step? Better yet, am I ready for Classical Conversations’ Essentials Class?!
As an upcoming fourth grader or about age ten, families participating in Classical Conversations (CC) homeschool are offered the chance to join the Essentials of the English Language program. However, as homeschoolers, we parents are notorious at questioning our own abilities. This self-doubt is compounded by the fact that many families feel that Essentials is a very intense program that they themselves are not yet qualified enough to teach their kids. Or most parents don’t know enough about the program to trust it.
My family has been doing CC for nine years now and I’ve taught the Essentials class for six years. If you’re wondering about how Classical Conversations works or if your kid is just now old enough for Essentials, let me help you answer some of these questions.
What Is CC Essentials?
Essentials is a class which lasts two hours in the afternoon and follows the 24 weeks of Foundations. It is a three-year writing and grammar program specific to Classical Conversations which typically runs fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. Based on the classical education model, this curriculum is designed in a way that the skills and lessons are repeated throughout the year. Further repetition occurs as the material is repeated each year they are in the program.
With a three subject approach, the class is structured in a way that keeps the kids’ (and parents’) attention by changing up the subject matter. Similar to the structure of Foundations in Classical Conversations, the focus is that the true teacher is the parent who makes the ultimate decisions for the assignments, expectations, and weekly teaching plans. The tutor at the head of the class is there to guide, encourage, and introduce new material.
Essentials of the English Language
Essentials is the reason that your little guy started memorizing the list of prepositions and the definition of an adjective in his many years of Foundations classes. The foundation has already been poured; now we are ready to build with it and figure it all out. This is where it all comes together to make sense.
The grammar portion of the two-hour Essentials program follows the Classical Conversations curriculum through sentence structures, purposes, and patterns. By reviewing the parts of speech and sentences, the student and parent are able to better understand each word in the sentence and discuss the grammar involved. Diagramming allows the kids to visually see how the English language is formed thus easing transition into foreign language.
It’s more interesting that it sounds I promise.
This portion of Essentials repeats yearly. It’s possible that the first year has mom and kid struggling to absorb the fire hydrant of information. However, each year adds more knowledge and understanding. At times, this program lines up with the writing portion of the program allowing for review and further discussion in the weekly writing. Even if you are entering into Essentials in fifth or sixth grade, your child will still have a great experience to lead into their upper years. Repeat if you can, but one year is better than none.
Math Through Essentials’ Games
A writing-brain break comes with math through fun class games to reviewing general concepts. As each family has their own math curriculum at home, there are kids in class at many different levels of comprehension. Designed for review of basic arithmetic through activities, this math portion is to challenge them to grow individually. The goal is for each child to use their math mind for the whole thirty minutes and not just sitting while others solve their own answer. This is not a competition.
Math is a welcome break and fun. For the kids who don’t enjoy the language arts portion of Essentials, math is their favorite part; in contrast, math may be a stressor for the kids who would rather focus on the writing and grammar.
It isn’t essential to choose math or grammar, by the way. Kids and adults tend to consider themselves either “math-minded” or “not math-minded”. Check out Jo Boaler if you want to hear why this is so wrong – love her!
To try to prepare for this portion of class, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the rules for Number Knockout (N2K) which the class will play frequently. This is an excellent game to review math facts at all different levels and helps your kid see that math can be fun. Learning math through family games is my favorite math curriculum.
Essentials Writing with a History Text
Too often, kids are taught to write by handing them a blank page and telling them, “Write!” or “Give me a paragraph about…” They get frustrated; teachers get frustrated. In contrast, parents, including myself, sit in this portion of Essentials wishing they had been taught in this manner. It just makes so much more sense, and it incorporates history at the same time.
For 45 minutes in class, writing is taught using the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) as designed by Andrew Pudewa. A well-known program apart from CC, IEW tackles writing as a formulaic approach. Just as an artist trains by copying well-known art, we learn writing by copying well-written papers. Your student learns to outline a paper and convert it into their own paper in their own words. Kids are able to learn to write well by reading good writing.
The format of writing and core IEW book remain the same yearly, but the history period of changes. Just as Foundations moves through the Classical Conversations timeline through Cycles 1, 2, and 3, Essentials does the same. The current Classical Conversations cycle dictates the subject matter for the IEW history texts that they will be using for writing. I love that Essentials combines history with the writing. It often occurs that the IEW material leads to further book reading and learning because they are learning history stories.
Paper writing is a team sport in Essentials – you help your child as much as they need. By the end of the 24 weeks, your first-year child is will be able to research and form a five paragraph paper even if they had never participated in a formal writing program before. After several years through the cycle, their papers get better and better. Their confidence and independence grow. They can do hard things.
But… Is Grammar Really “Essential”?
Absolutely not. Beneficial? Absolutely. Here’s my story.
I took Spanish for three years in high school and have minored in Spanish in college. I remember sitting in my sophomore year Spanish class, and the teacher saying strange words like “participle” and direct object. Being a typical overacheiving kid, I pretended to know what she was talking about and memorized the stuff for the test. Did I understand it? Nope.
Enter… Essentials. Present participle. Direct object. Indirect object. These are all those words that my Spanish teacher used two decades ago. While teaching these, there was a light bulb moment; I wish I had known grammar back then. My progression through this long process of foreign language learning would have been easier. This is what I have told my Essentials students for the last six years.
Why do you need to know all this “stuff”? Because it will help you learn another language and know your own language better.
- Learn the irregular verb tenses, so you know that it’s laying and not lying.
- Conquer pronouns so you can correct your “I will” to “I shall”.
- Understand English grammar to prepare your child to learn Latin (or another language).
- Know how to properly edit your paper, so you don’t have to depend on Word to edit it for you.
- Did I mention how fun diagramming is?
Feeling overwhelmed and already doubting your ability to do Essentials with your kid? You’re not alone. Check out “Am I Ready for Classical Conversations’ Essentials” – let me convince you why you’re ready and so is junior.
Why Should I Choose Essentials?
Yup. But the CC Essentials way makes so much more sense!
Do you remember when you had to write a paper in senior year and carried around that little index card box? One fact on each card from different sources. Now you put the cards in order all over the table to write your paper. Bah!
With IEW, the way you learn to write is genius and has changed the way I write even now. I have even been using different sentence openers to make sure my writing flows better even in this blog post. You’re never too old to learn to write better. While it may seen boring to write formulaically at the beginning of your writing career, you progress and feel comfortable knowing the rules to break them.
Parents, you might even learn something new! This is the program to sit next to your kid and learn together. Model being the lead learner.
Even if Essentials isn’t for you, I highly suggest you look into Institute for Excellence in Writing to do at your own pace at home.
How Can I Prepare to Teach My Child Essentials?
- If you still have your CC classes meeting in the spring, make sure you and your child visit for a day to understand how your Essentials day will be structured. Also, plan to attend the Faces of History program at the end of the year if your homeschool co-op is holding one.
- If your child doesn’t fully have the English songs memorized from CC Foundations, add these to your playlist. Knowing these are the best way to prepare him for class and working through grammar.
- Attend the local Classical Conversations practicum in the summer to discuss your concerns with other moms and learn more about the Essentials program. Make sure to sit in on some Challenge classes as well, so you can see how Essentials will help in their future schooling.
- Familiarize yourself with the Essentials book. This does not mean read ahead; please don’t do this because you honestly will just feel more overwhelmed. You do need to know how to find all the extra parts.
- Talk to your tutor to learn how to best organize your and your child’s binders for class. There is a lot of information about this available; don’t worry about it. You’ll continue to reorganize it throughout the year.
- Take your concerns to wise parents; don’t express them to your child. He’s feeling overwhelmed and uncertain as it is. Please don’t add to his worries.
- Make yourself familiar with the Classical Conversations Connected website to know what additional worksheets may be available to supplement your child’s learning.
- Let your child enjoy their summer! Add wonder back into your homeschool. Don’t try to cram more information into their heads so they are more prepared. This is a good time to make games a priority in your family.
Ask Your Questions!
If you have any questions and have questions for me, I’d love to guide you! Don’t hesitate to reach out.
Reclaiming Wonders // Bobbie
With years of planning family road trips, Bobbie is an expert at incorporating amazing activities into her family travel plan which she shares on the blog, on Instagram, and through content creation for destinations and products. As a homeschool mom of four kids in Georgia, she strives to create a learning life full of adventures around the dinner table or throughout the United States. Learn Bobbie’s story to be encouraged to leave the busy life and reclaim the wonders of life.