When You Are Struggling with Classical Conversations Challenge A

Overview: Classical Conversations Challenge A can be scary and overwhelming. These tips will make it much more doable!

Let me guess. You've been in Challenge A for two weeks and you're already wondering if you made the right decision to continue with Classical Conversations. Maybe it would have been a good idea to bring Johnny home for 7th grade and do your own thing.

I mean, just take a look at THE GUIDE. For many Classical Conversations Challenge A families, THE GUIDE is a source of dread and trepidation. There is SO MUCH to get done! Instead of your child showing “ownership” (yea, right), you spend your days sitting with them, walking them through each and every subject, for HOURS and HOURS. Diligently shuffling through every Latin vocabulary card, tracing every map, researching the week's science topic… etc. etc. etc.

This supposedly wonderful experience you have been working towards through Foundations and Essentials is very suddenly a huge drain. Definitely a “challenge,” haha — and possibly a burden.

Are you in Classical Conversations Challenge A and feeling overwhelmed? Read this for encouragement and tips to make it GREAT from a mom who has been there!

Please, Challenge A parent, let me tell you that it doesn't have to be that way. The Challenge years can be glorious! All it takes is remembering what a classical education truly is and how you can apply that as you approach Challenge A.

Thoughts to ponder about Classical Conversations Challenge A:

First of all, remember that your student is not completely out of the grammar stage yet. The material learned in Challenge A is not necessarily meant to be deep and complete at this point. Memorization without application can still play a large role.

Don't expect your child to write the most amazing essay ever, or to understand every detail about the geographical terms, or even to fully comprehend the characters' motivations in the book they're reading. Challenge A is a year of exposure to deeper things but not necessarily a full grasp of them. Don't set your expectations higher than that.

In classical education as espoused by Dorothy Sayers, process is more important than content. In other words, it's more important that your child is learning HOW to learn, rather than WHAT they learn. And Challenge A is the beginning of this experience, as they begin to transition from memorization and parroting of facts to engaging in research and discussion.

But it is a PROCESS, hello. This does not happen overnight upon arriving at the first day of community for the year. Begin slowly, with emphasis at the beginning of the year still more upon the rather simple.

Just as The Lost Tools of Writing builds one skill upon another (for more about LTW and how really wonderful it is, even if you don't realize it yet, see my post entitled The Five-Paragraph Essay: What, Why, and How for Homeschoolers), the same can happen in all of the other strands. Don't expect perfection with their first science essay or drawing, or their first map. Let them start slowly.

Maybe they won't learn all the rivers in Canada those first weeks. Maybe their drawing of metamorphic rock looks like a piece of bacon (um, like my daughter's did). Who cares? This is about exploration and trying new things, and having fun with them. Don't stress!

Reminder: it's only 7th grade, people. This will NOT count on their high school transcript, and they won't fail high school if they don't get everything correct right now. It's about the process.

Speaking of process, you wanna know another thing that is a transition during the Challenge A year? The whole ownership thing.

Guess what? Your kid doesn't have to do everything on his own RIGHT NOW.

Work with them on gradually taking over responsibility for their work. I would suggest handing over one subject at a time, whichever one is easiest for them to handle without your help.

At first you can plan it out for them; just have them do each day's work on their own. If it's math, let them check the answers for themselves. Then start guiding them to plan their own week of work. Your director may have a weekly planning sheet to be completed; have your kid fill out the blocks for that one subject, and then you look it over to see if it's a good plan. Let them try it for a week or two and see how they do, then add another subject when they have that one well in hand.

If you'd like some snazzy planning forms for your student, check out Pam Barnhill's Independent Student Planners. You can get a whole selection or just one pattern. And with either, you get what she calls the “Independent Student Audio” — which is an interview with yours truly! :-)  Definitely worth the price! LOL.

For more details about the process of teaching your child to learn independently (which is just another way to say they are taking ownership of their studies), see How to Teach the Most Valuable Skill Your Child Will Ever Need.

The ownership thing can take ALL YEAR. This is not a problem. Remember, these kids are squirrely 12- and 13-year-olds who may not have had to do much sitting still and concentrating before. Some kids will take to it naturally, but others will SO not. Especially the boys, hello.

No worries. Maybe by Christmas they will be handling 2-3 strands on their own, and then you can have a goal that by the end of the year they will “own” 5-6. Sometimes there is just that one tough subject or two for which they will continue to need your help. It's OK. It's a process.

You may find that sometimes it takes for.ev.er. to make any progress, and then all of a sudden there is an overnight breakthrough. This may even happen over the summer between A & B. Your kid might go back to CC in the fall and astound you with their ability to keep track of life. Stranger things have happened!

And here's what I have to say about THE GUIDE.

Get ready, because this is going to blow you away.


Now, don't tell me you already know that, because while you may THINK you know it, in reality you are still trying to do every last little thing it says to do. Aren't you? Because you don't want Johnny to be behind, or because you don't want him to miss anything in his education, or because he's always been smart and you know he can handle it. And maybe he can — but if it becomes a stressor, then it's time to start picking and choosing what to do. The Guide is not the Bible, y'all.

My theory about the guide is that they put lots in there so that families with high-achieving kids will have plenty of stuff to keep them occupied without having to go look for it. But for the rest of us, lol, it is a simple thing to let some of the assignments go.

For instance, take a week off of science, or choose not to read a book or two each semester, or forego the Latin exercises and just learn the vocab. Go slower in math, forget actually drawing the maps and just label a black-line (found easily on the internet, or make copies of the ones in the appendix — I did this with my daughter and she was VERY relieved) — it's all VERY OK.

The thing we often forget is that the PARENT is the teacher. The Guide is NOT. Nor is the director. The parent can and should decide what their child needs to do each week — and what they DON'T need to do. Trust me, a mom who has graduated four children, when I say that they will not miss anything life-changingly important! The alternative — that there is so much work to do that nothing is really being taken in, anyway, and all that is happening is that the boxes are being checked — is definitely an inferior education.

So please feel the freedom to be selective about which assignments your child does. Please feel the freedom to modify assignments to suit their needs. Please remember that this is not a competition with the rest of the class (or the parents in the class, lol) — it is about what is best for YOUR CHILD.

As a mom who has a working familiarity with every Classical Conversations Challenge level and is now directing Challenge 4, I can assure you that it really will all be just fine!

Challenge A is a transition year, and it can be hard to remember the goal. It's not about checking every box; it's about growing in character and learning to communicate about ideas. This takes time. But it's so worth it!

Do you feel better now? I hope so! HUGS!!

P.S. See how my daughter set up her Challenge A notebook here: How I Organized My Classical Conversations Homeschool Notebook.

It's Not That Hard to Homeschool

15 thoughts on “When You Are Struggling with Classical Conversations Challenge A”

  1. As a Challenge 4 director, explain to me about how to have the same freedom to be the teacher for my two Challenge I sons. I have one son that is not academically wired in the least little bit, but he has a good attitude and tries hard. My other son is more academic and tries hard too. They play sports and we are heavily involved in our church so I don’t want to be a slave to Challenge. But I’ve been asked to sign a contract that I won’t alter more than 20% of the curriculum and even the SR stands by the contract. I can’t make that promise. As a Challenge A director, I feel our family won’t be able to continue with the program if this is the pressure placed on me. And this makes me so sad. How do I deal with this?

    1. ^^Ditto. I want your suggestions on Challenge I as well. The process IS so important and I don’t want to lose sight of that amid the quantity of heavy duty work and endless reading assignments. I was not required to sign such a contract, I would have refused. Thanks!
      PS: Loved the Challenge A article. Truly a blessing full of great nuggets. Thanks!!!

    2. Bit late, but for anyone reading this, there is a difference between agreeing to keep to the Guide 80%-100% as a Licensed Director versus as a homeschool mom. As a homeschool mom you can do as you please, though the Director is there to coach you to follow the Guide 80% . As a Director, other moms are looking for the community, the accountability, and keeping along with the Guide. That is how to deal with your view. Also, how you look at things at the beginning of the year changes as you move into the material. Staying with the Guide is a source of strength. Also, the educator is growing with the pupil/student/child. It’s a journey of joy and discovery if you wish. Easy? Not really, but good.

      1. Perhaps the way to look at it is that every parent will be scaling differently. Some will not want to do this assignment, while others will omit that assignment. As a director, you have to keep most of them going, because at least a portion of the parents will be doing each one. I think that is the way I would look at it.

  2. Thank you for the reminder that they don’t have to do it all! Trying to balance Challenge 3 and a college course and feel better about modifying the 3 guide after reading your post. Challenge A and B are laying the foundation for high school Challenge. It’s a beautiful process!

  3. Thank you for this!!!! This is our 8th year in CC but first finally hitting the Challenge years and it has been a hard transition – can definitely relate to many things you mentioned here and needed to hear the voice of reality!

  4. This post really helped me. We have homeschooled 6 years but this was our first time in CC. It has been,for the most part, positive and we have signed up for B. However I have a concern. My sin is dyslexic and I honestly just don’t see Latin ever clicking. And I’m honestly not convinced it needs to for him. Is it possible to do CC and keep Latin at a basic level of vocabulary alone?

    1. Yes, it very much is. Do what YOU want to do. YOU are the final say. Your son will need to sit in the class while the other kids work on grammar, etc., but he can chime in with vocabulary as they do so. They will probably be so busy with the grammar that they will let vocab take second place, and thereby struggle with it more than he will. Good girl for choosing to fit the curriculum to your son rather than the other way around!

  5. This is so helpful! Thank you so much. I have 3 kids (2,9,12). The 9 year old and the 12 year old will be doing classical conversations first the first time in the fall. The 12 year old just finished 6th grade from a private christian school (Abeka) and has been doing really well. His birthday is in Oct., so he will be 12 when the school year starts, but soon be 13. Do you recommend my 12 year old go to Challenge A or do a year of Foundations and Essentials?

    1. Hi Kayla,

      I think your son would do just fine in Challenge A. I think he would be bored with foundations/essentials. Abeka 6th grade is very thorough, so he probably already knows everything that he would get in foundations/essentials. The only thing he would be missing would be the memorization songs for geography, Latin, history, etc. You can buy those from CC and play them in your house to help him with those subjects in A. I say go for it!! :-) Just keep in mind what this article says, and scale back as needed for your own and your son’s sanity. :-) Have fun!

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