Train up A Child Publishing Daily Lesson Plans offer a modified Charlotte Mason style curriculum presented from a Reformed Christian worldview. The five Daily Lesson Plans (DLP) courses available at this time (June 2018) integrate history, geography, reading skills, language arts, and fine arts lessons around chronological history themes. Science lessons follow their own themes for each week. Memory work is taken from history, science, poetry, and Scripture.
History lessons proceed from ancient to modern history within each year-long course. This is in contrast to similar programs that often cycle through narrower historical periods each year, usually revisiting the entire cycle every four years.
The authors explain why they chose this approach: “After a year even your younger children will recall that the Middle Ages were the time of kings, knights and castles. They will remember enough the next year to be able to connect new information to the old information…which is the way we learn. Each year you may study different aspects of each historical period: One year, focus on the daily life or the prominent people. Another year, the battles or the technological and scientific achievements….Year builds upon year, layer by layer.” (https://trainupachildpub.com/history-cycle/)
Christian content show up sporadically. The courses all start out with Creation (from the Bible) as the theme for the first era of history. Since courses each begin with Creation, they rely heavily on the Bible for at least the first two weeks. After that, biblical history is studied sparingly except at the end of each course. Author Dana Wilson explained to me that there is an average of about three weeks of biblical history (including some creation science study) and two weeks of church history (taught using Christian books) in each level—about five weeks per year with Christian content.
So, while the Bible is an important source at the beginning of each course, DLPs rely heavily upon a large number of other books for each course—the book list for first grade is four pages long! So you will almost certainly want to work with your local library to borrow many of these books rather than buying all of them. Most books on these lists are secular, but a few such as Dangerous Journey (an adaptation of Pilgrim’s Progress) and Thunderstorm in the Church (about Luther and the Reformation) are Christian.
There are separate DLP volumes for each level for grades one through four, and there is also a Middle School-1 volume. Middle school generally means grades six through eight, so perhaps separate volumes for fifth grade and for two more years of middle school will be forthcoming. The authors encourage parents to modify lesson plans as needed, pointing out that the courses for middle school should offer the most flexibility to cover students at different grade levels. (Daily Lesson Plans: First Grade, p. 10). Each DLP volume is available either as a spiral-bound book or a digital download.
While all volumes follow the same chronological progression, they use different resources and assignments each year. For example, in Week 3 of the Renaissance and Reformation period in the first grade book, the history topic is “Shakespeare continued and The Reformation.” In fourth grade, the history topic is “The Reformation, Historically and Scientifically.” While most required books are different for each course, one book, Thunderstorm in the Church, is used for both first and fourth grade levels—as a read aloud for the younger students and for independent reading for older students. Language arts and fine arts activities also differ for each level, although they tie to the historical topics or to literary selections. The science themes do not correlate from level to level. So, for example, in these lessons I just described, first graders study butterflies and fourth graders learn about the planets.
Following Charlotte Mason’s recommendations, DLP volumes include narration, copywork, and dictation, and they do not use quizzes or tests. Instructions at the front of each volume include brief information about Charlotte Mason’s methodology, particularly about how to do narrations. Children participate in discussions and perform science experiments, and they also create notebooks, lapbooks, and other projects. While much of a student’s composition work is either copywork or written narrations, there are occasional original compositions such as a biographical sketch assignment for fourth graders. I mentioned at the beginning that this is a modified Charlotte Mason approach. This is because these courses introduce grammar and writing at earlier ages than Mason recommended.
The lesson plans are very detailed. They give pages to be read in each book, daily steps in long-term assignments, memory work sentences, discussion questions, vocabulary and spelling words to be learned, and much more. While you have to flip pages to find each day’s learning activities, lesson plans should be easy to follow. You might want to invest in a six-week trial sample before buying a complete book, so that you can experience how well this approach works for you.
You will need to purchase some resources that will be used frequently throughout the year and/or across grade levels. These are WonderMaps, Big Book of Books (Dinah Zike’s book on how to create lapbooks and minibooks), and either an encyclopedia or a history overview book such as Kingfisher History of the World. Some of the books they recommend are old and out of print, but they continue to recommend them since they are generally available used through Amazon and other sources. For example, the 1993 edition of Kingfisher History of the World is still available used, but it has been replaced by Kingfisher History Encyclopedia which you can use instead. The information at the front of each book also says that students need a detailed grammar reference book, preferably one that is appropriate for the student’s grade level.
Parents will need to direct activities and interact with students for narration, dictation, spelling, recitation, discussion, projects, and experiments. That means that these courses require a significant investment of time for all of the reading in addition to these activities. However, the instructions say that parents should not try to complete every activity, but rather choose those most suitable for each situation. If you have two children close in age and ability, try to work from one year’s course rather than two. If you need to work in two different volumes, be very selective about your activity choices. On the other hand, if you are able to work with only one or two children from one volume, DLPs offer a well-thought-out path for implementing a Charlotte Mason education while ensuring that you are covering what is needed.
Unit Study Option
If you prefer more flexibility, you might want to check out Train Up A Child Publishing’s Unit Programs. Four separate volumes each cover multiple grades: Primary for K-2, Intermediate for 3-5, Preparatory for 6-8, and Secondary for 9-12. Each volume is organized around nine historical eras, following the same progression as in the DLPs. There are lists of suggested books to read, generally related to the historical era, plus learning activities for history, science, language arts, and fine arts. Activities are not scheduled but are left to you to design which to use when. Language arts activities are not specified as they are in the DLPs, but Unit Programs do provide checklists and instructions for teaching language arts so that a separate curriculum is not needed.
These Unit Programs make it possible to teach across a broader span of grade levels, but they do require more planning. Author Dana Wilson tells me that the Unit Programs are "used mostly by mothers looking for a relaxed, unstructured experience."