I’ve been wanting to give an introduction to the Classical Conversations program that we use in our home school. I love Montessori theory, and I love making great books available to my children and reading to them, but I am also a type-A “check-list” person who wants to make sure I’m not forgetting to cover any important elementary topics. That’s why I got interested in the Classical Conversations program (not surprisingly put together by a husband and wife team who are both aerospace engineers and are probably “check-list” people even more than me).
Basically what they did was they took all the main information that a child should be familiar with by the time they are in 6th grade, summarized it, and divided it into 3 groups, or cycles. All the details are in this book, the Foundations Curriculum Guide. You present one cycle a year to a child (or group of children – it doesn’t matter if they are different ages,) and after 3 years, you repeat the cycles. So they get the information twice – and the second time through, because it is familiar to them, it is easier to learn, and you can study it in greater depth. “Classical” education theories are all about learning important information really well – in other words, memorizing it – and they’ve found that repeating information and reciting it out loud are some of the best ways to do this. I think the key here is that the memorization occurs naturally from repetition and interest, not the old-fashioned “memorize this word-for-word or I’m going to put a dunce hat on your head and stick you in the corner and slap your fingers with a ruler” mentality. There’s a bit of a difference there.
So, Classical Conversations provides me with a very organized and comprehensive list of topics to introduce, in manageable chunks. I am still free to introduce the material however I want to – using Montessori ideas, or a great book from the library, or as copy-work, whatever. There are many cities in the US where your children can attend Classical Conversation groups once a week, where a trained tutor presents the information for you. There isn’t a group where I live, so I don’t have to decide if I would want to partake, but I probably would. Using the program at home is working just fine for us for now, and this is how we do it:
Each of the 3 cycles is broken down into 24 chunks of information. In theory, you could “learn” this material over the course of one week, although there’s nothing to stop you from spreading it out further if the material is very interesting or if you start it on Monday and get the flu on Tuesday. (In the public schools, if you miss something, you miss it, period. Homeschoolers aren’t under restraints like that.) I get through 24 weeks of material each school year. We are either doing a “CC Week” as we call it, or an off-week. (I plan for a 40-week school-year, so we have 24 weeks to spend on CC work and 16 lighter weeks to focus on other subjects and take breaks.) In preparing for the upcoming school year, I have 24 folders prepped and filled with a variety of lists and maps and supplemental materials.
I will also have a large posterboard written out for each week, ready to hang on the wall of our classroom which will have a summary of all the information we are focusing on. I will have a CD burned with all the material for the week, which the children listen to each day during rest time or while traveling in the van. (These CD’s will also have their violin songs they are working on, songs we are learning to sing, poems, and hymns.) There will be interesting books for our history and science topics, either purchased or borrowed from the library. There will be science experiments and a variety of fine arts presentations to give each week. My prerogative is to present the weekly information any way I see fit. They suggest “what to teach”, I choose “how to teach.” It works for me. Click on “Classical Conversations posts” on the right-hand column to read more.
Questions I’ve received recently:
What size of poster-board do you use? CC used to have resources for CC at Home on their website, but they are no longer there. Our local CC group is not really doing what they are supposed to be doing as far as the tutoring is going. Do you know if there are any CC tutor-training manuals available for parents to read?
Hello, thanks for writing. First of all, I’m using standard poster-board, 28×22 inches. I divide it into 6 sections and write down our memory work for math, English, science, history, geography, and Latin. I hang it up on 2 nails on our classroom wall. On Monday mornings when I am presenting new material, I cover up the material for each section with large post-it notes someone gave me, and one at a time, as I introduce the new topic, I remove the post-it.
I have never belonged to a group. I am in my 4th year using CC basically as a guide for what we are going to study as a family each week. I present the material in a variety of ways, using Montessori educational philosophy as my general guide. We do a lot of review, and we try to memorize the work. I’m sure we don’t do it ALL as perfectly as we could; the Veritas history cards, for example, we don’t work on very much. But I’m perfectly okay with how it is all working in our family, we read a ton of supplemental books and I think that helps cover “holes.”
It is my personal impression that the CC leadership doesn’t any longer “encourage” using their program alone at home. I hope I’m wrong about that. They really believe, I think, that the fellowship and accountability that comes with being in a group is super-duper important. And I agree, that for many families, it is a big bonus. I find it somewhat insulting, though, to suggest that I can’t do it without a group. I also disagree with their patronizing idea (which is all over their website) that parents will learn the “correct” way to teach their children by watching the tutors model correct teaching.
So to answer your question, I have never come across any tutor training books or manuals. I think you have to sign up to be a tutor to access all that, but if I ever find anything I’ll let you know. There are many educational philosophies, and the “classical” version is just one of them. If the history topic for the week is WW2, then you and your children can try to memorize the sentence (using the song on the audio CD) and read appropriate books about it and make time-lines and take field trips and whatever else you want to do. I try to not get too caught up or worried about doing it “their” way when it is clear that “my” way is working fine.