Posted in Among The Homeschool, On The Reading Chair

A Gentle Feast- Full Review

This year, I deviated from my usual homeschool planning. Being in school full-time and trying to homeschool 5 kids, I didn’t have the time to put into planning my own curriculum out like I usually do. So, I turned to A Gentle Feast.

I initally chose A Gentle Feast because it has four cycles, where each child is working at their grade level within each cycle. That is a very familiar form for me, as I have always done a four-year history cycle with everyone on the same page. I opted to implement A Gentle Feast fully, using it for Morning Time, Core Subjects, and Langauage Arts. This program is one where you can just add math.

If you’re new to Charlotte Mason, A Gentle Feast offers a lot of guidance along the way to help you implement the philosophies. There are scheduling helps, including how to schedule for a 4 or 5 day school week. For the Children’s Sake is a good book to help you understand the philosophy of a Charlotte Mason education, as well.

A Gentle Feast uses forms instead of grades. Grades 1-3 are in form 1. Grades 4-6 are in form 2. Grades 7-9 are in form 3. And grades 10-12 are in form 4. With A Gentle Feast, you get all forms in your purchase of the main curriculum. So, if you look at your 5th grader’s history book and think, “This is way too difficult.” You have the option to look at the form under the one they are currently in and swap in that book instead. If you look and think, “This is way too easy.” You can easily move up a form. Additionally, buying 4 cycles is buying an entire 12 years of education. So, let’s say Little Jimmy is starting in 1st grade. In 1st grade, you buy Cycle 1. LJ does Cyle 1 Form 1. The next year, LJ is in 2nd grade. You buy Cyle 2 and do form 1. The next year, LJ moves to Cycle 3, form 1. The following year, LJ moves on to Cycle 4, form 2. The next year, you don’t buy curriculum. LJ goes back to Cycle 1 and does form 2. Each cycle has plans for grades 1-12, so once you’ve purchased all 4 cycles, you don’t have to buy more.

I really love the Bible memory portion of Morning Time. It isn’t something we’d added to our Morning Time, and I certainly didn’t think to add big chunks of passages to learn over a term instead of a single verse here and there. I wasn’t sure my kids could handle it, but it turns out they are masters of memory, especially the younger ones.

We have also really enjoyed poetry memorization. I was surprised at how well they memorized poems and how much they seem to enjoy it. Even Daisy, who is 2, memorized a poem in the first term.

I also really like that the program in literature based. I’ve been utilizing literature to build up our education in the home for years, so it is something I’ve grown to love incorporating into our learning.

When you buy A Gentle Feast, you can choose to get a printed teacher’s manual (which is what the pictures are from) in addition to the online resources or you can opt for the online resources only. The printed manual is pretty and makes organization easy, but it isn’t as all encompassing as I would like and you still have to utilize the online resources. The online resources aren’t organized in the best way, often using Google Documents instead of PDFs, which I find to be more time consuming and less user friendly. As a whole, it could be much more user friendly and better organized. You’ll get all the information you need by purchasing the print or digital option, but you’ll need to spend some time navigating and putting it all together.

Now, I have several complaints about A Gentle Feast, which I will outline in detail so that you can see if it’d be an issue for you. A Gentle Feast has many users and it works beautifully for many families. It is working for my family. It isn’t that it isn’t functional. It is. I just have some issues that will likely be the reason I choose to go back to compiling my own curriculum next school year.

Morning Time

My issues with Morning Time are really a matter of preference. I like to have all my kids together for Morning Time. While I love the addition of Bible Memory and poetry memorization, I’ve disliked some of the other portions.

Each form has different recommendations for Morning Time. To keep everyone together, we’ve been utilizing the books from all the forms. For example, in term 1 of cycle 1, younger students are reading one of Aesop’s fables each week. Form 2 students are reading a Norse myth once a week. Form 3 students are reading Shakespeare once a week. Form 4 are reading a different book once a week. To keep everyone together for Morning Time, we read one form’s suggested reading each day. The result is that we’re never really making much progress in any of them, but we are hitting all of them each week.

I also really liked the balance we had going in our Morning Time and feel like we’ve lost balance with A Gentle Feast. Morning Time just isn’t flowing as well as it has before, and I can’t quite put my finger on anything other than we’ve spread very thin and there is little cohesion day-to-day.

Language Arts

The Language Arts portion of A Gentle Feast goes along with the readings from other portions of the feast. If you’re skipping Morning Time, History, or Literature, the Language Arts packet will have content that is foreign for your child. I really liked this aspect of the Language Arts program and chose it for that reason. However, the excerpts aren’t always aligned with their reading. So, they may have an excerpt from a book they’ll be reading in a couple months or one they finished weeks ago. I don’t know why it doesn’t all align with their weekly reading.

Additionally, I don’t think there is enough grammar instruction in the Language Arts packets. Charlotte Mason is typically light on grammar, but I tend to find myself somewhere between Charlotte Mason and classical education (even though many will say Charlotte Mason is classical, there are clear differences), so this falls a bit short for me. There also isn’t a lot of writing. That might be wonderful to hear for some people. My older kids do all their narrations for each subject in writing, so they are getting writing practice in somewhere. I would say this program is grammar and writing light. There is a little of each, probably enough for most people’s taste, but it was a definite step back in difficulty and comprehensiveness for my kids. My kids have had more comprehensive grammar instruction, so the light review has been fine for them for this year, but I wouldn’t want that every year.

For the youngest kids, there is 100 Gentle Lessons for both reading and handwriting. I find both to be significantly lacking. The handwriting moves so slowly and offers no variety or interest. The reading is just a disjointed mess. My kids have had such a hard time following along and staying engaged. I ended up switching them back to An Ordinary Parents Guide to Reading, as it just does a better job at teaching the basics.

The handwriting isn’t really necessary if you’re using the Language Arts pack. There is weekly copywork included there, so they get plenty of writing practice. Also, if you’re using the student pages for Exploring Nature with Children (which is part of the receommended curriculum for A Gentle Feast), there is copywork available there, as well.

History

This is my main issue with A Gentle Feast. In classical education, history rotates through a chornological cycle. Charlotte Mason taught an individual out history model. Instead of starting history at the beginning, you start with the child. So, A Gentle Feast has American history (or Canadian history) as the four-year history cyle. Form 1, which is grades 1-3, only has American history. Form 2, grades 4-6, add in British history alongside American history. Form 3 and 4, grades 7-12, also have Ancient history along with British and American history. This has been so confusing and scattered. So, even though my kids are all on the same cycle, they are not on the same history schedule.

Additionally, there is no history spine. You just skip from book to book, but there is nothing really tying it all together or keeping the path clear. Keeping a Book of Centuries is a necessary component because without it, the kids would have no clue where everything fits together. I just find that I prefer a classical chronological history rotation over the haphazardness of this history method. That is a completely personal preference.

Geography isn’t tied into history at all in this program. It stands on its own and kids work through their geography work as a completely seperate subject. My kids have been doing fine with geography. There is nothing wrong with how it is done, I just prefer more tie-ins between subjects and tying history to geography is so easy.

Literature

The literature readings have been very hit or miss for my kids. I like to tie history into literature, and while there is some of that in this program, it isn’t as merged as I usually make it. There is nothing wrong with the book selections in A Gentle Feast, I think I’d just prefer to choose my own. And while you can do that with this program, just input what you want where you want, you’ll disjoint Language Arts even further by doing that. And why buy a comprehensive curriculum if you’re going to tweak it in the big areas anyway?

Science

This program is really weak in science. Using living books is very hard to create a science program that is deep and interesting. Form 1 has no science other than nature study. That is fine with me as our nature study tends to be pretty deep, especially for the younger kids who have lots of questions. It isn’t that I love textbooks, but using living books for science with no spine is quite difficult to get a decent depth. I also like to keep everyone moving together through science, which isn’t possible with this program. The upper level science plans utilize Sabbath Mood curriculum, so this isn’t included in your purchase of A Gentle Feast.

Nature Study

Forms 1 and 2 utilize Exploring Nature with Children curriculum in their Nature Study. I was already utilizing this resource before beginning A Gentle Feast and I really like it. I do not like the alternative plan A Gentle Feast uses for Exploring Nature with Children and stick to the original plan.

Another complaint of mine falls in this category. Instead of reading one book, form 1 are splitting between two unrelated books each week, making it difficult for the little guys to really keep track. They learn about small mammals one day and birds on another. I would prefer to read each book quicker, rather than adding more unrelated content onto the table each week. I’d rather stick to small mammals for half the term and then move onto birds for the other half of the term. This curriculum just spreads the net too wide and too shallow, especially for the younger kids. I constantly feel the need to supplement for the younger ones because I don’t think the curriculum provides as adequate coverage of anything. I feel like it is just spread thin in an attempt to be gentle. I’m all for young kids being exposed to nature, science, and history and not forced into the world of facts. I just felt that with so much jumping around, a lot of the interest and wonder was lost.

Older forms have a single book for Nature Study, but only read it once a week since they are also involved in other science learning. I have been pleased with the book choices for the older forms.

Citizenship

I have always called this “character” and have typically included it in Morning Time. Form 1 have no lessons in this subject. I did swap out the Form 3 Charlotte Mason reading for something that they would find more interesting. I have a hard time slogging through Charlotte Mason’s writings and my 8th graders were having a hard time with it, as well. I usually make them keep at hard books, but I really couldn’t blame them on this one. We swapped it out for The Great Divorce, which they both loved and got a lot more out of. My form 2 student has loved the reading option for his citizenship and says it is his favorite book of the program so far.

Extras

There is no math included in A Gentle Feast. There are suggestions, but it is ultimately up to you what you do for math.

There are languages and singing lessons for A Gentle Feast. There are Spanish, French, Latin, and German options for languages. I opted for Rosetta Stone instead. My form 1 kids have been using the book suggestions for learning French, but my older kids have been using Rosetta Stone and really enjoying it.

There are drawing and art lessons, as well. We haven’t utilized those since I include watercolor painting in our Nature Study. My older kids also like to use Skillshare to learn art skills that interest them. We’ve been really happy with that, so we have stuck to Skillshare and Nature Study instead of utilizing the art lessons from A Gentle Feast.

Prep Time

I have been able to make A Gentle Feast largely independent for my older kids. I do Morning Time and Tea Time at the same time to keep my afternoons open for working on my own school work. My younger kids are finished very quickly, as there isn’t much to do for them in this program. My older kids do all their work outside of Morning Time independently and keep a narration notebook where they write their narrations for each subject down instead of telling me orally. Even if I had the time to listen to their oral narrations, this program is so light on writing that I think I’d still prefer written narrations.

Overall, this curriculum has been a big step back from our usual education. I’m not sure I’d call it gentle, I think light and spread thin describes it more accurately. For some people, this would be absolutely ideal. I just happen to lean a bit more toward the classical side and need a little bit more than this curriculum offers.

Additionally, this program was pretty expensive for me to implement. Now, there are ways to make it more afforable. Many of the books can be found on Scribd or in your local library. You absolutely don’t have to buy every single book. Some of the books are hard to find. Like most Charloote Mason programs, there aren’t a lot of new books suggested.

Overall, this is a good program, despite my plethora of complaints. It is a usable program that we’ve been successfully using during a very busy time in our lives with minimal modifications. The curriculum does work. I’m glad we have it for this year, even if I do plan to go back to creating my own curriculum next year. A Gentle Feast allowed me to take a step back and still have the kids’ education pretty well handled. It is similar enough to what they are used to that there was no big transition. There are aspects of A Gentle Feast that I will be adding to our own currilum next year, including written narrations, Bible memory, and poetry memorization.

The only part of A Gentle Feast I’d flat out not recommend is their 100 Gentle Lessons reading and handwriting programs. That has been the only complete flop of the program for us. Everything else is worth getting if you’re looking for things to be done for you. If you’re used to a box curriculum but want to switch to a Charlotte Mason method, this is a great option.

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Posted in Among The Homeschool

2017-2018 at Godbold Academy

I’m finally mostly planned out for this coming school year. I usually don’t do quite so much pre-planning, but I’m having a baby late October/early November, so I figured I should plan out all I could in advance. A couple new things for us this year: First, I planned in terms instead of just all year. 5 terms total. Three 12 weeks terms, an Advent term, and then a summer term. The kids have been begging me for a more traditional summer, so I have taken their request and we made a compromise. (We usually do year round school.) They will still be completing their third term after the local schools get out. But then they get an actual summer term, which will mostly just consist of each of them having a required reading list. The other new to us thing is the Morning Basket. It is a Charlotte Mason homeschooler thing, but I have adapted it a bit for our more classical methods. More about that if you click the Morning Basket link below.

I did look into switching from The Well Trained Mind to Ambelside this year. I love a lot of things about Ambelside, but ultimately felt The Well Trained Mind is still a better fit for our family. I did look over the Ambelside reading lists for the corresponding years of history and picked a few of those suggestions that I thought might be a good fit for my crew. The Well Trained Mind is really adaptable on a child by child, family by family basis. You have a wide variety of ways the method is really done and worked out in families. We’ve used it from the beginning of our homeschool journey. (This is our 8th homeschooling year.) I’m always tempted by other things, but ultimately decide every year to stick with The Well Trained Mind. It just fits us best.

This year, I am homeschooling 5 kids. One of those is an optional one who is currently opting in. (“School” in our house is optional until you are 6 years old.) Grade levels also get a little mixed when you’re talking about homeschool, especially when you’re not just using a box curriculum. Kids tend to move at their own pace and advance quicker in some areas than others. I kind of average out their level and that is what grade the kid says they are in, since “What grade are you in?” Isn’t usually meant to be answered with, “Well, I have the vocabulary of a high school sophomore, but in math, I’m around grade 6. In literature, we read higher level books than our ages would suggest. And in Grammar, I am on grade level.” People usually expect something more like, “I’m a sixth grader.” Believe me, getting testing scores back for homeschoolers learning in non-traditional methods is quite amusing as they may very well likely place in every single grade in something. But on the average, this year I have a preschooler, a first grader, a fourth grader, and two sixth graders.

This year should prove to be a bit of a challenge for each of them as I am realizing they can do some pretty hard things. They are typically limited by the challenges, or lack there of, that I give them. We are not doing Latin this year, though that is a typical classical homeschooler subject. We are incorporating it a little in their vocabulary studies. We are also leaving out handwriting for the time being. They have a lot of writing to do, so I am not too convinced a full handwriting course is really necessary this year. If I change my mind, I can always add it in for Term 2 or 3 or even the Summer Term.

To save us from an infinitely long post, click on the links to the individual parts of our school year below.

Morning Basket

First Grade

Fourth Grade

Sixth Grade

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