10th Grade Lit: American Bestsellers

Dear Reader,

For 10th grade literature this year I had my oldest do a course on Great American Bestsellers. (You can read about all our Charlotte Mason-y homeschool plans here.)

The idea for this course is from The Great Courses. I based it on and used their audio series of that title. The class actually includes many more books than we were able to do but I picked those that I thought would be the best fit for us. For each one I had my son read the book. After he had finished I gave him an essay type question to answer and then we listened to the lecture together. I also read each of the books. Some I had read in my youth but had a sketchy memory of and I wanted them to be fresh in my mind so I could make sense of his essays.

A couple of notes on The Great Courses: We have used a few of their products. Their quality varies with the professor who teaches them. I tried and rejected another one of their American Lit courses as being dry and unnecessarily mature in content. I bought the CDs but they also have audio downloads and your local library may also have copies (mine has quite a lot of them). They also have frequent sales so if you are in no hurry, wait for one. You could do the course I had my son do without the lectures. I don’t really see any good reason to spend extra money for the video version for this subject. The lectures are each 30 minutes and we did them on the way to his bagpipe lessons when we had to be in the car anyway.

The books covered by The Great Courses’ class are: The Bay Psalm Book, Common Sense, The Last of the Mohicans, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ragged Dick, Little Women, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Virginian, The House of Mirth, The Jungle, Main Street, The Maltese Falcon, The Good Earth, Gone with the Wind, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22, The Woman Warrior, and John Adams.

There is no way we could have made it through all these books in a year. I eliminated some for not being fiction, others for being long and/or not of likely interest to my son. The books he ended up reading were: Common Sense (not a book or fiction but a short selection to get our feet wet), Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ragged Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Maltese Falcon, Of Mice and Men (substituted for the much longer Grapes of Wrath), To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catch-22. Huck Finn I actually let him do as an audiobook but he still had to write a paper and listen to the lecture. Little Women, the Last of the Mohicans and Gone with the Wind we watched the movie versions of and listened to the lectures but he did not have to write on. I might make my daughter read them when her turn comes though, but I didn’t think my son could make it through two long girly books. The Good Earth he started but just couldn’t seem to get through so much to my chagrin I let him drop it. Catcher in the Rye I started to (re)read and remembered that it is pretty much annoying teens sitting around talking and using bad language. I hated it and didn’t want to keep reading it so I dropped it. We also listened to the lecture on The Bay Psalm Book. We are already pretty familiar with Psalters so there was really nothing to read here.

Here then are the questions we used for each book we did do. The Great Courses gives sample questions in the guide that comes with the lectures. Occasionally I used these. More often I googled essay questions and selected and/or modified ones I liked.

Common Sense

I’m embarrassed to say I can’t seem to find the exact question I had him answer on this one. I think it was along the lines of: What arguments does Paine give to justify his cause (rebellion)? Are these arguments convincing?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

1. Faith plays a large part in the book. For each of the following characters, write a paragraph saying what they believed and how it affected their actions:

Uncle Tom

George Harris

Augustine St. Clare

Miss Ophelia

Little Eva


the Hallidays (the Quakers)

Simon Legree

2. What do you think Harriet Beecher Stowe’s view are? Is there an overall statement about faith she is trying to make? Can you discern what she believes or which character(s) she would most agree with?

Ragged Dick

What does the author, Horatio Alger, value? What would he say one needs to get ahead? Give specific examples from the book to support your position.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

In Ragged Dick we touched upon the moral system of the author– in particular what he views as good behavior and what he sees as the consequences of good behavior.

The situation is a lot more complicated in Huck Finn. Discuss the moral world of the book and its author. The following questions may help you think about this and can figure in your essay (but don’t have to if you don’t find them helpful):
1. Think about lying in the book. Are there good and bad lies (to the characters)? What defines the difference?
2. What about the morality of helping an escaped slave? How does Huck view it? Tom? Why do they do what they do? Who is more moral?
3. Where does Huck draw the lines between good and bad? What actions (his own or of other characters) does he approve of or disapprove of?
4.  where in the book do moral values come from? The community? The family? The church? One’s experiences? You might want to answer this question for a few different characters.

5. What do you think Mark Twain’s view is? In Ragged Dick the author’s opinion was obvious. Is it here? Is there one character that you think Twain would agree with? Does he even give his own view? Or does he maybe just criticize others? Is he saying anything about society’s views?

Again your essay doesn’t need to address all these points. Think about them and see what you can come up with and then link it all together in one essay on the general topic “the moral world of Huck Finn.” I would like you to touch on Mark Twain’s own view though if there is anything we can discern about it.

The Maltese Falcon

It’s one question — answer the main one and weave in the other ones if they are useful: Write an essay about what motivates Sam Spade. Does he demonstrate commitment to his profession? If so, how? Is he a hero or an antihero? Are his motives the same as the other characters’? Are they nobler?

Of Mice and Men

Why does George stay with Lennie? Why does he do what he does at the end of the book? Think about each of the minor characters. What information or insight do they contribute to the story? These seem like 2 question but I think they relate. Try to weave them into one essay.

To Kill a Mockingbird



Is Yossarian crazy? How do he and the other characters deal with the difficult situation they are in? Pick a few characters and discuss how they deal with the hardships or war and life in the military. Who do you think handles it best? Why? Does anyone have a sane response?


Calvin and Mason

Dear Reader,

I’m under no illusions that my favorite  educator, Charlotte Mason, was a reformed Christian, but I have always thought that her philosophy of education sat well with my own reformed, Calvinistic, faith. Recently, in another book I ran across this quote from John Calvin:

“All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just; we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Titus 1:2)

Sounds a lot like Mason, doesn’t it? I am not sure if Mason actually said these exact words — “All truth is from God” — but I know that idea is in her writings.



9th Grade Lit: American Poets

Dear Reader,

This is part two of what we do for 9th grade literature. You can find part 1, which covers American short stories and essays, here. In truth, I interweave the two and go chronologically, but it seemed easier to blog about them one at a time. Scroll down for all the nitty-gritty details.


9th Grade Lit: American Poets

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I got the text of these poems from the Poetry Foundation website and got notes on each from Enotes. Many of these we did together as a family when my oldest went through the course. We also cover Emerson with essayists.

  • Read “Hamatreya” and discuss Emerson’s view of land ownership. (Reading the blurb from Enotes will help the teacher know what to expect.)
  • Read “The Snow-Storm.” What is this poem saying? What metaphor is being used?  To what is the snow-storm compared? What is Emerson saying about art (again Enotes will help here)?
  • Read “Days.” Emerson had a fairly idle life as a poet and essayist in the midst of a very busy culture. How does he reflect on this in this poem? What is he feeling about his own life? What picture does the poem give?
  • Read “Concord Hymn.” We actually had seen this poem recently on the monument at Old North Bridge in Concord where it is inscribed. Discuss the events behind the poem (note that the poem itself was written long afterward). What does the poem say about the purpose of the “votive stone”?
  • Read “The Rhodora.” What is Emerson saying the purpose of beauty is?
  • Read “The Humble Bee.” How does Emerson use sound and form in this poem? How does he compare the bee to humans? Which one has the preferable life?
  • Read “Forbearance.” What is forbearance? Look it up in the dictionary and write out a definition. What things does Emerson think show forbearance? How would he define it?
  • Read “Each and All.” What point is Emerson trying to make? (Hint: reread the 9th-12th lines.) What examples does he use to support his argument?

Walt Whitman

I used a few resources for Whitman: Poetry for Young People, GradeSaver, and the Academy of American Poets. I pieced together questions for the various poems. You will also need a more complete book of Whitman’s poetry.

“Song of Myself”

I used the excerpts from the Poetry for Young People book for this one.

  • Stanza 1: What do you think he means by “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”?
  • Stanza 2-end: What does he see in the grass? What does it represent? The Bible says “man is grass.” Do they mean the same thing? Why or why not?
  • What do you think Whitman believes about God? Man? Sin?
  • Whitman called his book of poetry Leaves of Grass. Why do you think he did?

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “O Captain! my Captain!”

These poems are both about the death of Abraham Lincoln, read them together and compare and contrast.

“Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand”

Read the poem. What is this poem about? Hint: what is being carried in hand? What is he saying about writing?

Various other poems

I selected various other poems from a big book of Whitman’s work that we had checked out and had my son write paragraphs telling what he thought they meant. Among those we used were: “A Sight in camp” and “Come Up From the Fields.”

Emily Dickinson

I used a number of different sources for Dickinson: the Poetry for Young People book, GradeSaver, Mr. Gunnar’s site, and the Big Read. For some of these I had my kids write out answers, others we read and discussed aloud. FYI Dickinson did not title her poems; they are named by their first lines.

  • Read “I heard a fly buzz” and “Because I could not stop.” Compare the two death scenes.
  • Read “Success is counted sweetest” and “I’m nobody.” Compare and contrast.
  • Read “To fill a gap.” What is this poem saying? How does its form contribute to its meaning?
  • Read “Tell all the truth.” What is this poem saying? How does she feel about truth?
  • Read “The bat is dun.” How does she describe the bat? What can we learn from him?
  • Read “A light in spring.” What is the poem saying about nature? About God?
  • Read “Behind me dips – eternity.” What does she say about eternity and life and afterlife? What is the tone of the poem by the end?
  • Read “They shut me up in prose” and “I dwell in possibility.” How does she portray pose? Poetry? What does the house represent in the second poem? What do these two poems have in common? How can these be read as feminist poems?
  • Read “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” Think back to other Dickinson poems you have read as well. Does she write more about death or life? What is her view of death and the afterlife?
  • Read “This world is not conclusion” and “I know that He exists.” It has been said that Dickinson was “not entirely orthodox in her Christian faith.” How do we see that in these poems? What are her beliefs?

Robert Frost

I relied heavily on the Cummings Study Guides for Frost except for “Birches” for which I used Shmoop.

“The Road Not Taken”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Read “setting and background information” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again. Write a summary of each stanza.Read through Cummings’ summaries and notes.
  • Which road does the title refer to?
  • Write responses for study questions 1,2, 3 and 5 from Cummings.

“Fire and Ice”

  • Read the poem. If reading aloud, have copies for all students so they can follow along.
  • See if the students can figure out the meter of the poem and its rhyme scheme. From the Cummings guide read “meter” and “rhyme.”
  • Define alliteration, anaphora, and paradox. Find examples in the poem.
  • Read “Dante’s influence” from the Cummings guide. What does Frost think is worse — desire or hatred/betrayal? Do you agree?

“The Mending Wall”

  • Read through the poem. What is the central theme or question of the poem? What is the neighbor’s view of walls? How is the neighbor portrayed? What are the pros and cons of walls? What does the poet/speaker think of walls? What is the verdict of the poem? Why does he help his neighbor rebuild?
  • Read the poem again. Can you determine the format/meter of the poem? Read “verse format” from the Cummings guide.
  • From the Cummings guide read “literary devices and imagery.” Write out definitions and examples for: anastrophe, metaphor, personification and hyperbole.
  • What types of walls separate people? How are walls in the Bible symbolic?

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

  • Read the poem. What is the setting (time and place)? Find specific words n the poem that tell you about the time and place. Who are the characters? Read “Intro” from the Cummings guide.
  • Go through the poem again, stanza by stanza. Summarize each one and then look at the Cummings guide notes.
  • Define alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor and personification. Find examples in the poem. What is the meter of the poem? Discuss end rhyme versus internal rhyme (see Cummings guide notes).
  • Why does the author like the woods? Read Cummings Guide “meaning.”


  • Read the poem. Summarize it. What is the form (style) of the poem? Read “Blank verse” from Shmoop.
  • Reread the poem. What is the contrast being made? List the characteristics of the boy swinging and the ice storm. What do each of these represent?

T.S. Eliot

Eliot was American but renounced his US citizenship. Nonetheless, I included him among our American authors. Some of his works are long and tough. Others are quite fun.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (printable assignments here)

  • From the Cummings guide read “Explanation of title” and “type of work.” Read the Dante quote, its translation and the note about it. Read the first 2 stanzas. How does he describe the setting? the mood? What do you think the 2nd stanza means? How are the women portrayed?
  • Read “speaker”, “characters” and “themes” from the Cummings guide. Read stanzas 3-10. Give a brief summary of each.
  • Finish reading the poem. In stanza 11, who is being alluded to? (Hint: Note the head and prophet references.) Stanza 12: Read Luke 16:19-31. Stanza 14: How is Prufrock like Hamlet? How is he different? Stanza 15 to the end: How does he end it? What are his thoughts now?
  • Find examples in the poem of simile, personification, metaphor, alliteration, anaphora, and hyperbole.

“Sweeney among the Nightingales”

  • Read the poem. Discuss the setting. From the Cummings guide, read about Agamemnon and his connection to the poem.
  • Read the poem again and go through stanza by stanza. Note the rhyme and meter.
  • Read the poem once more. Discuss its meaning.

Various shorter poems

  • Read “A Song for Simeon.” If you are not familiar with it, read the biblical passage on Simeon. How does Eliot portray Simeon?
  • Read “Journey of the Magi.” If you are not familiar with it, read the story fo the magi from the Bible. How does Eliot portray them?
  • Read “the Hippopotamus.” What two things are being compared? Does this surprise you? How are they compared? What is the end of each? What point is Eliot trying to make?
  • For fun read selections from “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

ee cummings

Read “in Just.”

  • What is happening in this poem?
  • Read it aloud. What do you notice? Which words/phrases/sounds do you like?
  • What is the effect of the way the poem is laid out?
  • Read Shmoop’s summary:

“What’re they good for? Well, here’s our best Shmoop expert opinion: when you read a line of poetry aloud, your eyes (and therefore your voice) tend to speed on to the end of the line. Try it and see. When you read “in Just-,” however, the spaces slow your eyes down. More importantly, they slow your voice down, as well. As you’re reading, you’re thinking, “Huh? I totally don’t know whether to pause for the spaces or not!” And even in that time that it takes to think that through, your voice slows oh-so-slightly. Kind of cool, huh?So we pause during the lines. So what? You can almost hear the time that it takes for the balloonman’s whistle to travel across the playground. The space between “whistles” and “far” mimics this time. It’s like we actually see the sound and maybe even its echo afterwards.

One more thing: did you notice what we haven’t got in this line? Punctuation.”

  • Who loves spring (in general, not in the poem)? What about the ballonman? How does he fit in here? Why does he get to be part of spring? (Notice the end about his feet — what does he look like?)
  • Read pp 78-80 in Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken.

Assignment 2: “somewhere I have gladly traveled . . .”

  • Read Background on cummings:

“No doubt, E. E. Cummings was a rebel. Even before he made his name as a poet, he was rubbing authority figures the wrong way. One famous story happened during World War I, when Cummings was volunteering as an ambulance driver in France. Cummings got annoyed with all the rules and started sending coded messages back home just to see if anybody would notice. They noticed, alright, and Cummings got locked up in an internment camp under suspicion that he might be a traitor and a spy. He actually wrote a novel about the whole experience called The Enormous Room. (Click here for more of the deets on Cummings’s crazy life story.)

Cummings’s wartime rabble rousing was nothing compared to what he was soon to unleash on the literary world. See, our rebel-poet was also a painter and became really inspired by Modernist art movements like Surrealism and Cubism, which exploded the rules of traditional painting. Cummings didn’t see any reason why poetry couldn’t recreate itself just as radically as the world of art was doing at the time. So he brewed up a signature style that thumbed its nose at traditional rules of poetry and took the form into new dimensions. Of course, you can’t expect to go around breaking a bunch of rules without ticking some people off. Some critics accused Cummings of being weird for weird’s sake, while others seemed to think that he just had no idea how to write a “real” poem.”

  • Stanza 1: note that there is no space in “travelled,gladly” This is not a typo. Why does cummings do this?
  • What is the “trip” the speaker is taking?
  • Stanza 2: Think about closing and opening and eyes in this poem. What do you notice? What is weird? What do you think it all means?
  • Notice that the one capitalized word is “Spring.” What is the effect of this?
  • Stanza 3: Notice the smooshed words again “beautifully,suddenly” What has changed in this stanza?
  • Stanza 4: What words are smooshed in this stanza? What is different this time? What do you think that means?(Hint: how are colons supposed to be used?)
  • What greater meaning can you get from this poem? How do you think the speaker would define love? Why does he love this woman? How do you think she feels about him?

Read “my father moved through dooms of love”

  • Do you see any progression in the poem?
  • Overall, do you think the poem presents a positive view of death, or is it more doom and gloom? Why do you think so?
  • Which would you say the speaker values more: the rewards of the afterlife, or the rewards of life itself? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
  • Do you think that the speaker’s father would agree with his son’s attitude toward death? Why or why not?

Psalm Study: Psalm 13

Dear Reader,

Our last psalm study for this school year was on Psalm 13. For some background on psalm study and how and why we do it, see this post.

You can find my translation of Psalm 13 here (opens a Google doc).

As usual, you should begin by giving your children the poem and some colored pencils and having them sit down with it for 10 minutes or so to see what they can find.

I like to begin our discussions by just asking them what they have noticed about the psalm. Often they will cover everything on my agenda or will have thought of things I didn’t think to ask.

My youngest observed that it was a lament psalm and gave us her division of the lines. There was some dispute over how the lines match up. We discussed whether lines 1,2 and 3 make one unit or if 3 should go with 4 and 5. Remember that the line divisions you see are my own. You are free to disagree with them.

It was clear to all of us though that lines 1-5 are one section dominated by “how long.” My younger son noted that the “how long” is implied in line 4. This is a good opportunity to point out that parallelism need not be complete. Some elements can be left out in some lines. Often they are balanced by the addition of other elements, maybe something like an added prepositional phrase. Even though the parallelism is pretty obvious in this psalm and not at all obscure, the poet still keeps things interesting by not just repeating everything.

We then turned our attention to the second half of the psalm, lines 6-12. We noted that lines 6-9 talk about bad things happening while lines 10-12 essentially say “I will rejoice.”

Notice that I began line six with “Look!” One of my kids questioned why there was an exclamation point. This is editorial license on my part since the Hebrew has no punctuation (every translation is an interpretation and I say this by way of explanation but stand by my translation). I explained that my understanding of this psalm is that as the psalmist turns to the second half he is calling on the Lord to see his problems. The “look” is not literal in the sense of asking God to see (though of course he wants God to see his distress too) but is a call for attention.

My older daughter talked about who does what in this psalm. We noted that there is a sequence of “Lord, I, enemy” in the first 5 lines and then “Lord, enemy, me” in the second half. It is always good to ask what each character does. The enemies in this psalm rejoice, say and rise. The Lord recognizes, forgets, hides, gives light and answers (or is asked to do so). And I, the psalmist that is, takes pain/grief and will sing and rejoice. Also, and perhaps most importantly, he has trusted. The rejoicing is in the future but trust is past tense.

I also pointed out to them the word “loving-kindness” in line 10. It is a long word in English but translates a short one in Hebrew: hesed. This word refers to God’s covenant love for His people. When the psalmist uses it, he is reminding God of His covenant with His people and giving Him a reason to save.

Because my kids are pros, I didn’t have to ask many questions beyond “what did you see?” But if you’d like some, here you go:

  1. What sets of parallel lines do you see in this psalm?
  2. How does this psalm divide up? Do you see any big sections?
  3. What kind of psalm is this? Is it about troubles (lament), does it give advice (wisdom), is it praising and rejoicing? What’s the mood? How does the psalmist feel?
  4. Who is in this psalm? What characters are there? What does each do?
  5. Are the psalmist’s problems solved by the end?
  6. Why does the psalmist say God should help him? What reasons does he give? This is a good place to insert that bit about “loving-kindness.”

Happy psalming! Let me know what you find if you study this psalm.


A Charlotte Mason Education in High School: How We Do It

Dear Reader,

I get a lot of questions along the lines of “how do you do . . . in high school?” High school is the time when panic seems to set in for a lot of homeschooling moms. My own take on homeschooling high school (as I discussed in this post) is that we shouldn’t abandon our principles but we need to also consider the “passports” our kids need to move on to the next stage of their lives. Our society expects certain things, like SATs, and we need to help our kids meet those expectations while still giving them the best education we can.

If anything, as I work my way through with my kids, I am more convinced than ever that a Charlotte Mason education is the way to go and that it is not only possible to give them this in high school, but that it is even more important to do so in their teen years than it ever was before. In the early years, the distinctions between the different philosophies are harder to discern. Everybody learns to read, everybody plays outside. It is in these later years that how we view education is going to make the biggest difference.

Before I tell you what I do, I’d just like to share  this excellent resource from Ambling along Together. It tells you what Charlotte Mason materials are out there as well as which other materials can mesh with a CM education. Personally, I cobble a lot of different things together, relying most heavily on Simply Charlotte Mason and the TruthQuest guides and occasionally turning to Ambleside Online.

So how do we do CM in high school? Let me start out with a disclaimer that my oldest just finished 10th grade. My second is right behind him, having just finished 9th. So at this point I’ve done 9th twice and 10th once. I realize that leaves me with a lot to go still before  declare any of this a success. Nonetheless, I will tell you what we have done and what the plan is for the next couple of years. I reserve the right to edit or trash this document if things change as we move forward.

A Charlotte Mason Education in High School

Math — I’ll start with math because it’s one of the simplest subjects to discuss. We have a living math curriculum we love: it’s Life of Fred. If you’ve been in homeschooling circles in recent years, you’ve probably heard of it. Some people love it, some don’t get it. It’s worked really well for my oldest and seems to be working for my two younger ones. My oldest is able to read the chapters, do the problems, check them on his own, and learn what he needs to learn. Unfortunately, this is not the case for my second child. She just can’t get the concepts from Fred’s more indirect approach. She needs something straightforward. We started with an actual textbook this year, though one that emphasizes art a lot more (this was for geometry so there is some natural connection). Honestly, it was a lot of busywork and wasn’t working well. We ended up finishing the year with Math-U-See and plan to try Teaching Textbooks next year. My take on math would be this: I love Life of Fred if it works for the child. Otherwise, just find something that does work for your child. I know there are other living math curricula for the earlier years. In high school, my goal is to get them what they need (which will vary from child to child; one is in calculus, one will probably not go beyond Algebra 2). Self-sufficiency in math (being able to learn the material on their own and check their own work) is an added bonus. We find this is easy with Life of Fred. As long as the child basically gets it, they are able to check their own work.

Language Arts — Language arts is a tough one to sum up because it is so pivotal and encompasses so much. Writing alone sends many homeschool parents into fits and could generate  a few blog posts without even mentioning spelling, grammar, and literary analysis.

Up until this point (through 10th grade) we have continued dictation. I may not continue with it in 11th and 12th; I haven’t decided on that yet. In recent years we have used SCM’s Spelling Wisdom. I am not 100% enamored of it but it is the best single source for dictation passages I have found (and I am much too lazy to find my own). We use these passages to study spelling and grammar, but I don’t approach it in any organized way. I select a passage, usually just the next one in the book; we go over it; I point out any words that I think they might have problems spelling. I also go over any punctuation, especially anything out of the ordinary. This often entails other grammar as well since I’ll say things like “Why do we have a comma here? It’s at the end of the subordinate clause.” Sometimes I’ll point out an interesting construction if the author has done something unusual or lovely with how they’ve structured the passage.  They are meant to review it on their own during the week and then we do dictation at the end of the week (or a couple of days later; sometimes we have done 2 passages a week).

We have done various grammar things through the years. I particularly like KISS grammar and would recommend doing it all in one or two years when your child is in 7th-9th grades. We did a lot of it earlier on because I, like you, was stressed about grammar. But in theory I do think it is fine to wait till middle or high school and to do grammar all at once That is really all the attention it should merit. We have used/are using Life of Fred Grammar for high school. This is a set of 4 slim volumes. LOF recommends that one do all 4 volumes every year for high school. We are using them for the first two years (9th and 10th) and then I think we will leave it at that. Beware that after using this grammar curriculum your teen will become really annoying and tell you that you are using the word “nauseous” inappropriately. (That sort of thing really nauseates me.)

We have not done a formal writing curriculum. I made some attempt at one a couple of years ago, but in the end have decided that, like grammar, this is just not that necessary a subject. Let me rephrase that: writing as a separate subject is not that necessary. By high school your child should be doing a fair amount of written narrations plus they are reading and doing dictation from good writing. I know it doesn’t seem like enough, but it really goes a lot further than you’d think to producing good writers (see samples of my kids’ narrations here and here). I don’t critique my kids’ narrations very much at all. I will occasionally point out egregious errors but that’s about it.

I do, however, require some writing of my children which brings us to the next subject: literature. I don’t think one needs a certain scheme for literature in a CM education but I have come up with one for my family. This is partly one of those passports that makes things look good on a transcript. We have a subject for literature so I can write impressive looking phrases like “American short stories, essays and poetry” which is in fact what we do in 9th grade. You can read about how we do that here and here . My son has been doing Great American Bestsellers in 10th grade (link here when I get it). Next year I plan to have both of them do movies as literature which I will devise based on the book Meaning at the Movies (my review here). Because it is easier to do the movies as a family, my daughter will wait to read the bestsellers until 11th grade. In 12th I plan to give my son some freedom in picking what literature he would like to read. It could be sci-fi or Russian literature or English romantic novels (unlikely) or something else. With each of these, I have my kids write something after each piece or unit. It might be answering some questions, writing a short essay, or writing a longer essay. In these cases I do have them revise a bit and edit for errors. With both I found that I had to provide some direction in what is expected in an essay for the first one or two. Honestly, this was pretty basic and straightforward. No curriculum needed. I just said something along the lines of “When we write an essay, it is customary to have an introductory and a concluding paragraph. Each paragraph also has this basic structure — some sort of intro and conclusion and the meat in the middle.”  I have come across a living book on writing which I really love (read about it here) and which I plan to make them read at some point the next year. I love its approach much more than some popular curricula which require certain numbers of adjectives per sentence and the like.

Before leaving language arts, I’d like to say a bit about literary analysis. I’m not sure that analyzing literature is very CM and I don’t like to go overboard with it, but I do like to include a little. We live in a world in which everyone is always trying to convince one of something. I’d like my kids to be able to see what other people are trying to do, both in advertising and in books and movies. Everyone has a worldview and many have an agenda and I want them to be on the lookout for such things. As a family we have done literary analysis of some relatively simple books like Charlotte’s Web and Babe. More recently we have done Animal Farm and Lost Horizon. All these studies I have based on the book Deconstructing Penguins (my review here).  We learn terms like protagonist, antagonist, and climax, but most importantly we try to see what the author thinks and is trying to say. When we study movies in the coming year, my goal is really the same: to see what the director (or whoever makes the movie) is trying to say and how he says it and to get behind that to what he himself believes.

Oh, and we study at least one Shakespeare play a year as a family and read one Dickens novel. The latter is done over lunch and is completely without comment or application. I’m not going to take time now to say how we do Shakespeare, but trust me it is pretty basic. IMO Shakespeare is not meant to be read through; it is meant to be seen and heard. We haven’t done a lot of poetry in high school though I do occasionally read them some. We did more in earlier years and they do some on their own when we do American poets in 9th grade.

Science and Nature — Science is definitely one area where we have to consider what colleges may want. Specifically, colleges like to see a few years of specific sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) with labs. Unless you are really sure your child will not want to go to college ever, I would try to adapt to what they expect here. You can, however, consider less widely covered sciences such as astronomy, anatomy, botany, or forensic science. Personally, I would want to include a couple of the traditional ones, especially for a child who has any interest in pursuing math or science. My approach is pretty traditional: biology in 9th, chemistry in 10th, physics in 11th. Twelfth grade I plan to let them choose. They could do an AP level course in a science they’ve already done or pick something more off the beaten path.

Before I get to specifics of how we do science in high school, I’d like to say a few words about all the years that come before. These years are for nature study and reading living books on science. I know there is a temptation to prepare for high school science with other science-y courses before hand. As mine move into high school, I have become convinced that a lot of what we do before high school is useless. That is, introducing concepts like the periodic table or learning parts of an atom are useless. They will get that stuff again. What is useful is cultivating a spirit of inquiry and observational powers. That is what nature study is for. You can have a focus for a time (we have done, for instance, a year of geology and weather), but I’d keep it focused on living books and hands-on observation.

In my oldest’s 9th grade year, we set out to study biology (see this post for a more in depth summary of our adventures). I cobbled together three things: a lab course (see below), living books (which I couldn’t bear to give up), and a DVD based course (for thoroughness and seeming more like a real science course). I came out of that year more committed than ever to keeping living books as the core of our science. So here is my basic plan for high school science which can be applied to any subject: find living books, try to have one that is a good overview so that you know you are not missing key areas, but keep it living; read and narrate those books; add a lab component. So far we have done biology and chemistry you can find those book lists here.

The lab component is tougher and will depend on where you live and what is available. There are classes in our area which use that very popular Christian science curriculum (which has never enticed me), but I have so far managed to steer clear of them. I thought I was not going to find labs for chemistry near us so I had my son do some labs on his own (actually with his 10 year old sister). You can read about that here. But it turns out we are going to have Landry labs near us so we are going to do that too. My son did the Landry biology 2-day lab intensive and loved it.  They do all the labs for a year of high school science in 2 days. They do send you home with lab reports to write up so beware there is more work after they leave. I have very science-y friends who are skeptical and say they would never use such a thing, but my son dissected more things in those 2 days than most high school kids do all year. I know in “real” schools labs are often no longer hands-on and one can do video labs at home too. This would be a last resort for me. Whatever the schools may be doing, I think the hands-on is important. I just don’t think you are going to learn things in the same way by only observing. For physics next year we did find a co-op that is doing a labs only class every two weeks.

What about nature study in high school? I’m ambivalent on this issue. On one hand, a major purpose of nature study is to lay the groundwork for later science so in high school that becomes moot. On the other, nature is God’s creation and we should keep paying attention to it. I have let this slide with my oldest. My daughter has more of a natural affinity for such things. She will draw and paint birds and flowers on her own and has a love for nature photography as well. We have found a wonderful teacher at a local Audubon sanctuary that encourages this as well so that has been a great fit for her. And in defense of my oldest, he does have the inquisitiveness and interest in science that one hopes to cultivate, he just expresses it differently at this age.

History (and Narration) — History is the core of our homeschool. In an era that values the STEM subjects above all others, we cling tenaciously to a subject which is by definition out-dated. I have 4 kids, and I like to keep them all on the same time period. Though we have reduced the amount of “together time” we include in our homeschool week, this is one of my favorite things and I am not willing to give it up all together. My approach to history is very simple: read and narrate, read and narrate, read and narrate. I pick a “spine” book that covers our time period. Three times a week I read it aloud to all my kids and have them take turns narrating it. This last year I started taking turns too. They get to correct me or say things I have forgotten when I narrate. They love that. I try to gear the spine book to the level of my oldest or close to it. Then they all read books at their own level. Because we have the spine to give an overview, they can specialize in their individual reading and focus on one event or person.

Just because of where we are in our studies, we have been going through American history. Next year, my oldest’s 11th grade year, we will do the 20th century. For 12th grade I may either have him try to do a flyover of ancient history (which we did years ago as well) or let him pick a period of history that interests him. My next one will get a slightly different course of history as she will be doing the 20th century in 10th grade. That means she has time to do ancient in 11th and medieval in 12th. Though I would also be okay with her picking what she wants to study in 12th. In general, in line with CM’s ideas, we are not interest-led but my idea is to allow more freedom in 12th grade as a kind of transition to being on their own in college.

When they read their history books, the scheme again is just read and narrate. Generally, I give a chunk of about 20 pages, depending on how hard the book is and how it naturally divides up, to my high schoolers to read per day. My intent is to give them about 30 minutes of work with reading and narrating though I could see moving that up to 45 minutes. History is definitely an every day subject. At least up until this point I have told them “give me a written narration x times per week and vary which subjects you write for” and let them decide what they are doing orally and what they are writing. My second child actually prefers written narrations and does them more often than not. They both do their written narrations on a device and email then to me. My oldest has also done oral narrations as a voice memo and sent them to me at times. This works well if I have to be out or busy with other things. When I am not home, I will also have them narrate to one another.

I don’t correct their written narrations though occasionally I may point out some error of grammar or spelling, especially if it is something that I think they really don’t know. Once in a while we will get a mistake along the lines of using “would of” for “would have/would’ve” which seems to be a case of them never having realized what the real phrase is. These things I correct because it is something they have learned wrong, but I don’t nitpick about other errors. For the most part they are decent writers, though we have focused on it very little (see “language arts”) so I am not inclined to put too much into it in the context of another subject.

We probably should do some sort of end of the term/end of the section review by having them answer open ended essay questions about what they have learned. My understanding is that this would be a very CM way to do testing, but I haven’t been good about actually doing it. I should clarify as well that the sorts of questions I have in mind would be along the lines of “tell me what you know about Reconstruction” or perhaps something slightly more specific which allows the child to tell what they know and to integrate information but does not require them to remember specifics that I deem important.

How do I decide which books? I rely heavily on the Truth Quest guides. I start with the guide in front of me and search for what my library has. I also look up favorite authors to see if they have anything on the topic. If I really like the sound of a book, I will order it used from Amazon if I can. If you are interested in what books we have used on a given period, check out my list of living book lists here.

Foreign Language – If you have any idea where you child wants to go to college or what they would like to study, I recommend you research what might be required of them in the realm of foreign language. If you want to keep your options open, I’d aim for at least three years of one foreign language.

Charlotte Mason would have recommended two languages starting in the early years (1st and 3rd grades, I believe). Latin and French were the big ones for her. I don’t think we need to be bound by this. I think this is one of those areas where the changes in the world can affect how we go about things. In late 19th and early 20th century England French was probably the most practical modern language. That is no longer the case (unless you live in certain parts of Canada perhaps). In terms of what one hears every day, Spanish is probably top of the list for most of us (though depending on where you live there might be other choices). On a global scale, Arabic or Chinese could be very practical. You might also consider what career your child is likely to pursue and what languages would benefit them there. Military? Consider Arabic. Business? Maybe Chinese. What about an academic subject like math? I’m not sure if things have changed, but in my day the most likely other language to find academic papers written in was German.

And then there are the dead languages. Is Latin still necessary? I think CM would say yes. Afficiandos of classical education would argue that there is a lot of benefit to studying it. Of course English itself is indebted to Latin for a lot of its words. And if one is going to learn another Romance language, Latin will come in handy. It is used in the sciences. And beyond that, Latin, with all its cases and endings, is good for the brain. Having said of all which, I have never made my kids learn it. I am not opposed to dead languages – I have a Master’s degree in biblical Hebrew — but I’ve never particularly thought it worth the time involved. My oldest chose to study Latin as his language for high school so we do have some experience with it. Before that, he did Koine Greek (he really would have liked to do classical Greek but I thought he was too young for any of the classical Greek curricula out there when he started).

The two things I value in a foreign language curriculum for high school are: minimal parental involvement and oral interaction. The only truly CM curriculum I know of for languages is Cherrydale Press’s Spanish and French but these are for younger ages. We have used various things for my daughter up to this point, including the infamous Rosetta Stone, and I have not been happy with any of them. I am very wary now of any online-only curriculum. I think it is tough, not to mention boring, to learn any language without human interaction. I am looking into both local and Skype classes for my daughter for next year.

For Latin, we chose the Cambridge Latin Course (CLC) for my son. We got the books used from Amazon and relied heavily on the website which is quite thorough and for a small cost allows you to do all the exercises online. But even with a dead language, he struggled without live feedback. Now he is doing the same curriculum with a tutor. Though he struggled on his own, I do like CLC; the stories are fun and one jumps right into them.

Social Studies – Social studies is a pretty broad term. The three things we do which fall under this category are economics, government, and geography. Geography is an on-going thing for us; economics and government need only happen once. I combine the two in 10th grade and call it one credit of social studies or civics (or a half credit of each). My husband is an economist and he picked Lessons for the Young Economist for us to use. I divided up the readings for a half year and just have them narrate each chunk. For government we use The Everything American Government Book which, though not a living book, is used by Ambleside Online. You can even find it all divided up nicely into readings for you on their website.

My son has now gone twice to iGovern East which is a camp run by Generation Joshua, the teen branch of HSLDA. He has loved it. He has also asked to study comparative government next year so I am preparing that. But these are optional and my daughter won’t do them.

In younger years we do map drills for geography, but I drop these for high school. I have floundered around a bit for geography. You can read what my intentions for this year were here. I really love the idea of combining geography and current events. It hasn’t worked out quite as well as I had hoped.  More recently, we have just been looking at maps and discussing them, not in a formal way, just whatever seems interesting about them. You can find some cool maps here, here and here. This is a once a week thing at best.

Technology – Technology is not a subject CM considered but it is one we might want to include today. For the most part, I think given exposure kids will get what they need. Letting them play around with computers (that doesn’t mean games!) is probably the best way to go about things. My son is of the math/science bent so my husband had been working with him on programming for a while. This year he took AP Computer Science through PA Homeschoolers. It was a good experience and I would recommend them. My daughter has little interest in such things so we have not required her to do any programming. She does have an online business so she has some proficiency with the internet in other ways.

My general advice about technology would be: consider including it. Think about how your child is likely to use it and how you can give them a taste of that. Look for open-ended approaches that allow the child to explore. I am wary of things along the lines of “learn xxx through playing Minecraft.” That idea seems very unit studies-ish and tricky to me. It’s not very CM to try to sneak the education in with other things.

Fine Arts – I have decided that for fine arts in high school I will let my kids not do what their younger siblings are doing. We have done composer and artist studies, and it was time for a change. My daughter wants to go to art school so for her the arts are still a big subject; for my son the goal is just to get a fine arts credit for the transcript. I know that CM would say we should continue with the arts in a more serious way, but, well, one has to choose where to spend one’s time and energy. And in our house it is hard for him to be completely ignorant of art anyway.

I know CM isn’t supposed to be interest-led but I decided to go with what my son is into for his fine arts – Country Music. I got him a big thick book on country music, had him read it, and then required a term paper on a subject of his choice. This is still in progress so I will get back to you on how we did that and how it turned out. I’ll probably call this a half credit in fine arts for transcript purposes.

For my daughter, I put together an art history course for her 9th grade year. You can read about that here (link coming soon). Next year the plan is to have her do AP Art History and then after that AP Studio Art. She also takes lessons with a drawing teacher. And pretty much makes things (crafts and art) constantly in her free time.

Handicrafts – Handicrafts are not something I deliberately incorporate at this point. My daughter has her own business making and selling things and is always eager to try a new craft when it comes within her purview. My son has never particularly been into handicrafts. I don’t push it at this point. He does occasionally do things of his own accord. For instance this year he has been making stop motion videos and had to construct his own tripod to make it work. My encouragement to you would be to look at what your child is already doing and to have a broad definition of handicrafts. There may be more that fits the category than you have considered.

If you would like some craft ideas for older kids, here are some we have tried: Ukrainian egg dying (see this website for materials), fabric painting (we got a kit here), rag rug braiding (try making trivets for a small project), paper curling, zentangleupcycled t-shirts, paper beads, DIY lip balm, jewelry from old credit cards, and then of course there are the old stand-byes like sewing, knitting and crocheting.

Side note: I love how this article talks about introducing kids to new crafts. My kids are beyond the ages considered in the article but I love the balance between “follow me and do exactly what I do” and “here’s some clay” with absolutely no instruction.

Physical Education – We haven’t done a lot with physical education in a formal way. When my kids have been interested in an activity, we have pursued it, and they have weekly homeschool park days where they get plenty of exercise. Charlotte Mason used Swedish Drill. You can read about that at the Afterthoughts Blog here. The best I can say is that to include some sort of exercise routine seems quite CM. She believed in being well-rounded and would not have neglected the body.

Home Ec – We have never done home ec as a subject.My kids have had chores for years. Recently we went to a new system where they switch monthly and they have a lot more to do. In fact, they do almost everything and I do way less than I was (though not as little as they think I do). I have had no regrets and no guilt on this. Their college roommate will thank me. My own kids haven’t yet.

Bible/Religion/Theology/Philosophy/Church History – We have done a lot of different things in this category (you can see it is very broadly defined). Some of it I have liked;  a lot of it is floundering again, trying to find something I like. For my younger ones, I assign Bible readings; the older two I expect to find and read something on their own though I’m willing to give direction if they ask. This year I also tried to incorporate books on religion or theology. I let them read these at their own paces. They didn’t get through much😉 But they did both read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and What is the Christian Worldview?, which is really just a book of basic reformed theology (see my review here).  I think we will continue with this but I may give them some guidelines so they don’t neglect it and let it drag out. I also had them do church history and philosophy this year. I don’t think we will continue with the latter for my younger two. We used Philosophy Adventure and I was not enamored of it. For church history we used Sketches from Church History. Once I gave up having them do the accompanying workbook and had them just narrate what they read it wasn’t too bad. My plan is to have them both do Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then  Live next year. There is a video version as well which we will use; I haven’t decided if I will also have them read the book. My plan going forward for the other two would be to do church history in 9th, perhaps some other sort of philosophy or theology in 10th, and Schaeffer in 11th.

Am I forgetting anything? I am sure I am. What would you like to know more about?


Charlotte Mason Isn’t Tricky

Dear Reader,

I had a very small new idea. Charlotte Mason isn’t tricky. I don’t think we would have hidden kids’ vegetables in their brownies. She would have wanted them to like vegetables and to know they like vegetables. She didn’t hide education under other forms — games and the like. She didn’t try and sneak it in. She gives quality materials straight out and expects kids to like them, yes, even Shakespeare and Beethoven and Monet. She was definitely opposed to what we call unit studies (the equivalent was Herbartian education in her day) and I don’t think she would have approved of anything along the lines of “learn  . . . through playing Mine Craft.” She was much more of a straight shooter than that. The reason is simple: if you put okra in your brownies, the kids learn they like brownies, not that okra can be pleasant. If you put your education in Mine Craft, they learn they like MIne Craft, not that it can be fun to do science or math.

And that’s my little big thought of the day.


The Goal of Christian Education

Dear Reader,

I’ve been saying for awhile that goals matter. We have goals fir our children, of course. Our curriculum maker also has goals which, even if we are not aware of them, will come through in their materials. It is important to think about where you are headed and how you actually get there.

I was doing my reading for my local Charlotte Mason support group and came across this quote:

“We trouble ourselves about the uses of the young person to society. As for his own use, what he should be in and for himself, why, what matter? Because, say we, if we fit him to earn his living we fit him also to be of service to the world and what better can we do for him personally? We forget that it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live, -whether it be spoken in the way of some truth of religion, poem, picture, scientific discovery, or literary expression; by these things men live and in all such is the life of the spirit.” (Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 98)

There is a lot in here and it may not be obvious at first what Charlotte is saying. In this section of her book, she is talking about why we “feed” children ideas, why we use living books and real things. Her point is that these things feed the spirit and that it is the spirit and the things of the spirit that matter.

Too often Christian curricula aim for the wrong things: worldly success, usefulness to society, virtue. These are all good things, but they are not the thing. We make what should be secondary the focus and we end up missing what should be our primary goal.

The question in a Charlotte Mason education is not what will my child be or what will he do or what will he contribute. It is not even how will he serve or how will he be (good, virtuous, honest, kind, etc.). The question is who will he be. Knowledge of God comes before all else. Without it we cannot have virtue and we cannot serve God in a way that pleases Him. So our goal above all must be for the child to know God.

I am not talking here about continual calls to conversion. I do not believe this is how we should treat our children — as sinners always in need of salvation. I believe that the children of believers are holy, that is, they are included in God’s covenant people. We must treat them as believers, and as fellow believers we must disciple them.

If you wanted your child to get to know their grandmother, what would you do? You would find ways for the two of them to connect, in person, over Skype, however you could. Perhaps you would also show them her things — pictures, letters, whatever you might have from her. And when you do get the two of them together, you must step back and let them talk. If you always intervene, then they will not connect with one another.

This is what a Charlotte Mason education is about. Charlotte starts with the assumption that all truth is God’s truth and then she puts that truth before kids and doesn’t get in the way of them connecting with that truth.

What does this mean practically speaking? Above all, pray for your kids, that they will know God. Then show them God. Show them in your own life by praying in front of them and with them and by including them in Bible studies and worship (real worship with all of God’s people, not children’s worship). Let them have relationships with other Christians who are not their peers. Let them hear you discuss the things of God. Put truth before them– in the form of the Bible of course, but also in other ways, wherever truth may be found, in poetry and music and art and science and literature. Be discerning but don’t be afraid of “secular” materials. Don’t moralize. You don’t need to connect the dots for them or to bring a Bible verse into every discussion or every math lesson. If you are doing all the other things, they will have discernment of their own (their consciences are often less blunted than ours) and they will, by the grace of God, get what they need.





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