We are beginning our fifth year in Classical Conversations (CC) this year. As a homeschooler who resists being pinned to any form or shape, it astonishes me that we’ve stayed with it for so long. This will also be my third year “tutoring,” the word CC uses to describe the parent-volunteer who teaches the three-hour-morning class session to an assortment of ages (there are typically three to five classes in a community, grouped by age from 4-12). I wouldn’t say I’m particularly gifted at this, it’s just a job that needed someone, and I like to help when I can.
The timing is appropriate to reflect on our years with CC because my family was just at the doctor’s office, having that annual (or biannual, as covid made it) well-visit. A visit where questions like, “What’s your favorite subject in school?” come up as a formal question they’re expected to answer on their own. Our two oldest answered separately (I managed to give them their own appointments this year), “History! I love history.” And, “What’s a subject you sometimes need help with?’ Again, both answered the same: “Geography.” Those answers are a testimony. CC inculcated the love of history. It introduced the language, the characters, the way it arcs in spots, and blurs in others. The way it invites to be understood, and whispers the stories buried within. And CC introduced the challenge of geography. The immense amount to be learned. How great it felt when you knew the names of most of the places on the map. How often you don’t know all the names. How it’s changed throughout history.
A kind reader emailed me to ask about what she might expect her five-year-old daughter’s first time CC experience to look like. Thinking of a response brought me way back to when we first enrolled, on a lark really. I thought—a four-year-old, what do I have to lose? If she hates it, we won’t go. If she loves it, it will be far more content than I ever expected to introduce this year. I think I experienced whiplash at the first meeting. The tutor was saying facts over and over again, and only asking the kids to repeat after her? No explanations? No graphics to introduce these characters characters? She’d scrawled these facts on a whiteboard? Then she would just move on to a completely new topic, and have them repeat that too?
But the thing that got us first, a few weeks into it, was their word recognition from the timeline song and the history sentences. In church our kids leaned over and hissed, “Caesar Augustus?! That’s on the timeline song.” A few weeks later, “Jerome completes the Vulgate?! That’s on the timeline song.” We realized that recognizing language out in the world felt incredible to them. Words have meaning, even if they didn’t fully understand what that meaning was yet.
The crème de la crème of this out in the world experience came at the end of the year. Our oldest had been following along with the memory work, even though she was enrolled in public school at the time. She couldn’t resist it; from the moment she heard the first sung history sentence, she was smitten. Anyway, the year is finishing up, and the CC kids have memorized the Preamble to the Constitution. It’s one of the last history sentences for the Third Cycle, the USA history cycle. So she goes with her public school on a field trip to the city courthouse. Waiting in line inside, she starts scanning the walls. All of a sudden she realizes she recognizes the words carved into the wall. “We the people, of the United States in order to form a more perfect union…” There was the preamble, carved in marble, larger than her. How cool is that? Second grade, spotting significant and meaningful language in its context, murmuring the lines to herself, before she even fully understood them.
Fast forward three years. She’s starting her third year enrolled in CC. We also enroll her in an online Latin class—again, on a lark, let’s just try it!. First homework: memorize the first declensions noun endings. Well, that’s easy, because she memorized all—first, second, third, fourth, and fifth declension—noun endings when she was seven, back in CC’s Cycle One. First year Latin homework just became significantly easier!
It’s a myriad of experiences like that that keep me coming back to the classical education peg-and-hooks theory. The idea that we put these pegs up for them, and maybe they have nothing to hang on the pegs, for awhile. Then they hear an adult they admire mention Martin Luther King Jr. They sort through their memory of memorized words and phrases, find the peg “Civil Rights Movement,” and hang that experience there. Later on, they see a picture of a Buddhist monk. They sort through their mind, find the peg “Founded in the sixth century B.C., Buddhism…” and hang that image there.
So my answer to the “What is this, what did I sign up for?” would be: give it time. Watch it unspool.
On a day-to-day basis, the CC curriculum is not the main thing I do with my children. I prioritize reading aloud together, practicing handwriting and spelling, learning to read (for the younger ones), and grammar and Latin for the older ones. I prioritize play and lots of free time. I play the CC cds in the car. If we’re on long car trips, I ask them to review weeks of CC on the app. If they tell me they wished they knew more of the material by heart, I help them practice it. But it’s supplemental, not primary, in my mind.
But there’s more! There’s the community. Our community has grown to have a number of children the same age as my children. They look forward to connecting with them every week. They love the presentation portion of their class when they can learn from one another, raise their hands and ask questions of one another. They pay attention to which books their friends are reading, and which projects they shared.
If you were just looking at politics, there would be a vast chasm of difference between the moms’ feelings. I know for a fact I would disagree vehemently politically with moms there that I admire enormously. But we don’t need to talk about that. Instead we talk about what we’re doing at home. How we’re learning together. What we’re reading. What we’re loving. How we’re handling difficult moments and discouragement.
I find many of the moms are more curriculum driven than I am. They complete far more work with their children—more textbooks, more content. They anticipate homeschooling through high school (I don’t, this is an up-to-middle/high-school plan for me). But that’s fine with me. I like being around that, being encouraged by it, maybe even challenged by it.
Speaking of challenging, it is challenging. Getting out of the house on time. Packing snacks and lunches. Preparing to teach a class. Helping the girls plan presentations. Writing papers for Essentials (the afternoon program that starts at age nine). Getting my toddler to go into childcare. We’re exhausted at the end of the day. But when I evaluate how we’re feeling on the drive home, which I do every time, it feels like–yes, this was good. And we enjoy our slow Thursday mornings all the more.
Here’s something funny–I love researching things online. Love to arrive in a new town having already decided the first three things I’m going to do there. However, I do not research people’s opinions about Classical Conversations online. I don’t want to read blog articles about “Why I left Classical Conversations.” It just holds zero interest. I think, if it’s working for your children, if they’re excited and engaged, what more can you ask? Don’t load it with too much importance, you know? Don’t make it your whole ethos.
Resources/Guidance I’ve enjoyed for digging in…
Farmhouse Schoolhouse: the blog of an inspiring cc mom.
Memory Work Coloring Books: on Etsy.
Zag Homeschool: not cc specific, but this video course is the clearest, fastest thing I’ve encountered to feel like a comfortable, competent homeschooler. You can use the code RACHAEL50 for a 50% discount. (I previewed the whole course before endorsing it but am not being paid in any way to promote it.)
The Well Trained Mind: this book has been super accessible and inspiring for the overall vision of a classical education.
Heritage Mom: not a cc mom, but a Charlotte Mason homeschool mom (lots of crossover with Charlotte Mason & cc) that I admire.
Share your thoughts and comments!