5 Apr 2012

Our Ambleside Online

If you've been reading my blog and my Facebook updates this week, you'll know that I have been preparing for next term.

For those who are interested, I thought I would walk you through the process step-be-step so that you can see how it all fits together for me.

So, starting at the very beginning then:

What is Ambleside Online?

On their website Ambleside Online (or AO for short) describe themselves this way:
a free homeschool curriculum designed to be as close as possible to the curriculum that Charlotte Mason used in her own private and correspondence schools. Our goal is to be true to Charlotte Mason's high literary standards. Ambleside Online uses the highest quality books and costs no more than the cost of texts. The curriculum uses as many free online books as possible, and there is no cost to use this information or join the support group.
There are many companies that claim to offer a Charlotte Mason education, but none that endeavours to adhere so closely to Charlotte Mason's original model as AO does. To me the others are Charlotte Mason styled curricula. Used correctly and in its entirety, AO offers a Charlotte Mason education. The fact that it is free is nice too. Overwhelmingly so, sometimes.

So who is Charlotte Mason anyhow?

Aha, the million dollar question. Even Ambleside Online will be only a booklist if you don't know what Miss Mason's philosophies were. She wrote these in her six volume The Original Homeschool Series, which are available online here. If you don't know what she thought, then you'll only be skimming the surface, even with AO.

Charlotte Mason was a British educator who lived at the turn of the last century. She believed that education was an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life; that education is about who we are and how we fit into the world that God created. She believed that even very young children were capable of formulating their own ideas from the information they were given, and that they are not blank slates or empty sacks waiting to be filled with information and facts.

A curriculum based on Charlotte Mason's methods will use narration - telling back - instead of comprehension questions; copying passages of fine writing to model handwriting, grammar, spelling and literary style, nature study instead of early science, and fine literary books, poetry, art and music to feed a child's imagination and provide ideas for their minds to work on. There are no workbooks, and no mindless busy work. Lessons are short allowing plenty of time for individual exploration and outside play.

Miss Mason advocated an awful lot more than that - six volumes worth, in fact. If you need to know more, you'll find it here.

If you're interested in learning more:

•Join the Ambleside Online yahoo group and ask lots of questions.
•Print off and read the Frequently Asked Questions.

Miss Mason was British and Ambleside Online is American. How do I make this work for my Australian child?

Ah yes. It's a problem, isn't it? I've been posting my attempts to Australianise AO for my daughter, Jemimah, here at A Peaceful Day. Currently she is in AO5. In Victoria she is in Grade 4. She is 10 years old. We have been using AO since I discovered it when she was 3. For the first few years she was in AO0 - the preschool programme - she started Grade Prep at six using AO1.

You'll find a summary of what we've done in the Our Curriculum tab at the top of the page. Click here and you'll go right there. If you have a look there you'll find our Australianised History Rotation. AO is a history based curriculum, cycling through a six year history cycle twice in the 12 years of schooling, and so it is important to make changes based on location here first. Currently I've only done Primary School. I'll need to think about the Secondary rotation soon. Ugh!

So how do I make it fit together?

But enough about the theory. Here's how I make it work in practice. This is what I've been doing this week.

Step 1: The Schedule

Firstly I cut and paste the term booklist into an Excel spreadsheet. You'll find the one you need here.

I highlight the weeks in a dark colour, usually green so that I can see what I'm doing. I then remove the entries for Bible, poetry and Shakespeare, since I use the list to keep track of which book selections to read, not to keep tabs on subjects. I use a timetable for that.

From there I go through the list adding page numbers if they are omitted. For example, AO5 term 2 has a choice of biographies. I've chosen the Lilias Trotter option, a book with 26 Chapters. I allocated two per week with three the first and last weeks. It is always good to read a bit more at the beginning of a book to 'get into' it.

I am using Exploring Creation for science, so I remove the other science options, leaving Madam How and Lady Why because it is interesting and we were half way through it from last year and wanted to continue. Wild Animals I Have Known I moved to Free Reading; The Story of Inventions we read in AO3 before the curriculum changed.

After that I format the cells of MHLW and Abe Lincoln so that the text wraps around and fits neatly onto the page.

Next I add some colours so that it looks pretty - I look at this a lot, remember, and also to organise things in my mind. History is pink, geography orange, literature green and science yellow. MHLW is blue. Don't know why, really!

When I make an addition to this list I always remove something as well. AO is a very rigorous curriculum. I am very hesitant to add much to the workload.

Next I move on to Australian history. Some years AO includes biographies that dovetail into the history period. In this case I generally replace the American options with Aussie heroes. In Term 1, for example, I replaced the biography of the explorers Lewis and Clark. This term the bios are of people I want my daughter to know about, Lillias Trotter, missionary to the Muslims in Algeria, and Alexander Graham Bell and so I leave them in place.

That leaves only the American history spine, This Country of Ours. I replace this with readings from two Aussie spines, History of Australia and The Story of Australia according to our Australianised Year 5 History page, which I will post when I finally get it finished. You can read more about how this works in this post, Making it happen. I thought I had reviewed our history choices, but it turns out I haven't. Soon. I could stop here, but I want to include a couple of stories. This term I'm using Frank Clune's Ned Kelly instead of a spine for four weeks. I'm also adding in a book about the gold rush, Goldseekers, which we'll use all term. I would dearly love to read The Golden Dream by Nancy Keesing as well, but we just don't have space, so I reluctantly add that one to Free Reads. We'll see how we go.

Once I get to here, I print. It looks much like this:

Year 5 Schedule

Step 2: Printing stuff

Once I've done this - or actually, while I'm working on it - I give my printer a workout. Although Ambleside Online doesn't use workbooks, there is still stuff to print. This term I need to print our poetry (Longfellow) and our life from Plutarch (Dion) with its accompanying obligatory study guide. Madam How and Lady Why has a study guide too, but that continues on from last term. I add a nice cover page using Windows 2010 software and pictures from Google images and bind them using a comb binder. They end up looking quite smart, don't you think? (Photo coming soon. Sorry.)Some terms I print off ebooks like our Spelling Wisdom, Mission Monde and Downunder Copywork, but I don't need to do that this term. I bind them the same way.

Step 3: Choosing songs and other arts

Next is choosing the songs to sing. AO makes this easy by preparing titles for each term. I'm afraid I'm naughty, though, and choose my own folksongs. I explain why here. You can look at what I selected there as well. We also sing three folksongs in French each term, in line with Miss Mason's recommendations. I select karaoke versions to make them easier to learn. This term's French songs are here.

Miss Mason recommended children learn three hymns, and AO suggest this as well. Since our denomination practises Exclusive Psalmody, we sing Psalms in English and French instead. I select these from our church Psalters. (yes, I have French Psalters - don't you?)

Our next decisions are over memory work. We memorise verses from Scripture in French and English, as well as questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This term our verse will be Matthew 6: 25-34 in English. In French we are learning Psalm 23, and we're up to verse 3. Catechism question 89. I print these onto cards and put them into our file box under the 'Daily' tab at the front.

This term we're following the AO selections for poetry. We're one life behind in Plutarch. We'll be studying Macbeth for Shakespeare because we're attending the play in June. I have a copy from my school days, so I don't need to do anything for that.

Our artist this term is Ellis Rowan. I have several books containing her paintings as well as a bio to read, but will try and get some postcards of her work to add to our Book of Masterpieces. It would be sad to have none of her work included in that.

We're attending Opera Australia's The Barber of Seville in a few weeks, so instead of Composer Study we're getting to know the music and the story of Rossini's wonderful opera. After that we'll listen to Rossini's William Tell. Two operas is probably enough for this term, especially when one is a production.

All this arty stuff I keep together on a chart like this. It looks really simple, but just keeps me on track, and helps me to ensure that I've covered all my bases.

Year 5 Arts Finally, there is Nature Study. We're starting a Book of Firsts this term. I'll blog more about that another day.

I'll talk to you more about out timetable another day as well, because we're changing it substantially this term for the very first time, and I'm not quite sure how it will fit together. That's next week's project!

This is a really messy and not very good post. It started out one thing and ended up another. I should really scrub it and begin again, but do you know what? I'm not going to. I'm going to press Publish and then walk away. If any one of you finds a gem in there well that's good. If not, well there's always tomorrow.

Happy Easter everyone.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! As one who has studied (obsessed) over Charlotte and AO for 3 yrs, we are finally preparing to start yr 1 this summer! I NEED to see how people practically prepare for the year. This post is a dream come true. Seriously. Really. OK, I'm gushing. Not enough caffeine in my system yet.

  2. Let me know if I can help, Stephanie. Sometimes I can actually carry a thought through to its conclusion even.

  3. It may have started out as one thing and ended as another but it Was still good and gave me such good insight into how you plan your term / year! Thank you! It was helpful for me:)

  4. It has helped me tons as well. As we are five weeks from ending our AO1 and preparing for AO2, I like your color coding for as the titles start growing, I can see the color coding being helpful.

    I also like your simple second chart.

    I signed up all that you've said about AO being CM if you have read CM and understand little by little. I've always thought it's an issue of where you start and where you end. Start on CM, progress into AO, do not start on AO or their yahoo lists and work your way through Mason, that can be frustrating and overwhelming.

    You australianise AO, I castellianize it, for we live in America but I make substitutions into Spanish language of the rich living books we read, specially those not written in English, as well as for poetry and folk songs.

    BTW, I'm very jealous. We listen to Carmen often. One of my favs, not a surprise, I guess.

    Every year comes with some changes and a bit of growth or plans for the 'weak' areas... we will attempt a very relaxed on their own BOC, and we will also try to keep up better with our nature journal entries. I also need to be more simple and organized in the hymns, folk, composer and artist. So far it's been a bit 'chaotic'. But good good chaos, LOL. Organized me wants everything neat and tidy, but sometimes life overflows the cup in a less than orderly way, and we drink from it without regrets.

    Thanks for the inspiration. This is the type of post I love to read, but I'm biased, that's how I write and reason. I start organized and end up who knows where! LOL.

  5. Always enjoy your song choices!
    This looks like a worderful year you have planned!

  6. "Since our denomination practises Exclusive Psalmody, we sing Psalms in English and French instead. I select these from our church Psalters. (yes, I have French Psalters - don't you?)"

    Fascinating--I had no idea this even existed. But there are some breath-taking hymns. I call so many to mind when I'm in need of Him. I have the One Year Book of Hymns as one of my devotionals.

    Off to see what Psalmody sounds like!

  7. This was and is very helpful with how you plan it all out! Thanks for sharing. (-:

  8. Great post Jeanne. I always love the Aussie books you pick to sub into AO :)

  9. Well...I'll have to dig deep into this post!!!

    I am in the middle of devloping our curriculum as we dive into the world of Charlotte Mason...

    I have found www.simplycharlottemason.com to be a huge help. I'm yet to embrace Ambleside Online...but I will.
    I am needing to start small..and embrace the journey as a whole :)

    Thank you for posting!

  10. I have just through this entry...Oh My Goodness...I feel small right now. I thought I was ready to start...but maybe I am not.

    Is there ever a chance of burnout?

  11. Dear ProjectGirl, Sure you can do this!

    Start asking questions - I'd love to help you!


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...