“I am I doing too much?” “Is this enough?” “How long should this take?” “I feel like this is taking all day!”
I have heard these questions asked on social media, in community, in my own head, sometimes. And I have never really had an answer.
There seems to be a veil between the Essentials and Foundations years of Classical Conversations which obfuscates any attempts to prepare. We are often admonished, “trust the process…it will all come together someday.” For those of us who are standing on the other side of the veil, craning our necks to see the mysterious Essentials years, it is small comfort. So, we push on with memory work that makes some connections, while longing to see the bigger picture.
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The Big Buy-in
When we first started Classical Conversations (with our oldest, first day of kindergarten, first day of homeschool official), I referred to these early years of Foundations as: the big buy-in. I pushed all my chips to the center of the table, laid out my feast of Foundations, and waited for my big pay day. I figured the wait would be long.
Actually, it didn’t take long to see the chips I had tossed into the center were starting to pay-out. I was at the table, sometimes with just a chip and a chair, and every now and then I won a hand. I started to see the connections between the things we were learning in the various subjects. So did my daughter. Jackpot!
Have I mentioned that I also have the ability to glory, celebrate, and absolutely joy in the tiniest of things? It comes with extremely low expectations. Not low standards, low expectations.
When we would get these small jackpots, we would celebrate them with song. Our homeschool sometimes resembles an extremely chaste version of Glee. We break out into song at the mention of a particular key word. It is completely natural – absolutely unstoppable. (Yes, I am singing a song in my head as I write this)
All of these little payouts kept us in the game. In fact, we loved the game, delighted to be at the table. But there was still that curtain.
A Peek Behind the Essentials Curtain
Well, I promised myself that when I finally got to see behind the curtain, I would look back and let others know the treasures unveiled. So, I am ambitiously promising to give you updates, on a week-by-week basis, of our First Tour through Essentials.
Today, I am not going to go into what Essentials is. So, if you are unaware of just what Essentials is, please go to Classical Conversations and read into it. I will, someday soon, write up a short post detailing the what of Essentials. But for today, I am just covering our first week.
Essentials Parent Preparation
Being a precise planner by pedigree, I can’t forgo telling you what I did before we went to our first class. Are these things necessary? Only time will tell.
- I made a bunch of Essentials resources for my daughter this summer. There are a Weekly Student Planner (available on CCC; user name: ussleah), Analytic Task Sheets, Spelling bookmarks, math resources, posters. It was a bit over the top, I will admit. But I had it all ready to go and will add to it as we go through the year.
- I went to a Pudewa party with my fellow community moms. I had actually watched the first videos already with a friend last year, but it was good to hear these things again. I also listened to IEW student book
- a pencil
- some math helps (for math time)
I packed my backpack with:
- The EEL guide
- the IEW teacher guide
- my trusty note taking notebook (and post-its)
- a couple of pens
Essentials, In Class
The class moves fast! It is similar in speed to the Foundations memory work introduction each week. In that session, the tutor has 30 minutes to go through the new memory work in 7 subjects, repeating each memory work piece 8 times. That breakneck pace is slackened a bit in the Essentials afternoon class because there are only 3 subjects to get to and the time is stretched out to an hour and a half. Thirty minutes per subject might seem like a breath of fresh air, until one realizes just how much material needs to be covered.
The first thirty minutes our tutor went over the Essentials of the English Language material for week 1. She had a fun little activity for the students to work on together – making chart A out of lego bricks. She also made sure our first-tour-student-heavy class understood that they will have time to learn these things.
For the second thirty minutes, we basically played Math Games. Starting with simple mental math exercises warmed the students up nicely. And then we played Number Knockout. My student was tentative up to this point. After she was able to give her first solution and it went up on the board, she started to relax a bit. She even had two more solutions to give the class when the time was up. She was bummed she didn’t get to share, but stoked she had something to share.
During the last thirty minute segment, we walked through making a key-word outline with the IEW curriculum. Our tutor again did a good job of making sure the students knew the “ground-rules” for key-word outlines. By the end of the class, it was clear energy was flagging. It had been a long day, but we had made it through our first class! Woohoo!
We did not get to everything on the list for the week (not yet at least – we have one more day of our “week”). But we did make a start. Specifically, here is what we did for each strand.
We practiced the charts. This was all Foundations memory work – a pleasant surprise. The only addition on Chart A is the 5 parts of a sentence. And the only addition for Chart B is the example sentences. We reviewed the definitions and the homophones for the week. Tomorrow we will do a little “spelling” test with the homophones and the spelling words on list A.
Summary: Copied the charts 1 time (chart A and one quarter of chart B – student; three-fourths of chart B – teacher). Read the charts 2-3 times together. Recited the charts 1 time (while hair brushing).
We played Number Knockout for the week. I made up a board and a solutions page, laminated them, and posted them next to our white board. Our chosen Math curriculum has mental math practice in each lesson, with problem solving. We use the problem solving portion of the lessons as math instruction. She just needs to talk through the problems and I serve as her scribe.
Summary: I am looking at our Number Knockout board and noticing we have only 3 more boxes to cross off! We spent only minutes on this and felt the immense pleasure of box crossing together!
Since our class time allowed the students enough time to write their own key word outlines for the week’s lesson, we simply reviewed and revised ours. My student cut out the vocabulary word cards from the back of the manual and reviewed them throughout the week. She also added three of the vocabulary words to her key word outline.
We followed the direction of Mr. Pudewa to have her go over the key-word outline and say it out loud in her own sentences. The rule – “do not speak unless you are looking up” – truly helped her to gather her thoughts and then say what she wanted to say. She did this psuedo-presentation with me and again, later in the week with her Dad. I am considering having her write it out on her last day of this week, but it is not required for this week.
Summary: 3 times through the key-word outline, with dress-ups – not bad.
Essentials Tips for Week One
I don’t have much to offer in terms of advice for the week. My biggest takeaway is that the timer we invested in earlier this summer was worth it. We relied on timers a lot this week. They are motivating for my kids. I think it is because they know the beginning and end of something. And they can work accordingly. We can handle 3 minutes of almost anything, right?
The only other hackneyed advice I can give you is: don’t stress over it. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that advice given to first year Essentials mamas. In general, I am not a stressful person; so this was not a difficult thing for me. But I guess those timers are effective for me as well as my students. When we use a timer, I know my daughter has walked the portion of the trail she is capable of walking in the time allotted. There is no question about too much or too little – it is just right for her age. And I can look back over the ground we covered for the week and know it was just what we were supposed to cover.
There you have it. Week one of Essentials, Tour one. Please let me know if you have more questions in the comments.