There are lots of myths out there surrounding home-schooling.  We’re excited to partner with Classical Conversations this year to help share information with parents as a way to dispel the mystery and open up even more options for parents making educational decisions.  This is part one of a two-part series on home-schooling via classical education, and we hope you’ll find this information helpful in deciding the best path for your child!

Questions to Ask Yourself

The first place to start when examining any schooling option is to ask good questions.

  • What are my goals for my child’s education? Think critically about your educational goals for your child.  What is a top priority for you?  Do you value intense academics, faith, character development, athletics, or interest-driven learning?  What skills do you want your child to have by the time they reach adulthood?  Should your child be able to write persuasively, be an effective public speaker, think logically, or research issues successfully? What worldview do you want your children to have when they are ready to leave home for college, work, or other paths?  Your child’s education spans many years and can be thought of as a journey.  As families, we are used to putting much planning into any trip and with rare exception would head out on vacation without a destination.  Be sure to have a destination in mind for your child’s education so you are sure to get there!
  • What are my child’s needs in education? Think about how your children learn and their particular strengths and weaknesses. Do they thrive in active or quiet environments?  Are they drawn to large or small groups?  Do they need one-on-one attention or work best independently? Do they have disparate abilities, either above or below, in various subjects that don’t match set grade levels?  Education is not one size fits all, and the better you know your child the better you will be able to give them the best tools and environment for their success.
  • What are the school’s goals for student outcomes? What approach does the school or curriculum take?  How is information presented, expected to be processed, and eventually evaluated?  Does this match with your goals and your student’s needs?  It is exciting to see the many choices families have in education and it is worth the investment of time to be an informed shopper when looking at school philosophy and curricula.

Different Options for Home-Schooling

Most families are familiar with the myriad of choices in traditional schooling: public, private, parochial, charter, and virtual.  Options for home-schooling families abound in a similar way.  A short list of these choices includes: school-at-home, unit studies, eclectic or relaxed, unschooling, Charlotte Mason method, Waldorf method, Montessori method, and classical method.

What is Classical Education?

When most people hear the word “classical,” images of ancient literature or Latin may come to mind.  However, classical education is much more.  Classical education is based on the Trivium (Latin for “three roads”), and is a three-phase model that focuses on teaching students HOW to learn.

  • GRAMMAR stage (birth-12yrs): Students of this age enjoy soaking in the fundamental information of each subject, using the tools of memorization and repetition to amass knowledge. Questions students ask at this level are primarily Who? What? When? Where?
  • LOGIC stage (9-10yrs to 14yrs): Students of this age naturally analyze and interpret the facts that were memorized during the grammar phase, fitting pieces together and growing in understanding. Using the tools of conversation and debate, questions students enjoy asking are Why? and How?
  • RHETORIC stage (14-18yrs): Students at this age are eager to communicate their thoughts and beliefs clearly, eloquently, and persuasively. Students are challenged with the questions What do you think about this?  What are you going to do with this information?  These questions and conversations help them to develop wisdom.

The skills learned at each stage can then be applied to any subject, at any time in life.  While children move through these stages roughly according to their age and development, we are all of us, always, moving through all three stages as we learn any subject.

To relate to this idea, think through the task of learning a new hobby.  Let’s use gardening as an example.  First you need to learn the facts, like the types of dirt, names of plants, zones for growing, tools to use, pests that destroy.  This is the grammar stage.  Second, you start to try your hand at gardening where you dig dirt, plant seeds, and experiment with understanding the facts you’ve learned.  You do some things right and make some mistakes, correcting and modifying as you go.  This is the logic stage.  Finally, if you keep at it, you become successful at the task of gardening and eventually could teach a friend to garden, answer questions on a radio show, or start a CSA!  What wisdom you now have! This is the rhetoric stage.

What is Classical Conversations?

Classical Conversations is a homeschooling curriculum that assists families to organize themselves in local communities to work through a shared curriculum using the tools of classical education.  Started by a mom of four in North Carolina in 1997, the group has grown to over 100,000 students in the US and around the world!

Families meet weekly and students in grades 4K-6th attend in small classes with parent tutors, working through memory work in seven subject areas, fine arts projects, science experiments, and giving presentations to their peers, all while exercising the tools of the grammar stage.

Students in 4th-6th grade also have class in English grammar and writing, where they experiment with the tools of the logic stage.  Students in 7th-12th grade attend six seminar classes to practice asking questions, leading conversation, researching, debating, and writing.  These seminars focus on the logic and rhetoric stage and are also led by parent tutors.

classical conversations tri 4 schools

Parents help students during an afternoon English grammar and writing class

During the other four days of the week, students work at home preparing for their next community day.  All communities work through the same cycles at the same time, so your child will be learning the same information as other children their age across the country and world.  The program is academically rigorous, and as described in a recent Forbes article on school choice, offers “an academic performance most public schools only dream of.”  While rigorous, the program is unique in that it allows for flexibility in application by empowering parents through content, and assignments that can be modified for each individual child.  Classical Conversations is a Christian program but welcomes families of all faiths and can be used by families choosing a secular approach.

What does Classical Conversations look like in Dane County?

  • Started six years ago with only three families.
  • Has grown to 113 students, 7.5% of the county’s home-school population, spread across three communities (West Madison, Verona, and East Madison).
  • Fourth community starting in New Glarus for 2017/2018 academic year.
  • Have programs available for students K4-6th grade and middle school (7th and 8th grade) in 2017/2018 academic year.
  • Affordable programs at a cost of $13.95 per week when broken down.
  • While under the umbrella of Classical Conversations, each community is independently run and locally controlled.

classical conversations tri 4 schools

Seventh graders working on year-end geography projects

How can I learn more?

  • Participate in our triathlons and visit the Classical Conversations table!
  • Attend an Information Meeting hosted by parents involved in the program to hear more and ask questions. To find the date of the next Information Meeting, go to
  • Attend their FREE 3-Day Parent Practicum. At this event, speakers discuss classical education in all three stages, a bookstore is on site to view curriculum materials, and you can meet families who use the classical model.  You don’t have to be a homeschooler to attend!  This year’s event is May 23-25 at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Madison.  To learn more, go to
  • Read! There are many great books on the topics of homeschooling as well as classical education.  Some titles to consider are:
    • Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style
    • Classical Christian Education Made Approachable
    • The Well-Trained Mind
    • The Core
    • The Question
    • The Conversation

Are there other classical education options in Dane County?

Are you intrigued by the classical model of education but not sure you’re ready to make the transition into homeschooling?  You have options! While we learned the most about Classical Conversations since they are a partner of ours, we have found other classical options in the Madison area you may wish to investigate.

  • Charis Classical Academy: Charis Classical Academy employs a University Model in tandem with the classical education approach, where students attend classes 2-3 days per week and work at home on assignments the other 2-3 days per week. This is not homeschooling but rather a private school approach for students K-9th  This option is also Christian based.
  • Ambrose Academy: St. Ambrose Academy is a private school which provides junior and high school students with a classical education. This is a traditional 5 day a week school and is Catholic.
  • Shoreless Lake School: The Shoreless Lake School is also a traditional 5 day a week, Catholic school which aims to follow a classical approach.