BY LANI M. SICILIANO
As anyone who has four, five, six or more children already knows, our lives with our children are different than others’ lives with fewer children. Moderating the large family subforum on the AmblesideOnline users’ forum, I have seen the question asked repeatedly of how to homeschool the CM way. Unfortunately many homeschoolers seem to feel that it is just too difficult to be Charlotte Mason homeschoolers with a large family, impossible even. If you have more than three, four, or even five children, you can homeschool. And you can use Charlotte Mason’s methods, and even use AmblesideOnline.
But, I am not here to tell you it is easy. Sorry. It isn’t and I won’t lie to you. But I wouldn’t tell any homeschooling mom, with “just” one or two children, that it would be easy necessarily. But it is possible. And worth the effort.
For those familiar with Charlotte Mason’s educational methods, the importance of habit training is well known. Laying down the rails is a parent’s first, and possibly most important, job. Luckily, for large families, this part seems to come naturally — out of necessity. Nothing would get accomplished if we didn’t train our children well. Even if you are not a schedule follower, as I decidedly am not, a routine and habits will serve you well, both for life in general as well as your schooling. Of course, Charlotte Mason’s first volume, Home Education, offers wonderful advice on habit training but I found the free ebook, Smooth and Easy Days, from Simply Charlotte Mason helpful to pull together CM’s recommendations in an easy to use way.
Routines for home maintenance, meals, chores, and laundry will set you up for success with your schooling too. But please don’t think I have that all perfected. I am known for saying that if our homeschool is running smoothly, likely the house is a mess! I can only think of a few times it all was running well and it never lasts. I, like you, am only human. Nevertheless, this is a good place to start.
Scheduling is a very personal process. I have found inspiration in many places: from the book Managers of Their Homes (although I applied the La Leche League adage to “take what works for your family and leave the rest,”) as well as the books Help for the Harried Homeschooler and A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family both of which helped me peek into the lives of other large families and see how they make things work. Ultimately, I have to customize for my own family and our unique needs. I expect that to be true for my readers as well.
I should add here that no two years have looked the same in my house as far as routines or how I schedule our schooling. Maybe not even from one term to another! What worked in the past, or for a different child, may not work now. If your children are young, this will be even more true as the ages and stages bring such monumental changes in a matter of weeks or months. Accepting that adaptations will be required allowed me to take a deep breath and plunge forward rather than stalling and searching for that “magic bullet” scheduling tool. No one tool is likely to work for every family, especially not a large family.
Now, on to managing the large family CM homeschool. Short lessons and short school days are our friend. Audio books can help when mom just can’t read another book aloud. Older siblings can and should play with younger siblings or even read to them for you (this is great for emerging readers as those non readers are far less critical than mom). This time allows mom to work with another child. And combining when able will also serve you well.
As mentioned, I use the CM free curriculum, AmblesideOnline, for my homeschool. Each of my six children are in their own year for the most part. But now that I have all children age six and up, I am doing more combining for my own ease and to allow for more interesting discussions and grand conversations.
Using CM’s Forms, I have matched my kids up and currently have a Form I, years 1-3, Form 2, years 4-6, and a Form 3 and up with my year 8 and year 9/10 sons. But I had been doing AO since my oldest child was just 6 years old in year one and as each was added to our school, they each had their own year. If you are lucky enough to be in this same situation, then you will grow with your children and likely find this isn’t too difficult to achieve. If you are coming to CM from another curriculum, it will likely take you a bit longer to find your stride but will be well worth it in the end. That is where thinking in terms of forms may be helpful to you too.
AO already recommends combining all of our “one room schoolhouse” pupils for many of the “riches” like nature study, composer, picture study, folk songs and hymns. And all those age 10 and up can be combined for the original Shakespeare plays and Plutarch’s Lives. I plan just two of each per year, rather than three, for my sanity. In addition, I have found it helpful to combine my Form I students for the Shakespeare retellings, Parables From Nature, Pilgrim’s Progress and the introductions to Greek mythology. I combine literature within the Forms as well just rotating from the different years until all will be covered by each. This same approach can be used for many subjects including Bible and worldview topics, sciences, geography, natural history and even foreign languages and Latin if you choose. Logic and civics topics lend themselves to common discussion as well so combining can serve you all well. This takes some juggling on my part but so far has been well worth my effort.
The caveat I offer however is to be sure you are not overwhelming a younger child with materials meant for an older child too soon. This is why I don’t combine beyond the two year spread, and then watch the books I am doing this with. Of course, once our children can read their own school books, we need to be sure to allow them to do so. Don’t sacrifice this part of their education in an effort to combine everything. I don’t necessarily read aloud even for the combined lessons of my oldest three children. We all read independently and come together for narrations and grand conversation.
Additionally, keep in mind not only lesson time but page counts as you try to blend ages. If you stick to forms you will generally be okay but adding too much as you mix years, for example would be a problem as well. Challenge but don’t overwhelm should be the mantra.
There will likely be days when you dream of the online computer school, or the textbooks and workbooks with set schedules, or even that big yellow bus driving down the road … sigh. Oh wait. Maybe that is just me. But remember, you can do this. It is worth doing this. Step by step, day by day. After all, education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.
Lani M. Siciliano is a mother of six, ages 6 to almost 16. She has been homeschooling using Charlotte Mason from the start . She teaches within an AO co-op and also serves as a member of the Auxiliary for AmblesideOnline. She has dedicated her personal and professional life to education and children and young adults. She and her high school sweetheart husband, Joe, are joyfully (most of the time) living and laughing in their home filled with noise, Legos, Nerf guns and books. Lots of books.
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