Reflections on our Year with Mason’s Alveary by CMI

I brought this over from my other site because there was so much interest in it… It is not part of my pondering about the volumes, just our experience with this particular curriculum.

Some of you will remember that last year, about this time I went to the UK for a conference given by a group I knew little about: The Charlotte Mason Institute. It was  held in Ambleside, England which is where CM had her training college and school and I could not resist the urge to go over and wander where Charlotte did and hear some amazing speakers who were, shall we say, getting along in years…As we live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean,  I fully expected to hear my husband say, “Are you out of your mind? Do you know how expensive that will be?”  I was pretty surprised to hear him say, “Sure! but you know it will just be you going, right?”  Hmmm… I prefer to have traveling companions and I invited many to go with me but all declined. Still I wanted to go and if it had to be alone… so be it. That’s how bad I wanted this.

I was not disappointed. I did go, had a lovely time and completely fell in love with CMI and the people who attended the conference. I am a pretty strong introvert and yet I felt energized being around them.  I did not feel the need to withdraw after  a couple of hours around them–I couldn’t get enough! Ok one time I needed a ten minute “retreat” but that’s astounding for me.  So when I found out last July that CMI had developed a curriculum and were looking for people to pilot it–I was beyond excited. Again I expected my husband to balk at turning on a dime to do this (we were currently using a free curriculum) but he wholeheartedly supported me. So began our year. [Oh and if you’re wondering, an Alveary is a beehive, which was the name CM used for her lab school on the premises of her teacher’s college.]

What I loved about our first two twelve-week terms with the Alveary (we start our last term on Monday) was having the schedule done for me, taking the guesswork and expense out of finding living books, (never mind countless hours of research), and the sense of community in our Facebook group. True I had met some of the people in the UK but the others I had not met were equally sweet and like-minded. I don’t believe I have found one person I found abrasive. I also relished the training opportunities. Because I live in Hawaii and am 3-6 hours away from mainland time, having the numerous webinars recorded allowed me to watch them at my leisure.  I’m still hoping to attend one live eventually! And then there are those things I just would not do if I didn’t have someone to hold my hand–like Sol-fa lessons.  The Alveary started off rough here with a sweet lady who offered to help design lessons but had an illness in the family. But someone else felt led to step up and things are running very smoothly.  She even has live online lessons for those who don’t have to get up at 6 AM to do them:)  I watch them later and they are fabulous and most importantly, we are getting it done–together! Did I mention I am just in love with these people? Such camaraderie!

 But the struggle is real. During the same time period it was initially bumpy. Foremost was the technicality of getting my schedule set up/formatting. Probably a trouble you’d expect being part of a pilot group.  It is not a paper schedule that comes to you in the mail. You have to create a spreadsheet.  If I hadn’t had a tech savvy husband (who seriously has a hobby of making spreadsheets), this might have been a deal breaker for me.  I say might because I know that admin was making every effort to work with the technically challenged so perhaps I could have muddled through but because of Dh, I didn’t have to take them up on this. Currently they two options for scheduling: one is by week and one by subject.  It’s always nice to have options.

Additionally though we loved most of the books, I did not love all of them. One author in particular I really struggled with but with my team of friends I came up with other options. Some books are harder than others but again that is to be expected. We tried Pilgrim’s Progress in the original language for a full term and then switched to the modern version, which the Alveary  recommended for those in my circumstances. I didn’t love the math choices, but again that is not the fault of CMI as there are not many true to CM math curricula out there. I can think of one, actually and it’s still somewhat in development.  Sloyd (pronounced slade) is the Swedish word for craft and we have been working on something called paper sloyd which involves a lot of measuring,cutting and folding. Did I mentioned I failed cutting in Kindergarten? And that my husband says I have spatial issues?  I started off really disliking this and then somehow, sweetly convinced Dh to take it over and teach me too (most of the time)… so now I’m actually enjoying it (almost)! And Dh sees the value in it too.  Recently he said to me, “You know that thing with the funny name we do (he refuses to call it Sloyd), A. really needs that!”  I think he was implying my son had my lack of spatial skills but I’m going to overlook that…because I’m so grateful he’s been willing to step up to the plate here as well as in sewing…You’re the best babe!

And then there was drawing and painting.  Yuck!  A whole new paragraph to devote to the fact that I really detest drawing and painting (dry brushing they call it) because… well I really stink at it.  And my son, well, he’s not very comfortable with it either. Hmm… could he be feeding off my attitude?? But even though we do not do it as often as we should, we are improving. Probably A. more than me because I make him do it  while I’m sitting on Facebook…. Ahem.  Yes I will improve in that area this next term…A lady at the conference in the UK told me that it was not about a beautiful work of art but about forming relationships.  At the time I thought–whatever.  I want it to look good!  But now I see she was right. It is about forming relationships, about appreciating the work of God through admiring and taking the time to notice His creation by careful observation.

Along those same lines, there is this thing called nature study and it was another area at which I did not excel.  This is part of the drawing/dry brushing domain because drawing these creatures/plants is a way to study them. But there is more to nature study–journaling and careful observation.  It requires a copious amount of time spent outside. CM suggested that school age children spend no less than three hours a day outside.  A lofty aspiration! And though we fall dismally short, we are outside more and you know what my son is excited about birds! And I’m excited about birds–they are actually like my friends and I notice them and their songs in ways I never did before. I pore over field guides just to identify them so I can call them by name. We take nature walks though it’s usually just around the neighborhood.  And I share my findings with my group, my team, my peeps! And they are thrilled and amazed with  me….

So you see, everything that has happened this year, has been a blessing. Even the negatives have turned into things I am starting to enjoy.  The Alveary has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and discover new things about myself and my family. It shouldn’t really surprise me at all because my whole relationship with CMI is birthed in stepping outside of myself–putting my fears aside for a greater cause. A year ago, I traveled over 7,000 miles by myself to attend a conference in the “Mecca” of CM -world. It’s true that after I arrived in Manchester after 22 hours of travel, that I cried. I sobbed. For hours. But the next day I got on the train to Windermere, took a taxi to Ambleside (and remain friends with the cabbie’s wife, a homeschooling mum, to this day) and met a whole group of new friends. New family. A new life.

So while it might sound kind of corny or overly dramatic to an outsider, I assure you that this is about  so much more than which books you need to use or which math program will propel your child into a top-notch engineering school.  It’s about relationships that make life so much richer and meaningful. It’s about knowing God and loving others and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us all things, because well, that’s His job.  It relieves so much pressure from the mom/teacher’s shoulders when you finally realize you can’t make your child learn anything. It’s not your job. It’s our job to learn with them by reading the best books: spreading a glorious feast of literature and nature and beauty. And then to step out of the way and allow the Spirit to work.

That’s what I got out of my year with the Alveary.  Priceless.

Now if I can just figure out a way to make that Folkdancing thing happen….

 

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