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Thursday, May 28, 2015

On Designing Your Own Charlotte Mason Curriculum




I have been tossing the idea around for a few days to write a short series on designing your own Charlotte Mason (CM) homeschooling curriculum. I've encountered many mothers recently who are either brand new to homeschooling or wish to transfer from the curriculum they have been using. What I'm thinking about today is how home education is still very much a grassroots thing. The development of my homeschooling philosophy and the methods I use have evolved organically over the years. I would be hard-pressed to come up with a how-to on this beyond posting the curriculum outline that I submit to our school superintendent each year and occasionally writing an update. Each family is unique, but I'll try to give you a general guide for getting started.

I don't even remember when I first learned about CM, but I probably stumbled upon it while researching homeschooling online. I remember asking around the co-op we used to belong to if anyone was using CM, and there was only one mother who seemed to know anything about it. She lent me Karen Andreola's A Charlotte Mason Companion. I think my daughter was five at the time, so it has been six years that CM has been a part of our homeschooling journey.

Everyone else at the co-op used a boxed curriculum package, and Sonlight was a popular one. I checked into the cost of that program, which was several hundred dollars. Other companies were similarly expensive. I had my Montessori teaching background to rely upon, so I plunged ahead from the start with designing my own plans. I sought the advice of seasoned homeschoolers for book suggestions and to talk through navigating this countercultural maze.

So the first suggestion I can give is to seek out other homeschooling families in person. I met the first one where I currently live while shopping. I saw a mother with three kids out and about during school hours, so I walked right up and asked her if she homeschooled. I got her phone number, and we are still friends to this day. Facebook groups are a great resource, but I want to really emphasize seeking out home educators in your local area. The next thing anyone should do is to find out what your state's regulations are. You can search these at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association website (hslda.org).

Since converting to Catholicism, I have found my job as a homeschooling mother to be much easier. This is because the Church has clear teachings, such as that parents are to be the primary educators of their children. This in itself is empowering, to understand that ours is a God-given vocation. Also, faith formation must be the foundation of your children's education. When you design your curriculum with this focus, you can rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you. The academics are important, but they are always secondary. Your home is a domestic church.

A solid homeschool can be built with a very simple, basic curriculum. As you discern your child's unique temperament, learning style, and interests, you can make adjustments as needed and find what works best for your family. Always remember that you know your kids better than anyone and care most about their welfare, so you are by far the most qualified to teach them, regardless of your own educational background. 
The basics that you need, in my opinion, are the following:

- A Catholic version of the Holy Bible
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church
- A children's catechism (we use the Baltimore Catechism)
- High quality literature and music, which can be borrowed from the library
- A comprehensive math text/workbook and manipulatives (glass stones or similar for counting, an  abacus, a ruler, measuring cups, a set of number cards and math symbols, a fractions set, and a clock with moveable hands will suffice)
- Catholic readers, such as the Faith and Freedom series from Ginn or American Cardinal Readers from Neumann Press
- Alphabet cards and/or tiles and shaving cream for tracing letters if you are at that stage
- basic arts and crafts supplies, pencils, and paper
- a guide to the saints and liturgical year (I like The Year and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland and The Loyola Treasury of Saints)
- Rosaries
- The great outdoors
- A sketchbook for use as a nature notebook
- Art books or prints for picture studies

I have already suggested beginning to approach Charlotte Mason using Andreola's book. Next go to CM's Original Homeschooling Series, volumes 1 and 6, which you can read at Ambleside Online or purchase used copies. Use Elizabeth Foss' online Catholic 4Real Learning Book List (charlottemason.tripod.com), and you are ready to go! You don't have to spend a lot of money, and it doesn't have to be complicated. Just trust the process.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Curriculum Updates and More Fleur-de-Lis Reflections





I have made a few changes to my 2015--2016 Vintage Catholic Home Education curriculum, which you can view in the previous post, and have reflected more upon my fleur-de-lis vision.

The only book in my current curriculum resources list that I don't own is Laura M. Berquist's Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum. I have checked this one out from the library before, and I did so again yesterday. What I had forgotten was that the book is subtitled, A Guide to Catholic Home Education. This is important, because a classical curriculum isn't necessarily Catholic. It's great that this method can be applied to any worldview, but the Catholic homeschooler can really benefit from a classical approach that is tailored to our Faith.

In the forward to Berquist's book, Donna Steichen gives a brief history of how the Catholic home education movement began. She writes that "in the past thirty years that culture in which most Catholics lived and which seemed to them to be simply the unchangeable given of life has collapsed in a vast secularizing implosion." I counted back 30 years from the book's publication, and Steichen is obviously referring to the confusion following Vatican II. She goes on to say that parents who had intended to pass on the Catholic culture in which they had been formed found themselves opposed by "an emerging managerial class within the Church, apparently devoted to accomodation and surrender". Strong words. I have heard these sentiments echoed by home educators who have discovered that many Catholic schools have been secularized and the Faith watered down in religious education programs.

Steichen offers Berquist's classical curriculum as an excellent alternative for those who "may have been overwhelmed by the flood of paper that a correspondence curriculum entails or may want a more flexible approach for their children." Berquist gives some recommendations for background reading before you begin to design your own curriculum, including For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. Coincidentally, I have this book and had recently begun to re-read it. It happens to be a guide to Charlotte Mason, so I assume that Berquist acknowledges the overlap between these two methods. I have listed For the Children's Sake in my resources as a replacement for A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola. I still highly recommend Andreola's book for the homeschooling newbie, but I will most likely not be going back to it, as I have already read it thoroughly.

The other change I made to the resource list was to remove Modern Montessori at Home II (Spietz). I checked this one out from the library also, and after browsing through it decided that it wasn't what I was looking for. I have deeply internalized the philosophy and method of Maria Montessori through my classroom experiences and the intense teacher training I received, so I don't regularly consult her original works or my resource manuals anymore. Also, my Montessori experience was concentrated toward a younger age group than my child is now in, so the only Montessori material I still use is the Moveable Alphabet. This year it was instrumental for phonics training, and next year we will be using it along with the Making Words book that you can find in the Language Arts subject area. The "three period lesson" is also still useful, such as for memorizing the names of the continents.

For additional inspiration in translating Montessori principles in my home today, I added Lori Pickert's Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring the Self-Directed Learner to my list. I already own this book and just need to finish reading it! The emphasis is similar to Montessori in regard to preparing the home environment and offering the child ample opportunity for pursuing his personal interests, choosing his own work, and having the freedom to move around.





In the student books and materials portion of my curriculum write-up, I added two books to the Health subject area. I had sent my curriculum to my teacher friend who does our portfolio evaluations, and she mentioned puberty. Puberty! How could I have overlooked this? Here is a good reason for choosing the option to have an evaluation by a certified teacher over standard testing. Especially when the teacher personally knows your child, she can really make a difference in giving you feedback and suggestions. A member of one of my Facebook groups recommended an American Girl book, The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book. I got this on Ebay and was alerted to a companion, The Feelings Book, which I ordered as well. There are also journals available.

So I think I am done now with my curriculum plans, although things always change, and as I said in the last post, many specific book titles have not been included, as the school asks to keep the outline brief, and we always leave windows open to follow rabbit trails and interests as they develop. After all, a huge benefit of designing your own curriculum is that you are not a slave to any particular curriculum!

As a final note, I'd like to make a suggestion to the homeschooling newbies and to those who are transitioning from a boxed curriculum package or other methods. I truly believe that you could get an excellent start on the journey using only Andreola's A Charlotte Mason Companion, Pickert's Project-Based Homeschooling, and We and Our Children: How to Make a Catholic Home by Mary Reed Newland. In fact, I think you could easily get all the way through the primary and elementary years using nothing but these references and The 4Real Learning Booklist by Elizabeth Foss at http://charlottemason.tripod.com/4real_learning_booklist.htm. How's that for a simplified fleur-de-lis?

So, if you feel led to homeschooling but are worried that you won't know how to do it effectively, I have given you the solution! For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light, says our Lord.





Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vintage Catholic Homeschool Curriculum (2015--2016)

It's hard to believe that we are in the last month of this homeschooling year! My teacher friend will be here this weekend to do my daughter's portfolio evaluation, which is one of the options for reporting in Ohio. As such, I have prepared my curriculum for next year, which I will share with you here. Our school district asks for a brief outline, so my book lists are not entirely comprehensive, but a large portion of our literature will be sourced from the elementary cycles at the back of Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss.


 fleur-de-lis, aquaticglassmosaics.com


Section 1 of the curriculum write-up gives a description of our Vintage Catholic Home Education style. As many of this blog's readers will know, I use a fleur-de-lis symbol (see above) to focus my homeschooling vision. The base of the fleur-de-lis is always Catholic Faith Formation, represented by the Holy Family--Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The three upper petals symbolize the methods/philosophies from which I draw inspiration and practical tools. The last designation I used was Maria Montessori, Charlotte Mason (CM), and relaxed homeschooling.

Because my child is almost 11 and will be in 5th grade, and I want to provide a more rigorous academic experience, I have replaced the relaxed homeschooling petal with Classical Christian Education. Already having in mind the type of changes I wanted to make, I happily came across a pertinent online article, "Charlotte Mason and Classical Education" by Christine Miller (http://www.classical-homeschooling.org/faq/mason.html). Miller combines the joyful guided discovery of Charlotte Mason, the benefits of the modern "school as play" movement, and the rigorous tradition of classical education into her Classical Christian Homeschooling approach.

I think that the "school as play" lifestyle element is intrinsic to both CM and Montessori, and the Classical Christian approach reflects my idea of relaxed homeschooling (the classic concept of schole, study as leisure), so these three "petals" (Maria Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and Classical Christian Education) perfectly encompass my entire vision. I use the word vintage with a dual meaning, indicating both the implementation of older, time-honored educational traditions and the use of vintage books. A third meaning of vintage refers to the pioneering days of homeschooling, before the advent of boxed curriculum companies and conventions (and before the internet!), when home educators had to forge their own paths. In my opinion, it isn't necessary to choose just one method, but at the same time one does need to limit the options so as to have a clear purpose and way to accomplish one's goals. The fleur-de-lis model, in my experience, helps to strike the desired balance, custom designed as you see fit.

I also know that many home educators have become discouraged and over-burdened from trying to strickly follow a curriculum package or one particular methodology. They sometimes feel like failures for not perfectly embodying the standards. Drawing from multiple but related sources allows you to truly individualize the education of your children and to tailor your homeschooling lifestyle to best suit the needs of your family; the learning styles, talents, and interests of your kids; and your own teaching style and preferences. From this standpoint, whatever you are doing is "right"! Your home education efforts can develop organically with you firmly at the helm, steering your ship as you choose, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I think it's important to mention that the Catholic Faith, according to the Church, must permeate the entire curriculum. However, I don't interpret this to mean that every single resource must come from a Catholic writer or publishing company. What I believe is necessary is that you use as many Catholic materials as possible while also prioritizing using the best books available (which may not always be Catholic ones); that the atmosphere of the home (a.k.a. the domestic church) as well as direct teaching promote a living faith; and that truth, goodness, and beauty prevail. Of course you will take care to avoid anything anti-Catholic in flavor. As such, it may be wise to choose secular, neutral materials when suitable Catholic choices aren't available or don't meet your needs, rather than Protestant resources which could compromise your child's faith development.


copyright Organic Mothering


The 2nd part of my write-up lists the specific books and resources I use as the parent-teacher in creating my self-designed Catholic curriculum. These direct my way to the philosophies and particulars of the methods I employ. I wish to draw from these sources inspiration and wisdom; information regarding the learning tools directly employed; knowledge of the Faith and Catholic parenting; and specific book suggestions to be used with and by the child in her lessons. 

The third portion of the outline divides the books and materials used by and with the child in the lessons into the subject areas required by our school district. Though not required, I listed religion along with the history and geography category. You will find here both specific book titles and general subject matter to be covered. There are many other books, materials, and resources that could have been listed, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, papal encyclicals such as "On the Christian Education of Youth", and Montessori's own works.  I hope that you will glean something useful from this curriculum guide. Please feel free to borrow anything you would like and to ask questions or give suggestions in the comments.

I. Vintage Catholic Home Education: We will be using a self-designed curriculum incorporating the philosophical methodologies of Dr. Maria Montessori, Charlotte Mason, and Classical Christian Education, drawing from the books and resources listed below. "Living books" will be the predominant choices for lessons, which are those written by an author who takes special interest in his subject and in which facts are presented in story form. Classical learning tools such as narration, copy work, memorization, and dictation will be utilized, with a core of Religion and the traditional liberal arts.

II. Curriculum Books and Resource:

- The Charlotte Mason Original Homeschooling Series (six volume set)
- Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss
- Mater Amabilis: a Charlotte Mason Style Curriculum for Catholics (www.materamabilis.org)
- Ambleside Online (www.amblesideonline.org)
- The Year and Our Children: Catholic Celebrations for Every Season by Mary Reed Newland
- Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education 
  by Laura M. Berquist
- For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School
  by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
- Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Your Self-Directed Learner by Lori Pickert
- The Holy Bible, Douay-Rheims Version and Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition       

III. Subjects and Books/Materials:

Language ArtsPrayers for Young Catholics (Daughters of St. Paul); "Faith and Freedom" Ginn Readers; American Cardinal Readers; classic literature; Poetry for Children and Other People; Ingri and Edgar Parin d' Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths; Emma Serl's Primary Language Lessons; Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb; Parables from Nature (Gatty); Making Words (Cunningham and Hall); Montessori Moveable Alphabet; Native American literature; public library visits and programs; Latin (Prima Latina, Memoria Press); Grammar workbooks (Frank Schaffer Publications)

Religion, Geography and History – Religious Education class at Sacred Heart Church; The Baltimore Catechism, No. 1; United States puzzle map; globe and maps; America's Founders and Leaders by William H.J. Kennedy and Sister Mary Joseph; A Child's History of the World and A Child's Geography of the World (Hillyer); Native American history and tradition; history of cultural, seasonal and holiday traditions; visits to Sauder Village living history museum; The Saint Book by Mary Reed Newland; Vision Books biographical novels of the saints (Ignatius Press); Hurlbut's Story of the Bible; The Loyola Treasury of Saints; Tree in the Trail and Minn of the Mississippi (Holling C. Holling)

Mathematics –  Intermediate Idea Book for Cuisenaire Rods (Learning Resources Inc.); Total Math (American Education Publishing); measurement; fractions; time and money; place values; addition and subtraction with regrouping; multiplication; division; decimals and percentages; Cuisenaire Rods and other related manipulatives; flash cards; calendar; mathematician biographies; board games

Natural ScienceHandbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock; The Story Book of Science by Jean-Henri Fabre; One Small Square series (Silver); Kingsolver Encyclopedia of Horses; nature walks and nature notebook; study of trees and leaf collection; study of flowers and flower pressing; study of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and dinosaurs; the seasons; climate; sustainable living and organic gardening; science museum visits; calendar; ecosystems/animal habitats; chemistry kit experiments; dog training classes; volunteer work at the Humane Society

Health EducationGeneral Hygiene by Frank Overton; study of bacteria, mold and viruses; nutrition; food preparation and baking; herbology; vegetarianism; The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls by Valorie Schaefer and The Feelings Book: The Care and Keeping of Your Emotions by Dr. Lynda Madison (American Girl)

Physical Education – Gym class at St. Patrick; dance; Parks and Recreation soccer program; yoga practice; daily outdoor play; hiking; sledding; trampoline; running; swimming; scooter; pogo stick; horseback riding; hiking; bicycling; dog walks

Fine Arts – Art class at St. Patrick School; painting; drawing; poetry, music, and art appreciation (artist, poet, and composer studies; classical and folk music; hymns); pottery; Come Look with Me Series by Gladys Blizzard; art museum visits; attendance at plays and concerts; dramatic play; Parks and Recreation/library arts and crafts programs; Fayette Opera House concert series; piano lessons; movies and documentaries; needlepoint; crochet; creative writing

First Aid, Safety, and Fire Protection – Continued reinforcement of these subjects through library materials, field trips, and home safety plans



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Facebook Attachment Disorder

The shower, for many creative types, is an amazing and amusing incubator for ideas. Today while washing my hair, a repetitive, rhythmic motion that frees the creative right brain while the logical left brain is distracted, the words Facebook Attachment Disorder popped into my head. Inventing disorders appears to be an American pastime, so here is my contribution.

Typically an attachment disorder refers to the failure to form normal relationships. For example, the failure of a neglected infant to form human attachments due a lack of nurturing leads to psychological and emotional instability and the inability to love or to receive love. In the case of Facebook, I was thinking in the opposite direction--that people become overly attached to the social network.

But the more I think about it, the more I see a dual phenomenon. People are extremely attached, as in addicted, to the online interaction. We are invested in how many comments what we post generates and how many "likes" we do or don't receive. We rely upon the network to confirm our popularity and depend upon it for feelings of acceptance. Think about it. How many times have you seen those whiny posts in your news feed with someone using emotionally manipulative language about how most of their "friends" scroll on by them, but the people who really care about them will show the demanded proof? Too many to count? I don't take kindly to threats, which is what that really is, similar to a chain letter. So I scroll on by, proving myself an unworthy "friend".

The other side of the coin is closer to the meaning of attachment disorder. We are increasingly isolated and less connected in meaningful ways to people while living under the illusion of true communication. Time wasted on Facebook and similar online activities is time that could be spent with the people under your own roof, or with friends, or even just out in your community talking to people at the library, drug store, and post office. We could be visiting someone in a nursing home, feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen, praying and meditating, taking a walk and appreciating the hand of God in creation, baking a pie, or writing the great American novel. Instead we are googling and scrolling and playing video games, asking strangers for the truth and robbing ourselves of what can be touched, tasted, smelled, and seen. We have lost our voices, and we don't hear each other any more, either literally or figuratively.

I haven't found that Facebook enhances any of my real life relationships. Many times it has hurt and even destroyed them. I acknowledge its convenience and benefits, but is the dark side of the coin worth it? I have started and joined groups and have been very disappointed in the lack of mutual participation and response. I have been dismayed at the ignoring of boundaries and the runaway train effect of some conversations. We are losing the ability to be polite, charitable, thoughtful, and truly present. We have become tone deaf. We are living in a fantasy world.

Look at the technology trail. From radio, to television, to computer--the personal interaction becomes more and more distant in the home. From speaking on a telephone to texting, from hand written letters to email to snippets of words floating around the technosphere. From going to a live play to sitting in a movie theater to running out to the video store to watching movies on Netflix. The path always leads further away from personal interaction, from immanence. We are sterilizing ourselves.

If someone in my family is in the hospital, I want to receive a phone call. If a friend invites me to a party, I want to get an invitation in the mail. I want to feel known and that I personally matter. When I first started blog writing, a few people who knew me in the real world were offended by something I wrote. My intentions were completely misunderstood, another example of the tone deaf internet. Yet they could have called me on the phone to ask me if they understood me correctly. Some could literally have driven to my house in less than 5 minutes. But the disconnection of the ironic "social network" had already taken hold. I was no longer a living, breathing human being that they loved. I was dehumanized and instantly attacked in the public sphere of Facebook, rather than being addressed in the private counsel that Scripture admonishes us to keep. And at times I have also fallen prey to this temptation of instant gratification. Facebook is, for many, a near occasion for sin.

I think I need to "go in peace and sin no more", as we hear in church on Ash Wednesday. I like being able to share links to my blog on Facebook and to get a glimpse into the lives of long distance friends, but I think the price might be too high to pay. I have trouble tearing my eyes away from the computer when my child is standing right in front of me. Well, this can also happen when an adult is reading a newspaper, but somehow the attachment is not so strong. One doesn't so easily get caught up in the current of soupy images and words. On Facebook, we drown in it.

And it goes even deeper. If you are a woman, you are more likely to be silenced, even by other women. I said shut up, I said shut up, oh why don't you keep it down? Voices carry...




That's why I write this blog. Try as they might, no one can silence me here. I can use the technology at my fingertips to serve God, to reach out, to express my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and inner longings, and only those who choose to come here share in my journey. Sure, Facebook could be used to evangelize and the attempts toward this are made, but by and far, its interests aren't in spreading the Good News. Its desire isn't for deep and meaningful conversation. The forum itself simply isn't set up that way. The creator of Facebook was himself antisocial!

Facebook isn't conducive to sustaining the poetic and philosophical. There isn't the space. There are too many voices, all flying in the ether, with no time for reflection and contemplation. Either that, or the human soul is losing its capacity for art, for music, for the intimacy of the Beloved. Perhaps we prefer not to plunge our hands into the soil. We can keep a sanitary distance, attached to our addiction but detached from physical touch and spiritual companionship. And yet, occasionally, the divine Presence breaks through, and there is a smile, a kind word, a brilliant thought, a shimmering light. At this moment, I don't know if I will stay or go.

So I will share this post to Facebook, to my personal page and to my groups. I will extend the invitation to be real and present, but I will let go of the attachment to the response. And then, with divine help, I'll let go of the illusion.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

If You're Going to Do a Job Half-Assed...



Allow me to explain the title. When I was in high school, my dad asked me to clean the kitchen, so I did. Except that after I had finished, he came into the kitchen and reminded me that he had told me to clean it. Confused about what he meant, he pointed out the specific things I had missed in my duty. Dad asked, "If you are going to do a job half-assed, why bother to do it at all?" 

Far from feeling criticized, this "philosophy of the half-assed" was forever emblazoned into my psyche. The image of the half-assed stirs the imagination! And it challenges one to take action, to make a decision, to commit and to persevere.

I have been thoroughly committed to homeschooling, and even more so since becoming Catholic. As a convert, I had to learn what it means to be a Catholic mother and home educator. Catholicism has radically changed my worldview, and it is the ribbon woven through every area of life. The Faith supplies a depth of meaning and a focus that was seriously lacking before, and when I allow it to be, it is a balm for my perennially restless spirit.

I'm not surprised, then, that I also experienced a sort of crisis in my homeschooling as a result of my conversion. I had been using a relaxed Charlotte Mason method prior to being Catholic, and though that seemed to work well, I was always on the lookout for new inspiration. As I have written about extensively, I was seduced by unschooling and its promises of joyful, "natural" learning, while feeling simultaneous revulsion to the dogma of radical unschooling.

Blogs, Facebook groups, and other online resources bear testament to the eclectic approach to homeschooling that seems to be increasingly prevalent. It's eerily similar to the "cafeteria Catholic" phenomenon. When you start picking and choosing which tenets of the Faith you will and will not subscribe to, the domino effect will obviously come into play. Unfortunately this is not apparent to many, and the very center of Catholic belief, the doctrine of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, comes into question for some of these folks. 

I am not saying that being an eclectic homeschooler is anything so very dire as falling prey to the temptation of self-will that leads to cafeteria Catholicism, or that there is even anything inherently wrong with choosing an eclectic approach to teaching one's children. One of the things we relish as homeschoolers is the very freedom to be who we are as individuals and families, and to prioritize that which we most fervently value in life. The great challenge is to find what philosophies, methods, and resources will best help us to reach our goals. Wading through the enormous possibilities can be positively overwhelming, and the result can be something hodge-podge, unfocused, and, well...half-assed. 

Let me illustrate what I mean. Out of curiosity, I once belonged to a FB group of Christian Pagans, or Pagan Christians, as the emphasis would vary. That will make absolutely no sense to some of you, as you will recognize in this wording an oxymoron. Yet there is a compelling urge for many to design their own religion, to take what they like from various sources and be "free" to worship as they choose. Never mind that the elements in question simply don't go together and result in religious multiple personality disorder, if you will. On a side note, one of the moderators for the Christian Pagan group was staunchly anti-Catholic, though she wouldn't admit to having a bias, and she kicked me out of the group! I was evidently too Catholic. So much for "freedom" of religion, eh?

In a similar vein, I occasionally come across self-proclaimed pagans and other non-Christians wishing to learn how to do a secular Charlotte Mason method. Good people, there is no such animal! Clearly, Charlotte Mason's overriding philosophy is that Education is the handmaid of Religion, as she wrote in Volume 6 of her home education series. And just as clear is the fact that by religion she meant Christianity.

Now, this begs a question for Catholics, as Charlotte was Anglican. Should we even be attempting to "Catholicize" CM, or is it intrinsically heretical, as Mariana Bartold of Keeping It Catholic suggests? As I have written before on this topic, I have found none of the heresies, such as naturalism, modernism, and pantheism, that Bartold brings out in her arguments. Her real issue seems to be that  Charlotte Mason was Protestant. In adopting CM's philosophy and method, we must recognize the "Bible-only" nature of Charlotte's faith and make sure that Catholicism permeates our curriculum. We must be certain, regardless of the methods we use, that our Catholic Faith is the foundation upon which we build our homeschooling. I have found no compelling reason that the Christianity that Jesus himself established cannot be the cornerstone of a CM education. I see no way, on the other hand, that one could rightly establish a secular CM homeschool.

Certainly anyone can employ the tools of narration, copy work, and nature studies, for instance, regardless of religious affiliation or the lack thereof. But using those tools in and of themselves does not a CM education make. For that, one must read Charlotte's own words, critically evaluate and understand them, and realize what the aim is in its entirety. By all means, you can be inspired by Charlotte Mason without necessarily adopting the whole kit-and-caboodle, but... And now we come full circle.

If you are baking a cake, and you wish it to turn out as anticipated, you must precisely measure the ingredients and follow the recipe. If you are a reasonably accomplished baker, you may make substitutions to those ingredients that work quite nicely. You may even be able to improve upon the original recipe. We have resources today, and increasing awareness of child development, that Charlotte Mason couldn't even imagine. I think it would be extremely difficult to do CM in a completely "pure" way.  Because I have a Montessori teaching background, I have used what works for my child from that method along with CM. At one of the Montessori schools where I taught, unit studies and whole language methods were integrated. Similarly, because they are effective and my child likes them, we use some workbooks, which are not part of either method.

I have done my homework in both areas, and I continue to do it. I have a firmly established vision for my child's education and our family life, and everything I do works toward that. Charlotte Mason and unschooling, despite some perceived common ground, are like oil and water if you really understand the purpose of each. I've come to be certain that it's important to narrow the possibilities and to commit your homeschooling efforts in a particular direction. Harsh as this may sound, it isn't okay to just "wing it", regardless of what mothers in other groups may tell you. Do you imagine that the Blessed Mother was secretly thinking to herself, "I'll just wing it?"

I only speak of these things at all because I have been there. I have been confused, and mislead by well-meaning people, and I've been terribly scattered at times. I had a belly dance instructor once who said, "Know what you are doing, and then you can do whatever you want." Another teacher said that you can't create dance fusion until you have mastered those forms that you desire to fuse.

So what I am saying is, be careful what you put together. Make sure you know what the ingredients are before you go about creating your own recipe. Have a firm vision and purpose in mind, and choose your methods wisely. Realize that method flows from philosophy, just as Sacred Scripture flows from the Church's Tradition, and not the other way around. Make an actual plan. Do not homeschool willy-nilly. Make sure, above all else, that your choices are Catholic, and keep yourself and your children out of that half-assed cafeteria line!