Way back before homeschooling, before kids, and even before David, I taught 3rd grade at a fabulous private Christian school in Austin, Texas. Regents' curriculum in the grammar school was a blend of what homeschoolers call the classical and Charlotte Mason approaches. Before I interviewed for my job, I was required to read a book on classical Christian education and another on Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy. I still have my copies of both of those books, and For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (the CM resource I was given) remains a favorite to this day.
When I first began thinking about homeschooling and casting vision for what we'd be doing with our kids, the Charlotte Mason-y parts of my curriculum at Regents stood out in my mind as "musts". They were the "riches" of the day, the parts that, in my opinion, built a student body from kindergarten up that loved to learn. Regents placed value on the liberal arts. We did art appreciation through picture study, listened to classical music, did nature study, tended classroom gardens, memorized large chunks of scripture and poems by great poets, and read many, many wonderful books. My last class of 3rd graders recited eleven verses of Philippians 2 at my wedding, and memorizing it with them that spring was a joy. You see, those things shape character. When you spend time with the great ideas of literature, with beautiful art, music, and nature, it makes you a better person. When you prioritize the true, good, and beautiful in your curriculum, you have kids whose minds are stretched and love to learn, even if they aren't headed for a career in the liberal arts. This was the type of education and environment I wanted for my own children.
I struggled a little trying to figure out how to do that stuff with such little kids when we first started homeschooling, though. We used Five in a Row for two years in PK and K and enjoyed it. It's a sweet little program that got us some social studies, science and art along with some absolutely fantastic children's books (the best part!). I did add some CM-y stuff to FIAR. We did nature study some, we did pretty well with picture study. We fumbled with composer study. It didn't feel quite like what I was looking for, though. I grew weary of the planning. Five in a Row is a unit study style curriculum, so everything is tied together to relate to the book of the week. I began to doubt, about halfway through the 2nd year, that the work I was putting in to tying up our lessons into neat little unit-study bundles was worth the time and attention it required of me. I began to suspect that my children were perfectly capable of making connections themselves and that I didn't need to make it all so tidy. I began to read more Charlotte Mason and saw that she would have agreed with me, which made me begin to consider taking the plunge toward a more purely CM approach in our homeschool. In fact, after this summer of reading almost nothing but Charlotte Mason, I have still found very little that doesn't resonate with me. I'm a pretty big fan. ;)
So that's what we're doing! We're going to try Ambleside Online's free Charlotte Mason-style curriculum this year. AO's Year 1 should be a good fit for all three of my kids. I will be making a few tweaks (of course! I can't leave anything alone!), mostly in the area of history.
A Charlotte Mason style curriculum covers the following subjects:
- Language Arts
- Foreign Language
- Hymns and Folk Songs
- Art Appreciation
- Composer Study
- Art and Handicrafts
That's a lot for 1st graders! BUT not every subject will be done every day. Whew! AO offers a weekly schedule and suggests that you decide how to divide the work up onto individual days yourself based on your own schedule requirements, if you're schooling 4 or 5 days per week, if you have field trips or co-ops to work around, etc.
Here's what I'm planning to try for our daily schedule, although I know full well that I may need to make adjustments several weeks in as we see how it works for us.
1. Morning Time (after breakfast, all together)
- scripture and poetry memory
- one thing from the following list: nature study, art, artist or composer study, Spanish
2. 3Rs (work with twins together and Jono separately, each at their own levels)
- language arts (spelling, phonics/reading practice, handwriting/copywork)
3: AO assignments for literature, history, geography, and science (together again)
In addition to that, here are some other things I'm excited about this year:
One afternoon per week I'm planning a poetry tea time inspired by Bravewriter. We'll be using the poetry books assigned in AO Y1, plus we'll probably pull some that look fun from the library. If poetry tea time is a bust, that's OK, I'll add "read a poem" to the Morning Time pile. But I hope they like it, since it sounds like fun to me!
We have some really exciting literature selections in AO this year! I'm really jazzed about Shakespeare. I am pretty sure I've read exactly one Shakespeare play in my life, and that was in 9th grade English. I was not a fan. But AO starts Shakespeare exposure early with illustrated re-tellings of Shakespeare's plays written especially for children. The goal is to have them enjoy the story lines and be familiar with the characters and plots before they tackle any plays in the original. I've been previewing our AO Shakespeare books and I'm in LOVE! We don't have any Shakespeare in our literature line-up until term 3 (last 12 weeks of school), though, so I'm going to read play (a full one) on my own instead. I'm inspired. :) In term 1, we have some Aesop's fables, James Herriots' animal stories, Paddle-to-the-Sea (geography) and some really fun history!
History! I said earlier that this was my biggest tweak to AO Y1. I'm throwing out their history selections in favor of doing an overview of early American history. I previewed a bunch of early American history curricula from several homeschool publishers and nothing was quite what I was looking for. Several were close, though, and I used their book lists for ideas along with some google work to put together a list of picture books in loose chronological order that will cover pre-European settlement through westward expansion. The general plan is to read one good history book per week and do an accompanying activity or art project every 2-3 weeks. I also have a list of novels that will go along with our history topics that we can choose from for family read alouds before bed or audio books in the car. Should be fun!
And finally, we have a co-op this year! We're joining a small co-op that several of our homeschooling friends are in. It meets every other week for two classes. My kids will be in a Colonial Times class, which will be a perfect compliment to our US history study. The second hour for them will be a science class. The twins' age group is doing a solar system class, and Jono's age group is doing a Magic School Bus class with a different MSB science video followed by an experiment or activity each week. I think they'll love it! I'm teaming up with a friend to teach a Dr Seuss class for the PK-K age group, too, which will be adorable.
So that's it! That's what our year here at Chaos Academy should hold. We get started after family camp next week. I'm interested to see how it goes. You'll be welcome to follow along!