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  • Writer's pictureKrissy Mellum

Planning for Formal Lessons

The past several weeks I've taken an unofficial, unplanned hiatus from writing. One of the reasons is because our house is in in full-blown summer mode! I always welcome the much needed break most of our activities take for the summer. During the summer our schedule feels lighter, and there's a bit more margin in our daily rhythm. With some of that extra time I’ve been looking ahead toward next year. While we did an unofficial kindergarten this past year with my oldest, this will be our first official year of formal lessons with AmblesideOnline (AO). AO provides excellent weekly schedules, but it rests with the parents to essentially create their own daily schedule and decide which subjects happen when. So in light of that, this post will look at practical aspects of planning and explore how go about creating a schedule based on Charlotte Mason's philosophy.

One thing I'm using to help plan are the scheduling cards from ADE (A Delectable Education Postcast). They were only $5 and so worth it! This is a video that explains exactly how to utilize them to ensure that the timetables are appropriate for your student. When piecing together a daily schedule, it can feel a little intimidating to see all of the subjects laid out there, but it's important to remember that a huge part of Charlotte Mason's philosophy is keeping short lessons. According to the scheduling cards for Form I (grades 1-3), we should spend no more than 10 minutes on reading (that is, learning to read), 10 minutes on writing (copywork, transcription, etc.), 20 minutes on math, 10 minutes on a modern language, etc. Keeping lessons short fosters the habit of attention. While it may feel like a lot, the time spent on each subject is very doable. Below is a picture of the tentative weekly schedule I put together using the scheduling cards.

My hope is that by using these scheduling cards, I'll have an "ideal" daily schedule that provides a clear and consistent goal to aim for each day. Keeping in mind that life happens, and some (perhaps most?) days we likely won't check all the boxes. And that's OK! However, I do think there's value in intentionally carving out and allotting specific time slots for subjects that often get left out. If your house is anything like mine, if you don't prioritize time for something, it just won't happen. Therefore, giving things like brush drawing, poetry, or picture study a designated time on the schedule automatically makes it more likely to take place.

One of the major issues most CM families run into is "finding time for the riches." The irony is a Charlotte Mason's philosophy doesn't view the riches as an add on, or even as optional. With Charlotte Mason's philosophy, the riches are just as vital as math or literature. That is why Charlotte Mason likened education to a broad feast. This feels somewhat countercultural to today's classroom where things like art, music, drawing, handicrafts, are often pushed aside for core subjects such as math and writing. I've been listening the ADE podcast lately in preparation for formal lessons, and I want to commend this episode entitled "When the Feast is Too Much" to anyone who feels overwhelmed when planning for school. It's offers a great perspective on why CM's philosophy shouldn't leave us feeling burdened or overwhelmed.

After using the scheduling cards to create daily schedule for all of our subjects, I can begin plugging in pieces from our AO weekly schedule. Below is a screenshot of part of the weekly schedule that AO provides. I can take the specific history titles, for example, and plug them into the history slots on my daily schedule. And just like that, my planning is pretty much done. All that's left is to gather the required books and math curriculum.

This entire process took me about 30 minutes to complete. I wanted to share this practical aspect of planning a CM education because I think that we tend to idealize Mason's philosophy

- after all, it sounds so lovely and freeing… yet when it comes to actually planning out the day-to-day it can feel daunting; and that's when, I think, most of us tend to want to return to a more traditional curriculum or method. Traditional feels safe and comfortable because it's all laid out for you with a script and scope and sequence that tells you exactly where your student should be on the 128th day of school. But that's not real life. The truth is no matter how perfect our planning process may be, we need to hold our plans loosely because life happens and we need to also be prepared to be flexible with those plans when the Lord calls for it.

One more practical tip is to take the time to become familiar with CM's methods by reading her volumes. Using a Charlotte Mason curriculum or schedule without understanding her methods is a very common mistake. Her methodology is really what sets her apart. Anyone can include living books in their schedule, but not fully understanding how to use her methods (such narration, dictation, a book of centuries, or a nature notebook) can muddy the waters and make things more difficult than they ought to be. It takes understanding both the philosophy and the methodology in order to confidently provide the school experience Mason lays out in her volumes; which is why it's so important to read her work for yourself, in order to have a clear understanding of both the why and the how.

And no matter how well we plan out every last minutiae of our day, the humbling reality is we will still fall short. Yet, even in those moments where things don't pan out the way we planned, how we respond and recover in those moments is setting the atmosphere in our homes and teaching our children how to handle failure, disappointment, frustration, with grace; and ultimately how to trust that the Lord is in the midst of all of it.

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