I don’t generally cover much of our homeschooling here, but I’ve been getting so many questions on it during these crazy days of pandemic schooling I thought it would be helpful to have a place for some of the information to live so I could point towards it in these days to come.
In an effort to keep this from being needlessly lengthy I’m going to link where possible to things that have already been said.
Most of our schooling tends to be within the bounds of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education. Mason was an early childhood school teacher, a college teacher in elementary learning methods, and an educational author before she formed what was originally a union for home schooling mothers, the Parents National Education Union (PNEU), in 1891.
One of my first introductions to Charlotte Mason was within the pages of For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (one of Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s daughters). I won’t expand on Mason’s philosophy here, but you can read on it here or here (the gist of it: living books rather than textbooks; short lessons; habits; nature study and play; art and music appreciation; and a natural yet deep approach to language, through copywork, narration, and dictation).
The more we homeschooled, the more I realized how wonderful of a fit it was for us as it organically focuses on so many of the things I wanted to be a part of our education such as literature, critical thinking, education as life, nature, beauty and wonder, good habits, and caring for the whole child. This post really mirrors my experiences and describes why I’ve come to love CM-style schooling.
We used Ambleside Online (AO) for years and it was a great place to dive into excellent books and begin learning little-by-little how to incorporate many of these elements into our days. I’m really thankful for it.
As our number of kids to be schooled increased and our available time decreased (due to multiple moves and renovations one after the other), we stumbled upon a more complete homeschooling curriculum A Gentle Feast (AGF). It was supposed to be a temporary time-saving switch during the craziness, but here we are years later and we haven’t looked back! While we loved AO, it took significantly more work to pull everything together and implement (especially with more than one or two kids in different years), and as a result many things I think were important often fell by the wayside. AGF has been so much easier for schooling multiple children together and providing us with a ready-to-implement curriculum, schedules, and resources at our fingertips.
Many ask about how it compares with Ambleside Online and Simply Charlotte Mason (SCM) and you can read more in-depth on that here but my personal opinion is that AO wasn’t quite enough (without a lot of effort), SCM is too much (very structured and hard to modify/swap out books), while AGF is just right. I tweak the schedule to suit us (we do 4 days a week and take a “Sabbath week” off after every six-week term), I can easily substitute books as needed, I spend so much less time on planning and managing, and we do a lot more things together as a family (morning time, scripture memorization, artist/composer/poet study, hymns and folk songs, tales, and much of our history/science).
Here’s how you start (I’ll do another post later on how we implement and use it daily):
1. Visit A Gentle Feast and pick your Cycle. There are four that you’ll cycle through as a family over the course of your childrens’ education, getting more in-depth each time as they get older. In brief:
- Cycle 1 (“Columbus, Conquests, and Colonies”) covers 1000-1650 AD, with grades 5-12 also covering Early Civilizations for ancient history
- Cycle 2 (“Wars, Whigs, and Washington”) covers 1650-~1800 AD, with grades 5-12 also covering The Greeks for ancient history
- Cycle 3 (“Reforms, Revolutions, and Reconstruction”) covers 1800-1900 AD, with grades 5-12 also covering Ancient Rome for ancient history
- Cycle 4 (“Marvels, Machines, & Modern Times”) covers 1900-present, with grades 5-12 also covering Early Middle Ages for ancient history
*It’s recommended you start with Cycle 1, but if you don’t you’ll still work through them all eventually. I’m a visual person, so you can see this in a graphic at the very bottom of this post
2. Decide if you want the main curriculum in a print or digital format.
This is the “meat” of the system. Schedules, assignments, exam questions, book lists, resources list, links, support groups, online resources, etc.
If you select it in a printed format, you get a hardcopy teacher’s manual (TM). The TM is not an absolute necessity and only comes with the printed version but I find it helpful as well as beautiful (various components within the TM are available individually in your online resources account with the digital version but not as a full digital pdf manual), so I always buy the printed TM with everything else in digital (both versions still include digital/online resources). The printed TM includes background and overview of everything, instructions, and printed schedules for the whole year all in one handy book (with space for lists and notes). It’s like a lovely spiral hardcopy planner. I also love the printed version because I can see all forms together in the schedules which really helps with our family schooling (the digital versions are broken out by form).
Other resources that come with it include a robust online section with editable schedules and plans, book list for that cycle (available to buy separately, but included with your curriculum purchase), links to corresponding videos, exam questions, printables, videos, monthly calls, and much more.
3. Determine what “forms” all of your children will be in. This is kind of a fancy way of saying what grade they’re in (but I much prefer it to our numbered grades that change every year):
- Form 1: Lower Elementary (Grades 1-3)
- Form 2: Upper Elementary (Grades 4-6)
- Form 3: Junior High (Grades 7-9)
- Form 4: Senior High (Grades 10-12)
I love the flexibility here. The Teachers’ Manual, schedules, morning time, and resources are provided for ALL FORMS so everything is there for all my children together at no additional cost. If a book seems a little above or below my child’s particular level, no biggie, I can see higher and lower options and switch accordingly. I have a dyslexic child who struggles with reading but her comprehension is wonderful, so I can progress her to form 2 in most things and form 1 for others. I moved one ambitious child up to a higher form this year and kept another child at his form for an extra year because I didn’t feel he was ready (but still mix between form 2/3 books throughout the year). Don’t feel tied to your form.
*Another secret, I’ve since started schooling everyone under high school together and it’s been amazing. I simply pick whichever books for each subject, across all forms, that I think would be the best for everyone and we read them aloud together (using LibriVox and audiobooks wherever possible). AGF makes it really easy to pull it off. I really need to do a whole post just on this.
4. Select which additional components you’d like included.
The options are:
- Morning Time Bundle
- Language Arts (LA) Packets OR Reading Programs (if not yet a strong reader)
- Cursive and Manuscript Handwriting Programs
I’ve used all of these at different times. You can purchase them all printed or I usually purchase the digital formats to re-use and print/spiral bind myself as needed.
The LA packets are consumable for each child and include all of their Language Arts in one book broken out by day for the whole year. This was a game-changer for me and what initially sold me on the whole curriculum. They can be purchased in manuscript or cursive font. Based on form (I stick to their ability level regardless of what form books we’re reading), and it provides daily assignments for each week (many based on their book readings) in:
- Copywork, grammar, dictation, spelling, composition, and drawing…all in one simple spiral book
The Morning Time (MT) resources are beautiful. We can print out the works of art we are studying, link to hymns, poems, etc., and it has our family morning time schedule for the whole year:
- Bible and “Beauty Loop” (Artist/Composer study, Poetry Recitation, Poet study, Fables/Hero Tales, and Hymn Study).
There are also alternatives provided for poets, composers, artists, and hymns so as you progress through the cycles in future years you won’t repeat them. NOTE: If you don’t want to purchase, you can still access basic MT plans and links in your full curriculum online resources, but you won’t get the pdfs with all the lovely printable student and teacher packets/pages (that we put in our menus mentioned below in my summary).
Other optional add-ons are the cursive and manuscript handwriting programs and two levels of beginner reading programs (100 Gentle Lessons in Sight & Sound Levels 1 or Level 2).
NOTE: You would generally use the handwriting programs as needed in addition to your student’s LA packet, while the Sight & Sounds Reading programs would be used until they are a comfortable reader before they begin using a LA packet. Some children skip the reading programs and go right to the LA, some only need to do the Level 1 reading program, some need both before moving to the LA (check the samples provided or I’m happy to send, to help determine your child’s level).
5. Buy (or borrow/download) your books!
This is what’s called a “living books” curriculum in that there are no dry textbooks and worksheets, but excellent books that bring your children right to the source of what we’re learning about. It takes so much pressure off of me since I don’t have to waste time attempting to teach things they can get right from the experts 😉
Many are classics that we already have (or ought to have anyhow) in our personal library. We get many at library sales. You can do kindle/e-books, borrow, check out, or buy used. Tons are at archive.org and we listen to many together for free via LibriVox.
Your booklist will list out your Morning Time books, Curriculum books by subject and term, free reads, optional books, read-alouds, math suggestions, etc. (I recommend using the editable booklist in your Online Resources, it’s easier to browse). Thriftbooks and the bargain bin at Better World Books are my top places to purchase.
To summarize, here’s what I have/use:
- Teacher’s Manual (covers everything for everyone) and the included online resources
- Morning Time resources and printouts. I buy clear plastic menus (MT GAME-CHANGER), put my MT schedules and printables in mine, put each child’s printouts in theirs (poems, hymns, verses, etc.), and have a few extras with the artworks we’re studying that term. Even the 5yo has her own little version:)
- Language Arts packet, printed and consumable for each child able to read
- Books gathered from the provided booklist for each child (for the next term or full year if ambitious). Multiple children in the same form can share books
- Math curriculum of your choice (only thing not included, which I’m glad for since math is so specific to needs/abilities)
- Supplies. Other than our books, we basically just get a composition notebook, sketchbook/nature journal, a clipboard (I like to give them each their own weekly schedule to work through) and some colored pencils/pencils and we’re pretty much set!
- AGF extras. As mentioned, I purchased the manuscript and cursive handwriting packet that I print/bind each year for whichever child needs it. I also purchased and printed/bound the 100 Gentle Lessons early reading program which I re-use for whichever child is learning how to read until they’re ready to move up to the Language Arts packet.
I hope that firehose of information helps. I’ll try to answer questions and update/edit here as I’m able. Julie, the creator of AGF was kind enough to pass on a coupon for me to share. Just click through here and enter the code Bonnie10 during checkout (P.S. and I buy my curriculum just like everybody else). [UPDATE: coupon has expired, but I’ll update if I receive a new one].
I will also say that every week, every year it gets better. Rhythms become more second-nature, implementation gets smoother and smoother, and we just are able to dig deeper each time around. In closing, I’ve found that A Gentle Feast provides the depth, beauty, and yet simplicity that I look for in schooling. It is thorough, yet holistic and I’m truly thankful to have stumbled upon it.
“Now, thought breeds thought. It is as vital thought touches our minds that our own ideas are vitalized in the contact, and out of our ideas comes our conduct of life. That is why the direct and immediate impact of great minds upon his own mind is a necessary factor in the education of a child. If you want to know how far a given school lays itself out to furnish its scholars with the material for opinions, ask to see the list of books in reading during the current term.”
-Charlotte M. Mason, The Parents Review (1910)
Morning Time Resources
Language Arts Packets (I haven’t printed mine out yet)