I got emailed this question from someone who read the Late Readers post. The question was posed two months ago. I'm so sorry it has taken me this long to respond! Vacations and end of year homeschool programs have really thrown off my blogging.
I guess I've been a bit cryptic about CM. Stating that I use her method of schooling and yet never really posting about what that is. I think that others have done a much better job than I ever will in describing what CM is and I'll link to those, but I'll also try to provide some personal experiences.
CM stands for Charlotte Mason. She was a British educator from about 100 years ago. Here is a little background on her. Wow! you say. Can she possibly be relevant to today? In short, YES! Many homeschoolers are finding great success in using her methods of teaching. Once you learn more about CM, anytime she is mentioned you will automatically think: Narration, Nature Study, Living Books, Dictation, Habits.
First of all, here are some websites that help you understand the method a bit more:
Charlotte Mason in a Nutshell
Positively Autism (she lists some modifications she uses with autistic students)
What is CM? (this is also the home of the Ambleside Online Curriculum. It is a free resource and the one we are currently using.
Catherine Levison (her books and website are dedicated to helping you implement a CM education)
The ABC's of Charlotte Mason
Childlight USA (articles on implementing CM methods are some free audio recordings of speakers from the CM conferences)
You may also find the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival (current issue--they are released every two weeks) helpful in seeing how different families implement the CM method. Every family is unique in how they do things. Some are more strict CM than others. What I've found myself and seen from others is that the more aspects of CM that you are able to implement, the more benefit you see from your student and for your student.
There are also several different yahoo groups that discuss Charlotte Mason and her methods. Feel free to email me and depending on your situation, I may be able to tell you which ones I've been on that would be more helpful to you.
For curriculum, as I've stated there is Ambleside Online that we use. You may also wish to look at Simply Charlotte Mason. Ambleside Online has a full 12 year curriculum with weekly schedules for you to follow. Simply Charlotte Mason has a bookfinder tool that helps you find books based on whatever info you put into the search--such as grade, time period, subject, etc. Both of these websites also give ideas on what you can do with a child under 6 years of age. CM was strongly opposed to 'schooling' a child under 6. She recommended lots of outdoor time, nature study and working on habits which would prove useful in the later years.
A couple of years ago, after realizing that the type of schooling we were trying to do wasn't working, I started googling about other ways to school. This was also in response to some yahoo group discussions on the RDI boards. Many of them were using ENKI, a Waldorf style of homeschooling. I looked at Waldorf and there were many things I liked about it. Delayed academics (a la Better Late Than Early which I had also recently read), being in touch with nature with nature crafts, stories and songs and how they flow according to developmental levels of your child instead of enforcing a rigid structure as the public schools tend to do.
However, there were also things that didn't thrill me. Their 'spiritual' philosophy that is interwoven in everything they do and it seemed a little too unstructured for me. So I kept searching and someone reminded me of Charlotte Mason. I had heard of CM before but had taken one look at it and thought "Impossible!" I had an autistic child for heavens sake. How was he going to narrate??? This time I looked closer. I saw the Nature Study. I saw how CM can be tailored to help each child individually. I tried narration and it worked! It had structure. There was already a free curriculum laid out for me that I could follow. CM is all about short lessons--15 minutes--perfect for my autistic student. There wasn't tons of writing necessary. No workbooks. It incorporated Habits which I wanted to work on with the boys. Recitation for learning bible verses. Art in a very relaxed form.
I was hooked! The more I read and had questions answered in the yahoo groups, the more sure I felt that this was the way for us. We started slowly. Introducing one book with narration, then another. Continuing the copywork we already had going, but expanding on it. Reminding myself to do 'Just 15 Minutes' as Flylady would say. ;D
Now this isn't an easy way to teach. It requires time on the parents part. I would call it heavy involvement, especially if your children are young. But it lays the foundation for them to really think on their own, to enjoy their studies and for future independence.
My main purpose in switching to CM was Pooh due to his autism, but I've found that CM has worked well for both my boys. It goes right along with what I've learned from RDI. Narration especially isn't imperative, it's very declarative. The parent must wait to learn what the student has gleaned from the material. Sometimes a declarative statement modeling what you've learned is all that is needed to get them going. If you have a special needs student, you can do this.
Here are some other bloggers that have special needs students and use the CM approach:
Aut2BHome in Carolina
Crazy Adventures in Autism Land
Growing Fruit-Part 2
Single Parent Homeschool
I still have a lot to learn. I haven't read her volumes yet. Eeeeek! But I'll get to them little by little. I'm in the middle of revamping some things with our schedule right now so that I can incorporate more of what I want to do that goes along with CM. I need to be more consistent. I tend to be an Inconstant Kitty!
If you are new to CM and want to learn more, I suggest you go slowly. There are books available on her methods (Karen Andreola and Catherine Levison are two popular authors) and the yahoo groups are invaluable. Implement one new thing at a time. I think you'll be very happy with the results.