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, online sources, the materials provided in the A Gentle Feast (AGF) courses, and other educational resources, you will have a curriculum that can be used for everything except math for grades one through twelve. AGF 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. The main AGF course material is provided online as a suite of resources (with lifetime access), and additional resources are available as PDF files or printed books.
AGF 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. For each cycle, there are lesson plans for three terms of 12 weeks each for a total of 36 weeks per year. 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 are three optional items that you should seriously consider adding: a Morning Time packet, a Teacher Planner, and a student language arts packet for each student.
Throughout AGF, 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 supplemental activities and read-aloud books.
Required resources are mentioned in the lesson plans the weeks they are used (both in the online lesson plans and in the optional Teacher Planners described below), but you also need the booklist file to have succinct lists of all that you need. (When you purchase a program, you immediately get access to the extensive booklist file with hyperlinks to sources for everything that is listed.) While the booklist file shows what books you might need (including some available free online), it also lists 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.
The online resources for each cycle as well as the optional Teacher Planners explain Charlotte Mason's educational approach. For, this is where you can learn how to implement Charlotte Mason’s narration technique for language arts.
Parents are encouraged to adapt or change lesson plans to suit their needs, especially the hands-on activities and outings you will use. This makes the program very flexible. Ross refers to Charlotte Mason's ideas regarding scheduling. Mason encourages parents to keep lessons short, to alternate the types of lessons and activities to keep from losing students’ attention, and to 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 leaves plenty of free time each day for both parents and children.
The Morning Time packet can be used with the entire family, ideally first thing in the morning. While it is not required, it fits in beautifully for those who want to cover other subjects like Bible, art, and literature in a Charlotte Mason style. The Morning Time packet 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-aloud books (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 work 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.
AGF recommends using the student language arts packets in conjunction with the main curriculum, especially in the older forms where composition assignments coordinate with the literature and history. The 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.
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 within AGF, but Form III schedules lessons from Analytical Grammar. 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).
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 of 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 (in the online resources) can be used with students from about sixth grade and above.
Dessert consists of lessons and activities for nature study, “poetry tea time,” handicrafts, drawing, and read-aloud books. Forms II and above add the study of Shakespeare and Plutarch. Ross suggests a weekly rotation through the dessert activities with read-aloud books sometimes doubling up with drawing activities or handicrafts.
The base curriculum is the mainstay of each AGF cycle, and it doesn't require the use of the Teacher Planners, but Teacher Planners provide some extra benefits that might be important to you. The full-color, printed books—one for each cycle of AGF—give you an easy way to plan and execute the lessons if you have students working in more than one cycle. The lesson plans show assignments for all four cycles at a time for each subject, while for the online lesson plans, you have to choose one cycle's lesson plans at a time. Weekly lesson plans are presented in a chart form showing daily assignments. Parents can adapt these as needed by writing on the pages or using the editable charts in the online resources. The Teacher Planners have many pages for planning and recordkeeping; they are intended for you to write in them.
The online resources for the main course include a thorough Introduction Course and links to the lesson plans, resources, and schedules that make it easy to use AGF. However, the Teacher Planners also explain how the curriculum works. They duplicate some of the information available in the online resources, but this will be useful for those who prefer to read offline.
Teacher Planners must be used in conjunction with the online plans, but I think it might be easier to use the Teacher Planners for quick reference throughout your day rather than having to continually access the online resources.
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.