(Note: This is a rather long post, as we begin to answer the many questions that have been submitted about homeschooling through the high school years with the Charlotte Mason Method. You might find it convenient to listen to the audio version while you cook dinner tonight.)
Ask any parent of a high school student how much they spend on groceries and you will be reminded of a young adult’s healthy appetite. Teens require food and lots of it. Their bodies are growing at a phenomenal rate, and they need plenty of nutritious food to fuel that growth.
High school students also require food for their minds. Just as the teen years are not the time to starve your child’s body, so they are not the time to skimp on what you feed your student’s mind and heart. These years should be a natural continuation of what you’ve been doing all along in a Charlotte Mason education: feed your student’s mind by spreading a feast of ideas in a wide variety of subjects.
This first batch of questions are all about spreading the feast in the high school years.
High School Question #1: How do you keep a rich variety of lessons when high school core coursework takes more and more time?
The core coursework is part of the line-up of subjects, and they will require a substantial amount of time every day. The key is to not neglect the other subjects that may not be on the “required” list but that add the richness and variety of a CM education.
It’s interesting to see the list of subjects that Charlotte Mason had for her older students. It’s the same list that she used for the younger students!
Foreign Language and Latin
Of that list, history, language arts, math, and science are most likely the main subjects that will need to be done nearly every day. But the rest of the subjects can be sprinkled in. Some might be done three days a week; others only once or twice a week. Many of those subjects take only 15 or 20 minutes to do.
Don’t try to do everything every day. Offer a wide variety of subjects over the course of the week or the term or even the year.
High School Question #2: How do we keep the richness of the CM feast and slow pace through books when we’re trying to meet credit hours in high school?
First, back up a step and look at the principle behind the practice. Ask yourself why Charlotte advocated a slow pace through books. The main principle is giving the student time to digest the living ideas contained in those books—time to look for relations with other ideas, to consider deeper issues of character and will behind actions, and to ponder choices and consequences.
One way to protect that thinking time is to assign fewer books. More is not always better. A wide variety of subjects does not necessarily mandate more books to read. Looking at a sample of Charlotte’s programs suggests that the older students were reading from about 5 or 6 books per day, about 7 pages from each book. Over a week, that translates into about 175–200 pages read—a substantial amount but taken in small, constant touches.
So choose your books wisely and don’t overload. With consistent effort, you will achieve both goals: the page counts will add up and the ideas will get digested and nourish your student’s mind.
High School Questions #3 and 4: How can we balance the CM principles and the requirements of our state? For example here in [our state] we have a list of required subjects for every year that we have to cover (language, reading, spelling writing, geography, history of the US, history of [our state], national/state/local government, mathematics, science, health, physical education, fine arts including music, first aid, safety, fire prevention).
How to keep the beauty of a CM education and yet meet state standards for graduation requirements without doing twice the amount of work!
Three tips come to mind.
First, think long term. Look at the requirements and look at the four years of high school. Spread out the requirements over the years. And double check whether you have to teach every subject every year. In some states you do; in others it is not specified. Do your research.
Second, just because you are required to teach a certain subject during the year does not necessarily mean that you have to teach it every day all year long. Take first aid, for instance. You could probably go through a general first aid handbook in one term, assigning a reading portion one day per week and discussing and practicing a second day per week. Or consider the different aspects of a subject, such as health or fire prevention, and see whether it could be covered as a part of regular family life in a series of short family meetings or something like that. Get creative.
Third, look closely at what you are already covering. It might be possible that your study fulfills a requirement that is called by a different name. Compare what ideas and skills are presented and see if renaming your study would solve the issue.
Yes, meet the requirements but be careful not to allow them to handcuff your child’s education. It can be tempting to reduce your student’s educational diet to just the essentials needed for graduation or for college, but try not to let those requirements limit your thinking. Such a restricted approach can quickly turn into a drudgery of dry, monotonous days.
High School Question #5: How does one cover the feast of all the wonderful things about a CM education while satisfying college entrance requirements without overwhelming the child and make it a delight instead of a drudgery?
Charlotte said that studies following her methods would “serve for delight.” Over all, that is true. Living books are much more delightful than textbooks. Taking a break to go outside and relax in nature is a delightful change of pace. Learning to self-educate is much more delightful than pointless busywork. Looking at beautiful art and listening to lovely music adds delight to the day.
But Charlotte also said that some children would prefer certain subjects over others. And she talked about the need for the student to put forth effort and do the work of learning.
Not every subject or assignment will be a delight. Some courses or assignments will serve another role: that of strengthening the student’s willpower, making it strong enough to do what he should even when it’s hard. Even then, there is a certain sense of satisfaction (even delight) in looking back and seeing that you accomplished a challenging task.
Drudgery happens when there is no change to the monotony. Serving a feast of a variety of subjects will make sure that the student has something enjoyable to look forward to and will help keep drudgery at bay.
High School Question #6: I feel like much of the CM principles are almost impossible to maintain. The curriculum requirements are not really what I am referring to. I guess it just feels like the “gentle art of learning” loses much of its gentleness.
Charlotte maintained that a gentle attitude was an important part of respecting the child as a person; however, she also had high standards in both academics and character habits, and she expected each student to put forth his or her best effort. In the younger years, her methods are often called “gentle” because they follow the way a child naturally learns. But as her students learned how to self-educate, they were challenged with incrementally more difficult content and skills.
The methods stayed the same, but the difficulty level increased: longer and harder books, specific written narration parameters, more penetrating and involved exam questions, reading and narrating in French.
We too should require more from our older students. Gradually increase the difficulty level. Be careful not to allow half-hearted or slip-shod work. At the same time, make sure that you are focusing on feeding your student’s mind, not just using the mind. In other words, your attitude can and should be gentle yet firm even as you continually raise the bar.
High School Question #7: How do we know if this advanced level of curriculum is too much for our child? How do we lessen the burden and still give them a quality education while meeting graduation requirements? What if your child just isn’t at the “honors” level?
How high you raise the bar is up to you. The methods remain consistent, but the content is variable. You choose the books you are going to use. You decide how high you want the difficulty level to increase. Of course, if you are going to award a high school level diploma, you need to make sure the content is high school level. But you don’t have to raise it all the way up to an honors level if that would not be a good fit for your student as a person.
That’s one of the beauties of home schooling; you can customize each child’s education to best develop that individual person with his or her unique talents and strengths.
So raise the bar as high as it needs to be for that student. And remember that no matter how high you raise the bar, some elements never change: requiring the habits of full attention and best effort, cultivating a wide range of interests, and spreading a feast of ideas from a wide variety of subjects.
High School Question #8: What list of things in a high school CM education do you truly NOT want to miss spreading before your child before they graduate?
What the feast looks like can vary, because the Charlotte Mason approach is a method, not a rigid system. So start with the list of subjects that Charlotte gave her older students (see question #1 above). Then take into account that your older student is a person. With that in mind, you can
- Customize what topics are studied in each subject,
- Arrange for volunteer opportunities in his areas of need or talent,
- Teach her how to cultivate good habits for herself,
- Look for apprenticeships, internships, or part-time jobs in his fields of interest,
- Take advantage of travel/study opportunities to widen her global perspectives,
- Encourage open, candid, and gracious conversations and discussions.
You never know in what direction that child might head. He might start off pursuing one goal and then veer onto a different path. But you will make sure he is prepared for any pursuit at any time of his life if you do three things: cultivate within him a love of knowledge through a wide range of subjects, teach him how to self-educate through Charlotte’s brilliant methods, and develop him as a person through wise and respectful guidance. If you spread that feast, you are setting him up for success no matter what comes next, because “the more of a person, the better the work of whatever kind” (A Philosophy of Education, p. 147).
I hope these answers are helpful to you all. Next time, as we continue our series, we’ll work through some questions that were submitted about scheduling your day with high schoolers in the mix.