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Essentials Served Family Style

Posted by Courtney Sanford
Courtney Sanford
Courtney Sanford has been home schooling with Classical Conversations since 2005
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on Tuesday, 28 June 2011
in Articles

Not only will Essentials get a beautiful new guide and two new Trivium Tables for this fall, classes will also go Family Style.

As the Essentials programs grew, and communities had more students than they could fit in one room, we began dividing the classes by age. Why? Well, we didn’t do it consciously--we did it because that’s how most of us were educated. It caused Moms to have to bounce between classes, students came home with different writing assignments, and the children were singing the memory work to different songs.   Mom’s life actually got harder instead of easier.


The solution is to group students Family Style. Siblings will stay together with Mom. Foundations Directors and Essentials tutors will sit down together and divide the classes according to how much experience each mother has had with Essentials. The most experienced moms will be grouped together, and moms who are new to Essentials or have less experience will be grouped together. There may be a gray area, a middle group which could go in either class, but with tutors and directors looking prayerfully at the families, they can decide on the best spot for each family. Parent input and family circumstances may also be taken into consideration in deciding where to place those families that fall in the middle.



How will this change class time? For the better! Classes will have a family atmosphere. Older kids can be paired with younger kids to parse sentences together. Younger students will benefit from hearing the older students’ papers while the older students learn to praise and encourage the younger students’ efforts. Students can be grouped for math games according to ability, not age, giving a young math whiz the opportunity to compete against older kids or enabling a younger student to learn from an older student as they work cooperatively.


Tutors will serve up big bowls of grammar and writing during class. The older kids and moms will take heaping servings, and the younger kids will take smaller servings.


Tutors will demonstrate and explain new topics as deeply as they can given time and student ability. Moms will decide what is expected of the students at home. For example, when the tutor teaches the class about nouns, he or she will teach lots of information about nouns and have the class think of examples or even play a game with the information. At home, the mom will decide how much of the noun chart each child will copy each day. Practice sentences can be parsed (Quid et Quo) together as a family on the white board at home with the younger student giving as much input as he or she can. Then the older student will be given a turn to fill in as much as he or she can.  Finally, Mom adds any details the students left out. Moms now will have one “Essentials Family Time” at home which will involve all the students working cooperatively.


During class, tutors will demonstrate an IEW topic in class, work with the class to create a keyword outline and then brainstorm some ideas for that week’s take-home assignment. At home, Mom decides what the children should do according to their abilities. One child may start fresh by making his or her own key word outline (KWO) and writing an entire paper independently.  Another child may just use the class KWO to write a few sentences and add dress-ups with some help from Mom or siblings. Students may or may not complete every paper—what they complete is totally up to Mom.


Tutors will not grade the students or quiz the student in class; Mom can do that at home if she chooses to do so. Class will be cooperative, encouraging, and richly academic.


This is a different model than most of us were brought up with. Leigh Bortins, founder and CEO of Classical Conversations, is leading us back to the classical path. The Family Style Essentials classes will be closer, more supportive, and will ultimately result in a better education for the students and parents. This places Mom at the head of the table – firmly in charge of her child’s education, which is exactly where she ought to be.

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Courtney Sanford has been home schooling with Classical Conversations since 2005. She graduated from the School of Design at North Carolina State University, summa cum laude, with two additional years of French and English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She worked as a graphic designer for the N.C. Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, and as a teacher at the Bemis School of Art in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In order to see the country, she also worked as a bicycle tour leader for Backroads Bicycle Touring, Inc, based in Berkeley, California. She currently works for Classical Conversations Multimedia as a writer and graphic designer, and also loves to tutor. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband, Chris and their three children, one dog, and eleven chickens.

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