I have chosen to use Ambleside Online as our basic homeschool curriculum. There are several reasons for this: first, the curricula itself is free. As a single-income family, that’s a big advantage. Secondly, the suggested resources are generally free, are easily found at a low-cost or may be borrowed from a library (the wonderful Advisory at AO has tried very hard to make a CM style education accessible to anyone regardless of income). Thirdly, they have an amazing network of moms who give one another support via the many Yahoo Groups and Facebook page AO has. These ladies are like an online support group/co-op that shares experiences, resources and ideas. It is simply delightful to be a part of these groups. The biggest reason I chose Ambleside is because the curriculum is generous, rigorous and, as we plan to follow the curriculum through until graduation, will take my children on a beautiful journey in which they will ‘meet’ the best minds in human history. This is extremely exciting to me- I cannot wait to travel with them!
As you may know, neither Charlotte Mason nor Ambleside recommend a child begin any formal lessons prior to age six. In these years, parents are to practice “masterful inactivity” in which the child is allowed to fully explore and experience her environment apart from directed learning, except in the intentional forming of good habits. Well… I’m not good at letting ‘the ground lie fallow’ as it were…
I found Ambleside almost three years ago and have been an active part of the group since. I’ve been parsing and examining the suggested curriculum, taking it apart to put it back together again, making it over so that it fits my family, in our place in life. It is still absolutely recognizable as AO curriculum, just altered a bit here and there. I added some ‘non-western’ resources because I want my children to have a view of the world being bigger than the history of the conquerors. I moved some of the free reads around so I could build a light Kindergarten and first grade that both happen prior to Ambleside’s Year 1 (some in the know call these years 0 and .5).
I have tried over the past two and a half to three years to stop doing formal lessons. Prior to meeting Charlotte, I had been doing a drill-type preschool with my son. We sang songs, reviewed flash cards, learned letters and their sounds (he knew the letter sounds at age two), we did crafts and went to story time. It was very ‘pre-schooly’ and I weaned myself and my son off it when I was pregnant with my daughter… But still, I have been drawn to beginning something with my son this fall (he turns 5 in September) as I knew this is when he’d begin Kindergarten. For Term 1, our resources and schedule looks like this:
We begin each day with a ‘Gathering Time’. We invite the Lord to be with us as we learn and grow together. I created a Powerpoint document that gives us visuals to accompany diverse topics that are covered in less than 5 minutes each (most taking less than 1 minute). We review the monthly calendar populated with the birthdays of family & friends and any special events happening that month. We then review the days of the week & the months of the year by singing songs found on YouTube. This is followed by poetry; this Term is Martha Alexander’s ‘Poems and Prayers for the Very Young’. As I read the poem, I ask the children to close their eyes and their mouths and to listen with their ears and their hearts.
Poetry reading is followed by folk songs. We have deviated from AO’s scheduled folk song selections. Celtic music is very important to my husband and I- we love the idea of being intentional about exposing our children to the richness and diversity of this traditional art form. This Term, we are learning ‘Star of the County Down’ as performed by the Orthodox Celts.
We then return to AO’s scheduled fine arts selections for this term by listening to Mozart (so far Eine Kleine Natchmusik and Lacrimosa) and viewing the works of Jean Honore Fragonard (the Grande Cascade at Tivoli followed by The See-saw). Gathering Time is completed by reviewing Spanish vocabulary (6 words) and by reading a chapter from our children’s bible.
Each day, Monday through Thursday in addition to Gathering Time we do: Reading, Math, Bible Study, Literature, Hymn study and we practice our ocarina together. Mondays & Wednesdays, we add History and Science which are replaced on Tuesdays & Thursdays by Geography and Mapwork. Friday mornings are spent traipsing through the great outdoors for weekly Nature Study, practicing Art, working on handicrafts and taking a gym class at the local Y. On Saturdays, Alex attends the Spanish class I teach.
All of our daily lessons generally take us about an hour and a half to complete. This is spread throughout the day from right after breakfast until right before the children are tucked in at night. The lessons themselves are each less than 5 minutes in length- as Charlotte said, this helps Alex focus his attention completely. We pray together three times a day at a minimum. We sing together constantly. The children have plenty of time to play, explore their own interests (those we haven’t already incorporated into our school time) and to rest.
Although this plan is designed for Alex, my daughter Fae has been going right along with us each day. She nurses while we do Gathering Time and sings the songs with us. She draws when Alex is doing Math. What I’ve found is that my kids are both thriving on our new structure. Alex gets up in the morning and asks if we can ‘do school’ today. He cheers when I say yes. The kids argue less when we have activities and a regular routine. I’ve found that between doing school, making & eating meals and finishing chores (or attempting them, at least!) our day flies by. Before I know it, we’re welcoming Brian home and beginning our evening together. While there are still daily challenges (what family DOESN’T have things they need to work on?), our days are much nicer than they were when I was trying to ‘master inactivity’. Perhaps, in the end, my children are like me, perhaps they like some structure and predictability in their lives. Maybe this routine is actually comforting to them- makes them feel safe and engaged. While a part of me still worries that I haven’t given dear Charlotte’s method its full reign (and may, therefore, find myself in some trouble down the road), I am glad to see I am able to be responsive the my children’s needs and to give them a bit of structure. It seems to agree with them…