The Story of Mason's Alveary

The concept for Mason's Alveary began in 2015. The Charlotte Mason Institute wanted to create a curriculum and teacher training program that could be used by both schools and homeschoolers. The board members had the following criteria in mind:

  • The curriculum should be American in focus, rather than British;
  • It should use updated books that reflect our diverse population and treat all people groups with respect;
  • It should not rely on out-of-print books that are difficult to find and usually expensive;
  • It should reflect, as closely as possible in our current context, the precedent set for us by Mason and the PNEU; 
  • It should be built from the ground up, not beginning with or building on the work of any other organization; and
  • It should reflect current education and brain research insofar as they do not conflict with Mason's principles.
This was a tall order that first required extensive research into primary source documents before we could even start thinking about books. The Mason archives proved invaluable in this process. People researched various subjects, creating spreadsheets so that we could look for patterns in the original programmes that might lend insight that would round out what we knew from the volumes. There were several individuals (both inside and outside CMI) who were working, or who had done work, along similar lines, and we reached out to them. They were more than happy to share their own findings and hash out ideas and theories. For example, Emily Kiser had done extensive research on Mason's history rotations and the use of history charts and timelines. She had also adapted the patterns she found to an American audience. Her expertise in this area, as well as her knowledge of books, was instrumental in helping us design our history studies. Nicole Williams had done similar research in the fields of science and nature study, which she was happy to share. She helped us understand the big picture concerning science study, and she suggested a rotation that we could follow for special studies. Kerri Forney had spent an enormous amount of time in not only the original programmes, but in the Parent's Review of which CMI had recently acquired a full set. Dr. Jen Spencer had extensively researched language development, including the teaching of modern languages in the Mason paradigm. Dr. Carroll Smith and his wife, Andy, were well-versed in current learning theory, working with children with learning differences, and modern books. Among the other people who contributed ideas for book titles were Kelli Christenberry (who is now working with Kerri Forney and Bonnie Buckingham to create the structure for the high school pilot), Liz Cottrill, Nancy Kelly, and Parke Stalcup, who also oversees the lesson plan writing. Once the programs are finished, they are edited by Jenna Brown and sent to outside organizations and individual Mason experts for feedback and vetting.

But the research did not end once we had a book list and lesson plans. After the pilot started, we met with Richele Baburina to discuss her research on Mason and mathematics. One of our pilot members, Heidi Buschbach, took on research of Mason's approach to music instruction and has made some exciting discoveries about how it relates to other areas of the curriculum. Over the course of the pilot, we have welcomed challenges from our pilot members, which only serve to help us improve our program and keep it well in line with Mason. Through the Alveary, CMI is helping to empower parents to become citizen scholars and action researchers themselves. One of the most exciting things about Mason's Alveary is its organic nature; it will continue to evolve as we find out more from the vast collection of primary sources we now have at our fingertips.

Dr. Jen Spencer, Project Manager

I began my career journey in the public school system in 1997, after receiving a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education from Winthrop University. With a toddler at home and a son in kindergarten, I decided to give up my full-time job and come home. It was there that I first encountered Charlotte Mason's name. In 2001, a private school that was to be loosely based on Mason's philosophy opened close by. I taught there for ten years, with the exception of one year (2008-9), during a temporary move, when I worked as an assistant for high-risk students in a public high school. During my years at The Village School of Gaffney, I earned my Master of Arts in Elementary Education from Gardner-Webb University, where I met Dr. Carroll Smith. Dr. Smith was instrumental in helping me complete the Mason paradigm shift. I started speaking at the annual CMI national conference, where I met so many like-minded people who have become life-long friends. I have accompanied some of those friends to Ambleside several times to help plan, prioritize, and execute the digitization of the Mason archives at The Armitt Museum. Back home, I helped Dr. Smith lead a Mason book study group in his home. This ultimately led to the start of a new school, where Mason's principles and methods could be implemented with complete fidelity. I began my doctoral studies at Gardner-Webb the same year we founded Willow Tree Community School. It was a lovely little school, but after four years of teaching and administration, writing an award-winning dissertation on Mason's approach to writing, and earning my EdD in Curriculum and Instruction, my health was suffering from severe burnout, and I needed to come home to rest. That was about the time CMI wanted to undertake the creation of a curriculum. The board asked me to lead the endeavor, and I was very grateful for the opportunity to work quietly from home to create something for which I felt my entire career had been preparing me. Now, fully healed and full of energy, I am finding tremendous personal fulfillment in this work. I still enjoy working from home, where I live with my husband, Wes, and our two nearly-grown children, Drew and Marley. 

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