Challenge A

Our fifth year of Classical Conversations brought on a new adventure as my son and I entered the Challenge A program, he as a student and I as the Director/Tutor.  THIS is where it all comes together.  I always have prided myself on doing very little at home with my children, embracing a Classical Unschooling approach.  As we embark upon our last few weeks of Challenge A, I am even more convinced that the best preparation for Challenge A is mastering Foundations Memory Work and the Essentials Question Confirmation assignments.

However, because of the nature of this blog, I have been asked many times over "What can I do to prepare for Challenge A?"  I've composed a few thoughts, and collected several of my Challenge A posts into one place in order to best answer that question.

Grammar (Latin) -- 

Naturally, this is the subject we've invested the most amount of time in this year.  Mostly, because I've had to learn it myself.  My son and I have enjoyed tackling Latin together.  If you have memorized the Latin Noun Endings (Cycle 1) and the Latin Verb Endings (Cycle 2), you have an excellent start for Challenge A Latin.  Remember, like everything else in Classical Education, this will be repeated.  I cannot emphasize that enough. The Henle text is a high school text.  Challenge A is a middle school program.  If you try to master it all your first year, you will be frustrated.  Your student will repeat this material at least two more times, in Challenge B and in Challenge I.  I've treated our first year of Henle as a Foundations year.  We are learning the grammar of the subject.

I've often been asked if completing an elementary Latin program is necessary.  My answer to that is no because we never completed one.  If you are truly looking to add Latin into your child's last year of Foundations and Essentials, my recommendation would be to purchase the purple Henle book (link above) and work on memorizing the vocabulary lists on pages 91 - 98 and 217 - 224.  If your child already has the vocabulary learned prior to entering the program, it will be that much easier to grasp the new Latin concepts.  (Disclaimer:  I don't think you have to do this.  We didn't.  But, if you are looking to add Latin, I think this is a better option than purchasing an entirely different curriculum.)

Essentials is still your best bet for any Latin preparation.  Work with your child to master the first five sentence patterns. You, and your student, should be able to verbalize the difference between these patterns.  For example: Can your student tell you the difference between a predicate nominative and a predicate adjective?  Can s/he tell you why a sentence would include an indirect object?  Can s/he identify direct objects?  Does s/he understand the difference between a linking verb and a transitive verb?  Etc.

Master Chart E (Nouns).  For added instruction, as you read, identify nouns in sentences and see if you can determine what role they are playing (direct object, indirect object, object of the preposition, etc.)  These are your Latin Noun Cases, and it is the bulk of what you discuss in Challenge A Latin.  For verbs, having a rudimentary understanding of person, number, and tense is helpful.  Understand the difference between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person in the singular and plural, as well as being able to identify if an action happened in the past, present, or future.

I've embraced the same philosophy for Challenge A Latin at home as I do for Essentials.  We have not completed every assignment that has been suggested.  Your Challenge A Guide is just that.  A Guide.  We work on Latin for about 45 - 60 minutes a day.  Half of that time is review.  The other half of that time we complete whatever exercises we can fit in during the time slot.  When an hour is up, we put the books away.  By the time my children are in Challenge I, we may shoot to complete all the exercises assigned.  We'll see ....

Latin, Year 1

Latin Word Wall

Latin Pictionary

Illustrated Latin Review

Latin Graffiti Wall

Logic (Math) -- 

Math has taken us some time this year mostly because I have never taught my children Math.  We never used a formal curriculum until my son entered Challenge A.  Prior to that we played games, drilled facts, occasionally did some worksheets, incorporated day-to-day Math situations, etc.  My son was completely competent when it came to the four basic operations of arithmetic, so he easily transitioned into Saxon 8/7.  Since I never took the time to sit down and learn math with him before this year, I knew I would have to invest time into this subject.  After six years of homeschooling, I figure an hour a day, four days a week, is not too much.  With Saxon Math there is a new concept daily with lesson problems, then a review problem set of 30 questions.  Like the Latin, there is always more than can be done.  So, we invest an hour.  First, we tackle the new concept and the problems that correlate with that.  With whatever time is remaining, we complete part of the 30 problems.  Some days, he manages to complete them all.  Other days, it's just the odds or evens.  Occasionally, we don't finish any of them.

The best prep for Challenge A math?  Drill math facts.

Teaching Math

Pi Day

Exposition and Composition -- 

In this strand, your student will read 10 novels.  Using tools from The Lost Tools of Writing, your student will learn how to write a rudimentary persuasive essay during Challenge A.  Again, this material will be repeated.  In Challenge A, we begin the process of coming up with an idea, organizing our thoughts, and then composing our essay.  While learning the process alongside your child, you will need to brainstorm with your child.  It will be really difficult for you to do this if you haven't read the books.

So, my advice on how to prep for this strand is read the books.  You probably are familiar with over half of them.  Commit to reading them with your child the summer before they begin Challenge A.  Ideally, read them out loud together, and treat it like a book club.  Discuss actions of the characters.  Discuss how the characters are similar or different.  Begin to discuss similarities and differences between the books themselves.  Talk about when and where the novels take place.  You don't need a curriculum to do this.  Just have a conversation.

Then, have your child read the books again as they are assigned.  They will be easier to read and comprehend the second time through.  After reading the book, the students begin their assignments from the novel.  The first task is always to brainstorm reasons why or why not a character should have done something.  This does not come naturally to 13-year-olds because it requires much thinking.  As their parents (and teachers), I believe we cannot model for them enough how important this process is.  When your student says to you, "Mom.  It is impossible for me to come up with 30 reasons why Mary should not have entered the Secret Garden" you will be able to walk them through the process using The Lost Tools of Writing materials simply because you have read the books.

Again.  Prep for this strand?  Read the books.  You and your student.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

The Secret Garden

ANI in Real Life

A Gathering of Days

Crispin: Cross of Lead

Debate (Geography) -- 

This is my favorite strand.  If your student has any Geography Foundations experience, s/he will be more than prepared.  Ultimately, the goal of this strand is to help students identify where a place is.  It is rather difficult to study current events or any History throughout the rest of the Challenge program if you are unaware of where that event occurred.  My son draws and labels maps everyday.  It's the easiest strand for him to take ownership of himself.  Most of his maps are sketched out on dry erase boards.  Once a week, I do require him to draw a relatively nice one that I hole-punch and add to his binder.

For preparation, I would say practice drawing and tracing maps.  They don't have to be perfect.  Also, we did not require our son to learn all the capitals for some of the larger continents (think Europe, Asia, Africa), but if that is a high value of yours, you could easily begin drilling those capitals now.

O Canada

North America

South America


National Geographic Geography

World Map Infographics

The World

Research (Science) --

This is another favorite strand of mine because the whole point of the strand is for your student to learn how to look something up.  I've always said education isn't knowing all the answers.  It's knowing how to look for the answer when you need it.  Enter Challenge A's Research strand.

The first part of the year, students will be researching various organisms.  The second half of the year, they will be memorizing Human Anatomy systems.  There is quite a bit of drawing included in this strand.

For prep, I would say familiarize yourself with the IEW Units 4 and 6.  My son could crank out his papers in less than an hour simply because he already had the tools to do so.  Cycle 3's Science memory work is valuable for the Anatomy portion.  Have a couple decent books at home that they can complete their research from.  Like Geography, this is another strand that they can take an incredible amount of ownership themselves.

Natural Science Research

Intro to Human Anatomy

Rhetoric -- 

This is another simple strand to manage at home.  Your student will be reading two different books over the course of the year that deal with apologetics and clear reasoning.  In seminar, they will discuss those books, similar to a book club or Bible study.  There are catechism questions to memorize, many which are past Foundations Science memory work.  Again, quite a few from Cycle 3.

For prep (although I don't think it's necessary) review all three cycles of Foundations Science memory work.

Fall Semester Blue Book Assessment

Overall, Challenge A has been a blast!  I have not once felt overwhelmed with the course load because we have prepped solely with Foundations and Essentials.  I often tell Foundation parents, if you truly don't believe that you are doing enough just by drilling memory work, you should sit in on a Challenge A seminar.  All the memory work comes full circle, and you will witness the Classical Model in its beauty and its simplicity.


  1. Anne, thank you, thank you, thank you for being my pioneer!!

    1. Thanks, Carey. Challenge A makes so much sense after several years of Foundations and Essentials.

  2. I am just now applying for the Challenge A director/tutor position at our campus for this fall. I will be jumping in with my oldest daughter. This is all very encouraging to read as we starting CC Foundations when she was 5! Looks like we'll be pretty well prepared!

    1. Best of Luck!! Challenge A really is a blast!

  3. What planner would you recommend to help students and parents to manage their time and subjects?

    1. Oh, Ashley. I wish I could help you with this, but this is an area where I am weak. We are not planner people. Usually I just list out what needs to be done on a whiteboard. However, one thing I've seen others do is make 30 copies of the page titled "Homework Helper" (it used to be on page 31, but the Guide has been updated since I used it last) and bind those pages into a planner for their student.

      Every year I say I'm going to do this, and I have yet to. ;) Maybe this year .....