Preparing for Challenge B Second Semester: The Good, the Bad, and the Murder

Everything was moving along so smoothly this year in our Classical Conversations Challenge B.

Community day had found its groove. Start the day with Logic, then Latin. Celebrate that our two most difficult subjects were completed! Move on to Expo/Comp and work through the newest elements of persuasive writing, then discuss the novel we were currently reading. Math presentations. Lunch. Math games. Research presentations and discussion of the astronomer of the week. End the day with the most fun element–debate. Discuss the current events topic, then split into two groups and create a presentation based on the side of the topic you were assigned. Present the topics. Go home.

And at home, things were moving along just fine. In some ways, Challenge B is so much easier than A because there isn’t nearly as much to memorize. Most of Latin is review from Challenge A. Nearly all of Lost Tools of Writing is review. Math is the same as always in class and at home is moving at the pace appropriate for your student, so it’s not a big deal. Research and Debate are FUN and not a one of my students complained about the workload involved. Logic was our rough spot but we found a way to even make Logic more enjoyable–we have movie nights and get together to watch the DVDs. There is junk food, laughter, and friendship and when you toss a logic video into that environment, somehow logic doesn’t seem so bad after all.

One of our logic nights.

But then came Christmas break and my preparations for second semester began. And I hit a wall. I guess I really did not see this coming even though I knew that things would change gears for second semester. I didn’t realize how completely they would. Our groove? It’s gone.

The thing you really need to know about Challenge B is that second semester is a fresh start in nearly every strand. This can be very, very good. Or it can be very, very bad. Challenge B is more like college, with the new semester being nearly completely different classes than the previous semester.

If you student struggled through first semester, this fresh start is very, very good. I’ve sat done and encouraged students that they get to put first semester behind them and give it another try. It’s fantastic news!

But if your student was sailing along with barely a bump in the road, the big changes that come along with beginning second semester of Challenge B can really throw them for a loop. And if you as a parent or director felt that you had a good groove going, be prepared to have it completely shaken up.

Here’s a run down of how each strand changes for second semester and some tips and thoughts on how to schedule your days at home:

Latin: Put away Workspace A, and move on to Workspace B. The best news in second semester is that now that we’ve moved to Workspace B, you can actually use the assignments listed at the top of each page of the workspace to break up your week. Celebrate! We missed this feature during first semester. As for the work itself, nothing changes, but everything gets a little harder. We are stepping out into the unknown, new topics that were never touched in Challenge A. We are facing new concepts like passive verbs. To me it feels like there are overall less exercises assigned in second semester. If your student struggles with English grammar, this is a great time to spend some of your Grammar strand time on English grammar review–a book like Our Mother Tongue or whip out the good ole Essentials charts and write some of them out. It is not time wasted to do so. Latin should still be done every day four one hour–no more, no less. Students should never be spending six hours a day on Latin. Set a timer for an hour, get as much done as possible, and then walk away.

Irregular adjectives are a new topic this semester.

Logic: Goodbye, Introductory Logic, hello Intermediate Logic! Did your students struggle with Intro? Good news, we are moving on to an entirely different area of Logic. Did your students LOVE Intro? Good news, Intermediate is taking that to a new level, in a new way. Does your student hate Logic but love math?!? This semester is basically applying math to words. We get to put away the Intro book completely and move on to Intermediate. And that begins with the seemingly torturous assignment of copying all of the Appendices 25 times each. Ouch. But trust me, mommas, this is not busy work. This is the classical model at work before our eyes. We are asking our students (and ourselves, if we do it with them) to memorize without understanding. We are asking them to tuck these things away in their brains so that when it’s time to understand, we do not have to waste time memorizing. It’s already there and the process will move along so much smoother from memorization to understanding. Trust the process. Do the appendices. Logic at home should look the same as it always did. Spend an hour per day. Read the chapter. Review the vocabulary. Take the quizzes and tests.

Truth tables are fun… for me, anyway.

Math: Obviously math doesn’t change. Keep on doing what you’ve been doing. Although, if what you have been doing doesn’t seem to be working, this is a great time to try out a new curriculum because so much is changing anyway.

Math review games.

Those three strands should be covered each of the four days at home for about an hour each. They need the repetition and review. The other three strands, not so much. They can each be knocked out a little more quickly and don’t require daily attention.

Research: Here comes our first major change. Goodbye, astronomers. You shall be missed. I loved the astronomy unit. I loved coming in on community day and hearing nine different papers on these amazing people. My students had a healthy competition going to see who could come up with the strangest fact about each astronomer and we learned all kinds of weird things. We are moving on to reading Defeating Darwinism and then Discovering Atomos. And the thing about this that needs to be really stressed is that we are not reading these books just to read them. We are reading these books to learn how to RESEARCH. Each week as they read the chapter, they should create an outline. They should make a list of vocabulary they don’t know (and then look it up), a list of people mentioned, and then summarize each section of the chapter, listing a few facts they found interesting. It should be no more than 1-2 pages of notes. This is the skill they are learning. This is the entire point. Do not let that slip by and let them just read the chapter. They will be missing out on the research element of the research strand! The good news is, the chapters are short. You can spend one day at home on research and then put it away until community day. When the time comes for Discovering Atomos, it may require a little bit of vocabulary review each day, but probably not a full hour.

Exposition: Goodbye, Lost Tools of Writing! I mean, not FOREVER. We’ll see it again in Challenge I. But for this semester, you can tuck that book away and say see ya later! This semester we need Words Aptly Spoken Short Stories. We’ll be reading short stories each week and the kids are working on writing their own short stories. At the end of the semester, most directors will publish all of the short stories into a book for them all to have a copy. I would suggest that they spend one day reading the short stories, and the rest of the week working on the writing assignment for the week. Some weeks this may be half an hour, other weeks it may actually require an hour per day. When they get really into their stories, you may find them even working on the weekends, who knows!

Debate: Current events is over. I loved this strand so much more than I anticipated and I’m sad to see it go. And that is forever–beginning in Fall 2019, current events is being replaced by American History. I do not know all the details yet. But anyway, Debate changes gears second semester regardless of what first semester looks like. Because, dear mommas, it is time for Mock Trial. It is time to dive deep into the murder of John Barrett and wrestle with whether or not Barbara Barrett is guilty. Is Lee Porter lying? Is Chaney an incompetent officer? Who was Tootsie? Does it matter? We shall soon find out! I would suggest that students spend two days per week on their mock trial assignments. At the beginning of the semester when they are re-writing the witness statements in their own words, they should spend one day bringing the statement down to a key word outline. Then they should put it away for at least 24 hours before taking the keyword outline and rewriting it in their own words. Most likely, your director is going to collect each student’s rewritten statement. Eventually, whoever becomes that witness will get all those copies to help them develop their character and memorize their part. Keep on encouraging your student that they CAN do this.

Brainstorming everything that comes to mind when we hear the word trial.

I’ve yet to find a new groove in class. Research doesn’t take very long when we no longer have nine papers to hear presented each week. Math is getting really dull with the same old presentations week after week after week. Logic is hard and the kids sometimes check out. Short stories is going well, at least. I am hoping to have some grand advice sometime soon on how to make it all work out. But so far, I’m still wading through it and struggling. If you are a Challenge B director reading this, share what’s going well for you in the second semester!

Kindergarten: Our Super Simple Approach

A few months ago, I shared about my frustrations with Kindergarten. You can read all about it here but in summary, it wasn’t going well. I was feeling like a failure and my kindergartener was less than pleased with how we were approaching things. School should not be a negative thing when you are five years old. It shouldn’t even be a negative thing when you are fifteen, or twenty-five, or fifty-five. Learning should always be a source of joy.

But it wasn’t. Kindergarten was feeling like a disaster. It felt that way for the entire first semester. But thank God for Christmas break because my brain was able to get some true rest and reset and think clearly instead of feeling so defeated that I couldn’t even come up with a plan.

I remembered the number one rule of Classical Conversations: KEEP IT STICK IN THE SAND. What does that mean? Keep it simple, Momma. Keep it simple. Kindergarten (and pretty much every other grade) goes a lot more smoothly with less props, less fancy manipulatives, less expensive curriculum. Kindergarten should be about learning to use those little fingers, identifying letters and numbers, and basic math skills. He also listens to the Foundations memory work with the rest of us and participates in our morning basket time that we do as a family–we cover everything from art to math drills to microscope usage during that short time each morning.

So I took it back to basics. We are continuing with Math U See Primer because he is absolutely rocking it and it is a great fit for him. Not all math curriculum fits all math students, so I am feeling lucky that we got it right on the first try with this kid.

We also use Addition Facts That Stick to review the math facts that he is learning in Math U See. Again, we hit math hard because he truly enjoys it. Using an additional math book may not be appropriate for some kids but for him, it works. We really like the penny flip game that practices adding 1 and 2 to numbers. We play it multiple times a day! All you need to play is a drawing of two rows of ten squares, two buttons and a penny. That’s pretty “stick in the sand”!

The only other official curriculum that we are working with is A Reason for Handwriting. I like that every other page is a coloring page and I like that the method they use for teaching handwriting. He seems to like it, although he doesn’t really enjoy letters at all.

Past that, I’ve got some super simple tools that we are using for letter recognition. My kindergarten is having a lot of trouble with letter recognition. I really believe it has to do with all his medical trauma, all the tests, all the doctors, all the appointments. For whatever reason, all that anxiety bubbles up when it’s time to learn letters. So we are taking a very, very simple route to learning letters. It’s slow going and we aren’t getting there as quickly as I’d like. But he is making progress and I can’t ask for much more than that.

First, I found these alphabet blocks at the dollar store. They are super lightweight, and they were only a dollar. There’s plenty of better quality blocks out there but what I like about these is that there are only 9 but that’s enough space to have every letter and 0-9 printed on a side. Actually, there are also math symbols and punctuation marks so I think I must be missing one of the blocks. Ha! Anyway, for a dollar, these can’t be beat. We roll them like dice and whichever letter shows up on top, he has to try to remember the name of. If he can’t, we roll that block again. It only has six sides so eventually, he either rolls something he knows, or he repeats one he had before and remembers this time. He likes it, it only takes a few minutes, and he doesn’t complain about it. Win. Win. Win.

Our other stick in the sand letter recognition game is made with a stack of 3×5 cards and a pencil. Cards = sand and pencil = stick. We’ve got this. So I cute the cards in half, and I wrote a letter on each one. We started with 4 letters and I think I did each one twice, in upper and lowercase, so 4 cards total per letter. And then I added 4 cards with silly faces on them. I punched a hole in the corner and put them on a ring to keep them together (you could also just use a sandwich bag, I happened to have rings in my supplies).

How to play? I flip a card over and he says which letter it is. Then he flips one over and I say what letter it is–this way he’s also hearing me say correct answers, which gives him more exposure. And those silly faces? When we flip a silly face card, we meow! You could make whatever sound you want. You could roar like a dinosaur, bark like a dog, fake sneeze, whatever makes your kid giggle. My boy likes cats, so we meow. So he is always hoping to get a silly face card instead of a letter, and that keeps him engaged in the game. It’s so simple and it’s working! I add two new letters every few weeks, as he gets bored and seems to be mastering what he already has.

Finally, we are working on using those fingers. I read an article about how there is an impending shortage of surgeons in this country because kids are so used to swiping a screen instead of using their hands that there will be no kids left who have the dexterity to operate! How crazy and sad is that?!?

I hit the Kumon offerings pretty hard for this. We did this maze book, which he finished quickly and is begging for the next one. The mazes get increasingly difficult and require more focus and hand control as you go through the book. We are also working on cutting and gluing with this book. And then we are working on folding skills with this workbook. And the great thing is that the paper is nice and thick and easy to hold while you work. You could definitely just print your own things, but I do like the quality of the paper and the way it slowly builds to more difficult skills throughout the book. It isn’t as stick in the sand as drawing a shape on a scrap of paper and having them cut it out, but it’s also not super expensive and the books make him smile. And learning should make kids smile, right?!?

And then, I tuck it all inside a simple 12×12 scrapbooking case I bought at Michaels’ when it was on sale. Normally they are $10 each, but they often go on sale for 3/$10 and that is when I buy them! You can see what they look like on Amazon, but they are far cheaper at the craft store. The only thing I can’t fit in the box is his Math U See blocks, but they have their own carrying case, so it’s fine. I also keep a whiteboard, dry erase marker, pencils, scissors, and a glue stick in the box so everything we need is right there waiting.

We sit down on my bed and open up the box and take everything out. We do one activity from each thing in the box (one page of each workbook, one round of each game). We put each thing back in the box as we finish and when everything is back in the box, he is DONE with school for the day. Or so he thinks. Playing is learning and so he’s really still doing school when he plays with his toys. He just doesn’t know it.

Please don’t tell him.

Latin for Children: The Perfect Prep for Classical Conversations Challenge A

This is my second year as a Classical Conversations Challenge Director. I directed Challenge A last year, and this year I am halfway through Challenge B. I absolutely love this program and everything that it offers middle and high school students. And, for the most part, the students love it too.

Except for Latin.

They all hate Latin. And that really breaks my heart because I think there is just so much to be gained from learning Latin. I spend a lot of time purposely pointing out integrations between Latin and EVERYTHING ELSE that we learn and I’ve at least convinced my class that Latin is important. But fun? Enjoyable? No.

Latin is, in their opinion, hard, scary, terrifying, boring, overwhelming, confusing, and horrible.


And I really think it’s because for most Challenge kids, their first real introduction to Latin comes from the Henle Latin books. BORING! They are dry, they are black and white, and they are set up in a way that is a little bit confusing. You have to jump back and forth between two books and have your notebook out and have the declension charts accessible. It’s really a headache, particularly if this is the first encounter a student ever has with Latin. It’s negative right off the bat.

I have a sixth grader this year who has one and a half years until he begins Challenge A (his birthday is suppppperrrr close to the cutoff date so we are going to hang out in Foundations and Essentials an extra year. No harm in that!). After seeing how terrible Latin is for my Challenge kids, I decided I needed to get him of on the right foot with Latin.

I settled on Classical Academic Press and their curriculum, Latin For Children. You can read my review of the program and check out my complete Primer A checklist here. We are in Primer A right now and my hope is to get through B as well before he begins Challenge.

Why choose Latin for Children for future Challenge A students? Most importantly, it’s FUN!

The pages are bright and colorful

The video lessons are upbeat–and bonus, they are an incredible review of everything learned in Essentials. My son often remarks, “Hey I thought this was Latin class, but all of this is from Essentials!” Yes! It is! Because studying Latin helps us better understand English and my sixth grader is already making that connection. He finds the lessons to be hilariously funny. I find them to be informative. I watch every lesson with him and quite honestly, it’s helped me up my game when tutoring my class. You can purchase DVDs or choose the streaming option–that’s what we do.

Streaming video of the vocabulary chants.
Grammar lesson on the streaming option from the website.

There’s an activity book with word searches, crosswords, and other fun worksheets. You won’t find that in Henle.

There is a reader, a small history book, that walks students through the first steps of translating Latin to English.

There’s also an optional subscription service to something called Headventureland. I recommend it completely. There are cartoons and computer games that reinforce the vocabulary being learned. There are printable lap books available to get crafty while also reviewing Latin.

Vocabulary game on Headventure Land
Latin Hangman on Headventure Land

I really, really find that making Latin bright, colorful, silly, and entertaining is changing his mindset. He is not going to go into Challenge A thinking Latin is the WORST. He’ll know better.

And of course, on top of giving him a positive mindset about Latin, it’s also giving him a strong foundation in what he will need to know for Challenge A. I suspect that by getting through Primers A and B, he will be able to consider most of what he covers in Challenge A Henle to be review. Which is the point of Classical Education, right? To repeat, repeat, repeat, so it all eventually sticks?

One more note on adding Latin curriculum to your upper elementary student’s workload: Leigh Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations, says you should. In almost everything else the mantra is “the memory work is enough.” And for the most part it is. But obviously, everyone does a math curriculum of their choice because the memory work is not enough for math. And also, she strongly recommends beginning a Latin curriculum in the fourth grade–at the same time they begin Essentials.

I am convinced that Latin for Children is a fantastic way to set your students up for success in Classical Conversations Challenge A. Check it out here:

Latin for Children Primer A Text (New! Revised Edition)
By Classical Academic Press

I am not being paid or receiving free product of any kind in exchange for this review. I just truly love the curriculum and am pleased with our decision to use it.

A Christmas Gift Guide for Classical Students

Classically educating parents work hard to create a learning environment, so that even when formal schooling isn’t happening, learning never stops. Educational toys are a great way to support that learning–whether you are a home school mom, or a family member wondering what to get those kids! Here’s some of my favorite ideas, organized by subject.


Simple Wooden World Map

This simple wooden world map puzzle is great for preschoolers. The neat part, in my opinion, is that you could take the puzzle pieces and trace them for Blob Map practice! This puzzle is great for reinforcing the simple shapes of the continents for the youngest students.

For older students, Draw the World is my favorite geography resource. It walks students through the details of drawing the world and it gives tips and tricks for remembering what to do. We’ve had so much fun with this book in our house (and the rest of the series, which has each individual continent in detail).


A good book of science experiments is always a great idea. Look for the kind that uses every day household items instead of ones that require complicated tools that make it nearly impossible to do the experiments. This one has lots of simple projects with explanations of how they work. Or try this one, that has kitchen science for learning in a real life setting.

For kids that love Legos, check out a book full of Lego science experiments. My son loved this one a couple of years ago.

Moving beyond books, a toy that has been wildly popular in our home is Snap Circuits. My son quickly moved from the projects suggest in the book to making up his own. It’s been great fun for several years going now.


It’s never too early to start exposing kiddos to Latin. Song School Latin is a fun way to introduce kids to Latin and get them excited for the years ahead. No, I’m not kidding. My youngest child already walks around the house singing, “A, Ae, Ae, Am, A!” He has no idea what it means but when he’s 12 and it’s time to break out Henle Latin, he will surely be glad that those declension songs are engrained in his brain.

Know a Classical Kid who loves Diary of a Wimpy Kid?!? Did you know that you can get the first book in the series completely translated into Latin? For real!


Mad Libs are a really fun way to review English grammar without even realizing you are doing school–and isn’t that every home school mom’s ultimate goal?! From Star Wars to Frozen and everything else you can imagine, Mad Libs are a fantastic learning game that is so fun they won’t even question why it is a Christmas gift. Plus, the average price is $4. Can’t lose!

Scrabble Junior is a great board game for the kids not quite ready for the adult version.

For a fun night of story telling, Rory’s Story Cubes is a fun way to get the story going. Roll the dice for story prompts and make up a story to go along with your rolls.  Also a great tool when a child can’t decide what to write.


Test your knowledge of all kinds of history with a fun game called Chronology. Try to put random events in order. Which came first?  For singers of the Timeline Song, this game is great reinforcement–with lots of silliness mixed in.


Math games are a great way to sneak in review of math facts while keeping the competitive spirit in the family alive and well. Try Absolute Zero, a card game with the goal of having zero point. Or try solving mysteries in a game of Mathological Liar! Someone’s math doesn’t quite add up–and that someone is guilty.

Other Great Fun and Learning

I’m heavily considering getting this for my son. You get to build your own droid and then write coding to control him. It would totally make him freak out!

Or have them build their own computer! What better way to get value out of computer time?!?

How about a series of books for babies that explains the basics of topics such as Quantam Physics? I’ve been eyeing this series at Target for several months and the next baby shower I go to, this is going to be the gift! Quantum Physics for Babies will not disappoint!

The Lego Architecture series is phenomenal for building creativity, ability to follow instructions, and reviewing history, culture and geography all at once. It’s hard to beat. Check out this great Shanghai set!


Mixing fun and learning is the goal of most home school moms. Support them in their goals with a great gift for their kids–something that mixes fun and learning so well, the kids don’t even realize they are learning! Happy gift giving!

B is for Block Scheduling: Finding a Schedule That Works for Challenge B

October is upon us. The school year is not so shiny and new and exciting anymore. We aren’t tired and bored yet (I hope!) but we’re finding a groove and getting comfortable with what works–and identifying what does NOT work.

I am directing Classical Conversations Challenge B this year. It’s incredible, for so many reason.  I am falling in  love with Challenge B and I didn’t think anything could top Challenge A!

Much of what the kids learn in Challenge A carries over. The Latin is the same (but faster), the writing curriculum is the same (but the books they write about are different), the math presentations are done using the same methods. The research is similar–but instead of anatomy and animals, we are focused on astronomers right now and will move on to chemistry later. But there are new things. LOGIC! And current events! And the biggest NEW THING is that our Challenge A homework schedule is just NOT WORKING for Challenge B.

Practicing Latin vocabulary with alphabet pretzels in Challenge B at Classical Conversations!

Continue reading “B is for Block Scheduling: Finding a Schedule That Works for Challenge B”

How to Help Your Students Make Connections Between Subjects

One of the core elements of the Classical Education model is subject integration, the idea that no piece of knowledge belongs by itself, unconnected to everything else. Everything is connected and knowledge is not a row of boxes, some overflowing because you are good at math and history empty because it doesn’t interest you. No. Knowledge should be a big messy, tangle of strands connecting all different points all over your brain. In classical education, when we study a scientist, we  learn what was happening in the world at the time he was alive (history), we learn about his discoveries (science and usually math), we learn where he lived and worked (geography), we read about him and probably write a paper (English grammar/exposition/language arts).  Just because he came up in SCIENCE class does not mean that you tuck Galileo neatly in the science box and your brain and move on. He connects to all the things you’ve learned in so many other subject areas.

And here’s the thing. When you connect Galileo to ALL your subject areas, he’s now tied down to your brain with five connection strands. If you just stick him in a science box, there’s a good change he will up and walk away while you are doing math!

Continue reading “How to Help Your Students Make Connections Between Subjects”

How We Use “Addition Facts That Stick”

If you missed it, I wrote an overview of the Math Facts That Stick series over here, including an interview with the author, Kate Snow. I definitely love the program and was so excited to get started using it at  home.

To start at the first lesson in Addition Facts That Stick, you need two sets of 8 to 10 “pieces” of something (I used small legos but you could use buttons or coins, or just about anything you have around the house)  in two different colors and a penny. If you have a hard copy of the book, you will need to tear out the “ten frame” in the back of the book. If you have a digital version, you can print this out. I highly recommend laminating it so that it lasts!

What you need to get started with Addition Facts That Stick

Continue reading “How We Use “Addition Facts That Stick””

Math Facts That Stick: An Interview with author Kate Snow

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of The Well Trained Mind Press. We use many of their resources as part of our school day, including Writing With Ease, First Language Lessons, and Story of the World. So when I found out they were releasing a math series, I was downright giddy!  At the moment, addition and subtraction are available but very, very soon multiplication and division will be available as well. Woohoo!!!!!

Addition Facts that Stick by Kate Snow

The series is called Math Facts That Stick and it is written by Kate Snow. It is not a complete math curriculum, it is strictly about fact mastery–so it won’t replace your Saxon or your A Beka or whatever else you choose to use. However, fact mastery is incredibly important and most math curriculum does not set aside time to really focus on it so this is a great complement to any math curriculum. Without it, children are stuck relying on calculators or working painfully slowly through their math exercises. With mastery,  a student achieves confidence and self-reliance. And, it doesn’t hurt that mastery saves a whole lot of time when it’s time to break out the math book! There are four parts to the series: Addition Facts That Stick, Subtraction Facts That Stick, Multiplication Facts That Stick, and Division Facts That Stick.

But it’s not all flashcards and drills. Instead of strict memorization of facts, Kate teaches kids to master facts using strategies and visualizations so that they don’t just recite “2+1=3”, they actually understand what it means from the start. You’ll need a few basic items to get started–a deck of cards, counters for the game boards (we are using small legos), a penny for coin tosses, game tokens of some kind (buttons work!), and blank paper and a pencil.

And if you don’t feel you are well equipped to teach your kids math, I have great news for you! Like most of the other Well Trained Mind Press publications, these books spell out exactly what you should say. It’s like having a “How to Teach Math” cheat sheet in front of you as you work through the strategies and games.

I had the chance to interview the author, Kate Snow, about her awesome books. Here’s what she had to say:

Me: Beginning with Addition Facts that Stick, what ages do you recommend for each book?
Kate: I recommend that parents do one volume per year: Addition Facts That Stick in first grade, Subtraction Facts That Stick in second grade, Multiplication Facts That Stick in third grade, and Division Facts That Stick in fourth grade. However, if your curriculum expects mastery at a different pace, it’s fine to follow your curriculum’s schedule. (For example, Singapore Math expects division fact mastery in third grade, so I’d suggest that Singapore Math families work through both multiplication and division with their third graders.)
Me:  Why are your methods more successful than traditional flashcards?
Kate: Since traditional flashcards rely on rote memorization, it can take hours and hours of tedious drill for children to memorize one set of facts. My approach is to use simple strategies and visual models to help children master the facts much faster. For example, with the addition facts, children only need to learn 6 strategies to master all of the addition facts from 1+1 up to 9+9. They still need practice to become automatic with the facts, but mental strategies and visual models help children become fluent much more quickly (and with less tedium).
Me:. The series is being sold by The Well Trained Mind Press, which is a publisher of Classical Education curriculum. What makes your methods for learning math facts classical?
Kate: In math, classical education focuses on making sure that young children master the essential foundations of arithmetic in the early years of elementary school so that they’re well-prepared for more advanced coursework later. The math facts are a vital part of laying this foundation.
Me:. Which of the math games or strategies is your favorite?
Kate: I heart ten-frames! They’re just a simple grid of 10 boxes, with a line between the two groups of 5, but they’re extremely powerful for helping children master addition and subtraction. Ten-frames allow kids to “see” quantities and manipulative them mentally, and they help kids escape the trap of always counting on their fingers to find answers.
Me:  I have the PDF version of the series, making it easy to print the game boards and practice sheets for use with my child. What is the format for the hard copies of the books? Do parents and teachers have permission to make copies of these pages as needed?
Kate: The printed books have perforated pages for all the games and worksheets, so they’re easy to pull out and use. Families may make as many photocopies as they’d like for use within their own families, and the Well-Trained Mind Press offers schools and co-ops licenses to make photocopies at a very reasonable cost.
Me:. As a fellow lover of math, I have to ask. What’s your favorite number and why?
Kate: 360. I find it fascinating that even with all of our calculators and computers, our GPS coordinates still use a system invented by the Babylonians.
You can purchase Addition Facts that Stick and the rest of the series from the Well Trained Mind Press or from Amazon (Amazon even has a Kindle version!). Check out how it’s going with my four year old in this post!

What You REALLY Need for Classical Conversations Challenge A

You need a lot of books for Challenge A but you don’t need EVERYTHING on the list.


If you look at the CC Catalog and read through the shopping list for Challenge A curriculum needs, you might feel overwhelmed. By my calculations, the total if you bought everything on the list is $1,011. YIKES! I know that the cost of Classical Conversations can be a deterrent for a lot of families and I really hate that because this program is so wonderfully spectacular. So let me break this down for you and help you save some money. I’l also note whether or not you need two copies if you have multiple children in Challenge A at one time.

  • Under “Parent Preparation” there are three books listed. All are worth reading but none of them are absolutely required. Most likely someone in your community owns a copy of each and would be happy to loan them to you!
  • Logic: Of course, in Challenge A, Logic is actually math. CC recommends Saxon math but if you use a different curriculum, that’s OK. No CC representative is going to show up at your door and force Saxon on your kids. Stick with what works!  And even if you do use Saxon, the $200 DVDs are surely not a requirement. The Math Trivium Table is unneeded in the Logic strand and the Trivium Table White Board, while very nice, is not really needed in class–at home I just laminate pastel colored card stock and we use that for math! Most likely, your director will provide white boards for in class use.
  • Grammar: You need the blue and purple Henle Latin books–that is, the Text and Grammar books. I strongly recommend that you not buy the Henle Latin Answer Key. I highly, highly recommend you get THIS ONE instead. It is well thought out, it includes far more answers than the one CC sells and it’s just a great resource. Plus they have fantastic customer service. One of my CC moms ordered the wrong book and they handled it so well for her.  The Latin Workspace A is a nice resource. I originally told my families it wasn’t necessary  but I’ve changed my mind. As the year goes on and we move from just noun charts to adjective and verb charts, it is really helpful to have blank charts ready for you in the book. The Latin Trivium Table is a very nice resource as well but it is NOT needed. If you can spare the $10 for it, get it. But if you are trying to cut every penny you can, you can live without it. You should get each student you have enrolled in Challenge A their own copy of the blue and purple latin books and the workspace. One answer key can be shared. Definitely not needed: Tour Guide: Latin DVD. Honestly, mine are still in the plastic packaging. I never opened them. There are excellent resources online, like Henle Latin Boot Camp on YouTube. And the Cassell’s Latin Dictionary? I’m sure it’s nice to have but I didn’t buy it. The Henle Latin Text Book has a dictionary in the back and that suited our purposes just fine in Challenge A.
  • Research. Honestly, you don’t NEED anything listed under research. We don’t use Lyrical Life Science for any homework assignments or in class. It’s a nice resource for home but it’s not necessary. The Nature Sketch Journal is lovely. It’s set up so that when they draw a picture for their research papers in first semester, they can flip the notebook around so the audience sees the picture while they read the paper. It is set up with blank paper for drawing and lined paper for writing. You can just as easily use a one subject notebook, the kind that is about seven cents at back to school time. But the journal is nice–if you have more than one child enrolled in Challenge A, they would each need their own. The Classical Acts and Facts Science Cards are quite beautiful but absolutely not needed. They are high quality and jam-packed with information but at $23 per pack and 3 packs recommend for the year… they just are not NEEDED if your budget is tight.

The Natural Sketch Journal in use.

  • Reasoning. You absolutely, positively NEED hard copies of It Couldn’t Just Happen AND The Fallacy Detective for each child you have enrolled in Challenge A. Kindle versions are not OK and sharing a copy is also not OK. Your child’s director will be teaching the students highlighting skills using their book. Translation: they will be highlighting and writing ALL OVER their copies of these two books. They need their own new, clean, hard copy. As for the rhetoric trivium table… well, I just found mine last week (at the end of our CC year) and looked at it and said “Hmm. I guess I bought that.” It’s got some nice information on it but in Challenge A we never actually USED it.
  • Exposition. You Need The Lost Tools of Writing. You do NOT need the set if you are not working along with your students. To be honest, even as the director I did not use the teacher book. I watched the videos online (you get access with your purchase) and I used the student book to see what they were seeing as they worked. Just buy your student the student workbook. I also was confused and thought I needed the “set” AND the “student workbook”. WRONG! The set includes a student workbook. That knowledge right there will save you $39! Thankfully I was able to sell the extra student book to another family! As for all the reading books, you need access to them. Maybe you already own them. Maybe they are a dollar for the kindle version. Maybe buying them through CC is easier. It doesn’t matter how you get them, just get them. But don’t rely on the library–if you have multiple CC Communities in your area, chances are the book will be checked out when you need it! Moving on in Exposition, you only need Words Aptly Spoken if you plan to have book discussion with your child. If you trust that your director is covering that in class and you aren’t reading the books, skip that one. If you are directing Challenge A, YOU NEED THIS ONE! Wakeful Words is one that I never, ever used in class or at home. Skip it. And the two trivium tables, as always, are a take it or leave it. They are nice, and they are good quality. But they will not make or break your Challenge A experience.
  • Debate. You need Exploring the World Through Cartography because they have reading assignments in it all year long. However, I highly, HIGHLY recommend using the Draw the World series at home to prepare for blue book exams. It’s a far better resource than the CC book for the actual skill of drawing the world.  There are versions for each continent. If you can afford it, get them all. They are a priceless resource.
  • Other items listed: Blue Book exam booklets are not something you need to purchase. Your director will provide whatever she wants your kids to use for blue books. Personally I gave my kids loose notebook paper and a folder to put it in.  And the student planner is useful but if you find another planner you prefer, it’s totally ok to buy something else. Your student DOES NEED A PLANNER THIS YEAR! One of the major skills learned is filling out a planner and getting it all done.

I hope this list is a helpful resource to you as you make your purchases for the year.  Of course, if your director has a different opinion, always go with what she says. Some directors plan differently and use different items. But this was my experience with directing Challenge A and I hope that it is helpful to others as they shop over the summer to save some money and make the year a little more affordable.