When I said at the beginning of the year that we were going to be using Ambleside Online for our curriculum this year, lots of readers expressed an interest in using AO, if only they could figure out how it all works. Being a newbie myself, I didn’t (and still don’t) have much in the way of tips to offer. However, I can tell you what we’ve accomplished so far, and how I see this turning out for us.
The hardest thing about getting started is the amount of reading you, the teacher, have to do. If you want a curriculum that just tells you what to do and then you do it, this is the wrong place to go. While you don’t need to read every word that Charlotte Mason ever wrote, you do need to get a good grasp of her philosophy in order to implement this curriculum. AO has all six volumes of the Charlotte Mason series for free here, or you can go download them for cheap on Amazon. I also like the Charlotte Mason Companion.
I still haven’t read all of this stuff, so don’t feel like you have to read the whole thing at once before you get started. You do, however, need to read enough to get off on the first leg of your journey with some vision for the future.
Furthermore, you’re going to want to read many of the books that your children are reading, or else they’ll think you’re an idiot when they narrate to you and you don’t know what the dickens they’re talking about. (Ask me how I know.) If you haven’t done anything like this before, read Home Education first, and then dive into the AO Introduction, where using the curriculum is made somewhat more understandable. That’s what I did, anyway, and now I’m just reading through other helpful features of the site and the other CM books as I go.
Here’s what we did, and how well it worked out:
Morning time: The first thing every day for us is family devotions, memory work, and a read-aloud, along with whatever else I can think of that I want to do day. Charlotte Mason isn’t heavy on read-alouds, but we like them. I got inspired by this Morning Basket idea, and started a little basket (well, OK, it’s more of a pile, because I am disorganized) of my own for our “together” stuff in the mornings.
Core reading: My oldest is doing Year 3, and the reading is one of his favorite things about this curriculum. No surprise there, as he has always been a good reader, but the kinds of books we’re working with do tend to put his mind to more of a workout than any of the curricula we’ve tried before. They aren’t hard, necessarily, just not dumbed-down. And there is a lot of reading, because this is a living-books approach. Textbooks are the devil! (I mean, unless you like them, I guess.)
If your kid doesn’t like to read, I would still suggest giving CM’s “living book” approach a shot. It could very well be that the reason your child hates books is that he’s never had experience with the kinds of books that don’t insult his intelligence. These are all good books. I’ve enjoyed reading them myself. The reading selections encompass Nature and Science, History, Geography (although I’m finding we fell short on this somehow, and need to work harder on it), Literature, Bible, and Poetry.
Language Arts: We do daily copywork (for both boys) and dictation (for the older one) from various selections. Sometimes I pick a passage from our reading or our Bible verses, and sometimes I use workbooks I’ve printed from Currclick. Dictation (for the oldest child) also covers spelling and grammar. I’ve also been having him do Daily Grams, but a more formal grammar course will come in a couple more years. One thing I love about Charlotte Mason’s approach is that there’s no expecting children to do composition before they actually know enough to say something. None of that silly “what I want to be when I grow up” stuff.
Handicrafts: We did sewing this term, and it was lots of fun. Just the basics, because I don’t know very much about it myself. Now we all know to some degree how to sew on buttons, sew a few kinds of stitches, and repair stuffed animals. I still have no idea where we’re going from here. (I could show you some pictures of our little drawstring bags, if only I had remembered to take some.)
Science: While there is science reading in AO’s curriculum, I really don’t feel like that’s enough. We’re going through Famous Experiments and How to Repeat Them, and Simple Kitchen Experiments, as well as having the kinds of impromptu discussions that children seem to draw out of us (well, me, anyway) in the day-to-day. Why no, we can’t make a pot of beans without talking about atmosphere and agriculture. Not in this house.
Nature: Goes with “Science,” I guess, but I think of it as a separate thing anyway. On our nature walks (which aren’t happening with the same frequency now that it’s cold outside) I sometimes have the kids take a specimen of something they want to study, then they draw it, read about it, and write a sentence or two in their nature journals for reference. I have no idea whether I do this because CM told me to, or because I like the idea. It might not be remotely CM. I don’t care. We like our journals.
Math: The boys love Life of Fred. I’m still not sure that’s enough, though, despite the insistence of many that it is, so we’re working away at Math Mammoth workbooks, too.
Foreign Language: Didn’t do it. If you’re easing into a new curriculum, especially, perfectionism is a killer. Sometimes you just have to let something (or several somethings) drop, and this was it for us. This term, we’ll be adding ASL as our foreign language, using this free online resource. My ASL accent can’t possibly be as bad as my Spanish accent. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Music (composer study, hymns, folk songs): I’m just following AO’s schedule, except for the hymns. I have my own ideas about that.
Plutarch: Ha! Haven’t added that in yet, either. It’s not that I don’t want to, just that I forgot. OK, and I’m scared. Next year. Baby steps.
Art: Instead of following the AO schedule for artist study, I’ve been using Simply Charlotte Mason Picture Study Portfolios. That’s my one splurge this year. Drawing with Children will be on our to-do list this term, as well. I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for a couple of years. I think it’s about time to put it to use.
Field trips: There really aren’t any field trips in AO. I just wanted you to know that we took some. They get out of the basement three times a month, whether they like it or not.
Busywork: There is none. I do not have piles of papers and crafts and “proof” that my children are learning. They are themselves the proof, though the pudding won’t be eaten for many years yet. I’ve concluded that about 75% of what people think of as “education” is just meant to keep children in their seats and give them a sense that they’ve produced something without having to go to the mess of actually letting them produce things.
Exams: Yes, exams are included in the Charlotte Mason way of education. That surprised me. If we hadn’t done the exams, I wouldn’t have really known how much was retained from all of this reading. I do believe this way of learning blows the doors off textbook “learning,” which often amounts to stuffing trivia down a child’s throat and hoping he can digest it into something meaningful later on.
So there you have it, our term in a nutshell. This is, hands down, my favorite way EVER to do school. It’s inexpensive, down-to-earth, and thorough. I think this will be the way we do school for a good, long time.
P.S. Anybody who is interested in a Charlotte Mason education should hie herself on over to the Teach Them Diligently page and register for one of the (very affordable, exciting, uplifting) conventions next year. Sonya Shafer, of Simply Charlotte Mason, gives some fantastic classes that will really help you understand what you’re doing. Her sessions were standing room only last year. Must see.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:
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