confused about CM vs. classical

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  • bekahsagar

    I am intrigued and encouraged by the SCM materials/recommendations and curriculum guide! I am torn between CM and classical education. The traditionally schooled part of me that wants my kids to “know everything” leans toward classical education. The intuitive, loving-learning part of me leans toward CM. I thought that I could combine the two methods somehow, and in some ways that might work. But I can see other ways they contradict.

    My oldest is starting 1st grade. We have done half of Story of the World book 1, and I was planning on doing the other half next year. My tendency while doing it was always to slow down, read all supplemental material that I thought was appropriate, make sure she was understanding. But with classical, it seems like just getting the info in is the focus, not comprehension necessarily or deep understanding. So I want to slow down, but I am not sure about her not learning about American history until 5th grade or so. I want her to know about her immediate surroundings too, her country, its history. I understand CM taught about England, and that does have an ancient history unlike the United States of America (native Americans have a more ancient history, but that is not the history of *our country* persay). But wasn’t part of CM’s intent to give them info on their immediate surroundings? (similar to why they learned French, since it was the closest language to them)

    If we go back to Module 1, my daughter would have had 2 years of the same info (we did a LOT on Egypt, China, Africa this year). We are starting Greece now, actually (these SOTW books move FAST!). I have liked them for the most part, and was wondering if I can combine somehow. Maybe start with module 2 next year? This still doesn’t solve the America issue though. I also like studying the biblical history at the same time, and we’d miss that if we don’t go back.

    I thought about switching to module 5 just for a year, but wondered if Story of the Nations and Story of America/Epistles was too old for 1st grade.

    I’m truly confused about everything…next year I had planned on First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise for grammar, and we are doing Ordinary Parents Guide to teaching Reading this year (this has been pretty boring and repetitive, at least for me). I was looking at Writing With Ease for next year, and had already gotten Explode the Code (she likes workbooks and is almost finished with the 1st one). Now I’m looking at Queen’s Language Lessons, the Days go By primers, Right Start math (I have not been very happy with Singapore by itself at least). I’m even examining our co-op and whether we want to do Apologia Astronomy next year, and instead do nature study/living books so it relates more to what she sees around her (have 106 Days, outdoor secrets and hours in the out of doors in my cart). In short, it feels like I am revamping everything, and I thought I was kind of “set” for next year except for a “couple things.”

    I was a little sad with the workbook approach, it seemed kind of lonely for her to go off and do by herself (I help with math, at least the first couple pages). With classical, they get everything 3x instead of twice, so I am more afraid of her “missing” something. Also, depending on the timing of the module, an older student might never read the high-school level materials on a certain subject (if covered in 1st and 7th grade, for instance). Does this matter?

    I am excited though–there seemed to be something missing, and the ways I was naturally leaning (poetry, arts, nature, copywork, narration–the best parts of our year) are all within the CM method. We did Five-in-a-Row, and we will probably continue with book 2 either way, since it has fit well (we’ll use less of the Five-in-a-Row material since it made the lessons too long and both 6 and 4 year old would sigh when I pulled it out). And DH reads the kids a “classic” book at night, so we’ll continue that (they are over halfway through the Narnia series). We were memorizing poetry and Bible verses, but I need a more focused scripture memory program, and I like the system I read about on the website. 

    Any feedback on all this? History and grammar especially? I am new, so I know I don’t understand every aspect of her method, and am honestly not sure the broader purpose (love of learning and love of God? excellence? habits?)/how to know I can trust it. I like the relationships focus, but need to learn more about that. I am kicking myself I didn’t hear Sonya at the Cincinnati conference! It was my first one and I was overwhelmed…I did hear Jeannie Fulbright speak about the CM method though.





    It can be so confusing! I understand your questions, and while I certainly don’t have all the answers, I do have two quick things I wanted to say in response to your post.

    The first is, when my kids were young and we were in the first couple of years of homeschooling, I started out with CM methods for many of the same reasons you mentioned. But it wasn’t long before I was saying to myself, there is no way this is enough. They need something more. So we ended up leaning very classical in our approach. Now after several years, and major burnout for both the kids and myself, we are back to Charlotte Mason. I am using this site as my primary guide…and my kids are thriving under the changes we have made. They are learning, they are growing in their abilities, they are enjoying things…we all are. I am not going to say that the CM way is the ONLY good way to educate your kids. But I will say that it has made all the difference in my household.

    The second thing I wanted to mention is, just yesterday I was thinking that coming back to Charlotte Mason methods in our homeschool feels like coming home. When I read CM, I don’t have that blood-pressure-is-rising feeling in my gut. Instead I feel drawn to her, and to her philosophy of education. I feel inspired, not pressured. My heart resonates with what she teaches about the nature of children and true education. It just feels like home. *This* is how I want to raise and educate my sweet children.

    Hope this helps a little as you are trying to sort all the options out. I am sure you will get lots of helpful replies.

    Doug Smith

    We did a post a while back comparing CM and Classical. It’s at

    The same article is also in our free Getting Started in Homeschooling book.


    Embracing a CM philosophy doens’t necesarily mean you have to teach history in the order someone else has suggested.  I, too, was uncomfortable with the chronological history for the same reason you are.  So, we decided to do it this way: 2 years of American History followed by 2 years of World History.  I will keep a Book of Centuries to help with the integration of it all.  It was important to us that our chldren had more American History than can be offered with a 4 or 6 year chronological cycle.  However, we are very CM in our approach (living books, narration, etc.) Be encouraged that you can teach history in whatever succession you wish and still do it in a CM fashion, instilling in your children a love for learning.

    The same thing goes for grammar.  CM had some ideas as far as when to teach grammar and how (there are articles on this site explaining these things), but essentially she viewed it as something that had to be taught and just probably isn’t going to be the most engaging thing you do throughout the year.  I am actually going to use First Lang Lessons and Writing With Ease next year.  It was written by Bauer, yes.  But, the lessons are short, to the point and all oral.  She needs some encouragement in the narration area and I think Writing With Ease will REALLY help with that.  Now, I won’t drill her or anything like that.  But, it was the only grammar curriculum I could find that was completely oral.  I didn’t want her to have to write yet.  🙂  So, again, be encouraged that you have freedom to choose curriculum that works for you, even if you embrace a CM philosophy of education. 

    I think the most important thing is to really get a firm foundation as far as what the philosohpy entails so you can feel comfortable choosing curriculum and teaching your children via this method.  The articles Doug posted are very good and will alleviate some of your concerns.  There are also several articles on here that do a good job of exlaining her philosophy.  Sonya’s videos are also helpful.  Some book recommendations: A Charlotte Mason Education (a short read and to the point), A Charlotte Mason Companion (longer and more encouraging in nature, but still filled some ho-to’s), and, of course, the original 6 volume series.  No one says it better than Charlotte herself!  🙂 


    About the missing something aspect, an older hs mom at church this week was just telling me that yes, orcourse, her kids will have gaps in their education. We all do. But because she homechooled them she knows that the most important things (i.e. learning about God and wat He wants for and of us) were not overlooked. I wouldn’t worry so muchb about academic gaps. They happen. Public school kids will have tons of them too. CM’s approach as I understand it is not so much about making sure they get every fact as about instilling a love of learning and the ability to learn by making connections for themselves. The classical approach for younger years is all about memorizing facts and children are not expected to make connections or know how to use those facts till later on. For me, I can see how even my elementary aged kdis are able to make connections. I don’t see any reason to put that off till later years.


    If you want to do both American history and Module 1 while they are youger, could you use everyday things cover the way American society is set up – like talking about the President and Congress’ job, the states job and the cities places while you are running errands?  Then maybe set up tours of the grocery store, city hall, electric ot phone company, then the county court house and eventually move up to the state?  Then you can read books about places and incidents in American history so that she has a reference to them.  I would think that there would be enough distinction between the two histories that she could keep them seperate in her mind.  Just a thought… 

    Also, I have audio recordings from Librivox for some of the books that my oldest will “miss” on our mod. rotations.  So, I am listening to them in the afternoons with them as we are learning to quilt.  It worked for me.  =)

    “Is this enough?”  I see this question and comment on this forum all the time and just have to finally ask “What is enough?”  Enough for what???  What are the guidelines for that?  As far as I can tell it is one of the best tool for discouragement and second-guessing ourselves among us!  (Don’t get me wtrong – I ask it too! =) )

    I think that for me a “claasical education” came about in my home when I decided that using CM methods to teach my children to want to know more and how and where to find it was what I wanted.  To me using CM methods, my idea of a classical education became less about memorizing and more about exposing my children to a broad “array” of things: poetry, compsers and beautiful music, wonderful literature, more detailed history, scripture study, the outdoors and how fantastic our Father’s plan is (we use oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, the plants use c.d. and “breathe” out oxygen – one of today’s science connections), the ideas of serving others, being a voice of goodness to people around us, etc.   My summary was this: by doing this at home with my children, they will recieve a “classical” education that is very very rare in the public school system. They will be exposed to living ideas and not just something that they are told to “know” or believe.   The ideas will become part of who they are and what they do.  That is my goal.

    There are gaps all around us in education – the point is do we kill the desire to know more during “school ages” or do we invite them to want to always be looking for more?  

    I was seriously looking between the two before I settled on CM, the main reason was that I wanted to go in a more relaxed way with love and enjoyment.  I know myself well enough to know that the pace and style of a more “classical” memory one would have shoved us all over the edge months ago! 

    This was not intended to be “preachy” – it is more the ruminations (albeit interrupted about 15 times) of my little brain trying to explain how I made I my choice.  HTH. 


    Hi Bekah, I totally understand where you’re coming from–have had this struggle myself.  I think CM is classical in the truest sense….instilling virtue, reading the classics, etc.  Just different ways of going about it.  I love this article where S.W. Bauer shares how similar CM and Classical are:  I agree with Jenn…CM feels more like coming home to me.  Classical feels like some sort of competition and how much knowledge we can cram in to me. 

    I pick and choose what I like from both methods.  We use Ambleside for literature and many book selections, Simply Charlotte Mason for history (along with Truthquest bible commentaries).  I prefer CM for the younger years…just can’t see us spending time memorizing a bunch of facts that don’t mean anything to them yet. But CM does encourage memorization in things that are truly important….Scripture, poetry, math facts.  You asked about grammar and history.  We use Analytical Grammar—rec. both here and (I believe) by Bauer. I like that we don’t have to focus on grammar every single year with it, but very thorough.  For history, we’re doing the 6-yr. cycle here, keeping my kids together.   This is probably neither CM or WTM, but I add in a progym writing program in 3rd grade….maybe not necessary, but I feel writing is so important I want to make sure my bases are covered!!  I also bought the “Planning Your CM Education” book here—-very helpful to come up with your own plan and make sure you’re covering everything.  HTH some, blessing on your journey!  Gina


    Thanks for sharing ladies! This is a great post asking (and answering) a lot of good questions.



    Yes, I *really* appreciate everyone’s answers. I feel very supported! I was kind of anxious the other night, and I feel calmer about it now. 🙂 I know in my heart and have experienced confirmation that God is pleased with us choosing to homeschool! And He’ll show me how to do it/adapt it each year, as baby grows older, as my 4 yo son participates, as my daughter learns to read more complex things. As we have more! That was very comforting about the fact that there will be gaps in their education, and I think probably less than in public school, since they are not switching teachers! 🙂 I think of my own education, and I hadn’t learned half of what she’s learned in history already (that I remember). I am still not sure which module to start with–do they definitely take a whole year? I wondered if I could do an abbreviated module 1 to get the Bible history more and read Boy of the Pyramids and a couple other resources and then move on to module 2 (or maybe this is too rushed and I should just start with 2?). I haven’t seen them, so I’m not sure how they are scheduled out throughout the year. Any insight on this? I like the idea of naturally adding in things around us for American history (we might just do some OH history and visit some places etc.).

    Thank you all for your feedback, ideas and encouragement!




    A couple of other thoughts. See this thread that I started asking about teaching US History alongside Module 1:

    And a simple, affordable and rich option for US History. “Turning Back the Pages of Time” by Kathy Keller. An experienced CM homeschooling mother recommended this to me a while back. It’s a little pamphlet/booklet that has living book recommendations for US History, broken into time periods and age group recommendations (K-3 and 3-6 & up).

    Hope those help!



    I actually had read the comparison that momto2blessings gave the link for by Susan Bauer. That was when I decided that we could do the Charlotte Mason style.  The other would have reminded my kids of PS too much.  I like the gentle approach though.  It reaches my children better.  

    And, I LOVE how much I learning with them.  =)

    As young as your children are, you could easily modify the modules for what you are working toward.  I think that is one of the joys of being the teacher.  As far as I have gotten into them, they are only scheduled out that long so you can really follow Bible history along side.  If your goal is just to introduce your young children to various cultures, you could do that while telling the stories that pertain to the era you are doing, and then do the more indepth ones as you rotate through.   If you started by doing brief terms in the first year of the three ancient civilizations, then it would put you in Amer. History by third grade.  Then you would begin with the Genesis module again and do it all in depth.  Either way, your children will cover American History for 4 years with the module rotation. (if I have this right in my mind).  You would just have to scripture reading seperate from history.  You will just have to decide which is more important to your family.  And, there is no right or wrong to that decision. 

    I don’t know how this is for you, but I like books and pretty book websites.  If I had the money, I’d have a huge library full of new friends to read all the time.  I find that I have to be careful about my  looking, because I feel pressured that I am not doing enough for muy kids.  So humble word of advice: don’t let yourself get pressured about “enough” when you look at curriculum sites.  Now matter how good the curriculum is, (or claims to be) – remember that they are a business that is trying to make money – and they sometimes do that by making you feel like you need everything that they have for sale or your child isn’t getting enough.  Decide what your educational goal is for your family, print it and post it on your computer.  Then compare your choices against your goal.  That might make it easier to figure out and stay focused – and not get sidetracked as easily by the “pretty” websites.  =)

    That said, I’m off to check out Callie’s book recommendation!  =)   Sheila

    Sara B.

    You know, I have a homeschool discussion forum, and for some of my early blog posts, I researched the different methods of homeschooling.  Turns out, CM is a branch of classical!  I never would have known that, because they seem so different on the outside.  The methods may be different, but the general idea is the same.  Here are a few of the links I used in my research:

    These aren’t all directly about CM, but they are the articles I read for my research to figure out what the differences (and as it turned out, similarities) were between CM and classical.


    Sara  🙂

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