Combining Charlotte Mason and Thomas Jefferson Education in your Homeschool

I discovered the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling early on in our homeschooling journey. I loved the idea of reading aloud to my children, and did not take a lot of convincing to leave behind most text books and embrace a literature based approach to educating my children. During the pre-school years we had spent much time enjoying reading together. Once “real schoolwork” started we, like most new homeschoolers, bought text books and began “teaching”. Somehow we had less time to read aloud. I was introduced to the Charlotte Mason method, and enthusiastically bought Karen Andreola’s book “The Charlotte Mason Companion”. It was like a breath of fresh air, and I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly to this more relaxed approach, and the excuse to schedule reading aloud into our homeschool day. We began implementing Charlotte’s ideas:

* Reading aloud “living” books

* Narration

* Picture Study

* Music Appreciation

* Learning Science from Nature (although ours is modified from the real CM approach described below)

* Mother Culture

* Self Education

* The Happiness of Habit

After a few years, I came across another homeschooling approach, through a book called the Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver Van DeMille. Like Charlotte, Oliver stresses the importance of self-education. He says that for learning to take place, the student must take responsibility. The parent is not a “teacher”, so much as a “facilitator”.

The other important components of a Thomas Jefferson Education are “Classics” and “Mentors”.

When classic books are read, studied and discussed with a mentor, the student learns to think. He is not taught “what to think” (as in a fill-in-the-blank or multichoice text book), nor is he taught “when to think” (as in training for a specific job or profession), but “how to think”.

As the child’s mentor, the parent must think about the book being read and ask herself the questions she will later ask the student. These questions must be open-ended, and provide meat for discussion with the student. The student should be guided to think for himself, and not merely parrot off the “correct” answer.

The student learns to express his views and present them in a discussion with others in a group setting, or even in a debate.

This growing ability to think – to ask questions of himself and others – equips the student to be self-governing. He will become a leader in whatever sphere he finds himself – someone who will think “outside the box”, not lamely following the crowd, like the “fill-in-the-blank, multichoice” student will.

I have found that the Charlotte Mason method and Thomas Jefferson Education model work very well together. I tend to lean more towards Charlotte Mason for the younger children (when TJEd says they should be in the “love of learning” stage – setting foundations, good habits, and values). Once they have the foundations of reading and writing in place it is time to add some “meat” with TJEd. Even as young children, of course, many of the books you read aloud will be “classics”, and you will naturally discuss the books as you read and they narrate. The books will get more difficult as the child matures, and the discussions will become more challenging. Wonderful spiritual insights can come to light as you and your student dig deeply into classic books. The characters’ values and morals (or lack of), and the consequences of these make great springboards for discussion on Biblical versus our culture’s worldview. Your child will benefit from learning his own lessons from the decisions, good and bad, characters make. He will revel in the triumph of good over evil, and empathise with the downtrodden.

Particularly in those young people who choose to challenge their parents’ views, classic books will speak volumes into their lives without your having to point out the lesson.

So my advice is, start out with Charlotte Mason’s methods, read, narrate, discuss, get the basics, the foundations of learning, habits of discipline, and values of the Bible. Begin to move into Thomas Jefferson Education when your student is ready – continue to read and discuss, and gradually require more of your student in the way of expressing his ideas – both in oral and written presentations. Watch your children bloom and grow into thoughtful, intelligent, excited young people with a love of life-long learning.