When I got married, I knew how to cook exactly two dishes: canned soup over rice and macaroni and cheese from a box. (And once I forgot to drain the macaroni.) Needless to say, those first few meals required a lot of effort and thinking on my part. But the more I cooked, the easier it got. Now I can cook a meal in my sleep.
It’s the same with getting started in homeschooling. The Charlotte Mason methods may be new to you, something you’ve never done before. At first it may require a lot of thinking and effort on your part; but take heart, the more you do it, the easier it will get.
Our advice to you is to, “Ease into it.” It will make things easier on both you and your children if you make the transition in stages.
Ease Into It
Stage 1: The Basics—Short Lessons, Living Books, Narration
Start with the basics. Shorten lessons in order to encourage the habit of full attention. Your goal is to stop the lesson before your child loses attention. The more times your child pays attention during the whole lesson, the quicker that action will become a habit. Then you can gradually lengthen the lesson times and reap the benefits of the habit. But establishing the habit of full attention first is foundational.
Then incorporate living books and narration. If you’re already using a textbook for History, you can supplement with some living books on the side until you’re ready to make the complete change-over and drop the textbook. You can search for good living books in our free CM Bookfinder.
And remember, with the Charlotte Mason approach, you don’t quiz a child to see if she recalls the facts that you think are important from the book. Instead, you tell your child to listen closely as you read a few paragraphs or pages of the story and then ask her to retell in her own words all that she can recall of what she heard, adding in her own observations and opinion.
Stage 2: Once a Week—Art, Music, Poetry, Nature, Dictation, Handicrafts
Once you feel comfortable with the Basics, you can easily add one more CM method per week. Each of the hands-on methods listed above can be done once a week.
Simply choose one of them to add to your schedule during the week, and continue incorporating that method once a week for a few weeks until you’re comfortable. Then select another one to add to your schedule during the week, and continue doing it once a week until you’re ready to add another one.
Take your time and enjoy the simplicity of these methods, but be assured that they are quite effective. After you are comfortable with all these once-a-week additions, and have found a place for them in your schedule, you’ll be ready for Stage 3.
Stage 3: Check Up—Math, Science, Bible, Grammar
Stage 3 is the time to check your existing Science, Math, Bible, and Grammar curricula to see if they are CM compatible. Go through each one and ask yourself
- Do our science books use a conversational tone (as if speaking directly to the reader) or a narrative (story) style? If the book reads like an encyclopedia, you may need to make a switch. In science, as in several other subjects, living books and narration work well.
- Does our math program explain the “why” as well as the “how”? Does it use hands-on manipulatives and activities that make math apply to everyday life?
- Am I reading directly from the Bible, the living book, and having the children narrate it?
- Have I saved English grammar lessons for when my child is nine or ten and older?
Once you have stepped through Stages 1–3, your home school will be using Charlotte Mason methods for the most part. Then you’ll be ready for the final stage of making the transition, Stage 4.
Stage 4: Add In—Geography, Foreign Language, Shakespeare
In Stage 4 you can add some finishing touches to your Charlotte Mason education. You can also increase the frequency of some subjects, if desired. For example, you could read poetry several times a week instead of just once a week.
Go ahead and add some geography living books. Look for interesting travelogues, or simply keep a globe nearby. Anytime you read a living book, go to the globe and find where the events took place. The closer you can tie geography to people, the more living it will become.
If you want to teach a foreign language, remember to teach it the same way as our native language: hear and speak it first, then read and write it.
Charlotte read Shakespeare with the children who were ten and older. An easy way to do Shakespeare is to read the play in story form to get a good feel for the plot and characters, then read part or all of the play in its original language, and watch a presentation of the play, either live or recorded. (As with any material that you give your children, please use discretion and wisdom in selecting which Shakespeare plays you want to use and previewing the presentations you will show them.)
Those are the stages you can use to ease into the Charlotte Mason Method in your homeschool. Remember to take your time and get comfortable with each step and each stage before you move on to the next. This is not a race. It involves many new decisions and new ways of thinking. So don’t get in a hurry or feel like you’re “behind”; you’ll do just fine.
Next week we’ll have a helpful little surprise for you as you get started.
More on Charlotte’s Methods
Our All-Day Charlotte Mason Seminar walks you through each school subject and details how to teach it using CM Methods. Now you can access that seminar either live or on DVD.
- Live SCM Conference in Kansas City—Sonya will be presenting the All-Day Charlotte Mason seminar live in Kansas City, Missouri, on August 20, 2010, plus the Books & Things seminar on August 21. Registration deadline is fast approaching: August 16. So register today! We would love to see you there!
- All-Day Charlotte Mason Seminar on DVD—If you aren’t able to come to the live event, you can enjoy the seminar on DVD in the comfort of your own home.