Updated March 7, 2012: This post is in no way meant to be critical of CC--on the contrary, I hope to give a fair assessment of why it did and didn't work for our family, and why we have chosen not to continue. We had a great CC season. It was a valuable part of our educational journey. The season, however has shifted, and so we must move on, taking what we have learned and putting it to good use in the next.
Many people have stopped by the Accidental Homeschooler searching for information about Classical Conversations (CC). Last year I wrote about what I called "coming full circle" with CC, and in this and future posts, I want to expand on that information and write about why we decided this year to make the switch to Tapestry of Grace. I have said before that "the right tool for the job gets it done." For three years of our home school experience, CC did help tremendously in "getting the job done." Nevertheless, there were a few drawbacks to using the CC method which I will delineate in this post, which is Part 1 of "Why the Switch."
First, let me identify the ways in which CC has helped us. First and foremost, meeting together with other moms was a very important part of our week. It provided a venue for fellowship and community, support, and even friendly competition. Secondly, it helped me figure out how to best organize and carry out our day-to-day lesson plans. Because there was a weekly framework of material to be covered, I could pull together resources which would support what was being presented each week. I learned in CC that my two kids are crazy about history and geography. We squeezed everything we could out of the weekly material. CC also kept me from completely dropping the ball on studying science, which I am prone to do since we all share such a love for the other subjects. Also, it was very convenient to have both of my children studying exactly the same material, allowing me to adjust the presentation of it according to their ability.
Taking all that into account, what follows are the reasons I decided that our CC season had come to an end. From the beginning I could really connect
with the Well-Trained Mind approach to framing our school years with a
four-year plan, using history and geography as a spine from which to
generate our studies. CC uses a 3-year cycle, and this is just a bit too fast for our family, who really enjoys digging into history and taking a bit more time with it. The first year cycle takes a
geography-centered approach to world history, and a very brief overview
of the history of every continent is touched upon. The second year cycle
begins with the Middle Ages and moves quickly through history to the modern
times, and geography studies are focused on Europe. The third year
emphasizes U.S. History and geography. All of these cycles have their
strengths, and one of the things we enjoyed the most about them was
learning the history sentences set to music. I find the kids still
singing them from time to time, especially when something we are talking
about or studying stimulates their memory. Even so, I prefer a more
linear 4-year approach beginning with the ancients and ending with
Another aspect of CC became a challenge for us to manage, and that is the emphasis placed on the
"Memory Master" achievement. You can read about what a Memory Master is here.
We found at the beginning that the memorization of the material
combined with our supplemental studies was done easily. However, as the
school year progressed and we were reviewing and drilling more and more
material, there was less and less time to dig in to our reading, writing
and hands-on projects which were intended to give life and dimension to
the very facts that we were memorizing. When it came time to test for
Memory Master (MM), we spent two weeks primarily preparing for the examination, not getting
much of anything else done. I will say that the value in this exercise was that my boy
learned how to push himself beyond what he would normally do and to
challenge himself. It was rather exhilarating in the moment,
and I am not sorry at all that we did it, but I learned that a more evenly distributed pace of learning throughout the year is preferable for us.
Lastly, because of the pace
at which we moved through history, it was impossible to dig in to all of
the areas that the history sentences touched on. This may work well for
someone who has little to moderate interest in history, but for my
history-ravenous son, I felt I had to keep moving him through the material before he was ready. Knowing just a little about
something was not enough to satisfy him. In science, it was fine--the
science questions were sufficient since that is not where he gravitates.
He enjoys science, but he is not hungry for it.
I was also beginning to look ahead and study the Challenge program. I had friends who had kids in Challenge A and B, and I was observing their experiences closely, not to mention studying the curricula that the students used. Again, the four-year history cycle is not present. This is not to say there is no "method to their madness" because I believe that there is, and it clearly works well for many people. But as I looked ahead at the program, I could not see our family flowing with that approach. Again, I would like to see a 4-year history cycle, and out of that study related literature, geography, church history, fine arts, and even science. Furthermore, the Challenge program is different from Foundations in that it ceases to follow the cyclical nature of Foundations. With the age span of my children, I recognize that it will be difficult to keep them "on the same page" through their whole school careers, however, middle school was a little too soon (to my mind) to have one child studying an entirely different course from my younger child. I wanted to be able to study the same topics with them, at different levels.
In Part 2 of "A Change of Seasons" I will discuss the ways in which Tapestry of Grace has satisfied the very things that I found to be either lacking or challenging in the CC method, as well as a review of the curriculum up to this point.