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It’s that time of year again — the season when many of us get the itch to plan our next school year. Whether you’re just starting out or have been doing this for decades, here are five friendly reminders—just five ideas to keep in mind as you plan for your Charlotte Mason homeschool this coming year.
Reminder #1: Start with the big picture, then narrow things down from there.
It’s tempting to just jump right into this coming year and start shopping for resources and figuring out your first few days’ assignments. But let me encourage you to take a step back first. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees right in front of you. Sometimes it’s hard to see where you’re going long term for the weekly assignments right in front of you.
Planning season is a good time to take a step back and look at the big picture. Review your goals for your child. What is it you want to accomplish long term? And what is your plan to get there? Start with that larger perspective and then narrow it down one step at a time. Remind yourself of where you’re headed and what the big picture is, then put together an overview for your upcoming year. Next, divide that year into terms. What are you covering each term? Then focus on just the first term. Once you know what you’re going to cover during that term, it’s easier to plan your weekly schedule, and then your days.
But if you jump right into planning your weeks and days, you might end up busy but headed in the wrong direction. Keeping the big picture in mind will give you confidence when others say, “We’re doing this this year. You should do it too.” Rather than immediately running that way, you can review your big picture and decide whether their suggestion is a good fit to get you to your goal.
Doing your planning from that perspective will give you the confidence that you’ve thought everything through. And approaching your planning step by step—big picture, one year of that picture, divide it into three terms, weekly schedule for first term, then daily schedules—just one small step at a time, will keep you from feeling overwhelmed. The post 5 Steps to Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education walks you through the general overview of those five steps and gives practical tips for each. You might also like the book and video set called Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education; it will guide you through the five-step process in more detail.
Reminder #2: Include more than just books.
When we think of a Charlotte Mason approach, we think great living books. And that is a hallmark of a Charlotte Mason education. But a Charlotte Mason approach is not just living books. A Charlotte Mason education uses both books and things. It includes nature study and handicrafts and music and art. And all of those activities use things—things that you can touch and smell and see and hear; things that you can handle and move and enjoy as a nice mental break from the books.
Both are necessary to help feed a child’s mind without overwhelming it. Your child’s brain (and your brain) operates best when it has periods of intense work and periods of less intense work. The brain is still learning and working, but intentionally scheduling both focused book work and more restful nature work or art work or hand work keeps that brain operating at its best.
Work and rest. Book work and hands-on occupations. It’s an important balance. So make sure those activities—the “things”—don’t get pushed to the side. Put them in your plan deliberately and treat them as just as important as the book learning. Write them into your schedule with a new resolve to enjoy the change of pace and the enrichment they will bring to your homeschool days.
Reminder #3: Each family is different.
Let me ask you a question: Do you know another family who has children exactly like yours? How about a house exactly like yours? Does any other family have challenges exactly like yours? No. Your family—your children, your house, your home culture, your challenges, your finances—are unique. And that’s a good thing.
But that also means that you can’t expect someone else’s schedule to fit your family exactly. You might be studying the same books or the same artist, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay lock-step on the same schedule. Maybe your friend starts her lessons at 8:00 A.M. sharp and runs them according to the clock. That’s fine; that works for her family. But maybe you have a newborn who likes to sleep in catnaps, and you never know when that child will be awake or asleep; thus, you never know when you will get any sleep! So your schedule needs to be more fluid right now. Do that! Make it so.
Or maybe your husband’s work schedule isn’t Monday through Friday, 9:00–5:00. Maybe he’s home for three days and gone for three. Or maybe he works long hours four days a week. Feel free to arrange your schedule around that situation. You can school year round doing four days a week and still get in more than 200 days of school that year. And who says you have to do schoolwork only on Monday through Friday?
Make your schedule work for you. Create a schedule that fits your unique family situation during this season of life. And don’t feel guilty if your plan is different from your friend’s plan. It should be, because each family is different.
Reminder #4: Make the curriculum your servant, not your master.
While we’re talking about the differences between families, let me just throw in this reminder too. Remember that the person who wrote XYZ curriculum doesn’t know your family. So keep in mind that any curriculum guide is just that—a guide. We offer recommendations on our free Simply Charlotte Mason Curriculum Guide, and we give a suggested schedule in our daily lesson plan books, but those are only suggestions and ideas. Please use any curriculum as your servant. Don’t let it become your master.
Education is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking. In fact, one of the reasons we homeschool is because we don’t want our children in a cookie-cutter system that makes each child do exactly the same things as all the others who happen to be his age. No, we embrace the freedom to customize our children’s educations, to tweak and adjust so it fits each child best. Curriculum should be a tool to help you focus on each child’s personal learning and growth. Teach the child; don’t teach the curriculum.
Reminder #5: Remember that you have the freedom to adjust your plans as you go along.
You know this, but sometimes it helps to be reminded. You can make changes and adjust as needed.
Life happens. Parents get sick. Babies demand extra time and attention. Or a pregnancy requires bedrest. Maybe you move or end up in a temporary location with most of your belongings in storage somewhere. Or perhaps there’s a fire or a flood or a hurricane or tornado.
Or maybe you just realize that you’re over-committed and have gotten sucked into the frenzy of running here and there, and you miss the time you used to have staying at home, working and thinking and talking together.
The truth is none of us knows what the year ahead may hold. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that nearly every one of us will, at some time this coming year, face an unexpected challenge, experience a surprise to our well-laid plans.
At that moment, you will have a choice. You can either grit your teeth and cling doggedly to your original plan no matter what, or you can choose to flex with the situation and adjust your plan. Whichever decision you make, let me encourage you to make it with your family’s best interests in mind. Do what will support and help them (and you) the most during that season.
I can’t tell you what will work best for your family, but I have no doubt that you will know. I just want to remind you that you’re not stuck with a plan that doesn’t seem to be working anymore. If you find yourself in that situation, remember: you have permission to change your plan.
You see, it’s not your plan that makes your home school Charlotte Mason in style. Don’t get locked into that narrow of a view of education. A Charlotte Mason education involves the atmosphere you create, the discipline of good habits, and the life-sustaining ideas that come from great books and beautiful things. Atmosphere, discipline, life—those are the keys to a good education. And if you keep that perspective you’ll do just fine no matter what life throws at you, no matter what the year ahead holds.
So make your plans. Create your schedule. But hold them loosely and never lose sight of what matters most: you are shaping who that child is becoming as a person, and that can be done anywhere on earth, any time of the day, any day of the week.