Getting Started With AmblesideOnline
"AmblesideOnline is an awesome curriculum. I love the flexibility yet the academic rigor." --Amy S.
Welcome to AmblesideOnline. We are glad you're here! We believe that every child -- including yours -- has a right to an excellent education following Charlotte Mason's principles. Educating your child this way may seem daunting, and the plethora of resources available on our website can seem overwhelming, but thousands of moms are currently educating their children this way, and you can, too.
First of all, take a deep breath. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit down, relax, and we'll walk you through how this works.
Curriculum is Only Part of the Picture
Before getting to the nuts and bolts, we'd like to emphasize that our confidence in Charlotte Mason's method and the philosophy behind it is what prompted us to put this curriculum online. But this curriculum is only one tool and was never intended to replace your understanding of the principles behind a Charlotte Mason education, what its goals are, how it works.
Without the understanding of Charlotte Mason's vision, even a curriculum like AmblesideOnline won't give your children a Charlotte Mason education. It will just be another booklist, a collection of texts and subjects to mark off a checklist.
We designed this curriculum so that, instead of spending your time trying to figure out the best CM-quality living books to use, your children can jump into their schooling right away. You will be freed from the burden of trying to create your own Charlotte Mason curriculum, so you can spend your time familiarizing yourself with Charlotte's Mason's vision for raising broad-minded, thinking children who are as concerned about their duty to others, as they are their own rights.
If you're brand new to this, don't worry -- we have resources to help you learn about Charlotte Mason's way of educating. We'll talk about that later . . .
First Things First: Homeschooling Laws
If you're just starting with homeschooling, you should find out the requirements for your state -- whether you need to register with someone, what kinds of records you're required to keep, where to find support. If this is your first experience with homeschooling, you can find regional laws here or at HSLDA.
How This Curriculum Works
- AmblesideOnline provides a list of books you'll need for each Year (level) including history, literature, poetry, geography, and science.
- We schedule our entire AmblesideOnline community together doing the same Art Study (art appreciation), Composer Study (classical music appreciation), Folk Songs and Hymns. Links to those resources are provided in each booklist.
- For students in Year 4 and up, Shakespeare and Plutarch's Lives (biographies of Greeks and Romans) are added.
- You'll need to add in your own math curriculum and foreign language program.
- Reading, copywork and dictation make up much of language arts, so purchasing a Language Arts program is unnecessary.
- Your child will do copywork (transcription) and dictation at their own level.
- There are no vocabulary lists, you don't need a handwriting program, and even a spelling book isn't required or recommended.
- Reading, writing, spelling, and vocabulary all develop naturally as the child hears well-written books read aloud, sees and reads words on the printed page, copies well-turned phrases spelled correctly from his school books, and, later (around fourth grade) writes dictation after studying a passage from a book.
We have a couple of video helps:
- What AmblesideOnline is (and isn't): YouTube or Vimeo
- About the curriculum and how to navigate the website: YouTube or Vimeo
What Does it Cost?
There is no charge for using the books, booklists, or any other material found on this website or offered through our support groups. You don't even need to notify AmblesideOnline or get our permission to use this curriculum.
Start By Reading the FAQ
Homeschoolers hoping to raise their children to be readers, as Charlotte Mason urged, owe it to themselves to take the first step in reading by looking over the instructions for the curriculum they plan to use. Yes, it's long, but the FAQ has all the questions that people routinely ask, with detailed answers and explanations collected from years of responses to real questions from AO moms.
Choosing the Child's Year/Level
If your child is just starting first grade, begin with Year 1. If you're brand new to AO and your child is just starting Year 1, we have a Year 1 Primer to guide you. This is only available for Year 1.
If your child is older but has been in public school or isn't used to reading 'heavy' books, you might want to consider a year or two below your child's grade. This is a challenging curriculum, and many of the books are advanced, so Year 7 books will be harder than what most public schooled seventh graders are reading.
Don't be concerned if your child doesn't have enough time to finish all 12 years of AmblesideOnline. A child graduating after completing Year 9 of this curriculum will have read the equivalent of senior high books. Look over the different levels and pick the Year that your child can handle.
If your child is already in seventh grade or older, it might be helpful to prepare over the summer before beginning AO with our Pre-7 Booklist, and then begin the new school year with Year 7 (or Year 9 if your child is in high school). Pre-7 lists the most important books from the first 6 years that you might want your child to have read before going on to Year 7. Pre-7 can ease the transition into this curriculum for older students.
Don't try to double up or rush through material to "catch up." This kind of education encourages reflection of ideas to build character, and there's no shortcut for that. Whatever your child does get will be enough if you allow time for the ideas to simmer.
More about which Year/Level to start at:
Gathering Your Materials
You'll need to gather your resources:
- The books for the Year you selected (click that Year's booklist to see the resources we've recommended)
- A math program
- A phonics program if you have pre-readers
Years 7-11 provide "Basic" or "Detailed" options; we suggest using the "Basic" list for each year, since the "Detailed" list offers additional options that can be confusing if you're just starting out.
To see an overview, click the appropriate Year:
Where To Get the Books
The vast majority of scheduled books are available for free as online e-texts. Just click on the title of the book to access the e-text. Etexts can be read right off your computer screen, or printed and stapled, or bound together to make your own copy.
A few books will have to be purchased; they can be purchased from most large booksellers, such as amazon.com or any general homeschool bookseller. If a book is only available from specialized publishers, there will be a link on the booklist to guide you to that seller. Otherwise, you can buy from whatever source that works best for you.
We provide links to amazon.com for "real" books (click on the $) or their Kindle versions (click on the K), Those are affiliate links. They are links to the editions we believe are unabridged and well done, but you do not have to use those links. You are free to purchase books wherever you'd like.
To transfer online text (ebooks, articles, AO booklists) to your device's Kindle app for free:
- Install Push to Kindle.
- Find the address that amazon has assigned for your Kindle. To find your Send-to-Kindle e-mail address, visit the Manage your Devices page at Manage Your Kindle.
- Copy the URL link for one of the volumes and send it to your Kindle account via "Push to Kindle" app. Click on the device you wish to send the Kindle document to.
- If you are overseas this will usually cost something, so it would be better to copy and paste the entire version to a document and then save it to your Kindle docs using a USB cable from your computer to your Kindle. (View 2-min Push to Kindle tutorial on YouTube)
Homeschooling Multiple Children With AO
Since the years only loosely correspond to grades, you can combine children in the same year if that's more convenient. This is particularly helpful if your children are too young to read their own books.
Certain subjects are best done with all your children together:
- Nature Study and observation
- Art Study (art appreciation)
- Composer Study (classical music appreciation)
- Folk Songs
- Plutarch's Lives (biographies of Greeks and Romans) are also done together, but students don't need to begin those until Year 4.
- Shakespeare: Younger children do simplified versions of Shakespeare stories. Those are already included in their booklists and schedules in Years 1, 2 and 3, but you can just pick one and do it with all your children.
Another option is to use our modified plan for cottage schools, co-ops, and large families: AO for Groups.
It works like a one-room schoolhouse, combining students into groups that are roughly correlated to grades 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9. Watch Brandy Vencel's 15-minute video explanation and tutorial of AO for Groups (AO4G) at afterthoughtsblog.net.
How To Schedule Your School Days
Each Year has an optional weekly schedule based on a 36-week school year, to break the resources into smaller increments and help with pacing the books throughout the year. In order to provide flexibility for your individual family's needs, we leave it up to you to decide how to tackle a week's list day by day. If you have a weekly co-op, or a day when Dad is home for half a day every week, no problem -- simply plan around that.
Daily planning isn't as daunting as it sounds! As you look at the week's reading assignments, plan 2 or 3 readings a day (or 3 or 4 if your child is older). Add in math 4 or 5 times a week, daily copywork, and you're almost done!
Every day, schedule one of the "riches" -- picture study, composer study, nature observation, Shakespeare. Break up each day's routine with a folksong or hymn, and throw in a daily poem.
A week's assignments may look like a lot, but when it's broken down into daily increments, it's very manageable. A Year 1 child can often get through a day of AO in a couple of hours, and even high school shouldn't take more than four or five hours.
As you plan each day, remember to keep each lesson short: 10-20 minutes long for younger children, 20-40 minutes long for older children. You don't need to do every subject every day. Change it up, with a book following a folksong, or math following history, to make things interesting and keep your child's mind fresh and engaged. Your schedule won't look like any other homeschooler's or a school's timetable because it's individualized for your family.
AO has Tips for Scheduling. AO Auxiliary member Brandy Vencel has some tips with videos on her "AfterThoughts" blog to help you create blank weekly chart templates and weekly schedules. Advisory member Leslie Laurio has posted many of her students' daily schedules.
Auxiliary member Kathy Livingston has sample schedules; you are welcome to use/tweak those, or to use them as an example to see what a day's work might look like in various grades. Kathy also wrote about how she dealt with scheduling when homeschooling with multiple children began to feel more like herding cats! You can read it on the Afterthoughts blog.
What is the Most Important Thing I Should Do To Make This Work?
Have your child narrate, or tell back, what has been read. As your child mulls over the material, decides which parts to tell and what to leave out, what order to tell things, tries to remember names and places, his mind is actively engaged and he is learning.
What's the Second Most Important Thing?
Don't get discouraged if the books seem hard, even in Year 1. The long-term goal is to give your child the skill and confidence to tackle difficult reading material later -- classic literature, works of non-fiction, original historical documents. This skill and confidence comes slowly, through reading books that are a little more challenging every year, starting with Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit in pre-school, and moving through The Little Duke, Secrets of the Woods, Oliver Twist, and Beowulf in successive years.
If you're really stuck, use a paraphrase or even an easier book once in a while to get you over the hump, but keep the long-term goal in sight, and remember that swapping out hard books for easier ones too often will hinder your child from reaching that goal.
Bonus tip: Limiting screen time (TV, computer, video games, iPads, cell phones) will make it easier for your child to learn from books. This doesn't just apply to AmblesideOnline, or Charlotte Mason, or even homeschooling -- it's a good idea in general. Some of the science behind this is in the documentary "Are Screens As Addictive as Drugs?" which is available on YouTube.
How to Get Help and Support
We provide free support on our Forum. Advisory members, Auxiliary members, moderators and helpful moms are always happy to answer any questions you may have, walk you through any issues you might run into while starting this program, help you with scheduling, or simply provide support. We have a video tutorial to help you find your way into and around the AO Forum on YouTube or Vimeo.
If the Forum seems overwhelming, or if you're hesitant to come "all the way in," you might prefer the area of the forum we reserve for new members, called The Patio.
The forum has separate areas for AO members with special circumstances, such as homeschooling overseas (Canadian users, click here), moms with health issues, students who are gifted or struggle with learning issues, and group book discussions for your own self-education.
Learning More About the Charlotte Mason Method of Schooling
Truly grasping this way of education is a process. It takes a shift in the way we view children, the way we view education, and even the way we ourselves live. A beautiful, thoughtful life filled with nature, art, ideas isn't just for our children, it's for us as moms, too.
We strongly urge you to read Charlotte Mason's books, The Original Homeschool Series. They come in a six-volume set, but you can read them online here. If the language is too archaic, you can read a modern-language translation.
Patio Chats: If you'd like a slow and easy way to get up to speed in all things Charlotte Mason, AmblesideOnline has a series of brief, friendly "Patio Chats" every week that will introduce you to the why's and how's of this method over the school year. You can think about them, discuss them online in one of our social groups, or use them as springboards for discussion with your local Charlotte Mason-ey friends. Get them three ways:
- Join our email list at Groups.IO where you will receive these brief emails without any discussion or chatter
- On our Forum
- In our MeWe group
Any Further Questions?
Find answers to questions about scheduling more than one child, implementing nature study, science, math, and foreign language, what we use for history, record-keeping, and much more by reading our FAQ.
AO Auxiliary member Brandy Vencel has tips to help AO beginners gather resources, plan a daily schedule, and get a vision for AmblesideOnline on her "AfterThoughts" blog: Making AO Work: The Gory Details.
If you're curious about whether AO actually "works," you can read these user reviews from experienced members.
We hope this helps you get started!