Three years ago, mother of four Lisa Roush was feeling “really burned out” after home-schooling her children on her own for almost 11 years.
Roush believed in the “classical model” of education, which is based on the belief that “there are natural stages of learning,” she said. Or “working with the grain of our kids and not against the grain.”
She knew about a home-school support organization, Classical Conversations, that was popular in Florida where she lived.
When she moved to Kentucky around three years ago, the closest CC community she could find was in Danville, and that program was full, she discovered.
So she started a community in Madison County with just five families. In its second year, six more families joined. This year, 27 families and 36 children from seven counties are involved. The program caters to students grades K-12.
“I needed the encouragement from other moms, my kids needed encouragement from other kids and I needed that accountability ― and it works,” Roush said.
What is Classical Conversations?
The home-school support organization began 16 years ago in North Carolina with five students, Roush said. Now, more than 48,000 students are enrolled worldwide.
The families meet once a week for 24 weeks or 30 weeks, depending on age and program participation.
All students, of all ages, cover the same subjects in each learning area: history, geography, English, Latin, math and science. Sixth-graders will cover the same material as kindergarteners, but are expected to cover the material in greater depth.
For example, this week’s science focus was on the parts of a volcano. A 5-year-old could be making a model volcano with his parent, whereas a 12-year-old could be reading a book about the Roman town of Pompeii that was partially destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.
“There is core information, but what you do with with it at home is up to you,” Roush said.
Classical Conversations is divided into three programs: Foundations (grades K-6), Essentials (4-6) and Challenge (7-12).
Much of a child’s early learning is based on memorization of “new grammar,” or the material, she said, “but in a fun way.”
In CC, “grammar” means the “basic building parts of any subject that you would want to learn,” she said.
For example, the grammar of math is the multiplication tables, or the grammar of science is the parts of an animal cell or the parts of a flower.
Tuesday, in a Foundations class of 6- to 8-year-olds, children were singing the first declensions of Latin to the tune of the song “Bingo,” and the second declensions to “Jingle Bells.”
Declensions are the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives and articles to indicate number, case and gender. When students get to the Challenge program, they are able to diagram Latin sentences and translate them into English easier if they have already memorized Latin declensions.
“When kids are little, they just absorb all of that stuff. So we make it fun through songs, dance and chants to get that information into their head,” Roush said. “We give them the tools they are going to need later when they get into the more analytic stages of their education.”
Parents do this already, she said, such as with the alphabet song or the Pledge of Allegiance. “You say the same thing over and over again, for a long period of time. And I may not have said the Pledge of Allegiance in years, but I’m never going to forget it.”
Children naturally move into the “dialectic or logic stage” in the middle school years, she said, when they go from learning the “whos, whats, wheres and whens” to the “why and the how.”
Ultimately, children reach the “rhetoric stage,” she said, “where you take all of the information you learned and put it all together and present it, like a rhetorician.”
The Challenge program is academically rigorous, she said. It prepares students for college and career by “giving them the tools they need to learn any new subject.”
In CC, each academic year (24 or 30 weeks) equals a cycle. The goal is to get each child through each cycle three times before they graduate the program, Roush said.
Cycle 1 covers ancient world history; Cycle 2 covers medieval to new-world history; and Cycle 3 covers U.S. history. All of the other subjects (geography, science, fine arts, etc.) correlate to these time periods.
Parents are required to buy one $50 curriculum guide that can be used for every child in the family for all three cycles.
In their community, Roush said, she encourages parents to not spend a lot of money on text books for certain grades, but to build a library of resources to expand on the curriculum.