Some Final Thoughts

I can hardly believe we have made it through this whole SERIES. There, I said it – series. I have been so hesitant to say that word, because sometimes I have greater expectations than I can actually pull off! But I did it!

Thank you so much for for hanging in there with me, and a special thank you to those who have left comments. Sometimes I feel like I’m blabbing out into cyber world, but no one is listening. The reality is that it’s fine if I’m here alone, because most of what I post are words that I need to hear anyway.

As a finale to this series I have just a few more things to say:

You made the schedule, now stick to it as much as possible. Someone at the conference told me that she left with this guiding thought: Protect the atmosphere. That is brilliant! It’s your job as the homeschool teacher, as the mom, as the dad, to protect the atmosphere.

Don’t worry if a book can’t be completed in the “assigned” term, or even over the whole year. It can be finished over the summer or continued the next year. Consider the pages per subject that are assigned on the Programmes. For example, on Programme 92 Form II, Bulfinch’s Age of Fable has assigned pages 186-215. That’s 29 pages over the whole term! Even in form V and VI the students were only reading approximately 25 pages per day. Now 25 pages of Plutarch would sink a person, but we have variety in our day, and presumably, we are doing a good portion of it together.

Don’t rush. Again, a quote from Miss Kitching during a discussion of what subjects to leave out when time is limited:

“It is better to leave the term’s work unfinished, than to rush the pupils through for the sake of having finished the work set. ”

In order to give a little accountability, set your timer, or have a clock in your peripheral vision, so that you can get the hang of sticking to your schedule.

  • When we have our table time, a clock is on the wall behind the children, but directly in front of me. I keep an eye on it.
  • When we sit in the living room to read something together, I set the timer on my phone. I typically set it for a few minutes short of the time scheduled to allow for narration.
  • If a chapter is close to being done, you can go ahead and finish it, but remember to shave a little bit of time off another subject.
  • But don’t give in and read another chapter. Oh, there have been times of wailing for just another chapter, but trust me, saving that chapter will get you through another chapter of whatever difficult book is scheduled before it next time! It’s good to figure out what the favorites are, (you might be surprised at times,) and save them for the end. Don’t save the things you don’t like for the end. It’s like saving dessert.

Remember that your children have their whole life to learn. You don’t have to squeeze in every book before they turn 18. The more I learn about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, the more I realize that books are the tool, not the source. Some may not agree with me on this, but I think it’s true. Charlotte Mason USED books. Her students read them and narrated, they read them and discussed, they read them and parsed the grammar, they read them in other languages. Books were a tool.  These day, as followers of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, we have the attitude that it’s all about how many pages or how many books we can get our children to complete by 18 years old.

Listen, I remember ONE book from high school – a living book by the way – and a couple Oprah selections from my early twenties. I was virtually uneducated by my current standards. But I was a successful person in all areas of my life. Learning to love books through homeschooling my children has made my life richer, and has likely made me smarter and more interesting, but it hasn’t pulled me out of some gutter. Your children will know more than me by the time they are 8!

Just remember that Charlotte Mason emphatically emphasized that education was like a three-legged stool. Each part was just as important as the rest. Education is a life, a discipline and an atmosphere. It’s all three, not just one.

Your big kids should work independently for some portion of their day, but not nearly the amount of time that some parents are allowing.  Our homes are a community. A little community in which we learn how to live in a big community. We do a lot of things, like chores, for the greater good of this community. We learn to live with each other in peace, despite differences in personalities. And we share experiences as a way to bond us.

This idea hit me like a blow – we share experiences as we homeschool together. When we all pull for a character in a book, or despair over another character’s bad decision, or when we all laugh hysterically at the silly antics of another character, we are bonding. When we struggle through a hard Plutarch lesson, or grapple with what Shakespeare was saying, we are bonding.

We have this idea that each child should progress through the ranks of their education alone. Ever advancing. If the goal is that they finish books and lessons, increase in intelligence, and get into that famous school, then I guess progressing through the ranks alone might make sense. But I think we would, or at least should, all agree that there is more to life than solitary achievement. I can’t help but come back to Charlotte Mason’s point that education is more than just a life, or a discipline, but is also an atmosphere. It really is worth reading her exposition on these three points in volume three.

At our house we all sit around the dining room table and do Bible, hymn, poetry, memorization, copywork, dictation and foreign language together. (There is one for you – who would want to do foreign language alone if there is a household full of other people to gabber in Spanish with?) Then we move to the couch and read three books together. Typically this looks like English history, literature and Plutarch; or a US history biography, geography and Shakespeare; or a science biography, CM’s Ourselves and mythology/ancients. After this my little kids do math with me, and the big kids do some other subject alone, but in the same room.

But what if the little kids are distracting? Go to the far side of the room then. Everyone knows that in real life there are distractions, and we need to learn to focus well enough that they don’t hold us up. Furthermore, I intend that these older children adhere to the time schedule I have prepared. They may not care about their outside time, but I care about it for them. I know they need down time, time to ruminate on what they have taken in, so I must insist that they move through the schedule with the rest of us. (I might schedule them an actual number of pages to complete, but I will base that on my having read the section previously, and therefore know what is reasonable.)

In the past I have changed my schedule several times throughout the year, but after working through this process my schedule has stayed the same for the entire year. Sure I moved a book from one day to another, or switched the order of the things we did during our table time, but that is minor. Having a schedule that was right to start with gave us so much peace as we worked through the school day. When easy things were up next we enjoyed them together. When it was time for something hard, we buckled down, knowing there was an attainable finish line. In the end, not only did we have our most peaceful year, but we also had our most successful year. We accomplished far more, by doing less.

One last point – Mom, Dad, you must take care of yourself. You set the attitude of your home. If you are sick, school stops. If you are sleep deprived, you will be grumpy, and so will everyone else in your home. On the contrary, if you take the time to refresh yourself with the stuff that fills your soul, you will be a better parent, a better teacher. Get a morning routine established, so you can start your day in a successful manner. (More about that tomorrow.) Get to sleep on time and get up earlier than your kids. Go outside every day. Charlotte spent about an hour and a half outside every day, and look how much she accomplished in her lifetime. Last, but definitely not least, read.

“Never be without a really good book on hand. If you find yourself sinking to a dull commonplace level, with nothing particular to say, the reason is probably that you are not reading, and, therefore, not thinking” -Essex Cholmondeley, The Story of Charlotte Mason

I know I said I had just a bit more to say, and look, I rambled on for an hour!

I hope this series was a help to you all. Say “hi” in the comments maybe. Tell me if there is something else you want me to say about this subject or any other. It’s nice when you let me know that you’re out there somewhere.

Here’s to the best year ever!!


52 thoughts on “Some Final Thoughts

  1. Dawn

    You are definitely not blabbing in cyber space, Nicole, but spouting valuable advice for the rest of us. Thank you for taking the time to compose this series. I am only homeschooling one child at the moment and am in Y1, but I am bookmarking this series to come back to in the future when I know I will need it. Even still the material presented was tremendously valuable to me. Thanks again.

  2. Catie

    I agree with Dawn! I have really enjoyed this series! It's been very helpful. I'm starting Year 1 this year with my oldest and I will definitely use some of this information. 🙂

  3. Kjlb37

    I will be using mostly Yr 6 with my 13yo twin sons. I don't need to combine, we all do the same thing. However, this series (yes, it is indeed a series:)) has been so helpful in thinking through the scheduling steps. Looking forward to the Morning routine and if you want to throw afternoon, evening, weekend and any other routine in there you can think of, I'm all ears!;)

  4. Amanda

    This has been immensely helpful, Nicole. Thank you so much. In a way for me, it's helping me transfer Cindy Rollins' morning time to the nitty gritty of deciding what should be done in that time. Also, helping me to decide what we should and can combine and I'm so excited about the new routine I'm outlining. I hope you'll continue to write on this topic.

  5. Amanda

    This has been immensely helpful, Nicole. Thank you so much. In a way for me, it's helping me transfer Cindy Rollins' morning time to the nitty gritty of deciding what should be done in that time. Also, helping me to decide what we should and can combine and I'm so excited about the new routine I'm outlining. I hope you'll continue to write on this topic.

  6. Silvia

    I join to say, what a valuable series this has been!
    Thanks for taking the time to advice us so wisely and sensibly. I have taken so much from all you have shared.

  7. Mrs. H

    Thank you! Thank you! I am stuggling with scheduling my 4 kids (working on AO yrs 1,5, and 9). It is refreshing to hear that it's OK to combine a bit and not just for those riches. My 14 ds is an auditory learner and loves for me to read to him. I was struggling with telling him he had to be more independent and even setting him up in a far corner of the house to work on his own. I do want him to grow in independence, but I don't want to sacrifice the shared experiences either. At the same time my 12 ds is a stuggling reader and can not read most of year 5's books to himself. That leaves me with 2 older students who need me and a 1st grader! … and a 10dd in the middle! Ahh it makes my brain spin. I will be trying to use your ideas from the video this weekend to make it all work.

  8. Nicole Williams

    Thank you Dawn. I'm glad you mentioned having just one child, because I still think this could be helpful. A parent of one could just follow the time-tables as presented, but I think as the child gets older it might be useful to break away from that a bit, and make a personalized schedule. Unless you have in mind to do 6 hours of foreign language – in which case I applaud you! 🙂

  9. Jenny

    I just lost my comment, so will try to quickly rewrite. I am new to CM and someone at the AO forum directed me here. I had asked a question about combining b/c I'm nervous about sustaining for the long haul once I'm schooling in multiple Forms (my oldest of 4 will be in Y2).

    Also, your comment above about bonding through shared experience is such a beautiful picture to me and brings back all sorts of memories of my experiences in sports (esp running). Bonding definitely occurred with teammates through shared experience, esp the hard workouts, but also including any kind of adversity and also achievement and success. I will always remember this thought as I "coach my team":) Thank you!

  10. Nicole Williams

    One thing you might find helpful if you stick to using AO, is that you can create a parallel with levels 2 and 7, and continue from there – those levels are studying the same period in history. I don't know how long you have done AO, so maybe you would be repeating stuff, but if not, then it might be worth it. Something I haven't said before, is that it really helps to have your children all studying the same period of history when combining levels.

    When trying to decide what to do with a student who is a struggling reader – I have one of my own, in fact he has severe dyslexia – you have to decide whether to read his material to him and utilize audiobooks, or keep him at a level that he can read alone. You have to make this call based on both his reading level and his comprehension level. My son can understand material at a FAR higher level than he can read, so I have chosen to continue to do reading lessons with him daily, and then read most of his school work to him. But there are a lot of excellent books, like Landmarks, that are at a sixth grade reading level. If he could read these then I would be happy to have him read them and then I would read the hard stuff like Plutarch.

    This is one problem with AO. It will always be set up to accommodate the high achieving student. So what about the others? Charlotte Mason had a heart for these other children, and said they could learn this way as well as any other child. And she is right. My son is considered highly intellengent in the eyes of our friends, but he can only read at a 3rd grade level! If he was in school he would spend most of his day in special ed classes. Imagine how that would effect his confidence in himself. But sometime I think following AO can have the same effect for children that are slower learners. There is so much great material out there. It's not necessary that all of it be hard.

    You have brought up some good questions, Mrs. H, and I'm glad you wrote. I can see that I need to expand on this topic a bit.

  11. Nicole Williams

    Thank you for leaving a note Jenny. Your sports analogy is perfect. I skied on the ski team in high school, and it was such a wonderful experience, but later I found that the college team was not so bonded. I lost interest quick. I hadn't realized until then that the draw to the ski team for me was the "team" part.

    As to your situation, you may think of AO as directing your history timeline. For instance, go with Y2 for your oldest, then as your younger kids come up, find books that fit their level in the same place in history that your oldest is at. Sometime you will be able to use the AO books listed for all of your kids, but other times you might prefer to find another book. By then you will have a little more experience and you'll feel more confident, therefore making adjustments won't seem like such a big deal. That's exactly what I did.

  12. Julie Z.

    I would love to hear how you combine dictation, as I have three who will be dictating this coming year..ages 12, 10, and 8. Also, what do you mean when you refer to memorization the CM way? Thanks so much! This series has been great!

  13. Claire and Colin

    One thing I've noticed, and I'm intending to bring it up on the AO forum sometime, is I'm not sure how much CM's students were reading their own work. According to Brandy in her MEC series (I think…), even the student teachers had their books read to them! So I do wonder if we're putting more emphasis on independent reading than we should be… I really need to go read that vol3 appendix… Anyway, Nicole, I, too, was greatly inspired by your beautiful words about family as community and sharing experiences. It will shape the wayi think about our homeschool as it develops.

  14. Jenny

    Thanks for the suggestion. I will keep it in mind. Many of these books are new to me (more of a math/science person), so I can't imagine getting to a place of being able to adapt book choices:) We'll see how this year goes. I'm thinking on what I can combine and what to leave individual. I do want some things individual. And I think there will be plenty together. Enjoying reading your blog!

  15. Christy Hissong

    This series has been wonderful, Nicole — I've referred so many people here in the past month! I know how much time, thought, and prayer you've poured into it. Thank you for blessing so many with your wisdom and experience!

  16. Cynthia

    Thank you Nicole! I was directed to your blog today for the first time and I have been blessed by your words and work. I had been worried about how I would keep our homeschool CM with my big household and multiple ages but I feel much more confident after reading this series. 🙂

  17. Nicole Williams

    Cynthia, I'm so glad some of this might help. Having several children to homeschool is a challenge at times, but there is also value in having a large family, as you know. We have to recognize and embrace the blessings that come with that and then make adjustments so our life can have peace. Best wishes to you!

  18. lbrobst

    I'm visiting your site for the first time today and really appreciated this series! Your heart and priorities are my own, and I'm cheering us both on as we protect the atmosphere in our homes. Keep on sharing all this wisdom you've gained!

  19. Sara

    Following your series, and this is the first year I have school ONLY in the mornings WITH time to work with my K'er a little bit and WITH afternoon nature study, piano practice, and handicrafts time! We are going to take things a lot slower than in the past, but that's OK, because IT ALL FITS! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  20. Rebecca

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this series!! I bungled through our first AO year with one student with significant disabilities, but I had NO idea how I was going to fit in my next child in during the upcoming year. I now have a schedule (that I'm still tweaking) that includes more variety in less time, and I feel less pressure to "get through" the book list in one year. This is going to be so, so helpful for a peaceful year of learning together! You are amazing!! Best, Rebecca

  21. Nicole

    THANK YOU so much! I really appreciate the work you put into this series. It is truly a blessing. This is my first year using CM and you have helped reduce my stress. Last year, we took a more traditional approach, but I am very much looking forward to this new approach.

    I have one question. We are a family of color and would like to have more diversity in what we will be learning this year. any suggestions for resources that offer more literature, etc. from diverse cultural groups?

  22. amber

    Thank you very much for these encouraging words. It’s a couple of years since this was posted, but know that others will continue to benefit. One idea I will take with me is to have keep my together time even with my oldest kids. I’ve often been pressured to make them do things alone, for the sake of learning to be independent in all things. I don’t want them to be independent in all things! 🙂

    1. Nicole

      I’m glad this was helpful, Amber. There is definitely a balance there between having them do independent work and doing some things together. I am working on a scheduling 201 workshop right now, and this will be one of the themes I cover.

  23. Rebecca Brown

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your information has enabled me to create a schedule I actually understand and can use effectively, after two years of trying and not succeeding! Wonderful, wonderful information!

  24. Tessa

    This series has been a game changer for me. My daughter did AO year 1 last year, and it went fine. I truly felt like I was educating my whole child rather than just sticking to some curriculum. Sure, I left some “extras” out I planned on adding the following year, but overall, not bad. I have been preparing year 2 for her for the past 2 or so months while also listening to A Delectable Education podcast, perusing your blog, checking out the living library page, and just starting with CM Volume 1. I feel like collectively it has all helped open my eyes. I’m thankful for the podcast on history as I had already felt like we should start with our own country and that confirmed my feelings. Now your series has freed me from my bondage to The Books. I love the way you’ve laid this out and now understand how there’s no way I was going to be able to squeeze all of the recommended AO books into Our Schedule. I feel more confident to make some cuts, and even substitute books that are a better fit for us. I feel so free. I’m still going to use AO, but in a completely different light than I had been previously. I didn’t know how I was going to work everyone’s schedules when my younger three officially started school, but I am now seeing how I can combine and educate together. I think I have a better understanding of CM, and will continue to learn more as I work through her volumes and read up more from others as well. Thank you!

    1. Nicole

      I’m so encouraged by your message. Charlotte Mason has so much to teach us about every area of life, that I’m pretty sure we can just keep learning year after year. I’m glad we have been able to help encourage you in that endeavor! Best wishes!

  25. Ami Self

    We are approaching the end of our first term following the CM philosophy and I need help with my 5 kids (3 in forms 1a – 3, 2 littles). Thank you so much for laying this scheduling out so plainly…and compassionately! You have addressed many problems we’ve been having. With your helpful scheduling cards and some administrative help from my husband, I’m feeling hopeful that we’ll have some problems cleaned up even by Monday.

    1. Nicole

      Ami, I hope it is helpful, but I will warn that I still have to tweak my schedule periodically. We start school and I realize I have double-booked myself, or two children I hoped could work together, clearly can’t, or the other way around. The thing to do is begin understanding the whys and hows of a schedule so deeply that making tweaks to it, doesn’t foul up the whole thing. And to give yourself grace. You are doing a beautiful thing by homeschooling your children and by doing it in a way that nourishes their soul (even though they might beg to differ some days!) Best wishes to you!

      1. Ami Self

        Yes, thank you Nicole. This week has been much better and I think it will be easier to make little adjustments as I see what areas need more or less attention. Thank you again!

  26. Leah

    Thank you! I have a million questions running through my hard that I hope will be answered as I sort out the schedule you shared for our family. Ive learned more from this blog and the podcast in the last few days than I have absorbed through 5 years of trying to implement CM in my home.

  27. Ginny

    Here I am, 2.5 years later, and this post is STILL making ripples in cyberspace. 😉
    I’m currently prepping AO Yr2 for my 8 year old daughter, an only child.
    While I don’t have to worry about combining forms, I am a bit of an over-thinker, under-do-er when it comes to schedules. You’ve helped me pare things down and regain perspective. I plan to start. Just start. Set a schedule. Set a timer. I want to be disciplined enough to set up this atmosphere of living ideas. My goal for homeschooling my daughter is to demonstrate and set her up for a Well-Lived-Life. I think Miss Mason had the same idea.
    Thank you!

  28. Janine

    This series is very helpful to me! I currently have a 9yo, 8yo, 6yo and 3 preschoolers. I definitely love the idea of all moving together through the morning. I think I have been giving too much independence for my 9 and 8 year old to work through their work and then am facing the challenge of dawdling and not being aware of their lack of concentration because of everything else going on around me. Making our day all flow together will help with unity and sanity I think. 🙂 Thanks for the wisdom and encouragement.

  29. Jessica Chou

    You have been an incredible help to our homeschool. Thank you so much for sharing all you have learned in your experiences with CM homeschooling. Your shared wisdom has helped me to funnel all the millions of questions and thoughts that go through my mind on any given school day. I wish I had a friend like you to share a cup of tea with and ask questions and this format has allowed for that. I am eternally grateful for it.

    I see the vision more clearly and feel more equipped to create the atmosphere after this series of posts. Thank you again!


  30. Lacee

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! From the bottom of my heart. I just spent my entire evening reading/reviewing your series on scheduling. I took notes and started drafting my own schedule in microsoft excel. This makes me believe that it IS possible for me to “do” Charlotte Mason! So excited for the years to come with my children. 🙂

  31. Desiree Beltran

    Soo very helpful, thank you for walking ahead of me and sharing your wisdom – you are mothering me in this journey! Between reading this and listening to your podcasts, I feel like I’m in a Summer Teaching Program and I’m really enjoying it!

  32. Sarah

    This series has been wonderful – thank you!
    I have been using AO for about 5 years, but the ‘atmosphere’ has always been a challenge for me to cultivate. Now I will have y0, y2, y3, y5, as well as a toddler and baby and have been looking for ways to simplify our days and reclaim peace in our homeschool. I think sticking to a TIME schedule will help immensely. Plus. listening to your podcasts has refocused my mind on why I am homeschooling in the first place.
    I do have a question though – what do you do when a little one needs immediate attention in the middle of a lesson and it is interrupted for more than just a minute? Things such as bathroom needs, accidental spills/ messes, and normal toddler antics sometimes throw our schedule out the window and I feel like we have to either catch up, or extend our day, which I know is unfair to my older kids. Any advice on what to do with a nicely-laid schedule that gets destroyed by littles?
    Thank you so much for your work here- I am learning so much and I know it will benefit our family.

    1. Nicole

      Hello, Sarah. Thank you for your nice comment. To answer your question, I just move on to the next lesson. We hope these things don’t happen too often, but what I’ve found is that they usually don’t happen at the same time each day or each week. We might miss singing time today, but tomorrow history might be interrupted. This is just the season of your life. As my kids got older I became far more strict about I would allow to break up a lesson. I always include a 15-minute “play break” in my day that allows them to eat a quick snack, take a bathroom break, or just get the wiggles out. I also am pretty strict about answering the phone or the door. But again, with so many little ones, you are bound to have more interruptions.

      If you find that a certain lesson is always the one that gets interrupted, rethink where it is in your day or your week. Maybe you are tired by then and it’s a harder subject and you are more willing to allow that interruption, where if it was earlier in the day or in the week, you and the kids have more stamina. Just some things to think about.

      Lastly, keep in mind that grades 1-3 were in the same form in Miss. Mason’s schools and she said to combine them except where they needed the upper-level material. That might make your days far easier despite having so many little ones. Enjoy them, though. My children have one foot out the door and it seems like just yesterday that I was chasing around a houseful of toddlers and little people.

  33. Charissa MacInnis

    This series has been so helpful to me!! Thank you for writing it! My light bulb moment was when you wrote, “time is a greater factor than page counts”. That is a huge paradigm shift for me. I knew something wasn’t right about how I always felt pressure to accomplish the prescribed reading, even though I had heard that it’s ok “to get behind” on the prescribed reading. I think I just didn’t know what the rule SHOULD be, and now I think I get it – the rule is to spend a certain amount of time on each chosen subject, doing whatever meaningful learning we can do in that time period. Maybe I am “ripe” for the learning now, what I wasn’t ready to learn earlier. What a huge help and mindset shift for me :). Thank you so much for sharing this!!!

    One question I have – so, if we don’t finish a book during the year (and the curriculum we are using has wanted us to finish it, or read up to a certain page this year), is it best to finish it the next school year, or during the summer, or, is it okay to just drop it altogether?

    1. Nicole

      Hello, Charissa. Sticking to the time table was so important to Miss. Mason that she wouldn’t allow public schools to use her programmes (curriculum) unless they committed to also using the schedule. But when I examine what she assigned for each term, I think we would have no problem getting the work done within those time tables. In fact, I believe we would find we need to incorporate some of the “things” she wanted us to include in lessons, such as looking at a map or a picture or adding something to a timeline. Many of her books were assigned over the course of 2-3 years for this reason. SO, to answer your question, I think you can either pick up where you left off the next year (this works well for history and science,) or drop the book and move on (which works well for literature or history or science.) It’s really your choice and will depend heavily on the subject and the Form or level your child is in. In the latter case, your child might pick up that book and finish it himself if he has an interest. Just think, if you haven’t been cramming too much reading into each day, each week, each term, your child might be more interested in picking up a book like that in their free time to read (again, IF they are interested – this is their choice.) I hope that helps you decide what you should do on a book by book basis.

  34. Amy

    Thank you for writing this series. It is very helpful to me as we navigate all of our ages and levels and being completely new to CM. I have the scheduling cards, too and I will be fiddling with it all over the next month to see where everyone and everything fits.


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