When I first began homeschooling my kids, I was a very structured homeschooler. I had come from teaching elementary school in a small, private, Christian school that used a structured Christian-based curriculum. And, when I thought about homeschooling, I pictured doing exactly what I had been doing in my classroom at home with my own kids.
Even as a classroom teacher, I had found myself constantly “adapting” the curriculum, though. I wanted more literature. I wanted more hands-on activities. I wanted to slow down when I needed to. I didn’t want the kids to have to memorize so many facts out of context. And, using that same curriculum at home, I found even more problems.
There was quite a bit of busy work in the curriculum, and I didn’t want that and neither did the kids. The science and history readings in the early grades were just very boring, and I wanted to read real books. I began to see that there was so much more I could do with homeschooling. And I didn’t want to be limited by a structured curriculum.
And then I was introduced to Charlotte Mason. A friend lent me some books to read about Charlotte Mason and her principles and methods. I devoured them and then read her six book series from AmblesideOnline. I learned and learned, and as I learned, I began to adopt many Charlotte Mason methods.
I never became a Charlotte Mason purist. Although I still use many of her methods with my two remaining homeschoolers, I still don’t consider myself a pure Charlotte Mason homeschooler. Nope. I’m not really “by the book” with any homeschooling method. I’m definitely an eclectic. I do what works and what the kids and I love. But even though I’m not a purist, I’m definitely attached to several Charlotte Mason educational methods. Here are some of the methods that this eclectic homeschooling mama loves.
Number 1: Copywork
Probably my favorite and most used Charlotte Mason-based teaching tool is copywork. There are so many, many benefits of copywork. When I was an elementary school teacher, our curriculum taught all language arts in isolation. Kids memorized a spelling list, learned phonics rules to read, memorized and practiced isolated grammar rules, and practiced writing random letters and words for handwriting practice. It never made much sense to me, and many kids struggled with it.
With copywork, kids can practice all of the language arts skills in the context of good passages from real books. When they copy passages directly from well-written books or plays or poetry or the Bible, they are learning spelling and punctuation, seeing how words fit together in good sentences, increasing vocabulary, and practicing handwriting. Copywork is beneficial in so many ways. And it’s a teaching tool that this eclectic homeschooling mama wouldn’t want to do without.
Number 2: Living Books
Most textbooks are dry and boring. Even though I loved school when I was going through it, I had textbooks that I just hated. It was drudgery to read them. When I began teaching my kids with the structured curriculum I had chosen, it included textbooks that just weren’t fun to read. When I saw my kids already bored reading science and history in kindergarten and first grade, I knew that this was not the way to go. I wanted real books.
I loved living books before I had ever heard the term. I had grown up a reader. And I knew what kinds of books I liked to read. I liked books that were rich in vocabulary and deep in meaning. So when I learned of living books as one of Charlotte Mason’s main principles, I fully understood. I’ve always tried to use quality literature for academic subjects as well as for just reading aloud with the kids.
Number 3: Narration
This is another technique that seemed natural to me. If you want to know how well kids understood something they read or something read to them, a basic comprehension quiz probably won’t do the job. Kids might be able to answer five simple knowledge questions and still not really grasp the meaning of the passage or chapter or book. But ask the child to narrate, and you’ll really be able to check for comprehension.
Narration requires kids to take what they’ve read or heard and put it in their own words. This requires a deeper level of understanding than merely answering comprehension questions. It requires the child to not only just recall facts, but also to take the information and restate it. In order to do that, kids have to reach a level where they truly know and understand instead of just memorizing and parroting back.
Number 4: Short Lessons
This is a technique that I don’t use so much now with my remaining homeschooled kids- who are in middle school. But when all of the kids were younger, this principle was a game changer for us. The structured curriculum I was trying to use required kids to do lots of busy work. In fact, when used in a classroom, kids worked on “seatwork”- a list of assigned tasks that included workbook pages, copying spelling words, and more- for about two hours each afternoon while groups were called up to read with me.
I knew from experience with my class and then with my own kids that this was an impossible task for many kids. There were those few who could stay focused for that long and who regularly finished their seatwork early and had it done well. But there were also a high number who ended up in trouble every afternoon for disrupting the class when they became antsy and started talking or fidgeting too much. They ended up with tons of work to take home every day because their work never got done in class.
When I started using short lessons with my own children, I saw a big difference. The kids could actually stay focused and pay attention. And the quality of their work was better. They also stayed more interested in learning in general because we weren’t spending tons of time on any one subject. Short lessons were a life saver for us.
Number 5: Book of Centuries & Timeline
I’m a self-confessed timeline junkie now. But I rarely saw timelines in the curriculum when I was in school and when I taught school. Occasionally the history book would have a short timeline, such as important dates during a war or events leading up to a conflict. But there was never a big timeline that really showed how events fit together over time.
When I learned about the Charlotte Mason Book of Centuries, I developed a love for all things timeline. Since then we’ve done wall timelines, and I’ve also gotten two large timeline books that cover all of time from creation to modern times. I’ve had the kids keep personal timelines. as well These are a great way to really visualize history, to see an overview of how world events fit together.
Am I a Charlotte Mason homeschooler? Some purists would give an emphatic, “No!”. But there are many Charlotte Mason teaching methods that I’ve used and loved over the years. I’m so thankful for the wisdom of Charlotte Mason and for the legacy she left in the field of education- even for an eclectic homeschooling mama like me.
Don’t miss the rest of the Charlotte Mason Homeschooling series.