Last year our family participated in a teeny-tiny (us and one other family) Classical Conversations Community and had a good experience.

Last summer I read The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education by Leigh Bortins and was really excited by my newfound understanding of classical education.

(I now advise people to start with The Core over The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition), though I think both are very important. Then don’t stop there! If you really want to know classical you must branch out to the Society for Classical Learning and the Circe Institute as well, but I digress.)

Matt was deployed, and we were looking for things to fill our week, and perhaps most importantly, I wanted a positive educational environment for my kids. They had never really been in a position to learn with other kids and see that there are others out there like themselves who are striving for excellence, struggling, or having fun learning.

Our group started the year with three families who were a bit spread out geographically. By the end of the first six weeks we were down to two families and driving forty-five minutes each way every other week. God bless our director, because on the alternate weeks she made the drive to our home and held class here.

It didn’t take me long, though, to realize that I did not want to continue to make the drive this year to be part of the group. Our director was working hard to secure a campus, but it would be in her town and would mean a weekly drive for us. Exhausting.

Since the Classical Conversations‘ (CC) statement of faith (which must be signed by directors and tutors, but not attendees) is not consistent with the Catholic faith, I knew I would not be able to start a community in our town. I did have some friends who were interested in a co-op situation, but due to even farther drives or for financial reasons, they were also interested in a CC alternative.

The idea to start our own co-op was born.

Because there were not a ton of resources available online for making this happen, I thought I would outline our set-up here. We did find some other classical co-op websites online during our research phase and did find those helpful, but largely there is not much information out there about how people have made this happen.

I just have to say that we are so blessed to have the families that we have in our co-op. We have eight families, all found by word of mouth, who are totally committed to this method of education, this co-op, and the awesome things we are doing with our kids. I had a fabulous “partner in crime” co-director who was just as crazy as I and worked long, hard hours last year to see this to fruition.

The Materials and Scope

We decided that our co-op would use a combination of Classical Conversations and Classically Catholic Memory (we are using Beta this year) materials. Yes, this means that each family has to purchase both programs and both music CDs, but but we think it is worth it to get the best of both.

Our group is eucemenical, so the mix of both programs is perfect for us. At any rate, all specific religious instruction is left for the home.

Though we are an unabashedly Christian co-op, the memory work is merely presented at co-op. How each family chooses to elaborate on the material is up to them.

Here is what we take from each program and why:

Timeline — Classical Conversations. Largely because of the fabulous timeline cards and song which make it so easy to remember.

English Grammar – Classical Conversations – there is no English grammar in CCM.

Latin – A mixture of both programs. CC has mostly grammar. CCM many prayers and songs.

Math – Classical Conversations (though the math in both programs is basically the same).

History – Classically Catholic Memory. Why? They follow a four-year cycle which lines up with popular curriculum like Story of the WorldRC History, or Mystery of History and basically every classical history reading list on the web.

This makes is really easy for families to integrate the history memory work right into their studies, and it not be something additional they are making time for (which was hugely important to us). We have found the CCM memory work to be very neutral in its presentation and accessible to even non-Catholic families.

Science – Classically Catholic Memory. I think the science is the strength of this program. There are multiple science experiments and projects in the teacher’s guide that correlate with the science memory work for the week.

To me, this was one of the weaknesses of CC, the science experiments had nothing to do with the memory work. This is a win for us. Memory work plus experiments equals context and fun!

Great Words – Classically Catholic Memory – there is no Great Words subject in CC.

Geography – Classically Catholic Memory, because the geography is aligned with the history each year.

Our co-op is completely volunteer run and each family currently pays for their students in our kindergarten and grammar-aged groups (we capped our group at grade six this year, but will begin to expand next year as we have families waiting for our upper grades program). The cost of the program is very affordable, covering supplies and a love-offering to our host church.

The Schedule

We decided to follow the Classically Catholic Memory practice of introducing new memory work every other week. I quickly found out last year with CC that after about week seven we really got behind with the memory work never to get caught up again. A new set of memory work every week for twenty-four weeks was just too much to remember.

With our program we have twenty weeks of memory work that is introduced every two weeks during the school year. This gives the kids two weeks to work on committing everything to memory before they are bombarded with new material.

So what about the weeks in between? Well we take a break mid-term each semester. And at the end of each semester we have a Christmas party or a pool party.

As for the other “in-between weeks” we came up with something we call “Enrichment Weeks.” These were supposed to be optional weeks that families could choose to participate in or skip, but we are finding that no one wants to skip them.

A Typical Week

Class Week

We have class week every other week. During class week, we look almost exactly like a CC community. Almost.

We begin our morning with an opening. The opening is large-group with everyone participating. We pray and recite the pledge, and then we go over the new timeline cards, motions and song. This is a fun, fast-moving time. Then we break up into our small groups.

The babies head off to the nursery with a volunteer mom, while our “Pages” go to class with Miss Teresa and her assistant. Pages are our kindergarten class of four and five year olds.

In their class they are studying the science of the week at their level, as well as exploring geography and cultures through stories, art, food, and activities.

While Classical Conversations starts memory work at age four, we felt that was too young and our littles would have a fantastic experience with this type of program instead. They would hear things that would then be repeated at home in the memory work, but they would be free to play a bit and learn to be in a classroom setting in an a hands-on way.

We have two grammar classes this year. Our younger group is the “Squires” and the older group the “Knights.” These groups spend the day traveling between three different teachers for fine arts (this term it is drawing), science (experiments, projects and the memory work) and memory clases (all other memory work). They also do brief oral presentations during snack time. They love that part of the day.

As a note, our fine arts will be one quarter of drawing, one quarter of music appreciation, one quarter of art appreciation (with art projects), and one quarter of music theory and singing. We decided to hire a teacher to teach the last class.

These two classes come back together at the end of the day to play a review game of all the current and previous weeks’ memory work. After that we end the day with lunch and fellowship.

We have a dedicated teacher for each class, plus a teacher (and planner extraordinaire) for the kindergarten class. Mom volunteers have split the fine arts terms (and planned the lessons!) and also spend time as kindergarten aide, nursery worker, and snack coordinators. Like I said, we are incredibly blessed that everyone is so committed to this endeavor.

Enrichment Week

Every other week we have Enrichment. These weeks were designed to give extra time to learn memory work and to do those things that most homeschool moms would really like to get to, but never seem to.

Enrichment week is a little crazier as there is no nursery or separate classes. Moms volunteer to take younger students out to play as the older ones work on projects. Honestly I worried about chaos during this time, but so far it has been fabulous. This is what a day looks like.

Once again we start off as a large group where we pray, pledge, and review the previous week’s timeline cards and the timeline song to date. Still in large group we do hymn study.

One of our moms introduces a new hymn each month, giving us the backstory and telling what it is about. Each class we learn a new verse for the hymn and review old ones.

Next we move to our history projects. These are the big, messy things moms love to plan but hate to do with one or two students. This year we are making our own books, Robin Hood caps, candle dipping, coat of arms, reader’s theater, medieval food and so much more.

So far the kids have been eating it up. At the end of the year all of these projects will culminate in a big medieval festival which dads and grandparents can attend.

After history projects everyone takes a breather while the kids snack and play a review game on the previous weeks’ memory work. You really can’t do this too often.

The time slot after that is for either handicrafts or nature study depending on the term. Our handicrafts vary from week to week this year and in nature study we are learning about spiders and birds.

We sent out a sign-up sheet at the beginning of the year and each mom signed up to lead four projects during enrichment weeks. The mom got a bag of instructions and supplies, did the project in advance to be sure it would work, and did any research needed to flesh out the topic for the kids.

So far these presentations by the moms have blown me away. There have been PowerPoint presentations, props, and picture books used to teach the kids more about the projects as we do them.

Heart of our Homeschool

Co-op is quality social time for sure, but we did not want it to be only that. For us, co-op serves as the heart of our homeschool.

We all use our own curriculum to teach the basic skills at home, but for these youngsters all we have to add to the co-op is some related reading and maybe a little notebooking and we have complete science and history programs that mostly gets done on Tuesdays each week. I just love this.

So far we are six weeks into this school year and are loving every minute. In fact we have already started planning next year and will expand to include an afternoon Arts of Language class for older elementary/junior high age students and a morning class for junior high age students as well.

If co-op is something you would like to do but you can’t find any nearby that meet your needs I encourage you to start your own even if you have to start small.

This is such a blessing to our family; I just can’t say enough good about it.

Pam Barnhill

Pam Barnhill

Pam is the author of The Your Morning Basket Guide and Plan Your Year: Homeschool Planning for Purpose and Peace. She also is the host of three popular  podcasts -- The Homeschool Snapshots Podcast, Your Morning Basket, and The Homeschool Solutions Show. She lives in the Deep South with her husband and three kids, where she is the go-to lady for great curriculum recommendations or a just a pep talk on a rough day.