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Learn about 13 secular preschool programs that work with a Charlotte Mason homeschool.

Are you searching for a preschool program that will help you bring Charlotte Mason's ideas to your little ones?  Need a little hand-holding?  Are you tired of asking for recommendations only to find that the program that looks lovely also will "provide a firm foundation in Christ"?

I've done the research for you and found several preschool programs and resources that are both secular and easily adapted to a Charlotte Mason education lifestyle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through my link I may get a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Criteria

What criteria did I use to narrow down the choices?

  • First and foremost, they had to be secular.  Any religious holidays had to be cultural holidays.  For example, if a program has activities for St. Patrick's day, that wasn't disqualifying because virtually no one thinks of March 17 as a religious feast day.   However, making an Advent calendar as a countdown to Christmas, or a Garden Goddess to watch over the yard meant it got the boot.
  • Limited academics, and those done in a Charlotte Mason-appropriate manner.   That also means not an emphasis on nature books, but instead a focus on the child experiencing the natural world for himself.
  • If coming from a creator who is not well versed in Charlotte Mason, the program needed to be very easily adaptable to her methods and ideals.  If there were only small portions that I considered Charlotte Mason, it didn't make the cut.  However, there are several Waldorf-inspired resources included because Waldorf and Charlotte Mason are almost identical in the early years. 
  • And last, what is the underlying purpose of the program?  Is it to support the child's development, encourage wonder and connection, and have a healthy home life, or is to actively teach the child, with "readiness skills" and "solidifying learning"?  Are the activities natural extensions of life, or are they contrived?  (making a mud kitchen for open-ended play vs labeling leaves and beans with numbers and asking the child to match the numbers while pretending to be a caterpillar).  Is the parent viewed as a mentor to help the child make discoveries, or as a teacher who should give information to build up the child's store of facts?

    Remember that just because a curriculum has the kids learning a lot about animals doesn't make it a Charlotte Mason program.

And now for the selections, in no particular order....

A Quiet Growing Time: Charlotte Mason with Your 3 to 6 Year Old

I hesitated to put this one first, for the simple reason that I wrote it.  I don't want you to think I'm tooting my own horn and everything else is just a pale imitation.

But I truly believe that if you use my guide, especially as an adjunct to any of the other programs mentioned below, you will be able to craft a lovely Charlotte Mason preschool experience.

Charlotte Mason's method of education is about developing the whole person.  The guide is not a book list, a schedule, or a long list of activities.  I take Charlotte Mason's words and ideas and put them in plain English, as well as give you practical suggestions for how to use them in your life.

It is a guide to creating a Charlotte Mason, magical childhood.  

As with all my work, I hold your hand and give you practical encouragement and advice, all in a non-religious, non-judgmental way.  

My passion is helping moms connect the dots from Charlotte Mason's theory to how to apply it to their own families.

For a sample to see if it will work for you, check out the page here.

Recommended?  Yes

Modifications required:  None


Rooted Childhood is one of those programs that when you open it up in your email, you sigh in contentment. (Use coupon code juniperpines10 for 10% off your purchase!)

If you are looking for ways to foster connection with your children through handwork, crafts, and activities, this is for you.

It's not a checklist to do each week.  You won't be making yet another paper chain or waiting until the kids are in bed then secretly disposing of their 'creation' of glue and construction paper and macaroni noodles in the trash.

These are real projects that are appropriate for children but won't drive Mom crazy.  It is also filled with poems, songs, recipes, and ways to connect with your children and make those memories sweet.

Use this with A Quiet Growing Time, and you will have a wonderful, winning combination. 

Recommended?  Yes, enthusiastically

Modifications needed?   None

A Mind in the Light

Here is a nice classical and Charlotte Mason mix.   While there is a loose timetable and schedule, the creator also encourages you to not stop a child's play in order to follow the schedule.

The Pre-Preparatory Notes are particularly valuable.

The Preparatory level (presumably age 5) is based on the PNEU programmes from the 1950s-1970s,  a full 30 years after Charlotte Mason's death, and as such they had begun to stray from her original vision and became more academic at an earlier age. (The PNEU was Charlotte Mason's organization that sent curriculum to registered families.)


Recommended?  Yes

Modifications needed?  Yes

  • Cut way back on the books.  The pre-preparatory level has 139 books scheduled for the year.  In Home Education, Charlotte Mason says that a few books read repeatedly is much better than an endless train of them in the young years.
  • I would also skip the numeracy and literacy games in the schedule, because the instructions they are drawn from are based on a small group nursery situation.  Instead, weave numeracy (counting, one-to-one correspondence) throughout the day.  For literacy games, consider doing the games from this free resource to encourage phonemic awareness, the building block of reading.
  • Add handwork like finger knitting if your child is ready for it, lacing, making toys like sock dolls, and gardening.  Handwork was a huge part of the early years and it builds neural connections in a way that supports future academics.

Blossom and Root

Volume 1 is a lovely Charlotte Mason preschool experience, weaving arts, nature experience, and connection.  Along with the suggested activities for the week is a page where you can create your own schedule for the week of what you'd like to do on what days. 

However, they schedule one new painting every week, while Charlotte Mason's school-age programmes schedule six paintings over a 12 week period.

Their age recommendations are off,  too.  The website states that Volume 1 is for ages 2-4 and Volume 2 for ages 4-5.

Volume 2 is based on the Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six and as such has specific teaching strategies for these.  It is also much more academic, with the sample showing a letter of the week and making a graph of what objects float and what objects sink.  

However, the Formidable List was not "what a child should know before he turns six" but instead was an early "term programme" of what a child of six can be learning. 

The lessons in Volume 2 are 40 min to an hour long daily, and Charlotte Mason later said that regular lessons should not begin until age 6.

As such, I would recommend Volume 1 as a wonderful curriculum for ages 3-5, and Volume 2 as a lovely introduction to Charlotte Mason for 6 year olds, or a child who will turn 6 during the school year.

Recommended:  Yes

Modifications needed?  Yes

  • Change the age recommendations to Volume 1 for 3-5 year olds and Volume 2 for 5-6 year olds
  • Decrease the number of artist prints studied.  Remember slow is good.
  • I can't tell from the sample if there is a new picture book every week in Volume 1.  If so, decrease that. I am NOT saying "don't read a book every week" but don't read a NEW book every week.  Remember that fewer books read over and over is better than a constant parade of new books.

Cantiamo Tutti

If you want to bring music to your littles but don't know quite what to do, are stuck for ideas, or just want a guide for inspiration, this is for you.

Every time I think about this offering, I smile and relax because it is just so .... perfect.

Filled with not only songs, music, music themed picture books, but gentle and encouraging ideas to hold your hand, this collection is a treasure.

And it is completely free.

Download and use this resource.  You will not regret it.

Recommended?  Yes, enthusiastically

Modifications needed?  None

Wee Folk Art

From their website:  

The Simple Seasons Preschool-Kindergarten Homeschool Curriculum has been designed with three main 12 week terms for the school year, plus a bonus shorter 10 week long summer study, and an optional 4 week Advent unit. Each unit includes a weekly schedule that focuses on the rhythm of the seasons with a special emphasis on holidays and nature. Each seasonal unit can be used as a stand alone program. You can also begin your homeschool year at any time by choosing the seasonally correct unit.
Many families repeat Simple Seasons for two years in a row, delving a little bit deeper the second time through. Young children enjoy the repetition of the stories and will learn even more with the repetition."

My impression:  This simple curriculum for ages 4-6 follows the seasons and focuses on nature, being outside, and activities that are developmentally appropriate.

There are too many books (around 75 for three terms, 95 or so for the full year) so I would use only the literature books and even cut those back to about half.  Remember a few excellent books read repeatedly is better than an endless parade of new books. 

The instructions say that to be a full Kindergarten curriculum, you must add a math program.  I would instead use Games for Math by Peggy Kaye (recommended in Wee Folk Art).  I would also not do the phonics for a 4 year old, but save that for age 5 if your student is interested.  If your child is not interested, just set it aside.

There is a page for weekly narrations.  Children under 6 should not be expected to do narrations in a Charlotte Mason education, and at 6 they should not be written but oral.  Charlotte Mason narrations are also not summaries of the material, but what stood out to your child.

Recommended:  Yes, with modifications

Modifications needed?  Yes

  • Cut back on the amount of books, or spread the program over 2 or more years
  • Delete the narration requirements for ages 4-5.  If you are using this program with a 6 year old, change the narrations to Charlotte Mason-style oral narrations.
  • Save phonics and a math program for age 6.
  • Also, be aware of the activities that are scheduled from the Nature in a Nutshell book. Nature in a Nutshell  was written for 2nd-4th graders, so while observing the scales on a fish with a magnifying glass is wonderful for the preschoolers, getting into the explanation of circuli is a bit much.  Remember that our aim with a Charlotte Mason preschool is to increase nature connection and wonder, not to "enhance the educational value" of activities.


Whole Family Rhythms

Spring/Summer/Fall Family Rhythm Guides

Whole Family Rhythms

Slow down, create and connect with your children and the rhythm of your home.

A Waldorf-inspired seasonal guide with finger games, storytelling, crafts, recipes, beeswax modelling, painting and drawing, weekly hike, caregiver meditation suggestions, and handwork for the caregiver.

The Spring guide contains a story about the Easter Bunny (completely secular) and one of the crafts is coloring eggs to go with the story.

The Winter guide, however, is not secular.  December stories and activities center around Christmas, with an Advent countdown inspired by Rudolf Steiner, the man behind Waldorf.   There are several mentions of God and Jesus in December, but January and February are fine.

I love the emphasis on rhythm, but would say to try to get outside for more than the hour per day the guide recommends.

Recommended?  Spring, Summer, and Fall guides -- Yes.  

NOTE:  Winter is not secular due to December's Christmas theme.

Modifications needed?  Minimal

Spend more than an hour outside!   And if you decide to get the Winter edition, be aware that December is religious.

Entangled Harmony

With Entangled Harmony you'll get stories and activities delivered monthly.  The activities in the sample look lovely, and the author is a former non-academic preschool director, so the activities have been tested on lots of kids.

The stories are cute but certainly not high-quality literature.  Each month you'll get 3 stories about Sophie and Max, plus stories with animals, so both boys and girls will be able to identify with the characters.

You can download a sample to see if it 's right for you.

Recommended?  Yes

Modifications needed?  None.

Twelve Little Tales

Storytelling.

Twelve Little Tales is a story-starter and 12 prompt cards that will gently guide you on your storytelling journey each month.  Including enchanting stories and delightfully creative prompts adorned with original watercolor illustrations created just for the tales.

Recommended:  Yes

Modifications needed:  No. 


Hearth & Gnome

Hearth & Gnome Song and Storytime Circles are inexpensive instructional guides to bring music to your preschoolers.

They come from a Waldorf methodology and as such are compatible with a Charlotte Mason lifestyle in the early years (Waldorf and Charlotte Mason are very similar before the school years).

The Song and Storytime Circles are secular, but Music Unfolds (for school aged children) and a few of the stand-alone products (Music for Michaelmas, Music for Advent) aren't. 

The biggest problems  I see with the Song and Storytime Circles is that they are written in a "lesson plan" format with Objectives ("The children will") which can be off-putting to home educators.  Also, the samples appear to be written for small group situations, so if you have an only child you will need to make some modifications.

Recommended:  Yes

Modifications needed:  Maybe.

The guides appear to be written for small groups, so a few of the games might require modification if you have an only child.

The Little Oak Learning

A twelve week curriculum to gently carry you and your family through the seasons, with a rhythm and flow that leaves you feeling calm, happy and connected.

Each twelve week seasonal curriculum has six two week units, and each unit has a theme.  Unlike a unit study though, the theme isn't "let's learn all about this topic and make sure every activity is related to it in some way".  It is merely a unifying thread.

Each unit has weekly and daily plans, a story, songs, rhymes, finger plays, reflection activities, nature walks, recipes, purposeful work ideas, and art and craft ideas.

I love the look of this program, though be aware that the craft ideas might be contrived and busy work.  Instead of coloring a pre-drawn picture and cutting it out, or making a cat-ear headband out of paper, I would instead substitute those activities with open-ended projects and letting your child decide if and how he wants to make cat ears.

Recommended:   Yes, with minimal modifications

Modifications needed?  Minimal.  

Be aware of busy work and contrived paper crafts.  Instead skip these, substitute real projects,  or substitute open-ended projects where your child is the one who decides how to make the objects.

Wildwood Curriculum is a free, secular, inclusive Charlotte Mason curriculum.   Since Charlotte Mason did not advocate formal lessons before age 6, we have included a page with suggestions for what to do with your children before this age. 

I am one of the creators of Wildwood Curriculum and helped write this page.  It is a framework for you to use, but is does not go in depth into any one area.

Recommended:  Yes

Modifications needed:  None

Build Your Library is a Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum, and Level 0 is their "Kindergarten" year.

It is a trip around the world to visit children, see some animals in other parts of the world, and listen to folk tales from all over the globe.  There is no letter of the week, nor is it a "First Grade Readiness" program.

Because there seems to be a focus on books rather than experiences, I would definitely save this for ages 5 or 6.

It does need some modification for CM families.  In the intro to Year 0, Emily Cook (the creator) writes, "I have created this curriculum based on the idea that children learn best through reading and hearing great literature."   Charlotte Mason writes, however, that children in this age group learn best through direct interaction with things, rather than the symbols of things (words).

Thankfully Year 0 is not so filled with books that it crowds out other activities.

Emily comes from a Charlotte Mason background.  Even though the Build Your Library isn't strict Charlotte Mason,  because Charlotte Mason ideals and methods are ingrained in Emily, the "sense" of Charlotte Mason underlies her curriculum. 

The emphasis in Year 0 is on learning about children in other parts of the world, and exploring their cultures by hearing folk tales, making art, and eating the foods they eat.

Recommended?  Yes, with modifications

Modifications needed?  Yes

  • Don't do the activity sheets.  Just forget they're there
  • Use the literature and tales as nighttime reading so you can spend a lot of time outdoors during the day
  • I would recommend you pair this with my guide, A Quiet Growing Time: Charlotte Mason with Your 3 to 6 Year Old.  If you use BYL as written, it can easily become a list of books and activities to check off without Charlotte Mason's philosophy underpinning it


These programs would all fit nicely in a Charlotte Mason home, and even if you choose to go with a free rather than paid option, they should give you plenty of ideas if you're in need of inspiration.

WANT TO REMEMBER THIS?  SAVE 13 SECULAR PRESCHOOL PROGRAMS FOR CHARLOTTE MASON HOMES TO YOUR FAVORITE PRESCHOOL PINTEREST BOARD!

best secular preschool programs pin
secular charlotte mason homeschool preschool

Learn why you shouldn’t go on nature walks with your children, and what you should do instead.

What do you picture when you hear the words “nature walk”? Is it a woman in Edwardian clothing walking briskly down a country lane, taking deep power breaths through her nose? (“Ahhh… smell that country air!”)

An adult in jeans and tank top leading a small group of kids, clapping to get their attention, then pointing at a tree and saying, “Kids, look at the trees. Observe the coloring of the leaves.” (moment of silence while the kids look at the tree and try to figure out what they’re supposed to be noticing)

Then stopping after a few more steps to say, “Look at the flower over there. When we get home we’re going to draw it.”

And the kids smile lamely, wishing they were playing Plants vs Zombies 3?

I can’t imagine any thing more uninspiring to an energetic and rambunctious child. I get bored even thinking about it!

(At a loss as to what to ask your kids when you’re outside to get them noticing the natural world? Download free “I Wonder …” questions from my Resource Library)

Never go on a nature walk

My kids?

We go off trail. We get dirty. We get mud ground into the knees of our jeans. We get sticks and leaves and straw in our hair. We crawl through the bushes as we’re stalking small animals.

We are getting down on our bellies and looking at the ants pretending we’re a zoom lens. (Anyone else’s kids love insects?)

But we never, ever go on a nature walk.

What is a nature walk?

Dictionary.com defines nature walk as “a walk on a nature trail, especially with an experienced guide.”

What is a walk? It’s a stroll. It’s putting your feet one in front of the other. Your mind may be somewhere else and you’re just moving.

The purpose of a walk is to move, right? To advance or travel on foot at a moderate speed or pace. That’s the whole purpose of it.

It’s not to explore, it’s not to have fun, it’s to get from Point A to Point B. That’s what you do when you walk someplace.

So if I am not about to do a nature walk, then what do we do?

We don’t go on nature walks.

We go on adventures.

Nature adventures

At a nature walk information is being lectured by the person leading the walk by the guide.

It’s not being discovered.

I have visions of a man wearing khaki shorts with binoculars and lifting those binoculars to his eyes while saying, “What ho! A rare black bellied whistling duck! Jolly good.”

Nope, not for me.

Adventures all the way.

We pretend we’re in the movie Swiss Family Robinson and we have to belly crawl up to the top of the hill so we can look out over the landscape and see where the pirates are coming up after us.

We stalk animals, we stalk pretend dragons. We go on quests to find elusive lizards. We see a bird or a mule deer or a desert cotton-tailed rabbit or a pterodactyl and we stop dead in our tracks.

And then we whisper, “Let’s go really really quiet now.”

And then we slowly, slowly, ever so slowly try to get closer.

We try to make no noise as we creep forward, slightly hunched over….

….putting our feet down deliberately but gently, one slow step at a time.

We pretend we’re in a Mission Impossible movie and we’re trapped behind enemy lines and we’re trying to get out.

How to go on a nature adventure

But you’re wondering, how do you actually do it? How do you switch from walking down the sidewalk and looking at the bushes while trying to get your 12-year-old to stop chatting with his buddy about his latest Lego mock-up of the Millenium Falcon?

First, seed them with great adventure shows. 

Some great ones to start watching are I Shouldn’t Be Alive and Brave Wilderness on YouTube.

Anything to get into your kids that sense of adventure.

Pretend that you’re part of a book.

Pretend that you’re Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain.

Are these trees big enough to to make a home like he did? Why or why not?

Yeah, don’t actually say, “Why or why not?” or you’ll sound like a textbook. Just bring it into your discussion.

Use these nature adventures — and I wouldn’t even call them nature adventures, just adventures— use these adventures to get your kids excited about being out in nature.

Talk about, what we could use these sticks for. Could we use them to make a weapon? Could we use them as a walking stick?

If somebody got hurt, how could we use them to help? Could we use them to splint an arm?

Is this the kind of wood that we could use to start a fire with?

And when we get into questions like these, our kids start making connections.

They start making connections to not only the natural materials but what they can be used for. It drives them deeper right into that sense of adventure.

You can bring in primitive skills even, or bushcraft or woodcraft skills. You can bring in fire making, you can bring an edible plants, you can bring in medicinal plants.

You can learn more about the animals by noticing, “Oh, this plant right here has been bitten by something. What kind of animal do you think nibbled on the leaves?”

Download FREE “I Wonder…” Questions from the Resource Library to make nature study easy.

Use them when you’re out on your adventures as jumping off points. I fall back on these many times a week, sometimes using as is, sometimes using them to leapfrog to other questions.

And then you start talking about, “Ooh here’s the animal trail. Do you see how this is trampled down more than the surrounding area? If you were in a survival situation because you got lost, how could you use this information?”

Look really closely at those flowers. These leaves that you’ve belly crawled through because you’re looking out for those pirates. Are the leaves smooth or are they rough or sticky? What are the petals like? Are there a lot of petals in a ray or are they in a bell shape? What color are they? Are they a light purple? Dark purple? Striped purple?

And then when you go home, draw that plant that you could use to poison those pirates.

Or that you could use to heal the dragon.

When you bring the adventure, when you bring the storytelling to the kids, then it it imprints the experience on their minds so much more than if you’re just walking out for a stroll and saying, “Oh, look at that tree. Oh what a pretty flower.”

The next time you decide to go out on a nature walk, don’t.

Instead go on an adventure.

And see how different the experiences and see how the experience has changed.

Related Posts:

What is the Charlotte Mason method?

6 Essential Resources You Can’t Live Without


Want to remember why I don’t go on nature walks (and you shouldn’t either)? Pin it to your favorite Pinterest board!

woman listening to podcast

Discover intriguing new podcasts to add to your playlist.

Between homeschooling, keeping the house reasonable, getting time outdoors, and all the other demands on my time, it seems I rarely have time to read anymore.

For years, I’ve combated this with copious use of audiobooks in the car, but sometimes I crave more than a good story.

Enter podcasts.

While podcasts can be stories, they’re more often like sitting in on a talk or discussion.

You know when you’re overhearing conversation at the next table over, and the subject is fascinating and the discourse respectful, and you linger over your coffee just so you can listen to more of the conversation?

Podcasts do that too, without the societal taboos of eavesdropping.

But after awhile, your podcast list can get a bit stale.

If your playlist is in need of refreshing, take a look at this list I’ve gathered to expand our minds (not in a magic mushroom kind of way, though I do have a great recipe from nomnompaleo.com for magic mushroom powder….)

With the exception of Stonechats, none of these podcasts are about homeschooling. Instead, they cover a wide variety of topics that make us think and are enjoyable to listen to.

The Podcasts

  1. Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
  2. This I Believe
  3. Bulaq Podcast — the Arabist
  4. Myths and Legends
  5. Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast
  6. Stonechats
  7. Nature Guys
  8. British History Podcast

Philosophy Podcasts for the inclusive homeschooler

The first two podcasts are about reflecting on our beliefs. It doesn’t matter what spiritual tradition your beliefs stem from; it’s about getting down to core values and really thinking about them.

1. Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

It’s the English class you didn’t know you missed and the meaningful conversations you didn’t know you craved.

This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

Each week, we explore a central theme through which to explore the characters and context, always grounding ourselves in the text. We’ll engage in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

On this podcast, we ask: What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? 

2. This I Believe

This I Believe

This I Believe, Inc. publishes a weekly podcast of selections from their award-winning public radio series. Each week a different person reads an essay they have written about their most deeply held beliefs.

Literature and Culture Podcasts

Ready to move on to specific cultures? Let’s visit the Middle East and North Africa, China, and then travel the world learning about legends from around the globe.

3. Middle East – Bulaq Podcast

Bulaq Podcast — the Arabist

BULAQ is a podcast about contemporary writing from and about the Middle East and North Africa. It looks at the Arab region through the lens of literature and at literature through the lens of current events.

4. China – Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast

This podcast is an attempt to tell the story of the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms in a way that’s more accessible to an audience who did not grow up in the culture and society that it has permeated for hundreds of years.

It’s kind of like an audiobook, but instead of just a straight reading of a translation, it’s conversational storytelling infused with occasional brief background information and history lessons to help give you the context you need to understand and appreciate this great work of classic Chinese literature.

5. Legends from Around the World

Myths and Legends

This show brings you folklore that has shaped our world. Some are incredibly popular stories you think you know, but with surprising origins. Others are stories that might be new to you, but are definitely worth a listen.

These are stories of magic, kings, Vikings, dragons, knights, princesses, and wizards from a time when the world beyond the map was a dangerous, wonderful, and terrifying place.

Podcasts that go with a Charlotte Mason education

These last three didn’t fit into any particular category. Trying desperately to shoehorn them into one, I came up with Odds and Ends.

But they all support a Charlotte Mason homeschooling mindset.

6. Stonechats – Secular Charlotte Mason

Stonechats where we wax eloquent about all things related to homeschooling from a Charlotte Mason perspective.

(Disclaimer – I am one of the hosts of this show)

7. Nature Guys

Nature Guys

Nature Guys podcast connects you to the exciting natural world right in your own neighborhood. These nature connections will help you be cool, calm, collected and ready to make a positive difference in the world.

8. British History Podcast

British History Podcast

History is human. History is drama. History is our story, and it belongs to all of us.

The BHP is a chronological retelling of the history of Britain with a particular focus upon the lives of the people. You won’t find a dry recounting of dates and battles here, but instead you’ll learn about who these people were and how their desires, fears, and flaws shaped the scope of this island at the edge of the world.

A variety of podcasts to fill your mind

These are just a few of the podcasts that fill my subscription list. What podcasts do you love?

You Might Also Be Interested In:

6 Essential Charlotte Mason Resources (You Can’t Live Without)

Want to remember this? Save 8 Great Podcasts to your favorite Pinterest Board!

healthy rhythm

An easy step-by-step tutorial to creating a healthy home rhythm, and why you need one.

The kids are constantly cranky and you’re on edge. The to-do list seems endless and once again the littles fell asleep in front of the TV at who knows what hour. Your day feels out of control, like you never know if you’re coming or going.

How are you supposed to get dinner on the table at 6 when you don’t even look in the fridge until 7?

What you need is a strong home rhythm.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and subsequently make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

What is a healthy home rhythm

A home rhythm is simply doing the same sorts of things at the same general time on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis.

Maybe you can’t stomach the thought of using a day planner to plan your day because it just feels so confining.

I get it.

Dividing the day up into small segments and keeping my kids on a tight schedule brings back memories of public school, with the bells and 4 minutes to get from one class to the next and the anxiety….

No thank you.

But unlike a rigid schedule, a healthy home rhythm is not strictly tied to a clock, but instead can ebb and flow.

Think of it as a routine, or as Charlotte Mason called it, regularity.

Yep, Charlotte Mason was all about regularity.

But that word.

Regularity.

It makes me think of bowel habits and getting your daily fiber. (former RN here)

Not exactly the atmosphere I want in my home.

Why do we need a daily or weekly rhythm?

Lots of reasons! When I first instituted a regular bedtime for my older daughter when she was about 8, she became calmer, less prone to outbursts, and was a generally happier child. It was like magic.

I remember talking to another mom who instituted a regular bedtime at about the same time I did, and we were both amazed at the change in our kids. She said, “Who knew?”

(while my mom piped up in the background “I did!” — thanks mom, why didn’t you tell me?)

A Home Rhythm Reduces the Amount of Mental Bandwidth We Need

A routine is not just for kids. It works wonders for grown ups, too. When you always do the same thing at about the same time, it means one less thing you have to think about.

This alone is gold.

We only have so much mental bandwidth. We can only hold so many things in our head.

And getting a child in nightclothes is so much easier when he is actually awake.

Increases Kids’ Sense of Security

This sounds strange, doesn’t it? How would having a rhythm to the day make kids feel more secure?

When we get up, we have a general sense of how our day is going to go, even if we aren’t sure of the exact times.

We might know we have an appointment in the afternoon, or we need to get a few loads of laundry done in the morning, or even that we have vague maybe-plans to go to the park.

Kids can’t see into our brain, and if we don’t have a routine they have no idea what’s coming next.

Imagine going to a conference and asking for an overview of what’s planned for each day. Instead of being given a schedule, you’re told, “Oh, don’t worry about it. We’ll let you know when we want you to go somewhere else. In the meantime, just do whatever.”

You don’t know if lunch will be at 10 AM or 2:30, or if the day will end at 4 or go until 10 that night.

That would be rather uncomfortable, wouldn’t it? Yeah, I’d think the leaders were… how to say this nicely?… Unorganized.

When we don’t have a home rhythm, that’s how it can feel to our children.

  • They don’t know if they’re going to eat lunch at 10:30 or 2:30 or at all
  • They don’t know if the day is ending at 7 or at 10
  • They don’t know if, when they start to play, they will immediately get called in for lessons or if they will be able to engross themselves in their project

Tried and True, Tested over Generations

For generations, centuries, millenia, our ancestors have had daily, seasonal, and yearly rhythms. It’s the very nature of living a largely agricultural life.

The daily rhythm of getting up to muck out the stalls and feed the animals.

Making food on a regular basis to feed those who were doing physical labor.

Going to bed at a similar time to start the day fresh and early the next.

The weekly rhythm of housework — laundry on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, sewing on Wednesday, marketing on Thursday, etc.

The seasonal and yearly rhythms of planting, harvesting, preserving, baby animals being born, and yearly celebrations.

And it works because it works.

Those repeated patterns give structure to the day and year, something to look forward to. “We always go apple picking in the fall.”

If every evening after dinner you clean up as a family, it reduces power struggles. It’s simply what we do.

The daily rhythm of eating and sleeping at the same times keeps the body on schedule. Bedtimes are easier (your body is signaled that this is sleep time) and eating at consistent times keeps blood sugar steady, which means moods are less volatile.

Creating a healthy home rhythm, step by step

So now you’re convinced of how important a home rhythm or routine is, but how do you go from your current life of chaos to one that’s flowing and regular?

First, don’t jump in to a full-blown routine. If you do you’ll not only have a mutiny on your hands, but you’re likely to crash and burn.

Add each step one at a time, and when that step feels easy add in the next. Each step might take a few days or it might take several weeks, depending where you’re starting from.

1. Start with consistent sleeping times

Bedtimes and nap times, and regular waking times.

Remember that while adults need about 8 hours of sleep per night, children need more. According to the National Sleep Foundation, children generally need the following to be fully rested:

  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
  • School-aged (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
  • Teens (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
  • Young adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours

How do we ensure our children are getting enough sleep? We start by working our way backwards.

What time do you want them to get up in the morning? How many hours do they usually sleep? (If there is no consistency, choose the middle range from the list above and start with those numbers)

If you have a 9 year old and you want him to sleep until 7, going to bed at 7 PM probably won’t work, because most 9 year olds don’t sleep for 12 hours (it’s ok if yours does, though).

If we start with the mid-range of 10 hours for a 9 year old and we want him to wake up around 7 AM, then that means he should be asleep at 9 PM.

We can’t just be in the middle of doing things though and suddenly say, “OK, jammies on and time for bed!”

We need to signal to the body that it’s getting time for sleep.

This is where an evening routine comes in.

Start with a simple evening routine of

  • wash up
  • brush teeth
  • night clothes on
  • dirty clothes in the hamper
  • reading (either to themselves quietly or as a family bedtime story)
  • tucked in and lights out

Try to have this time be screen-free, so the blue light from screens doesn’t interfere with their sleep.

If that simple evening routine takes 30 minutes, then for a 9 PM sleeping time that means it has to start at 8:30 or a little earlier.

I am not saying that all 9 year olds should stay up until 9. This is just the method I use to figure out when I want our evening routine to start.

You might want to start straight off from what time you want them to be in bed by so you can have some kid-free time at the end of the day. Just be aware that if your 9 year old child is going to sleep at 7:30, he will probably be awake around 5:30 or 6 AM.

A word about consistency: you can fudge about 20-30 minutes, especially when you’re just starting out.

Don’t feel like since you were aiming for 8 PM and you didn’t get your kids in bed until 8:20 that you failed that day.

Developing a routine is a process. It will take time, you will have slip ups and backsliding, and sometimes it will feel impossible.

This is all normal.

If you are starting here:

Then your goal should not be here:

graph of perfect bedtime with crazy mom

But here:

bedtime graph after evening routine

Progress, not perfection.

We aren’t Superwoman.

2. Add in consistent mealtimes and snack times

Once bedtimes have been set and it feels normal to get your kids (and you!) in bed at about the same time every night, then work on being really consistent with meals and snack times.

Simplify meal planning as much as possible. You might consider a meal planning service (I’m trying out Real Plans right now)

Just like with your bedtime routine, work your way backwards.

What times do you want to eat? Do you want 3 big meals and 2 snacks? Six small meals?

Jot down the times you’d like to eat, then look at it from a bird’s eye view. Are lunch and afternoon snack too close together? Are there 7 hours between lunch and dinner with no snack time?

Adjust until you have what is a reasonable schedule for meals.

You’re not done yet, though. In order to get meals on the table, some preparation is usually involved.

How long does it usually take you to cook a meal? (or how long does it take the delivery guy to get your order to you? I don’t judge)

If getting dinner on the table usually takes you 30 minutes and you want to serve dinner at 6:30, you know you need to start it no later than 6 PM.

Likewise, if it takes you an hour to cook dinner and you want to eat at 5PM, you would know you need to start at 4.

This will take a little while to get used to, so consider setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to get dinner going.

If you’re going to be out of the house that evening, think about using a crockpot so you don’t have to do meal prep, or maybe plan to eat out that night.

Make a list of easy snacks that you can keep on hand so snack times are relaxed.

Step 3: Add a Morning Routine

It’s been a few weeks or a few months and you have consistent sleeping and eating times. Moods are happier and more even, and things feel less hectic around the house.

Let’s expand out a bit, and continue with our forward progression.

How about making mornings easier?

You have to do the same things every morning — make bed, get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair, eat breakfast. You may want to add a meditation or spiritual time to start off your day, too.

If mornings make you frazzled, then work on bringing rhythm to these times, too.

If you feel like you’re constantly yelling at the kids to keep them moving, consider making a music track like this one for your family. I’ve used it for years, and while I wouldn’t necessarily buy it again (it is expensive!) it does its job and worked wonders.

Work on building habits for your kids’ morning routine, one step at a time. (For more on building habits, read this post on habit training)

Step 4: Make a Weekly Rhythm

Once your morning and evening routines are solid and you’re eating at regular times, your days should feel much more manageable.

Let’s take our focus off of the daily and now work on a weekly rhythm.

We don’t need to have something scheduled every day, but having a weekly rhythm reduces a lot of whining.

If the kids know that every Friday is park day, or every Thursday afternoon you’ll go to the pool, it makes it so they’re not asking every. single. day.

You can do this with home activities, too.

Tuesday might be painting or watercolor. Wednesday drawing. Thursday an adventure.

Again, just start out with one thing, and then add in another once that’s easy and “just what we do”.

Step 5: Make a Cleaning Schedule

For at least a hundred years and probably much longer, the heart of housework was a weekly routine that assigned each of the major housekeeping chores to one day of the week. You see variants of the routine, but in my childhood people did washing (laundering) on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, sewing on Wednesday, marketing on Thursday, cleaning on Friday, and baking on Saturday. Sunday was the day of rest. For those of us who can remember the universality with which this system was followed through the mid-1960s, or even later in some areas, the speed and totality of its disappearance are breathtaking.

— Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts

Let’s get a handle on the cleaning now.

You can either create your own daily and weekly cleaning list (keep it simple, guys!) or use a system like Flylady or Motivated Moms (use coupon code juniper for $3 off your first year!).

I’ve used Motivated Moms as my cleaning schedule for years, and it’s how I keep my house (reasonably) clean.

Yes, I fall off the wagon periodically frequently (ahem), but it’s easy to jump back on.

I use the Clean My House Planner from Motivated Moms because it only has tasks to keep my house clean. Other versions have daily Bible readings, or things like “refill prescriptions” “pay bills” and “check your credit report”.

I need simple and focused or I get overwhelmed.

Final Step: Whatever Else You Want

At this point you are several months into a rhythm, perhaps it’s even been an entire year since you started.

It’s ok. We all go at our own pace.

Now it’s time for you to fly on your own.

You can add whatever you’d like to your rhythm at this point.

If at any time you feel overwhelmed, back up a step and get that one solid before you try to move on again.

Two steps forward, one step back. Progress isn’t all forward.

There will be backsliding, and sometimes you’ll feel like throwing in the towel completely.

Don’t.

Just back up, take a deep breath, and start again.

Each day is a new day. Each afternoon even is new.

Having a healthy home rhythm will make every day easier.

Where are you in your journey to creating a home rhythm? Where are you getting stuck? Let me know in the comments so we can brainstorm ways to get you out of that stuck place.

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step-by-step to daily rhythm

essential resources paint palette

Discover the six essential resources that will help you create the Charlotte Mason homeschool you’ve dreamed about.

Are you tired of asking for resource ideas, only to get overwhelmed by long lists of books, overly religious content, or the same books recommended over and over?

Just tell me what I really need, you think. I don’t want a a list of thousands of books, I just want to know what are the best resources to support my CM journey.

Who has time to read the 1,347,567 “most essential” books? Not me!

Instead, I’ve narrowed down my favorites list to just six resources that I consider necessary (and they aren’t all books, either — because a Charlotte Mason education is about so much more than books).

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Essential Resource #1: Charlotte Mason Digital Collection

The Charlotte Mason Digital Collection is a treasure trove of primary source material.

From the original volumes to Parents’ Reviews and personal correspondence, the CMDC is an online repository for all things Charlotte Mason. You can do hundreds of hours of research here.

Most of the digitized items are also available at the Internet Archive.

My favorites outside her original volumes are the Parents’ Review, the PNEU programmes, and A Liberal Education for All.

Essential Resource #2: Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young

If I could only have one resource outside of Charlotte Mason’s own writings, it would be Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young.

One of Charlotte Mason’s top goals was to raise naturalists, and no other book or guide provides the sort of instruction that this one does.

It is full of not only inspiration but also hand-holding and thoroughly tested activities that engage children in nature connection, and so sneakily that they often don’t even realize it’s happening.

I have two copies: one for own home and one for our cabin. That’s how essential I consider this book.

If you are outside the U.S. and shipping is prohibitive, 8Shields.org sells it as a digital download, too.

Unsure if you’ll like Jon Young’s style? Watch some of his videos that are on YouTube to check him out first.

Essential Resource #3: Good Watercolor Paints and Decent Brushes

Painting (or “brush drawing”) is an integral part of a Charlotte Mason education.

Crayola-type watercolor pans will last a whole entire weekend at my house, and I just can’t afford to keep my daughter supplied. (Let’s not even mention the crappy brush that comes with in those pans!)

Instead, I made a small investment in tube watercolor paints, decent paint brushes, and a palette that closes securely.

Now, these are not professional tools or even super-high-quality, but they do the job well. I bought them all four years ago and they are still going strong.

You could easily get away with fewer paints (my set has 30 and many of them I haven’t even touched). This one is only 12 tubes and cheaper.

The tube colors are so much richer than the Crayola pans.

Here’s how to use them for CM-style dry-brush drawing:

  • Put a dollop of watercolor paint into a section of your palette and let it dry. This will take from 12 hours to a few days, depending on your air temperature and humidity.
  • Once they are dry, wet your brush and use it to drip a teeny amount of water on the top of one of the palette squares of paint. You just want to rehydrate the top layer, not make a big sloppy puddle.
  • When the paints have been slightly rehydrated, they are ready for use. You want that layer on top thicker than water, thinner than glue. Probably a milk or even light cream consistency will be close.
  • Dip the tip of a damp brush into the rehydrated watercolor, and paint away.

Essential Resource #4: Golden Guides

The Golden Guides from St. Martin’s Press are our go-to field guides. They’re the first ones we grab because they contain the most common specimens we’re likely to see and they are accessible for both kids and adults.

Enough information to give you a good overview of what you’re looking for without going into so much detail that it’s overwhelming.

We will often first identify a specimen in our Golden Guides, then if we want to dig deeper we’ll go to a thicker, more comprehensive field guide. Often, the bigger field guide doesn’t really have more information than the Golden Guide.

There are over 30 Golden Guides in the series, but our favorites are Birds, Insects, and Reptiles and Amphibians.

Essential Resource #5 Simplicity Parenting by Dr. Kim John Payne

Not a specifically Charlotte Mason resource, but the best guide on parenting that I’ve ever read.

I re-read it yearly (it applies to young children all the way through teenagers) and also give it as part of my standard baby shower package.

I can’t even remember how many copies I’ve bought to give away.

Read.

This.

Book.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids

Essential Resource #6: Sturdy Unlined Notebooks

For Nature Note Books, for drawing the lizard the kids just caught, for making notes about the tracks in the puddle in the muddy spot in the backyard.

My favorite are the heavy coil-bound sketch books you can get from JoAnn’s, Michael’s, and even Walmart.

Stay with 50lb paper or heavier. I’ve used Strathmore, Canson, and Art 1st and have been very happy with all of them.

We even have a tablet from Melissa and Doug, but at 8.5″ x 11″, it’s a bit big.

For easy portability, 5.5″ x 8.5″ or 6″ x 9″ work well.

JoAnn and Michaels often have their sketchbooks on sale, and I wouldn’t pay full price for them. They also often have 40% off coupons if you don’t want to wait for a sale.

And, both Michaels and JoAnn give their Teacher Discount to homeschoolers, which gives an additional 15% off.

These are my favorite resources for a Charlotte Mason lifestyle

Quick recap (because who wants to scroll all the way back through the post?)

Do you have others that you love? Let me know in the comments!

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charlotte mason essential resources

napping kids using a relaxed schedule

Learn to create a CM routine with no timers or alarms.

Does the thought of keeping a rigid school schedule with a timer make you feel like you're back in public school drudgery? Does it give you flashbacks to gray hallway lockers and cliques of popular kids laughing as they walk past you?

Does a niggling part of your brain tell you that if you don't follow a time table, you're just not doing it right?

You're not alone in your dislike of bells and rigid lesson times. 

This year, I've tried to keep the timetable for Form I students (ages 6-9) for my 7 year old, and when we're able to follow it, it works wonderfully. Short and varied lessons, and neither of us --usually -- gets bored.

But I'll be honest:  we started our first term the last week of July. It is now the last week of March, and we've just finished.

Our first term.

Why? Because many days I would look at that schedule, shudder, and think "hmmm.... those blinds look like they really need dusting."

And then my daughter would ask to please please please make some homemade whipped cream for the picnic she's planning... and who can resist that

Because what I'm really avoiding is the feeling of a straight-jacketing schedule. The feeling that someone else is telling me what to do when.

And then I came across this in an article in the Parents' Review, the periodical edited by Charlotte Mason until her death:

I arranged her day in the following manner:  From the age of five or six to nine--Scripture, hymn, and English reading with me at 10; easy French lessons with her French bonne at 10.30; walk at 11; sleep at 12 to 1, or as long as she wished. I may add here that she slept regularly up to the age of nine, when this rest was had by lying on the floor for thirty minutes or so in the schoolroom.  In the winter, if fine, another walk or run till 3 o'clock, when a young daily governess came for an hour and a half or so for easy lessons in geography, sums, music, and writing.

Parents' Review alternate schedule

A-ha!  Not everyone followed a strict time table, even back in Charlotte Mason's day.

Writing that out into a schedule of sorts, we get:

10:00 Scripture, hymn, and English reading

10:30 French lessons

11: 00 walk

12:00 nap

(outdoors until 3)

3:00-4:30 geography, math, music, writing

Put more simply, an hour of lessons in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon, with plenty of time for both sleep and to be outside.

The article doesn't say what "English reading" consists of. Is this learning to read and literature, or does it also include history, tales, and natural history readings? 

Regardless, this is a very simplified schedule that most of us can apply to our own lives.

It's a rhythm

What strikes me the most after its simplicity is the easy rhythm. There is a daily walk as well as a daily rest.

It's rhythmic. It's regular. It's routine.

Lessons are naturally kept short not because of a timer, but because there were time blocks-- that is, blocks of time that were designated for a set of subjects.

Scripture, hymn, and reading for half an hour, then the French teacher came. An hour and a half to do geography, math, music and writing in the late afternoons.

This builds flexibility while also keeping lessons short. Not an hour and a half of geography one day, but an hour and a half of geography, math, music, and writing.

AND. 

Not or

Do you know what else is nice about this? It's not a checklist.  It's not a list of page numbers or even an amount of time that "should" be spent in each subject. It's a block of time in which you work on certain subjects.

Maybe today you want to spend 20 minutes on geography, but tomorrow only 5 minutes, or none. That's ok. This rhythm flows with you.

I love this idea. It feels so organic and natural. Create time blocks and a general order of subjects, but leave the details loose.

This is another example of how you can make Charlotte Mason fit your lifestyle, rather than molding yourself to fit Charlotte Mason.

If you can't do a timetable-like schedule, it's ok to have rhythmic one instead. Keep lessons short, but make Charlotte Mason homeschooling work for you.

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easy charlotte mason schedule


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5 tv shows for charlotte mason homes

Discover interesting and twaddle-free TV programs for preschool to adult that are good for homes following Charlotte Mason’s methods of education.

When your child is too sick to spend a lot of time playing, but not sick enough to sleep most of the day, what do you do? 

Randomly flip through the channels hoping something catches your eye before your kid sees something you don’t want to watch?  (“No, we are not watching Robin Hood Men in Tights, because we watched it 5 times last week and you need some nutrition in your brain…”)

Ban all TV and play endless games of Gin Rummy and Canasta, while searching for the cards that slid down between the couch cushions?

While we generally don’t watch much TV during the day, times like these I do revert to TV to keep my little one resting. 

Most TV shows, especially ones created for children, are too loud and too obnoxious. They show attitudes I don’t want my kids picking up.

There are a few, however, that we do use in moderation. Hang around for a minute while I share our favorites with you.  Keep these in your back pocket to pull out the next time the flu makes its rounds and feel like an awesome mom.  And bonus points: these either directly or indirectly support a Charlotte Mason lifestyle!

Here are 5 mom-approved TV choices for kids ages 3 to adult.

(this post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, I might make a small commission at no extra cost to you)

For the Little Kids

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood 

This old standby has been around for 40 years for a reason.  Background music is minimal, there are no flashy colors or two-minute sound bites.  My 6 year old calls this “The Calm Show”.  Mr. Rogers teaches our children to handle their emotions, to be nice to each other, to make simple things for themselves, and to visit the Land of Make-Believe on a regular basis.

 

What’s not to love?

Little Einsteins

Flashy.  Loud.  High pitched children’s voices.  Ugh.

 

Normally Little Einsteins is the type of program I’d stay away from, but it’s ok in moderation.  Each episode has a composer and artist of the day, and my kids have become familiar with several pieces of classical music through the show.  (Charlotte Mason felt that we should be familiar with beautiful music and art)

Too much of this program puts my little one on edge and makes it so she has trouble going to sleep that night.  This is best watched sparingly.

Kids – and adults – of all ages

Documentaries

We love documentaries.

Particularly good for a Charlotte Mason lifestyle are those about animals or nature.  Nat Geo Wild is a favorite around our house, with cheetahs and lions being our daughter’s current obsessions.

She also loves Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter.  His enthusiasm and attention to detail are contagious, but as with Little Einstein, he can put kids on edge after too much.  He, too, is best watched in moderation.

Besides nature documentaries, there’re also history and other science documentaries.  History in particular should be screened for age-appropriateness, especially biographies.

The Farm vids

A few years ago, the BBC filmed several seasons of re-enactments that were later collectively called The Farm videos.  They consisted of a small group of experts who lived for a year in a period-correct manner, recreating what it was like to live in Victorian England, Edwardian England, and Tudor England.

 

My kids from 4 years old to teen/adult have all loved these.  We often let them play in the background, as quiet motivators to do handwork or other useful skills.

There are no bright colors, quickly changing subjects, or obnoxious music.  The pace is gentle and slow.

In the series are:

  • Tales of the Green Valley
  • Victorian Farm
  • Edwardian Farm
  • Wartime Farm
  • Tudor Monastery Farm

Teens

TED Talks

You can find these short or long talks on any subject your heart desires.  From an innovative method of re-grassing drought stricken land, to hearing the experience of a North Korean defector, to pushing through failure:  if you have an inkling, TED will have a talk on it.

A word of warning:  you can get lost for days in TED talks …  like when you start out watching a Youtube video of fixing the brakes on your car and 6 hours later you’re watching a kitten and giraffe become best friends.

All TED talks are informative in some way, and almost all are extremely interesting.

Where do you find these shows?

Some you can get through Netflix, a documentary website, your local library, or even Amazon.

My go-to site, however, is YouTube.  If you can stream or cast YouTube to your television, that’s ideal.  

TED talks are often on YouTube, and they are also available with a Smart TV or just through your computer.

While I don’t recommend day in and day out watching TV, when we’re sick and I use TV, I can feel good about these shows.  They don’t spin my daughter up or let her pick up undesirable attitudes, and many of them are sneakily educational to boot.

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are lessons required at 6

Your six year old isn’t ready for lessons – is she doomed to a life of failure?

Your little one just turned 6 years old and you can finally start homeschooling! You’ve been waiting for this for months, dutifully following Charlotte Mason’s suggestion to delay academics until 6, and now you’re raring to go.

At first everything was fine. You were excited, little Junior was excited … but soon (was it days? weeks?) your once eager student started hiding.

Throwing himself backwards on the couch and screaming when you brought out the math book.

Putting his fingers in his ears and singing “La La La La Laaaaaaa” at the top of his lungs.

What is wrong? Are you just not cut out to homeschool?

Nah… what’s really happening is that your eager child is just not ready for formal lessons.

If you’ve read up on Charlotte Mason and have a young child, you know that she opposed formal lessons for children younger than six years old.

I know it’s tough to wait when you’re chomping at the bit to offer the richness of a CM education to your child. Some moms start sit-down lessons the month – or even week – their child turns that magical age.

But is this really the right choice?

Many children simply aren’t ready for academic sit-down lessons when they are newly six years old. Six and a half or even fully seven is often a much better choice for most. I’m not a neuro-anything-expert, but it has to do with brain development. If your child isn’t ready, it doesn’t mean that he or she will never be ready.

(Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.)

How to know if your child isn’t ready for lessons

The first question you’re probably asking right now is, “But how do I know if my child isn’t ready?”

There are no hard and fast rules here. In general though if you see any of the following signs:

  • resistance to lessons
  • tears (theirs or yours)
  • throwing himself backwards on the couch and screaming
  • spinning in circles laughing and not paying attention
  • running out of the room and giggling

or any variation thereof… wait for a few more months.

… Even if your child has already been to public or private school and could sit through the entire day there.

… Even if your child has made it through a few weeks or even a few months compliantly and with flying colors.

Even if you are sure that your child is different and is perfectly capable at the ripe old age of six of doing this thing and is simply choosing not to ….

Wait.

But won’t I be sentencing my child to a life of “Behind” if we wait?

In a word, no.

Children catch up quickly when they are ready.

Not only that, but you can always skip ahead if you feel your child is ready for higher level work at a later time. Don’t worry about missing things – there is no way that you can possibly learn All the Things in even an entire lifetime.

Remember that “can start at six” or “children begin at six” doesn’t equal “must start at six” or “all children regardless of circumstances or readiness must begin at six or they will be lifelong failures and eating Cheetohs in their parents’ basement when they’re 42.

Would you ever tell a mother with a 10 year old child who wants to bring Charlotte Mason into their homeschool, “Nope, sorry. If you didn’t start when your kid was 6, there’s no way it will work now. You’ll have to find a different educational philosophy.”

It sounds absurd when we frame it that way, doesn’t it?

Then why do we think that our own children must definitely start at six years old?

What would Charlotte do?

Not all students entered the PNEU schools at 6 years old. Some started at 10 or 12 or even later. (The PNEU was the correspondence-type school that Charlotte Mason administered)

We know that in general, children were put in the form appropriate to their age range. However, sometimes a student would be started in a lower form. This student, she says, always interacted with the material in a manner appropriate to his age, regardless of the difficulty of the material.

What does this mean to us? It means that if you wait a year until your child is 7, you will probably want to start your child in Form IB.

But if you wait until your child is 8 or 9, you wouldn’t start at the very beginning of a curriculum in IB (1st year) but instead in IA (2nd or 3rd year) or perhaps even IIB (4th year), depending on where you think your 9 year old child would fit the best.

But remember this: year or form levels in a Charlotte Mason education are not grade levels.

What should I do if not lessons, then?

I don’t recommend that you do absolutely nothing.

Though this can be a viable option.

Instead, give your child that fertile ground in which to grow.

  • Develop a healthy home rhythm with regularity and simplicity if you don’t already have one. (Not sure how? Find out in How to Create a Healthy Home Rhythm)
  • Spend as much time in nature as you can. If you don’t already own the book Coyote’s Guide to Nature Connection by Jon Young, I highly recommend that you get it. If you’re not in the US and shipping is too expensive, you can get it in .pdf form from 8Shields.org
  • Play with letters. Letter blocks, letter tiles, point out letters, make them with pasta shells or draw them in the sand. Just play.
  • Count everything. Sparrows, eggs, ants, acorns. Make up simple math problems using these, but do it in a natural way. “If Henrietta hadn’t laid an egg today, how many eggs would we have?”
  • Use Math Games by Peggy Kaye
  • Tell stories. Then tell them again.
  • Play in sand and mud and water. Go to swimming lessons.
  • Work through the free Phonemic Awareness curriculum at Sight Words
  • Sing. Always. Sing while folding laundry, while kneading bread, and while finger knitting. Sing when you’re getting dressed. Just sing.

If you’re looking for more handholding, A Quiet Growing Time: Charlotte Mason with Your 3 to 6 Year Old is full of practical ideas to use with your children who aren’t yet doing academic lessons.

catching snake in a jar nature study

Go see children’s theater. Go to museums. Go to homeschool park days. Visit local fields to learn field crops in all stages of growth. Draw lizards in a notebook and let your child dictate to you what to write in it. Talk about the natural objects your child finds.

Don’t Force Your Flowers Before They’re Ready

Not being ready for lessons at six doesn’t mean your child is a failure, or has a lower-than-average-IQ. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure at being a homeschool mom, or that CM won’t work for you.

It just means that your child needs a bit more time.

Remember that children are like flowers and they will bloom when they are ready. We simply provide fertile ground and nourishment.

Want to remember this? Pin it to your favorite homeschooling Pinterest board!

I sat on my bed and cried, yet again. My heart ached for my child. Most of the books she had no interest in, and some she barely understood. The activities were a bust, too. She’d rather spend her days hanging upside down from a tree than making the “fun and educational” salt dough map of whatever country we were studying.

I obviously was a terrible teacher, and I wondered if I was really cut out for homeschooling. Everybody online loved the curriculum, and I knew that it was the absolute best one out there.

That meant that the problem was with me.

There must be something wrong with me, I thought.  

And I secretly wondered if there was something wrong with my child, too, who didn’t love the curriculum like everyone said she would.

It couldn’t be the curriculum.

It guaranteed that every child would love it, and implied that the people it wouldn’t work for were those who didn’t want what was best for their kids.

Was this true?  Nope.  But I had bought into the hype and marketing.

It was time to break up with our curriculum.

Why we delay changing curricula

There are several reasons why we stay with a curriculum even when it’s not working.

  • Loss of the dream
  • Admitting to ourselves that our dearly held beliefs are wrong
  • Feeling like we wasted our money
  • Feeling lack of integrity, especially if we were an outspoken proponent of the curriculum
  • Feelings of failure, “I or my child is a failure, because this is the “best” curriculum
  • Feeling we will give our child a sub-standard education if we use something else, because (say it with me) this is the “best” curriculum

Loss of the dream

Often we buy into the dream of what our homeschool will look like with a certain curriculum, whether it’s free or one that we purchased.

Our children will grow up loving reading, they will do all these projects with high educational value, they will be conversant in world geography and social issues.  

People outside the family will be impressed when you tell them about the volunteer soup kitchen your child organized all by himself as part of the Service to Others assignment in 10th grade.  

Your child will not only know how an internal combustion engine works, but be able to sew for the family and discuss the deeper themes of Shakespeare and grow prize-winning tomatoes.

kids hanging upside down from tree

But when our child doesn’t like to get his hands greasy, or thinks Romeo and Juliet were stupid teenagers, or would simply rather be hanging upside down from that tree instead of reading the books …. it can be unsettling.

What will the future look like if not what we’ve already envisioned?

Admitting to ourselves and others that our dearly held beliefs are wrong

Sometimes we can get so caught up in the hype and marketing and, yes, lemming-like activity of believing that there is One Best Curriculum to Rule Them All that we are crushed when we discover that it is actually not working very well for our own child.

Especially when we’ve told others that this curriculum is The Best.  

We have to admit to ourselves that perhaps we were mistaken, and that the others who also believe this are wrong.

This can be particularly painful if we’ve been the one convincing others that this is the best curriculum.

When we have the dearly held belief that this curriculum is The One True Way to Give Our Child a Great Education, we think that everything else is sub-standard.  

Other people may actually say this.

That you’re selling out your child if you switch.  

That you’re just not trying hard enough, or you’re not being strict enough with little Jimmy and by going a different route, you are sentencing him to a life of inadequate education just so he can be happy now.

Feelings of Failure

This is a big one that is often unvoiced.  We feel it in the deepest recesses of our soul, but are afraid to bring it to the light.

That little voice that whispers “this is the best curriculum for everyone… you’re a failure because you can’t teach it right … your child is a failure …. something is wrong with you both … this is the best curriculum for everyone ….”

The logic goes like this:  If this is the best curriculum for everyone, the best and only way for a child to get a great education, and every child loves it and loves learning, then

 … if my child doesn’t love it, I must be a terrible teacher

… if my child doesn’t love it, there is something wrong with her

… if my child doesn’t understand it, then she must be rather unintelligent and maybe doomed to a life of failure

The Truth About Curriculum

Here’s the simple, honest truth.

Curriculum writers are not gods.

We do not always choose the best books, but the best books currently widely available that we personally like.  That means we make compromises.

Curriculum writers do not know your child.  It is as silly to think there is one homeschooling curriculum that can work for everyone as it is to think that the one-size-fits-all curriculum of the public school system fits everyone.

There is not one and only one path to an excellent education.  There is not even one definition of an excellent education.

There are many homeschool methods and styles out there.  Even if you believe that a particular method is the best (cough, Charlotte Mason, cough), there are almost always several curricula out there that follow that method.

One is not inherently better than another.  One might be better for your child, or for you as a teacher, than another.

Oh, and those lemmings all jumping off the cliff to their deaths?  It was staged.

Breaking up with your curriculum

First, realize that leaving your current curriculum, even if you previously thought it was the best one, or even if everyone in the forum elevates it on a golden pedestal, is OK.

Your children will not curl up in their bed, catatonic, or spend the next 30 years playing video games 24 hours a day and not know the difference between Africa and Australia.

If your current curriculum is not working, it’s not working.  

It doesn’t matter if it’s because you don’t understand the method, or your child hates doing projects, or you can’t stand the religious worldview of the books … if it’s not working for your family, it’s not working.

Then, feel the freedom!  Once you leave one curriculum that you felt was the only right way to educate your child, the whole world opens up.  You realize that even if you stay within your chosen method, there are different ways to interpret it.  One is not better than another.

You can use books that your child finds interesting.  You can do science experiments or projects that mesh with her interests.  

You realize that your child will not be denied entry into college because you skipped that boring read-aloud when he was 8.

freedom after breaking up with your curriculum

I vividly remember the first time I left a curriculum that I had bought into the hype and marketing about.

We stayed with it for over 2 years, despite the fact that it didn’t match our worldview and my daughter would literally throw herself backwards on the couch and scream when I brought out the books.

I stayed with it because I was terrified that if we left, I would be giving her an inferior education.  I felt like a failure that I couldn’t teach it well.  I felt like there was something wrong with her because she didn’t like it.  I felt like we were both… wrong.

Outcasts.

Failures.

Then the company made a strategic marketing error that alienated a large part of their customer base, and I and others left in protest.

I dipped a toe into the water and got a few books from a competing curriculum.

When I got those books home and cracked one open, I cried.

THESE were the kinds of books that my daughter would want to take to bed with her at night.  THESE were the types of activities that she would love.

I realized that it wasn’t that there was something wrong with us, it was that the curriculum wasn’t a fit.

And breaking those chains was glorious.

It will be just as good for you.

Find what works for your family.  For your child.  For you.

Not what other people say is The One True Way.  Find what works for YOU.

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breaking up with your curriculum

Yesterday I saw the announcement that Whole Family Rhythms is closing on June 15, 2019, and they don’t know what they will look like when (if) they re-open in the Fall.

The good news is that all their products are 50% or more off; the bad news is that this might be the last time you can buy their guides.

I only learned about them a few weeks ago, but I loved their samples so much I became an affiliate for them.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

So what makes them so special? They encourage building family connection and a slow childhood. They encourage handwork for the littles and for the caregiver. They encourage caregivers to take some time every day for reflection and/or meditation. They encourage rhythm.

They are visually stunning, and most of them are secular. Winter Family Rhythm and Christmas Festival guides are not secular as they refer to the Christian aspects of Christmas. The creator comes from a Waldorf background so they are also developmentally appropriate for childhood and they contain no academics.

But the best part? It doesn’t matter your religious beliefs or cultural background; Whole Family Rhythms helps you craft traditions and routines that will fit your own family and values.

I included Whole Family Rhythms in my 13 Secular Preschool Programs for Charlotte Mason Homes blog post, but while the Whole Family Rhythm guides are created for parents of children ages 2-6, I thought they might still be appropriate for families with older children.

So I bought them all just so I could tell you about each one.

Yes.

Every. Single. One.

Not for myself, mind you. It was purely for research purposes. (ahem)

That’s what I’m telling my budget, at least.

The Seasonal Guides

Ages 2-7 as your primary guide, ages 7-9 as a supplement to your routine.

Let’s start first with the seasonal guides.

There are four seasonal guides, and when you purchase you are asked if you are Northern or Southern Hemisphere.

Each seasonal guide is three months, and each month has a sample daily rhythm, a caregiver’s meditation, and caregiver’s handwork project, in addition to weekly fingerplays, stories, simple recipes, crafts, beeswax modeling, weekly hiking ideas, and painting.

chestnuts for autumn

The recipes range in difficulty from baking bread (harder) to cutting watermelon slices with fish-shaped cookie cutters (super easy).

The hiking ideas are nature oriented but are not about learning or transmitting information. They are more about experiencing. For example, one Weekly Hike is “Perhaps you can find a muddy trail this week and let the kids sink their toes into the dirt” while another is “Take your little kite out for a walk in the park this week. You won’t need strong winds as it can sail along behind you” while still a third is “see if you can find a bee and observe it with your child in silence as it gathers pollen and flies from flower to flower.”

This will be a wonderful addition to our days with my almost-8 year old, but if you only have older children, the seasonal guides will not be useful to you.

Spring, Fall, and Autumn guides are secular, but Winter is not.

Winter has Christmas for December, including an Advent section, and several mentions of God and Jesus. However, the months of January and February included in the Winter Guide don’t have any religious references.

What’s the difference between the seasonal Family Rhythm Guides and the 3 in 1 seasonal Bundles? The Bundles contain the Family Rhythm Guide for either Spring or Autumn, the celebration guide for the season (Easter or Harvest), and the Return to Rhythm Mini Course.

If you are going to buy the seasonal guides, I highly recommend spending the little bit extra to get the 3 in 1 bundle.

Or you can get the All Seasonal Family Rhythm Guides (bundle).

Celebrations

All ages if you are crafting your own traditions, for ages 2-10 if using as-is.

Under the Celebrate tab are Whole Family Christmas eGuide, Easter, Harvest, and Birthdays.

If you have older kids and want to be more intentional about your seasonal celebrations, these are the guides you’re looking for.

The Harvest eGuide will walk you through incorporating your family values into your celebrations with questions like “Write down as many values as you can think of associated with Harvest Time and which you would like to model to your children.”

Then there is a deeper look at harvest figures and symbols, and then a short look at harvest festivals from around the world:

  • Michaelmas
  • Thanksgiving (Canada and United States)
  • Sukkot (Jewish)
  • Moon Festival (Chinese and Vietnamese)

You will create a Harvest Season vision board, brainstorm how you want to model the spirit of the season and how to prepare for the festivals so that you remain calm and present, and more.

harvesting a carrot

On top of that, there are stories and finger games.

Handwork is appropriate for a wide range of ages, from a toadstool felt covered matchbox for younger kids to waxing fall leaves and making a garland. While the felt covered matchbox probably wouldn’t appeal to teens, my teen would have enjoyed making the fall decorations like the waxed leaf garlands.

Caregiver’s handwork includes a crocheted field mouse and a wool felt pouch. The pouch would be a good thing for teens to do, and while the instructions are for a mushroom applique, you could very easily make any design you wanted.

There are also caregiver meditations/reflections.

Easter and Christmas are similar, but adjusted for those holidays.

Easter eGuide

The Easter eGuide does not focus on the Christian aspects (the resurrection), but instead on spring and rebirth and so can easily be used by non-Christian families.

Easter crafts are

  • Lambs for little hands
  • sewn felt egg
  • wetfelt eggs
  • herb and vegetable dyed hardboiled eggs
  • felt Easter basket
  • knitted bunny
  • eggshell candle holder
easter rabbit with eggs

Christmas eGuide

Out of the three Festival guides (Christmas, Easter, Harvest), Christmas is going to be the least useful to non-Christians from an open-and-go perspective. Our family does cultural/secular Christmas, so about 75% of the content is still useful — the planning pages, how I’m going to bring the values I want to my family, that sort of thing — but we won’t use the stories.

While there is mention of Yule as a solstice festival, the focus is on Christmas, with Advent as a countdown to Christmas. The Advent story is of Joseph and Mary, and while the guide says it doesn’t focus on the religious aspects and instead calls Jesus the Child of Light, there is still that underlying monotheistic vibe.

Crafts are:

  • Hanging gnome
  • Advent wreath (a clay ring with 4 candles; you could just make it without tying it to Advent)
  • Beeswax candle decorating
  • Hanging wreath (fingerknitted)
  • Jingle bell garland
  • Winter gnomes
  • Needle felted ball (tree ornament)
  • Wooden star

Whole Family Birthdays guide

Ages 2-7

The Whole Family Birthdays eGuide contains ideas for simple and nourishing traditions for your little one. This is appropriate for ages 1-6, and could be stretched to a wee bit older. My daughter turns 8 in May and while I can use a few of the ideas, most of it is things we already do for a simple birthday celebration. This is not a guide of party ideas, but more reassurances that simple is good.

Return to Rhythm Mini Course

All ages

Return to Rhythm Mini Course is wonderful! If you are struggling with a daily rhythm, this is for you.

Each section — mealtimes, playtimes, bedtims — has both a few pages of suggestions and also worksheets where you’ll think through what’s working, what you want to change, and then how to make the changes.

It’s a simple formula but so powerful, and for the high return on investment, completely worth the price.

More than any other single thing, having a strong family rhythm will help you create the life you want.

I’m going to dive right in this week on it. While you can use it as-is for your younger kids, it is still very usable with modifications for your olders. For the olders, you’ll want to work through the pages with them.

I plan to work through it as a family, with my husband, 22 year old daughter, and 7 year old.

Whole Family Herbs eGuide

Whole Family Herbs is the only guide that I would honestly tell you to pass on. There are several herbs included, with a recipe for using each one, but the growing information is minimal, and there are no explanations in the Wisdom section for how to actually use the plants.

For example, for Chamomile we have “Chamomile has many medicinal qualities but is best known as classic nervine. It nourishes our nervous system. It is great for insomnia, anxiety, depression, stomach upset due to nerves and headache. For children it is an excellent teething medicine and helps to calm children after lots of excitement or upset.”

The growing information is the same or less than you will find on the back of your seed packet.

And following there is a recipe for Sweet Chamomile Popsicles.

After reading this, I wonder what a nervine is or does, what does “nourishes our nervous system” mean, and how I’m actually supposed to use chamomile for insomnia, stomach upset, etc.

Do I give my child a popsicle before bed? Do I let her chew on a chamomile flower if she’s teething? Do I make it into a tea and rub it on her gums, or put it in a cup for her to drink? Should I make a chamomile salve and rub it on her tummy?

My point is that for this guide to be useful, you would need to have a good background already in how to use herbs… and if you do, then this guide isn’t very useful because you’d already know the information.

It assumes too much prior knowledge for a beginner, and is too basic for an intermediate user. The best skill level for this is an advanced beginner who is looking for some gentle ideas to incorporate some herbs into their children’s lives.

If you’re just looking for a single recipe using an herb, then this guide is ok. Rosemary is stew, chamomile is popsicles, calendula is an easy salve, violets is violet jelly.

#ourfamilyrhythm Printables Bundle

If you are a printables fan and want some for your daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythm, #ourfamilyrhythm Printables Bundle is a good choice. They are beautiful with watercolored pictures.

I am not a printables person. I am more likely to just grab a blank piece of printer paper to draw out my ideas and brainstorm on. I also don’t have a color printer, so to get the beauty of this pack I will need to send in a print order to Staples or Office Max.

Are they nice to have? Sure.

Necessary? Nope.

tl;dr

If you’re looking for guides that will hold your hand as you bring more rhythm and connection to your family, these are for you.

  • Return to Rhythm — all ages. Work through it together with your older kids and partner to craft your family rhythm.
  • Harvest, Easter, Christmas eGuides — all ages if using as a guide to craft your own meaningful celebrations, elementary and younger as-is
  • Seasonal Guides — (winter, spring, summer, fall) — ages 2-7 as your primary guide, ages 7-9 as a supplement to your days and to add connection
  • Birthday — ages 2-7
  • Herbs — probably skip this one
  • Printables — pretty but unnecessary

I purchased the All Guides Bundle and added on the Printables pack and Unplug Childhood Training. Since Unplug Childhood Training starts on Sundays, I haven’t yet received the first email to begin and give you a review.

Whole Family Rhythms is a wonderful group of guides to to bring peace, joy, and connection to your home. Visually stunning, and nurturing of both mama and child, I’m sure you will love them as much as I do.

blowing bubbles with child whole family rhythms review