If I Could Start Challenge A Again, I Would Do These 7 Things Differently

Y’all, please welcome my great friend (and pastor’s wife!) Julie back to the blog.  Today she’s sharing what she would’ve done differently as a first time Challenge mom, if only she’d known.  I’m excited to share what she’s learned with all of you, so it can aid in your transition!

Wow, where to start? It has been a long, full, and sometimes stress filled year for my oldest, who just successfully finished Challenge A. Without a doubt, the lessons learned during this stretching year have all been worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but let me tell you more.

I don’t know how it is where you are, but Challenge is still trying to take root in my area. Since we were not sure if the class would happen until July, I did not receive my Challenge A guide until mid August. This leads me to the first thing I would have done differently.

1. Become extremely familiar with the guide. Read through it as the teacher/parent and then sit down with your student to go over each section. Even if you’ve never seen a Challenge level class before, reading through it will help you gain a fuller foundational understanding of what they will be doing in class AND what their day will look like at home.  Doing this one step alone could have helped prevent endless amounts of time and frustration for us at home. I’d been a Foundations tutor for a couple of years, but this was the first year I was to be the Essentials tutor. Therefore, my time was consumed with preparing my three younger ones for CC as well as preparing for Essentials! As I mentioned in my Day in the Life post, I naively thought how nice it was going to be not having to be hands on with my oldest, because she was in Challenge A she would be totally independent!  Oh, please learn from me and do not make that mistake! (I’ll discuss the independence more later, but be assured, it comes and it’s beautiful!)

I realize each student is created differently. Your student may already be largely independent and that is great! Others may need more guidance up front in order to foster greater independence later in the year and that is great! Still others may not be ready for independence at all. That’s the beauty of homeschooling. The Lord has placed us as the parent and He is giving us the wisdom to know our student and teach them in a manner that is best for him or her. CC does a beautiful job allowing the parent to be the lead teacher and the tutor to be a guide and resource for the parent and student.

2. Know your student’s strengths and weaknesses. Challenge is aptly named. For us, the step from Foundations/Essentials was more like a leap! Before starting Challenge, my daughter was at a place where she could accomplish her daily work in a timely fashion and without much stress. She is a bright girl and was a three time memory master. Reading is one of her very favorite things to do, which in turn made writing enjoyable. Math, wellll…that’s another story. But I only say all of this to let you know she enjoyed learning! However, Challenge A was a rude awakening as far as the time requirements for each subject. Many tears were shed towards the beginning of the year. (Many of which would have been helped if I would have been more familiar with the guide!) As I talked with other moms who had walked through Challenge A before, it was a tremendous blessing to hear we were not the only ones struggling at the beginning. Even talking with other moms in our class it was not uncommon at the beginning for some students to have work over the weekend. Being homeschooled, this was new for us! But I was thankful, because 7th grade should step things up. 

Is your student stronger in language arts? Is your student starting with little to no Latin background? Perhaps math comes easily and naturally? Would your student rather clean the entire house than read and discuss an assigned book and then write a persuasive essay over it? Is science fascinating? Knowing your student will allow you to know which areas they may need stronger guidance with at the beginning. We had three years of Essentials and really enjoy Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW), but I was not familiar with Lost Tools Of Writing (LTOW) at all! I wish I could say I sat with my daughter each time and watched the DVD lessons and discussed each new concept, but that would not be the truth! Just keeping it real here, ladies! We are church planters. We have four children. That was simply not realistic for my family and the Lord knew that. He was gracious. In spite of me not being able to do that, my daughter has thrived with her writing. Knowing your student will benefit as you prepare for Challenge A. But, still be prepared for things to come up that you may not have encountered previously.

3. Practice drawing parts of the world. Geography sent my daughter over the edge! She had three years of Foundations geography information stuffed in her brain. Art was a joy since a young child. Memorizing states, capitals, and countries were not a problem. Drawing….this is what has been a struggle to this day! Within the first month of us starting Challenge A this year, I began my younger children on geography blobbing after seeing her struggle. By November, I was reminded that I was the parent and I could scale the weekly assignments to better fit my student. For us, this scaling was only requiring the major geographical features. If you are not familiar with the curriculum, get ready! It. is. VAST! The information they are asked to memorize from week to week and recall throughout the year is impressive! Now, had I been more familiar with the guide I would have started the year from the very beginning breaking the weekly work into bite size pieces. If you have younger students in Foundations, have them trace every day. For children who are ready, have him or her draw the areas they are studying in that CC cycle. Of all the subjects in Challenge A, I was not expecting
geography to be the one to cause anxiety.

4. Have a morning meeting each week. Our CC day is on Monday so every Tuesday morning I would sit down with my daughter and look at each day’s assignments as well as any extra things such as piano, orthodontist, etc. We would talk about how to manage her time well. I didn’t start this until later in the first semester, but I wish I would have started it from week 1.

5. Encourage and foster independence. This is ultimately what we want, right? We want them to learn how to learn on their own. Our goal is not to spoon feed them everything, but teach them the skills to learn any subject. For some this may come easy. Maybe you have several little ones and you have been looking forward to this for a long time! For others, you’ve enjoyed being very hands on and could sit down each day and teach long lessons…I’m not sure what that’s like, but it must be great! I am one of the moms reclaiming my education, while teaching my children. I wish I could do the Latin lessons or the Rhetoric with my daughter, but like I’ve already said it’s not feasible during this season of life. (I have picked up awesome bits of information throughout the year though!) While my daughter was writing her final apologetics paper, on her own, she picked her topic. On her own, while reading the books she automatically made a Key Word Outline (from IEW) and then decided to make an ANI (Affirmative-Negative-Interesting) chart (from LTW). I could hear the excitement in her voice as she discussed why this point was true or how this one was proven false. All on her own! I definitely could not have done this in 7th grade…just saying.

6. Do a Latin program before. Foundations definitely helped, but I can already see having more of a foundation in the grammar stage of Latin will help my other children. There are wonderful programs out there. Memoria Press puts out a curriculum that is said to feed nicely into Henle. If you are on a tight budget, I’ve heard of families buying the Henle book and simply making flashcards of the vocabulary. I actually LOVE this idea!

While talking with another Ch A mom, she said she would have added one more thing to my list – introduce the books earlier. So my friend’s recommendation is to…

7. Complete assigned reading in the summer before. Now, this largely depends on if your student enjoys reading. I think they will need to reread the books during the school year in order to do their ANI chart, but having read them prior may benefit. Of course, many on the list they may have already read.

We just finished a few weeks ago. It has been a journey. I’ve seen the Lord grow independence in my daughter’s study skills. I’ve also seen Him build character through trials and failures in her study skills. I’ve been blown away with what she is capable of learning and retaining. Even after many tearful days this year, she is already looking forward to Ch B and the mock trial. Challenge is a challenge. By Christmas, there were some in our Challenge A group this year who were thinking about not moving forward to Ch B because of the work load. However, at this point they all see the fruits of the hard work and are excited about the future. It was a large adjustment, yet completely worth the effort!

“And do not let us grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we will.” Galations 6:9


  1. says

    I love your list. I wouldn’t change a thing. We didn’t go through Foundations/Essentials and just jumped into Challenge 1 for high school. We started with the reading list we found in the CC catalog that summer before Ch.1 started and got through about half of the reading list. It made a huge difference later on. We weren’t given the Guide until August, right before Ch.1 started so we read and re-read it many times. Every week during the school year we read the Guide for what we needed to do and read ahead at least 2 wks so we knew what we were going to need to plan for and do. I recommend doing this. You are better able to stay on top of things and anticipate the time and work that will be necessary. Also, I recommend the kids learning how to take notes/write down assignments the Tutor gives in class. In Ch.A & B this is a good time to learn this while the parent is in the classroom to help. In Ch.1, the parent is not required to be in the classroom and the kids need the skill to take notes so they can relay on the information to their parent and remind themselves to do the work assigned. Think of it this way, the Guide is the bare bones/skeleton of the course and the Tutors add the flesh to it during class each week. In Ch.1 especially, the kids need to have a notebook to jot down notes (for example: look up marketwatch.com to print off current events in the US economy; look up Susan B. Anthony speech on women’s rights etc.). It makes a huge difference and taking notes is a skill that they will use all their life.

    • Laura Griffith says

      Great ideas to follow here!! Just want to note that a parent doesn’t need to be present in any level of Challenge. That is the national rule but I can see where a director may want more involvement from the parents. I am a manager with Classical Conversations and I have parents searching the web for information before they decide to Direct. I just wanted to clarify CC’s policy for those folks. Thanks for taking the time to offer help to others. We are in the midst of Challenge A! Your ideas would have helped tremendously.

      • Beth Watson says

        Hi Laura. You’re right, they don’t! Does it say that somewhere in the post? I didn’t remember it saying that and I just did a quick re-read and didn’t see it. Sorry, if there’s been some confusion with that. In fact, I’m pretty sure my friend Julie was rarely, if ever, in her daughter’s class. 🙂

  2. Anonymous says

    Challenge A directors have a PDF file which suggest what students can do over the summer to prepare. If you contact them directly, they would love to share it with you! Thank you for your humble encouragement!

    • says

      Thanks, Mary! I’m excited to start my littles on more Latin now, so we’re (fingers crossed!) hopefully more prepared for the challenge years than we would be otherwise. 🙂

  3. tonya says

    Thanks for sharing this with us. We are trying to decide if this is right move for us. This is would be our 1st time doing cc and she’s going into 7th. I’m scared about the load of work. I know she can do it-it’s the time spent doing it. She has some health issues and worried about missing or not feeling like we can get it all do. Any suggestions??

    • Julie says

      Tonya, first of all, welcome to CC:). Have you had a chance to look over the guide by any chance? That may help you gain a better understanding of areas she’ll be fine in and maybe areas she could possibly work on during the summer. One thing I’ve definitely seen in my life is if the Lord calls you to it, then He will equip you to do it. I don’t say that lightly. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard at times, but He will give you strength and wisdom. CC is set up to have the parent as the lead teacher. If you find things are too much, you can scale to fit your daughter. That being said, I completely understand not wanting to pay and commit to a program if you’re not able to fully engage in it. Like you said, it’s not her lack of ability, simply the time spent doing it. I would encourage you to go for it. It is a wonderful program with amazing benefits!! Again, ask around to borrow the Ch A guide and look through the reading books, Lost Tools of Writing, science, etc. You know your child better than anyone so you’ll know what is best for her. I couldn’t speak highly enough of the program! Well worth it! We are just wrapping up Ch B and everything she learned last year has played a role in her learning this year, but nothing has had a stronger impact than learning time management. Hard, but worth it. That’s been Challenge programs in a nutshell for us.

    • Beth Watson says

      Tonya, Julie was able to post a response to your comment today. 🙂 Just wanted to make sure you see it!

  4. Chrystal Albarado says

    We are new to CC. I’m kinda struggling where to start my 12 year old. We homeschooled 5th and a few months of public school for 6th and a few months of homeschool for 6th. Before that k4-4th he was at private classical school. Since we have never been in Foundations or Essentials, how do we start in Challenge A? Do we go back? I’m so confused on what to do.

    • Beth Watson says

      Chrystal, I’m sure he’ll do great. It’s always good to remember that Leigh Bortins actually designed the program beginning with the Challenge programs with her own sons. The Foundations program was added later. So you definitely can do it. If I were you, I’d read Leigh’s new book about homeschooling through high school. I wrote a review you can see on my blog, but the book will be released sometime this summer. (You can pre-order it now). It’s great. Then I’d probably have my student listen to the memory work from Foundations over the summer leading up to Challenge, so he has some familiarity with the material that will show up again in challenge. You can purchase the audio cds on classicalconversations.com. Much of the memory work is set to music which could help him memorize them quickly. And you’ll probably be surprised what he already knows anyway. He doesn’t need to memorize it, it just might help to be familiar with it. Does this help? Please let me know if you have more questions! Also, if I were you, I’d ask your challenge director if there’s an experienced CC mom at your campus or another campus nearby who you could meet up with to ask questions. Developing that support for yourself will be so helpful! 🙂 Thanks for writing, Chrystal!

  5. says

    I’m wondering if you could go into more detail as to your point about going through the Challenge guide and being very familiar with it. I think I’ve gone through it pretty thoroughly, except that I haven’t yet gone through every single week of the assignments. 🙂 I have looked over the chart at the beginning that lists the overview of all the assignments for the year though. I don’t know if the guides are different for Challenge A/B and Challenge I-IV. My daughter will be doing Challenge II.
    Karen @ The Simply Blog recently posted…This and That: Summer Break EditionMy Profile

    • Julie Largent says

      Hi Karen,

      Being extremely familiar with the guide may help you as you begin your year so that you don’t have to spend valuable time each day learning to navigate your guide. It took us a couple of months to really find our stride and routine, but I still think it would have been smoother had I been more familiar with our guide and started the year off better by helping her plan her day and budget her time. Hope this helps! Have a great year!!

  6. Keturah says

    Thanks SO much for this! I am an Essentials Tutor and love it, but I’m not gonna lie, I am nervous about having a Challenge A student, a foundations and essentials student (5th grade), a first grader, and a 4 year old and managing everyone’s education. My daughter loves to read but she’s not so great at managing her time. I am worried about getting everything done. But, now I know that I will continue the reading list this summer, start doing flash cards for latin (she’s a good memorizer), and do some map blogging. I’m excited, but pretty nervous about it at the same time.

    • Beth Watson says

      Keturah, I’m so glad this post was helpful for you! I’m excited for you and your daughter. Also, I’m a bit nervous for you too! That is a large load, Mama, and in just a few years where I’ll find myself. Come back & give me all your advice! ha. But, in the meantime, I’m saying a prayer for you & your crew. Because while that is a large load, it is an abundance of blessing too. Which I know you know, but wow, it’s just awesome, awesome work you’re doing! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  7. Julie says

    This was a helpful article! We are new to CC and just jumped into Cha A during week 5!!!! Crazy, I know. BUT, we are getting there. We are having to work in the evenings and some on the weekend but I told my son that this is our adjustment phase. It won’t be like this the whole year {at least, I hope it won’t}. 🙂 I am grateful he has read at least 7 of the books on this year’s reading list and he has been drawing maps for years for fun so geography is not overwhelming him. We are new to IEW methods so LTW and Latin are our biggest adjustments.

    • Beth Watson says

      I’m so glad you found this helpful! You are brave!! It sounds like your son is doing amazingly well. Ready for a Christmas break? 🙂

  8. CC Maple Mama says

    I loved your post! My daughter is just starting essentials this year but I will be putting some of your post’s suggestions into practice for sure to help her when she gets to Challenge!
    Loved it so much, I featured your post on my blog facebook page.https://www.facebook.com/ccmaplemama/
    I know it will encourage many more of my readers! Thanks!

    CC Maple Mama


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