Essentials: Our First Year in Review

Like many of you, the end of our school year is in sight. Whew!

We have just completed our first year of Essentials in our Classical Conversations community. This time one year ago I was wondering how in the world to prepare myself and my son for our first year of Essentials. He was already getting a little apprehensive about it. We had visited an Essentials class and attended a Faces of History event. He was starting to get an idea of the work involved in Essentials. I knew he could do the work, but he wasn't so sure. 

Today I'm providing a review of our first year in Essentials and how things turned out for us as well as trying to answer some questions that many of us have when facing Essentials for the first time. 

Essentials is the afternoon portion of Classical Conversations that is available to fourth through sixth graders and covers English grammar, writing, and mental math. 

(*Thanks to Amy for providing this post today!)

Classical Conversations Essentials:  Our First Year in Review

Essentials: Our First Year in Review

Help! My child is apprehensive about Essentials!

When my son was in third grade, we visited a couple of Essentials classes to get an idea of what we were going to be getting into. I left there giddy with excitement! Grammar and writing are interesting (and fun!) to me. But my son, my fun-loving, active boy was apprehensive about what was in store. The closer we got to the beginning of fourth grade, the more uneasy he became.

Sometimes that just happens when kids, or any of us, are faced with something new and unknown. 

I eventually got to the root of his concerns. He was concerned about writing, which in his mind equaled handwriting. He thought there were hours and hours each week of handwriting in his future in Essentials. I assured him that we would work through it all together, and that he would not be on his own.

He also needed to hear that I would still be his teacher and would be determining his work load and assignments. His Essentials tutor would lead the class each week but I would be setting his individual assignments. I love this aspect of Classical Conversations; that they consider the parents the teachers who are best equipped to teach their own children.

Some kids face new things like an adventure. No uneasiness at all. Truthfully, my son is like this with most things. But if your child is experiencing a little uncertainty, you may just need to get to the root of it and provide some reassurance that you will be facing this together. 

What should I do in third grade to prepare for Essentials?

There are no prerequisites for Essentials. Your child can start Essentials without having any previous formal grammar or writing instruction. 

But my son had been exposed to grammar in earlier grades. We did IEW's Fix It Grammar in third grade. It was a simple course that took a small amount of time each day. While I don't think it is necessary for a student to have had grammar prior to Essentials, for my child, I'm glad we did. It gave him more confidence that he would be successful in Essentials. 

In third grade I also used IEW's Teaching Writing Structure and Style to gently introduce writing. I snagged a used set of the older version of the DVDs and went through the first few units in third grade. Primarily we used the key word outline format to prepare my son's Classical Conversations weekly presentations. Again, this was definitely not necessary. But for my son, he was ready and it helped him with his weekly presentations. Once we started Essentials, he was already familiar with key word outlines and it helped jump start his confidence. 

If you haven't done any formal writing or grammar programs before Essentials, it's okay. Essentials is designed as a three year program so you will continue to cover the same material for 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. But if you want to get a head start on a formal grammar or writing program before Essentials, and you feel your child is ready, I certainly recommend these two programs because they work so well with what is covered in Essentials. 

Reviewing the English Grammar memory work from Foundations is also great preparation for Essentials. Practicing multiplication facts will also help them with the mental math games played during Essentials. You can have your child work on these throughout the summer.

How should I prepare myself for Essentials?

  • Connect with your Essentials tutor. Our Essentials tutor scheduled meetings with the parents prior to Essentials starting. We spent time putting together our notebooks and she helped us get organized. She gave us lots of encouragement for the upcoming year as well as helped us know what to expect.
  • Study your teacher's manuals: Classical Conversations Essentials Guide, IEW's Teaching Writing Structure and Style and IEW's History Based Writing Lessons. The info you need to know is in your teacher's guides. Just take the time to get really familiar with them before the year begins.
  • Organize your materials. Okay, I've said it before, but it's really true. I can't use something that isn't organized. I end up just putting it aside and never using it if it's not organized. This was not an option with our Essentials materials. I should have spent more time before our classes began to get myself better organized. That would have helped with the panicky feeling I felt those first few weeks.
Classical Conversations Essentials -- Our First Year in Review

This is what worked well for us this year:

  1. CC Connected - there is a wealth of resources on CC Connected created by other CC moms. Make sure you add Essentials to your subscription to access the Essentials materials. 
  2. Getting organized - once I got myself and my child organized, our days and weeks flowed well. 
  3. Essay illustrations - our tutor suggested that the students illustrate their essays. From that day on, my son illustrated all of his essays. He enjoyed adding that element of creativity to his papers. Our tutor included the illustrations in the end of the year book she made for each student with the collection of their essays. I'm thrilled to have this keepsake. Turns out that my son was the only one in our class that illustrated their stories. It's not for everyone, but my child really enjoyed including that with his papers. 
  4. Dictation / typing - my son dictated his papers to me and I typed them. This was a lifesaver! Remember that stress he was feeling about handwriting, well this completely solved that issue. I am planning for him to work on his typing skills over the summer and am hoping that he will be ready to type more on his own next year. But I don't want him to miss the process of composition just because he is stressed about getting it down on paper. I will help him with that until he is ready to do it on his own. Mary recommended us using Typing Tutor for Kids this summer. 
  5. Pacing assignments - we didn't do every assignment this year. I paced my son's assignments based on his overall workload and abilities. And this was not a problem. Again, CC is setup so the parents are the teachers. The tutors do provide an outline of assignments, but it's up to the parents to decide what each individual student is assigned to do. 
  6. Faces of History - each student chose a person from the Cycle 2 time period, the Middle Ages, and wrote a research paper on that person. They dressed up like the character and read the paper to the parents and students at our Faces of History presentation event. My son thoroughly enjoyed the entire process. That's him in the picture above dressed up in his version of Lief Erickson, Viking Explorer. 

In summary, our first year at Essentials was a success. Although it started off a bit shaky as we both were trying to figure out what to expect and how to be organized with our materials and lessons, we ended the year well. I am thrilled at all that my son learned in Essentials! He grew by leaps and bounds in his writing, grammar, and mental math this year. I am more than impressed with how well he did.

I share all of this as an encouragement to you mamas who may be concerned about Essentials. You know your child best! Just come alongside them and encourage them on this journey together.  

We are already talking about what we will cover next year in Essentials. Just this morning, my son was talking about Faces of History for next year and is wondering who he will write his paper on. That's a huge jump from where we were a year ago! 

Classical Conversations Essentials:  Our First Year in Review

If you are an experienced Essentials mom, what other words of encouragement would you share with an upcoming Essentials family?