The twelve days of Christmas revelry are nearly over. The New Year has arrived, and our Christmas break from school is coming to an end with Epiphany on January 6 (though I must admit that we have been sneaking in a few literature readings with the kids). The transition from Christmas back to an ordinary, non-holiday season can be just as nice as all of the celebrating.
New Year’s Day typically is a time when we set new goals or recommit to old ones. On social media I’ve seen friends set reading, fitness, and financial goals. It just feels natural to put our best foot forward in January, and with that in mind (and some extra time off to think about it) I have been reassessing our homeschool.
Our Atmosphere: A Monastic House
A major conviction I have felt lately is that our house is a disorganized mess. Can you relate? The kids outgrew toys and clothes at breakneck speed 2017, and DH and I have hardly had the time and resolve to do anything about it.
The boys, spanning in age from 10 down to 5, are as different in physical size, interests / hobbies, reading abilities, and levels of independence as they are ever likely to be. I’ve got one kid wearing men’s size clothing and feet bigger than mine and another kid still clinging to his favorite 4T size Minion PJs (even though the pants look like shorts on him). We have “meh” picture books on the shelf that really ought to go and the need for many, many more bookshelves to house our growing family library.
Organization is tough because it’s an ongoing process that we only seem to accomplish in fits and spurts. Additionally, we have just plain old outgrown our house (but are unwilling at this point to move or sign on for a larger house payment). We need more usable space and less stuff, so organization to the rescue!
I have been very intrigued lately by the idea of organizing our home like a monastery. I know I have read blog posts about this written by AO users (will update with links when I can find them), but I also recently listened to an episode of Forma on the Circe Institute Podcast Network in which David Kern interviewed Christopher Perrin (founder of Classical Academic Press) about the role the monastics played in preserving Western culture. Towards the end of the interview, Perrin described how private schools and homeschools can take some elements of monastic life and apply them.
Of course, as non-monks, we are not going to completely recreate a monastery, but ideas that Perrin gave (which totally mesh with the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education) include:
- Ditch the A-B-C-D-F / 100% grading scale in favor of mastery.
- Approach teaching and learning holistically without artificial division of “subjects” modeling that teachers can teach across subjects rather than specialized in subjects.
- Plan for a small ratio of teacher-to-students so that true relationships and friendships can be enjoyed (this applies more to classrooms, but could also include a homeschool mom hiring help when needed).
- Study fewer subjects more deeply (multum non multa) — slow reading, discovery, and engaging with the text.
- Follow a liturgy of the day: For example — Begin with morning time together, move on to individual or one-to-one tutoring, enjoy mastery inactivity and playtime after studies, and come back together for family read aloud in the evening.
- Include beauty (display art, play music, light candles or let in natural light, recite poetry and scripture, memorize prayers, spend time in nature) in the museum of our homes.
- Scholé — restful learning rather than frantically checking boxes
Our Discipline: How We are Set Up to Learn (Schedule)
This school year got a little crazy with me taking a part-time job outside the home. Since our oldest was a toddler, I have worked part-time from home after the kids go to bed and sometimes in the daytime on the weekend. It was never convenient, and sometimes I worked some less than desirable jobs, but that little extra I could contribute (without childcare expense) really helped our family budget. This year I sort of fell into my dream job — teaching part-time at the high school level. Not everyone enjoys high schoolers, so I consider myself lucky that I love to do something that most people don’t. The schedule change, however, has wreaked havoc on our homeschool.
The boys are coming with me each morning to school, which means there is a mad rush Monday through Friday to put clothes and shoes on people, pack snacks, and locate backpacks. I’ve had to let go and let the school teach them mathematics, and I consider it a bonus that the boys get to participate in weekly chapel, daily recess, and some occasional special activities. Time at school also serves as scheduled time with friends, so I don’t quite feel the need sign the boys up for extra curricular activities (though there are some they love that they don’t want to give up — swim, archery, book club). It doesn’t count as free time with friends, though, so I have to be sure to schedule that in — especially for my extrovert.
When we get home from part-time school, they boys want lunch (at 10:45am), then we come together for “morning time” at mid-day. The new schedule has pushed everything we used to do all day into just the afternoon, so I’ve had to be wise about what to consolidate. Probably the most difficult part of this new schedule is holding the boys’ attentions. I’m not really asking them to do more, but asking them to focus in the afternoon has been a challenge. My compromise has been giving them a full hour of freetime in between being at school and homeschool lessons.
Our Life: Ambleside Online Curriculum / Path
I chose Ambleside Online five years ago as a guide for our homeschool. With A10 in Year 4 (the first year of Form II), I can safely say that AO is an excellent fit for us. I love knowing that several homeschoolers have gone before us to design this curriculum that so skillfully covers what Andrew Kern has lately dubbed the “Seven Liberal Arts of Truth Perception.” More than a list of living books, AO is a full community of helpers and guides dedicated to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education.
AO is a full curriculum — meaning that nothing needs to be added and, in fact, there’s really no time to cover additional material. That said, AO has lots of wiggle room for individualization. In some areas, AO simply advises “do math” or “begin learning a foreign language” or “study Latin” or “learn to play an instrument.” In other areas — such as composer study, artist study, nature study, Shakespeare, Plutarch’s Lives — AO runs on a suggested rotation that can be tailored to each family (or private school now that AO for Groups is up and running!).
In short, as I recenter our homeschool, I’m making strides to be sure that we are keeping the AO curriculum and CM philosophy at the core of our homeschool. Sometimes that means we say “no” or “not now” to outside activities that look very CM friendly so that we have enough time to study.
Recentering: Remembering Our Core Values
With the New Year, I’m not sure that much is changing around here (except a major deep cleaning project!), but it’s comforting to remember the core beliefs of our homeschool so that we know the target for which we are shooting. It’s good timing — I bet organization stuff is on sale at Staples!
Until next week (or so).
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (family read aloud)
- Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (with my Y2 student)
- Mrs. Fisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (kids’ book club selection)
- Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff
Moderately challenging books:
A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (for a class I’m teaching)
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (for a Lewis book club)
- The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonuge (with my Y2 student)
- Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Karen Glass
- For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in conjunction with Brandy Vencel’s Start Here study (for my CM study group)
- A Circe Guide to Reading by Andrew Kern et al
- Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (reading with CiRCE Institute’s Close Reads podcast)