2013- 2014 Curriculum and Plans :: How We Started Our Own Classical Co-op

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.



  • Mandy says:

    Agreed. 🙂 <3

  • Michelle says:

    This post may just be an answer to my prayers! We have CC in our city, but it is new and there is no childcare available for younger ones. Plus it is cost prohibitive for us, and I really wanted to stay within the four-year history cycle. Add to that our preference for bi-weekly memory work, and CCM sounds ideal! I’ve been looking for an alternative to CC!

    I have never heard of The Core or CCM, so I will be checking out both. We are members of a weekly fine arts co-op that is lovely, but I’m trying to figure out how to work it all in so it fits our family’s needs.

    As always, thank you for your informational, inspiring posts!

  • Chelli G says:

    I’m totally jealous! This sounds so, so wonderful. No interest in anything like that around here unfortunately. I hope you guys have a wonderful year and continue to enjoy your classical co-op.

  • openid says:

    This post would be an awesome start to an ebook. 🙂

  • Can I just move in? I LOVE what you’ve shared about your co-op! It sounds like exactly what we’ve been seeking. I’m torn between CC and CCM because there are elements I want (and don’t want) from each. Thank you so much for your detailed descriptions as they’ve been extremely helpful. I look forward to reading more as your year progresses!

  • Amber says:

    Wow, that sounds fantastic and so worthwhile!! I’m glad you wrote this up, it is definitely helpful and inspiring.

  • I thought the CORE was only for CC folks. Does it work for those of us blazing our own trail? Also have you read Teaching the Trivium by the Bluedorns, I love how it simplifies Classical Education. Blessings, Kyle

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Kyle – It really has a lot to offer anyone wanting to know more about classical ed. There are some elements of CC in it, but I think they are actually more obvious to someone who is doing CC and can say, “Hey! That sounds familiar,” than to someone who is not. To everyone else the book is mostly just full of method and ideas for classical ed.

      I don’t agree with everything in there 100% (which is obviously why we went a different route than CC with our co-op) but it is a good basis. I love to listen to Susan Wise Bauer TALK about classical ed. and now that I have a better grasp on it I can see the beauty and method behind WTM, but the first few times I read it all the curriculum recommendations in there really threw me off — I got the idea that simply choosing the right curriculum would make a classical education. The Core cleared all that up for me.

      I have not read the Bluedorn book. Will have to check it out more. Thanks for stopping by.

  • KarenC says:

    This is wonderful and an answer to my prayers as well! I will be sharing this post with my friends so we can get this thing rolling!! Thank you so much for putting your details of your day in here. This is EXACTLY what my friends and I have been talking about, right down to meeting every other week with enrichment activities worked in there. Very excited about this. Thank you again!!

  • Katie says:

    I just wanted to share (since this is an older post) for anyone looking at Coops. We started using Catholic Schoolhouse this year at home. There is no coop in my area. It contains many of the things you listed, though like CCM they are Catholic-specific:

    We are in Year 3 and this is what we are doing:
    Religion (including Saints)
    Art (including step by step art projects)
    Math (very similar to CC)
    Science (including do-able step by step science projects)
    Classical Roots (Latin and Greek) – other years do Latin prayers
    Language Arts
    History – Timeline with Songs (new timeline each quarter rather than one super long one), and a history specific song each week

    There is a lot of meat in the program and we are really enjoying it. I don’t have any stake in the company or anything, I just wanted to share as an extra resource for anyone looking at Catholic coop materials. =)

    Oh, and it has been wonderfully successful at home as well. We listen to the weeks songs on CD/mp3 each morning as part of our morning time and also draw a small picture for each history event (5 pictures per page, so one page per week). We are a year ahead of the registered coops because that’s where we were in history when I switched, but CSH has a weekly youtube playlist (I believe) for the current year folks too.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us all. I am really enjoying reading your blog today!

    Have a blessed week!

  • Carrie says:

    Love Love Everything about what yall have formed! Pls email me! Would love to know how it is going now!

  • Monica says:

    Hi Pam, I know this is a really old post… Sorry! Are you referring to the Acts and Facts cards for the CC timeline? Has the reformation card been made more neutral by any chance? This is really holding me back from purchasing… I’m very torn between cc and ccm timelines!

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      I don’t think the card has been changed. The one I have is wrong in saying that priests were the only one who could interpret the Bible (that would be the Magisterium, not the parish priest) and oversimplifies indulgences. The Church did have much corruption at that time and was in need of reform, as accomplished by the Council of Trent, so that part of the card is true.

  • Angela says:

    Thank you! I first heard about this on schole sisters and worked my way back to this post. After I heard it, I got together with a few friends and we are starting are own co-op. We are just finished our second year with CC and while I love the community aspect I don’t love everything else. I never thought of starting my own until you made it seem doable. I was shocked by how many people are interested in this concept. I guess I shouldn’t be since I know many can’t afford to do CC.

  • Rachel Roberts says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! After listening to you speak about your co-op on the Schole Sisters podcast I had to find more information! It would be great if you did a follow-up post on the changes you have made since you started the co-op. Thanks again for being a continual inspiration for homeschool moms!

  • Cath-Anne says:

    This article is so enlightening, and also freeing — sort of giving us “permission” to tweak our CCM co-op to better suit what we want to emphasize. We are heavy into the planning stages for a new CCM co-op which will begin in late August, and we are coming smack up against a strong gut reaction that Great Words II (Alpha Yr) is not especially appealing/exciting for our 9-12 year olds (or the moms) … what was your experience? I’m wondering if maybe we could switch out a Greek/Latin root words study, or grammar terms/concepts, or maybe just some different poetry/speeches (like, does CCM ever have the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, and the like??)? We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but I’m feeling a little bit of dread with that segment (only) of the program (Great Words looks awesome, but definitely for the younger kids mostly). Thanks for any thoughts/advice you can offer.

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Ahem. We have never done GW 2. We just have everyone do GW 1.

    • mandamum says:

      Pam, this is an amazing description. We’re on our 3rd year of a CCM co-op, and we’ve been liberal with our edits – this sounds like a great best-of-all-things approach. I’m sending it to my co-leader for discussion 🙂

      Cath-Anne, I have all 4 yrs, but we only did co-op for Beta, Gamma, and now Delta. The Great Words do cover Preamble to Constitution/Bill of RIghts (Beta, if I recall correctly), Declaration of Independence (right up to the list of grievances) (Gamma) and Gettysburg Address (Delta). My dd#2 (now 10) loved loved LOVED the Patrick Henry “Give me liberty” speech from Alpha – she learned it on her own (at 7) from the CD, since we only made it about 6wks into Alpha without the structure of the co-op, and then she went on to learn as much as she could about the orator.

      GW is one place we have been very liberal with our edits, taking out poems we didn’t like and substituting others – it seems to me, if you’re filling your child’s head/heart with lovely language, it’s a waste to put unlovely things in there 🙂 so I feel free to toss as needed. And last year, we substituted a large chunk of GKChesterton’s Lepanto poem for the Columbus-themed one (don’t want to teach my kids the phrase “I swear!” as “lovely language”, thanks). Lepanto fit perfectly in with the history sentences on the battle, which fell providentially on the Feast of the Holy Rosary 🙂

      Another warning, if you don’t do as Pam did and use CC’s timeline: The CCM timeline is not in order. Not entirely anyway – there are a few glaring problems that come up (for instance) when you try to put the bits on your home timeline. So if you’re trying to get a structure embedded in your mind as to what happened before/after/around the same time as what, it may not serve you well. We edited ours, moved a few things around, and recorded a revised bit for the audio for our group – kind of a pain, but now I’m much happier. (And the back of the Slavery card mentions California coming in as a Slave state, which is exactly wrong – it was Free. So just be a little careful….)

      • Eileen says:

        Thank you so much for posting that “warning” about the CCM timeline. I know the CC one and was in the fence about using CCM’s with my kiddos this year. You just made the decision to stick with CC’s timeline much easier for me. One question: did you impose any of the Catholic events/saints into your timeline teaching?

  • Cath-Anne says:

    I meant to say Great Words I (younger kids) looks awesome.

  • Sara Drew says:

    This is fascinating. Thank you for linking to this post in this week’s email. I will certainly be revisiting it. It answers much of my up-front hesitation about CC, namely tuition, travel distance, and history cycles. Thank you! Now, my husband wants to know, is there a Reformed Classical Memory program? 😀

    • Pam Barnhill says:

      Not that I know of. All the reformed folks in our group use CCM and just leave out the most Catholic parts. 🙂

  • >