Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fall Term Reflections

 Sauder Village in Ohio

I hope everyone is enjoying the beautiful fall landscape! This time of year always brings out my contemplative side, and with having less extracurricular activities this homeschooling year, I have more time for reflection. I am very pleased with our simpler schedule for lessons, and I've been continuing to think about the theme of recent posts regarding using Charlotte Mason as a springboard, then proceeding to do things in your own way. 

I have been very inspired by my reading of CM's original homeschooling series. There is so much meat there to chew on! But it has always been my nature that, once I have mastered something to my own satisfaction, I need to move on to the next thing. Thanks to Charlotte Mason, I have learned a solid, natural, and delightful method of teaching and learning. It has worked beautifully in conjunction with my Catholic faith. 

But as I have previously written, I saw the wisdom in the classical notion of teaching less subjects and using less books. Loop and block scheduling have been just what I needed to fit in all of the liberal arts feast. Yet that broad and generous curriculum to which serious CM homeschoolers aspire was just too much, if you try to include every possible subject suggested by Miss Mason. I did not feel like I was teaching from rest. And often a subject would only be attended to once every two weeks. I wanted more consistency and to be able to focus more upon each subject. The answer was fewer subjects per term and books that can cover a "family" of subjects. 

For example, the reader from Seton that we are using, A Book of Gratitude, contains poetry, classic literature, and stories of saints. We can use it for narrations, copy work, and dictation. Poems can be memorized and recited. Truth, goodness, beauty, religion, and virtue can all be found in its pages. Historical fiction, such as Island of the Blue Dolphins, which my daughter recently finished reading, sets off several doves from one magic hat. (I thought that was better than the usual "kills two birds with one stone" saying!) If the historical novel is about a saint, you have literature, religion, history, and geography all contained. Some novels will also cover survival skills and natural science. You get the idea.

A particular article in Sarah Mackenzie's blog, "Amongst Lovely Things", kept beckoning me to reread it. She discusses how, in hindsight, she would not have spent so much time reading about and worrying over homeschooling philosophies and methods. At first I disagreed with her, because I felt that it was crucial to have an organized method to work from. I still believe this, but it's also important to observe and follow what works best for your individual children. This is more important than trying to follow the guidelines put down by educational experts and gurus. 

So where does that leave Charlotte Mason? I have to tell you that at times when I was reading her brilliant words, I wished very much that she was Catholic. If only the teaching and traditions of the Church were woven into the fabric of her philosophy, I would be completely happy. 

I went back to an article by Marianna Bartold at the Keeping It Catholic website about using a "living books through eyes of faith" homeschooling approach. She says that this idea is not new to Catholic education, but that Charlotte Mason homeschoolers have popularized it. While I do not believe, as Marianna does, that CM is chock full of heresy, there was one occasion in which I found an anti-Catholic sentiment being expressed. In other places certain influences of evolution theory and Socialism have thrown up little red flags. Some may also question CM's parenting advice. My conclusion has always been that faithful Catholics can take what is good from CM, which is based upon natural law, while keeping to the Church's teaching on education. 

The real problem for many home educators is that they simply don't have time to read CM's books, or even companion books by modern authors. There is too much to assimilate, and it is an overwhelming task to try to incorporate 15 to 20 subjects, especially all in one term. What most seem to need is a basic set of techniques and an understanding of what living books are and how to use them. Catholics also need those resources which will help them to design a curriculum permeated by the Faith. And we desperately need to follow Sarah's Mackenzie's advice in learning to teach from rest. 

So that is where I am right now. I have gleaned what I need from Charlotte Mason. Those key methods used--living books, copy work, narration, dictation, picture study, memory work, observational nature study, a book of centuries, and the like--are common to traditional education (by which I mean as regularly used in the early 20th century, and not only by Catholic schools). We do not need to "Catholicize" Charlotte Mason. Instead, we can design the curriculum using a combination of Catholic resources and living books, apply the traditional methods, simplify the schedule (using looping and/or blocking if they work for you), follow the practice of short lessons, and relax! 

For me at least, it's time to move beyond Charlotte Mason and focus instead on being the best Catholic homeschooler and mother that I can be. And for Catholic parenting advice, We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland is unsurpassed! 

I have included all the titles in our current Lesson Basket. If you would like details about any of them or how they are used, please ask in the comments! By the way, I took written narration out of the language arts loop, because composition is included in the CHC grammar book. Also, letter writing is contained in Primary Language Lessons, and narrations are written into the nature notebook. 

Gymastics class turned out to be no longer an option, but physical education does not have to be formal. My child plays outdoors daily, year round. She climbs trees, walks her dogs, goes for walks in the neighborhood, uses her trampoline, rides her bike, builds snow men, dances with friends, and all that good stuff!

Daily Core: (open with Pure Faith: A Prayer Book for Teens)

- A Book of Gratitude reader, Seton (poetry, stories & saints)        
- Everything Kids' Learning Spanish Book
- Hamilton’s Arithmetic
- Piano practice
- The Baltimore Catechism (10 Commandments memory work)
- Storyteller (Giff, historical fiction)
Language Arts Loop:

- Emma Serl’s Primary Language Lessons
- Language of God grammar & composition workbook (Catholic  Heritage Curricula, Level C)
- Cursive writing (Seton Handwriting 3)

Extended Loop:

- The Rosary in Art(picture studies, Seton): Rosary prayers & New Testament mysteries (Holy Bible, 1952 Catholic Confraternity Edition)
- Bible History 6 for Young Catholics (Seton)
- Handbook of Nature Study (Anna Comstock, notebook narrations & illustrations)
- A Child’s Geography of the World (Hillyer) & Usborne Essential Atlas of the World

Piano lessons
Religious education class