Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thoughts on Essentials/IEW From a First Year Mom!

So we have made it through the first four weeks of Essentials/IEW®.  Prior to fearfully entering the classroom, I had heard horror stories from first year shell shocked Moms, regarding how overwhelming this class was.  Phrases like "drinking from a firehose" and "intense" were often sprinkled somewhere in the conversation.  I was fully prepared that this was going to be an arduous year of grinding out papers and grammar all day long - just to keep up.  Well, let me share some good news for those who have yet to darken the doors of this class - It's NOT BAD!  At least none of those thoughts have come to my mind so far this year, though I can see how it might if I wasn't better prepared.  While I can see where it does certainly build upon one week after another, with increasing demands for paper writing and grammar charts, it's all very doable -but it does depend on a few things.  Here are the reasons why I think it's actually been great so far:

Do the Ground Work!

We have been in Foundations for 5 years.  We've done the cycles at least one time and we're on our second time through them.  While it's not necessary to have done Foundations® first and mastered all the cycles - I can certainly see how having done that, has greatly helped my daughter and I, to be prepared.  Foundations® gives you everything you need to know to be sufficiently prepared to enter Essentials®, even if you don't do any formal grammar program at home first- if your child masters the memory work for cycles 1, 2 and 3, then you will be set!  I don't mean they have to be a Memory Master® - of course that would help -but just so long as they have most of the grammar memorized from the  cycles, they will have a huge head start for Essentials®!  The first week when they introduced Chart A, my daughter looked at me and said "That's easy, I already have all that memorized from CC!"  It's true!  If you take CC serious and truly spend the time working with your child to memorize the information, it will benefit your child greatly for later stages of the CC programs offered, like Essentials® and Challenge®.  Much of what is studied in these cycles will come back to them time and time again, throughout Essentials® and Challenge®!  Do the ground work, it pays dividends!

Recognize it's a Three Year Program

Essentials® is designed to be a three year program, per the CC website.  I think it's a wise approach!  Knowing that it was designed that way, I told myself and my daughter, that this first year was just a "class audit" for us.  We weren't going to try to do every assignment or every aspect of the books' tasks for each lesson.  I wasn't going to read every weeks' chapters and pages for the parent book.  I listen in class, I read the assignments and I decide what I want to tackle that week.  We've done all the papers and she's written out the charts, but beyond that, we've grazed the surface some weeks and gone deeper others.  We've not dove all the way in every week.  I don't need to!  I'm gonna say that again - we don't need to!  It's a THREE YEAR program!  Take the full three years and just un-peel the onion, layer by layer.  We are memorizing a few of the charts that I think are easy to tackle for her and that's it for this year!  We aren't memorizing them in order or all of them.  I'm tackling what comes easy to her and then moving on from there.  She already has Chart A memorized from day one, just from the memory work of each cycle - it was just now compiled and organized for her!  There are actually several charts that are just the organizational compilation of the memory work.  So again, it's not bad!  Next year we will be able to go deeper and the final year, we will be able to go really deep and capture the breadth of what is so richly offered.  I'm not trying to drink from a fire house, I'm kinking the line and letting the water run at a speed I can drink from comfortably, as well as my child.  While I think it's possible to do it in one or two years and have a solid base to enter Challenge®, I can see why three years is the design and how that will just make Challenge® that much easier to tackle.  

Prepare in Advance a Little 

While it isn't necessary to do any grammar and still be able to do Essentials®, I wanted to prepare a little bit, just because I had been warned time and time again about how "hard" it was.  So, the year prior to entering this class, I picked up an easy grammar workbook from Memoria Press called English Grammar Recitation Book 1.  I'm sure there are others that will do the same job.  It was pretty basic and easy, but drilled the rules of punctuation and basic grammar.  It applied what she learned, in short practice drills and they were simple, so she got the gist but wasn't overwhelmed.   I didn't do the full curriculum offered under their grammar section - I don't think you need to.  I just did this one little book, at an easy pace throughout last school year.  It was enough exposure to end marks, capitalization rules, etc., to give her a little practical base to jump off from for class.  I also think that all the print outs from the Teaching Plan recommendations each week were helpful, as we worked through each year, because it was focused on the grammar aspects from the memory work- which are heavily in play in this class.

The Journey is Important!

How we get somewhere is just as important if not more so, then where we arrive.  If I do all the assignments and guzzle at the firehose to keep up, but ruin my child's love of learning or worse yet, ruin my relationship with her over it, what have I gained?  I'd much rather take my time, do what she can handle, back off if it's too much and linger on concepts she's interested in then to get it all done but be frazzled or have a frazzled child (camp on concepts:  what's an intransitive verb, verses a transitive verb, for example - if that provokes a question as your child writes out a chart, then talk about it and come up with some visuals together to help you remember or a song).  Schole' - that concept of restful learning is such a fantastic one, because it helps to remind us to savor the journey, not just keep our eyes on the goal -as we run over our child's spirit and educational heart.  (I posted a review about an easy to read book, worth your time, on restful learning)

I would love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Expecting we will eventually transition to IEW so I was eager to read this and PLEASED that it isn't as overwhelming as I've heard from others. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Hi Bonnie - I hope you will find it to be a blessing when you get there. It pays off to do the memory work at the foundations level and to give lots of grace in the first year, expecting to not do all that is set before you in Essentials that first year and take it in chunks you can chew. Blessings - Colleen

  2. I think I might have been one of the shell shocked mums. It took me a bit to understand and follow the flow. Essentials did seem a bit disjointed but I am thrilled how much my son has remembered.

    1. Beth - I agree, it can seem a little bit that way. I think that's why it's so helpful to go into the first year just expecting to survey the class and having done the Foundations memory work - much of the charts are familiar. It gives the grace you need to expose yourself and your child to it all and see what they come away with and then build on it the next year when it will seem much more manageable and familiar. I would be shell shocked too, if I went into it doing everything they recommended and attempted to make my child complete every aspect assigned each week. Blessings - Colleen

  3. Thanks for this overview! I am trying to learn more about Essentials in case we end up doing it in a few years. I like to completely understand things before jumping in lol