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Challenge your home educated teens with outsourced Charlotte Mason classes: A Dreaming Spires Home Learning review

Home educating teens is different from home educating younger ones, and it sometimes feels daunting – but it can be done! Two big things that teens need are peers, and a challenge – and there comes a point where they won’t necessarily accept that from Mum. One thing that has been very successful for us in this period is using external online classes. It gives the children a chance to have input from specialised teachers in subjects they’re really interested in, and a peer group to bounce ideas off. It’s given them the opportunity to plan their own work to real deadlines – and it’s given me a break knowing that there’s something I don’t have to handle!

We’ve used several classes for different subjects, including Home Made Education for Business, and Yvonne Mason for English and History, but the bulk of our classes last year and this have been from Dreaming Spires Home Learning. (If you’re interested in what else we’re doing, check out our plans for next year.)

Dreaming Spires offer a variety of classes taught in a Charlotte Mason style, with an emphasis on reading living books, and narrating and discussing them. Classes are suitable from around 11 or 12 right up to age 18 – the style makes it easy for students to access the classes at whatever level they are ready for. They offer classes in subjects across the range, including English, History, Science, Languages, Geography, Art History, and Classics, and they run as a weekly live classes with homework assignments, for a whole school year (September to June). While the classes are not generally geared towards any particular GCSE curriculum, they build the skills needed for that level (and beyond). Teachers and students are based primarily in both the UK and the US, so it can work for either system (the teachers know what ties in to what GCSE or A levels, and you can get transcript high school credit for each course), and there are opportunities to make contacts around the world.

However, the best person to give you a review of Dreaming Spires Home Learning classes is one of the students – over to Miss 13:

What DS classes did you take?

In the 2019/2020 school year I took two DS classes – Longbows and Roses (Medieval History), and Middle Ages Literature, plus writing Add-on.

Then, in Summer 2020 I did one of DS’s Summer Courses (introduced, I believe, because of Covid-19, and the lockdown) – Fashion and Art.

How do the classes work?

Well, there’s a mix of different teachers, so each class is slightly different in style. The main things are that everyone arrives, there’s some chatting, sometimes a Welcome Question. Then there’s Techie Time (where technical issues are addressing, and announcements are made), and sometimes the awards (although these can also be given at the end of class). Then the teacher goes onto the actual lesson. The way it’s taught is different with each teacher, but it’s always super fun, engaging, and informative. Most people get engaged, and answer questions from the PowerPoint, or make comments on stories.

How much homework do you have? Was it hard to fit it in?

Again, homework is different based on the teachers (and, believe me, I should know, I’ve had three different teachers!), but they all seem to follow the same vague formula. There is some reading to do, and a narration to be done (generally on your ‘main’ book), and then three Discussion Questions to do. Narrations are where you write up what you remember from your reading (or, occasionally, from a video you watched). Discussion Questions (or DQs) are the bits I find most fun, because there is a question asked, and you have to answer it, and, if your opinion is different to another person’s, you can start a discussion about why they’re different. Twice, or three times a year you have a Presentation to do. This is when you get a subject, and have to make a short PowerPoint presentation on it – then you can either pre-record it (my preferred path), or present it live in class. Basically, it’s your chance to be the teacher for a while.

There are also sometimes ‘Going Further’ things to watch or read, which are generally optional.

Another thing that is optional is the Fun Activity. This can be anything from baking cupcakes, to making/designing a book cover.

There are also awards given out. These awards give you points, which are added to the points you got for doing your homework, which contribute to your final grade. There are Gold, Silver, and Bronze awards for Narrations, and a Ribbon for the person who got the most consistently good Discussion Questions that week. You also get points (I think half a point) for doing the Fun Activity.

The homework for the writing add-ons, and the Summer courses were both a little different. The writing add-on was given in class, and usually writing something to do with whatever we’d learnt in class (for instance, a descriptive passage, or a discursive essay, or a HOW hand).

For the Summer course it was something different again. These were looser, and varied dramatically week on week, one week I had to compare and contrast two paintings, another week I had to create an item of clothing out of a painting!

I don’t feel that it was really that hard to fit in, as there wasn’t a huge amount of it. I managed to do all my homework (for both of my classes), and sometimes the Fun activities as well, around my other schoolwork, MDWarriors, Swimming, and Home-ed group with my friends. The only problem was that I sometimes procrastinated, but that’s more on me …

What bits did you most enjoy, and what weren’t you so keen on? What else is good about Dreaming Spires?

I really liked meeting new people and making new friends. There were social forums, and we could chat on there. There were also some meetups to watch live-streamed Shakespeare together. My Mum took my sister and me to the two of these that were arranged before lockdown, and we made new friends, who we’ve stayed in touch with ever since (and had facetime/zoom chats with).

Of the schoolwork aspect, I enjoyed all of it! My favourite bit was probably the Discussion Questions – I really enjoyed them! I also liked the Fun Activities (especially the ones that involved cooking or baking!), and I really enjoyed reading lots of new books. The classes themselves were fantastically engaging and informative, I learnt lots of new stuff.

The only bit I wasn’t quite so keen on was the narrations – but I think that’s mostly because I’m not super good at them, and they weren’t something I’d ever done before.

Would you recommend the classes to other people? Why/why not?

I would definitely recommend DS’s classes to other people! They help you learn in a fun, and engaging way, and they allow you to connect with other people.

Are you taking any more classes?

Yes! 2020/2021 school year I’ll be taking French 1, plus add-on, and Tudors and the 16th century. Beyond that I’m not sure, but I can always hope! I’m really looking forwards to my next classes with DS, learning new things, and maybe making new friends.

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