Basic Mainstays: Homeschooling through High School the CM Way, part 1

homeschool high school family

High School. Maybe it’s the name. Maybe it’s the emphasis our culture seems to place on its importance. Maybe it’s the expectations that we carry from our own past experiences.

Whatever the cause, it seems like many factors can contribute to a sense of intimidation when we think of teaching “high school.”

Then, along with that feeling of foreboding, add the thought of teaching high school in a non-traditional way—using Charlotte Mason methods—and it’s enough to cause even a seasoned homeschooler to take pause.

But teaching high school the Charlotte Mason way doesn’t have to be a scary ordeal. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing helpful guidelines, practical tips, and great resources to help you confidently homeschool through high school.

Overview of this Series

In this series we will be discussing

  1. Basic Mainstays
  2. Details by Subject
  3. Grades and Transcripts
  4. Individualizing Your CM High School
  5. Habit-Training in High School

Our SCM Discussion Forum is a great place to ask question and discuss details with other CM moms. We even have a special CM High School & Beyond section that focuses on this topic. Feel free to read the great discussions already posted there or to start one of your own.

Basic Mainstays

First, let’s talk about what stays the same. Familiar methods remove that “effort of decision,” so let’s focus on the familiar first.

  • Variety of Subjects

    “Give children a wide range of subjects” (Vol. 3, p. 162). A wide variety of subjects is the first mainstay. We tend to agree with this principle for younger children, but for some reason once a student hits the teen-age years, it’s tempting to focus only on the academics that are required by law or college entrance exams. This tendency does our children a great disservice.

    In the high school years, we should continue giving our children a wide variety of subjects, a broad curriculum that includes art, music, nature study, poetry, and handicrafts. These subjects are the ones that feed our children’s souls and develop them as whole persons.

    So don’t get caught up in a narrow vision of just equipping your child to make a living. “The function of education is not to give technical skill but to develop a person; the more of a person, the better the work of whatever kind” (Vol. 6, p. 147).

  • Living Books

    The second mainstay that should be continued through high school is the use of living books. The only change, if you want to call it that, is that we should use “more advanced,” “more copious,” “more comprehensive,” “more difficult” living books, in Charlotte’s words.

    Are there more difficult living books? Absolutely. Our SCM Curriculum Guide has some suggestions for the high school years across all the subjects.

    And remember that Charlotte used the occasional textbook with the older children—mostly in math, science, and English grammar—in order to delve deeper into a subject. (For more on using a textbook or two, read our post from the series CM Myths.)

  • Narration

    The third mainstay is narration. Once the student has mastered oral narration, he should transition into written narrations. The high school years are prime opportunity to polish and refine written narrations in various styles, both poetry and prose.

    Narration requires a much higher thinking level than fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, or true or false. And if we saw the value of this method during the earlier grades, how much more should we require this higher thinking level now that our children are older?

    Even if our students will have to face fill-in-the-blank-type questions if they go on to college level courses, being able to read a passage once and narrate it to yourself is an invaluable study skill. (If you don’t believe me, try it right now. Narrate this post to yourself without looking back.)

We’ll talk about specific school subjects next week. But first I have a request.

Any of you moms who have graduated at least one student with the Charlotte Mason Method, would you please consider sharing your experiences with our readers? We can learn so much from each other!

At the end of each post in this series, I’ll give a related question or two for you experienced CM-high-school parents. I would love for you to add your thoughts as a comment on this post. Your wisdom, confessions, tips, and ideas will be a huge blessing to others!

Here are the questions for this week:
Did teaching high school the CM way seem intimidating to you? Why?
Do you think you have overcome that feeling of intimidation? What helped?


  1. We have graduated two girls the CM way. Well, one of them was more of a math/science girl, so she read nonfiction for pleasure and totally threw me! But my eldest daughter has soaked in great literature, history, music, art, and poetry. She frequented art museums, attended, then performed in operas and orchestras. The result? She will be entering Berklee College of Music in Boston this fall. She wants to be an opera singer and a homeschool mom.

    I think the biggest hurdle we faced was not the education we were offering at home, but the hoops we had to leap through elsewhere. Our girls (and soon to be our boys) received a better education through CM methods than their peers, so the education itself was not a problem, nor was it terribly difficult to place credits on a transcript for the various things they studied. That was a bit time-consuming, but actually sort of fun. But filling out the FAFSA and getting flagged for verification (financial aid for college, tax forms, other forms) and meeting all the deadlines for auditions in various cities plus just getting all the faculty recommendations and applications and essays in for colleges proved to be far more challenging than the high school coursework itself! We ended up waiting another year, having missed important deadlines for her colleges of choice. We’re so glad we did. Otherwise, she might be headed to a state university instead of a topnotch music school. My advice? Start looking into college early and take it slow. Be methodical about the deadlines and paperwork so that you don’t end up stuck! Not that our daughter was stuck because of the wait. She chose to continue schooling independently. She picked out some living books, a Physics textbook, and began studying on her own without any prodding from me or anyone else. This voracious love of learning was the result of her life of CM schooling!

  2. Hi Sonya
    Well, this is timely! I am in the midst of highschooling my fourth child with CM’s lovely methods:) The first three are now 22, 24, and 26 and all functioning very well out there in the ‘real’ world, if there is such a thing:)
    My big three kids were all schooled all the way through at home except for my dd (middle child;) ) She wanted to ‘experience’ high school with her friends and we are lucky enough to live in a rural setting with a small local high school so it was not such a big deal. She went to Grade 12 only at school, graduated with her friends and walked away with close to 3K in scholarships. Her main comment? “Well, that was fun, but man, they sure waste a lot of time in school”. Too funny. As posted above, all my kids had to jump through a few hoops to get on to post secondary education and that was a learning experience in itself. Since I am in Canada my situation is different and the community colleges where I live are quite willing to work with the students to get them where they want to be, transcripts or no.
    ANyhow, to answer your questions specifically…
    No, teaching the CM way through high school did not and doesn’t seem intimidating. Just daunting during the organization phase. But really, it seems to me to be just a continuation of a lifestyle of learning that by high school is likely already in place. We homeschooled CM style with and without textbooks. It really doesn’t matter what the program or book is you use as your base, you can always make it better with living books, narration, discussion, etc, and thus make it a true CM education. Charlotte wasn’t totally against all text books, and I am sure she made good use of whatever she had, turning it into a better experience for her students. That is and has been my goal.
    The daunted feeling,and the feeling of needing to be organized has only recently been helped and that is through this board and the SCM planning materials. Sonyas CM organizer and planner is an absolute must have for organizing my thoughts as well as my books. That and a few good friends and the cooperation of your teens, and you will be well on your way.
    Thanks Sonya! My son at home now is 15 and I need a refresher so will eagerly look forward to your next posts. I have a 10 year old still to come, so I will be at this a while. Not worried though, God has a plan and I know its a good one!

  3. I hope you don’t mind me posting, as my children are only Pre-schoolers. However I was home-schooled from 2nd grade through High School. We didn’t discover Charlotte Mason until I was 1/2 way through High School, but were delighted when we did because it closely fit what we were already doing.

    I struggled with some health issues as a child that made traditional school difficult, and so I would go to the library and check out stacks of books. (my record was well over 20 at one time!) I read any thing and every thing I could get my hands on, which led to the discovery of a lot of wonderful literature, (and unfortunately, the reading of a lot of twaddle and even a bit of smut…)

    The main things I wanted to share are that as a home-school graduate, I am very grateful for the experiences that I had. I was able to pursue many interests (like spinning wool and using herbs for health) that I otherwise would not have had the time or interest for. Secondly, I highly recommend that you invest in good book lists for your teens to steer them in the right direction and weed out some of the junk out there.

    And in case you were wondering, after spending time reading about CM in high-school, I determined that is how I would teach my children as well. I have 3 boys, ages 4 1/2, 2 1/2, and 1 and we are enjoying every minute of our reading and nature walks. I am very much looking forward to all the years ahead 🙂

  4. We’re one of those families that stopped Charlotte Mason in high school. I managed for two years, but with middle of the day basketball practices and evening dance and soccer practices decided to cut back.

    I would love ideas how to manage a high school Charlotte Mason Education around non-traditional school hours!

  5. I am a bit outfield here as i have not yet reached high sch home ed, but thought of the years when i used CM for junior high music at a private school. We had very little talk, talk, talk, or downtime, but i expected lots of acapella singing (=music) from the moment childen walked in to their departure. The repertoire chosen was of the highest quality that i could find, mainly folksongs, worksongs (e.g. sailors’), spirituals, carols, children’s game and dance game songs from all over the world, and no twaddle! They had to memorise all the songs. They learned the structural, style and literacy aspects of music from gradually analysing that lovely repertoire. We kept records of our learning in notebooks. We put our folksongs on a world map. It was CM applied to Kodaly singing-based music studies…living songs! The classes really revelled in those precious hours once they grew accustomed to singing… 🙂 and soon were eager to perform “proper” works as a class choirs. ROSALIND – AUSTRALIA

  6. Good post–I found you from Harmony Art Mom. I’m teaching a reluctant student at home after a horrible start to high school. [We homeschooled before using CM]. Commenter Heidi: Our rural high school has one of the state’s highest rates of teen pregnancy, gang problems, meth and oxy–you are really fortunate!!

  7. We are finishing up freshman year with my oldest son. We’ve used CM methods from the very beginning (and the younger ones who are coming after him.) I have absolutely *loved* the breadth and depth of education. Our goal has been to have children with very well-rounded experiences and education, solid moral compasses, and solid critical thinking skills. So far so great! My freshman is currently operating at college-level work, and if it weren’t for the advanced math and science credits he still needs, could graduate within a year.

    My big “confession” (she asked for them!) would be that I just haven’t figured out the accountability thing yet. He has an incredible grasp of every subject he’s studied, yet he’ll let himself get behind in his work, and we’ve tried rewards, penalties and natural consequences of every kind, but he still won’t keep the pace I set for him (for example, he might skip two Spanish quizzes while continuing to learn the material ahead – then he’ll have to go back and take his quizzes, but they will be late). I wouldn’t be at all concerned because he is absolutely meeting every educational goal I’ve set for him, except for the goal of accountability/responsibility. I’d love to hear ideas about that.

    As far as intimidation goes, I was only mildly intimidated and that was more the thought of “how will I translate twelve different subjects (or however many there are) into just the required number of credits?!!!” – maybe I was not as intimidated as I should have been about that, as I’m still trying to figure out how to give him credit on his transcript for all the things he’s learned without college officials going, “riiii-iiiight – no high schooler could study this many subjects in one year.” (He could and he did.) But there wasn’t a whole lot of change in the schooling itself. just more copious work, more in-depth work, and of course, the need for him to be responsible for doing assigned work when it was set, and to be finished completely and according to directions.

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