Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Classical Conversations for Beginners

This article has been updated and republished from the archives.  I wrote it right after our first year with Classical Conversations on July 21, 2011.  I have kept several things the same, but have included updates because our children are now three years older.

I didn't plan on this, but I just had to write this for all of you overwhelmed newcomers to Classical Conversations:

Last year was our second year to homeschool and our first year with Classical Conversations.  When we started, we didn't plan on doing ANYTHING extra to supplement CC.  After all, during our first year of homeschooling all we did was Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.  I figured if I added CC's version of history, geography, science, fine arts and Latin (even without adding anything extra), it would be a great year.  And it was! 

If you are new to Classical Conversations, before doing anything else, please read Leigh Bortins's free e-book Echo in Celebration:: A Call to Home-Centered Education It really helped me to get the big picture and to want to just enjoy being with my kids.

[IMPORTANT UPDATE:  As a new Classical Conversations parent, you need only:  The Foundations Guide, the Tin Whistle, and [if possible] the Classical Acts & Facts Timeline Cards.  (Library cards are handy, too!)  You can build your entire curriculum around these items.  Please do not spend your time, money or sanity on other things if you don't have it.  You can even find free Biblepreschool, math, and language arts programs on-line (in addition to other resources, which are not actually necessary at the grammar stage when following a classical model of education).]

We started out our year with the bare minimum.  Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and memorywoRk songs.  (I'm not even sure I wrote down anything in my planner.)

Starting at about 4 weeks into the school year last year, we ended up adding other things gradually.

For Cycle 2, our extra activities looked a bit like this:

Bible:  Because I had previously discovered how much my oldest son enjoyed lap books, we completed one lapbook component per day (or even less than that!) using Hands of a Child's A Devotion a Day lapbook and A Journey Through Learning's New Testament Lapbook.  All I had to do was read the devotions or information out of the lapbook.  We eventually found some file folder games that we really enjoyed playing together as a family.  We didn't try to correlate what we did with Ephesians 6.  In fact, we didn't even FINISH memorizing Ephesians 6...

Memory Work:  We listened to our Memory Work CDs ALL the time. I had a copy for the car and a copy for our house. We practiced our timeline with hand motions (that is after falling 9 weeks behind.  I just sort of decided to ignore timeline, but then Stephen decided to become a Memory Master, so we had to catch up on 72 timeline events in addition to the new material in the spring. [This was before we had the way-cool timeline song.] By the way, I do NOT suggest falling behind on timeline.) We didn't even really practice our memory work using several different techniques.  We just sung and danced to our songs and did hand motions.  (It sounds boring, but it was fun!)

That's it.  No correlation of reading topics. No games. No nothin'.  I didn't even create that new-grammar trifold board until about halfway through the school year (when Stephen decided to become a Memory Master).

Fine Arts:  Aside from a couple of times when the boys took the initiative to draw something themselves, we did not do anything in this area.  I think we practiced the tin whistle once.  No music theory at all.  Though I can play the flute, I'm NOT a music teacher.  I ran away screaming from the Tin Whistle, even though it has the same fingering pattern as the flute. When we came to famous artists 2nd semester, we started an artist lapbook but never finished it.  Why?  Because everything was printed in black and white.  It's hard to encourage art appreciation with black-and-white printouts.  Composers?  Hmmm.... well, we went around singing, BAH BAH BAH BAAAAAHHHHH when we studied Beethoven.  Does that count as composer study?

Math:  We struggled with finding a math curriculum we liked.  You can read that story here.  But we ended up just doing one math lesson per day.  We even fell behind on skip counting because we didn't like it as much as history.  And that, my friends, is coming from a former high school math teacher and engineer.  Oh, the IRONY! 

Science:  We did a lapbook on ecology and on space (1 component per day, which means cut out one little piece of paper, fold it, and write something in it.)  Then in the spring, we used Mr. Q's Elementary Physical Science to do egg experiments and other fun stuff.  We had sort of a spontaneous way of supplementing science, as we also do Nature Studies as we find critters on our farm.

English Grammar/Language Arts:  We used Total Language Plus and some unit studies on Island of the Blue Dolphins, Nim's Island, and Grammarland our first year.  We didn't try to correlate our readings at all to what we were studying in CC.  We went with what we wanted to read.

I tried to teach David to read with Hooked on Phonics, but, although he learned his letter sounds and how to write them, he is still not reading. But he's in Kindergarten for the coming year, so we still have a few years to get this down.  The Rod&Staff ABC series worked very well with him as a preschooler.  [Update:  David learned to read when he was ready.  He was not ready at 3 years old like his brother.  He was ready at age 6.  In fact, he just now started picking up books to read them by himself at age 7.]

Geography:  We did a couple of unit studies on South Korea and Norway due to Gary's work schedule (he was working there).  We actually used the South Korean Unit Study as our family presentation in the spring. The rest of the time we just used our maps

History:  We did a lapbook on the medieval period and the Renaissance (one to two components per week) and made 4 paper toys. No history readings, though towards the end of the year we listened to some of Story of the World Volume 4.  We listened to things like Sugar Creek Gang; Swamp Robbers instead.  And we went on some trips and did some real-life learning that did not correlate with what we were doing in CC at all...

We eventually got to where I found a schedule that helped us to be more organized.  It worked fabulously, and we were able to do a whole lot more with less effort.  But just to let you know, we started out with planning to do NOTHING extra and eventually got to where we figured out what worked best for us.  In fact, I liken it to a classical-unschooling approach to a certain degree because we followed what the boys wanted to do within certain boundaries while practicing memory work.  Once I set out some possible things to do (like a file folder game or a lapbook), they would get excited and take the initiative to do those things. 

And Stephen became a Memory Master in his first year of CC in the second grade.  And when we went on field trips or just about anywhere, or when we were reading something randomly over the summer... our memory pegs were there.  We were able to connect that piece of information into the file we had created in our brains.  Classical education works!!!

REMEMBER:  If you don't supplement CC with ANYTHING but just stick to the memory work and do your separate math and language arts/phonics lessons, you and your children will still walk away with a RICH education and a LOVE OF LEARNING.  After all, it's not QUANTITY, it's QUALITY.  And the Classical Model is definitely QUALITY.  Trust it!  You will see the importance of the Foundations you're setting now when your children build upon them in Challenge.

Have a blessed - and unstressed - year!


  1. Thanks so much for this! This will be our first year in CC and I have been a bit nervous as I had only found one other blog where a mom blogged about her CC experience and she was overwhelmed :( This is what I needed to here!

  2. This past year was out first year homeschooling (2nd grade daughter) and our first year of CC. Like you we took it easy and kind of followed the interest of my daughter. You did much more than we did in terms of connecting to CC but I feel blessed that my daughter learned an AMAZING amount of history, science, art, music, math, and grammer just by doing the memory work and participating each week. The program can stand on it's own. We structured our days around our core subjects, math, grammer, reading, and spelling. CC provided the learning for history and science and alot of that we did in the car with the audio CDs and at the computer with the Power Point. Some wonderful friends gave me wonderful advice and said what she got at CC was more than she'd get elsewhere and if we did more at home that was gravy. So happy to be a part of CC.. and can't wait for Cycle 3...

    Thank you for this post and the others on Cycle 3 resources. I aim to do a little more this year although I'm not pushing it either. Your posts offer an abundance of ideas and resources to choose from and I'm grateful you did a lot of leg work for me. :o)

    Blessings to you!1

  3. We are starting our THIRD year of CC. My second year as a Tutor and First year also as an Essentials tutor.

    The first day after we finished our first class I turned to another to another new first year homeschool AND CC mom and we looked at each other with that, "WHAT HAVE WE GOTTEN OURSELVES INTO NOW? Look?????????"

    Looking back I would tell parents to take a deep breath their first year with CC, not to stress. It will all be okay. My advice is to think for the long haul - you want to instill a love of learning and as one priceless practicum mom told our group a few years ago: You want to teach your child the ability to open a book and pull the information out of it and learn whatever it is they want to learn. That doesn't happen overnight.

    2 years into this process our son loves the program. He is seven years old and doesn't see it as busy work. He isn't a memory master even thought I would love the bragging rights to that as his mom. But he is developing a love of reading and learning and is making the connections outside of the CC curriculum to real life. That is at last our goal as a family.

    But I haven't given up on pitching Memory Masters yet!!!!!

  4. I really - really - needed to read this. Thank you!!

  5. Welcome to Classical Conversations! I'm so glad that this has helped you! The one thing I constantly have to remind myself of over and over again (and I offer you this piece of advice I try to give to myself): Be sure to NOT make comparisons as you embark on this journey. Everyone is different and has different family dynamics and circumstances. Regardless of what others may be doing, the one thing I know is that God will equip you for what he's called you to do! (That does not mean it will look like what someone else is doing, even if you're both in Classical Conversations!)

    May you have an ultra-blessed summer and a wonderful beginning to your CC experience!!

  6. Matt & Kristin DonovanMay 3, 2012 at 2:17 PM

    Thanks so much for this! We will be starting CC in the fall (first time homeschooling) after a move in June. I was very thankful to find this program but nervous about the fall. Thank you Brandy for sharing!!

  7. Welcome to Classical Conversations - and to homeschooling!

    After a move AND a start to homeschooling in general, take it easy! And remember not to compare yourselves with others! Don't get too caught up in the ideas you find on Pinterest, blogs (even - or especially - mine!! LOL!), and social networking sites. Your children love who you ARE, not who you are NOT. They don't know if you don't do something someone else has suggested. :)

    Plan on doing as little extra stuff as possible until you start to find how you want to do everything... And feel free to flex on your schedule so you can do some spontaneous stuff like: take a walk to look at flowers... or chase the kids around the house as a super-duper-tickle-monster. :)

    Blessings to you on your upcoming move and your homeschooling journey!

  8. Hello from FL:) I am very new to homeschooling (like I've never done this before new) and will be starting CC in the fall. My son will be 12 years old in two weeks and I know that if God has opened this door and is leading me down this path, it's because He will give me the support, wisdom and grace to give my child what he's so severely lacking. On that note, I will probably be posting here often because you have a wealth of information. God bless you!!

    My start off question (may seem silly is) how do I organize my Essentials guide and Timeline cards? My thought is to put them in binders but I have not idea what size to get!! Ugh....If you can help me with that I will be so grateful.

    And by the way, tri-fold. Love it. Will be making one with him. He's extremely visual and since he's older I will have him put it together; with my help of course.

  9. Welcome to homeschooling and to Classical Conversations! Your questions are NOT silly!! In fact, I just wrote a post about Preparing for Essentials:

    As far as Timeline cards, last year I used half-sized page protectors in a 2-inch half-sized notebook. This year I will NOT be using that method. Instead, I've punched holes in the cards and will use rings to keep them together. It's much easier to flip that way!

    By the way, I'm cheering for you over here! It will likely be a big adjustment, but my hope and prayer is that you will thoroughly enjoy the time you have together with your son (even the tough times!), just as I have with mine.

    Feel free to ask as many questions as you need. You can also email me directly at brandyferrell at yahoo dot com if needed.


  10. Hi Brandy...I LOVE your blog...I look and read different things nearly everyday...We are doing the CC material, but we are doing it at home (not with a CC group) We live about 45 minutes from the nearest group and we have 5 little ones...Just too much for me right now...I am so thankful to have found your blog and all the hard work you have done is so encouraging...I'll be praying for you this year and I would love your prayers...We will do the memory work and use some of your links for additional info...I am using Saxon Math and Spelling Workout and First Language Lessons...For my 5 year old (almost 6 year old) I am using Sing, Spell, Read, and Write....I don't know how much "extra" we will do but we will see...Blessings to you and your sweet family!!!

    Shelly Hambrick

  11. I know this is probably silly as well but I'm also new and crazy overwhelmed with all the infromation that's to be gotten out there about homeshcooling but I was wondering where do you get tri fold board? I like that way of memory work because it can be stored while not in use. :) Also how in the world do you find the time to do all of this amazing work that you do?! lol

  12. This is a size 35.5" x 46" tri-fold board that you can get from places like Wal-Mart. It should be close to where they have the posterboard.

    And thank you for the compliment. :) Just so you know, I did not build this site overnight. I've been a couple of years at it, and there's still so much more I wish I could post. ;)

  13. I am new and am so excited to see all the hard work you have posted. It is going to be put to good use by this new overwhelmed hs mom! Thanks so much.

  14. This was so helpful. Thank you! My husband and I are very new to homeschooling...much to our families' total horror. Our eldest just turned four and rather than send him off to school, we've decided to keep him home this year and introduce the basics of letter, numbers and phonics on our own but I'd like something with more structure for myself next year (what would be his kindergarten year) and since the classical model fits our family so well, we are strongly considering classical conversations but I have a couple noobie questions but we're new to our area (military family) and don't know anyone who does classical conversations...a few who plan to when their kids are school-aged but they're in the same boat we are.

    First, is there anything specifically that I should focus on to prepare our son or even our toddler daughter to be a part of classical conversations?

    And secondly, I apologize if you find it crass to discuss money but I'm a little confused as to what exactly the tuition covers. I saw the tab for forms and fees on the official page but nowhere does it break it down. In the store section, there's so many materials and I'm not sure what is curriculum material covered or not in the tuition and what is supplemental resources. The main reason I ask is because we have another option in our area for classical education that is a blended program with a private, classical christian school two days a week where the majority of the curriculum is introduced and then the remainder of the week is taught at home. We love the idea but not so much the price...particularly because we want to have a large family. We're just trying to figure out what option is best all around for our family.

  15. Thank you for this information. After my husband and I deciding we were going to unschool the kids next year except for Math, I attended a presentation on CC and loved the concept. I'm SO concerned about the pressure it could bring to myself and my kids, but your insight is incredibly helpful and I'm really leaning towards doing CC. Thanks!

    1. I want to encourage you, Miranda! So many parents put excessive pressure on themselves instead of just enjoying the early years with their children! Leigh Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, wants us all to just experience the passion of life and the beauty of our world and the wonder of God with our children. That's why no other curriculum or plans are offered except the core memory work for these early years.

      Our first year with CC we did nothing except practice our memory work (and mostly just sang them in the car) and do our math and language/reading assignments. I correlated very little to what we were memorizing, and I found that that was sufficient. When we went to museums or read other books, we would come across our memory work naturally, and it was just really, really cool. So, I just wanted to let you know that you can stick to the bare minimum, especially at first. As you get the hang of CC, you can naturally pull other things into your school days and build upon that memory work - and you can unschool as much as you want. The cool thing is that you will be able to introduce your children so much more, so they will naturally pursue more that they are interested in. CC is a catalyst for wonderful learning experiences as a family! Please feel free to contact me at any time at brandyferrell at yahoo dot com if you have questions.

  16. Thank you for your sharing! We will be starting CC next school year and I am so nervous!!! Do you have any recommendations on what CC items I must need to make it easier for my son to grasp the materials? We r on a budget so if you have any free resources for Cycle 2 please do share with me! Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Amy! Welcome to the CC community! I have not yet compiled a list of links for use with Cycle 2 but will be doing that later this school year and into the summer. (This in itself will provide enough for you to build upon and explain the concepts to your child.) I have already completed blank copies of the Cycle 2 planner and will post those soon. So, be sure to subscribe to our email updates so you don't miss it! (But look for an email from Feedburner if you do so because you will not receive the updates unless you confirm your subscription.)

      The bare minimum you need for CC is the Foundations Guide 4th Edition. You will also need to select a Language Arts/Phonics curriculum (if your son will not be in Essentials) and a math curriculum of your own choosing. I also HIGHY recommend subscribing to CC Connected in August. If you are enrolled in a community, it will cost $6/month. You can sign up for one month to download all of the songs and files you need, and then subscribe again in January to get the second semester songs and materials. The other option is to buy copies of the audio CD (especially if you don't know how to download and play songs) and the Memory Work Resources CD (if you want visuals). But for the cost of subscribing to CC Connected for 10 months, you get access to all of these files and songs plus so much more and you will have access to the on-line tutorials, which is great. You might also want to purchase the set of History Acts & Facts cards - they are wonderful, but they aren't necessary, as the timeline is listed inside the Foundations Guide 4th edition.

      I will be including a reading schedule version of our planner also on this site using Story of the World, Mystery of History, and the World History Homework and Science History Homework books. Just keep an eye out for that email so you can pick and choose which supplemental books you want to purchase, if any.

      Our first year with CC we did nothing except practice our memory work and do our math and language/reading assignments. I correlated very little to what we were memorizing, and I found that that was sufficient. When we went to museums or read other books, we would come across our memory work naturally, and it was just really, really cool. So, before you buy a bunch of stuff, I just wanted to let you know that you can stick to the bare minimum, especially at first. As you get the hang of CC, you can naturally pull other things into your school days and build upon that memory work. Please feel free to contact me at any time at brandyferrell at yahoo dot com.

  17. Thanks for your encouraging words and for sharing lots of great information! We will start homeschooling and CC in August. I'm very excited, but also a little nervous. I saw your blog mentioned on Pinterest and I've bookmarked your page. Looking forward to reading more of it!

  18. I'll be CC'ing with my 4yo son this coming school year, Cycle 3...Do you have a post about this scenario??? ;) I'm working my way through different posts, but if there's a "nugget" you want to pass along I'd greatly appreciate it! :) Thanks!

  19. Hi Colleen!  Welcome to homeschooling - and CC!

    I've written a bit about our preschoolers notebook here: I also have quite a bit written about Cycle 3 here:
    With our 4-year-old, I kept our school time very short (5-10 minute increments) and gave him lots of time to build things and play. T2 he most important thing to do with your child is to read - read him Bible stories, picture books, etc.
    Let me know if you have specific questions about Cycle 3.  Really, it's not necessary to flesh out the material we memorize - the memory work will be enough - but if there's other things you'd like to incorporate, just let me know!

  20. I am considering Classical options. I like the "idea" of CC but am unable to attend a Community. Is it possible to make it work just with the Foundations Guide?

  21. It's 5a.m. I just found your site. We pulled our first grader out if public school. We started CC five weeks in. Needless to say I AM OVERWHELMED!! I love what I have learned so far about CC. My 6yr old feels a little lost when the class reviews the previous weeks. I just don't know how to catch up with all the memory work. Also we have spent so much money so far, so feel guilty that I don't want to pay $60 a month for CC Connected. Do you have any suggestions on how to catch up? Also, where can I learn the hand motions for timeline?
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write about CC. I will be coming back here often. God Bless.

  22. First, I just want to encourage you and let you know that it is OKAY that you don't know the previous 5 weeks of memory work! Your child is still young and will be through this cycle again when he/she is in 4th grade! However, if he/she wants to be able to "catch up," there are ways to do so. Be sure to ask the tutor if she has any ideas (and ask her if she can help to actively engage your child even though she has missed the first few weeks). I know of some families who join in Week 17 or 18 and just pick up there and do not worry so much about catching up. If you try to catch up, I do not recommend trying to cram 5 weeks into one week. You can add a subject of memory work each week if your child is ready. If not, you can work on those 5 weeks over Christmas break. But it's not necessary or even normal for a 6-year-old to master everything, so you also have the freedom to not even worry about the first 5 weeks. The key is to not stress out but make learning enjoyable. You don't need to flesh out any memory work - just read together, practice your current memory work, learn some grade 1 arithmetic and how to read. Doing history and science projects are not necessary, but you can add them in if you feel like it later in the school year.

    If you are in a community, CC Connected is only $6/month. {Double-check with your director about how to sign up to ensure you are in the system correctly for the discount.} I'm not sure CC Connected will keep you from being overwhelmed because there is so much there! The very best resource I have used for memory work are memory work songs. You have two options: purchase the audio CD for $30, or subscribe to CC Connected and download songs (which will include songs for subjects that are only spoken audio on the CDs) and create a playlist. We mainly just listen to songs in the car for memory work (and sometimes in our home). Without songs, our family would have a hard time remembering each week's memory work.

    If you sign up for CC Connected to download songs, the songs we use are a combination of fmoderator1 (for math, history and geography), marykbry (English grammar, Latin, Science), Sbrooks (Latin, Science), nogreaterjoy5 (science, geography after week 10, math after week 11, english grammar). I make a playlist and CD using the songs our children like the most. The timeline hand motions video is on CC Connected as well (and should not be found elsewhere because it is copyright-protected).

    Please let me know if I can help you in any way!

  23. I'm so sorry, Amber! I received this comment back when we were about to have a baby and somehow missed it! You can definitely just do CC with a Foundations Guide. I also highly recommend an audio CD because the songs are so catchy and helpful for memorizing. Please let me know if I can answer any more questions!

  24. Thank you so much for all the information. You are a wealth of knowledge. I am so glad I found your blog. Again, thank you. God bless:)

  25. This was so encouraging because we are into week 9 of our first year of CC with a 3rd grader, a 2nd grader, a 3 year old who insists on participating, and a one year old who insists on eating our crayons. Sometimes I cry. Happy to home school, but I have so much to learn. One kiddo is getting it quickly and one is hating memorizing. But we are plugging on, and I know eventually we will get this down pat.

  26. Oh, boy! It's not picture-perfect around here, either! Some days, I call it a success if we just finish our math assignment. When I find that the boys are not enjoying something, I usually either take a break from it or trick them into doing it willingly. :) I know at some point I've said that this homeschooling thing is more about building my character than it is about building theirs! Hang in there! I'll say a prayer for you right now!

  27. Stories of Our BoysNovember 12, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    Thank you so much!