Home Education

Switching to Charlotte Mason

February 12, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

I was wondering if you could offer some tips/advice about switching over to CM? We’ve been homeschooling for 6+ years now and the past year I have been trying to transition over to a more CM style of learning. I have three boys ages 5, 8 and 10. I was wondering if you kept your learning (lesson wise) to mornings like Miss Mason suggests? I have been doing my best to keep the lessons shorter, but, it seems I am having a difficult time getting it all done in the morning.

The above is part of a longer message that came through my Contact Form recently. I am going to do my best to answer these questions, but I know there are also a lot of CMers out there reading this, so please feel free to chime in your best advice in the comments! Also, before I forget, this is a great set of questions to ask in the AmblesideOnline Forum.

I have never switched to CM because I was introduced to Charlotte Mason’s writings when my oldest was three or four (and AmblesideOnline soon after that). There was never a time that I offered my children lessons from some other curriculum, or using some other philosophical approach or educational methodology (at least, not on purpose). AmblesideOnline is all we have used.

However, comma.

I think most of us were schooled a different way ourselves. What we are doing is not something that is common right now in the United States, nor throughout the world, so all of us mothers are having to mentally switch, whether we’ve ever had to switch our children or not.

With that said, let’s divide this up into smaller parts.

Tips on Switching to CM

I was wondering if you could offer some tips/advice about switching over to CM? We’ve been homeschooling for 6+ years now and the past year I have been trying to transition over to a more CM style of learning.

The only advice I have here — since I’ve never done this myself — is the advice I’d give to anyone trying to make big changes in any area of their lives: start small, and give yourself six months if what you were doing before was somewhat similar, and a year if it was totally different. And know that change is usually harder the older you are, so it might be hardest … on you.

I think that what Charlotte Mason said about habit building applies here:

Here, again, is an illustration of that fable of the anxious pendulum, overwhelmed with the thought of the number of ticks it must tick. But the ticks are to be delivered tick by tick, and there will always be a second of time to tick in. The mother devotes herself to the formation of one habit at a time, doing no more than keep watch over those already formed.

I don’t know that switching to CM is exactly the same thing as building a habit of, say, closing the door behind you when you go outside, but I think her point that big change comes from small changes — each individual tick in its own time — is important. Why overwhelm ourselves? Pick one thing, and change it (or add it). Then change one more thing, adding and subtracting until your days are more CM-ish, until you’re satisfied.

Oh. And you’ll never be satisfied. There will always be something you can tweak to make it better.

Some people find it is easier to start by adding in what they call “extras” (which aren’t really extras, by the way) — things like picture study, singing hymns and folks songs, or nature study. Others immediately change to the AmblesideOnline booklist, which means training in narration will take priority. Narration is our primary learning tool when it comes to the reading, so if you’ve already switched to a CM curriculum  narration is probably the first thing you want to train.

I don’t have a post written on narration training (though you can purchase Newbie Tuesday Volume One and read the whole narration edition and that would help). For now, I’ll just say that narration is when the child tells back what he has heard read aloud to him (or read by himself) in his own words, from memory. Narration is performed after a single reading. Narration is trained. Some children are natural narrators and don’t seem to require training at all, but usually children learn to narrate paragraph by paragraph and then larger section by larger section until they know how to narrate a whole reading (within reason — I still break up readings if they are huge) at a time.

Eventually, every single reading should be narrated. But if a child is beginning in a higher year — Year 4 or above — I don’t know that I would over-do narration at the beginning. I’d start with the easier or more enjoyable (for that particular child) books and work up to narrating the harder ones (unless, of course, the child is one of those born-to-narrate children).

As far as how a mother makes the mental switch, all I can say is: read, read, read. The more you read, the more it will come together for you. Read Miss Mason’s own words. If you join the Forum, you can participate in one of the book clubs that are reading through various volumes of Mason. Perhaps find a CM reading group or co-op in your local area.

Getting Things Done

I have three boys ages 5, 8 and 10. I was wondering if you kept your learning (lesson wise) to mornings like Miss Mason suggests? I have been doing my best to keep the lessons shorter, but, it seems I am having a difficult time getting it all done in the morning.

I really think that we all naturally become more efficient as we go along, and what is more efficient for my family might not be what is more efficient for you (and vice versa). With that said, sometimes hearing what other people do gives us ideas.

My children are currently 10, 7, 6, and 4. My two older children, are doing Year Five and Year Two (plus my just-turned-six-year-old sits in on some of Year Two — geography and Shakespeare — and has her own reading lessons). My Year Five student can read all of his books on his own. Not all Year Five students can or do, and frankly I wish that I still read one or two books aloud with him, but right now having him read everything on his own (I preread on weekends and evenings so that we can discuss) has been key to Getting Things Done around here. Also: reading alone in your head is faster than reading aloud, at least for most of us.

My Year Two student has really taken off on her reading this year, but is only just now becoming ready to even think about reading any assignments on her own, so everything we’ve done we’ve done aloud.

We do a daily Circle Time, and during this time everything that can be done together, is done together. (Click here to learn about planning a Circle Time.) This means picture study, singing hymns and folk songs, memory work, and even some read alouds — Pilgrim’s Progress comes to mind. We spend 45 minutes to an hour doing this, and when it goes well (ha) it is my favorite thing.

This is our daily rhythm: barn chores, breakfast, Circle Time, house chores, snack break, lessons, lunch. So, yes, we tend to be “done by lunch” but sometimes lunch is after 1:00 pm. We’ve decided we’d rather have a late lunch and not have to come back to it.

We rise early (around 6:00 am and I woke up sleepers-in this morning at 6:45 am for barn chores — yes, I woke sleeping children), so in trying to duplicate something like this, your mileage may vary. If your children sleep in, chances are you will not be done by lunch, but that is a trade-off some people are willing to make; it just isn’t one we are willing to make.

Remember: Miss Mason practiced in a school, not a home, so there will be differences.

“Lessons” is sort of nebulous, so I’ll try to explain. I keep extensive Excel spreadsheets because that is what works for me. I create one for each week in the school year when I do my planning in the summer, but I don’t print them off in advance because they inevitably require tweaking. On Monday morning, both of my students each receive a copy of that week’s spreadsheet, divided into days, that we work from. This saves us the time of trying to make decisions about what our days will look like. We have our lists and we work from them.

I work with my Year Two student first, while my two littles play in the backyard. My Year Five student is working alone, coming in and out of the room to narrate as needed. He has been instructed to peek in, tell me he has a narration, and then go work on something else until I have a natural break in my time with A-Age-Seven.

My Year Five student has been taught to alternate, and I also alternate subjects with my Year Two student. A Year Two student only has about two readings per day, while a Year Five has about four, plus subjects like Latin and grammar. This means that I do my work with my Year Two student, pull in my six-year-old for the things I do with both girls, and then send my Year Two student outside to play with my four-year-old while I work alone with my six-year-old —and all this time, my Year Five student is working away at his desk, or in my bedroom (where he does his Latin videos), etc.

And the four-year-old gets a story most days, for being so patient during lessons. This usually comes right before lunch.

For the record, I have no idea how I will handle the increased load next year (not to mention the year after that, when all four of my children will have lessons), but I figure each year has enough trouble of its own.

So, to repeat: barn chores, breakfast, Circle Time, house chores, snack break, lessons (where I work with various children and my Year Five student works independently), lunch. This is what works for us right now.

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8 Comments

  • Reply walking February 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Our transition was so long ago—talk about pulling off the cobwebs.

    For me, the biggest transition was changing my mindset. One simply does not switch to Charlotte Mason on a dime. It is a philosophy and a set of principles that you cannot absorb overnight. It requires careful thought about new ideas and ways of interacting with children that one must read and accept or reject. It is a way of living and being, not a how-to.

    The other thing I would recommend for anyone switching from textbooks is to include what one might think of as “fluff”. The booklist offered at AO is intense. Rather than focus only on books (can you say burnout for newbies), leave some out and be sure to include nature walks, picture study, second language, composer study, handicrafts, etc. THOSE ARE JUST AS VITAL as books.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm

      I completely agree with you, that changing our mindsets is the biggest thing! I still find myself being mentally corrected when I read through CM’s volumes.

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 13, 2013 at 2:03 am

    I have my son, who is 9 and in third grade, regularly read books to his younger sisters (6 and 4). Many of them are picture books he might otherwise ignore but I can tell he still enjoys reading them. I mainly did it to free up some of my time, but I think it’s been good for him and them. (I still read aloud family books and many picture books at other times.)

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 16, 2013 at 6:32 pm

      That is such a good idea KM! I think that would be good for my Y2 student next year–to read to my youngest. It’s be good practice for her, and she still loves all of those books. My Y5 student does, too, but I don’t think he’d have time in Y6 to read aloud like that and still be done by lunch…

  • Reply Jessica February 13, 2013 at 12:14 am

    Hi Brandy,
    I have learned so much from your blog (long-time lurker), and I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your posts. We are a bit behind you in ages and with AO–my 9yo son is finishing up Year 2, and I have two 7 year olds in Year 1, and I have found so many of your ideas very helpful. Thank you for being willing to share them!

  • Reply Ann-Marie February 12, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you 🙂
    “Oh. And you’ll never be satisfied. There will always be something you can tweak to make it better.” I think that is part of the nature of being a homeschooling momma! You are always looking for a better way to make things flow. Thank you so much for addressing my questions, Brandy. I have been reading alot at AO. I actually printed out a ton of it and made my own little book to read, re-read and go over again. So much helpful and wonderful info to see there. I love it all so far and just looking at all of the beautiful lists of fabulous books…AAAAHHHH! Did I mention how much I love good books?
    I do have a few other questions…You mentioned how you read aloud with your Year 2 student and your oldest reads all of his own materials. Do you regularly do a separate read aloud with all of the kids? That is something I have added this year that we all seem to enjoy. Also…do your children narrate for each and every reading? How do you do the narration? Do they speak and you listen, or do you transcribe their narrations? We are new to narrating this year and I am really enjoying it. I have them narrate and I type what they narrate so we have an ongoing visual of how their skills are progressing. I have to say that they are not that thrilled with narrating and I have been only having them do it for one assigned book at a time. Their narrations are good and getting better, but, like anything new and challenging they tend to squawk about it at times. I know I have to be more diligent with them and need to read “Smooth and Easy Days” from SCM that I printed out too. I really try to be consistent with them, but, there are times when things go astray 🙁
    Also…when do you teach the little ones in your home?
    Thank you so much again! Love your thoughts and your blog is very helpful and inspirational.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm

      Yes, I do have read alouds that I do with all of the children. I just miss that one-on-one time I had with my oldest when he was younger and my only student. 🙂 He really doesn’t *need* me at all. 🙂 We have our Circle Time read alouds, a lunch time read aloud, and then usually a family one that we do on some of our evenings when their dad is home. That actually sounds like a lot when I write it out like that! Hmmm…

      Yes, my children narrate each and every reading. But remember, they’ve been doing this from the beginning. Well, my *students* do. CM didn’t have children under 6 narrating, so I don’t, either, at least not unless they insist. 🙂 For narration, they simply talk and I listen. I have never transcribed a narration that I know of. I have, however, recorded their term oral examinations on video, so I do see a little of their progress that way.

      I work with all of my children during our lesson time that I mentioned–the one where my Y5 student is wandering in and out of the room? During that time, I work with my Y2 student. Then, my six-year-old comes in for the couple things the girls do together, then my Y2 student leaves and I have just my six-year-old for a phonics lesson, and then after that I have just my four-year-old for a story or something. My my youngest, I mainly concentrate on *doing* things together, like making meals, doing laundry, etc. He does stay with us for part of Circle Time, though…

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