I have answered this question about Foundations many, many times! Classical Conversations (CC) is a unique creature in the homeschooling world – a community, but not technically a co-op. National (international, even!), cyclical, and very broad. This can be tricky to get your mind around. I do think CC’s website has improved over the years, but sometimes we just are looking for another mom to spell it out for us. That’s what I’m going to do here.
I’ve tried to make this post as thorough as possible, thinking carefully through all of the questions I’ve answered and the emails I’ve sent to inquiring friends over the years.
Before I begin, it’s important to understand that CC actually has three distinct programs. Here’s a snapshot:
Challenge (levels A, B, I, II, III, IV): The Challenge programs serve grades 7-12, cover all subjects, and meet 1 day/week over 30 weeks for seminars.
Essentials: Essentials is a writing and grammar class (with a little math tossed in). It’s for grades 4-6, meets 1 afternoon/week from 1-3 for 24 weeks. Moms sit in class to learn with kids; childcare is available for younger siblings.
Foundations: Foundations serves children ages 4 years old through 6th grade and meets 1 morning/week from 9-12 for 24 weeks. Moms are in class with kids, rotating around if you have more than one child enrolled. Childcare is available for kids age 0-3.
I’m not a good resource for questions about Challenge, because my kids are still too young. In this post, I’d like to tell you about Foundations, which is the entry point into CC for many people. I’ll do a separate post about Essentials.
In a nutshell, Foundations is one morning a week of academic fun across a big variety of topics. I’m not going to get into the various interpretations of classical education in this post, or how CC fits into those; that information is readily available elsewhere and I am no expert. Just know that Foundations is considered a grammar-stage program, meaning that in all areas there is a grammar we’re trying to communicate and have the kids internalize.
Classical Conversations focuses on classical Christian education – where the objective of education is to know God and to make Him known and the subjects are all connected not just to one another but to their Creator.
What role does Foundations play in a homeschool?
Families use Foundations in different ways, and this is an important thing to understand. Foundations is not quite a complete curriculum. You’ll need to add math at all ages, and a language arts program in the early elementary years (and beyond, if you choose not to do Essentials in grades 4-6). Some families add these things and use Foundations as a springboard into all sorts of rich areas of study. (Half-a-Hundred-Acre Wood is an excellent resource for this.)
Other families (like mine) use CC as a supplement and pursue their own studies simultaneously. That said, for us CC has grown into a ‘supplement’ that I can’t imagine doing without. (In my post about history, I briefly explain how our family’s 4-year history cycle works with CC.)
Foundations moves through a 3-year cycle of material (more on that below). It doesn’t matter when you join – that’s the beauty of a cyclical program. We joined in Cycle 3. (Next year will be my oldest’s third time through that cycle – it’s our favorite!)
Okay. Details! Lots of details! Let’s talk about what actually happens on community day, and then we’ll break it down a bit.
What to Expect at a Foundations Morning
Foundations starts with a large-group opening assembly and then the kids split up into classes, usually 6-8 kids per class, grouped by age. Classes are led (tutored) by trained moms, and the other moms attend class and pitch in as needed. (CC has been a phenomenal way for me to get to know other homeschool moms!)
All classes are working through the same material – from memory work to art projects to science experiments and everything in between. Everything can be scaled to meet the needs of both younger ones and older ones.
Class time is broken into five 30-minute segments – not necessarily in this order, but almost always beginning with New Grammar and ending with Review.
- New Grammar – this is when the tutor introduces the new memory work. Much more on that below! This is an active time – kids are moving, singing, etc.
- Science – an experiment or demo is done in class every week. This is not nearly as thorough as a full science curriculum you might buy and use at home, but it’s nearly always interesting and often can be connected to other ideas the students have been learning about.
- Fine Arts – this section is sub-divided into four 6-week segments: drawing instruction, tin-whistle instruction & music theory, great artists & art projects, great composers & intro to orchestra. It’s a great dip into all of those areas! The art projects are usually the kinds of things you won’t find me trying at home, ha!
- Presentations – each week, each child gives a 2-3 minute presentation to their class. I LOVE this part of CC, and have since my eldest was in Kindergarten and I had to teach him that no, he couldn’t fall down in a dramatic heap to close each of his presentations. Six years later, and he’s succinctly outlining his thoughts in advance, making great eye contact, adding humor….and sometimes still ending with ‘that’s all, folks!’ and bowing. Oh well. That kid. Each child really operates on his/her own learning curve here. The littles are mostly learning to just stand up and say something; some of the bigs are working on opening hooks, etc. It varies widely from kid to kid and that’s okay.
- Review – we play games to review the previous several weeks’ worth of New Grammar memory work.
Class ends at noon. At that point, moms gather up their kids and everybody eats lunch together. Ideally there’s a playground or grass or something at the church for a recess time. Then the Foundations-only families go home, and the Essentials kids head to class.
Foundations Memory Work
In the homeschooling world, memory work is what CC (Foundations) is known for. After years of participation, I feel like this characterization leaves out so much. Memory work is certainly the pillar around which Foundations is built, but more of half of the Foundations morning is spent otherwise. So many of the benefits we’ve received from Foundations are an aside to the memory work.
Many families choose to work on the memory work at home, making it a priority for their children. Many families don’t. We mostly fall into the latter category, though one of my children has pursued and achieved Memory Master twice, of his own volition. (In a nutshell- that’s memorizing everything from the whole year and reciting all of it at once.)
If you wish, the memory work can simply function as a tremendous buffet from which you can pull and glean both what you need and what you’re interested in.
Children do memorize easily and naturally, which is why our own low-key approach has achieved much more than one might think. There are a few pieces that we practice intentionally at home, but most of it we don’t and they’ve learned a good bit anyway. Names, places, vocabulary, events – all of these things become like mental pegs. When we come across the same things in the natural course of our studies together, my kids are already paying closer attention due to one simple thing: familiarity.
So what is the memory work? Weekly Foundations memory work covers a variety of topics: sentences about history, geography names/locations, science facts, Latin grammar, English grammar, math facts/formulas, and a 160-event timeline of world history. Most of this (with the exception of math and the timeline) changes every year, rotating through a 3-year cycle.
For specific information on what that looks like, go here, scroll down to the bottom, and click the thumbnail to see the scope & sequence.
Some of the memory work is extremely practical (skip-counting!), some of it is just plain fun and pays immediate dividends (geography, timeline), and some of it I could take or leave. Some of it I know will be beneficial someday, like Latin. Each piece of Foundations memory work is designed to have application down the road as kids move into Essentials and Challenge.
The only two must-haves are the Foundations Guide, which contains the material for all three cycles, and a tin whistle for each child. The guide is non-consumable and it’s a resource for the parent, meaning you just need one per family, not per child.
There are many more resources you can buy. The timeline cards are a fantastic resource, loaded with information, and most families own a set. My favorite resources are the Geography Trivium Tables – beautiful laminated tri-fold maps with both labeled color and unlabeled black-line sections to work through. Here’s the one for this year’s Cycle (3).
Why Foundations Might Be a Good Fit
If you’re looking for community – not just a community for your children, but a support system for yourself as a homeschool mama. Our whole family has made many dear friends through our CC community, and the camaraderie I share on a weekly basis with my fellow moms-in-the-trenches is an absolute gift.
If you like the idea of memory work but don’t know where to start. CC has made the choices for you and handed you a schedule.
If your family relocates often. Because all CC communities around the world are using the same material at any given time, CC can provide a true gift of continuity to families who must relocate often. We experienced this firsthand – we moved out-of-state midway through our second year of CC. We finished Week 12 in Kentucky and picked up with Week 13 in Virginia. This was a tremendous gift to our children in a challenging time of transition.
If you want a curriculum that can be used with a wide age range. The Foundations Guide contains a single set of material for each week, no matter if your child is 4 or 12. There’s a wealth of ideas to be found online as to how you could further pursue study at home in ways that are engaging for any age.
Why Foundations Might Not Be a Good Fit
If you are philosophically opposed to memory work without context. (Though this is a bit misleading – like I said before, much of the memory work can serve as a springboard for further study and context if you wish.) I’ll be honest – in philosophy, I mostly fall into this camp. In practice, I don’t at all. Our CC memory work been nothing but fun, low-pressure, and beneficial. Sometimes when philosophy meets real life, philosophy loses! However – this IS a bone many people have to pick with CC, and to that I say – do what works for your own family, with joy. This isn’t the program for you, and that’s okay.
If you can’t give up a whole day out of your week. Even when my kids weren’t participating in afternoon Essentials class, our Foundations mornings wore us out (in the best of ways) and made our afternoons suited only for rest and play.
If you’re looking for a traditional co-op. Foundations is not that. Our week-to-week activities are decided for us, and though there are many opportunities for creativity and variety, the core pieces aren’t negotiable.
How much does Foundations cost?
Currently, tuition for a full year of Foundations is $335 per student. This money stays in the individual community to compensate the director and tutors. There’s also a registration fee, which goes to Classical Conversations itself, and a supply fee. Some communities (most?) will also have a small facility and insurance fee.
You can easily find people who think this is a bargain and those who think the opposite. It’s a great lesson in the fact that the value of anything is subjective! To my family, the benefits have more than outweighed the cost.
Tutoring can often significantly relieve (or completely cover, depending on how many children you have enrolled) the cost of Foundations. Tutor pay depends on enrollment, and therefore varies from community to community and from year to year. No matter the amount, this has been a big help to us and I’ve tutored for most of the years in which we’ve had 3 kids enrolled (all but the year I had a newborn!).
Tutoring Foundations is truly a lot of fun – it comes with significant benefits that have nothing to do with pay. During the years in which I’ve tutored, I’ve been dramatically more engaged with and enthusiastic about the material. I’ve made connections, I’ve solidified facts in my head (preposition song, anyone?!) and my own kids have benefited.
All tutors are trained during CC’s free annual 3-day summer Practicums, designed to equip and encourage parents. Each year, the Practicum tackles a theme and explores it thoroughly (this summer, the theme is Logic). The morning session is attended by everyone, and the tutors – both new and experienced- head to training after lunch while other parents continue with an afternoon session. Organized, theme-based camps (not free, but very affordable) are offered for kids. (My kids adored camp this year, their first time attending.) Overall, it’s an encouraging, empowering, inspiring week. Classical Conversations hit this nail on the head.
Where to Find Out More
Go here and search for communities in your area. You’ll be directed to contact someone who can help. All CC communities are run by a Director- a parent (usually a mom) with children enrolled in the program. Directors hold frequent information meetings, and all communities host open houses throughout the year.
That is how I found out what CC actually was. I’d heard vague and confusing things about it, thought it likely wasn’t for us, but was looking for a group of some sort to join as we began my son’s kindergarten year. I met a director at a local library for an info session – I was the only person who attended that meeting! But it was so helpful. As soon as she showed me a two-week spread of memory work in the Foundations Guide, I knew my child would adore it. (He was five, chatty and wiggly, sharp as a tack, and Enthusiasm has always been his middle name.)
Because I attended this meeting in the summer, I wasn’t able to visit a community before enrolling. If it’s at all possible, this is a step I would highly, highly recommend. Not only will visiting give you a clearer idea of how CC might fit into your own homeschool, but all communities have their own vibe – yes? This is true of churches, neighborhoods, soccer teams, everything! If you live near a city (even a small city) it’s very likely that you have more than one community in your area. There are advantages to both big and small communities, to both new and established communities.
Classical Conversations at any level is not one-size-fits-all, nor can it (or anything else) ever be the perfect homeschooling community. But it can be a wonderful option for many families. It’s been a surprise fit for us, and I’m thankful for it! We have done this for 6 years now, I’ve tutored Foundations 3 times, and next year I’m really excited to be tutoring Essentials. More on that soon!