Back to School #2: Unschooling Charlotte Mason Mashup

Post #2 in a series about getting back to school!

Water Discovery on a hot day.

Water Discovery on a hot day.

The days of summer are beginning to fade. The long nights are not quite so long. Backpacks and uniforms can be found in every Target, Walmart and Mall. Summer Reading lists are being crammed. Parents everywhere are jumping for joy. So are we. Not because our children will be leaving us for hours everyday, giving us that long awaited peace (which really sounds quite lovely at times!), but rather, because all of our favorite places will be ours alone once more!

No more wading through crowds to get to our favorite Smithsonian museums, or waiting in line to go down our favorite slides. No, no,no, it will be us against the world as we head out to supermarkets during school hours, braving curious and vocal strangers at every turn! Lets face it, we are not the norm. Not only do we homeschool but we unschool. If we tell people that we homeschool the next question is almost always what curriculum do you use. Depending on how brave, or talkative I am, I will either say “I make it up” or “we are unschoolers” because the first will bring questions but the second will bring shock and immediate judgement.

Yes, we unschool. Yes I allow my children to tailor their own education. Yes my oldest is 7, which is second grade for us, then we have my 5 year old who is in Kindergarten, my 3.5 year old is in Preschool and my 2 year old, she’s just a toddler. Yes, we do school. Yes, we have rules. No, I’m not a hippy…although I wouldn’t mind being one someday šŸ™‚

You see, we are unschoolers who dabble in Charlotte Mason. I love the philosophy behind Charlotte Mason’s writings. I love the Literature rich environment, the focus on Nature, science and the Arts. I love the idea of 20 minute lessons and using Copy work, Narration and Dictation to help build language skills. Here’s what i don’t like, the scheduling! I used to think that I needed to introduce history in chronological order but you know what happened? My kids and I were bored, and history has always been my favorite subject! I just couldn’t do all those subjects in those orders, it was too forced for us.

Also we did not start out as Unschooling enthusiasts, we started out as classical enthusiasts…my early blog posts are proof of that. I tried, I really did and the Classicist in me (literally my undergrad was in Classical Studies!) wanted nothing more than to create mini-classicists in my children. The thing is though, that my son is a natural scientist, my daughter is a natural artist, my little fireball is a book worm and our youngest is a mashup of all of them!

So after this long intro here is how we make this work in real life…in Bullet form to make it easier.

– My Children choose the subjects. I will go into more depth in my next post but basically I ask them “What do you want to learn this year” and then we make a list.

– Once the list is made we follow it, and any rabbit trail that may pop up along the way.

Have Stick, will pretend.

Have Stick, will pretend.

– I give LOTS of suggestions. Almost to the point of bombardment. They are not required to do any of the suggestions but the idea has been planted.

– We live in a state that requires a twice annual review that proves that there has been instruction and I will dedicate an entire post to how we prepare for this but our children are highly involved with the process. We invite ourĀ children to beĀ a part of this preparation process starting on the first “day” of “school”…which is usually an arbitrary day after our family vacation in July.

I remind them that we have to have things written and available to prove that they are learning and they choose what they will make or write. They each chose to have a single composition book to prove weekly math and writing.

– So how does that fit into our unschooling household? Simple, my children are responsible for setting their own parameters. For example, my son does not like to write. It is the bane of his existence. He knows that he has to show that he can write. We talked about what that would look like and this is what we came up with: (I made lots of suggestions and he said yes or no).

-Copy work is twice a week at most (usually once a week),

-Free write on Fridays (10 minutes of constant writing)

-One story a month onĀ Storybird.

If there are any other writings that occur they are entirely his choice. For example, he wants to learn how to make a lab report and write a research paper so we will need to build up to that.

– We allow our children to decide on the consequences of unfinished homework.

Those assignments mentioned earlier break down to one assignment every other day and he has all week to complete them: 7 full days were his decision upon realizing that he would end up with 6 writing assignments and then 9…he didn’t like the idea of getting stuck at the end of the month or quarter with that many assignments so he gave himself a limit…we suggested this.

-We then asked him if at the end of that week his assignments were not done what would be the consequence (making him responsible for his own choices) and he chose to lose tv until the work was complete.

– We mix the how’s of learning from charlotte mason (copy work, dictation, living books) with the why’s of unschooling.

In our house that looks like this:

1) Son “How does the sun burn hot enough to warm Earth and all of the other planets” while staring out the window on the way to the grocery store.

2) My response “Well, the sun is a Star and stars are made up of burning gases. Why don’t you look up what happens when the gasses explode on my phone?” followed by me passing my phone back in the car.

3) Ā He then types why is the sun hot or similar query into my Safari search engine (asking every other letter to make sure he is spelling it correctly) and then reads the results out loud until we find an answer.

4) Ā Then he reads it out loud, we watch a video together or we find a documentary we can watch at home.

5) After watching the documentary and answering his initial question we then go to the library the next day and find all the books we can on stars, solar systems and chemistry/ elements.

6) At home, or in the park, we read the books together (with his sisters who are now also engaged)

7) I ask him to tell me what he’s learned (which is narration)


He might choose one of the sentences in the book to be his copy work that week


He may choose to write a story about a boy who goes to the sun

or perhaps, and really most likely in our house,

He will use the new information to transform his pretend time with his sisters…i’ll use that as narration too.

– We do weekly nature studies (the kids pick the park and we spend hours outside letting them explore as they wish),

– We go to the theater as often as possible,

– Museums a few times a month

– We listen to a composer (of their choosing from a list of possibilities) while driving

– We have art from a specific artist or time period strewn about in the house.

Learning about play in the 1700's

Learning about play in the 1700’s

– We have weekly activities that keep our house moving to a solid rhythm.

No schedules or minute by minute checklists, they work for some but definitely not us. We move to a rhythm, a set of weekly activities that keep us moving, both academically and as a family.

Such as Tuesday Tea time with Poetry readings and practicing manners.

I will go more into this later on when we tackle scheduling…or unscheduling…muahaahaa. (ok that was unnecessary, but fun so I will keep it!)

I have gotten pretty long winded here so I will save the rest for later. If you have any questions or want some more specific examples let me know, I love helping people figure out how to make things work for them!

Find Post 3 (Planning and Resources without Curriculum) here.


3 comments on “Back to School #2: Unschooling Charlotte Mason Mashup

  1. […] is a new concept on this blog, so expect a 5 part Back to school series over the next week. Post #2 will look at Unschooling and Charlotte Mason and how we utilize the philosophies in our own home. […]


  2. […] It’s my Back to School roundup and so far we have gone through What I’ve Learned about Homeschooling so far and How we use the Charlotte Mason and Unschooling philosophies in our house. […]


  3. […] can also go back to to Post 3, Post 2 or Post 1 by clicking on the […]


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