The Bridge: Classical Conversations & Charlotte Mason for the Upper Elementary Years

This entry is part 39 of 38 in the series Classsical Conversations

We are heading into our eighth year of homeschooling this year. I struggle to understand where the time has gone. In those years we have settled rather comfortably into routines and rhythms, bringing delight in learning I could have never imagined. Through years of discovering what works for our family, we have built our homeschool vessel with three support pillars – Classical Conversations, Charlotte Mason, and Gathering.

I am part of a small minority of homeschooling bloggers who believe the Classical and Charlotte Mason approaches to education are extremely similar. We have successfully combined the two approaches over the past 7 years of homeschooling. I love the richness of our homeschool! We have the grounding in Classical Conversations memory work, which has given my kids context, rooms, categories (whatever you want to call the memory pegs) to categorize information. And we have the beauty of a Charlotte Mason-inspired list of books, courtesy of Ambleside Online, to delight in learning in every subject imaginable.

While there are not many bloggers, I have noticed there are a LOT of homeschooling families who are in a similar boat as us – looking for a way to combine the beauty of CM with the truth and history of the Classical model. Each of us looking for that perfect balance of truth, goodness, and beauty.

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 use and believe to be a blessing.

A Widening Gap Between CC & CM

A few years ago I started to survey the homeschool landscape ahead of us. I discovered there would be a time for choosing in the future. Even as we enjoyed bridging the gap (however small) between Charlotte Mason and Classical Conversations, I have understood there would come a day when the gap would widen. One day we would have to choose between one or the other. I like to believe that no matter our choice, our early years spent in both camps will be beneficial in our final years of homeschooling. We have developed habits in both approaches which will hopefully abide forever.

A look at the Classical Conversations Challenge years and the later years of Ambleside Online‘s book lists tells homeschool planners that the narrow gap widens in two places, the 4th-grade year and the 7th-grade year. This three-year period of time is unique to both CC – known as the Essentials years – and to Ambleside Online – known as the FOURTH year. Both offer heavier workloads to students, as they build toward middle and high school. In 7th grade, the gap is so wide as to require the aforementioned need to choose.

With all this in my mind, I sat down a few years ago to plan for the upper elementary years of my oldest student and realized I needed to pare down some of the AO list. She simply could not be doing school for 7 hours a day. It’s too much.

Then the gears started turning in my head.

The Bridge Between CM & CC

I decided I would prepare a Charlotte Mason-inspired, Classical Conversations-friendly plan for the upper elementary years. It is lighter on reading than the 4th, 5th, and 6th years of AO and heavier on related content than the upper years of Foundations in CC.

Those of you who have followed me for the past couple of cycles of CC may know I created the Bridge for Cycle One and Cycle Two – a blend of Classical Conversations and Charlotte Mason. In creating the Bridge, I attempted to create something that will fit our homeschool as we have known it while cutting back in some places where AO pushes forward.

Where Ambleside would be on their history cycle may not match (and likely doesn’t) each year’s CC Cycle, the Bridge looks to be in the same “general ballpark” for CC Cycles. For example, Ambleside uses a six-year cycle for their history track, while CC uses a three-year cycle to simply touch on major events in history. The Classical Conversations Timeline is the anchor for all history sentences (and is one of my favorite things about history learning in Foundations). Thus, the Bridge attempts to go deeper with living books within the framework of the CC cycles. There is still the richness of a Charlotte Mason education, with attention to the amount of time we want to homeschool.

Slaves Need Not Apply

For a number of years on this blog, I have shared our homeschool experiences – the successes and the failures. I hope one of the things I have shared with you in every article about homeschooling is the JOY we have in our homeschool! We absolutely love it – not every day is roses and lollipops – but we wouldn’t even think of trading!

Another thing I hope to share with you is our refusal to become slaves of any curriculum. Yes, we are big fans of what works for us! But the key to that phrase is “what works for us.” The things which don’t fit our lives get tossed. Only the good stuff – the best stuff – remains.

We are not entirely in either Classical or Charlotte Mason camps. I see choices from homeschool bloggers in both camps all the time I would not make. And I don’t think we are that good of an example of homeschoolers for either approach.

So, as I laid out the plan for the Bridge, I was not seeking followers. I just wrote about the map for our next year. In that interim, a LOT of people started following along. You who followed a little bit or a lot of the Bridge have been an encouragement to keep going. But what has actually kept us on course through the past two years was the delight of learning together, going deeper on topics that matter to our family.

I invite you to come along on the Bridge Cycle Three with us. But there are no tests, no requirements, no pressure. Do you want to come along for Cycle Three? Great! Don’t like that item or this item? Drop it! Don’t want to pick up anything else? Fine by me, girl! You Do YOU! Your homeschool will be all the happier for it.

What You Can Expect from the Bridge in the Near Future

I will be working on actual week-by-week reading lists in the model of Ambleside Online’s book lists and schedules in the following subjects:

  • History/Geography
  • Literature
  • Science

All this will be soon released for the upcoming Classical Conversations Cycle 3 year.

Other Subjects

We are devoted (not slavish) users of Saxon Math from the beginning. If you are thinking, as many CC families are about transitioning to Saxon Math in 5/4, I recommend you read my articles about Saxon Math 5/4. Start here.

We are also big fans of the IEW and EEL work we do during the Essentials years. I did not want to miss out on these elements of Essentials while doing this plan.

If you are not planning on adding Latin until CC does, no worries! Charlotte Mason (and other Classical programs) recommend starting Latin in 4th grade. During the Cycle Two year, I was blessed to be the Challenge B Director in our local community. I can, with confidence, declare the Foundations and Essentials years sufficient preparation for Latin in the Challenge years. If adding Latin in the upper elementary years is too much of a weight, friend, I encourage you to “leave what’s heavy behind.”

The riches will still be covered by our Gathering Placemats. This separate morning-time resource has been available and beneficial to many families for the past four years. I release Gathering sets for the upcoming school year each August. I will also be finishing up a 5-day Bible reading plan for my daughter.

What does the Bridge Cost?

Nothing. I am putting together this plan for my students not knowing your students at all. The program I am creating for my kids is based on our experience with Ambleside Online and Classical Conversations. And I wouldn’t want to have “unhappy customers” if the plan doesn’t work for you. This is not a business venture for me.

However, I would ask one simple thing. If you get a recommendation for a book or a curriculum from this website, would you please use my affiliate links to make your purchases? The curricula will cost the same for you, but the recommendations I make and the remunerations offered by those companies make our homeschool possible. I try to make as many things as possible free on this site. Your purchases through my affiliate links help facilitate that goal.

How Can I get Updates on the Bridge?

You can stay in the loop with the Bridge through constant vigil on my site and social media.

Just kidding. You can get updates and extras when you sign up to get my emails. I have a specific email list for you. Here’s the sign-up.

Looking to continue navigating the paths between Charlotte Mason and Classical philosophies in the upper elementary years? Please sign up here. If you are already a subscriber, it will NOT double-subscribe you.

Will the Bridge Work for you?

Short answer? I don’t know. Are you a family who has already been combining CM and CC? Then it may! Are you a family who has just done memory work in the early years of Classical Conversations and looking to expand? Again, it may.

You see, that thing about not being slavish to any curriculum is so important to me. I put it on a shelf in my mind right next to the sign which reads, “Build Your Own Nest.” I can’t build your homeschool nest for you. However, I can offer you a look around mine. Hopefully, you will find inspiration in your perusal. Perhaps you will find ideas.

I hope for one thing with my blog: to be a blessing to you. If I succeed in that pursuit, I am over the moon excited and encouraged to keep going. The Bridge is offered with the same target in mind – a blessing.

Here’s to the upper elementary years – HOPE!

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