It seems like the age when many parents begin to wonder how much longer they can homeschool their children… Middle School. When kids are around 12 or 13, we start questioning whether or not we should send them back to public school, or enroll them in a private school, and allow them to finish high school with a diploma in their hand.
I won’t lie – we wonder this as well. We have discussions about whether or not our daughter should head to high school next year with her friends, or whether we should stay on the path we are currently on – which is the Classical Conversations Challenge Program.
For those unfamiliar with Classical Conversations, for younger children, CC has Foundations classes, then Essentials classes, all for elementary students. At 12, or around 7th grade (but many start much later), kids can begin the Challenge Program, which is A & B, then Challenge 1 through 4, which cover the high school years. Many students end up graduating out of Challenge 3 as the course load in Challenge A & B could count as high school courses in many states, thus allowing them to earn credits at a rapid speed.
We started Laine in the program a year later than necessary. We had only just learned about CC when she should have been heading into 8th grade, but we decided to place her in Challenge A, feeling that the pros of an extra year of middle school outweighed the cons. The bulk of the positives lay in the material being taught in Challenge A.
Challenge A lays the foundation for the rest of the Challenge Levels, and while CC Foundations and Essentials courses for elementary kids could be helpful, they aren’t necessary for success in Challenge. CCC (Classical Conversations Challenge) covers 6 topics.
- Grammar – students learn Latin for the first 4 years of CCC
- Exposition and Composition – an ambitious literature curriculum where students will lay foundation for essay writing
- Debate – a dynamic geography course where students learn to draw the world in Challenge A
- Research – where kids apply research techniques to learn and write about many biology and anatomy topics
- Rhetoric – a course designed to introduce young Christians to apologetics, argument, and clear reasoning
- Logic – math class – many CC families do not use the recommended math curriculum, which is fine.
These 6 strands are built upon year after year, covering all kinds of topics by the end of CCC 4, such as Chemistry, Philosophy, Economics, World History, and Shakespeare! Because the Challenge Program is laid out so beautifully, it makes the typical high school educational experience pale in comparison, and so, it is our hope to continue the Challenge Program throughout the rest of our daughter’s educational career.
Many people toy with the idea of jumping over CCC A for reasons such as their child is older and could move to B, or they don’t want them to graduate behind their age level. Also, some communities don’t offer Challenge levels, due to low enrollment or lack of interest, forcing families to move to other communities who are only offering B.
We have a few weeks left in our Challenge A year, but I already know for sure that I would not trade this year to have my daughter graduate with her eighth grade friends. I am so thankful we started with A, and here’s why:
Firstly, the topics covered in B are complex, and not all students will be ready to embrace those topics right out of the gate. Challenge A gives a comfortable yet challenging introduction to CCC without being overwhelming. CCC A is difficult when compared to a public school curriculum, yet is also adaptable for each learner. Even though your kids will meet in seminar once a week and have a tutor, you are still the teacher, and are able to adjust the coursework to how you see fit. Some kids don’t do all research papers, or they are condensed to one great paragraph, instead of multiple paragraphs. Others opt out of Latin altogether, instead focusing on developing better English grammar skills at home. All of this is up to you as your child’s teacher.
Still, even with modification as necessary, there is room to enhance the curriculum for your student who may want more than the regular course load by adding in projects, longer research papers, or more difficult math curriculum. It’s the best of both worlds – a great curriculum as is, which means less work for us as parents, but a customizable program which means greater success for your kids.
Challenge A introduces your homeschooled child to accountability to someone other than you! This is powerful. I witnessed this when my daughter would pour herself into a paper like never before because it would need to be presented to her class! Challenge A introduces kids to responsibility for quality work, which many homeschooled kids do not experience. We struggled with this in the previous year, and it is my favorite thing about CCC. She tries her absolute best because she wants to impress her tutor.
The geography curriculum in CCC A is unlike any I had seen before. I truly had never even given a thought to drawing the world before this year. Around Christmastime, my daughter told me that she felt about geography the way she felt about reading when she first learned in primary school – it was like an entire world had opened up to her. Suddenly she understood the news better, had a grasp on current events and politics, and recognized cities, nationalities and features of our earth better than I did!
The introduction to Latin was challenging, yet necessary to move to higher levels of Latin should your child wish to continue in CCC B. While there is a review of the work in B, it is fast paced, and is definitely a review, not a great intro to a new language. In literature, students learn from Lost Tools of Writing, a curriculum which teaches great essay building from the ground up – a step you don’t want your kids to miss.
An unexpected by-product of CCC A for me was my daughters ability to become much more independent, taking a huge leap away from being taught each day, to being self-taught. I’m still always around to help her, but she’s become driven to be a self-starter, usually needing very little prodding to get her work done. This is an answer to prayer in my house, as she has always been dependent on someone sitting beside her, helping her with each step.
Many strands open up great topics of conversation for you and your middle schooler, as well. Literature gives your child the power to build essay topics of their own, defending decisions made by characters in each book. This allows great discussion about right and wrong, and is a window into the moral compass of your child. Rhetoric and apologetics can almost be approached as devotion time in your homeschool.
Within our Challenge A families, we have varying opinions on certain topics, which I believe is important and powerful to expose our kids to. We want them to learn to defend their faith and beliefs, but just as important is that we learn to love each other and be respectful. Exposure to environments that put these things into practice is critical. If you’ve ever felt like your child is too isolated and needs more community, CCC might be the perfect solution to provide your child with relationships, different points of view, conversation, presentation skills and confidence building experiences.
For these reasons and more, I wouldn’t trade our CCC A year. I think for most students, it is necessary for success in the Challenge Program. Not only that, but I would recommend any middle schooler jump into CCC A, even if they haven’t done CC in the elementary years. I wouldn’t have said this a few years ago, not knowing much about it, but the classical model of education is incredible, even for learners who struggle with dyslexia, dyscalculia, or ADD. I am thankful everyday that we were introduced to this community.
A few things to know about Challenge A…
It isn’t free! Tuition is roughly $1100/year. Beyond that, there is a registration fee, a facility fee (different for each location), and curriculum, books and supplies. It takes financial planning for my family, but I have never once thought it wasn’t worth it!
CC recommends that your child spend approximately 6 hours a day at home completing schoolwork. Depending on your student, this might be shortened, but I don’t think many middle schoolers would ever need more time than this.
The reading lists for all Challenge levels are challenging, full of pieces from many time periods, and lots of classics. While I love that the kids are being exposed to this great literature, some younger students, or very weak readers might struggle.
Challenge levels are very self-directed, and require your student to take a lot of responsibility for their learning. It’s worth having a serious discussion with your middle schooler before enrolling to be sure they understand their responsibilities.
Each Challenge level builds on the previous one. While I’m sure there are kids who would be fine jumping a level, if at all possible, start with A and build from there. I think of Challenge like 6 steps of a staircase. Each one is important, and builds a firm foundation with which to take the next step.
Whatever your plans, I wish you success, and leave you with the encouragement that only we as parents truly know what is best for our kids. Take heart, have faith in yourself and your children as you make these tough decisions together!