The table is full. There’s a computer, there are notebooks and art prints - and stacks and stacks and stacks of books.
It’s a typical summer scene, one that has been here in my kitchen for years. Dinner, if I can manage it during these weeks of planning, is spread on a picnic table out back, or on trays on the porch. When I’m really in the thick of it, I have been known to mutter from behind a wall of history, biography, and free reads, “Fend for yourselves.” There is organizing, combining, synchronizing, and tweaking the calendar (Do I use the half week of Thanksgiving as a catch-up week? Do I spread that week over two weeks? How long do I stop for Christmas? Do I try for summer lessons, or just use that time for anything we miss?).
And when I’m finally done with getting ready for the school year, I find that the beauty that is a Charlotte Mason/AmblesideOnline education looks abundant and very, very full.
Then a funny thing happens.
When the books find their way to the designated shelves, when the notebooks and supplies land in desks or in bins, when the calendar is in the laptop or phone or absorbed into a daybook, when the homeschool lessons actually begin -
Suddenly, everything changes. What was seen as so much, even a little daunting, morphs into inadequate. There is a temptation, even with a rich feast of a curriculum like AmblesideOnline, to use it as a base from which to do more.
Just read a poem a day? Yes, that’s nice - but how about several poems read each day for comparison? What about researching the poem, looking for its literary devices, and defining vocabulary words? Surely several highlighters are needed, at least, maybe in a few different colors?
Literature? Great books are good, yes, but what about study guides, or supplemental readings, or, again, those lists of vocabulary words?
History? Is this the actual best prescribed rotation for the story of mankind, and shouldn’t some of the tales from long ago and the uglier viewpoints of the past be left out? And why on earth start with the history of a country other than our own?
Nature study? OK, but my little yard isn’t all that exciting, and a walk in this neighborhood doesn’t yield much to see - so isn’t it best to add videos of nature, of important and real nature, and focus on stuff happening in rainforests and places far away?
Narration? Just ‘tell it back’? Really? That’s it? Isn’t there more? Shouldn’t it all be written down, corrected, recopied, and used for a study of the principles of composition?
Hymns and folk songs - just sing them? Don’t we need musical analysis, the history of each work, and lots of hymn recitation?
And just like that, a path of freedom and beauty turns into drudgery, and becomes instead a path towards burnout and exhaustion.
This feeling that more is needed is just that - a feeling. It bears no resemblance to the truth. I know this now because, well, I’ve been at this for awhile. I’ve homeschooled this CM/AO way since 1990, and the children whose curriculum plans were on my kitchen table this past summer include two of my three grandchildren - the ten- and seven-year-old daughters of the little girl I began to homeschool all those many years ago.
I’ve learned a lot of things through homeschooling my four children (three of them graduated, one still in high school) and now through helping to homeschool my grandchildren. And the main thing I’ve learned is this:
It is enough.
It is enough to park in the poetic mind of one man or woman for a season, and hear their words read aloud, singly, daily, for the inspiration or challenge they bring. Before long, a student recognizes the poet’s style, and a phrase or stanza or even the entire poem stay with that student, often for a lifetime.
It is enough to walk around the same yard, the same street, the same park or field, on a simple walk - and find that your child gets familiar with a single tree, with the sound of a returning bird, with the flow of a stream or brook, with the change of the seasons, with decay and renewal, and with wonder over God’s creation. And the intense observation that comes from sketching a leaf, a feather, a nut, a web, or an animal track is the foundation and the essence of real science.
It is enough to read a book - not someone else’s take on it. Imagine if you were given the choice of whether to stand in the front of the crowd and hear Abraham Lincoln give his second inaugural address, or to read a political commentator’s evaluation of it in a newspaper? It’s the same with literature. There is simply no substitute for interaction with an author, for getting to know and witness firsthand the strength of the words and the force of the worldview.
It is enough to narrate - to use this powerful tool, even through the first steps of objections, last-word parroting, and missing facts. Very soon a pattern emerges out of the new habit, due to a strengthening of mind muscle, of attention, and of building associations. Blank stares are replaced with “this reminds me!” discoveries, and connections with other books, history, life. And the analyzing, categorizing, connecting - and yes, the composing - is done by the child, not the study guide.
And it is enough to sing, just sing a hymn, and to learn to sing it even - maybe especially - without accompaniment. There may be no instruments available for your child when he walks in a hard place or wakes from a nightmare or waits for difficult news, and finds comfort and guidance in singing quietly (or bravely), “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’ “
There are some supports used at times in an AO education, of course, such as a study guide for Plutarch, an introduction to a new book, or a more specific essay style-question for a narration. But the general Charlotte Mason principle that “the mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum” does not require for its implementation a paid advisor, an insider’s interpretation of the six volumes, or a heretofore unrevealed new approach to one subject or another. This method is well-tested, and many of us have lived the harvest of its beauty and simplicity.
So to the young mom whose table or laptop or library card or Amazon account has been full, and who is daring to go forward but feeling a little bereft and uncertain without charts, unit studies, and workbooks -
Be reassured. It is enough.
To the harried homeschool teacher who’s been at this for awhile but life has gotten very tense and now high school looms large, with worry about tests and college and jobs and the future -
We’ve been there. It is enough.
And to the new homeschool mom whose children know facts but don’t care, and who is seeking for them to know Robert Louis Stevenson and Johann Sebastian Bach and William Shakespeare and, above all, the Bible, at least as well as or better than they know the current athletes, musicians, and celebrities -
Join us, and countless others. We’ve discovered - it is enough.
In fact, we’ve learned it’s not just enough.
It is more than enough.