Saturday, November 11, 2017

Transitioning to Ambleside Online

I always hear that there are times when the best laid homeschool plans get tossed out the window.  It finally happened to us this year.  I've been known to change a thing or two throughout the year, but I don't think I've ever made such drastic changes as I did in October.  Initially I had a relaxed, CM inspired year planned, but things just weren't moving forward in a productive way.  In reality, the curriculum I had chosen uses living books, but the guide was not CM.  I'm just not in a season where I have the time or desire to adapt it to fit our needs for two different ages, but I do have the desire to be more authentic to the philosophy and methods of Charlotte Mason.

Transitioning to Ambleside Online
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I also realized that I needed to separate my 3rd and 5th grader--not just for the age/maturity difference, but also because I was tired of the goofing off at the table together, or the bickering, or the constant comparisons.  After careful consideration and prayer, I felt drawn to Ambleside Online.  It would allow us to still do a few subjects together, but also to separate them more overall, giving them their own stuff.  Having your own math and language arts is one thing.  Having your own stories, your own connection with books, with living ideas, something to delight in.  I can already tell that it is a completely different experience!

I actually found Ambleside Online (AO) early in our homeschooling journey.  We did Year 0 (Preschool/K) and fully intended to use AO straight through.  We started Year 1 but we just couldn't find our rhythm.  In hindsight, I should have just waited a few months or a year, as was suggested in the depths of their never-ending website.  (I kid you not, you will never stop following rabbit trails on that website-there so many resources!)

Over the years, I have come back to Ambleside Online, considering it on and off, and I almost made the decision to switch this summer when researching curriculum.  I just couldn't commit to separating the boys, because I still had that "keep them together for as long as possible" mentality.  However, after starting up this fall, I knew it was time.  As I said, they needed their space.  We were about 8 weeks in when I finally felt convinced to just drop almost everything and change gears.  It was time.

Ambleside Online years do not correlate to standard grade level.  Their levels are more advanced, and after perusing the website and forum, it seems a common recommendation to start a transitioning student a year or two below their grade level.  This gives them time to become familiar with the CM method, living books, etc.  The objective is to find a year that will challenge them, without overwhelming them.

For a 3rd and 5th grader, that meant I basically needed to look through years 1-6, looking at where to place them now and ahead to see how things progress.  I decided to place Emory (3rd grade) in Year 2 and Elliott (5th) in Year 4.  This seemed like a good place for both of them, considering the workload, the content of the books, and their personal needs.  I plan to write more about their individual years soon, and I will probably expand more on my placement decisions there.  Overall, I feel this was the right decision for both boys.

I am making a few small adaptions* to the curriculum, but most of those are related to combining the boys in a few books, not because of the curriculum itself.

  • Bible - We are continuing our own readings and AWANA 
  • Trial and Triumph - I am dropping Trial and Triumph from both schedules for now, and will likely use AO's alternate recommendation to cover church history in later years.  (We are however, doing modern missionary stories with Brinkman Adventures.)
  • Pilgrim's Progress - I moved this from the Y2 schedule to a family read-aloud, and we're actually using Little Pilgrim's Progress because I already owned it.  I'm thinking we'll tackle the original as a family later, perhaps when the girls cycle through.
  • Geography - I've combined both boys in Year 2 geography - this gets Elliott through more of the Holling C. Holling books and lets them do a core subject together still.  I have the guide and large maps from Beautiful Feet Books, so I've actually been following their reading schedule, which would put me on pace to do one book per term.  We'll see how that goes.  
  • Shakespeare - I'm kind of doing my own thing with this still since we'd already started; it's more of a mishmash between the ideas of a Y2 and Y4 approach.  (I think it's more in the style of Simply Charlotte Mason's Shakespeare recommendations.)
  • Free Reads - I'm pulling various books from the lower levels of AO for family reading material.  This way the books are more appropriate for the girls listening in, and the older kids don't miss these great books.  

  • *The Ambleside Online is a beautiful and thorough Charlotte Mason curriculum.  These "tweaks" I have made are for my family's unique situation, and are not a reflection of the quality of AO, nor are they endorsed or specifically recommended by the AO advisory.  I do not want to take anything away from the dedication and hard work of the AO advisory.

    What do we think?
    We started the second week of October, so we're 5 weeks in now.  The first few weeks were a struggle to find our balance and rhythm, but we're making huge strides, and Elliott specifically is much more comfortable with the books.  (He doing more independently than Emory.)  My biggest challenge is juggling so many books and keeping up with their history streams (I remember none of this stuff from my public school days!) and they distract each other during geography.  So we may make some changes there.  However, it is getting easier!

    As I said, I plan to share more about the boys thoughts and our experiences with the individual years as we progress through the curriculum.

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