Category Archives: Curriculum Reviews

Classical Conversations Foundations and Essentials Review – My (Almost) Midyear Thoughts

Launching a rocket in science at CC.

Launching a rocket in science at CC.

This is our first year in Classical Conversations.  My daughter is enrolled in Foundations and Essentials and is in 4th grade.  I can’t believe that we are in Week 11 of Classical Conversations.  My 9 year-old daughter loves the program.  Every week I am more thankful that we enrolled.  However, if I would have written this post six weeks ago, I would have said that I had a love-hate relationship with Classical Conversations.  Since then, I have found some ways to really make this program work for our family.

My goal in this post is to answer all of the questions that I had before we enrolled and as we tried to settle into a routine in both Foundations and Essentials.  Here’s a post that I wrote earlier this year that describes the Foundations program in more detail.

1) My child is older that K5/1st grade.  Can I start CC at any time?  Has my child missed too much?  

Although the program is designed so that if your child begins in 1st grade, he or she will be exposed to each of the 3 cycles two times, it is fine to start at any time.  Katie started in 4th grade, which means that she will only complete each cycle once.  I plan to make the most of it.  One of the things that we did to get a head start was practice the timeline over the summer.  This helped her this year because she already knew a lot of it at the beginning of the year.

2) What do you actually do in Foundations?

Each week you will learn the week’s memory work alongside your child.  This includes the timeline, Bible memory, math facts, English grammar, science, a history sentence, Latin, and geography.  Once this new material has been introduced and practiced, the class will do an art project, play the tin whistle, or learn about an artist or composer, depending on the 6 week period that you are in.  Science experiments are also conducted weekly and there is a review period where the class plays games to review previous weeks’ memory work.

3) is Foundations enough?  What other books and materials do I need?  Should I supplement with additional courses or materials?

I really thought that I would need to supplement CC, but now I see that I was wrong.  Especially for a child 2nd grade or younger,  I would only add math and language arts.  Instead of adding formal science and history curricula, you may just decide to use the timeline and science cards and get books and DVDs from the library.  We use Discovery Education for short video clips to help expand on science and history memory work along with library books and videos.  If you homeschool with SCAIHS (Option 2 in SC), Discovery Education is free.  Since Katie is in 4th grade, I added Apologia Astronomy this year.  It quickly became overwhelming, so I moved it back to one day per week.  Next year I plan to do Apologia Anatomy over the summer and on CC off weeks, doing much less during the 24 weeks of CC.  We also use Story of the World, but we have cut that back to just the MP3 recordings, which we do mostly in the car.

The materials your child will need for Foundations are the Foundations Guide ($60) and a tin whistle per child ($10 each).  It is also helpful to get the  timeline cards ($88).  You only need one Foundations Guide and one set of timeline cards per family.  Each of these items will be used again each year.  Another very useful resource is the audio CD ($35), which has all of the memory work songs and information on it.  You will need a new one for each cycle.  We use ours in the car frequently.  Another product that I really like is the Prescripts Cursive History Sentences and Art Lessons ($12.99).  We used this as a way to reinforce the history sentences while practicing cursive.  It has bonus drawing lessons as well.

4) What do you do in Essentials?  Do I need anything else for language arts?

Essentials meets after lunch for two hours on the same day as Foundations.  The class begins with English grammar review including charts and diagramming (EEL).  Then there is a short break and math games, and they move on to writing (IEW).  During the writing portion, the tutor will review the new material that should be included in the paper for the week. Then the kids may read their papers from the previous week, depending on time.  This may sound boring, but my daughter LOVES it.  It is a very quick two hours, and there is a very high participation rate from the kids in the class.

The only thing that needs to be added to Essentials is reading.  I created a reading list and we are making our way through it over the course of the year.

5) My child is new to CC.  Should I wait to start Essentials?  Is it too much for the first year?

We started Essentials this year (in Katie’s first year), and I am glad we did.   Katie has really improved in her grammar and writing skills, even with little background preparation.   Some of the moms in our group recommended First Language Lessons for younger kids as a way to prepare them for Essentials.  The Foundations English grammar memory work will also help prepare younger kids for Essentials.

6) What do you do the rest of the week?  What does CC look like at home?

Our community meets on Tuesday, so our first day for the week at home is Wednesday.  This is the schedule that we have been using at home for the past six weeks or so:

Tuesday:  CC day (we don’t do anything else except listen to the Timeline Song in the car on the way there.)

Math: Saxon Math lesson, investigation, or test
Essentials: 3 analytical task sheets for 3 sentences through the beginning of task 5, IEW vocabulary review, spelling list review, new chart review using songs, complete editing exercise for the week
Foundations: Review timeline and science cards, use Discovery Education video clips to expand on science and timeline, review current week’s new material, review Latin and English grammar from the beginning of the year to the current week, review Bible verses from the beginning of the year to the current week.

Math: Saxon Math lesson, investigation, or test
Essentials: Key word outline and draft of paper, chart review using songs
Foundations: Review current week’s new material, review science, math, and history grammar from the beginning of the year to the current week.  History Prescripts:  write history sentence for the week in cursive.
Apologia Astronomy: Lesson for the week

Math: Saxon Math lesson, investigation, or test
Essentials: Complete final draft of paper, review charts with songs
Foundations: Review geography and timeline for the year and current week’s new material, and sing Presidents Song.  Prepare presentation for the upcoming week and practice delivery of presentation.
Story of the World: Listen to the lesson for the week on the iPad.

Math: Saxon Math lesson, investigation, or test
Essentials: Review charts with songs (once per six weeks we do a vocabulary quiz on Monday)
Foundations: Spelling test, practice presentation, complete a written CC test for all memory work subjects for the week.  Using the iPad App, briefly review the next week’s material. Complete Bible copy work for verse of the week.  History Prescripts-copy history sentence again in cursive and complete drawing lesson.

This schedule takes from about 8 am to 12 pm each day.  We take a lunch break, and for another hour after lunch we watch DVDs from the library, read, practice piano and guitar, or complete an art project, depending on the day.  Katie also reads again before bed at night.

How to Make CC Work for You

I think most families will need to create some organization around the Foundations memory work or it could get overwhelming very quickly.  You can’t review all subjects for the whole year every day. We started out by doing this, but at a certain point, the volume is too great and it is not sustainable.  It is better to split it up over the week.  This has taken the hate out of my previous love-hate relationship with Foundations.  At about week 6 or 7 it had taken over our life until we implemented the schedule above.

With Essentials, it can be even more overwhelming if you don’t realize that it is intended to be a three year program.  Here are some of the ways that I have modified Essentials for my 4th grader:

1. I hardly ever have her copy charts.  We review them with songs instead.  When I do have her write them, I have her do it from memory just to see what she knows.  We probably do this once a week for only one chart at a time.

2. We focus on the charts that correspond to Cycle 2 in Foundations much more than the rest.  This has reduced confusion and she is GETTING IT!!!  It is also a huge time saver.

3. We do not do all 5 sentences each week. This year I have her do the 3 basic sentences and she completes them through task 4.  We just recently started including part of task 5 (through simple and compound sentences).  As she learns the other sentence types, we will add those.  Next year I plan to have her do all five sentences through task 5, and in 6th grade, I plan to have her include task 6 (quid et quo).

4. We do not handwrite the IEW papers.  Instead, she dictates as I type.  This saves tons of time.  Once the draft is prepared, we review it for errors and make sure that she has all of the dress ups, etc. There are also times when I modify the writing assignment to better fit her level.  For example, sometimes the assignment can be completed in one paragraph instead of three.  

The Bottom Line

We LOVE Classical Conversations and plan to stick with it for the long haul.  I am amazed at what Katie has been able to do this year.  The growth that I have seen in her in so many areas is unbelievable, especially considering that she was a struggling student in public school.  Classical Conversations really is more than just memorizing facts.  The facts are ordered via the timeline, the Essentials Program, and other materials that we are using like Story of the World and Apologia. The connections that Katie has been able makes from the memory work to text books, videos, library books, field trips, and Bible passages are really what makes Classical Conversations an outstanding program.

Katie's Penguins on Ice Painting (Lesson 13)

Curriculum Review: Home Art Studio

Home Art StudioNote: We paid the full price for this curriculum and researched it on our own.   We are in no way connected to the company, we are only end users of the product.

We have been using Home Art Studio with Lindsey Volin for Third Grade all year and are nearing the end of the program.  We have two lessons left out of 16 at this point in the year.  We have been completing about two lessons per month.

Home Art Studio is a DVD based program for kindergarten through 5th graders.  First you  watch the DVD segment for the lesson that you are working on.  At the end of the lesson, you can pause the video on a picture of the completed project that you can then use for reference.  The DVD also comes with a pdf file that you can print off that gives written instructions for each lesson for the parents.  I printed this out as my lesson plan and just write the date on the lesson as we complete them.  A supply list is also provided.

Katie's Vegetable Watercolor Paining (Lesson 3)

Katie’s Vegetable Watercolor Paining (Lesson 3)

Projects included in the third grade DVD are paintings, drawings, stamping, and sculpting. Your child will use acrylic paint, water paint, oil pastels, Sculpey clay, colored pencils, and magic markers to create their projects.

Katie's Starry Night Painting (Lesson 8)

Katie’s Starry Night Painting (Lesson 8)

Katie has really enjoyed this program.  She has learned about different styles and types of art, been on a virtual tour of an art museum, and has seen paintings from famous artists in the lessons.  The DVD could easily be used for more than one child, and I think it would also lend itself well to multiple grades (although it is designed by grade level).

Katie's Cubist Vases Picture (Lesson 11)

Katie’s Cubist Vases Picture (Lesson 11)


1) This was an easy way for me to add art projects that include concepts like tint, shade, texture, overlapping and perspective (I am not an artist).  We are also learning about art concepts together since my public school art classes did not really stress any of this when I was a child.

2) The program can be used for multiple children and in my opinion, for multiple grades as long as they are relatively close in age.

3) Although you do need to buy art supplies, we will have enough left over to complete the 4th Grade program next year with the possible exception of paper.

4) The program is $25, which I consider to be very reasonable for a whole year of art curriculum.

5) You can take your time with each project. I would estimate that each project takes 1-2 hours from start to finish.  My daughter loves art, but was frustrated with her art class in public school last year because she did not have enough time to finish each project.

Katie's Penguins on Ice Painting (Lesson 13)

Katie’s Penguins on Ice Painting (Lesson 13)


1) I was a little bit overwhelmed by the supply list at first, especially as I tried to find everything at Michael’s.  Once using the product, however, I realized that I took the supply list a little bit too seriously and substitutions could have been made.

2) The supplies can be pricey, but you can use them with multiple kids and over multiple years, which helps.

Verdict:  We love it and plan to use the program next year for 4th grade.

Confessions of a First Year Homeschooling Mom

family 1

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. John 1:16 NIV

Happy New Year! We have made it through the first half of our first homeschooling year. My daughter came out of public school after second grade and she is now half way through her third grade year. Homeschooling hasn’t been exactly what I thought it would be, but it has been a huge blessing for our family. These are the things that have surprised me the most so far.

1) Homeschooling is a lot easier than I thought it would be.

If you read our Why We Homeschool post, you know that I am not one of these people who have had a life long desire to homeschool. In fact, the idea would never had occurred to me on my own. For us it was a God thing. And while I did not exactly come to the decision to homeschool kicking and screaming, I also had a lot of concerns at the time. Primarily, I wanted to make sure that we could help Katie improve in school and that we would do what we needed to do to comply with South Carolina’s homeschool laws. We are doing Option 2, and we have so much support through SCAIS, that it has been way easier than I ever thought it could be. The hardest part is probably picking your curriculum. We have been lucky with our choices so far and have not had to make a change. But when you are homeschooling, you can change at any time if the curriculum does not fit your child.

2) Homeschooling is a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

My daughter enjoys learning now and that is a huge blessing. She is back to being her fun loving, always smiling self that we missed last year. Our whole family has enjoyed homeschooling. I have been surprised at how much my husband has participated in this process. We have tried to be diligent about digging deeper in the subjects my daughter is studying. That is the fun part, and where you can be creative. Even though we are using Monarch as our core curriculum and I do not have to create each lesson, we can add writing assignments, science experiments, art projects, and field trips or watch DVDs and read library books to learn more and to create those hands-on experiences. These things help kids learn and create lasting family memories as well.

3) I had no idea that homeschooling would create so many opportunities for family time.

Just being there during her school day has been one of the biggest blessings for me. We have gained so much more time with our daughter and as a family. When my daughter was at public school, she was away from the house from 7:30 am until about 2:45 pm. When she got home, we had to get through the homework. Then it was a rush to gymnastics, dinner, bath and bedtime. Our family time was mostly on the weekends. That has completely changed for us. We are now with her during her school day, we get to be part of her “a ha” moments when she understands a concept. She still has plenty of time to be with other kids at gymnastics, choir, basketball, clubs, church, and field trips, but we have gained valuable family time and we have gained the ability to make God the center of her school day.

4) Everyone will have an opinion on how (and if) you should homeschool.

I was surprised that there were so many opinions about homeschooling out there. Some families like computer based curriculum, and others do not. Some families like videos, and others prefer workbooks. Some families unschool. (I still have not completely determined what this means.) Some families will insist that their way is the best way. You may even have family members or friends who do not support homeschooling. I have learned that none of it matters if your child is doing well with your choice to homeschool and the curriculum you have selected. The best way to homeschool is to follow your state requirements in the best way that suits your child’s learning style and your family. I stated earlier that we got lucky with our curriculum selection, since it has worked so well for us. We chose Monarch because it is God centered, it meets our state requirements, it covers the SC academic standards for third graders, and it is computer based. My daughter thinks anything on the computer is fun, so that is a bonus for us. Before homeschooling, I would have told you that I thought my daughter was an auditory learner. I now realize that she is actually a visual learner. Monarch was a great fit for her learning style and this has made school so much easier for her. She has even commented that art is easier for her than it was in public school because we use a DVD based art program and she can pause the video and study what she is supposed to do before doing it. Even though our choices are working well now, I still plan to continue researching and be open to changing things if it becomes necessary.

What has surprised you most about homeschooling?

Why We Love Monarch

We have been using Monarch from Alpha Omega Publications this year for our third grade core curriculum and have really been pleased with it.  We started on July 30, so we have been using it for about 9 weeks now.  The Third Grade 5-Subject Set includes: Bible, History and Geography, Language Arts, Math, and Science.  There are not a lot of reviews on this curriculum since it is somewhat new. So, I thought that I would tell you what I think from the point of view of a first year homeschooling mom whose child was in public school until the end of second grade.

Why We Chose Monarch

We wanted a Christian curriculum, but I also knew we wanted a computer based curriculum if we could find one. My daughter thinks anything done on the computer is fun.  I had to overcome major issues with frustration with school work after the end of second grade so anything we could do to make school seem more fun was a plus for me.  Katie also likes to work independently sometimes, and with Monarch, you can work together or independently.  We tested Monarch out by purchasing the Bible class in April of last year and working on the class periodically throughout the summer.

SC Homeschool Requirements and Monarch

We are homeschooling under SC Option 2.  The state of South Carolina requires science, math, history and geography, and language arts at a minimum for homeschoolers.  Monarch’s 5 subject set covers all of these plus Bible.  Monarch’s Math and Language Arts seemed to pick up right where second grade left off in public school so they were both easy transitions.  Monarch Third Grade Science fits the SC state standards for third graders almost perfectly.  History and Geography is completely different from what is taught in SC public schools based on the standards I have reviewed and the research I have done.  SC public schools focus mainly on SC history in third grade.  I am gong to be adding a unit study on SC history in order to cover this material with Katie.  We are also taking field trips to the State Museum, the State House and other places around the state to help us cover the material.

What I Like About Monarch

  1. It is a Christian based multi-media approach to learning.  Children learn by reading or listening to the lesson, playing games, and watching video clips. At the end of the lesson, there are questions to answer. There are weekly quizzes and tests at the end of each unit as well.
  2. The daily questions have drastically improved Katie’s reading comprehension, and her grades have improved in all subjects.
  3. Studying for tests has become much easier because most of the classes have end unit review games that are a fun way for her to study.
  4. I don’t have to do all of the planning with Monarch.  There is a good core curriculum there, so I spend my time planning field trips, writing assignments, and projects based around what she is learning or becomes interested in.  For example, in History and Geography, Katie is learning about farms.  This led us to the library to get non-fiction books on farms.  One of the books was about pioneer farms. This led to reading Little House on the Prairie.  We’re going to see a dairy farm in the upstate and an apple orchard in North Carolina.  This type of thing really adds to the program, and I have plenty of time for planning because I’m not doing extensive lesson planning.
  5. I don’t spend excessive time grading.  Monarch grades the bulk of the work for you.  I received notices that I need to grade answers that are fill-in-the blank or essay questions, but the rest of it is done for me.  This gives us more time to enjoy the learning process.
  6. I love the calendar function.  Katie responds well to structure so she likes being able to sign in and see what work is scheduled for that day or for the week as a whole.
  7. The science experiments have been fun.  Honestly there are a lot of them, but we love science.  You do have the ability to un-assign any lesson that you do not want your child to do, and you can also skip individual questions on daily work, tests, or quizzes if you choose to do so.
  8. I can add special projects to any of the classes if I want to, and I can also change the instructions for projects or experiments that are already assigned.  Sometimes I have Katie prepare her science experiments as PowerPoint presentations instead of just typing her responses since she thinks that’s fun, and it helps her improve her computer skills.
  9. Monarch is portable!  We can do school from anywhere as long as we have an internet connection.  You can even make Monarch work on an iPad using a special browser.
  10. Monarch is relatively easy to set up and use.  No one in my family is a computer expert, but we had no trouble using this system.  My daughter acted as if she was born knowing how to use the system.  That’s not surprising since she picked up my iPad and started using it from day one also.
  11. Monarch works on Mac! This should probably have been listed as number one.

What I Don’t Like About Monarch

I can really only think of two wish list items that I would like AOP to incorporate:

  1. Give the calendar function the ability to allow you to add other subjects to a given day.  We also do typing, cursive, gymnastics, and art that are outside of Monarch.  There is a way to do this, but it can be tricky.  My work-around for now is using a separate Google Calendar for homeschool.  Katie does not use the Google Calendar, so it would be better if the Monarch calendar was a little bit more flexible.
  2. I wish I could print or view the entire unit to review it at once as a pdf file.  Currently, you have to look at each lesson one by one.  I do not have a work-around for this one but it is a minor annoyance when compared to the benefits from this program.

Other Considerations

Monarch is perfect fit for us so far, but there are some things that you should consider before using Monarch:

  1. It would be possible to it use without a computer for each child if you have multiple children, but it would be a little harder.
  2. The cost would increase if you have more than one child since the material cannot be recycled.  You get 18 months to finish the class once you purchase the curriculum.  My understanding is that AOP plans to  addressed this concern in some way.

Have you used Monarch?  Is it working for you?

The Mystery of History

I recently added The Mystery of History audio books to our 2012-2013 curriculum.  We are not doing the activities and testing with this because we already use  Monarch History and Geography and there are plenty quizzes, etc. in that program.  Since the 3rd grade curriculum is what I would call social studies (learning about various communities like farming and mining), I really wanted to incorporate some history.  I did not want to completely change though, because I like what she is currently doing.

We decided to use the MP3 files and we listen to them as a family after dinner and when traveling in the car.   We ordered Volume 1:  Creation to the Resurrection (only the first quarter, just to test it out).  The segments are short (maybe 2-10 minutes each) so we generally listen to 2-4 or more at a time.  The are engaging and fun, and add the history component I wanted without a lot of extra work.  I love that it is Bible based and presents world history along a timeline.  Have you used Mystery of History?  Do you have any other ideas about how to use it?