I’m a researcher at heart, but it wasn’t until mommy-mode kicked in that the researcher in me first surfaced. From breastfeeding to home births to child rearing. Homeschooling was just the next logical step for our family. So, what was the first thing I did when considering homeschooling? Yep! Research! And, to my delight, it wasn’t long before I discovered (and devoured!) Cathy Duffy’s Christian Home Educators’ Curriculum Manual. You probably know it better today as her 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. Like today’s contemporary edition, the vintage version succinctly described, among other things, the top picks in homeschool curriculum and the various homeschool philosophies. Who knew there were so MANY CHOICES?
My husband and I had two active and creative sons, neither of whom would have thrived in an overladen textbook environment. Nor would I have wanted them to. Through research, my husband and I soon determined that we liked not one philosophy, but two: Charlotte Mason and Unit Studies. The combination of these two philosophies would meld into the perfect combination for our home school and ultimately culminate in the advent of Once-a-Week Unit Studies.
We were especially drawn to Charlotte Mason’s idea of what she called living books, as opposed to dry textbooks. We wanted to expose our children to beautiful books and quality literature and, in the process, make learning come alive for them. Using quality literature, as it pertained to our unit study topics, was one of the techniques we used in achieving that goal. In fact, it was a combination of the quality literature they read on their own and others we read as a family, that our sons now believe inspired their writing.
When our boys were young, we especially enjoyed using Charlotte Mason’s narration and copywork techniques. Using passages from classic literature to teach writing not only helped give our boys a well-rounded education, but it taught them what great writing looked like and helped them improve their writing, grammar, and spelling skills. As a matter of fact, both Benjamin Franklin and Jack London, author of White Fang and Call of the Wild, learned to write by copying other great writers. The skills our sons learned through copywork were further developed in their Once-a-Week Unit Study language assignments. As they progressed in their writing skills, copywork was eliminated in favor of further developing their writing as it pertained to their unit study topics.
Poetry was another subject Charlotte Mason believed children should be exposed to and one which we subscribed to, as well. Favorite Poems Old and New, by Helen Ferris, was my handy go-to resource for changing up our language assignments according to the seasons, holidays, and special occasion cards, as well as our unit studies. In fact, I continue to incorporate poetry when writing Once-a-Week Unit Studies today.
We also agreed wholeheartedly with Charlotte Mason’s belief that children should have time to explore God’s glorious creation. This, too, was easy for us to incorporate into our unit studies and a great way to develop young creationists. Why not learn about plants and animals while studying the history of the Lewis & Clark expedition, for example? By replicating Lewis’ journal and going outdoors to explore, examine, and record plant and animal species as Lewis had, our boys could study both history and science, at the same time. Living books played a significant role here, as well.
Charlotte Mason was a proponent of introducing great artists and composers to children from an early age. It was important to my husband and I that we give our sons a well-rounded education, which included incorporating the arts into their studies. Each of our sons was artistic in his own way. Because of this, we believed it was our duty to encourage and grow them in their God-given talents. So, while we were learning about horses, for instance, we took the opportunity to listen to Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture and identify the galloping of horses in its “Cavalry Charge.” Similarly, when we were studying birds, we checked John James Audubon’s Birds of America out of the library. At home, we studied his magnificent artwork and attention to detail which our boys proceeded to try to duplicate. They took art and music classes too, in order to further develop their skills.
Arts & Crafts were also a component in Charlotte Mason’s teaching method, and it was one which we incorporated into our unit studies in the form of hands-on activities.
The Bible played an integral role in Charlotte Mason’s teaching style and in our home school. Throughout the week, we read our Bible together. Oftentimes, the boys copied, memorized, and illustrated specific Scripture. But, on Wednesday, which was the day we chose to focus exclusively on our unit study, we read Scripture as it pertained to our unit study topic. For example, while studying the Early Settlers, our primary scriptural focus was faith.
Charlotte Mason taught her students geography through the use of living books and map work. Learning about various people and events provides us with a natural opportunity to inject geography into our children’s education. This way of thinking freed our family from ever having to have a separate geography textbook.
Last, but not least, this ahead-of-her-times educator believed in cultivating good habits in children and providing an “atmosphere” for them to grow and thrive. For us, it was important that our children develop good character and a good work ethic. But, it was equally important that we provide them with a peaceful, loving, and Godly home, a safe haven, in addition to a quality educational environment.
With God’s grace, Charlotte Mason’s methodology, and the creativity of unit studies we were able to do exactly that. But, Once-a-Week Unit Studies help you do it a whole lot easier!