Memoria Press created complete grade level programs for implementing classical education, but parents whose children have special needs wanted something that addressed their situation as well. So Memoria Press has begun creating the Simply Classical program, complete year-long packages for teaching children with special needs beginning with skill levels as young as ages two or three. Readiness Levels A, B, and C are available for ages two through five (or children functioning at those corresponding skill levels), Student Level 1 is for those functioning at ages five to six (ready to learn to read), Level 2 is for skill levels of ages six to eight, Level 3 is for skill levels typical of ages seven to nine, Level 4 is for skill levels of ages eight to ten. And a combined Levels 5 & 6 is for ages nine to fourteen.
The heart of each year’s program is the Simply Classical Curriculum Manual with its step-by-step instructions for teaching all subject areas. Each package has core resources for teaching in a gentle, incremental manner that is appropriate for children with special needs. Each level also provides more tactile, sensory, and movement-based learning than is common to most other Memoria Press programs. While the program does not address particular classes of special needs (e.g., autism), it has helpful tips about specific skill areas under the two assessments described below as well as in the two or three pages of Teacher Notes. For example, the Teacher Notes for Level B under “Recitation” say, “Move swiftly through each item on the Recitation list. If the child’s language is limited, say or sing along with him until he masters the content” (p. 19).
At the front of each Curriculum Manual is a list of ten key features of the program. The first feature on the list—“The rich beautiful content of a classical Christian education designed to promote wisdom, virtue, and eloquence within the Christian context of forgiveness, mercy, and salvation”—reflects Memoria Press’s dedication to both classical and Christian education. While they still use grammar level techniques (based on the trivium approach) with oral repetition and recitation, they do so through stories, songs, and activities in a playful manner. For example, the letters are introduced to children in Level B using a number of different resources, and often two or three resources on any one day. The letter “I” is taught during week 11 using My First ABC Book, Alphabet Coloring Book, Big Thoughts for Little People, and A-Z Crafts. In other lessons, children review letters with flashcards, construct letters with Wikki Sticks, or play the “I spy” game with letters.
Read-aloud books are included for Level A, but there is also a supplemental read-aloud package available for each of Levels B, C, and One. Lists of the read-aloud books are available at the publisher’s website, so you can check to see whether or not you can obtain these on your own rather than purchase the package. Among the read-aloud books are many classic books such as Goodnight Moon, A Child’s Garden of Verses, Madeline, and Guess How Much I Love You? Many, if not all of them, should be available at the library. Prayers for Children is included in the Level A package, but it is also used for Levels B and C, so you will need to order it separately if you start at those levels.
While books, flashcards, and audio CDs are included in the packages, you will still need to gather quite a few supplies for the Readiness levels. A supply list near the front of each Curriculum Manual lists items such as playdough, a child’s rolling pin, watercolor paint set, crayons, colored pencils, glue stick, construction paper, sandpaper ABC letters and 123 numbers, Wikki Sticks or pipe cleaners, and games such as Candy Land. (Sources for the more unusual items are provided.)
Curriculum Manuals consist primarily of charts with daily lesson plans for four days per week for Levels A through C and five days per week for Level One. Categories on the charts change from level to level reflecting changing emphases as well as particular topics addressed at each level. Charts for Levels A through C include a category for “Enrichment or therapies.”This category is provided primarily for parents to record and implement their child's own therapy homework, but additional activities are suggested and vary by level. You can use their suggestions or substitute your own activities.
All packages have suggested age levels or skill levels, so parents should determine which level is appropriate according to the developmental needs of their child. Readiness Checklists at the beginning of each book help parents determine the appropriate starting place. Checklists are under the headings of language, cognitive ability, social-emotional development, fine-motor skills, and gross-motor skills. The Readiness Checklists are also available free online at http://www.memoriapress.com/special-needs/place-my-child, and you should really use these before ordering. You may also request placement assistance or ask other questions on the free online forum, SimplyClassical.com. Those checklists are followed by “Skills to Develop During the Program” checklists which serve as post-tests for the program. Both sets of assessments include tips for improving skills in each area—very specific teaching suggestions that you can easily incorporate into your program. These should be especially helpful if a child has particular areas of weakness. If any given level is not a perfect fit in all areas, Levels B and above are now customizable with the “Customize” option online.
Level A: Readiness, Rhythm, and Rhyme (for skill level ages 2-3)
This is a readiness program that introduces letters, numbers, shapes, and colors while also helping children develop both fine-motor and gross-motor skills. Level A is for children just beginning to speak and imitate words and phrases that they hear. Children are introduced to the alphabet with sandpaper letters and the “ABC Song” as well as through storybooks such as 1 is One by Tasha Tudor. Children learn to count with objects (both physical objects and pictures of objects) as well as by playing with dice. They learn more about numbers and counting through read-aloud books such as My First Counting Book and Numbers, Colors, Shapes. Among motor skills taught this year, are how to hold a crayon correctly, how to string large beads, how to color within lines, how to use scissors, how to hop on one foot, how to throw a ball, and how to gallop. It also addresses cognitive and social-emotional development such following directions, using appropriate manners, and beginning to understand sportsmanship.
Level B: Essentials, Etiquette, and Ear Training (for skill level ages 3-4)
Level B begins actual recitation with Bible verses, the ABC’s, counting numbers, their complete name, their phone number and address, and their birthday. Reading and number skills gradually advance, with children beginning to make connections between letters and words as well as between spoken and written language. They also learn both the names and values of numbers. Ear training is taught as an essential reading readiness skill. Manners (etiquette) are taught through role-playing, storybooks, and games. While children continue to learn prayers as in Level A, Level B adds a Bible Literacy category to the lesson plan charts. Children become familiar with Bible stories, primarily through reading from A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. Memoria Press wants children to cultivate a love for words and beautiful language. As one means to that end, Level B presents poems set to beautiful music on CDs such as A Child’s Garden of Songs.
Level C: Animals, Alphabet, and Aesop (for skill level ages 4-5)
Level C has a unit study feel to it with the letters of the alphabet serving as themes. Two days are dedicated to each letter of the alphabet, with review lessons interspersed. For example, when children study the letter “p,” they learn the names of different creatures whose names start with “p”. They play “I spy” with things that start with a “p” or that have a “p” written within a word on them. They color and cut out a pear. They listen to the read-aloud book, Mr. Pine’s Purple House and the poem, “When a peacock loudly calls.” They sing “Pop Goes the Weasel.” They might also color a porpoise and a platypus. By the end of Level C, children should understand that letters form words, should be able to identify letters and their sounds, should be able write simple words, should be able to identify numerals up to 10, should be able write letters and numbers on a line, and should be able to skip, gallop, twirl, and jump. In addition, Level C helps children become familiar with routines, order, and patterns. All of this is fairly typical of a less-pressured, pre-academic readiness approach to kindergarten—what used to be the common kindergarten program, in contrast to the more academically-focused kindergarten programs that are becoming the norm.
Level 1: Sentences, Sums, and Stories (for skill level ages 5-6)
Level One teaches beginning phonics and reading skills for children who already have some knowledge of letters and sounds. Children will learn how to both read and write words and sentences using resources such as Phonics From A to Z (Scholastic Teaching) and the Memoria Press publications First Start Reading, Classical Phonics, Primary Phonics Readers, Simply Classical Copybook Book One (Manuscript), and My Nature Journal. The reading lessons teach one sound per letter with short vowels taught first. This enables children to quickly learn three-letter, phonetic words and start to read right away. The reading program is enhanced with delightful read-aloud books and poetry. Children will tackle first-grade level math with Rod and Staff's Arithmetic 1 (Including flashcards) and Richard Scarry’s delightful Best Counting Book Ever. The Level One Curriculum Manual occasionally adds movement activities or games for language arts and math lessons.
Copywork and memorization are important enough at this level to have their own category on the lesson plan charts. Students will memorize and recite Bible verses, counting (e.g., by 2’s, by 5’s, or backward from 15 to 0) the Pledge of Allegiance, their personal information (i.e., phone number, address, birth date) phonetic sounds, spelling words, names of the planets, and the Doxology.
A new category on the lesson plan charts at this level, “Wonder, Beauty, and Imagination,” encompasses literature, science, history, geography, art, and music. Among resources used are Hailstones and Halibut Bones, The Creation Story for Children, Bugs are Insects, A Tree is a Plant, Paddle to the Sea, From Tadpole to Frog, A Child’s Book of Poems, and maps from the back of the curriculum manual. Two sets of beautiful art cards are used to teach art appreciation as well as a little art history. Classical musical works such as “Fur Elise” and “The Nutcracker” are used to develop listening skills and music appreciation, and children also learn traditional songs such as “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful,” Christmas carols, and children’s songs such as “I’m a Little Teapot” and “Frere Jacques.” However, you need to find your own recordings of the musical pieces if you do not know these songs.
The curriculum manual includes instructions that are vital for balancing what sounds like a lot of bookwork with activity-based learning. Outdoor science explorations, bird watching, and movement activities that accompany learning phonetic sounds are only a few of those active-learning opportunities found within the lesson plans.
An optional Level One Supplemental Science and Enrichment set includes 17 additional books on science-related themes, books such as The Vegetables We Eat, Bugs are Insects, Where Are the Night Animals?, and From Caterpillar to Butterfly. These are books you can probably find at the library but purchasing the package might be more convenient.
Level 2: Comprehension, Calculations, and Character (for skill levels ages 6 - 8)
Level 2 continues with strong instruction in phonics and reading continuing with Classical Phonics, phonics flashcards, Core Skills Phonics workbooks (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and phonetic readers. Math instruction is from Rod and Staff's Arithmetic 1. Simply Classical Storytime Treasures introduces children to beloved literature such as Blueberries for Sal while helping teach beginning language arts along with word study and oration. Simply Classical Writing: Book One Step-by-Step Sentences helps students with structured lessons in composition and grammar. Simply Classical Spelling: Step-by-Step Words uses an incremental, multi-sensory approach to teach spelling. New American Cursive introduces cursive handwriting. A Simply Classical Copybook reinforces handwriting and language arts skills using Scripture verses. A Child's Garden of Bible Stories provides more comprehensive familiarity with key stories of the Bible.
Sections in the lesson plans titled "Wonder, Beauty, and Imagination" bring literature together with history, science, geography, art, and music using a variety of resources including Art Cards and classical music. You might want to also purchase the optional Level 2 Literature, Science, History, and Geography Read-Aloud set. This selection of 31 fiction and non-fiction books is used throughout the course, often in conjunction with "Wonder, Beauty, and Imagination" lesson plans.
Levels 3 , 4, and 5 & 6 came out after I wrote this review, so check the publisher's website for details on those levels.
Simply Classical maintains the classical approach for which Memoria Press is so well known, but it dials back the difficulty a little bit, inserts more incremental step-by-step lessons, and adds more hands-on and active learning that might be needed for children with special needs. It might work well with children who have minimal developmental delays but is also well suited for children with more significant intellectual disability, language disorders, autism, or learning disabilities. Some parents might like to use it with their children with normal learning abilities just because of the combination of learning methods that are used. Be sure to use the Readiness Checklists to determine which level of Simply Classical will be suitable for your child. More levels are planned to cover up through age 21.