Charlotte Mason in our Classical Homeschool

This entry is part 42 of 45 in the series Homeschool

how we incorporate Charlotte Mason habits into our Classical Homeschool, utilizing Ambleside Online's resources in the early elementary years

Since I shared the news of our upcoming bridge for the upper elementary years, combining Charlotte Mason and Classical Conversations, I have received quite the outpouring of interest. Emails have poured in, comments even (a rare thing in the blogging world)! And I wanted to take a minute to lay out how we have been approaching Charlotte Mason in our Classical Homeschool for the past four or five years.

You will notice by the title of this post, I consider our homeschool approach to be solidly Classical. I kind of like the idea of Charlotte Mason being a treasured guest at our homeschooling feast. I have shared many times on this blog this important sentiment: we are not slavish to any one curriculum or approach. We take the tools which feel good in our hands and set them to work at the task for which they are intended. But the tools are not in charge. Charlotte Mason has never offered to teach my homeschoolers (and likely never would).

This post may include affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase based on my recommendation, I get a small remuneration at no extra expense to you. I only recommend things I actually use and believe to be a blessing.

My biggest struggle in sharing my bridge with you is you may get the idea that we have got it all figured out. This post is laid out to disabuse you of that notion. First, I am not an expert in any of the categories of knowledge discussed here – neither Charlotte Mason, nor Classical; neither homeschooling nor life. I have done a fair amount of research in these areas and have practiced some of what I know to be Classical and Charlotte Mason methods in my homeschool.

As long as you know who I am and where I am coming from, I feel like I can share with you. I will define terms as I go, especially in the places where many different interpretations abound.

Let’s start with Charlotte Mason. Shall we?

Table of Contents

I get a bit long winded, so I created a Table of Contents for this post. You can just read through the post as usual, or jump to the sections which grab your attention, by clicking the links.

Charlotte Mason in our Homeschool

What we Use from Charlotte Mason

I have never read the works of Charlotte Mason. Instead I have researched and read many books and articles which discuss her various methods for schooling. Someday I hope to get around to diving into her books.

I happened upon Charlotte Mason when I heard someone mention Ambleside Online. Ambleside Online states on their homepage:

AmblesideOnline is a free homeschool curriculum that uses Charlotte Mason’s classically-based principles to prepare children for a life of rich relationships with everything around them: God, humanity, and the natural world. AO’s detailed schedules, time-tested methods, and extensive teacher resources allow parents to focus effectively on the unique needs of each child.

Ambleside Online, homepage

Instead of using AO as a full curriculum, I cherry-pick two basic categories of things – Books and Riches.

Ambleside Online Book Lists

In my opinion the best part of the entire Ambleside Online community/curriculum is the book lists. They are like having a librarian best friend who knows just the right book to recommend, at the right time to develop just the right character quality, or discuss just the right topic with your child. The book lists are divided by year, starting with Year 0 and going through Year 12. They are highly thoughtfully curated and represent the very best of literature and living books for children.

Ambleside Online Riches

Especially in the early years of homeschooling, I depended upon the Ambleside Online riches selections to help schedule out our years. When I started creating the Gathering Placemats, the composers, hymns, and artists formed the skeleton of my Gatherings. Onto that skeleton, I began to add the sinew of memory work inspired by Classical Conversations, poetry inspired by my love of words well and delightfully written, and more to delight my children.

The Structure of Our Year

We got the basic structure of our homeschooling year from Charlotte Mason, too. Apparently, she recommended three twelve week terms throughout the year. One of the features of each year’s booklist on AO is the printable and editable schedules they offer. I choose to print out the weekly schedule for the years I am interested in researching as an HTML file. Then I can get a really clear picture of what each week will hold in order to “stay on track.”

I have found Ambleside Online’s first and second terms for each year to be heavier in content than the final term. Not sure if others feel the same way, but the difference in work load seems marked to me.

How Charlotte Mason Has Worked in our Homeschool

We began using Ambleside Online’s book lists in our homeschool the summer before my oldest student started second grade. We did a short overview of Year 1 with her and then moved into Year 2. My next student started Year 1 the following January. So my current students are staggered behind each other by about two terms. There are other parents who would have grouped their students together and taught them in what AO refers to as Forms. However, I enjoyed being able to enjoy the early years books more than once with my kids. We found some absolute favorites!

Because we basically take books and riches from AO, our days are FILLED to the brim with reading aloud. I have strong readers – excellent readers. But we have created a culture of reading aloud which my kids will not trade away for independence. {I smile even as I write this because I treasure the close bonds created by reading aloud together – precious memories!} It took me quite some time to settle into a homeschool routine which works for us. But after we figured it out, we found our homeschool norm. We have even started to work our next student into the rotation!

Originally, I was going to try to merge my two oldest students into a “form” by fall of this year. But I discovered my third grader is not old enough for Essentials in Classical Conversations this year. That particular wrench in the system is still in there – I am still puzzling out a solution which meets her needs. Either way, I know she will have the grounding of great books to read this next school year.

Our Ambleside Online Favorites

I feel I must share with you our very favorite books from AO. That way, if you are looking to move forward with a Classical Conversations and Charlotte Mason blend, you can see what we have found to be most valuable in the early elementary years. Each of these books I would purchase again and keep as treasures! Since the editions of these books vary in quality, I have included links to the publishers and places I actually purchased them from.

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Multiple Year Books

These books are suggested in the early elementary years for more than one of the AO “Years.” These books are absolute treasures!

Savoring Good Books

Extended Reading

There is an idea in Charlotte Mason circles about stretching the reading of living books over a length of time. Reading just a chapter or so a week out of a number of books gives the beauty time to seep into one’s heart and mind. Rarely are the AO selections page-turners. Rather they are delights meant to be savored over a good amount of time. AO has in each year what they refer to as :stretching books.” These are the ones the student must often struggle with in order to get to the end. They could be classified as stretching books because of archaic language or meandering sentence structure. Or they might be stretching because the subject matter is relatively dry for extended periods.

I have enjoyed this Charlotte Mason approach to the reading of good books. Whereas Classical Conversations seems to go so quickly through the memory work of the Foundations years and even the writing portion of the Essentials years, the pace is slackened noticeably with CM.

Narration

The pace of reading is not the only thing which makes the CM approach to reading delightful. We also enjoy the CM habit of narration in our homeschool. Although there are helpful books written discussing the art of narration, I approach narration simply as a conversation about what is going on in a book. I think it aligns quite nicely with the storytelling habit described in the Grammar stage of Classical Conversations.

Our narration can take on different forms. Sometimes my kids will want to draw what they remember as a pivotal scene from a book. But most of the time, it is a simple discussion. We hit the highpoints, trying to remember key names, key words, and key events. Rarely, we do written narrations in the early years.

However, the expansion of the practice of narration to include more written work in AO and the introduction of formal writing lessons in CC happen in the same year – Year Four or Fourth Grade. By this stage, the students are better prepared through oral narration and the IEW program to decide what to write and how to write it. I have written a bit about how we approach writing in the early years in our Classical Homeschool here.

In the future years, I will likely prefer to listen to oral narrations of readings. It will lead most naturally to dialectic discussions of literature, history, and science in the later homeschool years. Narration is one of the Charlotte Mason habits we will likely take with us throughout our homeschool journey.

Previewing

One of the practices which AO encourages parent-teachers to do is to pre-read the books before presenting them to the kids. While this would in theory be a very nice practice, I have not found it feasible in our homeschool. One of my very favorite things in learning is the joy of discovery. Since I consider myself the lead learner in our homeschool, I love to make these discoveries in close proximity to my students.

That said, once I have read the books for my oldest student, I have officially pre-read for all subsequent students who will read most of the same books. I did choose some books from the Ambleside Year 3.5 (a transition year for students not quite ready for Year 4) for my second student (currently 3rd grade) because I knew they would delight her more than some of the Year 3 selections. These turned out to be just the selections which she begs to read first in her days. And I am finding the joy of discovery to be just as rewarding with these books as with all others before them.


If you are looking for more information about how we have blended Charlotte Mason into our Classical Homeschool, I have written some articles you may find helpful.

And if you are moving into the upper elementary years and looking for a way to bridge the divide between Classical Conversations in the Essentials years and Charlotte Mason, please check out the Bridge.

how we incorporate Charlotte Mason habits into our Classical Homeschool, utilizing Ambleside Online's resources in the early elementary years
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