Over the years, we have had various kinds of curricula. We started off with Calvert, an all-in-one curriculum that even includes crayons, pencils and erasers! It is a standard school curriculum which includes the teacher’s guide, answers, and wonderful support from real teachers. After using it for 3 years, I realized that other than it is quite expensive (it was costing me about $700 a year per child, but over 93% cheaper than private schools,) it was not working out for one of my children so I had to look for something else.
Money was a huge issue, as well as the fact that I was trying to teach and look after several younger children at the same time and I decided I was going to try to see if I could combine and overlap some of the teaching with the boys to help me out. I spent a long time looking into Unit Studies. Unit Studies take a topic and combine different subjects into one unit so you are teaching many subjects at once.
We have a yearly budget for school, which includes any camp, and two years ago, while our boys were at a much needed (for me!) camp, I spent several days searching the internet for unit studies that I wanted to do for the coming year. With sending 3 boys to camp for 2 weeks each, my budget for schooling for the year was almost nothing, so I had to search for free stuff. The problem was that I was not finding free units for the topics I wanted to teach. The second last day of camp I was at my wit’s end. I just did not know what to do. Our schooling was suppose to start in 4 days and I had no clue what I was going to teach! For some reason I clicked on a link that was a curriculum. I did not want a curriculum, but I clicked anyways. What did I have to loose? I already exhausted all possible sites for what I was looking for anyways, and I needed a change of pace. I started reading. It was Ambleside Online, a Charlotte Mason curriculum. A free curriculum, nice, but not for me (not that I knew anything about it!) As I read all about the curriculum, I found myself liking and agreeing with what I was reading. I emailed my husband some of what I read for I really liked it – not that I was going to do it, but it was really good stuff. I kept reading. And reading. And reading. By the end of the day I knew what I was going to do that year – with only 2 days to prepare (Shabbos was in the middle,) I was going to jump right into it anyways and figure it out.
Charlote Mason lived in England in the late 1800’s early 1900’s. Ms. Mason was a teacher for many years and spend a lot of time trying to improve her teaching ideas and skills. In a nutshell, she voted for short lessons, which equal to short school days so there is time for personal interests and hobbies (very important.) However, she was an advocate for a strong education with knowledge in a wide range of topics and felt that children were capable of more than we tend to think of them as being capable of. She was an advocate for living books – books written by authors who were knowledgeable and passionate about the topic. At the same time, religion was very important and incorporated God into secular learning. She was a huge advocate of sending kids outside for as long as possible with part free time and part guided time. Middos (character traits) are very important. And, don’t start children too early. Let them grow, let them learn about nature, let them understand how a flower grows and how a squirrel lives. Let them learn how to observe nature and then they can learn. With four children, and with being religious, the idea of having time to teach all of them, give them a good strong educational background AND do it with Hashem in mind all the time, Wow!
The Charlotte Mason version that we use is an online version. The advisory has tried to find as many of the books that fit the teaching style as possible that are out of copyright and available for free online. This helps cut down the cost.
They have also set up a schedule for each year – broken down by week. This makes it very flexible. Some children need to break readings down into multiple sections read over several days, and it gives the option of putting everything into a 4 day week instead of 5. This is what we do. I arrange almost everything into 4 days, and Fridays are left for other stuff (yes, cooking and cleaning is part of it, but that really is school for that is real life skills.) I do not feel forced to use everything on the list. Obviously, I replace the Bible with Torah study, Christian history with our Jewish history and hymns with davening and Shabbos songs. However, I do not have to worry about reading that the world is millions of years old when I do not believe that. The setup is just a nice guideline being flexible if I need to replace a book and letting me choose when to teach. There are a few books that I have left out of teaching for they are too Christian based, but all in all, that is not an issue and we enjoy being able to easily see Hashem in all our learning.
The big difference that one will see when they go through the FAQ’s is that especially for the younger years, there is no writing except the copywork! None! What is done instead is oral narrations. The parent or teacher (if in a school) reads from the different books, then asks for an oral narration from the child(ren). After the narration, the parent or teacher then uses that for discussions. Why oral narrations? Talking is easier than writing, and if you cannot tell me what you read, then you do not understand and how can you write about it? Starting in year 4, after the child has the idea of how to listen and read and understand, then they start with 1-2 written narrations. The readings get very intense – starting in year 4 we add Plutarch’s Lives and Shakespeare (yes, the real thing – however, it did not work out for us too well, but I think it was mostly me and the scheduling mainly….) Younger children have short attention span so the lessons need to be short – 10-15 minutes. Older children about 30-45 minutes. No longer. Also, learn not to repeat (unless the child does not understand) for they need to learn to listen the first time, after all, their boss is not going to tell them twice to do a job!
The first year was a little strange. It took a while before I got the hang of what I was suppose to be doing with the narrations. This past year I had a much better idea and the discussions came a lot easier for me. I will be entering year 3 with AO and am very excited. I just placed the order for the year’s books – $160 for my oldest (the younger ones already have the books!). Well, that is everything except math. That will come at the end of the summer. My oldest is going to be reading about all sorts of exciting stuff this year such as classical mechanics, relativity (yes, in year 6!!!), reading the Hobbit and the Animal Farm and all about the Greeks and Romans. He has read the unabridged classics such as Robinson Crusoe and Oliver Twist, with more to come! Oh, and Understood Betsy and The Little Duke are NOT to be missed!
I have my reading list for the summer set out for me, I can’t wait! I think I will enjoy the books more than they will!