16 Apr 2013

Fitting in the nice bits

It is entirely possible that I am misunderstanding here. It happens quite often.  I may be doing it wrong myself - entirely possible, or alternatively I might not quite be understanding the issue the way it's written, but I struggle to understand people who write that they can't fit the 'extra bits' into their child's Charlotte Mason education.  By the extra bits, they mean the nice stuff - folk songs, composer study, Shakespeare, Plutarch, picture study, art, map work, handwork, a nature walk.  I scratch my head a little because without these things you're left with reading, writing and arithmetic - hardly a liberal education at all, really, is it?

I feel bemused, I think, because these are the bits that fit seamlessly into our week.  I am much more like to run behind on maths or the reading list than I am on these little bits. Maybe I'm odd.  That is entirely possible too. Likely, in fact.

I thought today that I might explain a little how these little bits fit into our day.  Who knows - it may even help somebody.  Or maybe not!

First, a few things that I really should look up references for, only if I did that I would end up with writer's block again, so I'll just continue on.  Anyhow, we need to remember a few things when we plan our days.  I didn't invent these - Charlotte Mason did.  The first is to alternate our inspirational subjects with our disciplinary ones; written ones with the reading of a book, and so on so as to keep the mind fresh and not fatigue the child.  Secondly, we should keep subjects short.  You can fit an awful lot of five minuteses into a day.

With that in mind, our  work goes something like this:

Devotions (inspirational)
Memory verses (disciplinary)
Singing (inspirational)
Copywork (disciplinary)
Read aloud (inspirational)
Written Narration (disciplinary)
Poem (inspirational)

Okay, I think you get the idea.  In this way you absolutely have to do an inspirational, fun, nice subject before you do a disciplinary one.  That's the rule!  In the afternoons  do the stuff that takes time - a bit of gardening, a longer nature walk, some cooking, a big art project.  Do one per day.

The reason I plan out our day instead of allowing my student to do what she wants when she wants is that I keep in mind some of Miss Mason's rules - firstly that subjects are kept short.  In AO6 that is a bit longer than in earlier years - say half an hour max, but in the first few years we aimed for 15-20 mins max.  Secondly, I ensure that each day is not identical to the one that came before - variety is after all the spice of life - and finally I attempt to alternate the inspirational with the disciplinary, the hard with the easy, the fun with the not-so-fun.  Here is a list of subjects divided into those two headings:
Inspirational subjects: 
Singing - Psalms, folksongs, foreign language songs
Composer study
Picture study
Citizenship - Plutarch

Disciplinary subjects: 
Foreign languages
Written narration
Memory work, recitation
Music lessons
Every day I allow some singing - folksong, Psalm or foreign song.  It only takes five minutes - unless we get carried away and sing some more.  Of course that never happens.  Never.  Every day we also choose one of the following:  Shakespeare, Plutarch, Composer study, Picture study or Grammar.  One per day.  Do devotions and memory work first thing.  Then if anything happens, at least the important thing is done.

Now, saying that I plan our days does not mean that Miss 11-going-on-teenager doesn't have a say - she does, and where possible I listen to her.  It just means that I have some sort of written plan of his things might go before I start.  Planning my day like this means that by necessity I'm going to fit inspirational subjects into my day -just as many of them as I do disciplinary ones.  And by keeping them short, I don't run my day too late.

For me the secret to getting everything done is this - don't try too hard.

What I mean by this will come clear once I describe how we approach these subjects:

Read the poem.  Ensure that we know what it's about.  Discuss briefly whether we liked it and why.  Possibly clap out a rhythm or identify a rhyming pattern.  How does it make us feel?  Is it happy or sad?  Does the poem work?

Picture study:
Look at the picture for five minutes.  Cover it up and tell what you remember.  Is it night or day  What season is it?  Can you tell when it was painted?  Can you name the style of painting?  Do you like it? Can you briefly show where things are on a blank piece of paper?  What is the painting's name?  Who is the artist?  Week two - repeat. Once a term we might discuss the artist and possibly his contemporaries, only many of these artists lead tortured lives, so then we mightn't learn much about him at all.  Occasionally visit an art gallery.

Composer study:
Listen to the music. In the car.  While doing maths.  Over dinner. Maybe read a bit about the composer's life - especially if there is an Opal Wheeler expurgated  bio.  Discuss what makes the music similar or different from other pieces by the same composer.  What about other composers we've studied? If the piece were used in a movie, what would be happening?  What is the name of the piece?  Do you know why? Minor key/Major?  Fast/slow?  Happy/sad?  Like/dislike?  Sometimes we listen to the Classics for Kids radio shows too.

Study one of the nine parts of speech.  In different ways.  For a whole term.  Yep - for the nine terms of  AO4-AO6 learn one of the nine parts of speech per term.  That easy.  Construct sentences.  Parse a sentence of your copywork or dictation.  Identify all the 'adverbs' in this paragraph.  Write a list of adverbs.  Play Mad Libs.

Identify unknown vocab.  Read the section.  Narrate.  Discuss using Anne White's study guides.  If there isn't a study guide, choose another Life.  Anne is my wondergirl. Talk about the character of the 'hero'.  Is he similar to other Lives you've studied?  Do you know people like him?  Do you ever behave that way?  What did he do right?  Wrong?  If he were a Christian would you expect him to behave that way?  Is anyone ever entirely good/bad?  Did he behave in character?  What happened to make him behave that way? Would you like him as a friend?

Read Lamb's to get an overview.  Discuss.  Read some famous speeches.  Begin reading the play.  If possible see it performed.  The end.  The Bard would say it better than that, but that is because he is the Bard and I am not.  He is renowned for such things.

Find a YouTube video you like.  Sing the song.  Preferably every day, but at least twice a week.  Maybe research a bit about the song.  Have fun.

Ditto. Read from the Bible one day.

Foreign folksong:
Ditto again.  Translate it sometime. Try singing your English version. Laugh a lot.

Map work:
Whenever you read about a place look it up.  Identify countries and landmarks that you know.  Can you find this new place on the wall map?  On the globe?  What continent is it in?  Is it near the equator?  What would the climate be like?  Have you been there?  Would you like to? What is the nearest country you've visited?

Nature walk:
Keep an eye on the weather.  When it is fine grab the dog lead and the dog and go for a walk.  If you miss maths it is not the end of the world.  Truly.  Keep your eyes open and talk about what you see.  Sometimes pack a picnic and go further afield.  Periodically draw something in your nature notebook.  Occasionally plan an all day walk on a weekend.

Find something your child enjoys.  Become obsessed.  Do it all the time.  Keep an eye out for on-line courses like Mama Squirrel's crochet one and learn a new handicraft.  Become obsessed.  Do it all the time.  Crochet a bedspread.  Just kidding.  We actually do do handwork all the time, both during school and afterwards.  The trick is the first bit - find something you enjoy.

Sometimes I might do a subject in more detail.  Sometimes we might do a written narration in the style of our poet.  Sometimes we might look more at a style of music, or an era.  Or at composers who lived at the same time, or in the same place.  Sometimes we act out Shakespeare or Plutarch.  Sometimes we watch something on telly or on YouTube. Sometimes we list birds or add to our Book of Firsts.  Sometimes we create a fractal pop-up. There is a lot you add to the studies we do, but the important thing is that you don't need too.

The important thing is, don't try too hard.  And have fun.


  1. So much to love in this post, Jeanne. Thanks for taking the time to tell not only what you do but how. I'm glad you stomped over your writer's block to get this post out.

  2. Great advice for all homeschoolers :)
    Thanks Jeanne, you do this well.

  3. Wonderful post Jeanne! I LOVE the nice bits, without them our days would be dry, but with them our days are enriched. Also as the enriching subjects become everyday habits, my children choose to do them on their own accord. I love that!

  4. This was a wonderful entry.
    You are not odd...you are embracing the warm and inspirational wisdom that Charlotte Mason has given to us.

    It's taken me a while to catch on but I'm so blessed to have finally come to a better understanding. I have been reading A Charlotte Mason Companion and I am thrilled!

    I think it is hard for some to let go of the notion that poetry/composer/art/nature studies are just 'little extras' that don't really matter. Oh, they matter!
    Personally, I need to wash out all that the past and present education system has drummed into me. There is a terrible guilt associated with focusing on the 'extras'. People see it as silly .. a waste of time.. not really important. In actual fact it is what makes the day flow beautifully. These subjects provide peace, inspiration and good ideas to ponder.

    I don't know many other home schooling families that work with the Charlotte Mason method. I'm left to books and blogs :)

    Thank you for your lovely post.

  5. Hi Jeanne, I enjoyed reading about how you cover each subject. Thank you for sharing your lovely post. Blessings, Renelle

  6. Too many people cannot lose the idea of "school" and think they must do everything in class-sized time chunks. If your kid does the grammar fine in five minutes you.are.done. They don't get that! Nature Study doesn't have to be a walk, with water, bottle, first aid kit, emergency forms and helpers. Go.Out.Side. It's ok to do this while the dog pees. Find something cool and look it over. draw it then or draw it later. They make it so hard for themsleves!

    I did artist study this way: Bought a high quality artist calendar. Put it up in the kitchen. Sometimes, mid month I put another picture up over the first one. They looked. They still know a Vermeer! Music went on when I started cooking dinner. It was just on. Finally I'd get "that part is really....." The remember Purcell, Gerswin and the others. Nature study--they remember the fairy ring and look forward to the mushrooms in our yard STILL. It lasts. There does not have to be a lesson plan, objects, tying to standaradized tests, a certain amount of reading, an integrated creative exercise. Look. Remember.

    GREAT POST, Jeanne!

  7. Great post, all of it-- and I like your Plutarch questions very much.

  8. This is wonderfully written, Jeanne, and very helpful. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Great post Jeanne and I am going to mix my day up a little now. We tend to the Disciplinary subjects in a block but I love this idea, makes so much sense.

    BTW have you read any of Mike Venzia's artist, composer, series of books. Your angel may be a bit old for them now (although my 10 yer old still gets a kick out of them) but they are a fantastic way to introduce children to a famous person in a humourous way, avoiding the rather shall we say colourful parts of their lives but including as much as they are ready for at that age.

  10. I love how your organized the bits! It appeals to the spreadsheet side of my brain! :-)

  11. This is a great post, Jeanne, thank you so much! I'm trying to work out what bits will make up our next year, and this paints such a freeing picture of how it can all work together.

  12. I am so glad you took the time to write this!! Your post was "inspirational" and "disciplinary" at the same time. I love the way you look at things.

    Nicole in MD (that is Maryland in the USA)

  13. I'm so glad for this post. I LOVE the title. :) And I am in complete agreement. I would way more easily forego math than nature study!! ;) I love how you've shown that each subject can be covered thoroughly, in a relaxed and enjoyable way. Even if, in a home full of kids (or even just a few that are still very young), some subjects are multiplied per head (and messes around the house, too!), which means for some of us, it will look very differently from what you've described here. Still, you've shown how simply it can be done. And those of us who have many, should take your sage words to heart – from now on, we shall not make it over difficult! Thank you, Jeanne.

  14. I love the rhythmic quality to your homeschooling! And you provided such excellent practical "how-to" components! Inspirational!
    My youngest loves to do all her disciplinary subjects first and "get them done" and then we enjoy fun and fabulous parts of CM education - the read alouds, nature study, artist and composer study and poetry. We have a "Theme for the day" to focus our discovery and discussion studies and complete most the extras that way. Thanks for your wonderful examples and encouraging post!

  15. Jeanne,
    I'm one of those who finds it hard to fit in those things. Thanks for the practical encouragement. Wonderful post!

  16. What a wonderful post! I found you through facebook via Charlotte Mason Help. :) This is SOOOO helpful for someone like myself--we haven't really begun schooling yet. (My oldest will be 5 in July.) I'll be Pinning this to come back to later and you have a new follower! :)

  17. I'm with you, Jeanne. I'd rather do the nice bits. The way you alternate subjects is helpful & I like your Plutarch questions too.

  18. Love love love this! Thanks for sharing. And for making me feel less guilty about letting math go (only sometimes!) because we'd rather play in the creek. While we make up poems. I like your wit.

  19. I truly love this post! Thank you for sharing and encouraging! Where I have trouble is the 15 minute 3 R's. My younger two (8,11) would only do a few problems in that amount of time! How can I get them to speed up in these areas? Honestly, by the time they get out their pencils, books, erasers, etc and begin the page, the 15 minutes has flown by! What am I doing wrong here?

  20. Greatly appreciate this encouragement! : )

  21. You make it all sound so easy!! Thanks for the inspiration... always.

  22. I'm so glad this post resurfaced. Since I'm just starting out, this was extremely helpful and encouraging. I specially love the last line. Don't try to hard and have fun.

  23. never saw this but now I know where to send the CM moms I know for good advice on the Riches. Loved every bit of this and could hear your wonderful Aussie voice as I read. What a feast! Thank you Jeanne!

  24. This was so helpful! Thank you :)


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