How do I make the transition to using a Charlotte Mason approach?

One question we’ve been hearing a lot lately is, “How do I make the transition to using a Charlotte Mason approach?” Well, if your children are just starting school and haven’t known any other method, then dive in and incorporate all the methods from the beginning. Our SCM Curriculum Guide might help you get things set up. However, if your children are already used to “doing school” a different way—whether that different way is a traditional classroom setting, or textbooks and workbooks at home, or some other approach—our advice to you would be, “Ease into it.”

You may think that some of the methods will be simple for your children to do—like narration—but you may be surprised to discover how much practice it takes to listen with full attention and narrate well. Other methods might be entirely new and different—like dictation for spelling lessons—and will take more getting used to. Still other methods will be easy and enjoyable from the beginning, but you may need some time to figure out exactly how to fit them into your weekly schedule.

Those reasons are why we say, “Ease into it.” It will make things easier on both you and your children if you make the transition in stages. What might those stages look like? Here are our tips.

Stage 1: The Basics—Short Lessons, Living Books, Narration

Start with short lessons using living books and narration for History and Literature. If you’re already using a textbook for History, supplement with some living books on the side until you’re ready to make the complete change-over. You can search for good living books by topic in our CM Bookfinder.

Explain to the children how to do narration and when you will require it. Do some narrating yourself to give them an example of what you’re expecting from them. Start with oral narrations until the children (of all ages) get the hang of it. Once they feel comfortable with oral narrations, require some written narrations from the older children (probably grades 7–12). Start with requiring one written narration per week; the rest can be oral. If you’re not sure how to do narration, check our CM Methods page.

Remember to keep lessons short, especially for younger children. Aim for no longer than fifteen or twenty minutes for young children (including their oral narrations), and lengthen the time to thirty or forty minutes for older students.

Stage 2: Once a Week—Fine Arts, Dictation, Nature Study, Book of Centuries

Once you feel comfortable with The Basics described above, you can easily add one more CM method per week. Each of the methods listed below can be done once a week. So 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. If you’re unsure how to do any of the methods listed below, check our CM Methods page.

  • Picture Study
  • Music Study
  • Poetry
  • Dictation for Spelling
  • Nature Study and notebook
  • Book of Centuries

Stage 3: Check Up—Science, Math, Bible

By this time you should be feeling pretty comfortable with the changes you and your children have made. Now’s the time to check your existing Math, Science, and Bible programs to see if they are CM compatible.

  • Science—Does the Science book use a conversational or narrative style? Or does it read more like an encyclopedia? If you need to make a switch, you’ll find many great living Science books in our CM Bookfinder.
  • Math—Does the Math program you are using explain the “why” as well as the “how”? Does it use hands-on manipulatives and activities that make Math apply to everyday life? If you need to make a switch, you’ll find our favorite CM-friendly Math curriculum choices in our CM Bookfinder.
  • Bible—Are you reading the great stories of the Bible to the younger children, since the Bible is a living book? Make sure the children are getting direct contact with the Word, not just watered down re-tellings. Older children are ready for discussions and Bible studies that follow along Charlotte’s ideas for narration. See our Proverbs Bible study and Discovering Doctrine samples for some ideas.

Stage 4: Add In—Geography, Foreign Language, Shakespeare, Recitation

To round out and complete your transition, implement Charlotte’s methods for the subjects listed below. If you’re unsure how to do any of the methods listed below, check our CM Methods page. 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.

  • Geography
  • Foreign Language
  • Shakespeare
  • Recitation

We hope this step-by-step guide will make the transition look do-able to you. Take your time and enjoy each step!