Aside: I use the term spine in this blog, so I have been thinking about it as it is often used in modern Charlotte Mason speak. For example, a history spine would be the main book you would use for history, though there might be other side books you use in conjunction with it. With a simple search of Mason’s Volumes, though, I do not find the word spine used in this way. Perhaps a more thorough search of Parents’ Review articles or other vintage CM publications could reveal something else. Until then I will take the term as modern but also widely accepted in the CM community.
Last week I wrote about planning for the new school year. This week I share more about choosing a curriculum spine.
A spine. We all have one, and, when functioning optimally, our spines are a blessing to us. When they are damaged and not working properly, though every bit as vital, our spines become a major source of pain. So whether helping or hurting, what should our spine be doing? I like this short list of functions.
Functions of the Spine1
The three main functions of the spine are to:
- Protect the spinal cord, nerve roots and several of the body’s internal organs.
- Provide structural support and balance to maintain an upright posture.
- Enable flexible motion.
This is what I want my choice of a Charlotte Mason curriculum to do: to serve as a healthy spine which will protect, provide support and balance, and enable flexibility.
Protection comes through a curriculum which is faithful to Charlotte Mason’s philosophies and methods. The curriculum does not need to be faithful to the programmes, time tables, or books but rather faithful to those ideas which undergird them. Modern and innovative interpretations under the umbrella of philosophy and method are healthy and needed. Charlotte Mason herself welcomed new ideas founded on solid principles. One simple example would be the Book of Centuries.2, 3
In evaluating a curriculum, it is best is to be familiar with Charlotte Mason’s philosophies and methods yourself by reading her Volumes. If this is not possible, make the best decision you can by reading reviews, talking to friends, and joining Charlotte Mason forums. Then commit to the self education of reading the Volumes so you can reevaluate as you progress over the years.
Provide Support and Balance
Support and balance should come primarily through the creators of the curriculum. They need to be available to answer questions and provide the steadying hand to keep you in balance and moving forward. Are they answering questions about the curriculum before you commit? How do they respond to questions once you have begun?
Support and balance can also come through your friends and peers who have chosen to use the same curriculum. Many of the curricula have Facebook pages and forums. There are some you can freely join and others you may only be part of if you purchase the associated curriculum. As you join these groups, evaluate how helpful and encouraging they are to you. When you spend time with them, are you receiving support and balance or are you feeling defeated?
Flexibility in a curriculum comes in several ways. First, the curriculum should be designed in such a way that it is easy to make adaptions based on your own personal needs. Second, you should be able to find support from the creators of the curriculum and the current users in helping you to make these adaptions. When you identify an area which needs to change, are adaptions easy to make or are you left feeling like you will snap?
Some of these questions will be hard to answer before you actually begin to use a curriculum, but they are things to keep in mind as you evaluate if your choice of a spine is functioning well or is a source of pain. Thankfully, there are many good CM curricula available, and you should be able to find the right one for your family’s needs.
1. Colorado Comprehensive Spine Institute, Understanding Spinal Anatomy: Overview of the Spine
2. Bernau, G. M.. The Book of Centuries. Parents’ Review Volume 34 1923 pgs.720-724
3. Mason, Charlotte. Philosophy of Education. p. 175