5 Steps to Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education


How to create a custom homeschool plan for
your family in five simple steps. Welcome to the Simply Charlotte Mason Podcast. I’m Sonya Shafer. DIY—Do It Yourself. For some of you, those initials generate great
excitement! You’re seeing images of potential projects
right now in your imagination and you can hardly wait to dive into a new one. Others of you get tired just looking at those
initials. To you, DIY stands for a pile of decisions
and precious time that you would rather spend doing something else. It’s just natural; we’re all different. And those two attitudes seem to come with
us into planning for homeschooling too. Some of you much prefer having lesson plans
that are already put together, so you can just open the book and go. But some of you like to build your own lessons,
choose your own books, and put together your own custom plan. This episode is for you Do It Yourself-ers. For the rest of you, if you want open-and-go
plans, we have them available. Feel free to put your feet up and follow the
link in the notes to learn more about our ready-made lesson plans. But if the thought of putting together a plan
for yourself excites you, let’s talk about it. What I’m about to describe has helped hundreds
of homeschool moms build their own customized Charlotte Mason education. We’ll be looking at five steps. The key is to take one step at a time and
not to skip any of them. Many of the moms who have come to me for planning
help over the years realized that their previous planning attempts floundered because they
were trying to jump too far too fast. Once they saw all five steps in the process,
they finally got all the pieces to fit together and walked away with a plan that they could
use—a plan that was designed just for their family. You see, every family is different, so every
plan will be different. Beware of trying to stuff your unique family
into someone else’s plan or schedule. Of course, you can adopt parts and collect
ideas from others’ schedules, but in the end your family needs a plan that will suit
this season of life, a plan made specifically for you and your children right now. Are you ready? Here are five steps for planning your Charlotte
Mason education: The Big Picture
Your Year Your Term
Your Week Your Day
Let’s walk through them one by one. Step 1: The Big Picture
Before you get into the nitty gritty of scheduling particular books, you need to take a step
back and look at the big picture. What is it that you want to accomplish by
homeschooling? What is your goal for your student? That may seem like an unrelated philosophical
question, but your answer to it will affect your plans. For example, if your goal is to prepare your
child for an advanced mathematics degree, that goal will affect the books you choose
and how much time you spend on math during the week. If your goal is to nurture your child’s
musical talent, that goal will show in the way you choose to schedule your terms and
each day’s routine. So right from the start, try to determine
what your goals are for your homeschooled child. Your goal might be different for each child,
depending on each child’s needs and special interests. Or you might want to write down a set of general
goals that you want to emphasize with all the children. It’s up to you, but write down your goals
first. After you determine what is important to you,
you’ll need to find out what is important to the authorities. Are there any legal requirements in your area? Are there any subjects that you are required
to teach or any subjects that are required before your student can graduate? Do the research on those areas and make sure
you comply with the laws in your area. Along those same lines of planning ahead,
if you have a middle schooler or a high schooler you may also want to check out college admission
guidelines (if college is one of your goals). Each college will probably have various specific
requirements, but many of them will have similar general requirements — like three or four
years of science, three or four years of math, two years of foreign language, or things like
that. (Those of you with young children may want
to wait a few years before doing this research; the guidelines might change between now and
then.) After you have figured out what’s important
to you and what’s important to others, you’re ready to outline a 12-year overview. Just list all the school subjects you can
think of. Since this episode is about planning your
Charlotte Mason education, you’ll want to be sure to include CM-specific subjects, like
picture study, dictation, and nature study. Then decide which subjects you will teach
in each grade. (You could get a sheet of graph paper or use
your computer’s spreadsheet and put the subjects down the left column and the grade
numbers across the top. Just put an X under each grade and across
from each subject that you want to teach in those grades.) (I’ll throw in a few sample charts to illustrate
what I’m talking about. The charts that are included will not be complete;
they are included simply to give you an idea of how they might look. If you’re listening to this episode, follow
the notes to the blog post or the video version to see the sample charts.) If you’re following Charlotte’s big picture,
you’ll postpone formal grammar lessons until at least grade 4, you’ll do nature study
in every grade, and you’ll start dictation around grade 4. Do you want to do Shakespeare every year starting
in grade 4, as Charlotte did? If so, mark it down. If not, mark which years you want to include
it. Remember, the big picture is not the step
in which you have to decide exactly which composers, time periods, and science topics
you’re going to teach each year. The big picture is just to determine which
subjects you plan to teach in which grades. That’s all. When you’ve finished outlining the subjects
for each grade, you’ll know where you’re headed and the general direction you’re
going to take to get there. Then you can start zooming in on some specifics
in Step 2: Your Year. When you begin to plan for a year, look at
your 12-year overview and locate just the grade levels you will have going this year. See which subjects you have planned to teach
in those grades. For example, if you will have a child in grade
3, grade 5, and grade 8, look at the subjects you have decided to teach in those grades. I like to combine all my children together
for as many subjects as possible. It saves me a lot of time, and the children
gain the benefit of learning from each other. As you plan, you’ll probably want to organize
your subjects into several lists: one for subjects you’ll do all together as a family
and one for each child’s individual work. This chart will give you an idea of what I
mean. …
Next, on those lists, add the topics you want to cover in each subject. Let’s say you have history on your Family
list for this year. That’s great. Which time period are you going to study? That’s your topic. Or maybe you have picture study on your Family
list. Which artists will you cover? Those are your topics. So add your topics to your subjects. Then comes the fun part: resources! After you know which topics you want to cover
this year, you can select the resources you want to use to teach those topics. If you are going to focus on, say, the Middle
Ages for history, make a list of books, audios, and other resources that you want to use. (And here’s a tip: You may want to put some
Middle Ages books on your Family list and other Middle Ages books on your older children’s
lists for them to read independently in addition to the Family books.) As you look for resources, keep in mind the
goals that you determined during the Big Picture step. How important a topic is to you will affect
which resources you choose to use. If you simply want to introduce a topic, you
will select a resource that doesn’t go into a lot of depth; but if you want to dig deeply
into a certain topic, you’ll pick the resource that gives all the details and might take
a little more time to cover. The Simply Charlotte Mason Curriculum overview
chart has links to our favorite lists of books for the various time periods, as well as resources
for enrichment subjects. Feel free to scour those lists for book suggestions. You can also search the Bookfinder part of
our CM Organizer for suggestions from other homeschool parents. In that free database you can search by topic,
time period, key word, author, grade level, and more. Once you have your resources selected, you
can move on to Step 3: planning your term. One of the most common problems moms have
when planning is they try to jump directly from their Year Plan to their Daily Schedule. I’ve found it a lot easier to make that
move in smaller steps rather than one big jump. First, break up your year into three sections. Charlotte Mason called them “terms.” (If you would rather call them something else,
that’s fine. At least you’ll know what I’m talking
about when I refer to terms.) Since most school years cover about 36 weeks,
it’s easy to divide those 36 weeks into three 12-week terms. Grab a sheet of paper and make three columns
on it; label them Term 1, Term 2, Term 3. Next, write down each resource’s name and
make a note of how many divisions (chapters, lessons, readings, etc.) you want to use from
it during the year. It might look something like this. If you want to complete all of that resource’s
divisions during term 1, write that total number in the column under Term 1. If you want to split it out evenly between
term 1 and term 2, write how many divisions you want to cover in each term’s column. If you want to spread out that resource and
use it all year, split its divisions evenly between all three terms. This step of the planning process is not difficult,
but doing it can give you a great overview of how you plan to use your resources during
the year and how you can break that year into manageable chunks. When you look at your plans at this stage,
you can get a feel for whether you are overloading one term or slacking off in another term. Planning your terms also lays a great foundation
for figuring out how many days per week you’ll need to do each subject. That’s the next step. Step 4 is Planning Your Week. Some Charlotte Mason subjects work well if
done once a week. Those subjects are usually
Picture study Music study
Nature study Handicrafts or Art instruction
“But how many days per week should I do science?” and “What about history?” Here’s how to figure out the answer to those
questions. You could try to follow exactly the schedules
that Charlotte used in her classrooms, doing each subject the same number of days that
she did. But please don’t feel handcuffed to her
six-days-per-week plan. You do not have to replicate her schedule
in order to give your children a rich Charlotte Mason education. The atmosphere of your home is important,
and you can use Charlotte’s wonderful principles and brilliant methods in a schedule that fits
your unique family best during your current season of life. So grab that list or chart that you made in
Step 3, when you planned the terms, and look at what you wrote down for just Term 1. We’ll concentrate on one term at a time. Look at all the resources you have listed
for history during that one term. Total up the number of divisions (chapters,
lessons, modules, etc.) that you have written down for that term in all of your history
resources. So, let’s say you’re planning Term 1 and
you have three history books listed in that term. Calculate the total number of chapters, or
readings, listed for those books. Let’s say there are 12 chapters in one book,
15 in another, and 9 in the third book. You would add them together and get 36 chapters
in all for history that term. Now all you need to do is divide that total
number of chapters by the number of weeks in your term (12 weeks). The answer would be 3. And that answer tells you that you need to
do history three times each week (if you’re reading one chapter each time) in order to
complete all the chapters you have listed. You can do the same thing for each of the
other subjects: calculate each subject’s total divisions and divide that total by 12—the
number of weeks in the term. Your answer will tell you how many days per
week to do that subject. (Here’s a handy tip: If your answer is not
a whole number, round it up to the next whole number (for example, 3.62 would become 4,
or 4 days per week, and 0.3 would become 1 day per week). Once you know how many days per week you need
to do each subject, all you have to do is decide which days of the week to do them. The Weekly Schedule chart on our site will
help you organize that part. I’ll leave a link to it in the notes. Print the chart and—very important—write
in any outside commitments you have first: co-ops, recurring doctor appointments, church
activities, etc. When you have those outside commitments visually
plugged in, it is easier to fit your school subjects around them and avoid overloading
one particular day of the week. If you have determined that you need to do
history four days per week, write that subject under four of the days. Picture study is usually one day per week,
so pop that in under one of the days. You can choose which day works best for your
family. You get the idea. Here’s a sample. Do the same thing for all of your Family subjects
and Individual subjects. (The only subjects that have to be individually
taught are math, language arts, and the upper level sciences.) Don’t worry about the order in which you
list the subjects under each day; we’ll tackle that in the next step. Right now just get the subjects spread over
your week in a way that will help you accomplish your selected resources without overloading
one particular day. Once that step is done, you will find it much
easier to plan a daily schedule. And that is the final step, Step 5: Your Day. Before you start arranging your daily schedule,
take just a minute to consider your comfort zone. Are you the type of person who likes to run
her day according to the clock? Are you most comfortable knowing exactly what
time you should move on to the next item of the day? Then your comfort zone is using a timetable
to schedule your day. A timetable looks something like this: 8:30
Math, 8:50 History, 9:15 Geography, etc. Charlotte Mason used a timetable approach
in her schools’ classrooms. If, however, running your day by the clock
stresses you out, your comfort zone is probably using a time-box approach instead. (Don’t feel guilty; Charlotte didn’t have
to deal with new babies, laundry, and preschoolers disrupting her school day.) With a time-box approach, you simply divide
your day into blocks of time (called time boxes) and determine which subjects you want
to accomplish during each block. For example, you might have a “Before Breakfast”
time box in which you want to have the children do their morning chores; a “Between Breakfast
and Lunch” time box in which you want to accomplish history, math, picture study, copywork,
and typing; an “After Lunch” time box, etc. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, you
can still do short lessons with a time-box approach. Simply start the timer when you’re ready
to begin the lesson within that time box. When the timer dings, that lesson is done. The main difference is that it doesn’t matter
whether you start that lesson at 9:30 or 10:08; you simply make sure you do it some time during
that time box.) Once you have found your comfort zone, make
a simple chart with your students’ names across the top and your timetable or time
boxes down the side. Maybe something like this:
Then look at your Weekly Schedule that you created in Step 4. All you have to do is transfer the subjects
that are listed under Monday to a Monday Daily Schedule, arranging them as you like. Then transfer Tuesday’s subjects to a Tuesday
Daily Schedule, and so on until you have a daily schedule for each day of your school
week. It’s up to you whether that schedule is
laid out in 15-minute increments or flexible time boxes. Do what works best at this season of your
family’s life. One final tip: keep in mind that whether you
use time boxes or a timetable, your students will find it easier to pay full attention
if you put your subjects in a sequence that allows them to use different parts of the
brain as they go through the day. Alternate a heavy-concentration subject with
a lighter one; follow a word-heavy subject with a hands-on subject or art or math. That little technique will go a long way toward
making your days run smoother. And there you have it—planning your CM education
in five steps. As with any DIY project, you don’t have
to complete it all in one day. Take breaks between steps if you would like
to. The Build Your Own Curriculum section on our
website contains lots of free ideas, book lists, charts, suggestions, and links that
will help as you walk through the process. We also have available a book and DVD set
called Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education that will walk you through the entire process
I’ve outlined today. It’s full of convenient, ready-to-use charts,
sample schedules, and descriptions and topic ideas for each school subject. If either of those resources would be helpful
to you, you can find the links in the show notes. Creating a customized plan to fit for your
family isn’t that hard with a little work and the five simple steps we’ve covered today. If you enjoyed this video, subscribe through
iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, or your favorite podcast app so you don’t
miss an episode. You can also subscribe to the audio version
of this podcast or read the blog post on our website at simplycharlottemason.com. All of those links will be in the notes, along
with links to the resources I mentioned. Thanks for joining me. See you next time!


  1. Sonya bless you for taking time to share your wisdom! This video is a gem. Thank you so much! Many blessings to you and your team! ❤️

  2. I have been watching your videos for weeks now and I am OVERJOYED at how they have changed what our school will look like. I felt like I was drowning and every time I watched one of your videos I was given hope and inspiration. They have come at the perfect times and given me exactly what I needed to really make my children's education what I've always hoped it could be. Thank you a million times!!!

  3. I have been dabbling in the Charlotte Mason approach for a few years now. While I don’t do this approach exclusively, I appreciate the simplicity and beauty of her method. Essentials in my homeschool week are poetry, nature and picture study. I have found that in all of my research Sonya’s advice and explanations are golden. She breaks everything down so beautifully. She just has a way of explaining things. I could listen to her for hours. 😀 thank you so much Sonya. ❤️ God bless.


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