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!

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