Recently Jeanne refuted the idea that a CM school day consists mostly of reading. Or, as she put it, read and narrate, read and narrate. This is an important question for Charlotte Mason educators, and worth considering in some detail.
Even when looking at the few samples we have of actual Parents' Union School timetables, the "what you do when and how" question looms; there's a large gap between a term programme that gives a certain number of pages to be read, plus suggestions for notebook keeping or related work, and then seeing twenty or forty minutes on a timetable simply labelled "Writing" or "Botany." In a group or classroom situation where everyone is listening to the same story and then taking turns narrating, or exploring the same patch of ground and then getting out their nature notebooks to write and draw, the advantage of numbers may fill in the gap naturally. But if you are teaching or caring for several children who are working at different levels, how do you fit everybody's work and play time together? And if you are teaching only one, especially a naturally sociable one, how do you provide an atmosphere that motivates?
Are older students supposed to handle the timetable themselves, including the extra work needed to make each subject really come to life, plus the clock-watching needed to keep on "schedule?" Do we show them what needs to be done, and simply trust them to get down to business, everything completed by the end of the day or the week? Or do we micro-manage, set timers for everything and refuse to let them write or discuss anything past the buzzer? If we use daily or weekly checklists to help students stay on track, do we again just write in "Botany?" Or do we we pre-write or email or verbally tell them everything they're going to need to know and to do? Where does our direction or authority meet their need for the "meeting of minds," their time for (very necessary) choice and personal response?
Finally, are there situations where a CM-style timetable, 20 minutes of this on Monday, 30 minutes of that on Tuesday, wash your hands and the school day is done, just does not work? I notice, for instance, that on an early PUS timetable for Form III, there is no mention of music study or picture talk; there is very little time given for reading literature; and there is no in-class time for anything in the "work" category--handicrafts, home skills and so on. Presumably all this, including the "evening and holiday reading," would have been part of the afternoon's work, and where there were interested teachers and Guide leaders to direct those crafts and nature walks, that would have worked quite well. But in our particular home situation, perhaps like Jeanne's, we find that some of the variety in our school day comes from mixing desk work or book lessons with a kitchen project, a short walk, or a bit of handwork done while listening to a reading. And when school time is "done" for the day, there is resistance to reading yet another book with Mom or "for" Mom (even a not-school book), or doing something that might turn up on an examination. For us, those "extras" (very important extras) have to be worked in as part of the school day, not left for the tail end, if they're going to happen at all.
If we are educating lifelong learners, if education is an atmosphere and a life, then we do need to make "school" a part of the life that we have, and that may mean a life with several children and multiple interruptions, or with one child and the need to keep things interesting when others aren't around. It may mean a busy farm life or mission field life or travelling life, or life with other challenges such as chronic illness. (You can add your own variations to those.) Yes, a predictable schedule is preferable to a when-we-can one; education is a discipline, too; but we may find that our own version of "predictable" might work better than someone else's--even the PUS's.