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 (

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 (, 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.

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