A Gentle Feast Curriculum Review

Disclaimer: I received a copy of A Gentle Feast White Year Curriculum in exchange for an honest review. All views expressed below are my own and may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my legal disclaimer page.

As a Charlotte Mason homeschooler and a type A one as well, I’ve always prided myself on being able to create booklists, courses of study, and a Morning Time (called Power Hour around here) coordinated with our school year. It was enjoyable for me to do this, but it was time intensive, involving weeks of planning, tons of reading and research, and then scheduling it all.

I’ve continued this process over the years because I had problems with pretty much all of the Charlotte Mason curriculums on the market. For some the history rotation did not match what Charlotte Mason actually did, for others they added in other educational philosophies that made the curriculum Charlotte Mason inspired or a Charlotte Mason blend, for some it required all of my children to do their own thing for each subject studied, and for some the book choices were all older, and usually expensive, making the curriculum difficult to use and editing on the fly a necessity due to racist and misogynistic undertones.

Within the last few years, though, the homeschool market has been flooded with quite a few new Charlotte Mason curriculums. After writing about some of my favorites, I was contacted by the author of A Gentle Feast with the offer of writing a review of the full curriculum. I readily agreed (because who doesn’t love free curriculum!), but fully expected to only use it for a few months to honor my commitment of writing a review and then drop it. However, it didn’t turn out that way.

A Gentle Feast Review

A Gentle Feast is the creation of fellow Charlotte Mason homeschool mom, Julie Ross, and she’s done a fabulous job of integrating various resources, books, and parental helps to create a unique offering for the Charlotte Mason homeschooling community. This past year we’ve been using what Julie has labelled the White Year, which has us studying the years from 1650-1800 in both American history and British history along with Greek history. She also divides her curriculum into four forms, a Charlotte Mason term that means levels. Form 1 generally covers grades 1-3, Form 2 covers grades 4-6, Form 3 covers grades 7-9, and Form 4 covers grades 10-12. Since Sophia and Grace were in Form 2 and Form 3 this past year, they both did all three history streams included in the White Year, but Levi, whose only in Form 1, only studied the American history portion. While this all sounds complicated, Julie has done the heavy lifting for you.

Parent Helps

First, A Gentle Feast includes tons of parental helps for both families new to a Charlotte Mason education and to those who have been using Charlotte Mason principles in their homeschools for years. A ninety page ebook of foundational methods and principles is included in a full year curriculum purchase which includes general guidelines for scheduling the curriculum, including options and suggestions for combining forms, tips on narration, a general scope and sequence, and lots more. You also have access to a five day email introduction video course, where Julie walks you through using A Gentle Feast and basic Charlotte Mason ideas, and a private Facebook community and a private online community at the Gentle Feast website where Julie will personally answer your questions and provides extra support material for your year. It truly is a great way to make you feel confident in your purchase and getting the most out of the curriculum.

Lesson Plans and Book Lists

In addition to the general information provided in the parental resources, you receive information specific to each form, and not only the forms you are teaching, but all four forms. By having access to what all four forms are reading and studying, you can truly customize your child’s education to their ability, if needed, by choosing books in a form above or below your child’s actual placement. It also lets you only need to purchase the four years, Green, White, Red, and Blue, and you’ll have a complete curriculum to use throughout your homeschool journey. You also can easily combine forms together by choosing books from the various forms that work for all of your children.

Each form also has their own specific narration tips, which lets you know what to expect at each level, their own book lists, both for the curriculum itself and for free reads on their own time, and a schedule for the entire year for each form. It really is as easy as copy and paste to create your own customized school year using A Gentle Feast as your foundation.

Morning Time Plans

One of my favorite parts of A Gentle Feast are the Morning Time plans (pictured on the right above). Everything is truly included! Bible readings are planned out for you each day along with read alouds, picture study (with the pictures you are studying already included!), composer study (with links to the musical compositions), poetry study, hymns, recitations, and more.

Of course, because I can’t leave anything alone, even a great curriculum like A Gentle Feast, I had to add in some things to our version of Morning Time (aka Power Hour, which is pictured on the left above), such as Liberty’s Kids episodes, a living book study of government, and vocabulary just to name a few. I also added some things from the curriculum into our family learning time that weren’t actually intended for family learning like our British history readings and Form 2’s geography reading.

Morning Time Binder

Because Julie has included everything you need for a successful Morning Time experience, I created a special binder for all of those printouts and resources, so that it’s all contained in one place, which makes our Power Hour totally open and go all year long.

Student Workbooks

While the Morning Time plans are great, the student notebooks that are included with A Gentle Feast are in first place for my favorite part of this curriculum. Every form has one of these notebooks where all copywork and dictation passages, recitations, hymns, poetry, and free writes are kept in one nice neat place. For Form 4, there is even a student planner, customized for the curriculum, included as well. In the new A Gentle Feast 2.0 version (yes, Julie is already making improvements!) of these notebooks, some of the forms in some of the years even have built in grammar or phonics lessons using the copywork, which makes this already user friendly resource even better. It’s so nice to have everything in one location, and I imagine it would be very useful for those of you who homeschool in states where you need a portfolio.

So now let’s talk about some common questions that are usually asked about Charlotte Mason curriculums and see how A Gentle Feast stacks up.

Form I Books

Can I combine kids, so we are all doing the same thing?

Yes, to a point. If you have children in Forms 1 and 2, 2 and 3, or 1 through 3, I think Julie has made it very easy to combine. Since each form has its own spine book for history and science, you could easily choose a spine from one of the forms and use the supplemental reading at each child’s own level. I left Form 4 out of this combining equation because the plans for Form 4 are really expected to be completed independently for the most part. However, the Morning Time plans and afternoon learning are both designed to be done with the entire family through all the forms, so everyone will meet together at least twice a day for sure.

Form II Books

Are the book choices all older books where minorities and women are treated harshly?

I think Julie has done a really great job of balancing older, more established Charlotte Mason books common in CM circles with more current books as well. In the newly updated A Gentle Feast 2.0, she made it a point to go back and include books specifically about minorities and women that show their contributions to American and world history.

Form III Books

What if I don’t have a specific book the curriculum uses, but I have one similar in our home library or there’s one in the public library? Will everything be ruined if I swap out books?

The short answer is no, it won’t. All of my children had book substitutions at various times over the school year and it was not a problem at all. In the case of my oldest in Form 3, we substituted out an entire subject and changed it to fit what she needed for eighth grade. I found the entire curriculum very easy to substitute books or subjects or add in books or subjects without derailing the entire system. Julie even lets you know in the plans if books can be found in the public domain or if they are used for such a short time that you shouldn’t bother buying them, but get them from the library. The only time that substituting a book could prove irritating is when there is a copy work passage in the student workbook that comes from a book you aren’t reading. I used a passage from the book we were using instead, so it wasn’t a problem, but it did take a little work on my part.

I am so absolutely in love with this curriculum that we are definitely continuing to use it. However, there are a few cons I need to mention as well (but knowing Julie she’s already hard at work on some of these).

1) Not super STEM heavy. In true Charlotte Mason fashion, the science plans for upper grades is pretty weak compared to what most college bound kids homeschoolers do for middle grade and high school science. The science is solid, but not super rigorous since in true Charlotte Mason fashion it relies on living books. I think it would be difficult to write a CM curriculum with super rigorous science unless you had a science background yourself which most CM homeschool moms usually do not (oftentimes it’s more literature and history). If you have a kid who eat, breathes, and lives science or wants to pursue a science degree, you might need to be prepared to give them more or substitute that subject out.

2) Lack of formal literature studies. I know, I know, Charlotte Mason didn’t believe in dissecting books and studying them. I don’t either, really, but if you have a child who is planning on continuing their education after graduation, they will need to be familiar with basic literary terms, what they mean, and how to interpret them. While A Gentle Feast does include classic literary works at the high school level, there is no formal study of these books other than just to read them. You will probably want to add in some literature study guides for a couple of these books to make sure your child is familiar with the dissection of literature that occurs in college. On a positive note, Julie does include formal writing lessons (and rubrics to grade them!) in the high school plans which is a breath of fresh air in a Charlotte Mason curriculum.

3) Added in creative writing prompts. Okay, so technically this might be a positive for you and is totally subjective. In the student packets, creative writing prompts are included that are pulled from various subjects being studied. It's a very Brave Writer-ish approach (Free Write Fridays) meshed with CM. We skip over it and use actual writing curriculum in that slot. Mainly because I hated creative writing prompts in school, and my kids don't seem to like them either. However, I do like that she has the kids do more than just narrate or write narrations with what they are learning.

Now for the exciting stuff….

Julie has so graciously offered the readers of The Planted Trees a coupon code for 10% off any purchase at A Gentle Feast that’s good through 6/8/2018. Just enter the code, plantedtrees, at checkout.

Also, make sure to watch my Facebook Live interview with Julie about our year using A Gentle Feast, leave a comment under the video, and be entered to win a free copy of my homeschool devotional book, Revitalize: Breathing Life and Encouragement into Your Homeschool.

And one final offer, leave a comment on this post or on this review post that I shared on The Planted Tree’s Facebook page telling me what you like the most about A Gentle Feast and you’ll be entered to win a $30 gift certificate from Julie toward A Gentle Feast purchase!

Here’s to a gentle 2018-2019 school year!!!



Charlotte Mason Inspired Curriculum Plans and Choices for 2017-2018

To be honest I’m not really sure why I’m writing this list of our curricula for the coming year. I guess because I know how much Charlotte Mason and classical homeschoolers love to look at other people’s book lists! Hurricane Harvey didn’t really do too much to our town, but then a couple of days after he’d left, all of the water he dumped over southeast Texas came roaring down the rivers here in town leaving about 2/3 of the homes and businesses in our small town with flood damage. For a few days there was no way in or out of our town due to all the roads being underwater. Luckily our home was spared, but now the flood waters have gone away for the most part, and our town is busy helping friends and neighbors rebuild their homes and lives. At this point our curriculum plan, at least for the foreseeable future, should be: Disaster Response 101 and Loving Your Neighbor Advanced Level. But since I’m hoping that eventually we’ll get to the plans I’ve put together for our 2017-2018 school year, I’ll share them more as a wish list for the (hopefully) near future then what we are currently studying.

Grace is entering eighth grade this year (cue fainting and panic attacks) and since high school is thundering over the horizon (cue more fainting and panic attacks), I wanted to let her last year of pre-high school work be one of freedom and control over her schooling choices before we start having to count credits next year. You’ll notice that a couple of her subjects look a bit different than the traditional course work. I’m reviewing a new Charlotte Mason curriculum this school year (thanks to the generosity of the author), so most of her content subjects come from that curriculum.

Math: Math-U-See (still working for this math hating kid of mine, so we're still using it!)
Spelling: Apples and Pears (finally finishing this spelling series this year with a one thousand percent improved speller on my hands from when we started)
Writing: Writing with Macbeth at co-op (I'm once again teaching a writing class at our local co-op. It's a high school level writing class centered around Shakespeare's play, Macbeth. The students will be learning how to write literary essays, compare/contrast essays, and a big research paper the second semester just to name a few of the assignments. Grace is a good enough writer I believe she can handle this class as an eighth grader.)
Literature: So I'm not going to lie, this is the one subject I'm most excited about this year. Why? Because Grace wanted to spend the entire year studying fairy tales, so we are. We'll be looking at three modern fairy tale retellings, three modern fairy tale novels, the original Grimm and Perrault tales, examining fairy tales at a deep spiritual, Biblical level, and hopefully having lots of big, juicy conversations about it all. The only catch? Nothing like what I wanted existed, so I had to write it myself from the ground up. Of course she'll also be reading some American historical fiction, nature lore books, and geography novels as well, but our big focus is all things fairy. I'm hoping to drop in every so often here on the blog and let you know how this one is going.
Science: Instead of focusing on one science subject this year, Grace will be doing a different focus each term along with a year long study of trees using Memoria Press' Book of Trees. The first term she'll be studying weather using the living science curriculum from Sabbath Mood Homeschool and Look at the Sky and Tell the Weather by Eric Sloane as a spine. The second term will have a geology focus using The Geology Book as a spine. The third term will be all about chemistry using another living science curriculum from Sabbath Mood Homeschool.
History: Normally, I have two concurrent streams of history going at one time: American and World, but this year Grace wanted to study mythology (one of her favorite things) in lieu of world history. I thought, "Why not?" and so away I went. Luckily I found a good general outline for our study online (and it was free which is even better!), but basically, she will be studying Greek and Roman mythology the first semester and Norse, Arthurian, and Arabian mythology the second semester. All year long she'll also be reading various books containing mythology from around the world. For American history, she'll be roughly studying the period from 1700-1800 which means French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, and the Constitution. 
Foreign Language: Right at the end of last school year Grace decided she wanted to go back and start her French book over again. She felt like she wasn't dedicating enough time to her French studies and wanted a redo with a more focused mindset. She'll be continuing on with Getting Started with French this year.
Personal Bible Study: I decided last year that Grace would no longer be using the Bible Study Guide for All Ages with her siblings, instead she would start her own personal Bible study time. In fact, I waited too long to do this with her. She'll be working through the New Testament workbooks from The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Study by Starr Meade.

Sophia is a fifth grader this year, and she's always super excited about school. It's probably no coincidence that when we loaded her basket for the first term, she had more books to read and study than anyone. Sophia is my one child who is using the Charlotte Mason curriculum I'm reviewing totally as it's written. I know she's going to have a great year.

Math: Math in Focus and Beast Academy (this combination seems to be perfect for my math loving girl!)
Spelling: Apples and Pears Spelling Book B
Grammar: I really wasn't going to have Sophia do grammar this year since we spent a year studying it last year, but I'm teaching a Grammar Fun class at our local co-op, so she'll be in there by default. I think most of it will be review, but it's always better to learn grammar if you're doing it through art and games.
Writing: She's using parts 2 and 3 of Treasured Conversations this year. After that she'll move back to Writing and Rhetoric.
Literature: Both of my girls are spending an hour of their day this year doing nothing but reading some great books. Here's Sophia's list for literature this year: Tales from the Odyssey, D'Aulaire's Greek Myths, Our Little Athenian Cousin from Long Ago, Our Little Spartan Cousin from Long Ago, Christian Liberty Nature Reader 5, Our Earth, Seabird, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, A Long Walk to Water, Caddie Woodlawn, An Ordinary Princess, Sarah, Plain and Tall, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Matilda, and The Children of Green Knowe. We won't do anything super formal with these books, but we will talk about them (a la narrations). 
Science: Sophia's big science focus this year is physics and she's really excited about it. This girl really loves her math and science! Her spine will be The New Way Things Work by David MacCaulay with K'Nex kits and an experiment book thrown in as well. All year long she'll also be studying insects one day a week using Memoria Press' The Book of Insects set.
History: In case, you could't figure it out from her literature list, Sophia will be studying Ancient Greece this year. Her spine book will be The Story of the Greeks by H.A. Grueber. She will also be studying the same time period in history as her older sister, The American Revolution era (1700-1800). Again, she'll be using another Grueber book as her spine, The Story of the Thirteen Colonies.
Foreign Language: I don't know what it is about Sophia, but she loves languages and it's really amazing how well she picks them up. She's about halfway through Getting Started with Spanish, so we'll finish that up this year and we're also adding in Latin for her using Getting Started with Latin. Can you tell I like the Getting Started With series?
Personal Bible Study: I wasn't actually going to purchase anything special for this area for Sophia this year, but she saw me using one of my favorite Bible study tools, a Journible, and decided she wanted one too. I asked her which book of the Bible she'd like to study. I assumed she'd want something like one of the gospels or Genesis, but she wanted to dive headfirst into Romans. Well, alrighty then. Nothing like tackling one of the weightiest books in the entire Bible! Thanks to her constant nagging I bought her a Romans Journible which should be here as soon as mail service starts up again after Harvey.

Out of all my children, I'm most excited to teach first grade for the last time with Levi. Why? I think it's because his first grade year is shaping up to be so different from what I did with his older sisters. I'm really adhering to the less is more philosophy with him. A few well chosen books this year, only five subjects a day, and this boy is ready to go.

Math: Math in Focus (all of my kids start with this math program because it's just so good)
Phonics: Logic of English Foundations (he's finally sounding out words!!!!)
Handwriting: He's finishing Getty-Dubay Italics Book A and then copywork for the rest of the year.
Science: To be honest, this is the one subject I'm most worried about for the coming year. He loves to be read to, but he loves to do as well. I'm hoping our daily time outside will provide the ability for him to do as we read through these great living science books this year: The Wonders of the Jungle by Prince Sarath Ghosh, Wild Life in Woods and Fields by Arabella Buckley, By Pond and River by Arabella Buckley, and Seed Babies by Margaret Morely.
History: As a first grader, history is mainly just an exposure of famous people and stories from American history. We'll start out the year reading through some American tall tales using Mary Pope Osborne's book, American Tall Tales. The rest of the year we'll read selected stories from American Tales Reader by Michael G. Gaunt which tells about famous people from American history all while in a fictional story about a family. I'm pretty certain he's going to love this one!
Geography: Geography is probably my favorite subject, and I love the way this new curriculum teaches something abstract like maps in a very hands on way all while using C.C. Long's Home Geography for Primary Grades as a spine along with some great books like Jenny Goes to Sea and Children of Many Lands.
Literature: Basically this time in Levi's day is devoted to some great children's classics. He's already been poring over these books looking at the pictures and getting excited to hear me read them. This year we'll read: The Beatrix Potter Collection, Just so Stories, The Blue Fairy Book, and Aesop's Fables.

So that's it! Once we get our town back on its feet we'll be diving head first into a great year of Charlotte Mason inspired learning. 

What grade or subject are you most excited about this year?


What to Expect When Homeschooling Middle School

Nothing strikes more fear into the hearts of homeschool parents than realizing that those easy elementary years are behind them and high school looms ahead. Suddenly they find themselves teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth grades and realizing that a different child has appeared in their house. How do you teach this person? How do you prepare them for high school? How do you deal with all the challenges that middle school brings for you and your child? Let’s start by looking at what to expect from your child during these years.

What to Expect When Homeschooling Middle School
1. Hormones
So this might be obvious, but do not underestimate the power of these body chemicals to affect your homeschool day. Of course every teen is different, so for some this will have more of an impact than others. I know that in our home it’s been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Days, hours, minutes of relative calm followed by a sudden 180 degree turn of tears, frustration, anger, or sullenness.  Needless to say, it makes homeschooling interesting.

2. Social Needs
The summer before Grace started sixth grade she came to me asking for more social interaction with her peers, specifically in a learning environment. I scrambled around and found a co-op that fit our family and our budget. From talking to other homeschool parents, her request coinciding with entering middle school is not unusual. Playdates at the park with friends, one extracurricular activity, and being home with siblings and parents was no longer enough. As a caveat, my daughter is naturally an extrovert, but this need is commonly felt among most kids this age. An introvert might express this differently, but this natural gravitation toward peers is totally normal.

3. Physical Growth
Considering that my thirteen year old daughter is only an inch shorter than my height of 5’10”, I can attest that these years are a time of great physical growth. A teen’s body changes more than any other time in life other than infancy. All that growing means teens and tweens need more food and sleep than usual. Those homeschool days of up and at ’em with the dawn will probably come to a screeching halt as your middle school student needs more rest. Snack time will definitely become an important part of the day as well. The increased sleeping and revolving door of your kitchen inevitably causes changes in how your homeschool functions.

4. Need to Feel Connected
Children who enter middle school not only need social interaction, but they need to feel connected to the world around them. They want to be needed. They want to find their niche. What do I enjoy? What am I good at? What role do I play in my family? Where do I fit in my circle of friends? How do I contribute to my faith and place of worship in a meaningful way? Navigating these questions is a rite of passage for middle schoolers whether they realize it or not. It allows them to define themselves and create a network for future independence.

5. Mental Growth
Not only do our children grow physically,  but their mental processes take a leap as well. They begin to think deeply about events and decisions. As neo-classical homeschoolers label it, they have entered the dialectic stage, where children move from fact acquisition to exploring the deeper nuances of historical events, scientific discoveries, literary characters and plots, and the moral implications of all of the above. They start to question everything! I even find my thirteen year old critiquing my parenting decisions, “When I’m a mom, I won’t do XYZ.” By the way, I’m writing these down and can’t wait to bring them up again. Bwahaha.

6. Straddling Between Childhood and Adulthood
When I tell people that I used to teach eighth grade, they usually look at me in sympathy. Once I explain that I loved teaching that age, then they look at me in shock. I explain that I love middle school kids because they have enough adult in them to be independent, but enough child in them that they like to play games and be goofy. Having one foot in childhood and one foot in adulthood is a good way to describe this age. It’s this transitioning between two worlds that gives middle school children the reputation of having smart mouths and being sassy to parents and adults. The are trying to navigate this new maturity in mind and body, but they still have childish tendencies at times.

So what do these six things mean for your homeschool? That’s the question I will address in the next post about how to specifically deal with these issues in your homeschool. A quick answer, though, is that your involvement as the parent and teacher is paramount at this age. They need you more than ever and you will need patience, understanding, and a lot of chocolate.

What has been your experience when homeschooling a middle schooler?