Wednesday, May 11, 2016

An Interview With Sonya Shafer (Simple Charlotte Mason)

Recently, I contacted Sonya Shafer of Simply Charlotte Mason. She has inspired many families to use the Charlotte Mason Approach of homeschooling. She has four daughters and her passion for teaching others about CM and the blessings that come along with it are so fascinating. I have taken one of her DVD courses (All Day Charlotte Mason) and it sparked a fire inside to learn more about this method of homeschooling.

I encourage you to check out her website where you will find many free resources and information as well as products to purchase for your own homeschool.

1. How did you get started with Charlotte Mason's method of homeschooling?
"Twenty years ago, when I started homeschooling, I attended a homeschool convention much like the HEAV convention. In one of the workshops, the speaker explained that home school does not have to look like school at home; you have options. She then outlined the main approaches to homeschooling, and one of them was the Charlotte Mason method. As soon as I heard her brief description, I knew that was the approach I wanted to use. My heart just resonated with what she was describing. So I grabbed whatever books I could find on the Charlotte Mason method (this was before the Internet) and started learning and implementing little by little. Fast forward twenty years, I'm still learning and loving it!
 You can find out more about the other approaches and why I chose Charlotte Mason in my video on YouTube: Five Flavors of Homeschooling."

2. What is your best advice for someone who is just starting out with the CM method?

"The Charlotte Mason approach is a collection of methods. If you are starting out with a young child, you can easily jump into using all of the methods from the very beginning. If your children are used to a different approach, however, you might want to ease into it. You can adopt a few of the methods in some school subjects and work with them until you feel comfortable, then adopt a few more. It may take a bit for everyone to get used to the new way of learning. Especially if you had twelve or more years of traditional schooling methods engrained in your mind, you may wonder if Charlotte Mason methods really work; they may seem too simple. But rest assured, you can trust the process. I've graduated three and still use CM methods with my special needs child, and I see the benefits every day of the wonderful education they all received!"

3. What is your favorite part of using the CM method?

"Goodness! That's like asking which is my favorite child! I think all of Charlotte's methods and philosophy are brilliant, but if I had to pick just one part to rave about in this interview, I think it would be the broad education the students receive. We spread a feast of a wide variety of subjects (around 20 different school subjects) that present great ideas and feed the student's mind. But happily, this approach does not place a burden on the teacher. It is not the teacher's job to dispense all of the knowledge. She simply introduces the student to great books, music, art, nature, etc. and allows the student to glean truth and beauty on his level directly from the source. 
I love this aspect because it respects each child as a person. Even my special needs daughter receives the benefit of beautiful art and music and poetry and nature; her education is not limited to just the 3 Rs or a dry, utilitarian schooling. Plus, the variety and the first-hand gleaning from excellent sources cultivates a love for learning and gives the student the tools to self-educate. With that desire and those tools, the student can continue to learn about God, people, and the world we live in for the rest of his life. Really, if you think about it, a CM education is just practicing how to live a rich and full life."

4. I have taken one of your seminars (on DVD) called All Day Charlotte Mason. What would be another great resource of yours that would help me to get a better understanding of the CM method?

"A few come to mind. On our website at, you will find a Learning Library chock full of practical how-to articles and videos. They are sorted by topic, so you should be able to easily find what you're looking for. We continue to post weekly teaching tips; you can receive them via e-mail or subscribe to our audio blog in iTunes or Google Play.
For those who really want to feel confident with CM methods, we have what I fondly call my brain-in-a-box. It's a 12-DVD set, "Learning and Living: Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way," recorded live at a CM conference where I shared everything I could think of about the Charlotte Mason approach."

5. Do you have a favorite book list that you would like to share with readers who may not know where to begin?

"You will find several free e-books on our website to help you get started; just look in the store under Free Resources. Plus, I highly recommend the two classic books that I began with twenty years ago: the short and practical "A Charlotte Mason Education" by Catherine Levison and the sweet and encouraging "A Charlotte Mason Companion" by Karen Andreola."

6. Narration is a big part of the CM method. How do you suggest families begin narration in their homeschool?

"Narration is a integral part of many school subjects. In its simplest form, narration is the student's hearing or reading a passage from a good book, then retelling everything he can remember in his own words. (It sounds easy until you try it for yourself!) 
One great place to start with narration is Aesop's fables. They usually tell a complete story in just one or two paragraphs, so they're great to practice narration with. Tell the student to listen carefully because you are going to read the fable only once. After you read it, ask him to tell it back to you in his own words. You will both find that it requires a pretty high level of thinking to pay full attention, remember what was read, keep it in the correct sequence, mix it with the ideas already in your mind, form it into coherent sentences of your own phrasing, and then give it back, either orally or in writing.
Narration is a powerful method that can be leveled up or down according to the student's abilities. The free e-book, "5 Steps to Successful Narration," will explain more. Also, we recently did a comprehensive Q&A series on narration that should be helpful. You can find it in our Learning Library or grab it in book form, "Your Questions Answered: Narration."

7. Charlotte Mason was all about nature study and informal learning. What are some frugal ways to incorporate that in the homeschool?

"Learning is a way of life and doesn't have to be expensive. It doesn't cost anything to go outside once a week and spend time observing nature in your yard, your neighborhood, or a nearby park. With just a sketch book and a field guide, you can record your growing relationship with God's creation. Jot down or draw what you notice; little by little you will learn the names of the trees and birds and flowers and shrubs and clouds. But do more than learn their names: watch them and notice what they do, when, where, and how. Record your observations in your notebook and, over time, you'll find that you are growing in your knowledge of science, but also in your sense of wonder and awe at our all-powerful and wise Creator. And when that happens, you will know that you and your children are growing in what is most important."
Here are a few more resources for you to check out when you have time. Please feel free to save them for later. But, I urge you to take a look. Sonya Shafer's website is busting at the seams with information about homeschooling and Charlotte Mason. You will love it!
Five Flavors of Homeschooling video:

SCM Learning Library:

SCM weekly e-mail signup:

SCM Audio blog on iTunes:

SCM Audio blog on Android:

12-DVD set, "Learning and Living: Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way":

Free e-books:

"A Charlotte Mason Education":

"A Charlotte Mason Companion":

free e-book, "5 Steps to Successful Narration":

Q&A series on narration:

"Your Questions Answered: Narration":
I hope this post has been a blessing to you. Please visit THIS PAGE to enter the giveaway on my blog for a Family Pass to the HEAV in Richmond in June. Don't miss it!

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