Let’s Play “Is It CM?” (Part 2)

Dear Reader,

This is my second post giving quick surveys of Charlotte Mason-inspired curricula. You can find the first one here. I also have charts on the various “pure” Charlotte Mason curricula (see this post). There is a lot out there that claims to be CM or that is used and discussed by folks who are CM. My goal with these posts is to give you a quick snapshot so you can make informed decisions. The next couple of “how to” paragraphs are taken right from part 1 so if you’ve already been there you can skip right to the reviews —

A few caveats before we begin: This is going to come off as inherently negative because a lot of what I need to say is how each curriculum falls short of the CM ideal. This doesn’t necessariyl mean it’s a bad curriculum or that you can’t use it and still be CM.  At a homeschool conference I once attended, the keynote speaker said “I never give curricuum recommendations. I could tell you what my family uses but I would also have to tell you how we use it.” Which is to say, it’s not just what you use but how you use it. There may be good reasons to choose any of the resources below. You may use a little from here and a little from there. You may buy a curriculum but adapt it and use it in your own way.  I am supplying this information because I think it is useful to know where a given resource lines up with CM’s thought and where it doesn’t. I also think it is fine to deliberately choose to diverge from CM’s thought and methods (I actually consider myself post-CM and have my own philosophy of education though I really like her epistemology).

Finally, a note on methodology: My goal here is not to analyze the philosophy behind each resource but simply to look at its methods (though the two are always going to be related). The sorts of things I am looking for are pretty basic: Does it use living books? Does it use narration and if so, is it CM-style narration? Does it make use of non-CM methods like worksheets? How does it approach language arts? Does it use copywork and dictation or other methods like spelling tests? Because there have not been a lot of CM math resources out there till recently, I am not going to spend much time analyzing the math component of these resources. Many refer you to other companies’ math curricula any way.

So, without further ado, let’s play once again: Is it CM?

Build Your Library

Build Your Library (BYL) is a secular curriculum that I’ve seen recommend more and more in the past year or so. According to the website it it “literaure based” and “Charlotte Mason inspired.”

What’s CM about it?

BYL uses real literarutre and narration. They have narration cards to mix it up a bit but seem to stick pretty well to narration as CM would have liked it. They also include a Book of Centuries. It is history-based and incorporates art study and copywork.

What isn’t CM?

They offer unit studies though these seem to be shorter supplements to the main curriculum (if you are unsure how unit studies fit with CM, see my brief rant when I discussed them in relation to The Good and The Beautiful in part 1). There are a lot of great books here but some I am less enamored with or don’t know the living-ness of. I have never been a huge fan of Joy Hakim’s books which are used for history (though others love them so that may just be me). Science tends to use more comprehensive spines from other publishers (in addition to living books). I am not familiar with all of these so I can’t evaluate them.

Quick Take Summary:

Though the creator makes clear that BYL is only CM-inspired and has some ecclectic elements, this is actually among the more CM curricula I am looking at.  There is little here that you would need to tweak. Lesson plans are laid out for you so if that it what you are looking for in a curriculum or if what you want is something secular, this could be a good choice for you.

Heart of Dakota

Heart of Dakota (HoD) has been around a while. It’s main claim is to be Christ-centered and to address the child’s heart. Under philosophy, the creators do say that they are heavily influenced by CM but they stop short of claiming to be a CM curriculum.

What’s CM about it?

HoD emphasizes the habit of attention and short lessons. It also makes use of copywork, dictation, and narration and uses living books.

What isn’t CM?

Though HoD uses copywork, it also adds spelling lists and grammar instruction. Especially in the early years, science is coordinated with history in a way that smacks of unit studies. It includes hands-on activities in the early years. Though narration is used so are notebooking and questions. There is no mention of nature study.

Quick Take Summary:

HoD has a solid basis in living books with narration. I find that there is a bit much added for my tastes including lots of fiddly projects, overly much guidance for narrations, and spelling and grammar lessons. There is some tendency toward unit studies, and though it does seem to use some good books, I am not sure it uses enough good, living books. I also have some concerns about the emphasis on appealing to the heart. There seems to be an overemphasis on limiting exposure to “bad” things and on discussing and drawing moral conclusions for and with kids though I am not sure how this plays out on a  day-to-day basis.

Winter Promise

Winter Promise claims to be CM-inspired but also includes “classical principles,” “themed resources” (read: unit studies), and real-life experiences.

What’s CM about it?

Winter Promise uses “good books” and emphasizes nature study. History and science books are touted as the backbone of the curriculum.

What isn’t CM?

Winter Promise uses a unit studies approach. It also uses worksheets. Though narration is mentioned, notebooking is the main way to process information in Winter Promise and is cited as a narration method. It deliberately adds “the experience approach” to CM which practically speaking means a lot of added hands-on activities.

Quick Take Summary:

Again, as I have said for many of these curricula, there may be good books used but not a lot of them. Winter Promise uses Mystery of History (among other resources) which may be fine (I have never looked at it extensively) but I would rather see a curriculum that uses a wider variety of living books. Though it touts narration, I didn’t see anything that explains what CM style narration is. Notebooking seems to substitute for narration almost entirely.

Train Up a Child

Train Up a Child claims to be CM-inspired and to use living books.

What’s CM about it?

Train Up a Child uses living books and narration. Its book choices seem good and it also incorporates nature study.

What isn’t CM?

Spelling and grammar instruction are added in though I am unable to see what these look like to know if they use worksheets or how they are done. Copywork is used but it seems to be copying of sentences about what one is learning not sentences taken from good literature.

Quick Take Summary:

Train Up a Child goes thorugh all of history every year. I am not sure if this is technically un-CM but it seems rushed to me and to not fit the spirit of CM. I like the books they use and the narration. I wouldn’t call it CM but I think it would be one of the more easily adaptable curricula. There seem to be two options, the unit programs or the daily lesson plans. The latter seems to lay things out more and the former to be more flexible. The unit programs would be easier to adapt.

Wayfarers (from Barefoot Meandering)

Their self-description is “Homeschool curricula with a classical education, Charlotte Mason, twaddle-free flair.” Like Build Your Library, this is a secular (non-religious, but not areligious) curriculum. It touts living books, copywork, and narrations and rejects textbooks and busywork. .

What’s CM about it?

Wayfarers emphasizes literature as the most important element. In older years it uses a commonplace book. It also uses daily oral and written narration. I particularly like that they stick with living books and not textbooks for high school science. The arts are included.

What isn’t CM?

Wayfarers uses notebooking pages which as I have said before are not strictly CM. It also adds language arts curricula and the creator makes clear that she views it as ideal to teach grammar concepts in the earlier years when children memorize easily (a classical concept). Hands-on activites are optional extras. From the classical tradition, Wayfarers takes the division into logic, dialectic, and rhetoric stages and a 4-year history cycle. It also uses the progymnasmata approach to writing.

Quick Take Summary:

There is a lot here that is CM and I like that the added bits are largely included as optional extras. Its book choices seem solid and it relies heavily on narration (though it is unclear to me if every book id narrated). I also like that the creator is clear on her theory and seems to know which bits she gets from CM and which from classical.

A Mind in the Light

A Mind in the Light is a CM-inspired curriculum with elements from classical.

What’s CM about it?

A Mind in the Light uses living books, narration, art and music studies, and nature study as well as copywork and dictation.

What isn’t CM?

Grammar is added though how it is done is not clear to me.

Quick Take Summary:

The website seems to be under construction as I write this and I can’t see many particulars as to how subjects are done. From what I can see this is a quite CM curriculum. Its book choices seem very good.

Wrapping Up

Having looked now at 11 different CM-inspired or CM-adaptable curricula, I feel I can make some general conclusions:

  • Trying to devise an all-in-one sort of curriculum for parents seems to come with a trade-off in the quality of the living books. Because it is presumably hard for parents or curriculum developers to gather a large number of living books, there is a temptation to create readers which either aggregate selections from materials already existing or to use other publisher’s pre-existing curricula.  The result is something that is a little less living. These books may be relatively engaging and be written in a narrative style but they have some drawbacks. Selections are taken out of their literary context. Books and series that are used as a “spine,” possibly even over multiple years, give one point of view and one literary voice to the exclusion of others. These books all tend to be newer meaning older, quality books are missed. Though Sonlight (which does tend to use good books) may require too may books in a year thus rushing the reading, many of the these other curricula require too few. They don’t give a good variety and breadth of reading.
  • The science books offered tend to be of even poorer quality than history books. Nature study is often neglected.
  • It is really, really hard to get away from the worksheet mindset (see this post on worksheets, their history and why they are bad). The core thought may be “CM isn’t enough” or it may be “just in case, let’s add …” but either way one ends up with a lot of fiddly extra work which serves to detract from what a CM education should be. There is probably a tipping point here– one worksheet a week will likely not derail a CM education but twenty might undercut what one is trying to do.
  • Narration is often either absent or rare. Where it is touted, it is often misunderstood. It may be replaced by notebooking and the like or it may become something that is guided or which looks for particular outcomes.
  • Unit studies are quite popular. Unfortunately, they are not CM and Charlotte herself specifically argues against them in her rejection of Herbart (whose philosophy was something more comprhensive than unit studies but amounted to largely the same thing). The central problem with unit studies is that they aggregate material for students and end up spoon-feeding them. They do not allow the student to form his own relationship with the material or to see the connections between the subjects for himself.

I am not at this point planning another of these posts but if there are other resources you’d like me to look at, feel free to contact me to to comment below.


3 responses to this post.

  1. […] few posts now looking at the various Charlotte Mason (here) and Charlotte Mason-inspired (here and here) curricula out there. My goal in all of this is just to provide you with resources for narrowing […]


  2. […] The Good and the Beautiful, Easy Peasy, Masterbooks, Five in a Row, My Father’s World) and here (Heart of Dakota, Build Your Library, Winter Promise, Train Up a Child, Wayfarers, Mind in the […]


  3. […] has been some time since I did my “Is It CM?” posts parts 1 and2 but it seems like there are more and more CM-ish curricula out there so I thought it was about time […]


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