It was about this time last year when I chose Ambleside Online for our homeschool curriculum. Honestly, it took a few times looking at it to make up my mind.
I get it. Choosing a homeschool curriculum can be tough. You want everything to be perfect and you want it to work for your family.
There are so many choices out there and it’s very overwhelming. I’ve been researching homeschooling since Little Miss Buttercup was three (she’s 7 now). I don’t believe in academics that early but I do believe in planning ahead. When it comes to homeschool, I’m definitely an over-planner.
When I began learning what to do and which direction to take I was reading a ton of blogs to see what other homeschool moms were doing and what curricula they were using. Hubby and I went to a homeschool convention and just soaked it all in and browsed the vendor hall in awe.
In our state we are required to teach eight subjects. I knew I wanted to add a few more like art and physical education (not necessarily any formal P.E., just wanted to hold myself accountable for us to routinely get our exercise).
So, I wrote down each subject in my notebook, okay, planner… I found the “perfect” planner first. Then I tried to find the right curriculum for each subject and filled in what I planned to use next to the appropriate subject. I found a really nice curriculum that focused learning around reading books. It was able to be used for several of the subjects, and that was great.
By the time I was planning for my daughter’s Kindergarten year I knew I only needed this particular book based curriculum, a math curriculum, and a phonics program. I had realized that understanding what kind of homeschooler you are is helpful to filter through the curricula choices.
I decided to label myself as an eclectic Charlotte Mason homeschooler. I had an idea of the Charlotte Mason philosophy but I wasn’t ready to fully commit.
As we slowly worked through the year I felt that this “perfect” curriculum was not quite so perfect. The lessons felt forced and any work that I did to prepare was in vain. My daughter was not receptive to this way of learning.
Going back into research mode I was determined to find something better. This time I had a better idea of what I was looking for. Nothing too teacher intensive, no worksheets and printables, lots of books, and something that would naturally lead my daughter to a love of learning.
I read a lot more about the Charlotte Mason philosophy and the more I understood the more I realized that CM was definitely a good fit for us. Now to figure out how to implement it, I needed a curriculum to guide me.
Ambleside Online came up in a search and I clicked around for a while. I wasn’t completely sold at first because it seemed like so much to do. How would we fit it all in our day. I did a little more searching for other CM curricula and found them to not have enough information, or to it was too scheduled, or it was too much money.
Finally, a friend shined a light back on Ambleside and I’m so grateful.
In fact, the co-op we were attending put on a little curriculum fair for all the moms to come take a look at what everyone was using in their homeschool and it gave the opportunity for us all to ask questions and see different things before deciding to buy.
This friend had shared success stories using AO and brought in the schedule and the books she had and her daughter’s copywork book. I remember the copywork book because it was so lovely and well done. You could see the pride her daughter’s work. The perfect execution.
I decided to figure it out. I was determined now to understand how to implement Ambleside Online. I read through the FAQ’s, clicked on all the links, and soaked up every bit of Charlotte Mason.
Ultimately the decision to use Ambleside Online in my homeschool was for the following reasons:
- It can be used for free. Of course we like to hold “real” books and read from their pages instead reading from a device, so there is some cost involved when we purchase the books. I’m okay with spending a little money for the sake of building a nice little home library.
- It’s a Christian curriculum. This is the primary reason for why we homeschool. To teach a Christian worldview. I am grateful for the work the AO ladies have put into creating this wonderful resource. I can already see how the chosen books complement one another and how connections are made. I love that many of the books acknowledge God.
- It’s a Charlotte Mason curriculum. This was created to be as close to the schedules Miss Mason used herself. The heart of this was to provide a true CM education.
- There’s freedom in the schedule. I can order my day that best fits my family. I didn’t want a guide or schedule that told me I had to do a certain list of assignments on Tuesday of week 4; I knew we would end up “off schedule” in no time. There would be eraser marks and rewritten plans all over my planner book, and we can’t have that happening. I just don’t like being told what to do, I guess. But to explain a little better, I know that in a week I have a certain number of readings to do and that we’ll be doing each of the “riches” once during the week. This set up allows me to put nature study on a day I know it won’t be raining. It allows me to put a longer reading on a day we won’t be out of the house. I can change up when we sing our hymn and folksong based on our mood. Flexibility in my week is really important.
- The BOOKS. Need I say more? My love for books has grown exponentially as I’ve been collecting for future years. I’m borderline obsessed with finding a beautiful, old book at a used bookstore for super cheap. It’s like winning the lottery. Seriously. And I think what makes finding these beautiful, old stories so wonderful is that I know they have all been carefully chosen. Let me tell you something… I must confess… when I first decided at the veeeerrrry beginning that AO was for us… I was going to change <gasp> the history books. Long story short, I realized why reinvent the wheel, why fix something that isn’t broken?
- The “riches.” I’m thoroughly enjoying exploring composers, hymns, folksongs, and poets that I wouldn’t think of on my own. I’m not musically inclined enough to choose a proper variety, nor do I have enough experience with poetry. We mostly stick to the AO schedule but if we come across something we just aren’t “feeling” then we’ll find something else. For example, we listened to Be Thou My Vision and because learning hymns are new for us, this one just wasn’t doing it. I chose something I remembered as a kid to learn. Well, a few months later I ended up listening to Be Thou My Vision again and it’s now my favorite. Everything AO schedules stretches me and I am so glad my children get to experience all this goodness as part as their education.
- It’s academically challenging. Many books are older so the language is a little different but because my children will be growing up reading these lovely classics they’ll be able to read anything. What six year old do you know who loves Shakespeare? Yes, Shakespeare (the Lamb’s stories) is my daughter’s favorite.
- AO is almost a complete curriculum. For year one I’ve only had to add Math and Phonics/Reading instruction (and foreign language, but we haven’t added that yet).
- There isn’t really anything to prepare. Because in a CM education the child is doing the work, it means that I, the teacher, am not spending time creating specialized lessons to hand over the knowledge from me to my daughter. She is reading her books and through the process of narration is learning. My job is to gather the materials and present them to her, her job is to experience those materials.
- The work has been done for me. The AO Advisory is a group of women who wholeheartedly wanted to make a Charlotte Mason education available and accessible to anyone. They have spent countless hours and then some to provide this curriculum. I am so grateful! I am not stressing about choosing the “right” books, they’ve done that for me. I am not worried about missing any subjects, they are all listed. Even though I love to plan, I am super thankful for the work already done for me, I just get to plug in all the goodness to where it fits in our week.
- It allows for free afternoons. The schedule is set up so that you complete short lessons and all the school work can be done in the morning. Afternoons are left for free time to allow children to just be.
- I could potentially use it through high school. Ambleside Online has 12 years of schedules ready for use. Years 7- 12 are the high school years which they call House of Education Online (HEO). Please join the AO forum if you need more information on the upper years.
- Ambleside Online has a wonderful community of users. Everyone is so willing to share and help others in their homeschool journey. The support of the AO community is amazing. There is an official AO forum, there’s an Ambleside Facebook group, I believe there’s a Yahoo group, and the advisory has a blog called Archipelago.
So there you go. I’m guessing you’re here because you’ve considered using AO yourself but just want to know more before taking the plunge. I hope I’ve shown an honest account of how I had struggled to really make up my mind regarding AO and what contributed to the decision to go for it.
Choosing a curriculum for your children can be a really personal thing, you want to get it right. I just want to add that though we are loving AO and will be using it for as far as I can see, there is no “perfect” curriculum. There will always be hard days. There will always be challenges and changing a curriculum will not always be the fix.
There will be trial and error until you settle into or find the “right” fit. If you’re uncertain about your why and the how to homeschool and are just looking for the what to use to homeschool then consider checking out Where to Start When You’re New to Homeschooling.