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AO Combining Years AmblesideOnline.org

AmblesideOnline: Combining Years


Should I Combine Children in One Year to Streamline our Schedule?


Several of our members have many children. I have seven. Mine are 18, 17, 14, 12, 11, 5, and 3 - all girls except the youngest. Our 14y.o. is also profoundly retarded and has Cerebral Palsy.

We have been homeschooling for 13 years, ever since the oldest finished kindergarten. We applied some of Charlotte Mason's ideas from the beginning but only really got serious about this method around four or five years ago.

How to implement AmblesideOnline's program in your homeschool is really something that only you can decide in the end because only you know your children well enough - you probably do know that, but just in case, I want to encourage you, and anybody else reading this, to feel confident about what you do. We are here to offer advise, sympathy, ideas, and sometimes just stories about how we flubbed. =)

So, in the spirit of just sharing some principles of a CM education (which is what AmblesideOnline is based on) and some thoughts, here are some ideas that have worked at my house.

It is important that the material be challenging to our children, something they really have to work at, without it being so difficult they would rather be hit in the head with a baseball bat than do school. For that reason, I don't have any two children in the same year. I didn't have two children who were doing the same level of work. If they were closer in ability, I would have put them in the same year.

It's also an important tenet in Charlotte Mason's philosophy that the children read their own schoolbooks themselves, as much as possible. Reading aloud when the book is too hard, when it has parts you need to edit, or when it is a free reading book is fine - actually, of course, it's fine anytime you want to do it, but it's more 'CM' not to read aloud school books the children can read themselves. And I have heard sad tales many times from overstressed mothers who thought they had to read every book aloud in order to educate 'the CM way.' It simply ain't so. =) So, if you like doing it and your children do get a chance to do some of their own reading at some point, then by all means go ahead and keep reading aloud lots of books. But don't feel compelled to do it if it simply doesn't work for your family.

If you decide not to put two or more children in the same year it will also be much easier on you if the children are reading most of their own books.

I personally found it easier not to combine grades, for many reasons. I've heard this from other moms, as well, who were just as surprised as I was at how much easier it was to have the children in their own years for most of the material.

I offer the above based on my experience and my reading of Charlotte Mason. You should also feel free to make alterations and adjustments to the material as you see fit.

In our case, our first year the material was fairly easy for one of our girls, but it was hard for her older sister. Moving the younger girl ahead of her older sister would have worked schoolwise, but it wouldn't have been good for the character of either of my children at that time (it might work just fine for some other set of children or even these children at some other time. This just wasn't a good option at that time). So I supplemented the younger girl's reading with much more difficult books and chose easier books for the older girl's free reading. I also adjusted the schedule so that the younger girl, who read faster, would, for example, be given fifteen minutes to read Plutarch twice a week while the older girl had Plutarch for thirty minutes four times a week. This worked for us, and now both girls are finding a comfortable pace to work through the material, the older girl a year ahead of the younger. In fact, it worked incredibly well for both these girls. The younger, faster reader had had a tendency to gallop through books without ever stopping to look at the terrain and think about the ideas. Giving her harder books and making her stop sooner gave her an enforced amount of time when she was dying to get back to that book, so she ended up thinking much harder about her reading. The older girl increased her reading speed and skills and gained confidence - it was a major ego booster for her to learn she was reading some books that many adults she knew either never read until college or not at all!

Wendi




There's been a lot said here lately about putting children of different ages together in the same grade. I just want to offer a little food for thought on this. Don't panic - I'm not going to say it won't work, or that you should not do it under any circumstances. But I do want to urge you not to assume that doing it that way will automatically be easier - some of us have found that it is actually better and easier on the family over the long haul to put each child in their own year.

If you do choose to put children of different ages in the same year together, please be diligently watchful to make sure it IS working - not just for you, but for your children - ALL of your children.

[Oh, and please realize that I am not writing this on the behalf of the Advisory - this is just Lynn the Mama-Dah talking here.] (grin)

To share a little of my experience with this... my two oldest children are 2.5 years apart. This is our 4th year to use this curriculum. When we began, I was sorely tempted to put them in the same year. I had all the thoughts that are expressed on this list from time to time about how nice it would be to continue teaching them together, especially keeping us all together on history. I envisioned that it would be easier for me.

However, we had just spent a couple of years (the younger child's first two years of school) with them doing most of their subjects together, and I began to notice that it was wearing down the younger child. She perceived that no matter how much she applied herself, she was never as good a student as her older sister. Naturally, her narrations were immature by comparison, which was made the more obvious and painful for her by the fact that they were narrating from the same material. I was pleased with her narrations - but she never was, because she could tell her sister's narrations of the same material were more advanced. When they did identical mapwork side-by-side, she could see that big sister's was always better... on and on.

She plugged on outwardly, but inside she was really struggling. It was not apparent to me for quite a while that anything was amiss. She was easily performing up to my expectations, and so I perceived that things were going well. What I couldn't see was that she was forming a powerful perception that she was not as smart as she should be. This is such a shame, because she is, in fact, a very bright child.

It is very damaging to a child to feel inferior on a daily basis, and to feel that there's no hope for anything to change. Children who are trying to do their best should feel that they are doing the right thing and doing well. It's hard to feel that way when every time you do something, there's always someone around doing it better. After two years of this, she began to dread school and become apathetic about her studies. She lost the boundless confidence of her preschooler years. She was only seven.

Now, please let me make this clear - I did not feel nor express any disapproval for this child's work, nor compare her to her sister, and I was quick to encourage and praise her. My response to her work was not the problem - her own response was. As an as-yet inexperienced homeschool mother, what I didn't factor in back then was that she would not have a mature judgment of their differing abilities. She came bubbling into her first days of school fully expecting to jump right in there and be as bright as her sister, and to have an equal opportunity to shine. And to be honest, she should have had that same opportunity. Instead, she was unequally yoked with a student who was ahead, moving too fast and dragging her.

So, when we began using this curriculum I put them in different years, and I have never regretted it. We still do Shakespeare, Plutarch, Art, Nature and all that sort of thing together, but it has been very good for both of them to otherwise have their own work, their own books to narrate, their own identities as students in our house.

After three years of having them in separate grades, younger dd still occasionally struggles with some of the negative perceptions she absorbed about herself in those first two years of school. Had she been doing her own separate schoolwork from the very beginning, I suspect we would not still be dealing with this today. My older child has never had to experience these things, and by contrast she has great confidence in her ability to learn anything she will ever need to learn for the rest of her life. I pray that my younger daughter will fully reclaim that confidence. Having her own books to study and narrate has helped tremendously. These days, she does her narrations and other work much more boldly and with a growing sense of creative freedom, because there's not an older student waiting in line to do the exact same thing, only better. I finally see her confidence coming back.

I am being very transparent here, uncomfortably transparent to be truthful, but I learned a painful yet valuable lesson through all of this. How I wish someone had urged me to analyze my options more from my younger children's perspective when I was just starting out homeschooling. We just naturally tend to focus more on the academic path of the oldest child, because they are the ones constantly pushing us into new territory.

I understand the need for mothers of several children to work smart and streamline wherever possible. I am not suggesting that all of you who have put multiple children in the same grade should ditch your plans and start over - this scenario can work in some situations. And certainly not all children will respond to this situation like mine did. But please keep your eyes open and be sensitive about this. If you double up, consider giving the younger student some subjects where they work without older siblings, which they narrate alone, and where they are not being out-performed at every turn. Where you double up, let the older children narrate just with you alone sometimes. Please be creative in finding ways for your younger ones to shine, to feel intelligent and effective, and to hold their own in a sea of bigger people.

Lynn Bruce




I wanted to chime in on Lynn Bruce's post because I have seen the exact same things happen at our house.

>"...some of us have found that it is actually better and easier on the family over the long haul to put each child in their own year.":

This has definitely been proven true here. Not too long ago I wrote a post on the vegsource board regarding this. Except twice now in our family it has been the younger sisters who have been the ones to intimidate their older sisters.

>"She perceived that no matter how much she applied herself, she was never as good a student as her older sister.":

I have seen a child be perfectly happy with some work they did - a drawing or piece of copywork, etc. - only to have their sister show hers and then they immediately despised their own work. Spelling has been a big issue. My second and fourth daughters are natural spellers while my first and third daughters will probably have to work at it the rest of their lives. There has been many a tear shed over this, especially when we did dictation together. My first daughter has finally come to terms with it and can now humble herself to ask her younger sister how to spell a word when she is writing something. Kezzi, who is third, is not quite there yet. Thankfully, for Kezzi's sake, she didn't have to suffer the humiliation as long because I got wise and separated them.

>"Now, please let me make this clear - I did not feel nor express any disapproval for this child's work, nor compare her to her sister, and I was quick to encourage and praise her. My response to her work was not the problem - her own response was. As an as-yet inexperienced homeschool mother, what I didn't factor in back then was that she would not have a mature judgment of their differing abilities. She came bubbling into her first days of school fully expecting to jump right in there and be as bright as her sister, and to have an equal opportunity to shine. And to be honest, she should have had that same opportunity. Instead, she was unequally yoked with a student who was ahead, moving too fast and dragging her.":

I also tried hard to be encouraging, reminding the older girls that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. I had countless pep talks on this topic. I think they eventually paid off and my oldest has matured quite a bit. But as Lynn said, I wish I would have given her the chance to obtain that self confidence from the beginning. There may have been no way to hide the truth from her but at least she would not have had it in her face every day, for every subject.

>"It is very damaging to a child to feel inferior on a daily basis, and to feel that there's no hope for anything to change. Children who are trying to do their best should feel that they are doing the right thing and doing well. It's hard to feel that way when every time you do something, there's always someone around doing it better. After two years of this, she began to dread school and become apathetic about her studies. She lost the boundless confidence of her preschooler years. She was only seven.":. This is such a familiar story. My heart broke when I realized how discouraged my oldest daughter had become.(In fact tears are coming to my eyes thinking about it.) She too began as an eager student. We have finally overcome that discouragement and she is enjoying her schoolwork but it has been a long hard road. I only wish I would have known. If I would have been able to read Lynn's post 10 years ago, Wow! what a blessing it would have been. In looking back I will trust the Lord that He will work all things together for good but I will be more careful in the future.

>" I understand the need for mothers of several children to work smart and streamline wherever possible. I am not suggesting that all of you who have put multiple children in the same grade should ditch your plans and start over - this scenario can work in some situations. And certainly not all children will respond to this situation like mine did. But please keep your eyes open and be sensitive about this. If you double up, consider giving the younger student some subjects where they work without older siblings, which they narrate alone, and where they are not being out-performed at every turn. Where you double up, let the older children narrate just with you alone sometimes. Please be creative in finding ways for your younger ones to shine, to feel intelligent and effective, and to hold their own in a sea of bigger people.":

This is such good advice!!! I thought I remembered a link on the website about choosing years? If we could post Lynn's email there it could possibly save a lot of heartache for others.

Thank you, Lynn, for being "uncomfortably transparent". May God bless you for it.

Lisa Ector




My two youngest, 7yodd and 8yods, are only 17 mos apart. When I began teaching my 8yos to read, he was 51/2. She was only four, but wanted to read along with us, so I let her.

At a certain point, the lessons became too difficult for her. So, he moved ahead and she went back quite a few chapter, in 100 EZ Lessons. So, they made a split early on in their reading programs. It didn't bother her to move at a slower pace. She just wanted to read! But, that said, it would have been much easier on me and just as beneficial to her, to wait a year. Just because she began reading at 4 doesn't mean that she reads better than she would have if she started at five. She would have been more ready and just moved faster - likely reading at the same spot she does now.

Both have always had separate reading and math books; handwriting/copywork length (sometimes they copied the same poem or other lit., but at different speeds) and a few other books, but I also combined many of their subjects/books. I've tried to slowly phase in more individual readings. Last year, I used a lot of yr. 1 and let my 8yos read a few selections from yr. 2, like Pagoo. I gave my daughter a book, called "Insects do the Strangest Things," and so they both had their own books. For narration, they both drew a picture of the day's reading and wrote a few descriptive words or sentences - along with the picture. They also made a book with some of their poems too - I made special paper for this project by tracing lines from a manuscript handwriting book - with the dots and lines - and leaving a blank session for the picture they could draw to illustrate the poem - then I just photocopied it.) I had already read a Child's Garden of Verses to both of them when my youngest was in kindergarten and my 8yos in first grade. So, he read poems by Walter De la Mare and I chose other poems for her.

My 8yos did not read all of the selections from yr. 2, but I moved him to yr. 3 this year, because he was ready for it. I am still combining for history - mostly because I enjoy doing history together and feel that it's an easy subject to combine. In later years, I may separate them, but it's working for us at this time. Now, I just have to decide exactly how I'm going to approach history. lol I've begun a few of their books, but didn't intend to begin school full-force till after Labor Day. We did read the first chapter of An Island Story today and they both enjoyed it.

I do understand Lynn's concerns about putting children in the exact same years for almost all of their subjects. Not only with math and reading, but also with literature and history. For instance, I followed a different history schedule than the one listed previously by PUO/AmblesideOnline when my three children (still at home) were in grades k, 1 and 9. We studied old testament; ancient Egypt and a little of ancient Greece that year. My oldest read more books on his own, of course, and we also did some things together. I read a few of the chapters from CHOW that year to my two sons (mostly just to give my oldest a book to listen to with his younger brother) but gave my daughter free time to play during this reading. It was over her head and she wouldn't have enjoyed it.

God Bless,
Lynn D.