Today was a beautiful homeschooling day.
Today was a day where many other days collided into one - a day the pieces of the puzzle locked into place - a day I thought over and over, "THIS is why we homeschool".
Today was the first day of Challenge A.
I've been here before. I am not a Challenge A rookie.
It's interesting how much can change, however, with time, experience, and study.
I felt as if today was my first REAL day of Challenge A - and I was furiously jotting notes throughout our time because I just HAD to share these thoughts with you.
*If you are not familiar with Classical Conversations Challenge A, you might want to read about it first - then come back here so it all makes more sense!
Preparing for Challenge A
I know many children who have jumped into Challenge A without prior experience in Classical Conversations. We've now approached this both ways - my oldest had NO Foundations and/or Essentials experience coming into Challenge A. My youngest had four years of Foundations and three years of Essentials to prepare him for Challenge A.
Which would I prefer?
You guessed it - the EXPERIENCE.
That being said, I cannot look back with my oldest. Her education has been wonderfully unique, and I believe God has directed and equipped us each year of her education. Every child is different and every homeschool education is different. We need to be open to His direction and also LISTEN to our older children. (If you're curious to know what my oldest is doing this year - here you go.)
Back to TODAY.
Today TEN children gathered for their first Challenge A meeting of the year. I'm sure our situation isn't unique, but let me give you the background: we formed a new community just last year. We were a small group of moms desiring community and relationship - a group of five moms who met at a park to pray while our kids played. We prayed for a facility, tutors, and willing and open hearts. We prayed for God to pave the way for us to become a loving, accepting group of families who desired to know more about God and His world.
What began as our prayers has, in just one year, turned into something only God could create - a thriving community with loads of little ones and now a beautiful Challenge A group.
I pray this post will encourage you in your journey - no matter where you are.
Soli Deo gloria!
29 Reflections From the First Day of Challenge A
1. A rolling crate is a MUST.
My son is able to keep everything organized in his crate - and then he puts that crate next to his desk at home and works from it throughout the week. Our tutor gave the children die cut letters to personalize their crates, and one student even decorated hers with duct tape. (As my daughter would say "It's all about being cute!")
2. I'm glad I read The Question this summer.
So much changes as our children approach the Rhetorical stage of their development, and we might misunderstand their development if we don't have a firm grasp on this stage! The Question is an excellent primer for the Rhetorical Stage.
Our tutor did a wonderful job of modeling how to question our children. This changes not only how I interact with my son on school days, but also how I interact with him in general.
3. I am glad I did the initial organization legwork WITH my child.
Starting the year organized will make a HUGE difference, but include your child in that organization. Sometimes we (yes, I'm speaking to all of us!) tend to organize everything FOR their child, but in Challenge A our child needs to understand the organization process, and develop much of it on their own.
Don't leave them to organize SOLELY on their own; make it a team effort.
My son and I made a morning out of going to Office Depot (use your discount card!), purchasing supplies, and talking through the requirements we found in the guide. We finished with a trip to Starbucks to talk about goals for the year. It was a sweet memory.
4. Don't forget the TABS!
Our tutor told us to bring tabs for organizing, but I had no idea how much I would be using them. Buy a lot in many different colors (you'll need them for finding the sections of the world in the beautiful cartography book).
5. Time on memory work is NEVER wasted.
You're going to want to memorize this quote - you may even want to save and share this image. This is a direct quote from our tutor's husband (a Challenge IV tutor):
As I listened to our students rattle off the definition of the Distributive Property in math, the definition of a noun in Latin, and the locations of countries in Geography, I was blown away by how much memory work was being retrieved.
Parents of littles hear me: Time on memory work is NEVER EVER wasted!
6. I'm glad we had a gentle start to Latin last year and a firm grasp on our declensions.
Latin is overwhelming, but I cannot emphasize enough it is process over product in this strand. Learning Latin will teach our children discipline and attention to detail. Some of the finer points may escape you this first time around (remember, they will get it again in Challenge B), but stick with it, do as much as you can, and remember it's about building good habits, not how many exercises your child can complete.
Using Getting Started with Latin gave us a gentle overview of the language and helped build excitement about beginning Henle Latin.
7. Seventh graders still like hugs and kisses.
Even the boys.
A few times during the first day I would give my guy a hug, pat his back, or tell him I loved him. He's still just 12 years old and this is all a big change. Cultivating that relationship and sticking close to our children will serve us well in the coming years. Don't think that because you can technically "drop them off" at Challenge A that they are automatically mature - they still need our liberal love and affection.
The world tells us we should kick our children out the door by middle school and let them go it alone. I disagree.
8. Saxon Math provides an excellent foundation.
Saxon teaches our little ones the grammar of math and how to articulate the way to solve a math problem. Good stuff.
9. Questions matter. Always start your interactions with your child with a question.
10. A good biography of CS Lewis is invaluable.
Because Challenge students will deal so much with the works of CS Lewis, it's a good idea for parents to become familiar with him. This summer our family listened to CS Lewis: Master Storyteller and we learned SO MUCH.
To understand the CIRCUMSTANCE under which he was writing The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe shed a lot of light onto the story, among other things.
Speaking of CIRCUMSTANCE...
11. It is good to know about the 5 Common Topics before Challenge begins.
I was familiar with them because of my oldest, but wasn't the first time we went through Challenge. Read all about them here.
12. GRACE is important.
We all are fallen and in need of grace -- let's remember this during Challenge A. The children need grace. The parents need grace. The tutor needs grace.
13. Make sure you own the Trivium Tables.
We have the rhetoric, math, Latin, English Grammar, and Quid et Quo tables and I hope to get the rest. They are such a handy resource.
I'm not sure how you can survive Latin without them. My son is doing his Latin each day with the trivium table propped in front of him.
14. Take NOTES!
Teach your children to take notes. Write down what the tutor writes down and anything important she says.
In my son's large "Command Center" for Challenge A he has a section for each subject. I put blank notebook paper in each section so he can take notes for that seminar and then refer back to them during the week.
Moms, if you sit in class --- take notes.
It's a good skill for the rest of our children's lives, and if they start now it will become second nature.
15. There is a Bible verse for everything!
I already knew this, but was reminded of it in the context of Challenge A.
Our tutor shared pertinent verses during each strand - emphasizing to the children that God is in the middle of it all, and that we need only look to God's word for direction in ALL things.
How I wish I had been taught to rely on the Bible like this when I was in middle school!
16. Responsibility requires TRAINING.
Our children aren't born responsible (shocker). Throughout Challenge A their responsibility will be tested and challenged - as will ours.
We need to model responsibility and gently train and guide our children through this year (see #3)..... which leads me to ---
17. Grace is important.
When our children stumble and falter (as they will many times) --- GRACE is important.
And moms, give YOURSELF grace. I tend to have very high standards for myself and others. I need to remember the goal of Challenge is not to complete ALL of the work between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. The goal is to cultivate a love of learning and godliness in my children.
18. Creativity can happen in the science strand.
I was reminded on our first day that science can be open-ended. My daughter loved using chalk pastels in the science strand - she had beautiful drawings of wildflowers that I remember fondly.
I've heard many parents concerned about their child's creativity being squashed in Challenge A, so let them use it in the science strand. The sketchbook will be a beautiful keepsake. If they love science, let them spend a little extra time in that area and remove time from a different area, because...
19. YOU are the teacher.
I know everyone emphasizes this, but it's true --- YOU ARE THE TEACHER.
Don't sacrifice your child on the Challenge A altar. Tailor the guide (that's why they call it a "guide"!) to fit the needs of your student. Don't be afraid to ease back or add if you feel necessary. We homeschool because our children are individuals - why try to squash them into the Challenge A mold?
20. Use the whiteboards!
He uses the whiteboard for practicing Latin declensions, geography drawings, brainstorming for his LTW issue, and more.
I use the whiteboard for writing reminders to him (and me!).
21. Middle Schoolers naturally fade without food and at 2 p.m.
Our tutor lets the kids eat all day long. I made sure to pack an abundance of healthy snacks so Grant could just much all day. He does this at home, too - he's a growing boy and I notice when he starts to fade. It's generally because his blood sugar is low.
2 p.m. was the time when our group started to fade - I think this is pretty normal. The tutor passed around the Peppermint Oil at this time for a little pick me up, and I noticed she also got them up and moving around a little for science on our first day.
22. Debate = Geography
It's true. If you think about it, many wars and disputes are a result of disputes over borders. I always wondered why Classical Conversations called Geography "debate", but I get it now. Our children need to be LITERATE in geography to speak about world events and participate in a global conversation.
In the new cartography book there is quite a lot of history included - and we are enjoying reading that, too.
23. Reclaiming my own education is one of the biggest gifts in homeschooling!
As our tutor was explaining the debate = geography connection, I was thankful for this new found knowledge of the world I have acquired. Currently I am reading Prisoners of Geography, and it is helping me to have deeper conversations with my children about geography and politics.
Homeschooling is a lifestyle of deep inquiry and learning; it isn't about sheltering our children from the world!
24. Singing with your little ones HELPS!
Many times during our first Challenge A meeting the children broke out into song - whether it was the timeline song, the songs for the Latin declensions, or other pieces of memory work set to song.
Even if you aren't a singer yourself, or your children claim to "not like singing", playing the memory work CDs will seep into their brains and benefit them later. (see #5)
25. Publication dates matter.
This seems obvious, doesn't it? As we were looking at It Couldn't Just Happen, there were two different versions of it in our class - one with a much older publication date. The tutor spoke to our children about why looking at publication dates matter.
(Think the 5 Common Topics --> testimony & circumstance)
This week, as Grant has been working in his research strand, he has tried to choose more current resources. He has asked me what the publication dates are for many of the books we have in our shelves. I'm thankful I've always tried to have the most updated version of the Kingfisher Science & History Encyclopedias on hand!
26. Remember Matthew 11:28
There will be many times throughout the Challenge years when we will feel weary and burdened. Lay it at God's feet and REST.
Nothing is worth the tears or arguments.
27. Take advantage of CC Connected
CC Connected has come a LONG way in the past few years. I have found great files for printable Latin rule flashcards, Catechism flashcards, and a printable geography dictionary. The equipping videos are also a huge source of knowledge and encouragement.
If you have a little to sneak some quiet, camp out with CC Connected!
28. Write the Latin declensions 20 minutes daily.
I can testify to this! My daughter was faithful about this - even into her fourth year of Latin, and it is very helpful. Having the Latin trivium table to refer to is helpful, but having the declensions memorized just makes everything easier (again see #5!).
We actually set a timer for 20 minutes at the beginning of Latin for writing the declensions on the white board.
29. This is a beautiful year. You only get to do it once with your child. Make memories.
Don't forget to enjoy this journey with your child.
Praise them. Have fun with them. Be silly. Dig deeper when something interests them. Don't be afraid to close the books and go do something fun if they are frustrated.
Enjoy the gift that God has given us in this extremely meaty year of homeschooling!