Posts Tagged ‘homeschool curriculum’

Let’s Play “Is It CM?” (Part 3)

Dear Reader,

It 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 for another. The quickest way to find all the info I have on CM and CM-inspired curricula is to go to 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 necessarily 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 curriculum 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?

Under the Home

K-4 only. Secular. Claims to be CM-inspired and child-friendly. Free. Uses digital resources so there are no books to purchase. Uses many older books (think McGuffey’s readers)

What’s CM about it?

Includes fine arts and geography. Plans to include Shakespeare as they add more grade levels. Uses copywork and dictation. Nature lore and nature study for science.

What isn’t CM?

Uses notebooking and review questions (both of which are not CM).  It’s not clear to me if they use or encourage narration.

Quick Take Summary:

The materials seem good. The methods seem a little less CM but if narration is used in place of notebooking and review questions it could easily be adapted.


Secular. Literature-based and family-oriented. Claims to be eclectic and to make use of games, hands-on activities and car-schooling. Currently K-3.

What’s CM about it?

Torchlight does not claim to be CM but is literature-based so it may be used by those who think it is in the CM spectrum. Includes literature, art and poetry.

What isn’t CM?

The books for science and history do not look particularly living to me. The methods are not CM (and don’t claim to be).

Quick Take Summary:

I’m including their curriculum here because many people come to the CM world using things like this and think that they are CM. Some of the books and resources in Torchlight are good (but not all) and the methods are not CM.

Queens Homeschool

Queens has been around selling resources for a long time. They claim many of their resources are CM. They now offer “Charlotte Mason in a Box Kits” which combine these resources into one package by grade level.

What’s CM about it?

Includes picture study and dictation. Books are in a narrative style.

What isn’t CM?

The methods do not seem to be particularly CM, eg. grammar exercises and vocab lessons. They use their own books which are written in a narrative way but this is not the same as using real, living books IMO. Seems to use more of a question and answer format with no mention of narration.

Quick Take Summary:

The materials are not awful but they are not real living books and there is no mention of narration that I can see. I am judging this one not very CM.

Beautiful Feet Books

Beautiful Feet has also been around a while and offers study guides correlated with living books. This is not a complete curriculum.

What’s CM about it?

Subjects like geography and science are taught through living books and the book choices are good.

What isn’t CM?

I think some of the methods used are not CM (i.e. things like short answers instead of narrations) but it is hard to tell online.

Quick Take Summary:

Though it is not a complete curriculum, BF uses good living books and its packets could certainly be a good supplement to a CM curriculum.

Book Shark

Secular. Literature-based curriculum with a hands-on element. Based on a 4-day school week. Children within three years of each other can be combined.

What’s CM about it?

Most of the books are good, living ones. For language arts, there is an emphasis on reading good writing and some copywork and dictation (though also other less CM practices).

What isn’t CM?

Uses reading comprehension questions and worksheets instead of narration. Optional hands-on elements like lapbooks. Especially for science some of the books are less living. No fine arts as far as I can see.

Quick Take Summary:

Many decent books. One could do narration in place of the reading comprehension questions and many of the hands-on activities are optional.

Blossom and Root

 Currently just PreK-2. Secular. Nature-based. “Living books inspired language arts.” Hands-on and play-based.

What’s CM about it?

Includes nature study and copywork. Narration is given as one option on how to implement the curriculum. Many of the recommended books seem to be good living ones. Includes picture study.

What isn’t CM?

Many of the activities are not CM and are more worksheet-like.

Quick Take Summary:

Overall this is not a CM curriculum but it offers a lot of options and could be adapted fairly easily.

Gather Round

Christian. Family-oriented. All children work on same unit at same time at different levels. Math is not included. 

What’s CM about it?

Lessons are kept short.

What isn’t CM?

Unit studies, which are inherently not CM, are the major part of this curriculum. It is not clear to me that it uses living books and it looks to be worksheet-oriented.

Quick Take Summary:

Many families seem to like the family-oriented approach but as unit studies curriculum this is inherently not CM.

A Humble Place

Offers resources and a CM-inspired kindergarten curriculum.

What’s CM about it?

Includes copywork, art, music and nature study. Lessons are short 20 minutes per day, 4 days a week plus morning times. Many of the books are good and it uses MEP math.

What isn’t CM?

CM herself did not advocate formal education at this age (which the site acknowledges). A few of the books, particularly in geography, I am less enamored of.

Quick Take Summary:

Though a kindergarten curriculum is in itself not CM, this seems to be a very good option if you need one (possibly to satisfy legal requirements).


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 or to comment below.


Homeschool Curricula by Approach & A Quick-Start Guide

Dear Reader,

Where I am at least, the number of people considering homeschooling in the coming year (2020-21) has skyrocketed. With them in mind, I created this list of homeschooling curricula by subject. If you need direction in what approach to choose, please see this page in which I list all my posts on the various philosophies of education including questions to ask yourself and a quiz to help identify your style. There are two versions of this list. The full one lists the curricula by approach and the quick-start guide narrows things down even more if you are still overwhelmed.

Homeschool Curricula by Approach (opens a Google doc)

Quick-Start Homeschool Curriculum Guide (opens a Google doc)

I am sure there are inaccuracies and curricula I have missed so feel free to comment and I will try to keep the documents updated.


Book List: Bible and Theology

Dear Reader,

One goal for the summer is to get out a series of booklists with titles we have used over the years. I thought that I had at one point given a list of Bible and Theology books we have used but upon searching find that doesn’t appear to be true. For this topic, more than any other, I think it is important to know where I come from. My approach to education has been largely influenced by Charlotte Mason though I have my own philosophy of education. Most importantly, I am a Reformed Christian (aka Calvinist). If you come from a different theological perspective, this list may not fit your needs. I would recommend consulting your pastor or older (homeschooling) moms within your church for their suggestions.

You can find all my booklists here.

Bible and Theology Resources


This may seem obvious but one of the best books you can use to study the Bible and theology is . . . (wait for it) . . . the Bible. I myself am pretty comfortable with just opening up the Bible and reading and discussing  [1], but I realize others may not be there yet.

The Beginner’s Bible — I am not a huge fan of children’s Bibles. In general, my advice would be to try to move tour kids to the full Word of God as soon as you can. But little kids are little kids and sometimes a children’s Bible can be helpful. My husband in particular read stories from this one to our kids. I am less comfortable than I used to be with the depictions of Jesus in the New Testament. This one is at a picture book or preschool level.

The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos —  Vos has another children’s Bible. This one is more at an elementary level. I tried to use Vos’ volume with my preschool Sunday school class thinking it would be easier and found that often the stories were actually longer because of the commentary interspersed in them. If you yourself are uncomfortable commenting on the text, then this might be a way to go as it provides some interpretation along with the text (though as it is written you might not know what is text and what is interpretation).

The Most Important Thing You’ll Ever Study by Starr Meade — This is a workbook-y series for children which guides you through reading the Bible itself. Again for my tastes it was too workbook-y but we did it aloud and I didn’t have my kids fill in all the blanks (or any of them for that matter). I do like that it divides up the Bible into manageable chunks.

The Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola — This is a thinner volume that guides you through reading the epistles as well as sections from the book of Acts. Viola has his own slant — he is very pro-house church — but it gives some good background to the epistles and their contexts. I would use this one with older children (middle school +).

What’s in the Bible by R.C. Sproul — This is more of a reference book. It could be good to use yourself to get some background on a biblical book you plan to read (part of that getting more comfortable with that text yourself) or to give to an older child to aid their reading. Another similar book is How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Fee and Stuart.

The Life of Jesus Christ for the Young by Richard Newton — I ran across this two-volume series after my kids were beyond the age for it. I actually stumbled across Newton’s work because Simply Charlotte Mason uses quotes from him frequently in their copywork series. I don’t know a lot about Newton’s theology. He seems to have been an Anglican minister (which doesn’t narrow it down much, but they say Spurgeon recommended him. I’d say these are elementary level. A similar set which Charlotte Mason used but which I would not recommend are J. Paterson Smythe’s guides for teachers. You can read about why I don’t recommend them for reformed people here.

Herein is Love series by Nancy Ganz — Though I have not used them, I am including Nancy Ganz’s series of commentaries on the Pentateuch. I have heard very good things about them and Ganz is a member of my denomination. Elementary level again.

General Theology

Bible Doctrine for Younger Children by James Beeke — Beeke goes through basic doctrines at a child’s level. His take on things is not identical to mine. He is King James only (I edited the verses he gives as I read them) and his denomination uses the three forms of Unity which mine does not. But the basics of the theology here pretty solid. Topics covered include sin, the covenant of grace, Christ as mediator, etc. It is a bit workbook-y for my (Charlotte Mason-y) tastes but again I edited a but as I went. We did it all aloud as a family. There are also older children versions of these volumes which seem to cover the same material just at a higher level.

What is a Christian Worldview? by Philip Ryken — This is a thin book, practically a pamphlet. The title is a bit misleading. Basically, this is an explanation of the five points of Calvinism. I gave it to my kids in middle school. It’s a great volume to give to friends interested in what Calvinism is as well.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis — A classic on why one should believe in God. I had my kids read this one mainly because it is a classic and I felt that they should be familiar with it. Of course, Lewis has a number of other volumes that could be good as well.

31 Surprising Reasons to Believe in God by Rick Stedman — This book is similar to Mere Christianity in some ways. It is fairly basic. I believe I had my children skip some chapters as it gets a bit repetitive. We used it in middle school.

Introducing Evangelical Theology by  Daniel Treier — I picked up this newer book recently and read through it. It is not designed to be read cover-to-cover, but I did so and decided I would have my two high schoolers read is, or selections from it, next school year. My plan is to have them read a couple of pages at a time and then to discuss it with them. This is an introductory book (as its title suggests) and does not go in-depth on any particular topic. Its strength is that it gives the lay of the land, outlining possible positions, on a number of issues. I will post our reading schedule when I have it typed up (likely in the fall). You can also see my review here.

Calvin’s Institutes — At some point we should all read the quintessential Calvin. I found it much more accessible than I had anticipated (for me) but it is not an easy book. This one is definitely high school level and probably upper high school (though if you have a range of kids as I do some may be getting it earlier than others). I read it aloud to my kids in short chunks over a three year period. I would read a day ahead of time. We skipped some sections and some whole chapters. Calvin often argues against the other opinions popular in his day and/or gives a number of biblical verses as evidence so I did find that there were bits we could skip.  Once you get the hang of how he constructs his arguments, it makes more sense. Don’t feel you need to read the whole thing in order. The last chapter on the Christian life is one of the most accessible and wouldn’t be a bad place to start. One project I have in mind is to arrange the Institutes much as Plutarch is laid out on Ambleside Online in short readings with some notes and questions so if that is something you would use please let me know.

Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof — Of course there are a lot of systematic theologies out there. I happen to own Berkhof’s and to find its concise style fairly accessible as a reference work when I want more information on a given topic. I wouldn’t read this one from cover to cover but it is nice to have such a resource on hand when questions arise.

Personally, I listen to a lot of podcasts and sometimes this can work better for children too. I had one high schooler do a series on theology/apologetics by listening to podcasts, the primary one being the Reformed Brotherhood. You can find the schedule for that here.

Christian Living and Encouragement

A Handful of Stars and other books by Frank Boreham — Boreham is one of my favorite authors. He was a pastor in the early 1900s (I believe) in Australia and New Zealand. His books are collections of short essays. He was not reformed but I still love a lot of what he wrote. He is more pastoral than theological, For kids, I’d recommend the volumes that give brief biographies and talk about the passages that influenced particular people’s lives. Many are available free or very cheap on Kindle.

A Little Book on the Christian Life and Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life by John Calvin — Though he is known for his in-depth theology, Calvin has a few volumes which are brief, pastoral, and very encouraging.

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken — The story of a man’s spiritual journey after the loss of his wife. A tear-jerker.

Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss — Another tear-jerker. This one is the spiritual journey of a young woman into adulthood and motherhood. Probably not for boys (not inappropriate, just girly). You (moms) should read it yourself if you haven’t.

Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper — This book is essentially an abridged version of Piper’s Desiring God. I have a few reservations about Piper’s view, called Christian hedonism, but I also like the encouragement this little volume gives to delight in God.

Specific Topics

The Hand of God and Satan Cast Out by Frederick Leahy — I believe Leahy was an Irish pastor. His work is solid and fairly accessible for middle school and up. The Hand of God is about God’s sovereignty and Satan Cast Out  is about, you guessed it, Satan. My kids really liked reading about Satan. I think it’s one of those subjects they have a natural curiosity about but aren’t likely to get a lot of preaching on.

Discovering God’s Will by Sinclair Ferguson — It’s been years since I read this book but Ferguson is a solid author and the topic is a very timely one for teenagers.

A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker — Wiker is Catholic but he is one of my favorite authors (you will see him a few times on this list). This volume is about how things from physics and chemistry to Shakespeare show the Creator.  High school level and up.

Worldview and Philosophy

God-Breathed by Rut Etheridge — This volume is written to teens and young adults who were raised in Christian homes but have become disillusioned or never really gotten what true Christian faith is. I was not crazy about this book but there are some good bits, particularly those in which Etheridge discusses philosophy. My full review is here.

The Deadliest Monster by J.F. Baldwin — I am not crazy about this book but there are some good parts. I appreciated his comparison of Frankenstein and Dracula and, if I am remembering the right book, the French and American revolutions.

How Should We Then Live by Francis Schaeffer — This is the don’t-miss book for this section. We do both the book and video for this book to make sure my kids get it. Schaeffer traces western thought from Roman times to 1980 or so (when he lived) and shows how it played out in the arts as well.

Meaning at the Movies by Grant Horner — I am not a huge fan of  the term “worldview” and how it is used in Christian circles. Even less so of “worldview education.” Yet if that is a thing, it should mean not just learning the “right” worldview but learning how to discern the worldview of others on their writing and art. Horner’s Meaning at the Movies is a good, short book for helping one learn how to discern the view behind a work of art. Movies are short, quick glimpses into another’s mind and kids like watching them. I have my high schoolers do one year of “movies as literature” using this book (see this post for some specifics).

On that note I also used Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone in middle school. The book is the story of their book club for kids. You could have high schoolers read it but it is better to read it yourself and then read the books they sued and discuss them. Along the way you will both hopefully learn something about delving into the ideas behind a book. I like that the Goldstone’s use fairly simple books. My opinion is that it is easier to start with books that are too easy for your kids. I have a number of posts that narrate out book studies based on Deconstructing. The first one is here.

My oldest son also did a year on political philosophy. You can find the full booklist for that here. A couple I would highlight that you might want to use and which come from a Christian perspective are Benjamin Wiker’s 10 Books that Screwed up the World and 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read and The Consequences of Ideas by R.C. Sproul.


Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion by Benjamin Wiker — Another Wiker book. Very well done. High school level plus.

Founding Sins by Joseph S. Moore — This is a wonderful book. Again, one everyone should read. If you think the US was founded as a Christian nation, you need to read this book.

Messiah the Prince by William Symington — This is the classic Reformed Presbyterian work on Christ’s Messianic Kingship. I usually have my kids skip some chpaters as they don’t really need to read about Christ’s rule over the church. There is a simplified and updated version called Messiah the Prince Revisited but I think it loses something.

Creation and Evolution

The Darwin Myth by Benjamin Wiker — Wiker does a great job of showing how Darwin’s personality and beliefs affected his famous theory.

We usually cover this topic as part of high school biology. I have my kids read books on a couple of sides of the issue and then for their exam for the term write what the various views are and what they find most convincing. I also have a post on dinosaurs in the Bible here. 

Gender Related Issues

It is hard to avoid these subjects today and your kids will encounter them (of they haven’t already) when they go to college. My gender and marriage booklist is here. I have my teens read Rosaria Butterfield’s conversion story in her Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and the position papers of the RPCNA, The Gospel & Sexual Orientation and Gender as Calling: the Gospel and Gender Identity (published by Crown and Covenant).


I have one child who is particularly interested in art and it is one of those subjects in which one needs to think a bit about how to do it Christianly. Two books I would recommend for that are:

Liberated Imagination by Leland Ryken (my review here)

The Christian, the Arts and Truth by Frank Gaebelein (my review here)

Church History

History Lives series by Mindy Withrow — A four volume set with manageable chunks on church history from the earlier times on. I did find it a little bit undiscriminating in who it calls a hero of the faith but overall it is very good. Begin reading it aloud in the elementary years.

Sketches from Church History by Houghton — There is also a student workbook which I would skip but the book itself is not badly written. Middle school level I believe.

Worldly Saints by Leland Ryken — A wonderful, fair book on Purtian life and belief. We included it in history but it could also be read with theology or church history.

Here I Stand by Roland Bainton — Classic life of Martin Luther.

The Reformation 500 Years Later by Benjamin Wiker — A Catholic writing on the Reformation = I don’t agree with everything here but it is a well-wrtten, easy to read book and may make you think. It does a good job of showing all the threads that played into the Reformation. I gave my kids specific questions to answer in place of straight narrations. You can find those here. My review is here.


[1] My degrees are in biblical Hebrew though I think that ultimately every Christian should be or get comfortable with their Bible, while acknowledging that we do not read it apart from our interpretive traditions.

Book Review: The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard

Dear Reader,

This post is part of my ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian theology of education. Find all the posts here.

I really enjoyed having Thomas Edward Shields The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard (Leopold Classic Library, 2019; reprint of original 1909 publication) around my house. I told each of my kids it was about them.

Shields’ book is unique; it is a living book on education. The whole thing is a story told by a former dullard about his educational experience, how he came to be labeled a simpleton (the book uses the word omadhaun, a new one to me) and how he pulled himself out of that rut. It is eminently readable. There are some clear conclusions drawn, but there is perhaps less of a whole, coherent philosophy of education.

As you may have discerned from the use of the word “dullard,” this is an older book, originally published in 1909. The years before the First World War were very fruitful for educational philosophies. It was a time of hope. With the ideas of evolution behind him,  man firmly believed in progress and the world wars had not yet come to disillusion him and show him of his depravity. Charlotte Mason (CM) worked in this period (though beginning a bit earlier) as did Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf movement.

Though the language is dated and the particular situation would probably be viewed and treated much differently today, there is a lot here that sounds very modern. The teacher in the group (one of the former-dullard’s audience) complains that more and more of her pupils — fully half of them — seem to be unable to learn. While in her day they were labeled dullards and the problem was seen to be mainly intellectual, the situation sounds a lot like the problems we have today with attention-deficit issues. Boys are said to suffer because they are in a female environment. “The natural exuberance of the boy is often toned down . . . The boy revolts . . . As a result, without knowing what is the matter, his interest gradually declines, and he drops out  . . . ” (pp. 28-9).  Another root problem the book identifies is a lack of a proper environment outside of the school — families are falling apart and the society as a whole has no defining narrative to teach children, again a modern problem.

Shields holds a few core values which shape his conclusions. Though there is little to no talk of God here, he is a Roman Catholic and he values the personhood of each child. He seeks answers in the nature of the child. That is, he believes one needs to understand how the child works in order to solve the problems in education. Finally, though the application is meant to be individualized, he is still very much seeking a process. There is still the expectation that the intelligent, educated experts can discuss the problems and devise a system.

Because Shields offers his conclusions so clearly, I will present those as a list with a few reflections thrown in and then offer some overall thoughts at the end – –

  • The memory of failure blocks future successes. Therefore, failure should be avoided as much as possible. A modern way to say this might be that children need to have confidence. Success breeds further success. This is a principle with which Charlotte Mason would agree as well. A practical application would be that we should not push children too far beyond what they are capable of. “[W] e rarely succeed in doing anything that we believe we can not do” (p. 34). The dullard of the story became one in large part when he was promoted too highly beyond his academic level.
  • Children remember particularly experiences with a high emotional content. While they may not remember specifics, these are the most formative experiences for them. When children are “whipped or frightened or ridiculed on account of their failure” (p. 33), the effects of that failure are even more profound.
  • “Minds with the greatest strength often develop slowly in early childhood” (pp. 24-5). In other words, the kids that might initially seem slowest academically may end up being the most intelligent adults, so it is particularly important not to let them be discouraged early on.
  • There are alternating periods of physical and mental development. The author argues that the most brilliant young children tend to be physically small (p. 73). If they hit puberty and begin to catch up with their peers, their seeming intelligence may also seem to fade. Conversely, young children who are large for their age often seem stupid but they too may catch up academically when their growth levels off. I am not sure if the specifics here are true but I distinctly remember an older homeschool mom telling me that her son went through a year or two around puberty when he just seemed to have forgotten everything he previously knew. Then he stopped growing so fast and he got back to learning. The application for parents and teachers would be to not make judgement, whether good or bad too hastily and to remember that there may be seasons to learning as well as to physical growth.
  • “The best interests of the very bright pupils are not served by pushing them up through the grades as rapidly as possible.” (p. 77)
  • “[I]ndividual children are very seldom average children” (p. 59) and “all children are atypical” (p. 60).
  • There are physical causes for “dullness” which must be dealt with before one can go further. They include illness, malnutrition, fright, environmental issues, and defective senses (eg. problems seeing or hearing).
  • “[M]ost teachers talk too much.” (p. 101)
  • Rote memorization is despised.
  • Reading should be done slowly and should be for content, not form. This is said at a time when children were expected to read aloud nicely and not necessarily to know or understand what they read.
  • “[E]very little bit of truth that the growing mind discovers for itself has more real value than many times the quantity fed to it.” (p. 136) I love this quote and it is very CM.
  • Children must be put into direct contact with real, tangible things. For science, for instance, he says that every step forward in human knowledge has come from actual hands-on experience and experiments. Practically speaking, this means students should repeat experiments for themselves rather than just reading about them. If they do this under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher, they can progress more quickly so human knowledge can still advance. We don’t all have to reinvent the wheel from scratch.
  • Even the youngest minds should be presented with what he calls “germinal truths” which contain a whole body of knowledge in them. This often means hands-on experience again. For instance, a child who uses a pitchfork as a lever can appreciate many concepts of physics before he is able to put them into words.
  • Children often need “fairy stories” and half-truths as a step along the way until their minds are ready for the whole, naked truth (p. 251). (This is one principle I do not agree with, though I have nothing against fairy stories.)
  • Education, especially early education, should be sensory-motor. One should not cram too much book learning into children’s heads. (Again, I would disagree on this one; more on that later.)
  • We have mastered something when we can adapt it to our purposes. The example given is of a farm machine. One man may use it but another who can change and improve it to suit some purpose has truly mastered it. The same may presumably be said of the rules of poetry or some other more academic subject.
  • “Premature” and “injudicious” praise teach children to work for the teacher’s praise (p. 178). It is far better for them to work for internal motivations, the desire to know for its own sake.
  • Children should not be encouraged to specialize at too young an age. It causes them to lack development in other areas. This is particularly a concern with precocious children who seem “gifted” in one area. Again, this was an idea Charlotte Mason had as well.
  • A man “begins to be a man in that hour wherein he learns to transfer his allegiance from individuals to principles” (p. 234). In other words, the goal — or at least one goal — is not for the child to always follow his teacher but for him to get to the point that he has fixed ideas and principles which guide his life.

There is a lot in Shields’ thought that I like. It is interesting to see what similarities he has with Charlotte Mason and what differences. I wish I knew more about how widely spread these ideas were at the time and which were actually unique to their proponents. I also wish I knew a bit more about Maria Montessori’s theory to see how Shields’ thought lined up with hers. They both, unlike Mason, began with deficient children (for lack of a better word) so it would be interesting to see if they ended up in the same places. I do think Montessori emphasized the hand-on elements as Shields does so that may be one point of connection. One wonders if they had not begun there, if they had begun with normally developing children, if they, like Mason, would have prioritized book learning more.

I like that Shields emphasizes the uniqueness of the child as a person and that he values each one, no matter how backwards his society deemed them. I think a lot of his principles about avoiding failure and not overly praising are good. My main disagreement with him would be on the actual day-to-day how of learning. I am not opposed to hands-on learning but I do not think it should be our go-to. I would give books a much higher place. Part of the difference, I think, stems from how books were used in his time. Then it was mostly rote learning from books which I agree is not profitable. While I like (with Charlotte Mason) would agree that a child learns much more when he discovers for himself, I think this discovery can happen in the context of reading. In reading good books, what CM would call living books, we put children in contact with the best minds. When we ask them to narrate this material (see this post for a little on that), then they do do the work of discovery and make it their own.

My short take on The Making and the Unmaking of a Dullard is that, while it is not going to be essential to anyone’s philosophy of education today, it is an enjoyable book, well-written, engaging, and quickly read, and if you are looking for something lighter to read on the subject of education it would be a fine choice.



Principle-Based and Worldview-Based Approaches to Education

Dear Reader,

This post is part of my ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian theology of education. Find all the posts here.

I recently reviewed two more homeschool curricula for my Approaches to Homeschooling series, and in the process realized that I should probably say something more generally about some popular Christian approaches to education.

My larger goal in this series has been to build a Reformed Christian philosophy of education. We have discussed why that is necessary and why Christian classical and the Charlotte Mason method fall short, but there are other Christian curricula out there. These often fall into two categories: values- or principle-based curricula and worldview-based curricula.

Values- or Principle-Based Education

By values- or principle-based curricula I mean those which make it their primary goal to inculcate certain virtues. Curricula which fall under this heading include A Thomas Jefferson Education (not inherently Christian; see my review here), the Biblical Principle Approach (I did a number of posts on this one; the conclusions are here), and, to a lesser extent, Generations Homeschool Curriculum (which I looked at recently here).

For those of us who are Reformed, I think it is perhaps easier to see the inherent flaw in these approaches. Simply put, they make a fruit, that which should come after, the main goal. These curricula, given the scope of what’s out there, might look pretty good to a Christian parent on first inspection. Certainly, virtue, however one defines it, is something we want for our kids. But if we make that the main goal, we miss the core. If I can use a somewhat negative analogy, it is treating the symptoms but ignoring the disease. What our children need is not first and foremost virtue but new hearts and minds. Virtue should flow out of that as a secondary result.

Worldview-Based Approaches

Worldview-based approaches step into this gap and present an even more attractive alternative. Generations (mentioned above) has elements of being worldview-based. Cornerstone (my review here) is also worldview-based. The attraction of this approach is that it seems to prioritize first things. How one views the world is paramount, and the goal is to leave children with a God-centered worldview in which all subjects are viewed through the lens of faith.

In some ways my own approach (which once again I will promise is going to be published in a more coherent form soon) could be called worldview-based so I am not entirely unsympathetic to this approach. They teach worldview as a subject in the curriculum and they integrate it very deliberately into every other subject area. This usually affects book choices for all subjects, the practical application of which is usually that only books by Christian authors are used.   While the product they offer looks good on the surface and one can certainly not argue that it is not God-centered, there are some assumptions underlying the worldview-based approach all that I would disagree with.

The first of these has to do with how we view non-Christian scholarship. There is a level on which non-Christians, no matter their field, are just not going to have complete or accurate knowledge. Put another way, we should expect Christians to be the best scholars (which was perhaps true at one time, but sadly is often not the case these days). I argued this point here. On another level, however, God is the God of Truth and He works through even His fallen, unregenerate creatures. As He used Cyrus for political good, so He uses the scholarship of non-Christians to advance human knowledge as a whole (see this earlier post for a fuller argument of this point). While I agree with the advocates of the worldview-based approach that we should be discerning in the sources we use, we should not ignore non-Christian scholarship (see this post for some tips on how to pick good books).

There is still another level of error here, one that Fesko points to in his book Reforming Apologetics (my review here). In recent decades the reformed church has largely abandoned the idea of natural law and something called Historic Worldview Theology (HWT) has taken hold.  Simply put, HWT divides the world into two clear groups: God’s people and not God’s people. Everyone has a worldview through which they interpret reality, and there is only one correct, biblical worldview. This view is comprehensive in that it covers all areas of knowledge. In education, then, every subject must be viewed through the correct lens, the lens we call a right biblical worldview. The problem, as Fesko argues, is that this is simply not biblical. God is One, but it does not from this follow that there is one truth, one lens through which all knowledge should be viewed.

I am not sure how Fesko would feel about this but I think of it this way — God is the God of Truth but though He is One God, His Truth cannot be distilled into one proposition. Yes, it all fits together and there is in some sense a unified whole, but it is not a simple unified whole. It is not something that you could sum up in a word or a phrase or even a paragraph. It is much more like a large intricate painting. You can’t take it all in at once and you could describe it for hours and not feel you had done it justice. Because God has given us both general and special revelation, and because all things, even fallen man, work together for His glory, there are going to be times when unregenerate people give us glimpses of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty.

The problem, then, with worldview-based approaches is that they make it all a bit too simple. They have a tendency to denigrate God’s general revelation, they ignore the real contributions of unregenerate people, and they reduce Truth to something simpler and more propositional than what it is. It is as big as God Himself and cannot be packaged in manageable chunks, useful to some extent but ultimately insufficient.

So What Do We Do Then?

The Scriptures make pretty clear that parents are to teach their children about God, and to do so almost incessantly (Deut. 6:7). I am not advocating for a lackadaisical approach. But neither can we boil down the things of God to a few easy propositions. Ultimately what we want for our children is a relationship with the One who is beyond all we can imagine.  My problem with worldview-based curricula is not with the idea that we needed to have a God-oriented view of all things but with the practical applications with have a tendency to reduce rather than to expand our vision.



Quick Takes: Cornerstone Curriculum

Dear Reader,

In times past I have looked at various approaches to homeschooling. While I have been focused in more recently on first the Charlotte Mason approach and then on developing my own (Reformed Christian) philosophy of education, I have been asked to look into a couple of other curricula so I will be taking a post or two to do that. This is the second of these posts (you can find the first on Generations Homeschool Curriculum here).

Today we are going to look at Cornerstone Curriculum which was created by David and Shirley Quine and bills itself as “The Original Biblical Worldview Approach.”

Let’s start with some practical details:

  • Cornerstone covers all the years — from kindergarten through high school.
  • Subjects covered include: math, science, art/music, and history/literature/geography.
  • I am not sure if everything is here or if some is still in the works, especially for the history/literature/geography subject (which would be a major part of the curriculum). In elementary years, there are two modules (Egypt and China) with a third coming soon. But what happens after that? By my calculation, you would still have a couple of elementary years with no curriculum left to do. For junior high, the only history/literature/geography seems to be a selection of (very good) classic books, but there is no history I can see. In high school, the broad span of history is covered using a guide created by the Quines and a selection of classic works (think Plato and C.S. Lewis).
  • The curriculum uses some books from other publishers and some classics. While there is mention of living books, there does not seem to be a wide range of living books being read. It also uses a number of books created specifically for Cornerstone.
  • A weekly teaching schedule is given.
  • Materials are given by stage (eg. early elementary, middle school) rather than grade and seem to be geared toward having the family work together on a subject.
  • Because subjects are sold separately, it is a little hard to get an idea of the cost. I am guessing to get started with an early elementary child, you might pay $200-400. But some of these resources would be used for multiple children or over multiple years.

Method and Philosophy:

Cornerstone lists as its influences Charlotte Mason, the Schaeffers, and the Moores.

In terms of method, Cornerstone seems to have a bit of Charlotte Mason (CM) in it and a bit of classical. The site quotes CM in a number of places and there is talk of living books and narration. From my perusal of the materials, I would say there are living books used but not as many as I would like or expect to see. The worldview emphasis is not something that is CM (though I have my own issues with her philosophy so I am not unsympathetic with what they are trying to do here). Narration is mentioned but I an unable to tell from what I can see how it is used. Like CM, Cornerstone emphasizes the individuality of each child as a unique person. There is also an emphasis on finding relations between various subjects, though I suspect that this is done for one more than in a CM education.

Cornerstone does not mention classical education, but it does have classical’s tripartite division by age.  The three age ranges it gives are: birth-12; 13-15; and 16+. Cornerstone rejects the rote memorization of facts, however, so its initial stage would not correspond precisely to the grammar stage of classical.

There is an emphasis, particularly in the early years, on active learning. Cornerstone quotes a statistic that while we remember 10% of what we read, we remember 90% of what we do [1]. They posit something they call the learning cycle in which the student observes by encountering a new concept, interprets by digging deeper, and then applies by linking the new concept to what has already been learned.

Answering Some Questions

When I was doing my series on different approaches to homeschool, I asked four questions of each. It seems useful to ask these here as well. They are:

  1. What do they assume about how learning works?
  2. How do they view children?
  3. How do they view human nature?
  4. What do they believe is the goal of education?

Taking these in turn, Cornerstone assumes that learning works best when it is active and the child is an involved participant and makes connections for themselves as much as possible. It does not, like Unschooling, assume the child will gravitate toward the good. There is a careful selection of materials and they tend to be older and/or to present a very specific Christian worldview.

Regarding questions 2 and 3 — the nature of children and of man — Children are viewed as people made in the image of God. There is an emphasis on flexibility yet a clear belief that there are certain things one needs to be taught. Though they do not mention it as such, there is clearly an underlying belief in man’s sinfulness as well. There is a staged development of children but, unlike in classical, they are viewed as worthy of real ideas at a young age.

The goal of education is to make disciples who adhere to a particular worldview.

What’s To Like, and Not

When I first started my series on approaches to homeschooling, I was very much in the Charlotte Mason camp myself. Over time, I have seen some flaws in her philosophy. Cornerstone very much comes off as a curriculum founded on a CM-style philosophy but which is trying to supply what perhaps her philosophy lacks. As such, I can appreciate what they are trying to do. I am not sure I would go the same way they do, however.

On one hand, I don’t like some of what has been dropped here. There just aren’t enough good living books for my taste. Narration is mentioned but I am not sure how it is used so the jury is out on that.

On the other hand, I am not sure I like what has been added. Some of the actual books used are good; I have used many of the same books with my own kids. But, while I agree that CM may be too “mere Christianity” for me, I am not convinced that adding in a worldview subject is the way to go. My own philosophy (which I am in the process of writing up more fully) would take a more indirect approach to incorporating worldview. There are a few fundamental differences at the base of this decision. I agree with CM that ultimately God Himself is the Great Educator and that we need to trust His work in our children. I also agree with her that being too preachy and direct often drives children the opposite direction. I don’t know, because I can’t see specifics, how Cornerstone teaches worldview but I suspect, since they are so deliberate in it, that they would be more direct than I am comfortable with.

On another level still, I would incorporate a fair amount of books from non-Christians (especially as children grow older). Though again I am not entirely sure, it doe snot seem that Cornerstone does this. Underlying the difference again is a big idea. It is about how we view God’s work in non-believers and what we think of natural law. I don’t want to rehash everything that has been said before but I would refer you tothis post on common grace andthis one on Fesko’s recent book Reforming Apologetics.



[1] This is a very un-CM idea. While Charlotte might agree that reading alone does not lead one to retain knowledge, her approach is very heavy on the reading of living books. The difference is narration which is a process by which the child processes what is read for himself.  It is not a hands-on, active curriculum in a modern sense, however. Though, again, I am not sure how Cornerstone uses narration or how they incorporate what they call active learning.

Quick Takes: Generations Homeschool Curriculum

Dear Reader,

In times past I have looked at various approaches to homeschooling. While I have been focused in more recently on first the Charlotte Mason approach and then on developing my own (Reformed Christian) philosophy of education, I have been asked to look into a couple of other curricula so I will be taking a post or two to do that.

The first of these is the Generations Homeschool Curriculum which is put out by Kevin Swanson as part of a larger, multi-faceted ministry. The goal of the organization is “to pass on the faith to the next generation through the biblical family, discipleship, and education” (“Ministries” from

First a few facts about the curriculum:

  • It covers grades 6-12.
  • It is a “core curriculum.” Practically speaking, this means that while it covers essentials, there may be other things you want to add, like foreign language. Math and science part of the core and would have to be added as well. Masterbooks is recommended for these.
  • The educational approach in terms of how the student demonstrates their learning and is graded seems fairly traditional in the sense that certain facts and standards are looked for and numerical and/or letter grades are assigned.
  • While the schedule is laid out for the user, there is some flexibility built in.
  • Though science as such is not included, the worldview materials make clear that this is a literal 6-day creationist approach. (And seems to say that God created the earth with the appearance of age.)
  • A grade’s curriculum will cost you $120-150.
  • Since each grade’s curriculum is distinct, it could likely be hard to combine children of different ages, though they also say grades are approximate so with children close in age there could be some overlap.
  • Christian authors are strongly preferred. Most of the curriculum seems to use books written specifically for Generations. Literature selections and family read-aloud suggestions are older books (think Henty’s historical fiction, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Robinson Crusoe).

Generations is a distinctly Christian curriculum. Within the spectrum of approaches, I would call it fairly traditional in terms of technique. Philosophically, it has a lot in common with the values- or character-based curricula, a category which includes A Thomas Jefferson Education and The Principle Approach, though a better designation might be to call it a worldview-based curriculum.

I don’t know enough about its history to say it is reactionary in its origins, but certainly in its marketing it appeals to fears generated by that oh-so-talked-about Barna report which said most kids from Christian homes will leave the faith they were raised in. A quote on the main curriculum page reads:

“Are you ready for your kids to leave the faith? Or are you looking for something better?”

The implication is that this curriculum will safeguard your kids. I am turned off by this on a couple of levels. It is fear-mongering, and it seems to promise something which no curriculum or parenting approach can ultimately promise — that your children will be believers. Ultimately, that is up to God alone.

I do, however, agree with Generations that parents have responsibility for educating their children and that we are to do so in a godly way. So let’s turn to the specifics of their philosophy.

Generations explains its approach as four pillars. They are:

  1. Parental Discipleship
  2. Biblical Worldview
  3. Best Books, Best Teachers
  4. Worship and Application

Of these, the two I would have the most problems with are numbers 2 & 3. The first, discipleship, boils down to parents raising their kids in a Christian home and teaching them about God. I am fully on board with that. The last, worship and application, seems to be about the practical outworkings. I am not entirely sure what this looks like for Generations, but I agree that what we learn needs to affect how we live and that it should lead us to worship God.

The third pillar, Best Books Best Teachers, says that “we must always prefer Christian teachers over non-Christian teachers because our students will be like those that teach them (Luke 6:40).” I have some issues with this statement though I would not say that I completely disagree with it. On one level, it is certainly true that there is a kind of knowledge, even in very “secular” subject areas, that non-Christians are not going to be capable of. Another way to put it is to say that Christians should be the best scholars (as I said inthis post). On the other hand, there are a couple of assumptions behind this statement that I do not agree with. One is very simple: it is that our children’s books are their teachers and that they will affect them. I have argued for wisdom in picking one’s books and have given some guidelines for how to do so. But I also think that, especially as children get older, that they can and should read people they would disagree with (we all should).

The second and bigger assumption is that there is nothing to be gained by studying non-Christian works. This is a big idea that has been in the Church a long time. (Tertullian in the second century AD famously asked what Jerusalem has to do with Athens.) There are some foundational questions here about how Christianity relates to culture. The Reformed approach has been for Christians not to withdraw from culture but to seek to engage and transform it (see this post, especially the second half). With this, there is some acknowledgment that truth and beauty can come to us through non-Christian sources. Because all truth is ultimately God’s truth and because of a thing we call common grace, we can expect to find truth among non-Christian writers (and artists and musicians), though at times they may not realize it themselves (see this post).

Finally, we are left with the pillar “Biblical Worldview.” In defining this pillar, Generations makes statements that sound much like things I would say (and have said). For instance:

“The Christian worldview must be integrated into every course, every school year, and every hour of our children’s education experience. It must hang like a frontlet between their eyes, as they study history, science, literature, and math. (Deut. 6:8-9)”

It is hard to define what about this makes me uncomfortable but I will try. I agree that our faith should permeate everything we do and every subject we study. I would even say that there is a Christian way to view every subject. The difference I think would come in application, in how this plays out on a daily basis. Generations does not (yet?) provide a math curriculum but if it did, I would, based on the quote above, expect it to be one that incorporates Bible verses amidst pages of practice problems or which uses Noah and the ark as examples in its word problems. There is nothing inherently wrong with such things, but to educate from a biblical worldview should be as much or more about an attitude and an atmosphere. Yes, we teach our children some deliberate lessons — that God controls the events of history and made and sustains Creation. But in day-to-day history and science lessons, it is our attitude about what we are teaching more than anything else which conveys to them God’s involvement. We need to live in a world in which He is ever-present and ever-active. My accepting the personal challenges He gives me with faith will do more to show them that He is a God who acts among His people than any overtly Christian history curriculum. If they live in a world in which God is always present and active, then when they read events in a non-Christian, even an overtly secular, history curriculum, they will nonetheless see God’s hand at work in human events because that is the universe — the thought-world, if you will — that they live in.

Is it wrong then to be explicit in mentioning God in our curricula? No, but I do think there can be some dangers. This is perhaps easier to see when we look at those lessons which aim to teach values or character. My concern about some of the curricula which teach values is that they may actually drive children in the opposite direction. They come off as preachy and overly sentimental. This is a personal and subjective judgment, but if I were a child they would turn me off (and Charlotte Mason said essentially the same thing so I know I am not alone). In other subjects, again we can use history as an example, there is also an element of telling children how and what to think that I fear they may find repellant. When a child reads about events and sees for himself that God was working among a people, he has drawn his own conclusion and it is his to own. When we are always saying, in every line of the textbook, that God did this and God did that and this is how you should view everything that happened, we are preaching to him and the ideas are always ours and never his own.

Consider, for instance, this passage from Generations 6th-grade history text:

“What a great difference there is between the kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of
Rome! Our Lord gives up His own life for His people on the cross. But the great leaders in the kingdoms of men take away other people’s lives to gain power for themselves. However, Jesus’ kingdom would become the greatest kingdom in the world. This has What a great difference there is between the kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of Rome! Our Lord gives up His own life for His people on the cross. But the great leaders in the kingdoms of men take away other people’s lives to gain power for themselves.

However, Jesus’ kingdom would become the greatest kingdom in the world. This has been proven in history.”

This is in the midst of an account of the founding of the Roman Empire. There is nothing wrong said here, but it preaches to the child during a history lesson. It tells him how to think. Imagine instead if the story were just told, the facts about all those evil Roman emperors given (and some were quite horrific), and the child made the comparison for himself. Then it would be his knowledge and he would cling to it. Of course, if you do not tell him how Rome compares to the Kingdom of God, he may never make the connection and may never get the point you want him to get. But ultimately, if we truly believe that education is the work fo God (as I do) then we need to trust that He will do it and that our children will learn what He would have them to.  (And, in truth, there is no guarantee that he will get the point just because we make it overly-explicit either.)

Finally, on the subject of worldview, I’d like to point to a book I reviewed recently, J.V. Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019). Again, I don’t know the nitty-gritty of how Generations worldview approach plays out but it reminds me of Cornelius Van Til and Fesko makes quite a case that we need to have a broader outlook that does not seek to reduce all of Revelation (general and special) to one worldview but that we need to return to a proper appreciation of God’s revelation in His natural law.

To sum up, then, I appreciate that Generations has a real concern for children from Christian homes and it trying to provide something that will at least contribute to their adhering to the faith they are raised in. I am just not at all convinced that they are going about it the right way. Educationally, there is really nothing new here in terms of technique or approach. Philosophically, there is a lot that sounds good on the surface but  I perceive an overemphasis on worldview which fails to account for the workings of what we call common grace and for the very real and direct work of God in the education of our children. We have some fundamental disagreements on how education works.



Specialty CM Curricula: Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Secular

Dear Reader,

I have a 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 down your choices. Personally, I tend to put together my own thing and while I do have some opinions, I don’t have a horse in this race.

If you have found your way here, you probably already know a little bit about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy of education.  (If you’d like to read way more on her than you’ll ever need, check out this page which lists all my CM-related posts.) My own belief is that any philosophy of education is inherently theological — it must ask and answer questions about the nature of man and of knowing. It is not irrelevant to CM’s approach, then, that she was Anglican (see this post on Anglicanism in CM).  If you are not Anglican, or even Protestant, this does not mean that you cannot use CM’s ideas, but it does mean that you should put a little more thought into how you might want to adapt and apply them.  It may be that there are particular resources others use that you want to avoid; it may be that there are whole areas you want to change.

As the CM world expands, there are more and more resources out there that adapt CM to other religious traditions. My goal today is to give you a fly-over look at these. Many of these curricula I have looked at previously (but one is entirely new to me).

Specialty CM Curricula 

Roman Catholic

What’s out there? The Catholic CM curriculum is Mater Amabilis (find the chart I did on it preciously here).

What’s included? It is a free curriculum and covers K-8. As with a lot of the CM resources out there, it is still a work-in-progress so more material is being added. Book and material suggestions are given; lesson plans are for some subjects. Math is not included. There is a prep level for 4-6-year-olds.

How CM is it? In the spectrum of CM-ness, this one strives to be fairly purely CM though it also says it can be used in a more “CM-inspired” way.

What’s Catholic about it? There is an extensive religion section including subjects like Bible, catechism, the saints, and the liturgical year.

Latter Day Saints

What’s out there? The Good and the Beautiful (TGTB) is LDS (aka Mormon)-owned though it does not bill itself as a specifically Mormon curriculum (see this earlier post).

What’s included? It seems to be a fairly comprehensive curriculum for k-8 and is designed to be “open and go.” The high school curriculum goes under the name Greenleaf High School and is still in-progress.

How CM is it? TGTB emphasizes literature, nature, and beauty as well as short lessons.  It doesn’t push curriculum in early grades. Its read-aloud books are often good, living book choices. In other areas it combines subjects and borders on Unit Studies (which CM rejected). In language arts, it uses some non-CM methods and it tends to use readers rather than whole, living books.

What’s LDS about it?  The curriculum itself does not seem to be distinctly Mormon. It emphasizes family, values, and a general Christian deism.


What’s out there? Wayfarers (from Barefoot Meandering)  and Build Your Library (BYL; see this post) and Wildwood (see this chart) bill themselves as secular CM resources.

What’s included? Wildwood is free. It seems to include form I (through age 9) and family studies for all ages; I do not see materials for ages 10+ (yet). It seems to consist mostly of booklists and often refers one to outside resources. BYL refers you to other publishers for some resources (like science) but does offer laid-out lesson plans.

How CM is it? Of the three, Wildwood is most purely CM while Wayfarers and BYL are CM-inspired. Wayfarers does emphasize literature and sticks with living books and not textbooks for high school science. It also borrows from the classical tradition, however, and adds materials for language arts and makes heavy use of notebooking. BYL also uses literature and narration but mixes things up with narration notecards. It has some eclectic elements as well and adds on unit studies.

What’s secular about it? Wildwood aims to be “as nonreligious as we can make the curriculum.” Science is evolution-based. Its intent is to be religion-neutral. Wayfarers and BYL also aim to be non-religious but not anti-religious.

EDITED 1/15/2020:

I have learned that there is another secular CM-inspired curriculum out there: Ursa Minor.

What’s included? Ursa Minor starts with year 7. Unlike most CM curricula, the later years are available rather than the early ones. It seems to be mainly lists of books with notes like “keep a book of centuries” but not a lot of explanation. Those new to CM may need to read up to understand what is expected of them.

How CM is it? Ursa Minor bills itself as CM-inspired and acknowledges that it is not CM but includes aspects of classical as well as Montessori and Reggio Emilia. One added element from classical (as an example) is a logic curriculum. despite their disclaimer, much of what I see looks actually quite CM to me with nature journaling, composer study, etc.

What’s secular about it? A primary goal seems to be to provide a scientific curriculum which they define as one that “uses the scientific method to discover facts about the world.”  Books may discuss religion but they avoid books that are designed to convince or indoctrinate (their words).


What’s out there? One of my very helpful readers has recently let me know that there is a Jewish CM curriculum. It is Ani-ve-Ami (which translates to “me and my people”).

What’s included? At the moment it seems to be mainly booklists. They mention you may need to add more literature. A planning guide is in the works. Consultations are available. The curriculum guide seems to include history, literature and the arts, but not science and math. Lists of other resources are provided for those.

How CM is it? Ani-ve-Ami bills itself as a living CM curriculum. It includes mapwork, copywork, and living books and seems to merit the CM label.

What’s Jewish about it? Judaic studies are included in the curriculum. You can choose how much Hebrew you want to incorporate. Time periods are divided according to Jewish history. History and literature are both divided into Jewish and secular sections.


What’s out there? Our Muslim Homeschool (OMH) offers an Islamic CM curriculum. Middle Way Mom (MWM)also posts on her CM, Islamic curriculum choices.

What’s included? The main products sold by OMH seem to be those which focus on Muslim distinctives (see below). Life of Fred is offered for math. There are lists of what curriculum the creator has used in the blog portion but I found it hard to navigate. You can see one such post here. MWM seems to just have lists of what the author has used.

How CM is it? The creator of OMH says she is guided by CM principles. When she lists what she has used for a given year (see link above), it does seem to be pretty CM. It is not clear to me to what degree CM’s philosophy influences her original curriculum offerings (all of which seem to focus on Islamic subjects). MWM seems to make good CM choices as well.

What’s Muslim about it? Arabic, Quran, and Islamic studies are included and are the main unique offering in OMH. MWM also includes Islamic studies, Quran, and Arabic in her lists.


Those are the “specialty” Charlotte Mason curricula that have come to my attention. There are always new resources out there, so if you know of others, feel free to comment below and give me a heads-up to them.


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.


Let’s Play “Is It CM?” (Part 1)

Dear Reader,

I have in the past shared some charts which compare the various Charlotte Mason curriucla out there (see this post). I chose to limit what I included to those that fit the bill “strictly Charlotte Mason” but the truth is there is a lot more out there can either claims to use the Charlotte Mason approach or to be CM-inspired. [1] In the various online forums I belong to (and some I help moderate) many of these “inspired” materials get discussed and so I thought it would be useful to try to give a quick summary of each with a particular eye to saying how faithful it is to Charlotte Mason’s own ideas and approach.

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 necessarily 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.

Because there is so much out there, I am going to begin with six of the biggest names. I will likely get to others in a “part 2” so if you have particular resources you’d like me to review, feel free to comment below.

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


Sonlight is a long-term resident in the homeschooling world. I don’t see as many people these days asking if it is CM but I do see a fair number who say, “I have been using Sonlight but now want to move to a more CM approach. Can I adapt what I already have?” The short answer to this is yes, you can adapt it. The question is what needs adapting so let’s look at what in Sonlight fits the CM approach well and what might need changed.

What’s CM about it?

Sonlight starts with history as the core of the curriculum and rejects textbooks in favor of living books. It also rejects worksheets (though uses “activity pages”) and uses some copywork and dictation.

What isn’t CM?

Sonlight encourages parent-teachers to make connections for students. Though it uses many good, living books, it uses a lot of them in one year whereas CM favored a slow approach that allows children to better digest what they read. It uses reading comprehension questions instead of narration.  Though it says it doesn’t use worksheets, it does use “activity sheets” for language arts and science. I like the idea that one learns to write well from good writing, but in practice it seems quite worksheet-heavy.  Sonlight’s science is fairly traditional, involving books on various science-y subjects and hands-on activities.  It does not seem to include nature study. Its Timeline is similar to but not the same as CM’s Book of Centuries. Sonlight uses notebooking (I believe) which, while perhaps CM-adaptable, is not an inherently CM concept.

Quick Take Summary:

I wouldn’t buy Sonlight if you are looking for a CM curriculum (and it doesn’t claim to be one). It can be a good resource if you are looking for books on a particiular time period. Many of its history books are good, living ones (I am less impressed by the science choices). If you already own Sonlight and are looking to get more CM, you can certainly use what you have. My suggestion would be to begin by reading the books (though perhaps more slowly) while introducing narration which will help your children digest what they read for themselves and will also begin to build language arts and writing skills.

The Good and the Beautiful

The Good and the Beautiful (TGTB) tends to cause a lot of controversy because it is a Mormon-owned curriculum. Whether that is a good thing or not is beyond the scope of this post. I will say that though I believe Charlotte Mason herself was a solid Christian (though I have some theological differences with her; see for instance, this post), her philosophy of education is somewhat deist in that it assumes a God but does not assume a lot of specifics about Him. I think it is quite possible to use her practices to good effect whether you are Protestant or Catholic or Muslim or Mormon or a-religious.

What’s CM about it?

TGTB emphasizes literature, nature, and beauty as well as short lessons.  It doesn’t push curriculum in early grades. Its read-aloud books are often good, living book choices.

What isn’t CM?

TGTB combines subjects like language arts and art. I find that this is always a bit of a fine line. There is a point at which simply selecting things from the same time period devolves into unit studies. Though CM does not speak about unit studies by name, she rejects Herbartianism, a philosophy of her day which was very similar. The main problen with such things is that they make connections for kids, often artificial connections.  Though TGTB uses dictation-like exercises for spelling, overall the langauge arts approach does not rely on copywork, narration, and dictation but on worksheets and little exercises. Most reading seems to be in the form of readers which take selections out of their living book context. It also uses a unit study approach to science and doesn’t seem to include time for nature study.

Quick Take Summary:

TGTB claims to use many philosophies but to “pull mainly” from CM. Some of the read alouds it uses are good, living books but beyond that I see little that I would call CM.

Easy Peasy

The appeal of Easy Peasy seems to be that it is a) free online and b) all laid out for you. I don’t believe it claims to be CM but it is often cited as being CM-adapatable.

What’s CM about it?

Easy Peasy says it takes a lot of its books from Ambleside Online, an old standby in the CM world (as well as from the Robinson curriculum; I never reviewed this approach but have some bullet points on it here). It also keeps lessons short and allows for free time in the day. After doing readings, children are asked to repsond in some way. Occasionally this takes the form of “tell someone about what you read” which is essentially narration though it is not done always or even often.

What isn’t CM?

Language arts is pretty much worksheet-based and science seems to include a lot as well. It also makes use of online components which seems to be a grey area. Of course CM could not possibly have addressed this issue but my inclination is that she would have limited such things.

Quick Take Summary:

Easy Peasy makes no claims to be CM. There are some good books in use here and some exercises are narration-like but there is little that is truly CM about this curriculum.


Like Easy Peasy, MasterBooks seems to be used by those new to CM or hovering on its edges. It is another easy, relatively cheap resource. It is a distinctly Christian site but uses resources from different authors or sources (i.e. math from one supplier and history from another) so its CM-ness varies. Many of its components claim a “CM flavor.”

What’s CM about it?

MasterBooks uses Math Lessons for a Living Education at the elementary level. There are not a lot of CM math resources out there and were even fewer when my kids were little so I feel less equipped to judge their CM-ness. It also uses morning baskets which, while not purely CM, are popular in CM circles. It’s history component claims to be CM and the book it uses does seem to be written in an engaging, living style and asks for periodic narrations.

What isn’t CM?

Though the history has some CM elements, it also includes activity sheets and gives expectations for what kids will narrate which tends to udercut what narration should be (i.e. it should be about what they get out of it, not whether they get what we thnk is important). Though the history books are decent, they use their own books and don’tt make use of  the many other wonderful living books out there. For science I found the text very busy, with lots of boxes with different blurbs of material. Again, worksheets are used for review. Langauge arts uses various resoucres. For example, at the junior high level it uses Writing Strands which, though I have heard it mentioned in CM circles, does not seem particularly CM. At the elementary level, Language Lessons for  Living Education is used (among other resources). This again is touted as a CM resource and it does urge oral narrations but also uses worksheets and the like.

Quick Take Summary:

MasterBooks uses resources from many different educators/writers. Many of its components claim a “CM flavor” and I would say that is about what they have, a vague flavor. More than the other resources we have looked at above, there is an empahsis on narration but there are also a lot of worksheets and not a lot of living books.

Five in a Row

Five in a Row (FIAR) and its early education version, Before Five in a Row (BFIAR), maintain some populatrity, especially among those who are looking for more structure for themsleves (not necessarily for their children) in the early years. Charlotte Mason doesn’t advoacte formal learning before age 7 or so, but often this is just not enough. It may be your mother-in-law is nagging you or that our state requires something more but for whatever reason, BFIAR is a place people turn for a gentle, CM-friendly resource for the early years. FIAR is not a full curriculum but suggests you supplement with math and phonics and later spelling and grammar.

What’s CM about it?

FIAR and BFIAR use good, living books

What isn’t CM?

The gimmick behind FIAR is that one reads the same story five days in a row (hence its name) each time doing various activities which highlight different elements from the story.  For example when you read The Story of Ping you learn about ducks and about China. This violates CM’s principle of one good reading and building the habit of attention. It is also essentially a unit studies approach which she also rejects (see my comments on TGTB above).

Quick Take Summary:

The books used are good, but the approach is really not CM.

My Father’s World

Like FIAR, My Father’s World (MFW) is also popular with those seeking some structure in the early years though it also includes higher grades. It claims to combine “the best of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, classical education, and unit studies.”

What’s CM about it?

From the CM world, MFW takes living books and nature walks. It rejects twaddle and worksheets and favors narration. Many of the books it uses do indeed seem to be good, quality living books. Its language arts curriculum has some good elements including picture study and poetry and some narration.

What isn’t CM?

As MFW acknowledges, aspects of CM are combined with unit studies and classical. The part of classical present here seems to be the division into three priods of learning as the child ages (though I am not sure how this playes out in what they do). The writing curriculum seems very twaddly and scripted.

Quick Take Summary:

A number of the books used, especially history books, are good ones. The worksheets seem to be fairly benign as such things go, less twaddly than most. I am not clear from looking at the samples how much narration is done. One is meant to add on language artas and math so though they are ercommended they are not part of the core curriculum.

Wrapping Up

If I had to sum up all of the above curricula, I would say that many use good or at least decent books for history. It is harder to find one with quality books for science. Most use worksheets and if they use narration at all, it tends to be sporadic.

Again, there are many more CM-ish curriculum choices out there. If there are particular ones you’d like to see included pelase do let me know.


[1] I am indebted in all this to Ambling Along Together’s Resource List which divides what is out there into groups based on their level of CM-ness.

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