Thursday, July 21, 2016

Back to Homeschool 2016: On Charlotte Mason and Classical Education

Homeschool.  It's not for the faint of heart.

If you've been around over the course of this last year, you won't be surprised to hear me say that I've been struggling to really nail down the educational philosophy our family will follow. 

We are absolutely delighted with Classical Conversations.  It's a staple in our homsechool, one we're delighted to continue with. 

But our day-to-day rhythm over the last year was not what it could have been.  

 There was a leadership vacuum, and when you're the teacher, principal and curriculum-designer-extraordinaire, you have no one to blame but yourself.  

We got through, no doubt.  It was fine.  They got what they needed.  It wasn't a bad year, but neither was it a year I look back on and feel like we really accomplished our goals.

All in all, I can do better.  And with this much at stake?  I should!

So, starting all the way back in February, I was already focusing on the next school year.  I knew I wanted to change things up, but I didn't know exactly how.  In my search, I came upon Charlotte Mason, and her educational philosophy:

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

  • By Atmosphere, Charlotte meant the surroundings in which the child grows up.  A child absorbs a lot from his home environment.  She believed that the ideas that rule your life as the parent make up one-third of your child's education.
  • By Discipline, Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits - and specifically the habits of character.  Cultivating good habits in your child's life make up another third of his education.
  • The other third of education, Life, applies to academics.  Charlotte believed that we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just dry facts.  So all of her methods for teaching the various school subjects are built around that concept.

The more I began to dig into Charlotte Mason and her musings on education, the more I became inspired.  

Her philosophy is so simple, yet powerful: Provide children with excellent and diverse ideas, keep lessons short so as to always have the child's attention, and emphasize quality over quantity (in other words: build a child's habit for excellence by requiring only their best, even if that is only a few words or lines).

She emphasizes character building and habit training as central - not supplemental - to the educational process.

It has been such an intellectual awakening for me.  THIS!  my heart has cried, This is what we have been missing in our homeschool!  

Short lessons.  Living, life-giving materials.  Emphasis on character training. 

Armed with a myriad of new tools and inspiration, and refreshed by the new direction I'd been able to pin down for us, I began to tackle it.  What would our school year look like?

Some of my lovely CC teammates use this resource, a free, Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum designed to follow the CM method of homeschooling.  

I spent a great deal of time pouring over this wonderful resource, and I badly wanted to follow it to a tee.  But how would I work all of this in while still staying true to the themes and ideas that were being presented each week in Classical Conversations?  

Given the Charlotte Mason emphasis on short lessons and mastery-over-quantity, how could a person fit all of the wonderful resources of both curricula into a single homeschool day?  

In the end, the answer was simple: I couldn't.  

There was just too much material if I tried to do each one, and do it well.

If you're a single-minded, pedagogical purist, you're probably going to want to stop reading now (I am not... you've been warned!), because what I ultimately came to was the conclusion that I was going to combine them.  I would select the best of both the Classical and Charlotte Mason methods and use them hand in hand. 

So the million dollar question: How does that look in practice?

Classical Conversations will be the spine of what we learn.  But we will use Charlotte Mason's philosophies as the core of how we learn it.

Trying to decide how to focus our learning for the year and narrowing down the resources we would use was the hard part; putting together the week-by-week was easy.  I poured over book lists (largely from HalfAHundredAcreWood) that gave me inspiration for living books which also line up with the weekly themes covered in CC.  I stole generously from the resources listed by Ambleside Online (year one for my six year old), and magic happened.

You can find a full work-up of my in-progress magic by clicking here.  

Classical Conversations history themes for Cycle 2 (1st 12 weeks) cover medieval European history through the Battle of Waterloo.  Therefore, our weekly reading correlates appropriately.
Resources I'll be using include:

From Ambleside Year One (Complete curriculum, resources and schedule:
- Our Island Story by HE Marshall (online:
- The Trial and the Triumph by Richard Hannula
- Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin (online:
- The Aesop for Children by Milo Winter (online:
- The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (onine:
- Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (online:
- Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit
- Now We are Six by A.A. Milne
- A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
**Though the resources remain the same, many of the assignments have been altered to better align with the CC weekly themes.  My weekly timeline no longer matches the prescribed Ambleside timeline.

From other sources (inspired largely by Half a Hundred Acre Wood):
- Story of the World (SOTW)
- The World Treasury of Children's Literature by Clifton Fadiman
- The Jesus Storybook Bible
- Assorted fiction; see week-by-week schedule

I should also note: as I set about putting all this together, I had to take into account our personal family schedule.  I knew I would need to build in breaks here and there throughout the fall, as we like to take day-trips around beautiful Colorado and celebrate the season.  I knew we would need lighter weeks to build in extra memory work practice or catch up if we got behind.  There are weeks around Halloween and Christmas where I know we'll do little besides celebrate the holiday.  That's in line with our family rhythms and what brings us joy.  In my view, that is the beauty of homeschooling: it gives each family the freedom to take time to delight in each other and their own unique family culture.

Additionally, we will continue to use All About Reading (Level 2) for phonics and Horizon Grade 2 for math.  I've decided to stick with the CM way and go back to copy work in lieu of a formal writing curriculum.  Quality over quantity!

Here is our sample schedule, which is also a work in progress:

Yep.  2nd grade in four short hours a day!  Wahoo!  

(Although, if I'm honest, I fully anticipate that we won't be able to stick to this, certainly at first.) 

If you are blessed by any of this, I hope you will feel free to use it in your own family's homeschool plan!  And, if you have any questions, please e-mail me at  I'll be happy to give you further information or assistance, either on my weekly plan, Charlotte Mason or Classical Conversations, if I can.

Once again in case you missed it: Find my August-December schedule by clicking

Happy Homeschooling!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Stepping out in faith: the day she got baptized

There are really no words sufficient, so I'll just let you watch:

This child of ours has been asking for over a year to be baptized.  She started asking last spring, when she was just barely 5.  She wanted to be baptized, and she wanted her daddy to do it.  And, in her typically Leah way, she was adamant about it. 

I am so very proud of the way she has grown in her faith.  

I know that there is sometimes controversy over when to baptize a child.  There were a few criteria I used to evaluate whether she was ready.  

1) She made a clear faith commitment independent of me, expressing not only her love for the Lord but also her understanding of her need for Him as a Savior.  Although I helped facilitate the conversation, the convictions were all hers.
2) Her desire to be baptized was not based on wanting to do something because she thought it was "cool," but desiring to express her obedience to the Bible and her faith.  
3) Our whole world is geared toward honoring God.  God is at the center of literally everything we do in our home, so I've had plenty of opportunities to watch how Leah has grown and matured in her faith.  Obviously, she isn't done on that front, but I have watcher her "get" Biblical principles through discipleship in a way that is powerful.  I am fully content in the choice to affirm her faith, even at a young age, knowing that we have and will continue to follow it up with action.  

In the book of James, we get the wise advice to "be do-ers of the Word, not hearers only" (James 1:22).  Because it is in line with Biblical principles, and because our little girl's heart so longed to follow in obedience, Casey and I felt good about letting her express her faith in such a powerful, public way.  In the same way that I believe each child has a unique and individual educational trajectory, I believe we should honor each child and meet them where they are in their spiritual walk.  We may not always allow our children to be baptized this early, but Leah?  

She was ready.

Leah truly has a heart that loves the Lord.  I can't wait to watch where His mighty plans will take her!  It is such a delight to be her mom!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Finishing up CC

On the way to our CC Finale night, Leah very wisely informed me, 
"If I keep practicing diligently, one day I'm going to know everything.  Well... not everything.  But enough for God to trust me with being a doctor."

That child of mine has grown so much this year!  

She is such a studious and intent little creature, I just love watching her grow and thrive. 

The kids have a wonderful presentation which includes two whole group presentations, and individual class presentation.  For their group presentation, they recited part of the timeline, which documents all the major historical events and cultures from creation through the birth of Jesus.

They also memorized Exodus 20:1-17 and presented that as well.

The struggle about being the solo parent at events like this is that I don't often have a chance to do much documenting.  Mostly, what I can do without extra hands available for wrangling purposes is give it my half-hearted attention and try to snap what photos I can for posterity.  

I wont' lie, what I paid attention to most during their presentations was this;

who refused to let me be and had to be taken out of the chapel part way through.

I got back in time to watch Leah's class present some examples of the science facts we learned this year.

Leah was so excited that she got to present the major groups of vertebrates, which are (as she proudly and fearlessly announced): fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds.

A dessert reception always follows, and the kids and proud parents have an awesome time. 

It has been another great year in Classical Conversations.  Leah's tutor was the mother of one of her best friends, and she has grown so much in her capacity for memorization.  We just love that she is being exposed to so many excellent concepts and advanced vocabulary through the classical method of education.  And, it is a huge blessing for us to have the opportunity once a week to get out of the house and fellowship.  

I was blessed to be in charge of this year's yearbook, so I have a ton of fun images from all the CC classes.  Here's just a few of the Leah-specific ones:

Those kids have such a great time!  The tutors are excellent, and make it so much fun for everybody.

We love CC!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Easter Sunday

Easter is certainly our favorite spring holiday.  Despite the fact that the weather showed no signs of the spring season that was on its way, we had a wonderful resurrection Sunday. 

I so enjoy filling their little Easter baskets!  

We decided long ago that Easter baskets were not to be filled with junk.  

 Instead, we try to pack in things that will be useful for the upcoming summer season.  


Each child always receives a pair of sandals.

And my kiddos are absolutely wild about jammies, so they each get a summer pair of those as well.

They also got new shades (don't worry, Liv got a real pair, too!)

We rounded it out with the Milne Pooh collection of stories and poems, which we hope to read this summer.

Last year, I began the tradition of tucking Bible verses in along with their treasures.

I love having a reader in the house!

But my favorite part of Easter morning is watching the whole gang as they hang around in their jammies and mussy bed-heads. 

Those unguarded moments when they're just all together. 

I suppose these moments aren't that different from our other mornings.  Homeschooling gives us the wonderful advantage that most of our mornings aren't rushed or hurried.  Still, these days of tiny rushing feet and silly giggles are just my favorite. 

And, because it was still snowing and cold, I didn't subject my family to the traditional Easter church photo.  But I did try to re-create it a week later, once the snow had melted.

Of course, by then, Casey was on the road again.

And the three had a serious case of the sillies.  But hey, those are the things our lives are made of. 

I changed my font at