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Simple Weekly Subjects—How to Switch to Charlotte Mason Homeschooling, Stage 2

Charlotte Mason Transition Simple Weekly Subjects

We’ve been talking about how to make the transition to the Charlotte Mason method in five stages. Last time we talked about Stage 1: The Basics. Today let’s move on to Stage 2: Once a Week. The Once-a-Week stage is comprised of five subjects that are not hard to do, and you do each one only once a week. You can easily pick one for each day of the week. They take about five or ten minutes, so this stage shouldn’t be hard at all.

Once-a-Week Subject #1: Picture Study

The first of the Once-a-Week subjects is picture study. This is a great way to give your children art appreciation and to add variety to your week. Pick an artist, let’s say Vermeer, and show your children a picture by that artist. Have them look at the picture until they’ve got it in their minds’ eye. If they close their eyes, they can see all the details in their imaginations. When they’re ready, hide the picture and have them describe it to you. After they’ve described it, look at it together again to clarify or confirm what they told you. Then put the picture on display for the rest of the week. Next week, pick a different picture, but stick with the same artist. You’re going to stay with Vermeer, or whatever artist you choose, for twelve weeks. So choose a different picture by the same artist and repeat the process: look at it, hide it and describe it, look again, and then put it on display for the rest of the week. After you’ve gone through about six or eight of that artist’s pictures, your children are going to have a really good feel for your selected artist’s style. Sometime during those twelve weeks you can read a living biography of that artist, as well. That’s picture study. It’s not hard to do; it takes about five minutes, maybe ten minutes, once a week.

Once-a-Week Subject #2: Music Study

The second subject is pretty similar to picture study. It’s music study. Again, pick one composer and linger with that composer for twelve weeks. Play that composer’s music informally in the background throughout the week. Simply say the composer’s name—“Hey kids, let’s listen to Bach”—and then start playing Bach’s music. You can play the music during lunch or while the children are cleaning up or getting ready for bed. Then once a week, gather together and have a focused time of listening to that composer’s music. Choose one of his pieces and listen to it carefully. Give the children silk scarves and let them move the way the music makes them want to move, or let them draw what the music sounds like to them. If the music makes them want to create a story, they could do that. You can say, “Listen for the loud parts and the soft parts” or “Listen for one specific musical instrument.” Any of these ideas will help them do focused listening once a week.

Once-a-Week Subject #3: Poetry

On another day of the week, do poetry. If you are not really comfortable with poetry, it might be because of the way you were taught poetry in school. If you were taught poetry like I was, it was dissected and pulled to bits. Any joy that you might have had in the words from the poet was sucked out of them by all of that analyzing. That’s not how Charlotte Mason taught poetry. She wanted us to enjoy the poet’s use of words. So pick one poet and linger with that poet the whole year, if you want to. Once a week, read a poem by that poet and simply enjoy it with your children. If the poem lends itself well to illustrating, you could have the children illustrate it. Or you could have them act it out, if the poem lends itself to that approach. If you want to, assign some poetry for the children to memorize. (Schedule a second day of the week for them to work on memorizing and reciting their selected poems.) Mainly, all you need to do is read a poem once a week and enjoy it together.

Tip: Book of Centuries

A Book of Centuries will help you to organize all the poets, artists, and composers, plus the history and Bible that we talked about last time. A Book of Centuries is basically a timeline in a book. Every two-page spread covers a hundred years, a century. That’s why it’s called a Book of Centuries. Whenever you read about a certain event in history or a certain person, flip open to the century in which he lived and write his name in there. If you are studying a certain poet, flip open to the century in which he lived and enter his name. The same with your artists and your composers, your Bible events, and characters from the Bible—all of those should be entered in your Book of Centuries. As the children enter new people into that Book of Centuries, they are seeing all of the other entries that they’ve already made, and they start to form connections: “Oh, ____ lived at the same time as ____ did. I didn’t know that.” And when the child makes that connection for himself, that’s when it sticks.

You can download a free basic Book of Centuries from our website that has the timeline across the top and blank pages. I recommend that you start with a family Book of Centuries, especially with younger children, so you can show them how it works. You can also get a more deluxe version in our bookstore that is designed for older students.

Here’s another tip: The first thing to do when you have your Book of Centuries is to put your child’s birthday in it. That entry will give him a reference point. You might also put in your birthday or Grandpa and Grandma’s birthdays. Then flip the pages to go back further and put in when Vermeer lived (or whoever you are studying).

Once-a-Week Subject #4: Nature Study

Let’s talk about the fourth subject you will do once a week: nature study. Nature study is simply getting outdoors and recording what you observe about God’s creation around you. Take your children outside—go with them. Each of you should have a sketchbook or a blank journal. As you observe different things, write down those observations or draw pictures of them. Your nature notebook should be a reflection of your own personality; so don’t grade them. Don’t put pressure on the kids that their notebooks have to look a certain way. Just guide them in forming relations with nature outdoors. The nature notebook is simply a record of those observations.

You might want to get the children focused and give them some direction to begin with. Our book, Journaling a Year in Nature, gives you weekly ideas. You might go look at a tree and adopt that tree for the whole year: “This is our American Beech tree.” And every few weeks go visit that tree again and see what’s happening in its world during that day. Or you might say, “Let’s go look for birds today” or “Let’s go look for spiderwebs today.” Journaling a Year in Nature will give you those prompts and help you know what kinds of things to look for during the different seasons of the year. But the main thing is to get outside and let your children interact with nature up-close and personal, and then encourage them to record their observations in their nature notebooks.

Once-a-Week Subject #5: Geography

The last subject to do just once a week is geography. Geography should be approached through a combination of living books and map work.

Two great living books that I love to use for geography are Material World and Hungry Planet. In both of those books, a professional photographer traveled the world and took pictures of typical families in different countries. In Material World you’ll see pictures of those families outside their houses with all their possessions on the front lawn. It’s amazing to look at those pictures! You can learn so much about the different cultures around the world. And that’s what geography should be. It’s about people, not just about land. Material World also shows some candid pictures. As the photographer spent time with that family, he wrote about his time with them. So the book is like a travelogue with several photographs of each family. Hungry Planet follows a similar format with the same photographer, but it contains pictures of typical families with one week’s worth of groceries in their kitchens or wherever they might happen to cook their food. Some favorite recipes are included that you can try out, if you want to. Both books are great living books for geography.

You will want to combine the living books with map work: looking at maps and seeing how those countries relate to each other, where they are in relation to the oceans, which ones are landlocked, which ones are in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere. An easy way to do map work once a week is to give your child a blank outline map of one region of the world. I like to focus on one region for the whole year; for example, you could do South America and Central America this year. Give your child a blank outline map of that region with the countries outlined but not labeled. Tell your child, “Label the countries you know.” After he has done that, give him a labeled map and have him compare and check his work, making sure that each country is in the right place and spelled correctly. Then have him fill in one or two new countries, referring to the labeled map. Set the maps aside. The next week, give him another blank outline map of the same region and say, “Fill in the countries that you know.” Give him the labeled map so he can compare and confirm and fill in one or two new countries. Simply do that little exercise once every week, and by the end of the year, your children will have a really good feel for that area of the world as it is on a map. (But be sure to combine the map work with living books too.)

One other thing you can do for geography is, as you read about your selected artists or composers or poets, watch for any mention of the places where they lived. Maybe your artist lived in France; then go find France on a globe or on a map. If you read that your poet lived in Illinois, go find Illinois on the map. Finding those locations as you read books together is a great way to make geography come alive to your children.

By the way, now that you know how to do history, Bible, and geography, you might want to take a look at the ready-to-go lesson plans that we have for those subjects. They are available in six different time periods. The plans can save you a lot of time, because the living books are already selected and divided out day by day. If that would be of help to you, feel free to take a look.

So your assignment for Stage 2 is five subjects: picture study, music study, poetry, nature study, and geography. But you’re only doing one each day of the week, and it’s only going to take about five or ten minutes most days. Maybe you’ll do picture study every Monday. That’s great! And you’ll do the focused listening of music study on Tuesday (but you’ll play it during lunch on Thursday and Friday too). That’s fine! You could read your poem on Wednesday. . . . You see how this works. Just assign one subject to each day of the week.

And if you want to, you can ease into this stage in smaller steps. Maybe you want to get only picture study up and running first. Then once that plate is spinning, add in music study. When you’re comfortable with those two, add in poetry; and so forth. You can take it as slowly as you need to in order to feel confident and comfortable with these parts of the Charlotte Mason approach.

Next time, we’ll talk about Stage 3.

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