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{Classical Conversations} How To Survive Tutoring Abecedarians

Are you tutoring the youngest class for your Classical Conversations community? Check out our popular strategies to help your morning go smoothly.

When I went to college to get a teaching degree, I was adamant about one thing. Teaching preschool was NOT for me. The thought of spending hours in a classroom setting with 4 and 5 year olds literally made me break out in a cold sweat.

But becoming a parent has a way of changing you. And when my own daughter got old enough to participate in Classical Conversations, I took a deep breath and signed up to tutor her Abecedarian (aka: 4 and 5yo) class.

And you know what? It was an absolute blast.

Of course, there were some bumps along the way. 

  • You can imagine my panic when it came time to Fine Arts the first day and when I began teaching drawing THREE kids burst into tears because they couldn’t hold a crayon, let alone draw a straight line. 
  • Or when it was Presentation and all eight students did their presentation in under 11 minutes… leaving me nearly 20 minutes to figure out what to do with.
  • Or how Review Time would be the absolute hardest segment of the day to face because they were just so worn out.

I learned a lot my first year tutoring Abecedarians! And here are some of the things I learned along the way.

New Grammar

For New Grammar, start with TimelineYou have their best attention and they love it. We stood by our chairs and did the hand motions and it was just a nice, quiet way to get the morning started before chaos creativity broke lose.

 Then, follow with the other subjects — but do yourself a favor. 

For the first 6 weeks, do the EXACT same thing for all subjects. 

  • Math (roll a large foam dice to determine which fun voices to use)
  • English (talk into an echo microphone)
  • Latin (chant with puppets)
  • Science (make up hand motions, maybe even inspired by the class)
  • History (rotate students coming up to front of class and “leading” with egg shakers)

At this age, EVERYTHING is new and they will not only love the predictability, they will NEED itWhen Math comes, they know it’s dice time. This sort of rhythm will help you stay on track and help the young 4-year-olds not feel so overwhelmed.

You can see  what I keep in my tutor bag in this popular post.

What I Keep in my Tutor Bag

I always end with Geography so the time it takes to clean up doesn’t interfere with the fast pace of New Grammar. Plus, it’s a great way to end our time calmly and sit down after thirty minutes of being active and having fun.

Our community uses laminated 11×18 maps with dry erase markers for students to trace. First, I model and point where the geographical items are (having students repeat and watch me). Then we pass out markers and maps and find the locations one by one. Some students can trace or draw the locations. Others, I just had them put a dot. Then we clean up.

And this brings me to a really great point…

Come Up With A System For Choosing Helpers

I was not prepared for the battle of children wanting to be line leaders (oh, the shoving!) or the chorus of “Can I help?! Can I help?! Can I help?!” that deafened my ears. Woah. 

I finally got smart and, for the sake of simplicity, I picked one child a day to be my helper all day. They were the line leader for the entire day and they got to help clean up from Geography. I selected the names in alphabetical order so that I wouldn’t skip anyone (and was less likely to forget). 

The kids looked forward to their “Special Day” with awesome anticipation and I loved not having squabbles on my hands.

Presentation (Also Known As Snack Time)

Our community has Presentation and snacks at the same time. I love it because it helps keep little hands busy and their mouths full (and quiet!). Plus, the kids love the reward of snack after the rigors of New Grammar.

Each kid gets a carpet or foam square to sit on, which I keep in my tutor bagThis helps define their space — otherwise they may just wiggle across the whole room! It also keeps them from sitting/laying/touching/licking each other. And believe me, all of those scenarios are very possible!!

If your kids struggle taking turns with who goes first, consider writing their names on popsicle sticks that you pull out of a cup. You can see pictures of what I’m referring to here.  

I also have a dedicated carpet or foam square for those giving their Presentation to stand on in the front of the room. Especially for wiggly kids, this helps give them a visual anchor on where to stand.

Most likely, this is the first time your young Abecedarians have ever been to Presentation. 99% of all Presentations at this age are really just show and tell of their favorite toy and stuffed animal. And that it TOTALLY okay!

Before your class starts their presentation, consider giving a demonstration yourself. Tell the kids the three things you want them to do and then actually give a short presentation yourself:

  1. Stand on the square and say your name. (“Hi, my name is…”)
  2. Tell us 2 things special about your toy/stuffed animal.
  3. Ask if anyone has any questions.

In our Community, we train the presenter to ask: “Does anyone have any questions?” at the end of their time. The listeners raise their hands. The presenter then asks, “Yes, Sarah. What is your question?” It’s important that they learn to ask the listeners by name.

Oh — we also limit all listeners to ask ONLY ONE QUESTION. 🙂

Fine Arts

I was totally NOT expecting tears in my classroom the first day I tutored. My adorable young 4 year olds were just overwhelmed by an already-different morning. Trying to hold a crayon in order to practice OiLS (the first drawing assignment) at one point had three different kids in tears.


There’s no telling what your first day of drawing may look like. Your kids may love it and do fine. Or they may struggle just to grasp a crayon and draw a line. No matter their drawing ability, always give your kids the opportunity to try the Fine Arts task.

And be sure to show them samples of what you did with the drawing assignment so they can see what they can aspire to.

You can also look on CC Connected (username: bentkitchen) for activities I uploaded that go along with the drawing assignment but don’t involve grasping a pencil. 

Consider reading a picture book about art, as well. These are of our favorites:

After your first 6 weeks of drawing come Tin Whistle. Check out my survivor’s guide!

Survivor's Guide to Tutoring Tin Whistle

Science Experiment

I don’t have much advice here. 

Except, we always planned a POTTY BREAK between Fine Arts and Science because if there was a planned potty break, the students were usually able to hold it. But nothing is worse than being interrupted and scatter-brained as your students erratically beg to go to the bathroom one by one.

Also, if you need to fill the time, be sure to talk about and review the Scientific Method. I love this video by Melody Stroud who has a song and hand motions. 

Grammar Review

WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO! You and your kids have almost made it!

At this point, breathe. Give yourself — and your little ones — lots of grace. Probably very few of our little people have ever made it through a three-hour, high focus event like this. On the first day, they are just going to be WIPED.

Keep review simple on your first day. Go back over what you learned. Maybe play ONE game, like Wiggle Worm (get it from HalfAHundredAcreWood.com). 

And then just play the Timeline Song while they sit and watch you flip through the cards. Or play the Timeline Song in the background while they color/play quietly.

Wrapping Up

I hope this was helpful to you as you embark on teaching one of the most awesome groups of children — young Abecedarians! You will meet no finer group of young people who look up at you with adoring eyes and consider you their personal hero. Enjoy the amazing year ahead!

Tired of the Inevitable Mess with Homeschooling?

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Are you tutoring the youngest class for your Classical Conversations community? Check out our popular strategies to help your morning go smoothly.


  1. I started with Abecedarians in 2012. Since then I’ve tutored only Journeymen and Masters for 3 years and enjoyed it. I was terrified of the switch back to the little ‘uns this year but now I feel much better. This is a terrific post! My only request is that you go back in time (say, July of 2012) and write it so my green self could read it and not mess up extensively.

    This is my way of saying THANK YOU! 🙂

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  4. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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