If you are new to the classical education model, I suggest reading this. You can learn more about our experience with Classical Conversations here.
How We Use Classical Conversations at Home
I'll start by saying that I am not a stickler for memory work at this age. Since we started young, my children will go through each cycle more than once. At this stage, I want them to enjoy the process. I'll expect more as they progress, but for now, we get what we get, and I'm fine with that. I am amazed at what they pick up with little effort.
Here are the things we do each week:
1 - Review the memory work at the start of class
I use a tri-board to review the weekly memory work. This generally takes 30 minutes or less, depending on how many questions are asked.
2 - Listen to songs in the van
I create CDs specific to each week. I simply play them in the van when we are out and about.
3 - Review Puzzle Maps
Since geography is one of our weekly topics, I tend to pull the puzzle maps as we review. It's a very popular topic. This is an activity we engaged in routinely before our CC experience.
4 - Read Books on Related Topics
I create weekly book bins. We tend to read one book per day. This is something we always did anyway. It simply directs which books I choose. The children can review books at will, which happens often.
5 - Engage in Fine Arts
Depending on the current topic, we may view art, listen to music, practice the tin whistle, or create art. This is something we tend to do occasionally anyway, so CC simply gives us direction.
6 - Review Nomenclature Cards
I often put various cards on the shelves that relate to science topics. It isn't uncommon for us to review a set of cards if the interest arises. But I think this is one of those areas where CC and Montessori blend so well that I don't know exactly which category this falls under.
As you can see, we engaged in more than half of the activities listed prior to joining a CC community. CC has simply given me guidance in which topics to pursue.
Classical Conversations and the Primary Student
I have found the blend at the primary level can depend heavily on the flavor of Montessori you prefer. There is a wide difference on where culture topics, such as science, geography, and history, fall at this stage. Some treat is as separate topics that are explored with some depth. Others see it as a way to explore language. Personally, I have come to see culture at the primary level in the latter manner. In other words, science concepts that are taught only from the vocabulary and classification perspective. This pairs perfectly with the weekly memory sentences, which is also known as the grammar stage in Classical.
Our primary program only covers four areas - language, mathematics, practical life, and sensorial. It doesn't mean that cultural aspects are not present. They are simply treated as an extension of language and sensorial. CC expects parents at the Foundations level to add a language and mathematics program of their choosing, so there is no conflict in those areas. And of course, practical life and sensorial are unique to Montessori, so they stand alone.
Classical Conversations and the Elementary Student
As the reasoning mind develops, new topics are explored. The Montessori core expands into geometry, biology, history, and geography. There is also more in-depth work for fine arts. The CC student will continue the Foundations program through elementary. As mentioned, this means the student will still need an external mathematics and language program, which is offered in the Montessori core. I have found that the Montessori study of geography complements the work in Foundations beautifully as both take a very strong focus in this area. The two areas that might seem to contradict each other are biology and history.
In the case of biology, I think it fits beautifully with Cycle 1 work - not that the work shouldn't be addressed at any point the child has interest. Much like geography, I feel the two complement each other and help drive further interest in the child.
As to Montessori history, it is left rather open-ended at the elementary level. The child explores the creation of the Earth and various timelines, such as the coming of life and the timeline of man. CC also takes a strong focus on the timeline. In fact, I have found that the CC timeline is an excellent substitute for the classic Montessori Coming of Man Timeline. While our personal beliefs have caused me to approach a number of the Montessori timelines differently, I have come to appreciate the purpose of each one. The CC timeline has been a powerful learning tool for my children, so I'm excited to build upon the experience with the various Montessori timelines. I do think they complement each other beautifully and give a far clearer picture as a whole. The rest of the Montessori history experience is designed to be child led. What better way to spark my children's interest in history than from our weekly history statements in CC. I have already seen my oldest take a detailed interest in certain events thanks to our weekly work.
A CC student at the upper elementary level will also join the CC Essentials program. This program is primarily designed to help with writing skills as well as refine basic math. We still have a few years before we enter this level, but I do not anticipate any conflicts. I have taken a brief look into the program, and it is phenomenal at teaching research skills, something which is important to Montessori as well. In many cases, the children are open to research and write about topics that interest them. In many ways, I'll be happy to have some additional support when we reach this stage.
Classical Conversations and our Long Term Goals
While these two methods have blended well for us, you may be left asking why we chose to add Classical Conversations to the mix in the first place. Our long term goals with Classical Conversations is the Challenge program which encompasses 7th-12th grade. It is the most in-depth program offered by CC and provides the vast majority of experiences I hope to give my children at that stage. While it is far more involved than Foundations and Essentials, there is enough freedom and flexibility to incorporate the other areas we feel are important. These areas are practical life for the adolescent, an Erdkinder-like entrepreneurial experience, and service opportunities in the community. It isn't that I don't trust Montessori at the adolescent level. In fact, I think the Challenge offering firm meets many of the needs Maria Montessori identified for the adolescent. The rhetoric stage is designed to help students learn critical thinking with topics relevant to society, all while developing self discipline in a challenging environment of peers. Granted, we have a long road ahead of us, so anything could happen, but I would be satisfied if we continue this path.
Is This Blend Right for You?I can't possibly answer that. Every homeschool family has a set of unique blend of talents and needs. If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to attend a CC Info Meeting, Open House or Parent Practicum.
And if you are interested in a similar blend, I encourage you to join the new Montessori and Classical Hybrid Homeschooling group on Facebook.