Moving from Well-Trained Mind to Charlotte Mason

09 Oct

I had so many things I wanted to blog about, but I’ve genuinely not had time. I spend very little time online these days, generally once a day, in the morning, for about half an hour while I have breakfast. Sometimes I go on for a few minutes in the afternoon or evening, and then I’m on the computer for an hour or two on Fridays to write up what we’ve done for the week and plan the next week. And that’s pretty much it.

I was also pondering that since my last post about methods in March, I haven’t really talked about methods. It truly was my final answer…until now.

One of the reasons I’ve not had much time for blogging is our new schedule. We’re pretty much full steam now using The Well-Trained Mind, and it’s taking us about 3.5 hours everyday to get through everything (and I still need to add spelling…more about that later). Stiggy seems to be happy spending this much time on his lessons, but I’m not completely happy with what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Let’s be honest: of all the non school-at-home homeschooling methods, The Well-Trained Mind is the most school-ish. It’s demanding and at times…dull. Our day has a sort of finish-this-up-because-we’ve-got-to-move-on feel. There’s no time for discussion, no time to stop and absorb what we’ve just read or done…no time to think. It’s too manic. And I can sense that Stiggy’s passion for learning has been dampened somewhat.

I’ve realised that the areas with which I’m happy are those which fit into the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling as well. Singapore Math is great, Italic handwriting is a hit, narration and copywork are going well, Stiggy enjoys classical music and poetry, has a blast with handicrafts, loves learning about plants, animals and nature, and he loves being read to. The areas that are not going well are reading and history. They’re small problems, really. Science is a major problem, though.

So what am I doing about it?

The Modern Curriculum Press Phonics workbooks are going to go. We’re just finishing up level a and we were planning to go on to level b, but that’s not happening. These workbooks are doing little, if anything, to further his reading ability now. At first they were fun, but now they’re a source of frustration and a waste of time. So, we’re cutting them out.

History: I vowed when I began homeschooling I would not administer comprehension questions; that’s what narration is for. But I find myself using the questions in the Story of the World activity book. Big mistake. I don’t expect Stiggy to answer every question perfectly, but I do feel a certain level of frustration when he can’t answer some of the questions that I feel he should be able to. See, I’ve fallen into the schooling trap of finding out what a child doesn’t know, instead of what he does.

Even the authors of The Well-Trained Mind have said that history is not essential for grammar stage children. It’s nice if you can fit it in, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the basics. I’ve let history become more important than it should be at this stage. (Partly because we both love it…which is funny because I hated history in school).

So, no more questions, just narration (which  he usually does beautifully).

I also need to add in more liberal arts: more poetry, more art, more music, etc. More time for discussion, more time to let things marinate. It’s not about ‘covering’ it all. It’s better to really take in one lesson, than to merely ‘cover’ and forget ten.

I’ve been re-reading Karen Andreola’s A Charlotte Mason Companion. I love this book; it’s so inspiring. And although I don’t agree with all of Miss Mason’s ideas (like her views on spelling and grammar), I’m warming to some that I had previously dismissed, such as short lessons (at least for the younger grades).

I want to make more changes, but I’m not sure how. Here’s what we’re doing and what I’m changing:


-Each day Stiggy chooses a book to read. I then choose a short sentence and he uses a movable alphabet and dictates it. One or 2 pages from MCP phonics workbook. Reading is done daily and now takes 10-15 minutes.


-Read a section or chapter from chosen work of literature (usually corresponding to time period in history). Myths, Aesop’s Fables, fairy tales, etc…done daily. One manic poetry reading session of about 15 poems per week.  Read one or two poems daily.


-Using Writing with Ease. This is quite CM-friendly (at least at this point). It’s simply narration and copywork. Stiggy narrates 2 times a week and I produce a one-sentence copywork 3 times a week from his literature selections. We do 4 lessons a week, plus a fun activity from Games for Writing.


-First Language Lessons. Although CM is against teaching grammar to young children, Stiggy enjoys these lessons, and they only take 5 or 10 minutes. We do 3 lessons a week, Mad Libs once a week, and we’ve done a little reading from Grammar Land, but will be putting it away for now as it’s not needed.


-Getty-Dubay italics. Stiggy learns two new letters each week, one on Monday, the other on Wednesday. He practices on the other days. Handwriting is done daily and takes 5-10 minutes.


-I’m planning to use Sequential Spelling as I don’t think Stiggy will learn to spell from copywork alone (Here’s a great post about this topic at a favourite blog of mine). I think these lessons take 10-15 minutes.


-We use Singapore Math along with lots of supplemental activities and stories. Math is done daily and takes 15-30 minutes.

History & Geography:

-We use Story of the World. We do 1 or 2 chapters a week, Stiggy narrates, answers the comprehension questions, does the colouring page one day, map work on another, and we look at the Usborne World History Encyclopedia. We also supplement with Horrible Histories and other books from the library. SOTW is done 2-3 days a week. We’re also doing British History1 day a week using The Usborne History of Britain. I read a section and Stiggy narrates. Geography is done via the maps in SOTW and I drill him with our globe (continents, equator, hemispheres, and oceans) once a week (takes about 2 minutes). No memorisation just yet, apart from Geography. History is done 5 days a week and takes 20-40 minutes. That’s a long time, but stiggy loves it.


-I’m not at all happy with science. We’ve been doing it WTM-style and it’s really dull studying one animal a week and nothing else, week after week. I’m going totally CM with this now. We’ll be using The Burgess books, James Herriot’s Treasury for Children, Ranger Rick magazine, The Handbook of Nature Study, and other CM goodies. We’ll also have a day of doing whatever Stiggy wants and doing little experiments, concoctions…whatever. He’s constantly asking science-related questions (‘how do magnets work…what are the names of the planets…will this float…?) and I’m forever saying, ‘You’ll learn about that later/next year/in 3 years…’ !!! That’s just silly; if he’s interested, we should just learn about it. I want to do science 3-5 times a week.


-We were going to use Little Big Minds and study philosophy, but I’ve decided to hold off until grade 4.


Done rarely. I want to do handicrafts several times a week. We always feel good when we’ve done something like baking a cake or cleaning together.

Art & Music:

-Free reign with art, and I also want to start using Drawing with Children. I want to do art 2 or 3 days a week. We listen to classical music while doing art. I will introduce artist and composer study possibly next year.


I’m still planning to follow the 4-year history rotation and will do logic and rhetoric in the later years. But I think Charlotte Mason’s methods suit us better, although I’m not sure what other changes to make to give us more discussion/digestion time. I know most people don’t do history and science 5 days a week, but I’m not sure how to cut it back. Hmmm, maybe if we do the ‘must-do’s’ first, then work through the other stuff if there’s time. That could work.

Any suggestions?


6 responses to “Moving from Well-Trained Mind to Charlotte Mason

  1. Suji

    October 10, 2009 at 12:52 am

    What a coincidence…I just recently took out my copy of the WTM again to see if we should/could add more structure to our days. After pretty much going the relaxed/ unschooling route in the past semester, it just felt like I should be doing more 🙂 Then I have realized how miserable that makes DS so I probably won’t put in more structure after all. But it’s nice to pull out WTM once in a while just so that maybe I can add some variety to our reading. I love the lists but the suggested schedules really make my hair stand on end. I wish I could thumb through it without being tempted to follow the shedules LOL.

    I think I’ve found a way to balance the must-do’s and want-to-do’s. And the only way I could do that was compromise on some things and try to balance it with his interests. History is no longer a must-do for us. And Grammar/ Lang Arts is a sort of semi must do only now since he reads so much. This way, I assign some daily math and he asks for Life of Fred and we try to do some reading (which could include historical lit) and then the rest go into rotations.

    It’s hard but I do hope you find something that works for you well. Take care!

  2. Michelle

    October 11, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I love A Charlotte Mason Companion! I think it is good to be more relaxed in the elementary years. I, on the other hand, have a 6th grader now and am feeling the pressure of being more structured, thus the big change in our homeschool world that I mentioned on my blog.

  3. Michelle

    October 11, 2009 at 11:19 am

    And as for suggestions, I really liked using the What Your __ Grader Needs to Know for science topic ideas.

  4. raisinglittleshoots

    October 14, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Hello Michelle
    you must be feeling good after all that planning : )

  5. Gerky

    October 23, 2009 at 9:03 am

    What a great post! I am such a CM fan but can’t seem to get myself off the workbook thing. Workbooks seem to rule my world…lol. I love your science plan and taking away the comprehension questions for history. You know, I have found in the past few homeschooling years that the picklets seem to learn more from the books on tape and documentaries they watch on certain subjects than an hour or two of “book work”. I just never put two and two together until just now. Thanks for making me think!


  6. Umm Khadijah

    December 10, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Salam ‘alaykum Michelle,

    I just happened to come across your new blog while doing a search for something on Google, I did used to visit occasionally when you were on Blogger, I’m glad I found you again 🙂

    Masha’Allaah it seems like your making some positive changes, it’s good that your adapting things to suit your son better.

    I’ve also read A charlotte Mason Companion, and really loved it, I’ve just got out ‘pocketful of pinecones’ again to read, also by Karen Andreola, not sure if you’ve read it, it’s a fictional story, based mainly on nature study, but I thought it was lovely and really encouraging.

    I myself am also doing Science, the WTM way, I agree studying one animal a week, can become boring, I just try to add in a few other things, like worksheets etc… so it’s not so dull.

    I have come close to switching over to Charlotte Mason, but something stops me from making a complete transition, not sure what, at the moment I do like to take from CM and WTM, and consider myself between the two (or should I say trying) over the last week or two, we’ve been getting the workbooks out, and haven’t had alot of time for anything other than Maths and English, desperately need to organise our time better inshaAllaah.

    Anyway, sorry for such a long comment, I sometimes find it hard to find things to write about on my blog, but then when I leave comments for on other blogs, I could go on and on, Lol!.

    Take care, and hope things go well for you both insha Allaah.

    Wa salaamu ‘alaykum.


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