How Can I Customize the Essentials Program?

In this blog, updated for 2020, a homeschool mom provides insight into how to customize the Classical Conversations Essentials program, which is designed for parents homeschooling children ages 9-12. Link to the original post is at the bottom.

Homeschool students in art class painting a project.My daughter and I love language, so we both expected to love Essentials. Eventually, we did—with modifications. While reading came easily for her at a young age, writing did not, and it was extremely difficult during her first tour of Essentials. She had begun to live in dread of copying the mastery charts.


How Do I Customize Classical Conversations’ Essentials Program?

 Quick Tips:

 Try working through charts verbally, in a conversational manner.

  • Incorporate physical playtime into the review process.
  • Ask your student questions about the connections between the charts.
  • Have your student experiment by giving verbal examples of the grammar concepts that they cover.
  • Engage in wordplay with your student by joining them in coming up with silly example sentences that use the grammar they are learning.

My experience:

I knew one of the primary reasons my daughter loves language is the value she places on relationships and conversation. One afternoon when we were both tired and really didn’t want to work on charts, I challenged her with, “I bet you can’t tell me Chart A while I’m tickling you!” It turned out that, through peals of laughter, she could. After that, we began working through the charts verbally, conversationally, and playfully. Essentials never felt so good!

Over the next two years, her ease with writing has increased. She is now perfectly capable of quickly copying the charts, but still, we often choose to recite them instead. It provides a perfect opportunity for me to pose questions about connections between charts or ask her to give me examples of the grammar concept covered; even better, it offers an opportunity for great, relationship-building conversations.

Another favorite activity has been creating fun example sentences and discussing them in the car as we run errands. It was during one of these free-flowing conversations that, inspired by an interrogative sentence inquiring whether pearls come from clams or oysters, she gave our wonderful partnership a name. We are the Grammar Clams. Since then she has given me cards with slogans like, “Grammar Clams Forever!” and the two of us depicted as little clams chatting through text bubbles. What a reward for tailoring her work to better fit her needs and aptitudes!

Tailoring Presentations

Consider your goals:

  • To gain discipline: having your student choose from set topics can exercise the ability to follow directions and speak engagingly on topics that don’t necessarily excite them.
  • To gain creativity and independence: having your student choose their own topics encourages them to explore their passions and make decisions.

My experience:

Presentations are another area where we have made some adjustments to suit our varying needs. One year I required her to follow the suggested topics offered by her tutor because at the time we were working hard on following instructions. I believe it’s important for her to be able to speak engagingly and well even on topics that don’t necessarily excite her.

This year, with other areas becoming more regimented in preparation for Challenge, I have given her free reign with her presentation topics and they have provided a wonderful incentive to explore interests and share passions with her class. Interestingly, two presentations this year have been inspired by her copy work from the Classical Conversations poetry PreScripts book. One presentation, suggested by the “General Prologue” to The Canterbury Tales, discussed the death of Thomas Becket and his relationship to King Henry II, husband to Eleanor of Aquitaine and father of Richard the Lionhearted and King John who signed the Magna Carta. The other, inspired by George Herbert’s “Easter,” featured shaped poems, and she even chose to write her own shaped poem to share with the class.

Customize the Essentials program, all with the accountability of community!

What a gift Classical Conversations has given us—both a pattern to follow and the freedom to tailor it as needed. How beautiful to model academic excellence, yet to properly value character and relationships over academic achievements. I treasure this freedom to adjust our approach, our focus, and specific assignments to best fit my daughter and our family.

To learn more about how you can take advantage of both the structure and freedom of a Classical Conversations education, click to get connected to your local community.


This article was updated and adapted by Sarah Iddings from “The Grammar Clams or Fashioning the Perfect Fit” by Rachel Brown.



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