Posts Tagged ‘getting started homeschooling’

Getting Started with a Charlotte Mason Education

Dear Reader,
This is one of those topics I find myself always typing answers for on various forums (fora?) so I thought I’d just make a post so I have something to refer to.
How do you get started with a Charlotte Mason (CM) education? If your kids are young (below 7) I would encourage you to spend some time reading, reading, reading and learning all you can about it first. But if your kids are older and have already been in school or been homeschooled, then you are probably eager to jump in (you should still read as much as you can though; first about CM and then reading her own writings).
There are more and more CM resources out there. This page lays out what is CM, what is partly CM, and what could be CM. You don’t need to follow one of these curricula, however. And a Charlotte Mason need not be difficult to implement.
In an age of STEM and STEAM, history remains the core of a CM education. If your children have been in school or been homeschooling, there may be a next logical period of history for you to study. This may mean somebody repeats or has some gaps for now; that’s okay.  If your kids are in high school or approaching high school, you may want to think about what they need to get done and where you want to end up. But the main thing is to just pick something, whether it’s 20th century history, the age of discovery, or the ancient Egyptians.
I like using a spine book for history. This is a book which is fairly general and broad and which covers the whole time period. I recommend gearing it to your oldest or next to oldest’s level. You will be reading this book aloud to all your kids. When my kids were younger, we had this “together time” every day. Now we do it 2-3 times a week. When you get together, you read to them from your spine and have them narrate what you read back to you. I won’t get into the particulars of how to narrate here. You can search this blog or look at any good CM site for more on that (I do have a recent post on the theory behind narration here). Edited to add: I hear Karen Glass’s book on narration, Know and Tell, is wonderful though I haven’t read it.
In addition to a spine book, you will need one book (at a time)  for each child to read on their own. This should be at their own reading level. Younger children may get through a book a week or even a day. Older kids may spend a month or more on a longer book. Because your spine gives an overview, you can pick more narrow subjects for their individual reading. Biographies are always good choices (how to find and pick books is another topic again; you can see all my lists of living book here). The procedure is the same for whatever you do– read and narrate, read and narrate, read and narrate. If your children are new to narration, they should begin with oral narration no matter what their ages. Older kids might move to written narration in a month or two if oral narration is going well. Younger kids might spend a few years narrating orally before attempting written narrations. If you have a lot of kids lining up to narrate to you, have them narrate to each other occasionally or record their narrations for you to listen to later.
Once you are in a routine for history, you can add other subjects one at a time. Because it is viewed as so essential in our culture, math is probably one you want to include early on. We love Life of Fred for a living approach to math but it doesn’t work for all kids (my second one can’t seem to learn from LOF). Math-U-See is my second choice but one child is also using Teaching Textbooks this year to good effect. There are more CM math curricula out there but they can be harder to implement and more teacher-intensive. I recommend just picking something for math at this stage and not worrying too much about making it CM.
Continue to add one or two subjects at a time. Though often viewed as less essential, artist and music study can actually be fairly easy to work in. Each should only take about 10 minutes week.  Many families alternate so one day they do art, one day music and another maybe read a poem. Again there are resources out there but you need not make things complicated. Pick an artist you like, look at one of their paintings once a week for a while till you think you have a feel for them or you get sick of them. Read a poem once a week. You can pick one poet to do for a time or you can just get a book of favorite poems and pick one at random each time. Similarly, with music; pick a composer and listen to their music for 10-15 minutes at least once a week. There may be times you can put on your composer while your kids are playing or eating for a little added background education. I have often put Shakespeare in the rotation as well. You can begin by just reading abridged, narrative versions of his plays from Lamb’s or Nesbit’s books. How to Teach Your Child Shakespeare is another wonderful resource which deals with memorizing Shakespeare and can be done in 10-15 minute chunks.
You may feel like you need more in the realm of language arts. You don’t. At least, you need less than you think. Copywork or dictation (depending on your child’s age) is the main thing. Narration, whether oral or written, is already doing more than you know towards composition and writing. If you are just beginning, I recommend getting one source for your copywork/dictation passages. There are many choices out there, Queen homeschool has a lot of resources. For more modern books your kids might be familiar with the Arrow from Brave Writer is good (though I was disappointed with the language and grammar in the passages they chose).  I like Spelling Wisdom from SCM. Don’t worry about other grammar or spelling or writing curricula unless they are 10th grade and up. SCM has some wonderful resources on how to do prepared dictation. If you have a lot of kids, try to put them into groups for this (maybe early elementary, later elementary, middle school, and high school) so you are not doing completely different passages for each. Need more time in your day? Have older kids dictate to younger ones or check their copywork. Edited to add: I actually have found that dictation goes much better when I let my kids pick passages from their other schoolbooks.
Science depends on age but if they are below high school I would just pick living books to read and then try to get out for nature walks once in a while. The reading can be done individually at their own levels or all together when you do your history spines. The latter is probably better for younger children. Either way the procedure is the same — read and narrate, read and narrate. Science often lends itself well to drawn narrations, but always ask them to explain to you what they have drawn too. If you have high schoolers, labs are probably expected. You can read up on how we’ve done high school science (and other subjects) here.
There are other subjects you can add in over time, of course — map drills and handicrafts and civics and foreign language, to name a few. But if you start with the above subjects, history first an then the others added one at a time, you will have a pretty good basic CM education in place.
Any questions?