Monday, June 13, 2016

Learning About Classical Conversations...

Early this spring I had a chance to attend a Classical Conversations (CC) meeting.  Some local homeschooling moms started a CC community in my area last fall with Foundations.  They are looking to expand and plan to begin Essentials and Challenge A this fall.  After attending the initial meeting, I observed classes at all three levels and attended a day of a Parent Practicum to better understand the program.  I aim to explain here what I learned throughout this process.

Classical Conversations was started by Leigh Bortins.  It's a home-centered learning community that assists parents and educators in using the classical model.  Students attend parent/tutor led classes one day a week.  Parents are then given tools, resources, and support material to use in their homeschool for the rest of the week.

There are three levels of CC, Foundations, Essentials, and Challenge.  CC promotes a Christian worldview and believes there are three key components to a great education, classical, Christian, and Community.  Below are my observation notes...


- grammar-stage program for children age twelve and under and their parents
- meets from 9:15 a.m. to noon, weekly for two semesters of twelve weeks each
- curriculum based on three year history cycle (Ancient, Medieval, American)
- subjects cover History and Geography, Science, Timeline, Art, Music, English, Latin, Math, Bible Memory
- allows up to eight students per group/class
- lessons based on Foundations Curriculum Guide

The Foundations class I observed was tutored by a local homeschooling mom who'd been trained in the CC method.  The schedule went as follows:

9:15 a.m. Large Group Opening: families take turns opening with prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and a family presentation.  The director leads recitation of Scripture memory.

9:30 a.m. Fine Arts continued in large group.  The students, led by parent tutors sang "Orchestra Song" as a group.  Then moved into individual classes for continuing study.  This particular week, they were wrapping up Handel and beginning Bach.  The student's listened to "The Well Tempered Clavier" and learned about the harpsichord and fugue.

10:00 a.m. Science studied geology and minerals.  Reviewed the Scientific Method and performed an experiment.

10:30 a.m. New Grammar, which included memory work for seven subjects (History Sentence, Timeline, Geography, Math, English, Latin, Science).  The goal is to repeat each piece of information seven times throughout the class.  The memory work for that particular day went something like this:

History: John Cabot and Samuel de Champlain explored Canada and the St. Lawrence River.  Creation of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670, eventually led to war between Britain and France.  The maple leaf is the symbol of Canada.

Timeline: WWII and President Franklin Roosevelt, Stalin of the USSR and the Katyn Massacre, The United Nations formed, The Cold War, Gandhi and India's independence, Jewish state established, Mao and Communist victory in China

Geography: Canadian Provinces (1867) Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia

Math: The Associative Law for Addition: (a + b) + c = a + (b + c)
          The Associative Law for Multiplication: (a x b) x c = a x (b x c)

English: A linking verb makes an assertion by joining two words

Latin: 4th Declension Noun-endings (recite chart showing these)

Science: What are the five main circles of latitude?  Arctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, Equator, Tropic of Capricorn, Antarctic Circle

11:00 a.m. Presentation and snack.  Each student gave a 2-3 minute presentation on the topic of their choice.

11:30 a.m. Review that day's lesson and memory work from six weeks prior.  Tutor asks questions and students answer like trivia.        

12:00 p.m. Lunch with family


- bridge between grammar and dialectic stage for kids in 4th - 6th grade and their parents
- meets from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., weekly following Foundations class, for two semesters of twelve weeks each
- allows up to sixteen students per group/class
- subjects cover Language Arts, Writing (IEW History Based Writing Lessons), and Math
- lessons based on Essentials of the English Language Curriculum Guide, which is a complete language arts program

I observed an Essentials program about an hour from our home that was again tutored by a homeschool mom.  I think Essentials had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, this tutor clearly struggled not only with teaching the lesson, but also to engage the students.  In all fairness, it was their last day of the school year.   A typical Essentials schedule would go as follows:

1:00 p.m. Grammar parsing and diagramming.  Tutor wrote a sentence on the board.  Students identified parts of speech and diagrammed the sentence.

1:45 p.m. Math games.  Students went into a gymnasium and played a math drill game

2:15 p.m. IEW History-Based Writing Lessons, which again would follow the three year history cycle mentioned above.  Students had an option of sharing/presenting the paper they wrote.

3:00 Adjourn


- designed for students twelve years and older in the dialectic and rhetoric stages and their parents
- meets from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., weekly for two semesters of fifteen weeks each
- subjects cover Gammar (Latin), Exposition and Composition, Debate, Research, Rhetoric, and Logic (Math) in one hour increments
- there are six Challenge levels, Challenge A, B I, II, III, and IV
- each Challenge program has a different focus with the aim being increased responsibility for the student

I observed a Challenge A class about two hours from our home.  This particular teacher was dynamic!  As all tutors, she was a CC trained homeschool mom.  The schedule went as follows:

8:30 a.m. Logic based on Saxon Math 8/7, however, not all students were using this program.  The tutor taught a lesson from Saxon, but students in Challenge are allowed to use an alternative math program.  One particular student with learning disabilities came an hour late so as to skip this portion, but be involved in the rest of the day.

9:30 a.m. Exposition & Composition. The students read a variety of assigned literature for this class.  Then learn to write papers using The Lost Tools of Writing by the CiRCE Institute.  Each piece of literature is read and studied/written about over a three week period.  Students picked a problem from the story to write about.  They read/presented their papers to the class.  This particular day they were finishing up A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos and beginning Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi.  The tutor also drew upon a CC exclusive titled Words Aptly Spoken for discussion questions.

10:30 a.m. Logic. Students discussed 4-5 fallacies from The Fallacy Detectives.  The tutor clarified any questions regarding the fallacies.  She also presented examples of the fallacies being studied in the form of cartoons/comics.  Then she read a bible verse and the group discussed it.

11:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Lunch break in which all Challenge students gathered to eat and converse.  They even had time to play a quick board game together.

12:00 p.m. Grammar was studied using Henle First Year Latin.

1:00 p.m. Debate was studied through geography.  The students were finishing the continent of Africa.  They began the class with 20 minutes of silent drawing time, where they were to draw everything they could remember about Africa, including countries, geographic features, and water.  Next, the tutor introduced Australia by discussing random facts and drawing it on a white board for students to copy.   She included territories, capitals, geographic features, Oceania, New Zealand, seas, oceans, and Tasmania

2:00 p.m. Research is what I would call science.  Again the students started the class with a twenty minute silent drawing time.  Only this time, it was everything they could remember about the human skeleton.  After that, the tutor introduced neurons by discussion.  Then she drew and labeled a neuron on the white board for the students to copy.

3:00 p.m. Adjourn.

Based on my observations, I have mixed feelings about Classical Conversations for a variety of reasons.  I love the idea of community, as in like minded individuals studying similarly together. I think CC provides a great community for parents and students alike.  It was clear, the students in the classes I observed had developed friendships.  I also appreciate that CC is Christian based.  I'm happy to see alternative support for those who fear homeschooling through high school.  I like some of the resources used as well as some of the methods at the Challenge level.  Parent support is outstanding in the CC community.  They even offer free annual Parent Practicums to encourage and empower parents in homeschool leadership.  You do not have to join CC to attend.

We will not be joining the CC community.  I'm not particularly fond of the rote memorization method used at the Foundations level.   We choose to provide a broad and liberal education through the use of living books in order for the child to develop the science of relations.  CC is aligned with the neoclassical stages of development based on Dorothy Sayers' essay, which I'm still on the fence over.   I'm a free spirit that loves to plan and pick curricula so I'm not crazy about someone else governing my choices.  In my observations, I also experienced a variety of tutors and as with anything, the leader can make or break it.  I really liked the content and method of the Essentials program, but I saw first hand a tutor that was unable to bring it home.  Lastly, CC is cost prohibitive for our family.

I feel good about the time and energy I put into researching CC.  I learned a great deal and met some fabulous homeschool families.  I actually bought some of the CC Prescripts handwriting books and I do plan to incorporate a few of the methods I saw in the CC classes.  RileyAnn observed Challenge A with me.  She and I both liked the drawing portions as well as the book study and writing.  I bought The Lost Tools of Writing at the Great Homeschool Convention and am trying to decide how to implement it.  I also liked the Essentials of the English Language Curriculum Guide and wonder if it would work for use with Ruben.  The jury is still out on this one.

I think CC would be a great option for families looking for a mentor or guidance in structuring their day.  It may work for a mom who needs help planning her curriculum.  As mentioned, I also think it's a great alternative for those looking for high school homeschooling assistance.


  1. I know that many folks love CC, but I have exactly the same reservations you do about it. We are a family of free spirits, and I can't imagine shifting our priorities from living books and staying home on the farm to memorization and somebody else's schedule. Think about all the books we can buy with the money we save!!!

  2. "Think about all the books we can buy with the money we save!!!"

    Your comment made me smile :)

  3. Thank you for the thorough review of all 3 stages of CC, interesting to read about your experiences. No CC for us either.

  4. I am thrilled you wrote this. I have been going back and forth whether I should start CC in the Fall or continue with me homeschooling methods using CM and my current role model Sally Clarkson (I am reading all her books it seems right now). Anywho, you are a BLESSING, Melissa. I will stick to what I have felt all along and enjoy my children as we continue our journey!

  5. You are very kind Julz. I'm so glad it was helpful.

  6. Thankful to be helpful my friend :)