When I began my Homeschooling Journey, I had already taught for almost 10 years in the public schools, so I definitely knew the challenges and failures of that system.  But as most people are certainly aware, even in such a deeply flawed system, there are many loving and passionate teachers (and many born-again Christians), who are 100% committed  go above and beyond to help their kids succeed.  (oh, I do so hope that I would be described by my former students as such a teacher!) I certainly learned so much as I went along, and had much trial and error, but over the years, I came to view my classroom as my own little world and sometimes, I just knew better than to follow xyz suggestions coming from administration and I would teach the way I would want to learn, and in a way in which my students responded. 

That was several years ago, but looking back, I can see, even then, hints of both Classical and Charlotte Mason philosophies peeking through in my and my students’ (intuitive) teaching & learning styles.

By the time I began homeschooling 2 years ago (my daughter is only finishing 1st grade), I was 100% certain that I was going to give her, and my other children, a Classical Christian Education–something totally different than today’s public school system–I was going back to the “roots” of real learning and was going to “do school” the way our grandparents did it.

Like many other Classically-minded moms before me, I had read Well Trained Mind cover to cover, and had become a believer instantly {remember I had had 4+ yrs college training in El Ed and Sp. Ed PLUS almost 10 yrs in the field, so I had a HUGE frame of reference with which to compare and contrast, even though I was new to the world of HOMEschooling itself}.

So there I was, with a very eager 5 1/2 year old, beginning Kindergarten, using all the suggested Classical curriculum, and oh, how excited I was to be on my way on the Trivium.  Our year started with such gusto.

…But by middle of the year, both my daughter and I began to feel a tiny bit suffocated…we were about 60 lessons in to the phonetic-heavy “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” and it wasn’t going as smoothly as I was wishing it would.  Somedays, too many days, my daughter didn’t want to do her reading lesson, and when she would express her frustrations to me, my heart would sink~I wanted my daughter to LOVE reading, to love TO read and to learn, and instead, she was discouraged and unmotivated–in Kindergarten, already!!?  On top of this, we had tears fairly often in Math (Saxon 1), but you know, really–I can’t blame Saxon.  I blame myself.  The poor thing was only in Kindergarten, but I was pushing her so hard.  I was frustrated she was not soaking things up to full capacity, not able to memorize the +2s and +3s families by the time she “should” have.  Then I’d feel guilty, thinking, maybe it’s because I was too inconsistent, maybe I didn’t do ENOUGH memorization practice with her in this or that area.

Don’t get me wrong–of course the year wasn’t all bad, in fact, there was so MUCH that went well–wonderful field trips and outings as a family.  We were learning.
And there were also some academic things we were enjoying together as well.  
Read-aloud was a highlight each day. I marveled at my daughter’s ability to memorize scripture (I began this with her early, and by age 3, to my utter amazement, she had memorized whole chapters of the Word, plus many single verses, though to be honest, much of this has also been lost again because of lack of practice).  We enjoyed My ABC Bible Verses by Susan Hunt, and one verse a week, she easily memorized 26 passages, one for each of the letters, and she enjoyed the short devotionals that went with each verse.  Even in what I consider to be a somewhat “dry” math curriculum presented by Saxon, my daughter and I both enjoyed our Morning Math Meeting where she was afforded the comfort of routine (kids love routine) and daily repetition to learn many basic skills.  These were fantastic building blocks, or “pegs” as they say in the Classical world, and I AM thankful for the Classical methods I pursued, and I learned so much that first year homeschooling that went far beyond curriculum choices.

But, unfortunately, the rigidity I was bringing to our home classroom was stifling the learning process.  The type of Classical education I was presenting was not proving to be a good fit for us.
I was trying hard to keep things light and fun, but somewhere in the middle of our Kindergarten year, it began to feel like we were just trudging along through math and phonics and spelling workbooks, and our only highlights were coming from read-aloud, or our hands-on outings together, or from big projects I was coming up with on my own for Science and Social Studies (for these we had no real curriculum).

Then, something changed.  
Because the beginning geography workbook I had been using was finished a few months before the school year was over, I began Story of the World (Ancients) right there at the tail-end of Kindergarten with maybe a month of school left.  I had planned on beginning it (per Well Trained Mind’s recommendations) in first grade, but I figured I would get a head-start on it those last weeks of her Kindergarten school year, sort of just trying it out…
Well. It INSTANTLY became a favorite subject, and favorite time of day for us, as it lent itself to so many hands-on activities, dress-up, art projects, etc.  
I saw this different side of my daughter coming alive as we took a more relaxed, and hands-on approach with Story of the World each afternoon.  It was so NON-textbookish, and I loved the excitement my kids felt each time we brought home a pile of LIVING library books to supplement what we were learning.  They were enthusiastically learning SO much, and loving every minute of it.  School felt so fun and exciting.

At that time, I hadn’t even really heard about Charlotte Mason–the name, the philosophy, anything.  A close friend and mentor was the first to turn me on to her methods {thank you Sue!} but it wasn’t until I read For the Children’s Sake that I had any REAL exposure.  
That book was, as they say, a complete “game changer” for me.  

I never finished Saxon 1.  In early Spring 2012, after talking to a another friend and hmsch mentor, I switched gears and started on Math-U-See, hoping to avoid any further tears and math woes.  My daughter and I both liked the change of pace, but it wasn’t a totally perfect fit for us…I mean, suddenly, all we were doing was addition, every day, day after day.  Some of my daughter’s gained memory skills (from Saxon) began waning.

Don’t get me wrong: Math-U-See is great, and I prefer a mastery-based approach, but still, it just seemed a bit…I don’t know, like you couldn’t use it as a stand-alone…I stuck with it for a few months (after all I had just spent all the $$ to buy it!!) and occasionally, I’d pull out a Saxon worksheet for some extra practice or do a game or a fun math-based activity to liven things up.

But somewhere along the way, as I had been researching Charlotte Mason more and more, liking what I was finding and was looking for suggested curriculum that would fit with her style, a friend suggested I try Life of Fred for math.  Math that “reads like a story?”  Ok, I’m  listening…soon I spent the $16 for one (reusable) book, and gave it a try.  It was love at first read for my daughter.  Not entirely comfortable using it as a stand alone, though, so at this point, we’re going back and forth between the 3 (Saxon, MUS and LOF) and mixing things up!  Not totally sure if that helps or hurts, and Math is definitely something that I am not as drawn to in the first place, but we’ve been tear-free all year, and yes, she is learning and enjoying mathematics again.

Anther CM-style change we made going into first grade was to begin using Apologia Science, and was so totally impressed with both our semester in Astronomy and so far, in Botany.  I think I’m pretty much their biggest fan.

Early in our school year, we also began taking weekly, and daily if possibly, nature walks, continuing on with our once-a-week time with friends for Science or History Club, and many wonderful, field trips.  What an extraordinary year we had!  Night and day different from last year.  So many hands-on projects, a constant variety of “living experiences,” and so much joy.

I didn’t buy any formal reading curriculum this year either, but I did use CM’s Delightful Reading for some playing-with-words reinforcement, and my daughter just absolutely loved it–it really got her over the reading hump, along with the many living resources from the library.  These short, 15-20 minute reading lessons were just enough 2 or 3 times a week for phonics practice.

It felt good to let go of formal spelling until later on, and just allow spelling (and grammar) skills to be developed naturally right now in our daily copywork (by the way, our copywork is included in or Apologia Science journal, so it’s been one less sit-and-get-out-your-workbook headache to worry about.

All this background to share that slowly, over the course of the past year, I have begun letting go of SOME things that I considered more RIGIDLY Classical, and taking on a more relaxed educational method.  The more I read of Charlotte Mason and her “gentle art of learning,” the more I wanted to read.  The more I applied it, the happier me AND my kids were with our learning.  

So here we are, at the end of first grade (our second year) and I’ve slowly moved (morphed?) from a more purely Classical Approach to a Charlotte Mason / Classical Approach.

I have learned so much from all the changes.  For one, now I can more clearly see the strengths and weaknesses of both.  Or maybe MY strengths and weaknesses as I try to apply these methods.  Example: While I don’t like the memorize-for-sake-of-memorizing push during the grammar years of Classical Ed, I can see how I’ve become slack in this area, and my daughter could have benefited tremendously from some additional memorization work (like sing-song math facts) had I been more intentional with it.

I am still planning on beginning Latin with my daughter by 3rd grade, and I think I would like to begin introducing it this coming year in 2nd, so I will be searching for some help from the Classical side of things for that as well, perhaps using Classical Conversations memorization cds?

I DO believe the Classical and Charlotte Mason models are compatible and can work well together, each supporting the other in its weaknesses.  Not to say Classical is the only method that is “rigorous.” In fact, if I were to truly apply a CM approach, I believe it would be intensive enough, but I’ve really only begun to scratch the surface, and am not always diligent in following the recommendations for the amount of mental gymnastics (which CM felt should be intensive, just not laborious or dragged out until the child is frustrated). 

It’s pointed out in the CM Companion by Karen Andreola that one of the most significant differences in Charlotte Mason’s model and Dorothy Sayers (Classical) model was in the deep valuing of the “personhood” of our children (CM) versus viewing our kids as memorization machines.  I know that seems crude and too harsh of the Classical model, but in all reality, it is a REAL trap we can slip into when we are using that approach.

The other snare (for me, at least) is the issue of pride.  We have to be so careful, and sensitive to the Spirit, that we are not filling our children’s minds with so many things in order that we as their parents and educators feel successful (and validated in our choice to home educate) because look at what smart, over-achieving kids we have, who know lengthy timelines and Latin phrases and have entire chapters of the Bible memorized and aren’t we doing such an amazing job?

Of course, pride threatens us at every turn, and even as I type I’m convicted of comparing or showing off my kids’ progress even within our chosen model~look at our nature notebooks and our amazing hands-on experiences and projects…see what a good job I’m doing with them?

Oh, how we need the Lord to purify our hearts and our work so that it is done with the correct motivations and doesn’t end up as dross on judgement day, when our work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.”  1 Cor. 3:13-15 

Whatever our educational methods, I think that we, as parents, need to continually be reminded that ANY knowledge (even Biblical knowledge) without love, is worthless (1 Cor. 13). Do we want our kids to experience academic success?  Of course!  But can  you imagine much of our hard work being declared as worthless? We don’t want to raise our kids to be “clanging cymbals” or “noisy gongs” who are so puffed with knowledge and pride that they are oblivious to the needs of others.  
We want to raise children of the kingdom, who have learned, through our servant-example, what it means to truly love, and give to others and serve the Lord with joy and with a whole heart.  We want to see them grow ever-deeper in their walks with the Creator.  
We want to value them as the persons they are, each unique and valued and treasured by our God!  We want them to develop strong characters and pure hearts that hunger and thirst after righteousness.  We want to steer them away from pride and towards our humble savior, who laid down His life for us.  And if we truly want them to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we’d better be leading them by following Him ourselves.

The Word warns, Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”  James 3:1 

What a holy work we have taken on in our decision to home-educate, to be our children’s full-time teachers!  Ultimately, it’s not the our local districts or the state or anyone else who holds us accountable–it’s the Lord.  Sobering, isn’t it?  I know it is for me.  To be fair, in the context in which it was written, James is writing of spiritual teachers, but aren’t we, as parents, spiritual teachers first and foremost for our children?

So whatever our chosen methods, we need to be mindful that SOME of what we are teaching has eternal value, and these (relational) things should be of greatest priority to each of us as Christian home-educators.  In all of our teaching, we are called to “do our work wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord” and to “teach them diligently” when we sit, and when we walk on the way, when we lie down, and when we get up.  Truly, any which way we turn, we have a Biblical measuring stick by which we can hold ourselves.

I pray that as we seek the Lord for what is best for our families, and even for individual children within our families, who are different and uniquely-gifted from their siblings, that we can know the Lord’s clear leading.  I pray that as you (and I) search and seek and re-search, that you would hear clearly “a voice behind you, saying this is the way, walk ye in it!” (Isa 30:21) and that as you walk, He would bless and multiply and fill and give you favor.

Take joy and comfort knowing that He is with you on this journey, leading and directing!

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, and directs you in the way you should go.”  Isa. 48:17

Linking up with Trivium Tuesdays

8 thoughts on “Classical Ed? Charlotte Mason? Can I do both? 2nd Year Homeschooling Lessons Learned: Finding What Works for Us

  1. Kayla Porche

    I just came by this post while searching Pinterest for some homeschool room ideas. I wish I were not on my phone (traveling out of town, hubby’s driving) bc I would type the longest thank you thank you thank you reply. I can’t tell you how much this encouraged me. My DD is kinder at a small private school but we will be homeschooling next year. We know it is what God has called us to do and while so excited about it, it is a bit daunting to say the least. I am already encountering some of the same struggles you talked about with your DD and am trying to put together what we will be using for next year. I’ve been so torn between Classical & CM, and was daring to think, why not both? Your post has really summed up all that I was feeling and hoping that we could do. I had already decided on Apologia, so to see you are using it, and enjoying it, is a real encouragement. Again, I could just ho on and on about how much this post encouraged me, not just about homeschooling, but a spiritual encouragement as well. It is a blessed thing God has called us to do!

  2. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Thanks Jenn. Ha, yes, it is so good to know we are all sort of navigating this together, and trying to find balance. I am sure you’ll enjoy Classical Conversations~there is so much that is wonderful that they have to offer, and you can bring that gentle Charlotte Mason balance at home as you work with your child. I think it’s important during the younger years to instill a great LOVE of LEARNING into our children’s hearts and minds, who are already so inquisitive and hungry to learn, and for that reason primarily, I like to keep things a bit lighter and not so rigid when they are THIS young…There is no reason why school should feel laborious when they are 5-8 years old…and if it does, I am probably doing something wrong 🙂 I HIGHLY recommend Apologia to anyone~perfect balance between CM and Classical.
    Blessings, Joanna

  3. Jenn O

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post! Probably because I can so relate and it is nice to come across someone else who is doing things similarly than I am. I have had many of the questions and concerns that you addressed as well. I originally was going to do only CM, then joined a Classical Conservations group to start up in August. It seems rigid but this is our first year homeschooling. We are also using Delightful Handwriting for writing skills. I will need to check into Apologia, I loved the nature study journal!!! Thanks so much for the post, it was a great read and now I don’t feel so crazy!!!! Jenn @ teaching2stinkers.blogspot.com

  4. Annie Kate

    Yes, yes, yes, you can combine the two! We have successfully done so for our family, leaning towards CM in the early years and Classical in the upper years. In fact, for years I was part of a Christian/Classical/CM online group and even helped moderate it, although I don’t even know if it still exists these days.

    CM’s narration makes so much more sense than all the memorization of (essentially) unimportant information at an age when it takes so much time. The living books approach is so much better for learning and building relationships with subjects, giving all the memorized data a familiarity that makes them real. And for older kids, it’s good to demand all they can give intellectually, and for a lot of them that means classical learning with CM elements like picture study etc thrown in for relaxation.

    Any child who learns the CM way, whether by Ambleside online or some other way, will be interested and enthusiastic when it comes to learning classically at an older age.

  5. Amy Maze

    This is a beautiful post! I love to throw in a lot of Charlotte Mason into our ‘classical’ homeschool. I think they are complementary in many ways (chronological history, living books, memory, etc.) I like to say that Charlotte Mason keeps me gentle, because I tent toward the strict, let’s get it done, type =) I’ve looked at that Apologia botany book and was thinking of using it this summer, but I think I might wait a bit and keep science to simple nature walks right now. Glad to know you love it, though! I’d love for you to link this up to Trivium Tuesday tomorrow! I just happened to see it while I was reading the post you linked up last week (that I featured, by the way!)

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