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.
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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