Essentials Preparation & Approach

I am someone that likes to look ahead. It was January 2015 when I realized that my son would be entering Essentials August 2017 and I knew very little about the program itself. This means I had a solid 2 years and 8 months for prayer, research, reflection, conversation, preparation and more importantly, surrender.  I thought I would share a bit about our process of preparing for Essentials and the approach we are taking this fall.


Preparing for Essentials
My first step was prayer. I felt utterly overwhelmed at the thought of my barely able to read dyslexic child entering such a rigorous program. I wasn’t sure it would work with our Charlotte Mason style. I began to ask God whether or not I should delay a year and allow him to join in the 2018-2019 school year alongside his brother. I prayed for God to illuminate the right path for our family and that He would bless us with discernment in knowing how to prepare and encourage our son.

Next, I began reading The Core and The Conversation, both by Leigh Bortins. They were tremendously helpful in casting that beautiful long term vision for what we are doing now and where we are going. With this excellent road map in hand, I began to read the arsenal of articles on IEW’s website about reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I started speaking to Essentials parents, talking to my local area support team, and chatting with Essentials students themselves. Then I made sure to review our English grammar memory work as much as possible without over doing it. There is a fine line there. Memory work comes naturally at this stage of learning and you don’t need to beat a dead horse. Once they have it, move on.


When the 2016-2017 school year hit, I felt confident with the game plan God had led me to. We purchased IEW’s Student Intensive A and began slowly working through the lessons at our own pace. I cannot begin to express how beneficial this was for us. Those first 6 intense weeks of Essentials? We just had a year to work through those units at our own pace. It was the perfect gentle introduction! My second born (12 months younger than the eldest and a gifted learner) joined in for these lessons and loved them. The lessons are written with squirrely, active children in mind. I don’t know that the boys would have tolerated another program half as well. I never had to ask them twice to come and read about slime eels or sea snakes. All of the stories drew them in and every exercise gave them the material, tools and confidence to write on their own and to do it well.  I am amazed at how much they accomplished this year! I did not push them farther than they could bear. It was important to me that their writing time be filled with encouragement and excitement. Hear me when I say that the cook setting on this operation was LOW AND SLOW.

One of my kiddos met Andrew Pudewa this year. He totally geeked out.

We also picked up IEW’s fantastic Spelling program, Phonetic Zoo,  which is auditory based and worked beautifully with my son’s dyslexia. So many spelling programs out there are geared towards very young learners and my son was instantly turned off by their abundance of stickers, graphics, and curriculum “twaddle” that instantly offended his taste for rich language gained through our living read alouds. He wanted something on his level! This program is based off of a zoo full of interesting animals, with clever rhymes to remember spelling rules. The spelling words are presented through the audio CDs (or mp3s) by Andrew Pudewa and another fellow my children refer to as “The Gentleman Pirate.” They insist that he sounds like a man with a touch of sea salt to his voice. They imagine that he is a sea Captain of some sort, though not the pillaging sort hence “Gentleman” before “Pirate.” They have also enriched his backstory to include a possible foray into the world of science as a mechanical engineer and inventor of silly machines like “The Handy Dandy Tea Stirring Robot.” Needless to say, they love the audio CDs and always remind me that we have to do spelling every single day. The children used this spelling program completely on their own, freeing me to do work with my younger children while granting them an enjoyable responsibility that felt very much like freedom in and of itself.  My eldest now has the experience of independent work. He knows how to care for materials, pull out what he needs, set work up on his own, discipline himself to work through his portion and put everything away when he is done. Surprise! We got a boatload of character and habit training with our spelling program.


Where does that leave us now? Well, we feel that we are ready for Essentials. Not because he has mastered reading, spelling or writing, but because we feel the Lord telling us it is time. I also feel that my son needs a year of Essentials on his own, away from his brothers, to test his own mettle and to forge deeper friendships with others.

Here is our approach for Essentials this year:

1) Consistent, protected steps:
We have THREE years with this program. Making room in our schedule for daily, small portions of work is important. I am protecting my son’s time and space by scheduling his Essentials work at a time when his mind is sharp and clear. For him, this is in the afternoons.  One of his best dyslexia superpowers is skilled memorization abilities. I am not too worried about those grammar charts (EEL). However, writing is exhausting so we will allow for writing some charts and filling in other charts with laminated labels. On days when his dyslexia is really exhausting him, we will save the writing portion (IEW) for the evenings when his mind and creativity really come alive. I am a night-owl writer too and can empathize with that need to put a creative burst born of the midnight hour to good use. These dedicated allotments of time each and every day will yield much by the end of the week.

Note: The schedule below is in block format (see page 36 of the 4th edition Foundations Guide for a great explanation of this system!) My son has a one hour block of time to complete his allotted Essentials work for the day but he likely will not take the full hour, leaving him with a free chunk of time to play or rest before beginning the next block on the new hour.

unnamed-5.jpg   2017 Schedule pdf

2) Rightly sized portions:
Again, three years to master this stuff. I don’t see the need to do everything all at once.  After viewing several helpful webinars and reading many handouts on Learning Pathways (Ask your Director!) and reading several excellent articles on CC’s Writer’s Circle, I am confident in our decision to take small bites this year. Aside from rotating between writing and labeling our charts with laminated cards, we will not be doing the editing exercise this year and I will be scribing for him. I will also help with typing his papers for class. These papers are not a hill of mom-pride expectation I want to die on. We will master a small layer this year and tack on another layer next year.


3) Rightly sized attitude:
I plan to recite the following often: He is not a product. He is a soul. Its not about what he is learning. Its about who he is becoming. Its not about perfection. Its about practicing.

He does not have to know this all by next April! Heck, I don’t even know it all right now! Before I bought school supplies for Essentials, I picked out Bible verses brimming with grace and encouragement to give my child on those tough days. This isn’t just about grammar and writing. Working on hard things requires right attitude before the Lord, dedicated effort and willingness to persevere. This gifts us with ownership over what we have earned. It shapes character and sets habits in place. When done for the glory of God, these things point us to wisdom.


4) Partnering in learning
Lets not ask our children to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. Its not up to our tutors to make this a successful year. We need to dig in and model life-long learning for children. How we use our time speaks loudly. Lets say with our days, this material is so worthy we are giving our own time to do it! We are not just the teachers, we are the lead learners in our homes. Find your place at the table and work alongside your child. Carve out the best space in your learning schedule and reserve it. Maybe your spouse would like to join in too?  One of our local Essentials tutors makes the parents in her class do all the charts. I love that.  I love it so much I am requiring all our parents to do the chart work each week. I’m even making checklist sheets for the parents and kids to sign when their partner has completed their daily chart work for the week. Relationship building through grammar charting? Yes, please.

5) Holding the handle bars:
Where did that CC metaphor of bike riding come from? I stayed up too late last night to remember it now. Someone, somewhere along the way, spoke or wrote about our children’s educational journeys on the extended metaphor of learning to ride a bike. Our littlest ones learn the parts of the bike and sit upon them with training wheels securely fastened before peddling away to spin in little circles around the driveway. When connections and questions begin pouring forth we take off those training wheels and walk alongside those shiny bikes and their occupants, gripping those handlebars tightly as everything wobbles back and forth. I’ve thought about that metaphor often these days. I see now that the time for letting go is on the horizon. Ownership, Discipline, Freedom, Choices, Consequences, Leadership all lay further down the road and at some point I have to let go so that bike can get there. But right now, I am holding the handlebars, and recognizing that each individual rider reaches that ready point in his own time. I watch and observe. The rider might one day shout “I can do this! Let go!” and sail off down the road without a backward glance. Or I might observe until the spirit nudges me to wisely let go and allow a few bumps and scrapes to occur before that bike goes sailing off on its own. But for now, my job is to hold the handle bars without losing sight of the rider or the road ahead.  How do I accomplish this? I equip him. I encourage independence and ownership in small little steps. We’ve organized our Essentials notebooks with these things in mind. We will partner together to further his education and to continue redeeming my own. We look beyond grammar and writing and fix our eyes on wisdom, knowing that the struggle for this knowledge leads us somewhere worthy and wonderful. We order our days wisely so we that by God’s grace we can complete our daily portion. We stick with it, one day at a time. I hold on to the handlebars, without losing sight of the rider or the road ahead. I remember how I came to hold these handlebars in the first place. I’ve been blessed, called and equipped to stand here. Fear has no place alongside the joy of this confidence.

Anyone else starting Essentials for the first time this year? Any other learning SUPERPOWERS out there? Chime in with your thoughts, ideas, verses, favorite brand of ice cream below in the comments!

IEW links above are affiliate links. All opinions of IEW products are my own. All IEW products used in our home were purchased by us. 









12 thoughts on “Essentials Preparation & Approach

  1. You are headed in the right direction! I’ve tutored Essentials for 2 years and I’ve seen how the structure and model really works. It’s amazing to see how the students progress from year to year. I too have learned so much and I’m excited for another year!


  2. This will be our first year in Essentials, too, and we will also be taking it slowly. I think I’ll be returning to this post again and again so thanks for writing it!


  3. You are going to do great with Essentials! You have the perfect attitude and plan. This will be my 4th year in Essentials, but my first year tutoring. I love the idea of having the parents do the charts…. and I am trying to figure out a way to have the parents actually read the essentials guide. 🙂 This will be my dyslexic daughter’s second year in Essentials. She did well with Chart A and a few more concepts, and her writing progressed tremendously. One very helpful thing is to partner write – I would either read the text and she would write her KWO or she would read and I would write. I also scribed for her all but one or two papers. She was not terribly interested in the History Based writing sources (and some were way above her reading level), so she would tell me a topic (usually science related), and I would find a source from a kids encyclopedia online, and she would KWO and write from that. Don’t be afraid to go off of the plan as needed. My nephews have really enjoyed the All Things Fun and Fascinating text as well. Thanks for all you share with the greater homeschooling community. I really enjoy your blog!


  4. I loved this: “This isn’t just about grammar and writing. Working on hard things requires right attitude before the Lord, dedicated effort and willingness to persevere. This gifts us with ownership over what we have earned. It shapes character and sets habits in place. When done for the glory of God, these things point us to wisdom.” Thank you! Cheers to a richly blessed year ahead!


  5. Will you incorporate songs for memorizing english grammer? If so, do you have and can you share your favorite usernames?


  6. This is random buuuuut……I’m wondering what colors you are using on your walls. It seems very natural, soothing and relaxing! Thanks so much!!!


  7. Thank you for this. We are starting CC next year after doing CM home… alone for the last several years. My son, 13, has severe dyslexia and will be starting Challenge A. I am wondering if I should some essentials with him this summer?? What do you think? I don’t know what the charts are but maybe do those and the Fun and Fascinating IEW book? He has only done Analytical Grammar but hasn’t done any writing except for voice to text narrations.
    Thank you!


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