While I fell into homeschooling this last year, I did have the opportunity to experiment with different curriculum and theories of education. So which education theory do I adhere to? Quite simply, whatever works best for each particular child. That's the beauty of homeschooling. But to better explain where I am coming from, I will say that I am strongly influenced by Charlotte Mason educators as well as Montessori.
My mom was a Montessori teacher for many years and I had the opportunity as a college student to work in her school's summer camp. I quickly became a believer that the Montessori hands-on, concrete approach has huge benefits--especially in math. Even when my girls were in Catholic school, we used Montessori math beads at home to supplement their education. After exploring quite a few math approaches this past year, my girls seem to benefit most from Math-U-See. This curriculum has many of the hands-on benefits of Montessori math, but is very usable in a homeschool setting. Pure Montessori heavily depends on manipulatives that are costly to reproduce in a home setting. I was thrilled when I discovered the hands-on approach Math-U-See and both Anne and Clare have benefited greatly from using it.
The Charlotte Mason approach to education has strongly influenced my choices in Language Arts and History. Charlotte Mason was a British educator in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. I don't feel qualified to explain her educational approach, but Simply Charlotte Mason offers an nice explanation here. I came to Charlotte Mason almost in the negative. I liked the substance of what was taught in Classical Education, but the rigidity in which it was often presented didn't work well with my children. Their natural educational curiosity was turned off by pretty much every Classical curriculum I used. For example, my kids love Ancient History, but if they are forced to only study Ancient History and only read Ancient History books for an entire school year, they soon hate Ancient History. Also, as I once heard Rea Berg, of Beautiful Feet Books, explain, the chronological approach to history often means you are missing the best books for a particular age group about a particular time period. The Charlotte Mason method allows for more flexibility in the historical time period you are presenting.
I love the Charlotte Mason approach of using "living books." Basically, the idea is that children don't remember textbooks, but we are all wired to remember great stories. The plot of a really well written novel about a historical event or a particular scientist can trigger the love of learning about that subject for the rest of the child's life. The Charlotte Mason method encourages the use of excellent books to excite interest and help children learn in a personal way school subjects. As I thought back through my own education, what I remembered were books my teachers read aloud which really made a historical time period or figure come alive for me.
Again, this approach took some experimentation throughout this past year. We rely on Beautiful Feet Books history packets for excellent books about particular historical time periods and they do come with a very helpful teacher's guide. That being said, we found we needed something more basic to walk us through the important facts. We finally settle on using The Good and the Beautiful History curriculum, but supplementing this with books from history packs offered by Beautiful Feet Books.
For Language Arts, we discovered English Lessons through Literature this past year and love it. This curriculum is self-described as "Classical Mason." It uses the very best literature to teach grammar and writing. Charlotte Mason encouraged teachers to not use "twaddle" (i.e. lower-quality or mindless stories) even when a child is an early reader. Anne, in first grade, will be using books such as Beatrix Potter stories and The Jungle Book. Meg and Clare will be reading such books as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Little Women and Around the World in Eighty Days. Part of education should be exposing our kids to the most beautiful options, so they continue searching for that beauty long after their school years.
In my next post, I will lay out the specific curriculum I have chosen for each girl.