For today’s post, I’m excited to introduce to you my dear friends, Marc and Jamie Hays, who have participated in Classical Conversations for six years. Marc is currently a Challenge I and Challenge II director. Jamie is a Challenge A director and the Classical Conversations Area Manager for Tennessee. She has previously served as a Foundations Tutor, Foundations/Essentials Director, and Support Manager for Middle Tennessee. Marc and Jamie have six children enrolled in the Classical Conversations program – one in Challenge I, two in Essentials, and five in Foundations. Today they join us for an interview to give us a peek into what it’s like to be a Challenge parent.
What was it like when your oldest child promoted from Foundations to Challenge A? How does it compare to Challenge I?
When we first started Challenge A, we were stressed out for six weeks straight! But then we fell into a wonderful routine as our daughter took over the planning and scheduling of her schoolwork. As we struggled with the amount of time she was taking to finish assignments, we also realized she could complete subjects in 1-hour segments by using a timer. Now, what isn’t finished in one hour is completed as homework. We also use a timer to gauge whether or not we need to adjust assignments. If it is taking three hours to do Latin, for example, we limit ourselves to just one hour of Latin, ensuring that we touch on all the concepts that are required for that assignment.
We also discovered that sometimes there’s a shift that may require more engagement and ingenuity from us as parents. Some concepts, subjects, or skills that were easy in Challenge A or B are now challenging in Challenge I, possibly because of other changes our child is experiencing as a teenager.
As Challenge parents, we’ve recognized the need to be innovative in teaching subjects that did not previously require innovation. As Challenge directors, we’ve recognized the importance of introducing rhetoric skills in Challenge I before proceeding to Challenge II. Probe deeper and know the questions to ask! Read Leigh Bortins’s The Question to learn and use the five common topics as a tool to encourage thoughtful discussion with your children.
What do you wish you had known or experienced before entering the Challenge program?
First, we wish we had known that it was okay to wait another year to start Challenge so that our daughter could have a more solid foundation in Foundations memory work and Essentials. Although she had experienced two years of Foundations and Essentials, it would have benefitted her greatly to wait an additional year before entering Challenge.
For parents of children who are still in Foundations, we recommend attending as many free Parent Practicums as possible to gain experience and glean wisdom from others who have participated in the program for a longer period of time. This summer, most parent practicums will offer a Lost Tools of Writing seminar during the afternoon sessions. Although this is especially helpful for upcoming Challenge parents, please realize that you are an upcoming Challenge parent even if your children are in Kindergarten! [Click here to learn more about the Parent Practicum.]
We have to emphasize the importance of both parents and students learning the charts in Lost Tools of Writing. Embrace the charts! They help you learn how to think – taking the grammar (foundational, memory work recitation) stage into the dialectic (logical analyzing and applying) stage. The charts are a tool to help you and your child learn how to be dialectic; it’s a process that requires deeper interaction with your student, which is a time you can cherish as they are becoming more independent. Be encouraged that they still need you!
What is your best piece of advice for parents who still have children in Foundations?
Enjoy your time with your Foundations students because you will have much more structured, 6-hour school days when you are in Challenge. No elaboration of the memory work is necessary at the grammar stage. Use the time to pursue interest-led schooling instead of trying to build upon all of the memory work! If your children want to learn about the Red Fox, help them to research the Red Fox, even though it does not tie in to memory work. (Then help your child prepare a presentation on it!)
Once you are in Challenge, continue to learn alongside your Challenge student. Reclaim two generations of education at once! Don’t clock out now!
If there’s one thing you would have focused more on at the Foundations stage, what would it have been?
We would have learned more Latin vocabulary and concentrated on simply getting the grammar down in the grammar years.
What has impressed you the most about Challenge?
Everything in Foundations is fleshed out in Challenge. Nothing is wasted! Challenge uses Foundations memory work as a springboard for further grammar study (in Latin, specifically) and application & discussion.
A Specific Example from our Challenge A Class:
When Challenge A students arrive for this week’s Latin lesson, tutor asks, “What’s a verb?” Students respond, “A verb is a word that asserts an action, shows a state of being, links to words together, or helps another verb.” Tutor says, “Great! We’re using that today in Latin! Now, what are the first conjugation present tense verb endings?” After the students recite the verb endings, the tutor builds off of that information to show them how to translate verbs in Latin. As the tutor guides the students into learning how to change verb endings to match personal pronouns (verb conjugation), they also talk about principle parts of verbs and other details that are found on our Essentials verb and pronoun charts.
It is so exciting to see how Challenge connects to Foundations memory work every single week!
For Classical Conversations as whole: Skills emphasized at each stage of learning match up with students natural interests and abilities. The scope and sequence of Challenge focuses on learning dialectic and rhetoric skills at a time when it is the natural strength and tendency of our students. (It’s important to note that we as parents are at the rhetoric stage. Although we may not enjoy recitation ourselves, our young children are at the grammar stage, so it is much more interesting to them!)
What has been the most challenging thing about Challenge?
Staying involved with our Challenge student with having littles, too!
Time! Keeping up with what your first child is learning in Challenge will make it easier when your other children reach Challenge. If you’re new to Classical Conversations when you enter the Challenge program, learn the timeline and all three cycles of English grammar, especially the definitions of parts of speech.
What advice or encouragement would you give to parents who are currently in Essentials?
Essentials makes Latin and writing so much easier. We consider Essentials to be so Essential, we would hold off on Challenge for one year just to have a year of Essentials before going into Challenge.
Also, realize that you can apply the skills you learn in Essentials to life beyond sixth grade. When (or if) your children pursue a college education, research future professors to find their style of writing (e.g., if a professor uses many dress-ups in his writing, you will likely want to include many dress-ups in your writing for that particular professor).
Can you offer any advice or encouragement for parents who may be (somewhat fearfully) considering becoming a Challenge director? Can you offer anything to curb the trepidation over not “knowing” everything?
Challenge directors do not have to know or understand everything! They need to know how to ask questions to spur discussion. In fact, we’re changing the way we’re training Challenge Directors this year at the Parent Practicum. Instead of focusing on the curriculum, the focus will instead be on what questions to ask. We’re teaching directors how to ask questions for students to engage in more dialectic discussion. If you can use words and ask questions, you can be a director. You need not know how to explain all the content! Modeling a love of learning and showing how to ask good questions is more important than knowing everything.
It is an understatement to say that Marc and Jamie are some of the most inspirational people I know! Within our community, they have worked wholeheartedly to connect and prepare Foundations families for Challenge by offering Latin seminars for interested parents and by posting weekly board updates about what they are studying each week in Challenge (which ties into the three cycles of memory work). I am incredibly honored to know them and consider them to be some of my favorite friends. I can’t even describe how wonderful it is to chat with them over a cup of coffee! I am very thankful for all of the insight they have provided here for us! Thank you, Marc & Jamie!
Do you have questions about the Challenge Program? Are you a Challenge parent and have some additional thoughts to add for those of us who are still at the grammar stage with our children? We would love to read your thoughts! Feel free to leave a comment on this blog post or email me directly at halfahundredacrewood @gmail.com with your questions or comments.
For more information about Challenge, visit Classical Conversations Challenge Program.
For more information about Essentials, visit Classical Conversations Essentials Program.
For more information about Foundations, visit Classical Conversations Foundations Program.