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Help! I’m Starting Challenge I Without Foundations!

This milestone has loomed since the genesis of your journey; you’ve always known “high school” was coming. Maybe, like me, you stayed so busy enjoying the early years that you pondered high school only sporadically. Maybe you weren’t sure you would still be on the homeschooling journey by then—maybe you never intended to be. At any rate, here we are: your children have entered high school!


Those of us who have chosen to use Classical Conversations’ Challenge I program embark on the high school journey with high hopes. What an exciting program, what amazing resources, what great conversations are ahead! I remember how enthused we were as we looked over the Challenge I scope and sequence for the first time. Our daughter would be challenged on so many levels! We relished the opportunity for her to think deeply about subjects, not just skim the surface, gathering “random facts” for short-term memory storage. We were intrigued that as a high school freshman she would study economics and philosophy. We were frankly glad that she would have other “lead learners” to help her master Latin, and we were thrilled that her love of arguing would motivate her to learn the rudiments of formal debate! We were glad for her to have the chance to test her ideas on classmates who would push back and force her to think about the “whys” of her convictions.


I bet you have your own reasons for excitement about Challenge I! Maybe you are relieved to have another adult prayerfully investing in your student, leading by example in academic pursuits. Maybe you are eager to have some help in reclaiming your own education, gaining insights you missed when you were a high school student. Maybe you are excited about the rhetorical skills your student will practice, learning to persuasively communicate by writing papers, debating, presenting projects, and entering into discussions. Maybe you are delighted that the focus is on “freedom,” along with intentionally discipling students and nurturing them to become more personally responsible. Maybe you are satisfied to have found a community for your student—and yourself! The good news is, all these are valid reasons to rejoice; Challenge I will deliver on these expectations.


While most everyone is enthusiastic about Classical Conversations’ Challenge I program, some families find themselves a little apprehensive too, especially if Challenge I is their entry point for classical education. Some parents express concern that their student has “missed all that memory work,” recognizing that the facts easily learned by youngsters in Foundations form a valuable “skeleton” for deeper understanding in high school. Other parents worry about specific “sequential subjects” such as Latin, which Classical Conversations students begin a couple of years before high school. Many families, pursuing a classical education for the first time, are not sure they have gathered the skills of grammar and dialectic; they worry their students may not be poised to excel at rhetoric. For many parents, scaling this “mountain” appears daunting, even though they aspire to the summit! Parents, here’s some good news.


It is never too late to build a framework for deeper understanding, and the high school years are not too late to memorize good information. Challenge I is full of “memory work” for your student! In Challenge I, students will continue to hone their skills of memorization by learning Latin vocabulary, literary devices, passages from American documents, names and dates from history timelines, science terms, and mathematical laws. These facts will create for them contexts for understanding the history, literature, current events, research, philosophy, and language they will continue to pursue. Since Challenge I students are developmentally ready to think more deeply, they will draw connections between pieces of memory work more readily than they would have as younger students. In some ways, their grasp of information will be more sure and lasting.


Families may be apprehensive about beginning Latin in Challenge I when other students have studied Latin for the previous two years. Many worry that their student will never “catch up,” or that class time will be overwhelming for students with less learning under their belts. However, the Challenge scope and sequence provides three years for students to spend mastering Latin grammar basics: students cover Henle I for three years, increasing the pace and scope each year. Students progress at varying rates, so some may be quite proficient by Challenge I, while others will continue to pursue mastery. Students who begin Latin studies for the first time in Challenge I will do well to focus on endings and Latin grammar, gradually adding to their vocabulary. Since parents supervise the daily work at home, each family is free to focus on the aspects of Latin with which their student most needs the practice. During class, tutors lead discussions that draw all students into the conversation where they are ready to participate.


Newly excited by the classical model’s pursuit of the arts of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, some families may be concerned that their Challenge I student has missed grammar and dialect tools provided earlier for other students. These parents wonder if their student will be stuck frantically gathering grammar and dialectic skills on his own, unable to excel at rhetoric. Here’s the truth: the arts of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric are practiced at every age, by all of us! All Challenge I students—not just those new to Classical Conversations—will continue to practice the art of grammar as they memorize facts and build a foundation for understanding. All students will continue to sharpen their dialectic skills, learning how to draw connections and conclusions from presented information. And all students will exercise opportunities to grow in persuasive communication skills as they write papers, present projects, and debate issues. Students who need help learning the fundamentals of persuasive writing will have a year of The Lost Tools of Writing to help them learn to distill their thoughts into best form, and structure arguments for maximum persuasive power.


These are exciting days with your student! So much to consider, to weigh, to wrestle with, to learn… Do not second guess yourselves, parents! Challenge I is not too much to begin with. For every parent and student, Challenge I is the beginning of many things! Remember what drew you to the program at the start, and commit to making a good beginning here, where you are. The only way to get through it is to get started!

TIERS: challenge
CATEGORIES: Classical Christian Education, Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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