Homeschooling a Single Child with the Charlotte Mason Method

Many of you homeschool a lot of children. Some of you homeschool one child. There are challenges and benefits that come with both situations. Today we want to focus on homeschooling a single child, and let’s talk about all that is involved in that. Joining me today is my friend and coworker, Christy Hissong.

Sonya: Christy, it’s so good to have you.

Christy: Thank you for having me. 

Sonya: We want to talk about homeschooling a single child, one child. Tell us about your single child. 

Christy: My single child is now 21 years old. We’ve been doing this a long time, since the beginning, and with Charlotte Mason since the very beginning. He’s an adult now, and thriving, and so I have Charlotte Mason to thank for that. 

Sonya: That’s wonderful. What were some of the benefits of homeschooling a single child? I mean, in my head… I have four kids, and so I can think, “Okay, you don’t have the sibling rivalry, you don’t have the bickering going on.” What are some other benefits to this? Well, one-on-one teaching is probably the best that a child could get, individual attention, but talk me through some of the benefits that you observed over your homeschool career. 

Christy: Well, I always say that our homeschool journey was just idyllic. We had time, quality time, lots of margin built into our day, so we weren’t rushing from one activity to the next. He could choose one extracurricular activity each term. So maybe it was piano lessons, he did that for years; and sometimes he played sports. But we never wanted to be too busy. We wanted to have plenty of quality time at home to live slowly and enjoy the outdoors and every moment together. 

Sonya: Other families that I’ve talked to who have one child seem to put a big emphasis on that social factor. They have to have a connection and so they go all out. They’re involved in everything they can be involved in. It sounds like you chose not to do that. 

Christy: That’s correct. We were going to church every week, several times a week, so that was a built-in community right there. But we also were part of a Charlotte Mason co-op that was just the joy of our lives. We have such good lifetime friends from that period. We met every week and did Charlotte Mason things together. We did Plutarch and nature study and hymns and folk songs and recitation and things that would just be better in a group than at home with just one child. And so some families there had eight children, and some of us had one. It was just a beautiful time that we could all be together, doing life together. But we also needed other outlets for our community. So, besides church and our co-op, my son was in swimming. He played basketball sometimes. I think it was very good for him to have a variety of people who we trusted and whose authority he was under, so that he could learn the chain of command. 

We were going to church every week, several times a week, so that was a built-in community right there. But we also were part of a Charlotte Mason co-op that was just the joy of our lives. We have such good lifetime friends from that period. We met every week and did Charlotte Mason things together.

Sonya: Sure, yeah, and that different people have different styles of authority. And to have other voices speaking into his life, trusted voices. I’m sure you vetted the opportunities very carefully. Great. So talk to me, then, about some of the challenges that you had. We kind of touched on the social aspect of it, but what other challenges did you come across? 

Christy: Well, did you ever think about how difficult it would be to do narration with one child, oral narration, especially in the early years? 

Sonya: No, I never thought about that. 

Christy: Because if you have more than one child, you can call on different children. 

Sonya: To talk about different aspects, or they can listen to the older siblings doing it. That makes sense. 

Christy: Right. But when you’re just the two of you, and when I was reading things aloud to him, or we were tag-team reading, he didn’t really understand. “Why do I have to tell this back? We just read it, you and I.”

Sonya: (laughs) “Weren’t you listening, Mom?” 

Christy: Right, and so over the years I developed a plan that would help him. I said, “Let’s pretend that you are explaining, or telling, this story to your cousin Samuel, or your friend Amelia.” And then he could bring it down to a level that he thought a younger child could understand, and so that helped him to order things in his mind and pretend he was telling it to someone who’d never heard the story before or never read it.

I said, “Let’s pretend that you are telling this story to your cousin or your friend.” And then he could bring his narration down to a level that he thought a younger child could understand.

Sonya: That’s a great idea. What other challenges did you come across? 

Christy: I think if I had had other children, I would have been more aware of developmental milestones and what they “should” be able to do at certain points. But, since he was the only one, and I didn’t really have a lot of experience babysitting or working with children when I was growing up, I didn’t realize until later that he actually had some executive function issues. He has difficulty organizing his work, prioritizing, executing. And when you’re just sitting across the table from each other, and you only have one child, he would write his written narrations in real time and hand them in. It’s just the two of us. And when we went to co-op—I teach at Oak Cottage, which is a homeschool enrichment program—

Sonya: A Charlotte Mason homeschool enrichment program.

Christy: Yes, for K through 12. And when I started teaching high school there, I just took him along with me for high school. And that’s when I realized that he wasn’t used to turning things in on a deadline or being able to order his work so that he wasn’t scrambling at the last minute to turn something in. I started researching and I realized these are things that he has an issue with, and he needs to be trained. Because they’re skills that for a lot of people are inborn, but for him it was not. We had to backtrack and figure out a plan that would work for him so he could thrive. 

Sonya: Where did you find resources for this? 

Christy: Well, when I first discovered it, there weren’t that many, but it’s becoming more and more recognized as an issue. So one book that I really have enjoyed, and it’s helped me greatly, is called Smart but Scattered. So the original book is for children, Smart but Scattered, and then there’s a Smart but Scattered Teens, which is the one that I used with Ethan. And it breaks down the skills, because chances are your child is not going to have all 10 deficiencies. But you can target the ones that they do have. It gives you concrete steps to train them in those skills. 

Sonya: Then I’m assuming other parents with a single child might discover other milestones that this child—I’m not going to say “missed”—but needs some help with developing. So it’s more than just executive functioning. 

Christy: Yes, and he was having difficulty with math. And math is not my love language, but I went all the way up through trig in high school. So I know it, and I can teach it, but he was having difficulty. And I took him for some testing and he has an actual math deficiency, a disability, it’s not… there’s one called… it’s not dyslexia… 

Sonya: Dysgraphia? 

Christy: It’s not dysgraphia, but he has difficulty remembering formulas because his short-term working memory is shorter than some people’s, and so he actually had to have accommodations for when he took the ACT before he went to college and things like that. Even in college he was permitted to have some accommodations for his math. 

Sonya: Oh, how nice. That’s great. I never thought about the comparison of milestones because you’re always told, “Don’t compare this child with anybody else. This one’s an individual,” but it can be helpful if you are comparing in order to see where this child could benefit from more growth. Not comparing in a way of disrespecting this child but of respecting him even more. 

Christy: Absolutely. 

Sonya: I like that. What other challenges did you come across? I’m sure there’s probably not very many others, but can you think of maybe one more? Remember, “idyllic.” (laughs)

Christy: One thing—and even Charlotte Mason addressed this—is overpressure. When you have one child, and you’ve got one shot at this, and you’re investing your whole life into educating and bringing up one child, I think there’s overpressure that the mom can put on herself. And there can be overpressure put on the child, especially if you have family members, or friends, or a social group who thinks homeschooling is a little “out there” and you feel the need to prove yourself. Gratefully my son was very gregarious. He’s precocious. His IQ is off the charts, I found that out from the math testing. So my tendency, though, was, in the early years, to put too much pressure on him to excel. Because I didn’t have anyone else to judge him against, his abilities, his proclivities, his talents, I probably put a little bit of pressure on both of us in the early years to be perfect. That’s not healthy for mom or child. I was able to recognize that fairly early on and back off of that and let him be his own person and develop in his own way, in his own time. 

The Lord opened my eyes to stop putting my worth in my child. My worth was found in Christ, and also my son’s worth, and it wasn’t—shouldn’t—be based on any worldly standard.

Sonya: I remember reading about Fred Rogers. His wife, Joanne, I believe it is, grew up as an only child, and she remembers all the pressure that her parents put on her, probably unconsciously. But they had all these unfulfilled hopes and dreams for their own lives that had not happened, so it was like, “She’s going to fulfill all of our hopes and dreams.” And I can see how that could happen in the academic side of things as well. Maybe I didn’t excel as I wanted to in school, or I have some painful recollections from my own schooling, and so he’s going to just sail through. And it will somehow redeem my own experience. We think of all kinds of strange things, and this can happen with more than one child, too, but when you only have one, like you said, there is that extra pressure you put on yourself. “I’ve only got one shot at this.” So how did you overcome that? You said you were able to realign things and get headed in the right direction, but that would take a mental shift. 

Christy: It did. I didn’t have a Damascus Road experience, but the Lord opened my eyes in a variety of ways and told me to stop putting my worth in my child. My worth was found in Christ, and also my son’s worth, and it wasn’t—shouldn’t—be based on any worldly standard. So that’s how I moved past that, and it was a beautiful, freeing thing for me and for him. And he’s doing well now. He’s thriving. He’s great. 

Sonya: That’s so wonderful. Any other challenges, or advantages, or words of encouragement, that you want to share with everybody? 

Christy: If you have an only child, just “God bless you.” The Lord knew what I could handle, and what I was best suited for, and I was able to pour myself into him and he into me. It’s just been a wonderful thing, and we share a lot of loves and joys and heartaches and many things together. I think our relationship is very strong, and it might not have been as close if I’d had to divide my time between many children. So just being able to read together—we still read aloud together—and it’s a joy. 

Sonya: That’s wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us, Christy. 

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