A Gentle Feast™ is a flexible, Charlotte-Mason based curriculum designed for Christian families that encourages you to work as a family as much as possible. Using a mixture of living books and educational resources plus online sources and the materials provided in the Gentle Feast courses, you will have a curriculum that can be used for everything except math for grades one through twelve. A Gentle Feast provides complete lesson plans along with a significant amount of lesson material, but you will still need to purchase or borrow quite a few books. A Gentle Feast materials are sold either as online resources (with lifetime access, PDF files, or printed books.
A Gentle Feast is presented in Forms I, II, III, and IV. Form I covers grades one through three. Form II is best for grades four through six. Form III is for grades seven through nine, and Form IV will suit grades ten through twelve.
In addition, you select from a primary concentration in four historical eras:
- Cycle 1 - Columbus, Conquests, and Colonies (American and British history from 1000 to 1650 plus early ancient civilizations and the Egyptians)
- Cycle 2 - Wars, Whigs, and Washington (American and British history from 1650 to 1803 plus Ancient Greece)
- Cycle 3 - Reforms, Revolutions, and Reconstructions (American, British, and World history from around 1800 to 1900 plus Ancient Rome)
- Cycle 4 - Modern Times (American, British, and World history from 1900 to the present plus the early Middle Ages)
For teaching more than one child, you should first select the cycle, then select the form or forms so that you are at least covering similar topics each year. If you have children close enough in age to work in the same form, that will certainly be the most efficient option. It is expected that you will work through the four cycles more than once. So a student might be in Form I the first time through Cycle 1. Four years later, they will repeat Cycle 1, but in either Form II or III. While the Morning Time Packet described below remains the same for all ages, the assigned books and other work will be quite different for each Form.
For each cycle, there is one Morning Time packet and one teacher's manual for all forms. You will also need to choose the correct student language arts packet for each student.
Throughout A Gentle Feast, the flow of activities happens in blocks following an analogy for a feast. Morning Time, the appetizer, begins every school day. Language Arts is considered the soup and salad. The Academic Block is considered the main course. Dessert for your educational feast consists of weekly add-ons from nature study, “poetry tea time,” handicrafts, drawing, and read-alouds.
The Morning Time packet is used with the entire family, ideally first thing in the morning. This consists of Bible reading, Bible memory verses, and prayer time plus rotating activities from the “Beauty Loop” for hymn studies, poetry study, recitation, picture studies, composer studies, classical music studies, and read-alouds (fables, hero tales, and classic literature). Some subjects such as those within the Beauty Loop should actually loop which means that you will start with the first topic on the list and working through topics sequentially. If you miss a day or run short on time, you just pick up from wherever you are in the loop. Poems, hymn lyrics, images of artworks, and recitation material are all included in your packet. Biographies on artists and musicians as well as playlists are accessible through the online resources. Many of the items in the Morning Packet are linked to the time period being studied in that cycle's program.
Along with your Morning Time packets, you will need Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories by Robert Morgan which is used for every cycle. You will also need to obtain one of the four read-aloud books for each cycle.
Student language arts packets coordinate with the cycle and the form (I through IV). Packets for the first two forms offer your choice of versions with either cursive or printed fonts. Students will use pages in these packets to complete much of their written work. Literature is covered in the Academic Block. If you have children in the primary grades,
During the Language Arts period, students work on phonics (for younger students), grammar, and composition. Spelling is taught indirectly through copywork and dictation. (Beginning readers might use 100 Gentle Lessons in Sight and Sound rather than a language arts packet.)
Form I teaches beginning grammar concepts and phonics review. Form II also teaches grammar, but then for Form III, grammar is included within the packets for only Cycles 1 and 4. Form III, Cycles 2 and 3 schedule lessons from a supplementary grammar book. Also within these packets are Scripture memory verses, hymn lyrics, poems for recitation, copywork passages (from the read-aloud books for the entire family), space to write dictation passages, creative writing assignments, and drawing assignments (in Forms I and II).
Student packets do not stand alone but are entirely dependent upon the teacher lesson books as to how and when to use them. The teaching methodology is explained in the first part of each teacher's manual so, for example, this is where you can learn how to implement Charlotte Mason’s narration technique,
During the Academic Block, students will work on natural history, geography, history, math, foreign language, singing, and either play or “Swedish Drill”—a form of physical education used by Charlotte Mason. Science is added in Forms II and above. Most of these subjects will rotate every other day.
History coverage is unusual since it is not presented chronologically. In addition, both American and British history receive more attention than world history. Author Julie Ross decided upon this approach as being most consistent with that of Charlotte Mason. (In Mason’s case, the emphasis was primarily upon British history.) Charlotte Mason was not concerned with trying to cover all the details of history. She believed that children should first learn about their own country and do so through stories that make historical characters come alive to them. She also believed that using a story approach using living books would stimulate an interest in history.
Foreign language lesson plans for French and Spanish can be used beginning with Form I if you wish. Latin lesson plans can be used with students from about sixth grade and above. Those lesson plans are in the online resources.
Dessert consists of lessons and activities for nature study, “poetry tea time,” handicrafts, drawing, and read-alouds. Forms II and above add the study of Shakespeare and Plutarch. Ross suggests a weekly rotation through the dessert activities with read-alouds sometimes doubling up with drawing activities or handicrafts.
Teacher's manuals are the mainstay of the curriculum. Even if you purchase the printed version, you also get access to the online resources which include the teacher's manual in a different format along with other essential resources.
The teacher's manuals explain how the curriculum works and lay out lesson plans for three terms of 12 weeks each for a total of 36 weeks. Weekly lesson plans are presented in chart form showing daily assignments. Parents can adapt these as needed using editable charts in the online resources. For most subjects, the entries are brief, such as "Read Birds of the Air Ch. 2, use Youtube to look up bird songs for birds in your area" (p. 39, Cycle 1 Teacher's Manual).
You will need many resources in addition to the teacher's manual, Morning Time packet, and student language arts packet. When you purchase a program, you immediately get access to an extensive booklist file with hyperlinks to sources for everything that is listed. Required resources are mentioned in the lesson plans the weeks they are used, but you will need the booklist to have a succinct list of all that you might need. While the booklists show what books you might need (including some available are free online), they also list occasional kits, videos, and other items. For example, for Form II of Cycle 2, some of the required resources are Tales of Troy and Greece by Andrew Lang, Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, Famous Men of Greece by John Haaren, American Hero Stories by Eva March Tappan, The Ben Franklin Book of Easy and Incredible Experiments by Franklin Institute Science Museum, and Junior Science Book of Rain, Hail, Sleet, and Snow by Nancy Larrick. Notice that historical fiction is widely used in these courses as you would expect of a Charlotte Mason curriculum.
Parents are encouraged to adapt or change lesson plans to suit their needs, especially which hands-on activities and outings you will do. This makes the program very flexible. In the teacher's manuals, Ross quotes Charlotte Mason regarding scheduling. Mason encourages parents to keep lessons short, alternate the types of lessons and activities to keep from losing students’ attention, and make sure that children have plenty of free time each day (preferably spent outdoors). So, in keeping with Charlotte Mason's philosophy, the entire program should leave plenty of free time each day for both parent and children.
A Gentle Feast makes it easy to implement a Charlotte Mason program while maintaining a sense of order and progress in your curriculum. It does a fine job of helping you develop a manageable flow to your curriculum while ensuring that your schedule includes time for learning the Bible, learning to appreciate and love good literature, and developing an appreciation for beauty through the arts and nature.
A Gentle Feast purchasers receive a free "Introduction Course" and access to a membership page for that cycle. Links to the lesson plans, resources, and schedules on that page make it easy to use A Gentle Feast.