CM Education and the Pressure to Do More

Dear Reader,

I participate in some online forums (fora?) about homeschooling and particularly about Charlotte Mason style education. I have noticed on these that while most of those participating are trying to educate the CM way, there is a lot of temptation to add in little extras.

Charlotte advocated short lessons, especially in the early years, and did not make use of many of the modern tools of education. Standardized tests, worksheets, vocabulary tests, true and false and multiple choice questions, reading comprehension questions and the like were not part of a CM education. Really a CM education can seem very simple. Copywork and later dictation serve to cover vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. Narration in which the child chooses what to include replaces reading comprehension questions laid out by the teacher. Early science is limited to nature study and the reading of living books.

This more limited agenda can be a relief at first. But then, over time, many parents will start to think that it is just not enough. They will see what other families are doing and begin to think that their kids too need grammar drills and vocab tests. That they need to learn all the parts of  a cell by fifth grade or memorize all the presidents or all the important dates in history.  Very few people, it seems, manage to adhere to a pure CM method of education. I count myself among those who add on little extras as well (my youngest two have a spelling curriculum, for example). Though over time I think I am becoming more and more “pure CM”, that temptation is always there. It is fed by attending homeschooling conferences with all their bright shiny curricula. It is also fed by talking to other homeschoolers. The solution, of course, is not to live in one’s own little bubble, but to resist the inevitable comparisons which arise. My kids don’t need to memorize all the kings of England just because my neighbor’s kids did.

As I have told inquisitive (using a nice word here) relatives, homeschooling proves itself over time. If they just give me 18 years, I will show them that what we are doing is not a bad idea; I do belive it will prove itself in the end. But it is hard to wait and be patient. If this is true of homeschooling in general, I think it is even more true of CM style homeschooling. The CM approach does not give obvious results up front; it is more of a process and one must trust the process to produce the desired fruit in the end. My oldest is in 9th grade now and I am beginning to see that, yes, I am getting what I want from him. He is more proficient at narrations, he seems generally interested in what he is learning, he is motivated and interesting to talk to.

But it is hard in the early years to say, yes, this is all we are doing; we do not need the extra drills and worksheets. Most of us grew up in the public school system ourselves; we are used to having a paper trail and numbers or letters associated with it as evidence of learning. It is hard to break free of that and to be willing to wait for the results.

One thing that I think really helps is to know why you are doing what you are doing. That means read, read, read. I recommend starting with books like Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake but then once you have mastered these, moving on to Charlotte’s orignal writings. Participating in online forums and reading CM blogs helps too though one must exercise some discretion as many of these also will include posts about adding in extras. The more we understand about Charlotte’s philosophy, the better we will appreciate how it works and be able to trust that it does work.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by nellekeplouffe on November 9, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    I love your post, but I have to say (and this is probably just because of my stage in life with several preschoolers around) that I can’t imagine adding things to a CM education! It is so full and rich that I haven’t even managed to fit everything in yet. (You’ll probably laugh at me because I’m only homeschooling one six-year-old so far…)
    But I do understand what you’re talking about… this comparing ourselves to others and our children’s accomplishments to theirs has to stop. For me it’s a delicate balance because I find I need the encouragement of interaction with other homeschoolers, but also need to remember my own principles and reasons for doing things (largely informed by CM) and stick to them. Great advice in that last paragraph!


    • Thank you all for your comments.

      I completely understand trying to fit it all in too. It’s funny, I guess, how we can struggle with both extremes, almost at once. One thing to remember is that a lot of CM subjects like art, poetry, music — the ones we often omit — don’t need to be done every day. I think building up when you have little ones is fine. There can be pressure to do more at all stages. A lot of it probably depends on who you hang out with, but I do think it increases as you get close to and into the high school years.


  2. ‘Knowing why’ – so important. When you’re surrounded by a lot of fancy looking ‘evidence’ of learning, CM can look a little drab. I know the add ons are only a veneer – I tried it. As you implied true education is long term, hence the need for patience.


  3. Posted by Karen on November 10, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Good Reminder, Nebby……now if I can just remember that when I go to a convention!


  4. Posted by Keri on November 27, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    I read your blog often, but haven’t commented before. I love this post as this is a topic I ponder often. The hard part of “trusting the process” for me is that I don’t know many people in real life who have successfully homeschooled CM all the way through. I don’t even know many online who have true CM graduates. It’s hard for me to trust the process unless I can see proof that it really does work in today’s day and age. But I really want to. 🙂 I just feel like I need the confirmation of those who have made it all the way through and can tell me it really worked!


    • Thanks for commenting, Keri. It is hard to know people who have used CM all the way through. Where I am at least, I know some homeschooling parents who were homeschooled themsleves and the numbers of grown homeschoolers is seadily increasing but it is still a small group. To then narrow it down to CM homeschoolers is an even smaller crowd, like none at all. I heard the head of an Oklahoma homeschool group talk once at our local convention (we’re no where near OK) and she was really encouraging to hear how her kids had grown up with CM schooling and done well. Beyond that I just tell myself that I like who my kids are becoming and that is important. All education fails in some areas. I went to public schools and had huge gaps in what I knew, but my kids are interested in things, are pleasant to be around, and I have some degree of confidence that they will be able to make their way in life, even if they may have to fill some gaps themselves as thye find them. Of course I have my panic moments too; I think we all do.


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