Taking the leap from Foundations and Essentials into Challenge A can be intimidating for parents and students. We want more than just to survive Challenge; we want to excel, and we would like to excel without too much stress. Challenge A requires the student to do more thinking, researching, and writing to build up their skills in those areas. It is worth the hard work, though because the content of Challenge A is rich in natural science, geography, and apologetics. I am continually pondering the words of Louis Pasteur who said, “Science brings men nearer to God.” Challenge A has the potential to bring you and your student nearer to God as you study together. The following tips can help you stay on top of the work and encourage you on your journey.
Challenge programs use letters and numbers (A, B, and I-IV) instead of traditional grade names.
The purpose of this is to free parents from thinking they have to enroll their students in specific Classical Conversations program levels based purely on age. It encourages parents to evaluate their children’s maturity, skills, and the benefits of having the students in one program versus another based on the content of the various Challenge levels themselves. In the case of Challenge A, parents are freed from believing that their students need to be in Challenge A as soon as they enter the seventh grade. As you evaluate whether your child is ready, be honest with yourself, and your student, and decide whether your child would benefit from another year of Foundations and Essentials. Starting Challenge A as a thirteen-year-old has definite advantages. As the older children in the class, these students will have the opportunity to practice leadership skills. They will probably also be able to do more of their work independently at home. If they are mature enough, and are ready to graduate after Challenge III, they will have enough credits to do so. If they want to take another year and complete Challenge IV before going to college, they will have the advantage of being somewhat more mature than most college freshmen. Make your decision based on what is really best for the individual student.
Once you have decided when to begin A, do it wholeheartedly.
Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Unwavering parents can make a big difference in a student’s attitude and performance. If parents are committed, they won’t waste time and energy wondering what else they could be doing or what other curriculum might be easier. Seek out other Challenge parents and build relationships with them. When a bad day comes along, you will have someone to call for encouragement. I once sent an e-mail to my community saying, “For sale: one 12 year old boy. Cheap.” Responses ranged from, “I’ll throw in mine for free, we had a hard day, too!” to “Oh, try to appreciate your precious boy; he’ll be gone before you know it.” I appreciated both knowing that I wasn’t the only person struggling, and hearing from someone who had had children grow up and leave the house.
Over-coach at first.
We want our children to be independent. They want that, too. Students may struggle, though, if we expect them to be independent too early. Coach them into independence by making sure they plan out their work for each day and check that they get everything done every day. After they have had lots of coaching and practice they will say, “I can do this, Mom!” Then, you can back off gradually. A football coach would not win many games if he said, “I’ve got a great team this year; I’ll let them do it by themselves.” A great football coach stays involved and pushes a good team even further.
Provide good study areas and resources.
Your challenge students need to know where their books and supplies are as well as a place to work comfortably. They may need a quiet space away from the other kids sometimes, and they will need for you to be available to answer questions. Stock up on paper, printer ink, pens, and pencils. You can also save several trips to the library if you purchase an encyclopedia-type book on plants and animals for weekly research papers. (Often these can be found on the bargain racks of bookstores.)
Set up a routine.
A schedule provides stability, and stability means security to a child, even if they are at the ripe old age of 12. Establish a time to get up, a time for math, a time to write, a time for breaks, etc. You can always take a day to break up the routine by doing things differently, but setting a regular schedule early will allow your students to follow the routine more and more independently.
Discuss the books and papers.
On the first day after seminar, I sit down with my student and we talk about the writing assignment. The assignments are very thought-provoking and have led to some great discussions about faith, truth, trust and hard work. We discuss the content and structure of the paper together. A few days later I become the editor and we talk about spelling, punctuation and revisions. Parents should read the books over the summer so they are ready to discuss them with their students.
Set the standard for state of the heart education.
I give an “A” if the work was done, “as unto the Lord.” This means my student did the work without complaining and went beyond the basic requirements in some way. For example, if my child writes a paper that met the requirements, and also had a memorable metaphor or a thoughtful conclusion, I’d give that an “A”.
Challenge A is a time for you to train your students in excellent work and study habits. Keep reminding them that A is for “As unto the Lord!”