If you’re the parent of a rising fourth grader in Classical Conversations, you are probably considering adding CC Essentials as the next step in your homeschool journey. It’s time to start the Essentials Program with its grammar, writing, and math lessons. Even though your child has done well in Foundations, the move up to an Essentials classroom with an Essentials tutor and assigned writing can feel like a big change.
Maybe you have been doing another curriculum at home already. Maybe you didn’t teach grammar to your students, so you already feel like a failure. Maybe you’re like me and, apart from MadLibs, have hardly touched grammar. Or maybe, this is your first year homeschooling?! All of these are okay.
All of your children are prepared for Essentials in their own way. They have their own strengths. Quit panicking.
My Family’s CC Essentials Journey
After several years in Classical Conversations Foundations, I was pushed into my journey as a first year Essentials mom and first year Essentials tutor. When a parent is needed to teach the fourth to sixth grade grammar class, someone has to teach it. Me! It was quite the learning curve, but I quickly grew to love the beauty of the program and the ease of writing with Institute for Excellence in Writing.
When it was my second born child’s turn to begin CC Essentials during my third year as a tutor, my ten-year-old boy hated writing and reading, refused to hold a pencil, and was the complete opposite of his independent older sister. Boys and girls can be so different! Apart from a vague understanding of nouns and verbs, we hadn’t done anything else at home.
The first paper he wrote for class showed me just how “neglectful” I had been. He wrote his name on the lined sheet of notebook paper… on the bottom of the back of the page. I hadn’t even shown my kid how to use a piece of paper? And now I was supposed to be his Essentials tutor in community?
Fast-forward three years, this stubborn, still-doesn’t-like-writing kid has graduated Essentials and is heading into Challenge A next year. By the end of his third year of class with me, he could knock out papers largely on his own with minimal guidance. And this wasn’t because we drilled and practiced at home. I’m the ultimate Essentials slacker mom I promise. But, if my son can do it, there is potential for all of our kids! We’re still going strong with Classical Conversations after eight years – my love for Essentials is one of these reasons.
Essentials Mom #1: I’m Going to Use Grammar Curriculum Too
Essentials of the English Language (called EEL) is a high-school level grammar class – at least. You will be learning alongside your kid advanced grammar. The first couple of weeks feel like a fire hydrant blast of information. You might even start to doubt yourself more than you already did because it’s so much introduced all at one time, but then it slows way down with frequent review. Continuing with another curriculum will be too overwhelming. Just stop your other grammar and writing program.
Essentials takes all the grammar memory work your child has already learned in Foundations, incorporating it into new grammar concepts through the addition of diagramming sentences. Throughout the year, there is a constant review of the material which means that
when even if you don’t get it the first time, there will be plenty more opportunities. This comprehensive grammar program even includes optional spelling lists, spelling rules, and editing practice. You do not need to supplement with any program other than perhaps handwriting or typing. With the right approach though, you can incorporate those into the writing portion of Essentials class by utilizing copywork.
If you want to add anything to Essentials, I would suggest an editing program like Fix It Grammar through IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing). While there are paragraphs to edit the EEL guide, I have yet to meet a family who uses it because they are Bible paragraphs which aren’t traditional grammar. It makes it difficult to do. From what I’ve witnessed during the writing portion of class, mom’s often do not know how to edit their own children’s writing. Adding a specific editing portion would benefit everyone.
Essentials Mom #2: My Kid Isn’t Ready!
Trust me: your child is ready for this next step into Essentials. It might be a bit more challenging if he’s “behind” in reading or forming letters. But is he really behind? Note: please communicate your concerns to your tutor and let us know where we can encourage. If I don’t know your child’s fear of reading aloud in class, I might call on him; my job is to assist you not humiliate your child.
Each kid is at a different level. Even the kids in the same grade have different math, reading, writing, and presentation skills. While one kid rocks math, he may need help with forming a sentence and your kid is the opposite. This is why you, the parent who knows their strengths, are their teacher not me. You taper it or bring it up for their specific needs or skip an assignment based on your family’s current level of crazy. If it takes your kids two weeks to write a paper instead of one, do it. I’d much rather they go slow and understand than rush through.
Another beauty of EEL is that they will repeat the curriculum three years if they start in fourth grade. Even in that one year, there is a lot of repetition. I have had so many moms comment on how amazed they are at what their kids have picked up just from class. Just sit in class the first year and absorb. You’ll both learn a lot. Next year add more.
Don’t compare your kids and don’t compare apparent parenting skills either. Even that family who looks like they have it all together… doesn’t.
Essentials Mom #3: Mom Is Not Ready!
Here’s the beautiful thing about the way this program is designed. The tutor is there to help you work with your kid. Everything that is taught in class comes straight from the Essentials guide. The 24 week book takes you through all the sentence diagramming and shows exactly what to do. It all goes home with you to reference as needed. Essentials gives you the opportunity to sit in class and learn beside your child. If their mom is taking notes and participating actively in class, your child is seeing life-long learning modeled right in front of them? If you don’t know it, don’t be afraid to say so. Let’s learn together.
A bonus of being in class with other moms is that you see that so many moms who feel exactly like you do. We learn from each other and correct each other’s mistakes. I love it when the moms speak up in class to correct something I’m doing – that means they’re paying attention! 😉
Not to mention, if the tutor or the book or the other moms still aren’t able to help you with a topic, there’s always the internet. Google the subject and see how other people have explained it for further help. Sometimes just seeing a harder subject in a different format lets the lights go on.
Essentials Mom #4: I Didn’t Learn English Grammar, so Why Should My Kid?
This is a pushback I hear especially from people outside the Classical Conversations world. If Dad has worked in business for twenty years successfully without ever diagramming a sentence, why should his kid spend three years of their life learning all the details? Maybe it seems like you could be doing something better with your time.
Classical Conversations, like many classical homeschool programs, is assuming your child will eventually learn Latin or another foreign language. In Essentials, your child will learn so much about English that a second language will be so much easier. If your child has been in Foundations, they’ve already been memorizing noun and verb endings basics for Latin.
As the homeschool teacher, your children need you to assist them with their writing; however, many of you don’t know where commas go and can’t pick out sentence fragments. Instead of guessing where commas go, let’s work from the ground up in class as parent and child to understand how sentences are formed. The writing and grammar portions of Essentials complement each other and build off each other nicely. Don’t just add a comma because I told you to; figure out where the clauses are, add your dress-ups, and discuss with your child if this is a compound subject or sentence. It really does make more sense.
Essentials Mom #5: I Love Grammar!
If you’re that parent who already loves the English language, you will be a great asset in class. When everyone else is feeling overwhelmed or feels that the current day’s subject might not be important, you can be the one to encourage and show why it’s important to know the different types of adjectives. Show your love for the structure so that kids can see the beauty of our language. Be the positive voice when others are disheartened.
As a caveat, I will add that there are slight variations in how grammar is taught here compared to other programs. While it lines up with most, this approach is classical in the repetition just as we repeat the memory work in foundations multiple times in the younger years. You aren’t expected to master something before moving on. Take what you already know and use it to help your tutor and child see it from a different perspective if needed.
Did you notice how all of these parent types are heading into the same class with different expectations and hesitations? There is not that one “perfect” parent – no matter how put together they look. Share your concerns with your Essentials tutor. Let them know how the year is going. Allow us to celebrate the little victories and to come up with a plan for the struggles with you. That’s what we’re here for.