We’ve had a lot of appointments lately, and I do mean a lot. Last week, we had thirteen. Granted, sometimes multiple appointments for multiple children were at the same office, so we weren’t driving all over the place (meaning: it could have been worse), but still. It’s been hard to fit in all the things that I have in my perfectly-laid plans from summer. One thing I realized is that once per week, we really need to have a set of morning appointments. We’re destroying our afternoons by trying to cram so much into them.
This is a season, and like all seasons, I know it will pass. It’s going to take longer than, say, everyone catching a cold, but no one is seriously ill, and by this time next year it’ll likely all be in the rear-view mirror.
In Charlotte Mason Boot Camp, I’ve been asked multiple times about scheduling. Not how-to-schedule (though we get questions like that, too), but rather how to adjust when times are hard — when, for example, you have a special needs child with multiple therapies in the week. We haven’t been doing therapies; these have just been medical and dental appointments, for the most part, but I’m feeling the pain in a way I haven’t before.
It’s the ongoing-ness of it all that really does it. Most of us are fine dropping something (copywork and math, anyone?) on a Tuesday plagued by the stomach flu. But we find ourselves cringing when the issues are more long-term. We think we’re supposed to be able to figure it all out.
The truth is, sometimes we can’t.
Let’s get some perspective.
Charlotte Mason once wrote:
All the pupils of the Parents’ Review School do not take all the subjects set in the programmes of the several classes. … Sometimes, outside lessons in languages, music, etc., interfere; sometimes, health will not allow of more than an hour or two of work in the day.School Education, p. 286-7
There’s a lot to notice here:
- Not all of the students did the full curriculum.
- Outside activities might interfere with doing the full curriculum.
- Health might interfere with doing the full curriculum.
What’s missing? Well, condemnation, for starters. Also missing is an assertion that these kids with whom various aspects of life are interfering are not getting a Charlotte Mason education, or even a good education.
Naturally, families without these types of inconveniences will find it easier to implement a full curriculum, but this doesn’t mean we can’t strive for a great education for kids and families facing challenges.
Before I give my tips, please note that I’m saying “health issues” here to mean long term ones. This is when we have to build a livable, thriving new normal (at least for a season). While the thoughts I offer below can apply to other situations, some crises are bigger or more traumatic and will require a different response. I highly recommend AmblesideOnline’s Emergency Learning Help Plan which was specifically designed to help folks facing disasters (like if you lost everything in a house fire).
On to my tips!
Tip 1: Allow activities to do double-duty.
I have met people who beat themselves up because Charlotte Mason offered piano during the school day, but their child is taking violin in the afternoons. Um. No. Stop thinking like this because it’s not a problem. If you are living a normal life, this sort of thinking can be destructive. If you’re in a long-term health crisis, it’ll be the death of all your happiness.
Children should have a musical education. Ideally, this would include things like learning to read musical notation, learning to sing and play an instrument (piano is always a good choice), enjoying a habit of singing (think folk songs and hymns), and learning to listen intelligently (which is the goal of composer study). Some of us will not accomplish all of this. Others of us will accomplish this, and in almost the exact same way the Parents’ Review School did it. The rest of us will lie somewhere in the middle.
For our family, the compromise has mainly been in using Hoffman Academy. I was trying to teach piano myself, and also trying to teach Solfa myself. I flaked. I did a great job with my oldest child, but was spread too thin by the time all three of my younger children were school age. So we started using Hoffman before we had all the appointments interfering with life, and it was great because finally my children’s music education was consistent.
You know what? It’s good enough. In fact, it’s better than that. It’s great. They’re getting piano and solfa and musical notation.
If your child is already in karate, you don’t need to also put Swedish Drill into your morning school hours. (I mean, you can if you want to, but it’s not mandatory.)
When you need to adjust the school schedule, specifically when you need to shorten it, first look at activities that are doubled up and cut one. In the example above, not Swedish Drill and karate, but Swedish Drill or karate. Think about your goals and identify what goals are being accomplished by which parts of your schedule and look for things you can trim because, while nice in normal seasons, they are technically duplicating other things and can be cut when you’re desperate.
Tip 2: Use driving and waiting time wisely.
“Bring a book” is a command I give every time we’re jumping in the car to drive to an appointment. My children sometimes bring school books and narrate in the car. They bring free reading books, too. Either way, the time is not wasted, and they are learning good habits in the use of extra minutes.
Do you know how many books you can read if you have a lot of waiting room time? It’s remarkable!
Drive time can also be used for composer study. Listen to your chosen composer’s music on drives to and from appointments.
If you bring a clipboard (I like nurse’s clipboards with storage space), math practice can be done in the waiting room as well.
If you have a lot of drive and wait time, go through the schedule and put a star by everything that could possibly be done during those times and then any time you have an appointment, you can go to your stars and see what you can bring with you.
Tip 3: Be okay with less.
All the pupils of the Parents’ Review School do not take all the subjects set in the programmes of the several classes.School Education, p. 286
I don’t like seasons like this, and you probably don’t either. But you can know your limits and adjust accordingly. It’s okay.
Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, accept and move on. Focus on what you can do, and do it well.
Tip 4: Use the whole calendar year.
I prefer a looooong summer off. But let’s be realistic: if you have a year in which you were constantly interrupted, it might be fitting to incorporate some formal lessons into the summer.
Feel behind on science? Do a science read aloud during your break. The same could be done with history, geography, or whatever else is troubling you. I don’t necessarily mean that you should implement a full study, complete with experiments or demonstrations. That might be great, but on the other hand you might be too worn for that. You’ll have to decide that for yourself.
In hard times, my thought is always that something is better than nothing. So I could put a lot of pressure on science during the summer and then not do it at all because I’m too exhausted, or I could be content with a science read aloud for that time and be consistent with the book until we’ve finished it.
I don’t pretend a simple read aloud is equal to full lessons with, for example, narrations and map work. I only say it’s better than nothing for subjects that fell through the cracks due to all the therapies or other appointments that plagued the school year.
Tip 5: Use a loop schedule to keep it all going.
Loop scheduling has saved me this year. I had already planned my Circle Time to have loops, but now I’m doing what I call a double-loop.
Let me explain. Here the basic schedule I planned this summer (we have co-op on Thursdays, in case you were wondering):
- Monday: announcements, Bible/prayer, verse, math facts, dictation, grammar, Loop 2
- Tuesday: announcements, Bible/prayer, hymn, math facts, progymnasmata, Loop 2, Loop 1
- Wednesday: announcements, Bible/prayer, poem, math facts, progymnasmata, Loop 2, Loop 2
- Friday: announcements, Bible/prayer, folk song, math facts, dictation, grammar, Loop 2
And here are my loops:
- Loop 1: artist study, composer study
- Loop 2: geography, church history, architecture, map drills, astronomy
I keep Post-It flags next to each loop list and we just pick up where we left off. This works perfectly when we skip the occasional day and I’m never behind because we always just do the next thing.
But this year, we were missing some days (Wednesdays, mostly) over and over. That became a problem because it meant we would never, for example, recite our poems.
My solution was to double the loop. Instead of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, it’s now Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4. I keep a Post-It flag on the day and move to the next one the next day.
Does this mean that we won’t get through all of our composer and artist study in the term? Yes. Do I care? No. Or it’s not no exactly, but rather not enough to stress everyone out over it.
Be creative. Figure it out. Be content.
Examine your schedule and decide what works for your family in this season. You goal shouldn’t be to perfectly imitate a Charlotte Mason school, even if you call yourself a Charlotte Mason homeschooler. Rather, it should be to use Charlotte Mason’s philosophy to educate your children well. You can do that, even in a crisis.
This is especially true if you remember that education isn’t only a life. When we say “education is a life,” we mean using the curriculum to feed ideas to the mind. This is important and, honestly, my favorite part. But education is also a discipline, which is to say that we help our children form good habits. You can alter your schedule and create habits that work in this season. And education is also an atmosphere, which I like to boil down to teaching our children how to rightly relate to the person, things, and situations they encounter in the world around them. We shouldn’t underestimate what they are learning as we show them how to rightly relate to hard times, including adjusting the schedule in light of things like health issues.
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