Why We Homeschool
Disclaimer: I was a reluctant homeschooler. Oh sure, I was homeschooled for a couple years and it’s no big thang in my family of origin. But when I envisioned being a mom of older kids, I always imagined them being schooled. I was a teacher myself for 9 years, for crying out loud. I figured by the time they were 5 or so, I would have been happy to drop them off, pick them up, and volunteer in their classrooms.
Problem 1: Public schools in our old neighborhood were atrocious. Problem 2: Private schools were waaaaaay out of our price range. Problem 3: I’m a sucker for punishment.
Our choices boiled down to either starting my own school (you know, something really simple, like a Catholic Waldorf/Montessori blend with a Spanish immersion program) or homeschooling. My lazy self chose homeschooling.
My journey to Charlotte Mason
After the decision was made, I checked out numerous homeschooling volumes from our local library. Should-I-do-it books, How-to-do-it books, Success Stories of Homeschoolers Who Rule the Planet, etc. It all seemed great, but I still felt adrift. I had no idea how to shape my curriculum. (Probably my school ideas above weren’t very wise after all.) Practically the only thing I was certain of was that I didn’t want to just take all my years of teaching 3rd graders and middle schoolers and try and twist it to fit our family.
Thankfully, one of the books I stumbled upon was a book that laid out the most popular homeschooling styles and explained the main tenets of each. It was a godsend. I was first drawn to the Classical Method, but after reading the Well Trained Mind, it seemed too structured for our family. I wanted something very much like it, but with a little more emphasis on the development of the small child.
I still remember flipping to the Charlotte Mason page in that book. I scanned the title and almost skipped it. Her name alone sounded a bit too uptight for me. Then the words “nature journal” jumped off the page and my crunchy mama heart went pitter patter. I scanned the whole page and found that, indeed, it was exactly what I was looking for. Harnessing the power of the internet, I ran a quick Google search and found Ambleside Online, the most popular Charlotte Mason style curriculum. It looked great, until I noticed a handful of books on the reading list that had a distinctly anti-Catholic bent. (Don’t ask me which. It was a long time ago and I have a terrible memory.) Another quick search turned up this article on how it’s impossible to “Catholicize” Charlotte Mason.
Frustrated again, I gave up for a few weeks. In one last ditch effort, I Googled “Catholic Charlotte Mason curriculum” and found Michele Quigley’s labor of love: Mater Amabilis, a free Catholic homeschool curriculum based on the Charlotte Mason method.
I was sold.
Charlotte Mason: Wicked Smart and Ahead of her Time
Pause for a reality check: we are hardly a perfect CM family. I consider myself more of a CM-influenced mom than a strict CM teacher. I don’t follow the Mater Amabilis curriculum to a T, and we’ve had to make some (lots of!) adjustments to find what works for our family. I find that to be true of most homeschooling families I meet, but I wanted to make that perfectly clear here, too.
Back to the good stuff: Sonya at Simply Charlotte Mason gives a wonderful breakdown of exactly what CM is. Since she’s an expert and I am simple novice, I’ll leave the details to her. (Sonya’s website is a treasure trove. Click around if you’re interested in learning more or getting a lot of free CM resources.) I’d like to share with you what our family takes from CM that makes it so wonderful for us.
Living books: Whenever and wherever possible, we use literature instead of textbooks. ”Living books” are simply books that are interesting, challenging, and contain valuable information for a child’s mind. Usually they’re written by a single author who is passionate about the subject. We read a lot of historical fiction and biographies, as well as some fun science books written by passionate scientists. This is mostly motivated by my selfishness and my ADD. Being the purveyor of most of the lessons in our house, I prefer not to teach anything which I myself find boring or tedious.
Short lessons: Charlotte Mason believed in cultivating a child’s attention, not by forcing them to sit for long periods, but by making the time they spend learning a completely focused time. To this frazzled mama, that sounds like a good plan for me, too! Lessons for young kids begin at 5-10 minutes and slowly extend as they get older. We aren’t rigid about time limits, but it is something I appreciate and try to keep in mind as I plan and teach.
Narrations vs. worksheets: The last thing I wanted was a bunch of grading. I haaaaaaaaate grading. It’s one of the reasons I am so glad not to be in the classroom anymore. The way I make sure the kids are learning (for most subjects) is by having them narrate back to me, with as much detail as possible, what they learned during that lesson. At this age it is oral narration, or sometimes they draw a picture or a cartoon strip. As they get older, they will move into writing their narrations. It’s simple and beautiful, and even though it’s not the girls’ favorite thing to do, they are quite proficient at it. Bonus: very little grading.
Nature Study (love for God’s creation): I like science and science experiments. However, I think at a young age teaching children to observe and note the world around them is a valuable skill. Gianna is getting old enough to where I will incorporate some more formal science lessons, but we won’t be dropping nature study. It’s fun for the whole family.
Habits: If there’s one thing about Charlotte Mason that I need to work on, it’s habits. I myself am pretty scatterbrained. I tend to do everything haphazardly, even blogging! But CM’s theory is that by teaching children good habits, we will free them to learn and grow more deeply in other areas. Our family will be working on the habit of attention almost exclusively this year. I wonder if it’s too late to teach this old dog new tricks.
There it is, ladies and gentlemen! Our family’s philosophy on homeschooling. Feel free to ask me any questions.
If you’re a blogger who’d like to join the discussion, just write a post (or snag one from your archives) and add your link below. The link will be open for a full month.
Be sure to click below for the other posts in this series. You’re welcome to link to one or all of them.
Curriculum: The nitty gritty details of what we use for each subject.
Organization and Scheduling: How we keep track of it all.
Community and Connection: What we’re doing outside of the home that supports our homeschool efforts.
A Few of My Favorite Things: A list of the things I’m most excited about for the year.