It is so easy to get overwhelmed when you're starting off in the Classical Conversation Essentials program. The material might be new to both you and your student. Often, it's just challenging to fit all the subjects that you want to accomplish in one school day. Then you head to your first weeks of Essentials, and try to imagine how you're going to fit two hours a day of work on top of what you're already doing!
Fear not friends! It's not that overwhelming, and you definitely don't need to be spending two hours a day on Essentials at home. After six years in the program, I've learned to trust the system, and keep it super simple at home. It's amazing how much soaks in with consistent practice at home. When they've made it through three years of grammar work, they'll be ready for the Challenge ahead of them! Here are 10 tips for finding success with Essentials at home.
No. 1 - Keep it Short and Sweet
I've learned over the years that little bits every day really add up. Muscles are built better by working them out every day, rather than one binge session a week. When you end a study session before they're completely spent, they'll be eager and willing to do more the next day. Here's what I do:
- 5 minutes - copy a chart
- 5-10 minutes - talk through a sentence
- 5-10 minutes spelling
- 5 minutes editing
- 20 minutes Writing (day 1 outline, day 2 rough draft, day 3 edit & type it up, day 4 practice reading)
At most, we're spending 50 minutes a day on Essentials. The elements of the program are so foundational for further studies, that I'm happy to give it a good portion of our day.
No. 2 - One Room Schoolhouse Baby
I love to unify my home school by teaching all of my students at once. I have two in Essentials this year, and one that has a couple of years before she starts. I'll utilize this time to get it all done together. My youngest will get a preview of the work, while my older ones will have a chance to learn from one another. My challenge kids aren't engaged in this part of our learning, but they're not far away. You never know what they will hear from a distance that will give them a little review from their Essentials years.
No. 3 - Embrace the Joy of Discussing Grammar
It's easy to want to give your returning student the list of sentences, and let them whip them out. Sometimes you need to do that, depending on your season of life. However, make sure that you take advantage of the extra understanding that can be gained from a conversation. As a teacher, there is an art to asking questions that uncover gaps in knowledge, or assumptions in understanding. You'll get a lot of bang for your buck with a few minutes discussing a sentence. (This is my favorite part!)
No. 4 - Chart Copying Saves Lives
The true secret to success is hidden in copying your charts. It seems crazy, but all of that information is so valuable. Undeniably, having the grammar at your fingertips makes all of the other work faster. When you start studying Latin, you will be so thankful for every single chart you've copied. Lives saved.
No. 5 - Allow Abbreviations for Chart Copying
Once your student has the content memorized, let them use abbreviations for faster chart copying. Every once and a while you can orally quiz them on what their abbreviations mean, but if you can get more review done with less effort (or hand strain), they'll be fresher for the next work that you give them.
No. 6 - Watch the TWSS DVDs
I've watched the DVDs for Teaching Writing with Structure and Style every year for the past seven years. Every time I learn something new, or I'm reminded to get back on the path! When you take the time to get to know how to teach the writing, you have so many more options for scaling the work with your children at home. Not only that, but you just might become a better writer yourself!
No. 7 - Break Down Binder in 6 Week Segments
While there is no perfect way to organize your Essentials materials, I've found that pulling out six weeks of the Essentials guide and putting it into a smaller binder makes it more portable and easier to work with. I've done this for the last three years with my teacher guide, but this year I'm making a binder for my kids that hold all of their work for Essentials in one place. Our Essentials tutor shared this video demonstrating a version of the binder for the students:
Here are the supplies I've used:
- A personal laminator...I don't know why it took me so long to get one of these. It's so wonderful.
- 5mm Laminating Sheets...for laminating my charts
- A Binder from Staples...these are my favorite binders. They last forever!
- I've added a zipper pouch in the front with dice, ultra fine tip markers, and pencils.
- In the front, I've added a couple of poly folders to hold their trivium tables and any handouts they receive in class.
- I love that there are packs of tabs that go up to 24. They are perfect for our 24 weeks of class work. I'll put the first six weeks in their binder to start off with, and stash the remaining 18 weeks in a separate binder to trade out during our breaks.
- I'm making 2 copies of the front side of the analytical task sheet front and back. this will give me space to write four sentences during the week. You can put one in a page protector, but then you end up erasing all of your work. I like to have an option for tracking progress if I can!
When we're ready to pull out our work at home, it will all be in one place and easy to access. This will help our time remain short and sweet!
No. 8 - Deviate from History Sources When Needed
In Cycle 1, the ancient history sources were challenging reads for my first tour Essentials student. Since Andrew Pudewa encourages to give them sources at or below their reading level, I needed to scale a couple for her. I would go on to suggest that you give your students content that is at or below their comprehension level as well. The topics of Roman war were scary to my little girl, so I found books about Roman roads, and we wrote paragraphs about that.
The point of the history based writing lessons is so that your whole community can be on the same page without excessive work from your tutor. If you need to write about something else, don't feel bad about it. Deviate as needed!
No. 9 - Deviate on Spelling When Needed
I feel like there are natural spellers and creative spellers in the world. I fall into the second category. Since I have compassion for my struggling spellers, we needed more instruction than what was provided in the guide. I love that the guide offers all of the phonograms, and lists to practice learning those sounds and rules. We have used Spell to Read and Write for the past three years, and we've had great results.
Sometimes you need to deviate and spend a little extra money to get the resources that really will set your student up for success. If you've found success with the Essentials spelling lists in the appendix, don't throw it out for something new. Stick with what works!
No. 10 - Deviate on Editing When Needed
My last option for deviation is the editing exercises. When I first started in Essentials, I had no idea truly when to use a comma or semicolon. It was all guess work. It wasn't until I taught a home school high school class and used IEW's Fix It! curriculum that I truly gained confidence in editing. You edit one sentence a day, and the errors are limited to certain concepts that are built upon over the year.
While I love that the Essentials guide has editing included, it totally overwhelmed me that there were so many errors to edit, and that I didn't feel like I had the tools to unlock the mysteries of the punctuation. If I couldn't feel confident in solving the puzzle, I didn't want to ask my students to do that either.
The Fix It! teacher's guide comes with a free download of the student workbook. I printed the first 24 weeks of the lessons and inserted those sheets into my binder in place of the editing that comes with the guide.
Essentials at Home - Find Your Rhythm
Above all, the best way to find success with Essentials at home is to find a rhythm that fits for your stage of life and your family. It's so easy to get overwhelmed with comparison to how I'm doing things, or how your tutor runs her family. You are definitely not getting the entire picture. None of us are perfect. We have good days and bad days. There are times when the best laid plans work out, and then there are all of the other days that bomb. You learn. You grow. You adapt.
Keep trying until you find a rhythm that works for your family. If nothing else, you will be modeling what it looks like to strive for excellence in all that you do. And that is a lesson worth learning.
What tips do you have for success with Essentials at home?
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.