By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
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.
A typical school day
Foundation students begin at 9 a.m. with a group assembly of all the families. One parent leads the group in reviewing the “timeline song,” a song students use to memorize 161 events in world history.
Memorization of the song takes 23 weeks, and during week 24, students learn another song to memorize all U.S. presidents.
The timeline is memorized every year, but each cycle focuses on different parts.
In the standard education model, students learn world history one year, U.S and European history a different year, Roush said. “What this does is it lays history out chronologically. So not only do we study historical events, we also look at the time period (in which they occurred).”
At 9:30 a.m., students break off into their separate age groups. Groups are determined by each year’s enrollment.
Each group is led by a tutor that models the classical method. Tutors receive more than 40 hours of training each year and their own children are enrolled in the program.
Home-schooling parents also are required to receive training and attend Foundation programs.
“If you’re choosing to home school, you yourself have to be educated in what you’re doing,” Roush said. She does not know of any parent involved in their community who received the classical method of education as a child.
If parents already have a home-schooling program established, some parents pick and choose parts of the CC program that work in their curriculum.
For the first 30 minutes, the tutor introduces all the new information for the week. During the next 30 minutes, they complete a science experiment that correlates with the science topic. Students then spend 30 minutes on a fine arts project that correlates with the history topic.
Following the art project, children give presentations for 30 minutes, something that is required for all ages. Challenge students must conduct two presentations every week.
Each week, tutors emphasize a different public speaking skill, such as poise, volume and eye contact. Student may present on a topic of their choice.
“It’s not the topics, or the content, it’s the skill. We want the kids to be comfortable standing up in front of people,” Roush said.
At noon, all the classes come together for lunch and then a half hour of recess.
At 1 p.m., the Essentials program begins for children ages 9 to12. They spend 45 minutes writing about topics that tie into the history subjects on the curriculum; 45 minutes studying English grammar; and 20 minutes studying math facts, in which they conduct drills for “speed and accuracy.”
For Challenge students, the day begins at 8:30 a.m. The six one-hour seminars are taught by one tutor who teaches math, Latin, rhetoric, geography, science and writing/literature.
Roush has two children in the Challenge program and two children in Foundations and Essentials.
“The Challenge program ties into and builds on the Foundations program, so when we’re all home together, they can all talk about the same things,” she said.
Do you have to be a Christian?
The program’s motto is “Classical. Christian. Community.” but you do not have to be a Christian to participate.
“The curriculum is based on a Christian world view,” Roush said. “But you do not have to sign a statement of belief or anything.”
The evolution vs. creationism issue is “left up to the parents,” she said. “We present information, but we don't teach doctrine.”
If you are not a Christian, “you may not feel super-comfortable with the program,” she added, because children must memorize the Ten Commandments and a different portion of scripture each year.
“The program believes that God is the creator, but what the parents elect to do with that at home is totally up to them,” Roush said.
The Foundations program is 24 weeks and costs $325. The Essentials program is 24 weeks and also costs $325. The Challenge program is 30 weeks and costs $1,100.
An informational meeting is scheduled Feb. 25 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Unity Baptist Church at 1290 Barnes Mill Road in Richmond (where classes are conducted).
An open house is scheduled March 5 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To register, email Lisa Roush at email@example.com.
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.