How to Blend Homeschool Styles to find the Best Fit

blend homeschool styles | classical and charlotte masonOne of the aspects of homeschooling that I am most thankful for is the ability to customize a learning approach that fits my kids’ individual needs. It’s a beautiful thing to recognize that classical or Charlotte Mason or delight-directed or Montessori fits with your vision and goals for your family and your children. However, I know first-hand that it is also really easy to trap yourself within these labels. What once inspired and informed your choices suddenly becomes what’s strangling the life out of your homeschool. What do you do when one size doesn’t fit the whole family? Or what if you feel like a conglomeration of ideas is a better fit than a single approach? The answer is simple: blend homeschool styles into the custom-fit for your family!

Our Decision to Blend Homeschool Styles

Shortly after beginning to homeschool our kids, I read about the classical style of education. My husband and I loved it. The logic, the rhetoric, the apologetics, the Socratic discussion, the learning stages—so much of this style appealed to us, and I dove in head first.

Of course, that was before I discovered that I’d been blessed with a house full of ADHD. A couple of years in and the rigid structure and rigorous demands of a strictly classical education had just about killed us. Toss in a series of family health issues, and our life was chaos. As I sat in the waiting room of a medical office waiting for my husband’s second back surgery to be completed, I devoured Karen Andreola’s book Charlotte Mason Companion. Charlotte Mason was the breath of fresh grace I desperately needed.

While I wasn’t ready to abandon the premise of classical education we’d loved and identified with, I immediately saw how Charlotte Mason’s principles both complemented and embellished the starkness of the classical model. Charlotte Mason gave grace and beauty where I was in much need of it. Over the next year, I worked to blend the two styles together in a way that kept what we loved about classical but gave grace in the areas of ADHD distractibility where I needed it most. The result: a perfect fit for our family, a blend of knowledge and grace.

So how do you achieve this for your family? How do you take what you like, toss what you don’t, and blend what’s left together?

How to Blend Homeschool Styles

Identify what you love best about the styles you are considering. Every curriculum, every homeschool style has it’s strengths and weaknesses. As you read and consider the differences, make a list of what appeals to you the most.

For instance, I love the classical model of a 4 year rotation of history; I love the learning stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; I love the emphasis on classical languages and Socratic discussions of ideas. But the rigor of long lessons, drill, and grueling memory work was squelching the active, creative spirits of my ADHD kiddos, not to mention creating real obstacles for my dyslexic child.

From Charlotte Mason, I loved the short lessons, the variety, the incorporation of handicraft and creativity and beauty, the emphasis on the whole person, and the rich feast of ideas to engage their busy intellects.

Exchange principles you don’t like with ones you do. I replaced classical suggestions of 45 minute subjects with the Charlotte Mason principle of short lessons. I was stunned by how much my busy kids learned in only 15 minutes, and the rich variety kept them engaged without gimmicks or bribes. While the encyclopedias and information-rich texts of the classical style appealed to my son, the living books of Charlotte Mason were much more effective with my dyslexic daughter who could follow a plot to remember information better than she could remember random facts.

Embrace trial and error. Ideas that sound perfect in theory may totally fail in application. And that’s okay. Make adjustments. I loved the idea of Charlotte Mason’s approach to teaching spelling, writing, and narration. But in practice, the method was a total fail with both my older kids. Though I loved the open-ended CM concept of narration, my children did much better with the guided, structured classical narrations. Blending the two has been a constant work in progress, but the result has been a style of learning that captures the very best of my kids’ ADHD strengths rather than frustrating their weaknesses.

A couple of years later, and I’m still towing that line between these two styles, daily making decisions about which principles fit our family’s vision and personality best. It’s empowering to blend homeschool styles to what works best for us. It’s liberating to have something else to try when we fail. It’s inspiring to know I’m not trapped in a method that feels like the wrong fit. 

5 tips for Planning for your Homeschool Challenges

homeschool challenges | homeschool planning

The reality of any plan is this: it’s going to change. I’m constantly planning, constantly changing, constantly rethinking, constantly trying to make our days run more smoothly. But I’ve learned that the key to a good plan is how well it flexes. How well does a plan hold when life hits it? Planning for your homeschool is so much more than plotting out what days you do math and when you finish the year. There are toddlers and sick days and unexpected visitors and laundry and overflowing toilets and doctor visits and — life is messy, unpredictable. Planning your homeschool well involves planning for your homeschool challenges, anticipating what can and will go wrong and allowing for the chaos in your plan.

5 tips for Planning for your Homeschool Challenges

Routine vs. Schedule

Over the years, I’ve homeschooled with a newborn, toddler, poop-throwing potty training toddler, preschooler, ADHD times 2, dyslexia, month long stomach flu, and a coast to coast move. Let me tell you, the key to a good plan is a good routine. And I don’t necessarily mean a timer that goes off at 8:30 to indicate school has begun. (I’ve done that, too.) A good routine is a rhythm of life that fits your family. Set up your day by routines rather than specific times; have a morning routine, an after-snack routine, an after-lunch routine, a before-supper routine, etc. The idea is to allow for some distractions and upsets. If your child ends up in the bathroom at 9:00 in the morning and stays there for 15 minutes, you’re not behind schedule; you simply pick up wherever your routine left off.

Realistic Expectations

I am the worst at assuming I can do more than is realistic. But the reality that reigns me in is that I do only have so many hours a day. One of the first things I do when I’m planning a new routine is to list how much homeschool time I really have. What can I personally give my children, and what will need to be done independently? When I had a newborn and was nursing, I had to realize I could not personally provide all the instruction my kids needed. I purchased website subscriptions and online learning games. When potty training, I set up a lot of our homeschool time near the bathroom and in the hallway.

The idea is that we have got to lower our expectations. We simply can’t do it all. Something does have to give. In order to have a successful plan, be realistic about what you can do. I know I can provide one hour of instruction for my daughter and one hour for my kindergartener. That means with my fourth grader, we don’t do every subject every day. I work with her in a few subjects on certain days and the rest on other days. I understand that my priority has to be quality over quantity. In other words, one good writing lesson once a week will get more accomplished than a stressful, distracted, rushed lesson everyday. A good 10 minute lesson will teach more than 45 minutes filled with disruptions. Less really can be more.

System that flexes

My motto this year has been “the next thing.” I’m learning that some days, we knock out a huge amount of work and other days we come to a screeching halt. Instead of stressing over what is or is not getting done, I’m focusing on “the next thing.” We cover our studies one lesson at a time; we move on when my kids are ready to move on. That means we take two weeks for spelling lists instead of one. That means, my son lets me know when he’s ready to take that Latin quiz; sometimes its at the end of the week, and sometimes he needs two weeks. (I do set a two week limit.) Somedays we get through three math lessons with Right Start, and some days I can’t get past the warm up. We move on to the next topic in history when we’ve read the books and finished our projects for the first topic. We take things one at a time, because I’ve seen over and over again that it all washes out in the end.

How does this work in my actual lesson plans? I have an overall plan for the year and for each term; then, I sit down each Sunday night and plot out what I think we will get to in the week. If we finish it, I put a checkmark. If we didn’t finish it, I put an arrow through the box and write it into the following week’s plan. For my kids’ assignments, I don’t write out specific lesson numbers. Instead, I assign “math for 30 minutes” or “Read a chapter in Courage and Conviction.” They move through their assignments in the same way we move through the week, doing the next thing.

Celebrating the little things

Sometimes learning takes on a mind of its own. Your kids find an interest and run with it, a free video lesson pops up in your newsfeed that you know they’ll love, you stumble upon a gem on Netflix that you’ve just got to watch together, you get caught up in your read-aloud and can’t put it down. Maybe your kid writes and illustrates his own comic book, or repairs an appliance in your garage. These are all learning opportunities, and a flexible plan allows you to embrace these moments. Often, I will record these in my planner, too. It’s learning. It happened. I want a record so that at the end of the week when I have that “what have we gotten done” moment, I can see that learning did happen even if all my boxes aren’t checked off.

Willingness to try again

Planning for your homeschool challenges, bottom line, is a willingness to keep planning, to try again. Don’t scrap the whole plan, but be honest about what isn’t working. Maybe your time with your child is awesome, but independent work just isn’t happening; try a new plan. Just try it out. The best inventors and innovators, those found the most success in life, realized that every failure brought them one step closer to success. In the end, these are the life lessons that are the most meaningful for our kids. We are educating more than just their minds. We are teaching them that it’s okay to try and fail and try again. It’s part of the process. It’s part of life.

Homeschooling is challenging and filled with ups and downs. It’s beautiful in the way that birth is beautiful—a painful, messy beautiful. It’s life, and life is unpredictable. Planning for your homeschool challenges means you have a direction, a vision, and an end in mind; but you are also embracing that homeschooling really is about the journey, not just the destination.

What to do when you don’t love your homeschool

when you don't love your homeschool | homeschool planning | homeschool vision

Psst. I’m going to let you in on a secret. There are times and seasons when I don’t like our homeschool. Maybe we’re getting things checked off and the kids are learning, but it’s far from satisfying—and very, very far from beautiful. We’re muddling through, surviving. But I sure don’t love our homeschool.

Honestly, that was me this last fall. We had moments: fun projects, glimmers of happy learning. But overall, I survived the fall, and hated it. So this December, during our month off, I spent a lot of time rethinking everything. And I do mean EVERYTHING!

Our fall was a perfect storm of factors. For one, my whole curriculum plan for one child seemed to crash and burn on week 2 of our homeschool year. I didn’t have the time to make those kinds of drastic changes in a thoughtful way. So, I threw together a Plan B and muddled through. Then, my homeschool app that I’ve used FOR YEARS to plan my homeschool didn’t update with the latest Apple updates. Yep, lost the whole thing at the start of the year and scrambled to find a new method. Again, I threw together a solution, but not one I loved. Lastly, our whole schedule turned on its head this year. Days we’d had off were now filled; days that I’d dedicated for one-on-one homeschooling were now video school days so that I could go to different meetings and Bible studies. We managed to get through the term, but I noticed that I’d lost a lot of things that brought enjoyment and meaning to our homeschool. I had a lot I wanted to change.

So, what do you do when you don’t love your homeschool? Where do you start? What do you change? Here’s what I’ve spent the last month doing.

What to do when you don’t love your homeschool?

Remember Your Vision

I remembered back to the last time I loved homeschooling. What was I reading? What was I thinking? What brought joy and satisfaction? I pulled out those books and tried to rethink those first thoughts again. I went back to that original vision, that original purpose. For me, a lot of that began with learning about Charlotte Mason and her approach to learning. I’m far from hard-core Charlotte Mason, but I love to blend those ideas into our classical homeschool. Charlotte reminds me of my overall goals: to educate my whole child (not just the mind), to inspire with ideas (not just cram with facts), to create an atmosphere (of love and character and discipleship).

Think back to a time when you loved your homeschool. What was it you loved? Was it more intentional and less distracted by work projects or social media? Was it more spontaneous and filled with outdoor exploration? Was it more character-focused and discipleship-driven? Get back to that happy place.

What if you have never loved your homeschool? Start with a brainstorm or vision board. Collect pins on a special “homeschool vision board” on pinterest, or get a poster board and cut out magazine pictures. Write down all the ideas that come to mind. What do you envision when you think about your homeschool? Know where you want to go before you make a plan to get there.

Find your focus

I don’t know about you, but I need more than a goal; I need a single word that helps me remember that goal. Something I can whisper under my breath in the hard moments and get the reeling chaos back in focus. That word, for me, was “discipleship.” I took a class on how to study the Bible this last fall, and one of the exercises was a form of diagramming the verse, looking at subjects and verbs and parallel structures. I remember tearing up in class thinking, “This is why I’m determined to teach reading and comprehension and some level of grammar to my dyslexic child. This is why it’s important to me.” Not so that she can ace an achievement test, but that she could be a better disciple; I want her to have all the tools she needs to study the Bible deeply. When I sat down and remembered my vision for our homeschool, this one word kept coming back to me. I wanted to educate my whole child, not just mind and academics; I wanted more discipleship.

What is that one thing for you? What is that one thing that, at the end of the year, if you only did this one thing well you would still call the year a huge success? Could you sum it up in one word? That one thing is your focus, and it will make a world of difference in the daily grind of homeschooling.

Make a Plan

Or in my case, make a planner. Seriously. I set down and created my own planner. I was tired of making things work, of adapting things to fit how I wanted to plan. So I sat down over Christmas break and made my own planner. I filled it with the Charlotte Mason quotations and beautiful graphics that inspired me. (And I’m sharing it with you for free! Scroll down for more details.)

I plan with a weekly overview. I don’t like to see my week split up by days because I need the flexibility to move things around. I plan the things I hope to get done with in the week. If we get it done, I check it off. If we didn’t get it done, I put an arrow through the box and move it to the following week. If I decide to skip it entirely, I put an x through the box. For certain, subjects that I do want done on certain days (specifically when I’m working with my child), I write an initial for the day of the week I hope to do it (M for Monday, W for Wednesday, R for Thursday, etc.) When it’s done, I circle the initial.

free homeschool planner download

 

free A5 homeschool planner

I also found a new app that I’ve been trying out with my kids’ assignments: Homeschool Teacher app. I put their chores and their school assignments into the app, but I keep most of the assignments generic and schedule them to repeat each week. For instance, I put “do a math lesson,” or “read for 30 min.” instead of “Do lesson 65.” If I need to go in and specify what book they are reading in, I can always go back in and make changes to that particular day, but I don’t have to plan their whole week out all the time. It’s “once and done.” Then, my kids have the companion app Homeschool Student on their tablets and ipads; they can login and check off their assignments. Then, I’m notified in my app and approve that the work was done. So far, so good.

 

I’m not expecting perfection. I know we are still going to have chaos and bad days and failed plans. But even with the imperfection, there can still be satisfaction. You can still love your homeschool, when it’s loud and messy and chaotic. You can still love your homeschool, even when it’s far less than perfect.

Download my Charlotte Mason-inspired homeschool planner

84 pages of homeschool planning downloads for an A5 sized planner, includes:

weekly overview, daily agenda, grading log, reading log, field trip log, nature study log and journal page, and notes

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Printable A5 Homeschool Planner | Charlotte Mason