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 created the Simply Classical program, complete packages for teaching children with special needs. Readiness Levels A, B, and C are available for ages two through five (or children functioning at the skill levels for those ages). 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. A combined Levels 5 & 6 is for skill levels of ages nine to fourteen. And a similar combined Levels 7 & 8 is for skill levels of ages eleven to fourteen.
The heart of each year’s program is a 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. At the lower levels, the program provides learning that is more tactile, sensory, and movement-based than is common to most other Memoria Press programs.
While the program does not address particular classes of special needs such as autism or hearing impairment, it has helpful tips about specific skill areas located in the two or three pages of Teacher Notes and below the two assessments that I will describe later. 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).
A list of ten key features of the program is at the front of each curriculum manual. 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 techniques such as oral repetition and recitation—which some say are critical components of classical education, they do so through stories, songs, and activities in a playful manner. For example, the letters of the alphabet are introduced to children in Level B using a number of different resources, often two or three resources on any one day. The letter “B” is taught during the second week 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 in the package for Level A, with books such as Goodnight Moon, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Prayers for Children, ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book, Put Me in the Zoo, and My First Counting Book. For Levels B, C, and 1, the read-aloud books come in supplemental packages. 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 purchasing the packages.
While books, flashcards, and audio CDs are included in the packages, you will still need to gather quite a few supplies for the Readiness A, B, and C levels. A supply list near the front of each curriculum manual lists items such as playdough, a child’s rolling pin, a watercolor paint set, crayons, colored pencils, a glue stick, construction paper, sandpaper letters and numbers, Wikki Sticks or pipe cleaners, and games such as Candy Land®. Sources for the more unusual items are provided. The number of required supplies gradually diminishes after the Readiness levels.
The curriculum manuals consist primarily of charts with daily lesson plans. Categories on the charts change from level to level reflecting changing emphases as well as the topics addressed at each level. For instance, the 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 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 serve as assessments to help parents determine the appropriate starting place. Separate checklists are under the headings of language, cognitive ability, social-emotional development, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. (Readiness assessments with these checklists are also available free online, and you should use these before ordering.) You may also request placement assistance or ask other questions on the free online forum at SimplyClassical.com.
The Readiness Checklists in the curriculum manuals are followed by lists of skills to develop during the program. Both sets of checklists 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, string large beads, color within lines, use scissors, hop on one foot, throw a ball, and how to gallop. It also addresses cognitive and social-emotional development skills such as following directions, using appropriate manners, and beginning to understand sportsmanship. Children also learn some prayers.
Level B: Essentials, Etiquette, and Ear Training (for skill level ages 3 - 4)
Level B begins recitation work with Bible verses, the ABC’s, counting numbers, the child's complete name, their phone number and address, and their birthday. Reading and number skills gradually advance, with children beginning to understand the concept of written language and how letters form words. They also learn both the names and values of numbers. "Ear training" (listening) is taught as an essential reading readiness skill. Manners 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 for beautiful language. As a means to that end, Level B has children listen to poems set to beautiful music on the two CDs A Child’s Garden of Songs and Back to the Garden.
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 each week are dedicated to a letter of the alphabet. 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 that is visible on the object. Children color and cut out a pear. They sing “Pop Goes the Weasel" and listen to the read-aloud book, Mr. Pine’s Purple House, and the rhyme, “When a peacock loudly calls, then look out for rain and squalls." They might also color a porpoise and a platypus. By the end of Level C, children should be able to identify letters and their sounds; should understand that letters form words; should be able to write simple words; should be able to identify numerals up to 10; should be able to 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. It stands in contrast to the more academically-focused kindergarten programs that have become the norm.
Level 1: Sentences, Sums, and Stories (for skill level ages 5 - 6)
Level 1 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 and the Memoria Press publications First Start Reading, Classical Phonics, Primary Phonics Readers, Simply Classical Copybook: Manuscript Book One, 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 the flashcards for that course) 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 practice recitation for Bible verses, phonetic sounds, 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), spelling words, names of the planets, and the Doxology (the praise song that begins "Praise God from whom all blessings flow...").
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 in this category 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 “Für Elise” and “The Nutcracker” are used to develop listening skills and music appreciation. Children also learn traditional songs such as “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” and Christmas carols, along with children’s songs such as “I’m a Little Teapot” and “Frère 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 to balance out what sounds like a lot of bookwork by including activity-based learning. Outdoor science explorations, bird watching, and movement—activities that accompany learning phonetic sounds—are only a few of the active-learning strategies 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.
Level 2: Comprehension, Calculations, and Character (for skill levels ages 6 - 8)
Level 2 continues strong instruction in phonics and reading with Classical Phonics, phonics flashcards, Core Skills Phonics workbooks (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 presents structured lessons in composition and grammar. Simply Classical Spelling: Book One 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 gives children greater familiarity with key stories of the Bible.
The section in the lesson plans titled "Wonder, Beauty, and Imagination" brings literature together with history, science, geography, art, and music. In this part of the lesson, you will use 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 can be used throughout the course, often in conjunction with the "Wonder, Beauty, and Imagination" lessons.
Level 3: Literature, Latin, and Liberty (for skill levels ages 7 - 9)
The curriculum manual for Level 3 is set up with four-day lesson plans with an optional fifth day for review.
Students continue to work on reading, phonics, grammar, composition, penmanship, copywork, and spelling using resources such as First Start Reading: Book E, Core Skills Phonics 4, Core Skills Spelling 2, Simply Classical Spelling: Book Two, Simply Classical Copybook 3, Simply Classical More StoryTime Treasures, and Simply Classical Writing: Book Two. Rod and Staff's Arithmetic 2 is used for math, and there is an optional set of math-related, read-aloud books, such as Anno's Counting Book.
Students begin the study of Latin with Prima Latina, and they are introduced to the study of the United States with States & Capitals Flashcards and a Map of the United States Sticker Picture workbook. An optional American History Set can be used for a real-book approach to history. Similarly, an optional Level 3 Supplemental Science & Enrichment Set has a large set of read-aloud books that covers a wide range of science topics. Some science books provide hands-on activities. Art, music and Christian studies are also included.
Level 4: Mammals, Multiplication & Myths (for skill levels ages 8 - 10)
Simply Classical Curriculum Level 4 can be taught either four or five days per week. Among the resources used at this level are Core Skills Language Arts 1, Core Skills Language Arts 2, Traditional Spelling, New American Cursive 2, Composition and Sketchbook II, Prima Latina, Don't Know Much about the 50 States, and the Memoria Press Mammals course. Students will continue with Rod and Staff's Arithmetic 2 (begun in the previous level) and will work on memorizing their math facts.
Mythology is a primary theme as students hear or read stories such as King Midas and the Golden Touch, Cupid and Psyche, and The Trojan Horse: How the Greeks Won the War. They read classic children’s literature such as The Courage of Sarah Noble, and they are exposed to a wide variety of poetry with the CD Heroes, Horses, and Harvest Moons: A Cornucopia of Best-Loved Poems, Vol. 1. Children are also introduced to Mozart with a free YouTube playlist. Memory work is drawn from the Bible, with passages selected that accord with readings used in the historical church calendar (the calendar followed by the Roman Catholic Church and some other denominations).
Levels 5 & 6: Grammar, Greece, and Gratitude (for skill levels ages 9 - 12)
Simply Classical Levels 5 & 6 can be taught over two years, or in one year at an accelerated pace. A single curriculum manual covers both levels, but you will need to purchase the curriculum manual for either a one-year or a two-year schedule. Among the resources used at this level are Core Skills Language 3, Introduction to Composition, English Grammar Recitation, Composition and Sketchbook III, Poetry for the Grammar Stage, Traditional Spelling II, New American Cursive 3, My Thankfulness Journal: Intermediate, D'Aulaires' Greek Myths, Latina Christiana, and Rod and Staff's science course God's Protected World. The fine arts are covered with resources such as Creating Art, Music Appreciation I, and a music appreciation playlist. Children will read classic books such as Charlotte's Web and Mr. Popper's Penguins. They will begin work on a timeline, and the same optional Simply Classical American History set that was used with Level 3 is recommended for this level for an expanded study of American history. For religion, Christian Studies I is used along with The Golden Children's Bible and Old Testament Flashcards.
Levels 7 & 8: Poetry, Pleiades, & Promises (for skill levels ages 11 - 14)
Simply Classical Levels 7 & 8 can be taught over two years or, at an accelerated pace, in one year. You have the option of choosing the curriculum manual for either a one-year or two-year schedule, but either manual covers both levels 7 and 8.
Students work on composition, spelling, grammar, and mathematics using resources such as Rod and Staff's English 4 and Rod and Staff's Arithmetic 4. They also study ancient Rome, explore astronomy, and learn linguistic patterns through the study of poetry and Latin. Students will read and complete activities for the novels My Side of the Mountain, The Moffats, Homer Price, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Biblical studies within Levels 7 & 8 teach the salvation promises of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in Jesus.
Simply Classical maintains the classical approach for which Memoria Press is so well known, but it dials back the difficulty a little bit, inserts step-by-step lessons that are more incremental, and adds hands-on and active learning that might be needed for children with special needs. It should work well with children who have minimal developmental delays as well as with children with more significant intellectual disabilities, language disorders, autism, or other issues that make learning challenging. Even though the program was created to address special needs, 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 assessments to determine which level of Simply Classical will be suitable for your child.