Friday, July 27, 2012

Charlotte Mason and Classical homeschool

I alluded in a earlier post that I have been intentionally bringing more of Charlotte Mason's methods and ideas back into our studies here at home.  Perhaps you will indulge me as I recount how I arrived at my current homeschool approach so you can see what my curriculum and methods journey has been like.

Having very little understanding of what a homeschool-home should look like, I began to collect catalogs and peruse options, while we were still living in New Brunswick and Seth was not even three .  My first catalog, I think, was one I requested from Sonlight.  I liked all the literature, but did not see myself buying a whole package set.  I knew my first hurdle would be teaching him to read.  I had never actually taught a child to read before so I wasn't sure how one did it, beyond teaching letter recognition and sounds, which we were already doing as part of our play.  

In the meantime, we moved to Ontario and began looking for a church.  That involved a couple of different stints at some local churches for the first year and by the time, Kate was born, we had settled at our current church.  We also made what would become a close family friendship with Norma and her family who was already homeschooling her two boys.  She loaned me When Children Love to Learn and quite possibly For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.  Norma also introduced me to the Classical Education realm by loaning me her copy of The Well Trained Mind.   Sometime after that, a homeschooling family from church invited us over for Sunday dinner after church and I perused her shelves and ended up borrowing, A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola, which I think is how many people become acquainted with Charlotte Mason.

For Seth's kindergarten years(Ontario has Junior K starting at age 4 and Senior K for age 5), we read Bible stories, worked on memory verses and letters sounds.  By the time, grade 1 rolled around, Kate was an immobile one year old and Laura was a newborn.  I ordered a couple of the Ambleside Online Year 1 titles:  Fifty Famous Stories Retold and An Island Story.  I also went with The Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Civilizations(SOTW). And I settled on Rightstart as a math program and a Phonics book.

Needless to say, I clearly had bit off more than I could chew with two infants to care for. We only stuck to  our Bible stories, memorizing Psalms and working through our Phonics book, some printing and ended up abandoning our readings from The Story of the World as it felt that the constant jumping from the different ancient civilizations(ie. India, Mesopotamia, Africa) left me confused and forgetful and I was the "teacher".  It was an exhausting school year.  I was not too pleased that I had not incorporated most of what I had read either from my Charlotte Mason sources, like narration or nature studies or the Well Trained Mind.

 I determined that summer, that grade 2 would be different, so I returned to SOTW determined to get a grip on the flow of history by writing out my own lesson plans and I hung a homemade history timeline after spending hours agonizing over how to create one.  I bought a beginner printing book from Handwriting Without Tears, First Language Lessons for grammar and picked an Apologia science Astronomy title and called it a day, more like a year.

In September, we started reading our books.  I immediately hit a brick wall with more than one of those books and we limped along in some of our lessons.  The Apologia science book was too technical for Seth's understanding.  I focused his attention on Book 1 of the Nature Readers instead.
I ditched the two Ambleside titles right away because I had no understanding of their place in history.  When Seth would ask if the story we just read in the Fifty Famous Stories was true or not, I had no answer.  Jumping into the history of England with An Island History was equally confusing. 
We stuck with the SOTW and enjoyed giving our attention to Ancient Egypt, then Ancient Greece and finally Ancient Rome with a smattering of other areas mentioned as well.  It felt good to know where we were headed finally.  

We began to spend more time outside in informal nature studies where we just looked for interesting things outside to identify and learn more about.  The girls were always along usually in their double stroller which later was switched out for a wagon. Last summer, I bought some insect study tools and we have really used them. Even the girls have their own nets and my mom and I have been discussing making them their own safari vests as they both want to wear Seth's vest. We have learned a lot just by observing and being outside.

 Things have continued along in much the same pattern this past year, making strides in our spelling and grammar lessons, plugging away at our Latin studies and working on oral to written narrations.  Seth also started cursive and has amazing handwriting skills.
So, with so many lessons going quite well, why feel the need to get back to Charlotte Mason?  I guess I feel that as Seth moves towards more independent work and I begin to look ahead to Laura and Kate's lessons, I want to make sure we are incorporating aspects that we can enjoy and study as a family, no matter the difference in the various ages and abilities.  
By making Artist and Composer studies a reality, Seth and I will be able to familiarize ourselves with this aspect of history(I'm keeping our selections relevant to our history era which is Late Renaissance to Early Modern) and begin to include the girls in this as well.  Up to the spring of this year, neither of them spent much time listening to our readings or desiring to look through books with us.  This coming fall, I think Laura will show more interest in hearing the music of Bach, Beethoven and Handel and looking at the artwork of Vermeer and Rembrandt.  I think she will enjoy coloring a page about them while we read and listen to the music.  Kate's attention and interest varies, but she usually likes to be doing what we're doing.

In the end, I guess I feel that incorporating more of these Charlotte Mason type lessons into our weekly studies, it will be more inclusive for the girls and expose them to these ideas and art forms so they grow up being familiar with them right from the beginning.  My desire is for our family to be conversant in the same ideas and interests as long as we are able to be together.  My hope is that by learning to appreciate the same things, it will give us a common bond that can bring enjoyment and intelligence to our discussions, our interactions and even perhaps to our gift giving.  
I hope this makes some sense to someone other than me.  I feel like I know what I mean, but I may not have conveyed it very well.

I will end by saying that up to this current week, we have done a few lessons each week to keep the cobwebs from crowding in and to give some structure to some mornings that needed it.  So in one sense, it has not felt like we really ended our school year this time, but instead have kept a loose atmosphere of learning while we do summery activities.  And while we will travel and be away from home in the next little while, I anticipate a ramping back up to full speed in September, digging into new material and enjoying the old and familiar topics as well.  Thinking back thus far, my time and efforts seem amply rewarded as the years pile up and I look back at what we've learned together.

If you, like me, have ever been confused or concerned by what it means to be following the Christian classical method versus the Charlotte Mason method, I encourage you to read the following post by Cindy Rollins.  Here is excerpt quoting Andrew Kern(I told you I like him!)
 Andrew Kern’ s definition of classical education: “Classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty by means of the seven liberal arts and the four sciences,” can be found perfectly, practically implemented in Charlottle Mason’s own PUO schools and the homes of many families following her ideas today.
Towards a Defense of Charlotte Mason

I do plan on putting up a post highlighting our lesson plans for 2012-2013.  I will try to include links and resource photos when I do and of course, your thoughts are always welcome.

Seth's Latin translation from this morning. He's doing so well!


  1. What a journey! I loved reading this post! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Looking forward to hearing more!


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