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    Home Education

    On the Charlotte Mason Homeschool Mom as Circus Act

    October 3, 2017 by Brandy Vencel

    Alternate title: More Thoughts on Combining

    It dawned on me recently that this is the first year in a long time — possibly ever? I haven’t bothered to do the math — that my children’s lessons do not naturally combine. What I mean is, I have one child each in Forms I, II, III, and IV. When trying to simplify what we’re doing in our homeschools, one of the natural places to look to combine (for CM homeschoolers) is forms. This is the logic behind AO for Groups, for example: if you’re teaching a lot of grades, combining into forms should help.

    But here’s the thing: teaching multiple forms still requires a sophisticated level of juggling.

    I want to share what Charlotte Mason mentioned about this in The Parents’ Review:

    The classification of the pupils is another matter that has been brought forward. In a home schoolroom this is a little difficult, as one governess cannot work an unlimited number of classes. Supposing that children in Classes i., ii., and iii., are in the schoolroom, the governess will probably take ii. and iii. together for elementary science, or nature knowledge, and for historical subjects. For arithmetic, reading, etc., the classes must work separately. Again, if a governess has Classes iii. and iv. in her schoolroom, it will not be easy to work them together, but the habit of independent study is very desirable for girls in Class iv., the teacher giving direction, stimulus, and examination of work.

    Here is something good to know: the modern homeschool is not the same as an early 1900s PNEU homeschool. Charlotte Mason isn’t going to tell you what to do when you are supposed to teach math at 9:45 and the baby just had a diaper blowout — moms usually had a nurse, a governess, or both. She isn’t going to tell you how to homeschool and still get the laundry done. She isn’t going to point out the difficulties in trying to homeschool high school boys — boys at this age were either working or at preparatory schools. They weren’t at home or even in PNEU schools.

    This doesn’t mean that Charlotte Mason has nothing to say to us. Humans are humans. The vast majority of wisdom consistently applies. It is how it is applied that changes with time … because we have to live in now, not then.

    With that said, I think this quote above gives us a number of good ideas to think upon. For example…

    “[O]ne governess cannot work an unlimited number of classes.”

    Assuming I’m the governess, there is only one of me. I assume this is true for you?

    You have your limits. I have mine. They may not be the same. It’s important to admit, though, that we have them. It is often assumed that because the PNEU schools went all the way up through From VI (in some rare cases) that it’ll be easy to do this in the homeschool. The longer I do this, the more I am convinced that it’s more nuanced than that. It’s not easy to do this, but it is worth it nonetheless. The fact that it isn’t easy means we need to get creative sometimes.

    I think we can also assume that it’s not going to be as pretty as one governess to two or maybe three forms when I’m one governess (who is also Mom, cook, taxi driver, laundress, blogger, podcaster, and more) to four forms.

    It’s a reality that this gets difficult, the more forms (and students) you are teaching. It just does. Here are three things so far that have helped me:

    [T]he governess will probably take ii. and iii. together for elementary science, or nature knowledge, and for historical subjects.

    I dislike combining history. I’m not telling you not to do it. It’s just something I don’t do. But science? Yes, please. This year I have three forms (forms I, II, and III) combined for some of their science. The age spread between all three students is only 3.5 years, so it works.

    I adore combining geography.

    I already mentioned combining above, so all I’ll add is this: combine what makes sense for your students. It’s going to vary by family and by student, and that’s okay.

    For arithmetic, reading, etc., the classes must work separately.

    It’s good to remember that certain subjects build brick upon brick. Because of this, they are best learned individually, except in the rare cases that two students actually start on the same day (and even then you may eventually have to break them up). I did, for a while, have my girls combined for math. Like I said: combine what makes sense. At the time, that made sense. When it no longer made sense, we stopped.

    It is good to keep in mind a sense of justice when pondering. Sometimes, we let efficiency trump justice, and while it may occasionally be necessary, it’s generally a bad habit to get into.

    What do I mean by justice?

    I mean doing right by each child. What does it mean to do justice to this child right here in front of me? It starts by not short-changing him. A big temptation in homeschooling is to teach to the middle. Sometimes, this works. Other times, the older students are not appropriately challenged and the younger students are lost. Combining is great, but it’s not a hill I’m willing to die on because I believe it’s unjust to not give an appropriate education to each individual child, as much as is humanly possible.

    [I]f a governess has Classes iii. and iv. in her schoolroom, it will not be easy to work them together.

    Can I get an amen?

    Just note this point and give a sigh of relief. If you find it hard, it’s not because you’re doing something wrong.

    It’s because you’re doing something right.

    For the record, minus Circle Time (and a few obvious things like Plutarch and Shakespeare), I don’t combine my Form IV guy with anybody.

    [T]he habit of independent study is very desirable for girls in Class iv.

    Form IV means high school. Don’t lose sight of that when you ponder this sentence.

    A couple thoughts:

    • Notice the word “girls.” I have seen so many mamas beat themselves up for putting a high school boy in school. Just don’t.
    • Also, let’s stop the guilt over having them work on their own. They are teenagers. They might be headed to college. Or not. Either way, if they are going to continue to learn, it’s only going to happen through initiative and hard work — they need to learn to learn on their own, without Mommy holding their hands.

    …the teacher giving direction, stimulus, and examination of work.

    Independent study does not mean educational neglect. We still give…

    • Direction
      • Yes, there is a curriculum to follow. There is work to be done. And we assist them when they need help.
    • Encouragement
      • Don’t leave them hanging. Conversations about their books will be a huge encouragement. Listening to them is, too.
    • Accountability
      • Check their work. Check their work. Check their work.
      • Also, give feedback.

    This doesn’t mean they never need a lesson, but the transition to independence starts now.

    By the way, Circle Time can help.

    When it comes to combining, Circle Time is the biggest most helpfulest thing I’ve done. (Yes, I just made up a word.)

    I always say this in my Plan a Charlotte Mason Circle Time talk: Charlotte Mason didn’t do Morning Basket (I call it Circle Time here), but it is a huge help when you are teaching multiple forms at once! I don’t know how else I would be able to do so much of what I do with my children.

    “Short lessons” has a different definition, depending on what ages we’re talking about. It wouldn’t be efficient to do, for example, solfa lessons with O-Age-Nine after his 20 minute lesson, my girls after their 30 minute lessons, and then turn around and do it AGAIN with my high schooler after his 45 minute lesson. Totally inefficient.

    For our family, Circle Time is where everything that can appropriately be combined is combined. After that, we can break up into individual forms. There are still plenty of unlike subjects left to vary the day, especially since I plan chore time into our school schedule. So, we do a bunch of different things — a treasure trove of short lessons! — together, and then break up.

    I often let my oldest (my high schooler) go after we do our shared memory recitations. After that, I can work on one of the subjects in which I’ve combined all three remaining students. One day, it might be church history. Another day, it might be geography.

    Once we break into individual forms, I’m doing all individual teaching from there until the end of the school day. Circle Time has been key to my ability to remain consistent throughout the years. I don’t believe it’s for every family, but it works well for mine, and it might work well for yours, too.

    So what about you? How is teaching multiple forms going? I’d love to hear how you’re getting creative to make it work!

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  • Reply Thoughtworthy (Book Finished, New Episode, Last Chance, and MORE!) | Afterthoughts October 19, 2019 at 10:45 am

    […] I still agree with myself: […]

  • Reply Carol October 4, 2017 at 4:45 pm

    Hi Brandy, just wondering what you thought of ‘The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert’?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 5, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      I have to give it a mixed review. On the one hand, I *loved* reading it — so much insight and her conversion story was beautiful. On the other hand, by the end it felt like the book didn’t really know what it was about. She went into her views on homeschooling — it felt all over the place. I guess what I’m saying is that she needed an editor and a clearer focus — but I still think the book is worth reading!

  • Reply Joanne October 4, 2017 at 6:46 am

    I’m trying to get up and running with 4 boys (only three are officially school age). Form 1, form 3 and form 4 – but no previous cm education. Any advice on if / how to combine them? there is only 18 months between the two older boys, but then a huge gap between them and the 7 yo non reader (also a 3 yo tagging along).
    It feels like they all need me – the younger two for obvious reasons, but also the older two as cm methods and practices are new to them.
    Any tips or advice?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 5, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      I would definitely check out AO for groups. I really think, especially since they haven’t been exposed to a CM approach before, that you could totally combine your two older boys, and then maybe spin them off on their own when they hit high school (if that makes sense when the time comes). AO years do not completely correspond to grades, so it is okay to put children new to the method “down” years — there just need to be 12 years for children who started in first grade, if that makes sense. 🙂

  • Reply Catie October 3, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    I love this! I’ve never seen that quote before. But it’s super encouraging! ?

  • Reply Claire October 3, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    So far, I’ve had 2 children combined in 1 year and that’s all. Next January, they’ll be moving into Form 2 and my youngest starts Year 1. Even though I’ll have ‘only’ 2 forms going, I can’t, at this time imagine how I’ll fit his school work in, not to mention the ‘new’ form 2 subjects! Thanks for the CM quote. I’ll be keeping this wisdom in mind as I try to plan our new normal 🙂

  • Reply Amanda October 3, 2017 at 7:04 am

    Ha! I just left you a voxer message about this very topic! 🙂 This is helpful. I have gone back and forth and back and forth about whether to combine them for history. This year we are not combining and while I feel like they are all getting history lessons exactly at their level and with rich, living books that meet them where they are, my brain feels quite full (some days too full) and I miss our discussions and family culture in which there was a common theme running through our house.

    We combine all of the same topics as you do into our MT. I’m also combining some of our science and geography for my older two. And, interestingly, I found that the older two were finding their way to the couch when I was reading to the first grader (books that I did not use with them back when they were little ones pr ones that they have long since forgotten) and so, I moved some of these selections to the end of MT and am going to have them do their copy work while I read out of some of the books that they are loving, too (Our Island Story, Aesop, etc).

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