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Essentials

We believe...

...our children will succeed if they are taught the essentials of language, writing, and arithmetic.

We want our students to be able to communicate their ideas well no matter what field they enter. Students enjoy learning English grammar and writing with their friends. We also believe drilling the basic arithmetic facts using games will prepare them to succeed in higher mathematics.

(Ages 9 to 11 meet weekly for 24 weeks in the afternoons.)

The Program
At 1:00 in the afternoon, after the Foundations program and a lunch break, students grab their notebooks and pencils and head to a classroom to learn all about English grammar and writing with their friends. Essentials is a complete language arts program. Surprisingly, there is not too much writing during class, but there is a lot of talking! Students compose sentences and learn the rules of writing by talking about them (what we call the dialectic model). Parents learn about English grammar and writing, too, because they attend class with their students. They watch a parent tutor model the lesson so that they can continue the lesson at home.

Classes
Essentials classes usually have about twelve students between the ages of nine and eleven, who attend the class together with their parents. During the lesson, younger students tackle easier samples while older students tackle more complicated ones. In this setting, younger students learn from the older students, who are given the opportunity to act as mentors. Parents adjust assignments at home according to age and ability.

The class time is divided into three segments: 

  1. 45 minutes for English grammar
  2. 45 minutes for writing
  3. 30 minutes of math drills

3 Essentials Class Segments

Language/English Grammar
The English grammar segment follows our exclusive language study program, The Essentials of the English Language (EEL). Students learn sentence patterns and structures, the parts of speech, capitalization and punctuation rules, and diagramming. Students learn to analyze and classify sentences. This in-depth study of the English language will make the future study of foreign languages and advanced literature much easier.

An EEL class might go something like this: 

  1. The tutor teaches the class about a sentence such as, “Jesus wept.”
  2. Students learn that this sentence has a simple structure, its purpose is declarative, and it has a subject–verb (intransitive) pattern. They also learn that “Jesus” is the subject; it is a proper noun, and it is singular. 
  3. The students are asked to create a similar sentence of their own.
  4. Students each take a turn constructing a sentence like, “Joshua jumps,” or “Sally sings.” This interaction engages students and makes EEL lively and fun. 
  5. Younger students create sentences that simply replace the tutor’s words with similar words. Older students might create longer, more complicated sentences and then explain to the class if they added a clause or a prepositional phrase to the basic sentence. 

Writing
Using a writing curriculum from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, students learn to compose paragraphs and essays, and practice using stylistic techniques in a fun environment. Students write papers about topics they are covering in the Foundations program, so they are enthusiastic about the subject matter. Tutors model a few writing techniques in class, allow students to practice the techniques, and then suggest a writing assignment to complete at home. This program takes the mystery out of teaching writing for parents, too.

A typical writing class would look something like this:

  1. The tutor demonstrates a writing technique such as using metaphors. 
  2. She gives several examples of metaphors, then goes around the room and asks each student to make up his or her own metaphor. 
  3. She may also model the structure of a good paragraph and ask students to compose sentences together to construct a paragraph that she writes on the board as they go.
  4. Students are asked to write a paragraph at home the following week using that structure and a metaphor for further practice.

Arithmetic Drills and Games
Students gain speed and improve accuracy in mental math computations by playing games with numbers. Tutors use dice, whiteboards, cards, and fun games to drill students in multiplication tables and other operations in order to improve their success when they move into more advanced math topics.
  Parents learn methods they can use at home for further practice. Games vary: Some games will involve the entire class, and some games let students compete one-on-one. Some classes might even go outside and incorporate relays into their math games to get the students moving.

What makes Essentials a classical program?
A classical education capitalizes on the fact that we learn in three stages: 

  • Grammar stage: We memorize the vocabulary and basic facts related to a subject. 
  • Dialectic stage: We learn to sort, analyze, and understand the vocabulary and facts. 
  • Rhetoric stage: We can apply our understanding to the subject in the form of teaching the subject to others, writing original papers, giving original speeches, or solving problems. 

Essentials is a dialectic-stage program. Students memorize the parts of speech and rules for constructing a sentence, which is grammar-level learning,  but they are also asked to sort and analyze and use that information to identify words and write their own sentences. You can tell a dialectic program by the amount of dialogue going on. There will be a lot of questions and answers going on in this class!

Watch a short Essentials overview video.

Essentials FAQ

Can I put my 3rd grader in Essentials?

We recommend starting the Essentials program at fourth grade. Maturity plays a big part in this decision. The majority of third graders do not have the attention span and stamina to sit through two hours of intense instruction. Another reason involves the CC program as a whole. Challenge A, which follows the three years of Essentials, requires that a child be twelve years old. When a student starts the Essentials program in third grade, the family then faces the dilemma of wanting to enroll the student in Challenge A too early, at age eleven.

How long should we spend on Essentials each week?

Generally speaking, the EEL portion should take approximately 30 minutes a day.  That includes copying the Mastery charts and the dialectic element of dictating and parsing sentences.  The writing portion of Essentials will vary by student based on age and ability but generally takes 30-45 minutes.

Do I need to supplement with an additional language arts program?

The Essentials program offers a complete language arts program.  The Essentials of the English Language Guide provides a comprehensive grammar program complete with English grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules.  Our writing curriculum teaches the skills needed to write strong paragraphs and essays.  There should be no need to have an additional Language Arts program. 

Why is it imperative that parents attend and participate in class each week?

Essentials class is not just for students! In fact, students will have a difficult time succeeding in this class without a parent’s constant involvement. Some parents may think that the tutor is there to teach the child, when, in fact, the tutor is there to teach the parent how to teach the child. Each week during class, the tutor will model the lessons for the students and the parents. It is the parent’s responsibility to understand the lesson so that he or she can go home and model it for the student. If the parent is not an active and engaged member of the class, the student may become confused and frustrated with the lessons and won’t thrive in the Essentials environment.

Essentials at Home

Essentials at Home

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