Monday, July 2, 2018

Year In Review: Overview (2017 - 2018)

In previous years, I've been able to write very detailed, multi-part summary of our school year.  This year I'm not going to be able to be as in depth.  We welcomed a new little one into our family in the later part of August last year, which delayed the start of our school year by a few weeks, which then pushed out our end date out as well.  That time I would usually use to write the summaries was taken up by finishing the school year, and now I'm at the point where I really need to start planning our next school year so I can start when we usually start.  However, I know I will regret not writing at least a little about the school year and how it went, so here it goes.

In the spring of 2017, as I prayed the Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel, (as I do every year), I focused on what our school should look like in the upcoming year.  How was I going to manage the planning time I needed for the school year, write my conference talks for the CMI Western conference, be able take the kids to the pool, lake and river during the summer, endure the third trimester, and prepare to welcome to our sixth child?  And once that all happened, how would I ever manage to actually run our homeschool with three students (10th, 6th, 4th grade), a 5 year old and a 3 year old, plus a newborn?

In prayer, I realized that I was in a good position for the year, as my three students were all strong readers and could do quite a bit on their own.  I would not be able to run a scheduled day with them - no morning lesson time table this year - but I felt fairly confident that with direction and some help, they would be able to do a reasonably good job.  I could focus on reading practice with my five year old, and that, with lots of outdoor time and reading aloud, would be sufficient.  My three year old could be included in this to whatever extent she wanted to be included, and this would be sufficient for her as well.  Our morning time with prayer and poetry, music and art would continue, and would also continue to be a blessing to us all.

The main sticking point was the planning.  Last summer I was burned out on planning.  I had spent a huge amount of time on it the previous summer (2016) and while it was a good year, I felt like things were just a little off.  I also knew that I did not have the time to throw at the planning that I had in 2016.  I also was far more enthusiastic about writing conference talks than doing all the planning work, which might have been a distraction I allowed myself rather than a legitimate project. 

In the end I decided to try the Charlotte Mason Institute's Alveary.  I wouldn't have to select books, schedule them out, or create the spreadsheets.  All those subjects that were taught in Mason's schools but aren't well supported by other CM curricula, such as sol-fa, foreign language, geography, drawing, and dancing, were included.  With it, I was left with very little to do other than plan Sunday
reading, buy books, print schedules, and make sure we had the appropriate supplies.  It was a blessing for our family, and it made our summer last year much better than it would have been otherwise.

I am thankful for the Alveary, and I feel like we had a good year.  I appreciate the work they are doing to create such a full Mason curriculum, and I am glad it is out there.  However...  we won't be returning to the Alveary in this upcoming school year.  I wanted to like and use the materials that are exclusive to the Alveary, but after trying them for a term, I dropped them and replaced them with other materials.  The pace of the scheduling often did not suit my children, and by the second term I had made a number of changes.  The level of the books also was problematic, and I ended up making a number of substitutions.  In the first term I printed out the lesson plans and used them for their daily lists, in the second term I used the lesson plans for a couple of subjects, and by the third term I wasn't looking at them at all.  My high school student did use the lesson plans throughout the year for some of the subjects, but there were other issues as well.

As I prayed the Novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel this year, I realized that all the things that were working well in our homeschool were either books we had used or were using already or were books or resources I had found outside of the Alveary.  Initially I was not looking forward to planning another school year, but once I realized how well we were doing while only giving the Alveary a passing nod, I decided that I could gird my loins and do it.  Besides, with a ten month old, I have no summer or fall conference plans to distract me. 

And since I used the Alveary this year, I am not certain I can give as full of a review as I have in the past, even if I did have the time.  Their work is proprietary, and I do not want to infringe on their hard work.  In subsequent posts, I plan to share a few favorite books as well as things I've found on my own.  It won't be as complete as previous years, but I am hoping it will be helpful for me in future years and perhaps helpful for others as well.


  1. Looking forward to reading more! I'm excited to see your take-aways were and your family favorites.

    Maybe the fact that you didn't get as much as you were expecting out of the Alveary points to how well you've internalized Mason's principles at this point? :)

    1. Is that a nicer way of saying I'm allergic to lesson plans?

      But I do think you might have a point there. I definitely feel like all this reading for the study groups has made a huge impact and shaped my thinking a great deal.

  2. Interesting to hear your thoughts! I had been doing AmblesideOnline but became discouraged too easily because we couldn’t get through all the readings in our school year. I’m a person that likes to tick boxes and know I’ve completed everything. This past year I did a consultation with the Delectable Education ladies. I did have to bring in my own catechism lessons and some other Catholic supplemental reading for history but it went very well for us even with a cross country move. I glad that there are many good options out there now for us!

    1. That's good to know, thanks for mentioning it, Lucy! I've wondered how it would be to do a consultation w/ them and how that would work as a Catholic. Did you have to buy a lot of out-of-print and expensive books though?

    2. They worked hard to use books that I already had and the few that I had to buy I had no problems finding. I do have some good out of print books that I was fortunate to find in library book sales so I would say that it depends on your personal library (which I'm sure is excellent). Also, they would recommend several options in case you were unable to find a particular book.

      Because they are not Catholic, I used recommendations from Celeste, you, Jen Macintosh and my own research for supplementing history and adding a time slot for catechism. They have their strengths - recommending some wonderful books that appealed to my children's interests - and at the same time I appreciated that they fitted the plan to our family and gave me flexibility to adapt if necessary. Hope this helps. I truly am grateful for all the options out there!

    3. That’s great to hear, Lucy, thanks for letting me know more about your experience! I am grateful for the options as well, and very grateful for people who share their experiences and knowledge!

  3. I greatly appreciated reading this thoughtful and objective review, Amber. Thank you for taking the time to share it.