Experiences With AO

Experiences and advice shared by experienced AO users

Welcome to AmblesideOnline!!! You will love it here and the ladies on this list and the advisory provide SUCH wonderful support! There is no "wrong" way to do AmblesideOnline and it can be very flexible to meet the needs of your children. This list is for discussion of AmblesideOnline in its purest form but if you have "other" questions regarding altering the AmblesideOnline schedules or substitutions, please feel free to join the private sister list open to members - there is always wonderful discussion there about how to mix things up (even though AmblesideOnline is perfect the way it is . . .some of us like to tweak! lol)

The advisory has done an awesome job with AmblesideOnline - I am constantly amazed at their work!

Begin slowly - start with the basics and then add enrichment such as composer/artists/folksongs/hymns/shakespeare later . . .when you feel comfortable with the program.

As for beginning in yr one . . .only you know your children. You will discover early if it is too light for your them. There is much meat even in the early years of AmblesideOnline - I learned so much in many of the year 1 readings myself! Your goal is to get them reading on their own level as soon as possible (which is hard for me because I want to enjoy all of the great literature with them!)

Enjoy the journey!!


We started AmblesideOnline a little over a year ago and I put my then-10 year old daughter into Year 4 because that was where she was in history. She has not done the previous years, but is gradually reading some of the books for free reading. We have had to take AmblesideOnline slowly for her because since I started her in Year 4, which is a leap in difficulty, she wasn't really equipped at first for the new method and more challenging books. It took us a year to get through two terms, including working through the summer!

Now she is doing Year 5, which we might actually finish in a year (without working through the summer), or we might not. (We are taking the summer off regardless.) When she is done with 5, we will move on to 6. She is learning so much, and I don't want to steal her joy by insisting she move too quickly to savor the books. It may take us two years to get through Year 6, it looks pretty challenging, but that is okay. I don't even know if she will be ready for year 7 by the time she is thirteen, and I don't want to throw her into deep water without her having the knowledge of how to swim. We may do a pre-year 7.

And on that subject, I have an 8 year old daughter who has done Year 1 and just finished Year 2. She is doing wonderfully well with the lower Years. I expect Year 3 will be more of the same for her, as I have seen her mature considerably in her reading and understanding abilities in the past year and a half (we took her year 1 into last summer). However, I am a little nervous about her doing Year 4 in a year or so. I am already looking at the Year 3 1/2 ideas people have thrown out, because I'm thinking the leap might be a little overwhelming for her.

All this to say, please don't think you have to get to Year 12. Some AmblesideOnline children who have graduated and gone on to college haven't done Year 12 or even 11 because Year 11 wasn't even written until last year! The upper years are more and more college type material as you get higher in number, and whatever your child doesn't get to by graduation, she can work on as a college student.

And unfortunately, it has also been my experience that when I become all stressed about finishing the books/years or getting mama's educational goals met, a lot of other things that are important fall by the wayside. Like habit training. And giving hugs. And spontaneous nature walks. And taking a break to rejoice in the dragonfly on the window screen. These are so worthwhile and I don't want to neglect them. :o)

In Love,
Katie Barr

Question: I love the AmblesideOnline curriculum, but I've seen all the sample schedules and yahoo lists with forms and texts and it's so confusing! This looks way too discouraging and overwhelming. How will I do this?

I'm sorry you're having a hard time making sense of AO. We didn't design it to make it confusing, and if there's something in particular that's not clear, we wantto hear about it so we can clear it up. One of the changes we made to our website (for just that reason) was giving newcomers a "start here" page, and suggesting that they kind of do the guided tour of AO and CM before getting lost in all the other material that's been added to the site. The FAQ section (as well as suggestions for beginners) can be very helpful this way.

I agree that the extra files of peoples' schedules can also be confusing. I think the best thing maybe about looking at them is just that you realize there are so many ways that you could structure your day! Families and children come in so many shapes and sizes that it's pretty hard to generalize and say "today you will practice short vowels at 9:00 for 10 minutes and then print this particular line from a book for another 10 minutes." That would never work for our family--my kids would always be ahead or behind whatever was laid out.

One thing I've done is just to think about how long each day I expect each child to be doing school. When one of our children was doing Year 1, her formal school took about an hour total. I broke it down into 20 minutes of language work (not all at once--that was about 5 minutes copywork, 10 minutes reading practice, 5 minutes memory work), 20 minutes of math, and 20 minutes to do an AO reading. That was really enough to start with. As your children get older, you can stretch things out.

And one other suggestion: have you looked at the AO-HELP curriculum that's linked from the first page of the website? It was designed for people going through a crisis, but I've found it very helpful myself as a reminder of what the "basics" would be.

Hope this helps and that you'll consider giving AO another try,

Anne White

It can be overwhelming to have a curriculum with many choices, but it's better than one that gives you only one. It's difficult to choose and not second guess yourself, but choose anyway. You can always change if need be. See what works and get rid of what doesn't. You can even make choices that aren't included.

When we first began the CM method, I changed a few things at a time. I shortened class times, alternated difficult subjects with easier ones and added picture study. Once that felt somewhat comfortable, I made more changes. I'm still an eclectic home schooler. I use a combination of ideas and methods and I've managed to get one child out into college, (made it through her first year at Hillsdale), and have one with two years left of high school, so it can be done.

When I first started home schooling, way back when, it seemed there were always these perfect families, who had their acts together and were way beyond what I would ever be. Don't believe it! Everyone has "issues", just not necessarily your issues, and they certainly don't have your children and their needs. I think it's a good idea to look at your children and think what you'd like for them to accomplish each year, set some goals, keep thinking about not only playing to their strengths but how you can work on their weaknesses, and then cut yourself some slack and enjoy being with them during these wonderful years, (or at least mostly wonderful. :-)

It might be comforting to know that home schooled children tend to do better than their counterparts regardless of the parent's/parents' level of education and that there isn't a statistical difference between those whose parents are high school educated and those those parents have higher degrees. So take heart! Besides, there's no reason you can't learn right along with, (or slightly ahead of :-) your children.

If there are subjects you really have problems with, look for another parent who could help, trade classes with someone, look for a co-op, or find a tutor, whether a student from a local college or someone else. Look for community service classes offered by your city or see if anyone at your church can help. Believe me, when our younger daughter expressed an interest in Japanese, I knew the time had come to bring in someone else!! I contacted a local university that had a Japanese department, the department head recommended a teacher and that woman is a joy and a blessing.

And keeping asking online questions and look for advice and backup on the email list.

janet webb

wow, that sounds a lot like me when i first looked into ao. :o)

Have you read the charlotte mason books? (or the summaries?)

What about amblesideonline do you think would make it right for your family?

My advice to you is that you dont have to do it ALL at once. When we started, I think it was the history books we began with, soon adding the literature. Slowly over time I've added other components. This year we're actually going to use Plutarch and FINISH a Shakespeare plan *blush* (we start one every term, but havent yet finished one).

This will be our 3rd year using ao (really only 2.5yrs b/c i started mid year). I started with 2 in Year 2 and one in Year 4. This year I will have 1 doing year 1, 2 doing year 4 and 1 doing year 6 (and 3boys who'll sit by and listen).

I dunno if it'll help or add to your confusion, but here's how we worked through school last year:

Monday - History and Nature
Tuesday - History tales and Science
Wednesday - the arts (composer, artist, handicraft)
Thursday - natural history and science biography
Friday - geography and literature
Saturday - shakespeare

i'm still in the process of evaluating whether or not we'll use a similar schedule this year. it certainly helped me focus for my starting years, though.

AmblesideOnline does have everything laid out for you, planning wise. :oD no, not down to the day-to-day, but the week. You can decide wether that means you work daily on each topic in very small chunks or one day a week for each subject.

I hope you find just the right fit for your family, AO or not.

Have you looked over the sample days that some AO families follow? They are all different, but you may glimpse a better idea of how an 'average AO week' works for others.


I'll tell you what I wish I had done back in year one. Knowing what I know now about AO, if I could do it all over again from the beginning, here's what I would do.

Books: Buy or borrow the AO books for the core studies and put them on a shelf. Then print the free/additional reading list from the AO website which you will use to find books at the library because these are books for pleasure and learning, but not necessarily ones you need to buy because you don't need them for months at a time. I no longer spend time questioning why a core subject book is used because it always becomes clear once I get into it a bit further! Pick and choose the free reading according to what you think will foster a love of reading in your family.

Schedule: Next, using the AO schedules as a guide, decide how many days it will take to read each book and do a little simple division to decide how many pages a day/week you need to read based on the number of days you will be doing school considering holidays and other time off. Use this number to know if you are on track throughout the school year. This will look something like, 3 pages from one book and 7 from another one, one Tales from Shakespeare story read aloud by me all in one sitting once every 3 weeks, 1 math chapter each week, etc and then determine what days you read them. Do you want Friday to be Science day or Art/Composer/Nature Study with a math lesson to begin the day? It is very simple and is easy to adjust because you made the schedule in the first place. As Anne said, you will either be always ahead or always behind if you use someone else's schedule and that's true with your own schedule too, but the AO schedule lists books weekly and lets you determine how you divide up your day/week. I would not get too wrapped up in writing everything down in a super-duper spreadsheet at first because a simple page stating the number of pages and the order and days you want to do them will let you or anyone else who steps in for you in an emergency know what needs to be accomplished on any given day. If your kids are older and reading on their own, make a very simple checklist for them to follow. You don't have to be a genius, because these books have already been carefully, painstakingly chosen for their literary content and educational value by people who are highly intelligent and well versed in CM's methods.

AO Email List: You will get more wonderful ideas and support than you ever thought possible. You can add in narration cubes, timelines and other fun ideas, but don't wait on them to get started.

"Doing school": On the first day of school, just sit down and read and ask your children to tell it back to you. Alternate intense activities like math and copywork with reading or running around in the backyard. Serve a mid-morning snack and read a few poems and ask them what they think. We do bible study with breakfast and I read aloud again at lunch. Listen to books on tape while cleaning or waiting at piano lessons and read aloud at bedtime. Design your day in an enjoyable way that suits your family, but the main point I am trying to make is one that I have struggled with: JUST DO IT and don't overanalyze AO like I did. The books speak for themselves and the children will connect with them even if it doesn't happen the first few weeks. After half a school year you will know if you need a more formal schedule, but it will be easier to do because you are backing it up with real life AO experience and you will know what is working and what is not. I have been so disappointed in myself when I let the lack of a fancy schedule hold me back from forging through the books, but I am so pleased and content when I can look back and see how much we have accomplished in my children's education by just picking up the books daily and reading a bit at a time.

I wish you well,

Andrea Rodarte

I am new to AO and the CM way, but from what I've read I'm really excited to use it. I hope even my limited experience can be a help.

Don't sell yourself short . . . It's easy to understand how appealing a curriculum that spells everything out would be. But one of the major benefits of homeschooling is that you can choose curriculum and tailor programs to exactly what your children and you need. You feel these text are important. Then let them read them.

When I first looked at AO, I was overwhelmed. It's easy to get that way, and I have spent hours planning (and am still working on it). I've already read several suggestions that seem to make things easier. Remember, that AO says that each Year isn't necessarily a grade, and that if a high schooler gets through Year 7 or 8 that he still has more than the average high school senior.

From what I can gather in the limited time I've been exposed to AO, AO is a GUIDE. It is meant to be a help to put some of CM ideas into a practical schedule. But that's not set in stone. From what I gathered, the most important part of this method is to teach your kids to love to read. Once they know how to read and love to read to obtain knowledge, there is no stopping them. It's why I believe that the fundamentals of Year 1 is the 3 R's. I'm focusing on reading, writing and math, I'm doing history and science once a week. As I get more comfortable with the style I will add the others. If it takes me 2 years to finish all the work in Year 1, oh well. I still am exposing my children to great books and learning history from living texts. My daughter will be interested in learning. I'm excited about learning. I can't wait to read these with her.

Back to the start, one of the CM motto's was "I am, I can, I ought, I should." You can make this work. And if you feel it is what is best for your child, you should make this work. One practical thing I found that helped was a scheduling program on the computer, I down loaded it for free. Yes, this program requires more planning on your part - I just think of it as an investment in my child.

Carole W.

Suggestions from an HEO (high school level) user:

If you are new to homeschooling, or the CM philosophy, I would refer you to articles on the Charlotte Mason Education philosophy and recommend the reading of the articles before attempting anything. While reading about CM, you can ask your high school students to read the pre-year 7 books and to tell you about their reading experiences once they've completed the books.

Has AO/HEO helped my children with their reading? Yes, and not just the reading skills of the children reading but also my own. I am an ESL (English Second Language) mom. The reading of living books and the accompanied technique of narration boosted our language skills in the spoken and written word.

How has it changed my home school? Our home school lives and radiates an atmosphere of life. Through CM's philosophy we were made aware of many different fields of education -- fields that a normal textbook approach leave no time for: nature study, drawing, art appreciation, composer studies, the reading of Plutarch's lives. The greatest change: all these 'studies' are done during 'school time' and not in the evening when mom is tired.

Are there things that might make a transition to this kind of education easier?
     There will be no perfect narrations, drawings and writings, but all that is done will be your child's own work: remember and respect this fact.
     Change one aspect at a time. Change the aspect or area of difficulty that you experience presently -- tackle it, change it, work with it, enjoy it and then move on to the next aspect. I have changed all in one week -- the recovery period was very long.

What kind of moms might find this curriculum useful?
     Moms that know something is 'amiss' in their home school, but do not know what.
     Moms, who are willing to learn, read and draw with their children.
     Moms willing to invest time and energy (the money-part of this equation can be saved.)
     Moms that like textbooks might find it difficult in the beginning.  But given enough time, they will know how to juggle both 'likes.'

AO/HEO can free you up to further your own understanding of Charlotte Mason by giving you time to read her books -- if you use the Years (1-6; 7 and up) exactly as is. If you decide to combine different years, you will have less time. If I could start again, I would choose one year and stick with it. I realized that we will never know all, things will change and that there are and will always be only 24 hours in a HOME school day which includes chores, washing, preparing dinners and the 'ever-getting earlier' tea-break in the morning.

The saying goes that a woman or a mother is responsible for the atmosphere in her home. The CM philosophy of Education has helped me to bring this saying into practice.  Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline and a Life -- this saying has changed my outlook on our home school, on our life, and we are enjoying every step of the way.

I have benefited so much from AO and HEO these past years . . .

Kind regards
Sonja Schoonraad, South Africa

(Dawn posted this as a response to a question about high school and graduation requirements)

I found AO/HEO in 2001, I was thrilled and overwhelmed at the same time. I couldn't figure out how it all work or how to do it. So, I put it in a file and moved on. I was fascinated by The Well-Trained Mind and decided to go that route.

I eventually came back to AO in 2004 and decided to use it as a resource because I couldn't get my head around it, still. Last spring, I decided to take the plunge, no more debating how to do, should I do or what to do, I just decided to give it a try. Now, almost a year later, I am so glad we did ~ it has been the most productive, successful and growing year we have had in our 4yrs.

Now to give you background, my dc are now 17yo daughter (soon to be 18), 14yo daughter and 13yo son. The oldest is an avid reader and loves classics ~ some of her favorites are Great Expectations, Pride & Prejudice and anything by Rudyard Kipling. My other two dc were a different story until this year. They all learned to read by using phonics and whole language, unfortunately mostly whole language in public school. When we switched to christian school they learned phonics. Neither enjoyed reading, it was a chore which they not only dreaded but hated. My youngest daughter is very auditory, which I learned after much trial and error with reading comprehension tests at cs (she failed almost all of them til we started having her read the words quietly to herself) and my ds was very active with no attention span. Since applying CM's principles and using the wonderful booklist of AO, I have seen them prosper in areas that I would have thought impossible without a divine intervention from God. By the way, I do consider my decision to use CM and AO/HEO a divine intervention from God.

My oldest daughter has covered quite a bit of the HEO list and is currently doing Yr 10 since that list had lots of books she hadn't read or had been interested in reading. I am very comfortable with her finishing in Yr 10 and feel she has been very well educated and my only regret is not allowing her to use the program the entire 4 yrs. She will be doing Yr 11/12 for her college studies.

Last summer I began using Yr 1 with my ds and he has gradually moved him up in AO. He currently is finished Yr 3 and will begin Yr 4 next term (btw, we didn't do every book). My younger daughter started using Yr 4 last september and will begin Yr 5 next term. In the beginning, it was a struggle to get them to do their work, however, I am glad to say they both are successfully completing their studies and have expressed much delight in their books. They have even requested a couple for their personal library. Both can now be found with a book in hand more frequently than ever before. I know this is in direct relation to the changes made in our learning style and choice of curriculum. My ds' current favorites are An Island Story, Abraham Lincoln by D'Aulaire and Da Vinci (don't know author at the moment) and daughter's favorites are Poor Richard, Abigail Adams, Gentle Ben, and Madam How and Lady Why.

Since starting later with AO/HEO, I originally was trying to have them move quickly through AO, so they could get as much of HEO as possible. Well, I have had a change of heart since then. I realize that I needed to allow them to move thru the years at their pace and wherever we finished would be sufficient. My daughter is 9th grade level at this time and son is 8th. They both will probably only complete thru Yr 9 and I am okay with that. HEO is so rich and there is so much to be learned from Yr 6 - 9, that I no longer worry about not getting it all (thru Yr 12), just enjoying where we are instead.

That said, I would suggest you get a copy of your states high school requirements. Once you have a copy of what will be considered graduation criteria, compare it to your HEO booklist ~ remember there will be some things that are on HEO that most schools don't ever cover, they are saved for college. Yrs 9-12 are AP or college level material, which is one of the reasons I am not concerned, any longer, about doing all of them. I encourage you to spend some time in prayer, especially since you do have time. There is no hurry, only our inner drive to be at a certain place according to some standard, most times the world's, that keeps us from enjoying where we are. Remember AO/HEO are far above most curriculums and public school standards, so they really can't be compared. You may want to look at this website I found on Leslie's blog the other day. It is an outline of graduation requirements that I found very interesting because several of the HEO books are listed as must reads for the graduates:

I am sorry this is long, but I have been where you are and wanted to encourage you to take it "slow and steady." This was the most simplest but precious advice I received from several of these wonderful ladies when I began and it will work and bless you as well.

Enjoy the journey, we are on the road least traveled and we have time to smell the roses. Please do and know that it all works out for our good ~ one day at a time.

HTH, Dawn ;)

We're not new to homeschooling, but we've just discovered AO, and I can't wait to get started in the fall! We're in NC - I'm homeschooling my 10 yo daughter, and I have one son in college and one that's a senior at a public high school.

We will be starting our 3rd year homeschooling, and I feel like we're just now starting to get into a rhythm. I think I've pretty much figured out what her (and my) strengths are and what type of curriculum works best for us. Every day is not great, but there are enough great days to keep us going!

Here are a few things that I have learned along the way:

- The grass always looks greener when it comes to curriculum someone else is using, but overall I think it's best to stick with what you've got and not do too much switching around.
- I need to resist the temptation to lecture - discussion is much more satisfying for both of us!
- We need to limit the number of field trips, co-ops, etc. we do in the mornings so we can develop a routine.
- Unless something extraordinary is going on, we need to put school work first. Nothing disrupts our day more than answering the phone!
- Lastly, character development should take precedence over academics! It's so easy to find opportune times for talking about character issues when you have hours and hours with your children.

You are most likely beginning the most interesting time of your life, so be mindful every day of how fortunate you are to be taking this wonderful journey with your children!

Cindy B.

My ds is very bright, a great reader, very verbal, and for the most part would be classified as 'gifted' in some areas. No matter his skill level, he still had specific areas needing improvement when we started home schooling. His weakest area was in comprehension, in writing, and in basic math. We focused on improving those areas and I would have to say that AO has really been a significant contributor to his success. Narration has been vitally important for us. My ds processes information very quickly (he is one of those children who always seem to 'know it all') and while this is a great skill it can mask weakness. "Can I simply memorize and regurgitate it instead mom?" Basically, this is the trick my son was using in PS to get As. But in reality he was not really understanding and mastering the material -- just doing enough to pass the test, quiz or complete the assignment. CM's focus on narration has been instrumental for us. My ds readily tells me the details from several chapters and will now draw conclusions to past reading. He was not able to do this last year and it has really made a difference in his desire to read to learn. Since using CM my ds regularly reads anything and everything with the goal of learning something new. It is exciting to see your child learning for the sake of learning and not just going through the motions to get by. In addition to his reading comprehension improvement, I have also seen a rapid improvement in his writing ability. Even though we do not focus on writing per se (we do written narrations once or twice a week), the whole writing process has come alive for him. Last year, he would sit in tears if he had to write a paragraph summary. He didn't know where to begin or what to say. Now, he asks to write summaries and usually they are wonderful, very detailed and well written. We still need to work on the fundamentals but his fear of expository writing has ceased.

Tips for New Users

First Time Homeschooling

This is our first year home schooling and our first year using Charlotte Mason. When we first made the decision to home school our 6th grade ds, I was overwhelmed by the curriculum choices. A friend recommended Charlotte Mason to me and gave me several books to read. I read them several times through before searching on the internet for her original home schooling series. CM's parenting philosophy is very similar to our own so naturally I was keen to learn more about her educational ideas. One thing led to another and with some further digging on the internet, I found AmblesideOnline. I was so impressed by the breadth and depth of the program that I knew this was the curriculum for us. AO has been a blessing to our family so far and are planning on following it through high school.

Real Life Transition from Public School to Homeschool

My ds spent K-5th grade in public school. Home schooling was a welcome relief but as a new home schooling mom, I felt ill-equipped to organize and run our home school. I am a planner and scheduler by nature, so researching how-to-do things and then testing and trying them was never a problem for me. However, no matter how clearly the AO program is laid out on the website (which it is), it is not an easy task to implement CM and AO into a new home school. It does take time, a significant amount of time, to not only plan and prepare but also to do the research into CM's methods so that you really understand how to do them. I feel that for the first 5 months of our school, I was pretty much flying by the seat of my pants. I did as much as I could, often felt that I was doing either too little or too much, and ended up changing our routine many times until I found the 'right mix.'

I would have to say that getting started with CM/AO is the hardest part of the process. But once you get your schedule done, a routine working, and then stick to it, the rest is so very easy. My 11 ds loves the AO program and books; he reads without hesitation; he looks forward to school days; and he has shown substantial improvement in his reading/verbal/comprehension skills since we started using CM's methods. Over our recent Christmas break, my ds actually asked me when we would begin school again. I asked him why and he told me that he couldn't wait to do school again.

Specific Things that Make AO Easier

After participating on the email list for 8 months now, I have noticed the same email questions pop up by new moms. They seem to focus around: schedules, planning, and getting started with the program. These are just some of the things I have learned as a new home schooling mom using AO.

1) Pick the right year/level - It is really important to pick the right year for your child. We started in the middle and flipped around with years 4-5, reading some bits from each. It was a big no-no. It would have been much better for us to start Year 4 this past fall and spend the few months preceding it, catching up on other books from Years 1-3 and concentrating on 'decompressing' from public school and getting into the swing of home schooling. Instead we plowed right in and in hindsight think we did too much too soon. I would definitely advise new moms of children 10-12 to start at year 4 and take it slow. Don't try to do everything at once. Concentrate on the basics: math, reading, and history. The other thing I would suggest is to follow program as written. I know that many moms use bits and pieces or will substitute books. That may work for some but I really think you short-change your child when you do that. The AO year is so complete and everything matches so nicely -- it really is very well planned and works wonderfully. As Hamlet said "there is method to this madness!" Also, don't give up. Give yourself plenty of time to get comfortable with CM and AO and allow it to work its magic. I think many people quit before the process has actually started to sink in. I know for us, this year, has been so much easier than our first year (the end of 5th grade). It does get better the longer you stick with it.

2) Print out the schedule and book list - and either put it in a binder with 12-week segments or do as I did and create a 12-week spreadsheet so that each week you know exactly what you are working on. It really helps to have a goal and to see what you have accomplished over the 12-week term. I found out that I need to know exactly how many chapters we have read and how many are left and that we will finish on time. I guess I am just 'wired' this way :o)

3) Print the e-books if you can - we do read online for some of the book selections but really having a printed copy is just easier to manage and allows us greater freedom to read on the run if needed. Scour used book sales, library sales, and buy used whenever possible. Again, there is something wonderful about having the books on hand versus reading them online.

4) Don't sweat the small stuff - like math and grammar. It seems that most new moms really sweat about grammar. I think we have had it driven into our heads that unless our children can dissect a sentence and conjugate verbs, they are going to be life-long failures. Not so. I tried using CM's methods for grammar initially but got swayed by other non-CM moms who felt that her simple approach wasn't enough. I broke down and bought a very intense grammar book, which we used for two weeks, and then set aside. We are back to using CM > narration, copywork, recitation and dictation. It is so wonderfully freeing to know that we can learn all we need about our beautiful language simply by using it.

The same goes for math. It seems that lots of moms worry about their children not being able to perform on the SATs even though their kids are in primary grades! Math is important but there is so much more to learn than numbers. I was also pushed onto the Saxon bandwagon -- doing Pre-Algebra with my 6th grader. What happened was that math became 45 minutes to an hour of daily struggle. We set it aside in favor of a less intensive math workbook that simply drills the basics and works concept by concept until it is mastered. My ds enjoys math and in 20 minutes we are done.

5) Doing school with more than one child - I can't really offer comments here because I only have one child. But I can say that it really doesn't matter whether you have one child or a passel full. If your home is chaotic then your school will be as well. Habit-training is valuable for us all and the more self-control we can offer to our children; the better they will function as children now and then later as adults. Advice: Read CM's parenting volumes and put her methods into practice. They really do work wonders!

Thanks again for your time and effort in putting this together. It is greatly appreciated.

Carol Hepburn

Below, I included a summing up of Charlotte Mason and the great benefits we are appreciating after learning more about CM from the gracious, and knowledgable ladies and AmblesideOnline. First, I'll simply respond to a few of the suggestions for tips to help new members.

1) Are there things a mom should know that might make her transition easier?

Parents of young children can easily begin with copywork, reading good books, getting out of door, and practicing observational skills. While those good beginnings are taking root, it is helpful to begin learning about Miss Mason's philosophies. This can be done with books written about Miss Mason's educational ways, by listening in at the AmblesideOnline yahoo group, by snooping around the AmblesideOnline site and its rich content, by reading Miss Mason's own writing which can also be found at AmblesideOnline, and by asking plenty of questions. Parents who are not as sure about the process of copywork and narration might leave those until they have had opportunity to listen in and ask a few questions. Over time, more subjects and philosophies can be applied as the family is ready.

Parents of older children would benefit greatly by taking the time to educate yourself at AmblesideOnline until they feel ready to begin making changes, adding this here, changing that there, etc. Taking the time to read posts about the foundational material in Yr-7 and Yr-8, and how Yr-9 is built upon some of that could help parents make more informed decisions concerning their Yr-8 and above aged children. Again, in time, more subject and philosophies can be applied as the family is ready.

After just three years of using AmblesideOnline with my oldest three children (16, 9 and 7), we are finally getting our feet into more solid habits, exercise of the will, and an increasingly clear picture of where we are going with this wonderful curriculum. As Miss Mason states, "Habit training truly is pleasant." Our home is more peaceful, more productive, and happily speaking the same language about many parent and teen issues.

Now that we are going through Yr-1 materials again, I am finding that the depth of learning and layers of learning are more profound this time through. Perhaps there will be a time when my younger children will find their mother handing them more titles which are not found on the AmblesideOnline lists, but for now, we are all enjoying the reading lists and guidance in great part, just as they are.

2) What kind of moms might find this useful, and who probably would not find it a good 'fit'?

Moms who want to learn about the depths of a Charlotte Mason education, and especially moms who do not have time, energy or knowledge to persue their own reading lists (like me) would find the artfully prepared reading lists at AmblesideOnline, as well as the suggested weekly breakdown of those books of incredible benefit. This would allow the parent who does not wish to be a book-hound to spend time learning more about the philosophy of education, and less time scurrying about looking for books.

Moms who do not wish to follow the reading lists just as they are, but who do want to begin 'trying on' a few of Miss Mason's methods and philosophies would find highly knowledgable support here as well.

Moms who already know what they want their children to read, or who wish to modify Miss Mason's methods and philosophies may still benefit from many of the supports of AmblesideOnline.

Moms of children with LD's have regularly found that Miss Mason's methods are accessible for themselves and their children, joyfully reaping from the academic approach that recognizes the student as a person.

Moms who do not feel that they have the time to gather up the materials, or feel comfortable making suitable substitutions using library, or are not comfortable trusting Miss Mason's methods to prepare their children for state mandated tests, and who simply want to open a text to work from might find it trying to adjust to a Charlotte Mason education. I personally believe that if they were to persist in doing so, they would benefit greatly as have many others, but it is important to acknowledge that their peace of mind with a given textbook or guide, if it is indeed functioning without stress, can be of benefit as well.

Moms who have fully understood Miss Mason's ideas about reading literature in small portions, over time, but do not wish to embrace this method, and who also enjoy choosing their own books for their children, who have strong commitments to very busy lifestyles, and thus feel that they are unable to participate in many of the poetry, art, nature, composer, and etc. studies might not find significant benefit from learning more about CM philosophies at AmblesideOnline.

>>Could you tell me how Charlotte Mason (CM) philosophies have helped your children in general?

Charlotte Mason philosophies apply to all of our children as the use of her philosophies develop the habit of attention, the habit of observation, among other habits, as well as the force of the child's will (in this context, the will refers to the child's power to turn himself away from that which is not proper at the time, to that which is good, pure, of good report, strengthening, etc.). Thus the student is not developing the habit of failure.

Children are taught various skills in the context in which they are used as soon as possible. When the child is asked to attend and observe nature, which should be his playground if at all possible, then he finds greater ease in applying attention and observational skills in the context of his own playground. When the context used is wonderful literature, the child finds pleasure at the sense of beauty found there. This literary beauty draws the child. Through interactions with that literature, children sense the benefit of learning to read, expressing what has been read, thus ultimately writing. For example, the CM teacher is encouraged to teach spelling and even word recognition in the context of fine literature, selected appropriately for the child's needs. The context gives the child joy in the learning process, engaging their attention in ways that their eager minds don't even particularly intend, nor even necessarily realize they are doing.

I'll explain some of this mystery when I explain how CM philosophies helped our oldest son in a moment.

The fact that her philosophies also help our oldest son is in keeping with the fact that her philosophies are appropriate for all individuals capable of learning. What is her secret? She trains the mind and the person together, employing the young scholar in his own education.

Some are concerned that there are exceptions to the 'general truth' that Charlotte Mason philosophies apply universally. One example is a concern that many children with dyslexia have truly not been able to learn spelling from copywork and studied dictation. I contend that if at some point, there are children with dyslexia who actually learn to read using a truly CM approach to letter play, and word building, followed by the study of sight words in the context of sentences from fine children's literature, before copywork and studied dictation are introduced, then we will be better able to assess the legitimacy of a truly CM approach in regards to the specific and real needs of dyslexic individuals (CM thinking sees all words as sight words--that each word should not be sounds which the mind must translate into an idea, but that each word brings to mind the idea immediately). In addition to that variable, there are some parents of children with visual processing difficulties who have fine tuned CM philosophies as they assign copywork and studied dictation. These parents have used significantly shorter lessons than those normally used by teachers employing CM principles. Thus, the parents are fitting all spelling related work to the child more effectively. The shortness of the lesson empowers students who have succeeded in this way, because they have been able to develop the habit of attention without flagging (at least not regularly flagging). As attention increases, the short lessons are lengthened . . ..but only at the individual child's rate. Thus each student's ability to attend is strengthened until he is better able to multitask effectively as he writes complete sentences (which is the highest level hindrance to weak spellers who have visually poor processing skills).

Thus, IMHO, the jury is still out in relation to CM's foundational philosophies. It could be that her powerful ideas can still reach across all apparent borders, to empower more children than some imagine.

>>Could you tell me more about how the applications of Charlotte Mason (CM) philosophies have helped your older son?

Well, first I'll tell you that I had trouble getting to the point of understanding what a CM education is. In the meantime, we used what is often called 'an eclectic approach to homeschooling.' That wasn't really bad. I learned many good things during that time. But what I did then was just not as powerful as my oldest son needed, or as effective as my other children deserve. I know that I heard various blurbs on Charlotte Mason education early on during our homeschooling years. But none of them reached out and said, "That's it! It makes sense, we should do that!"

So, why didn't I 'get it?' One of the hallmarks of a CM education is copywork. I heard about copywork without an explanation of *how* it works, and thought, "Copywork? My son can't copy one single word correctly! How could copywork help my son?" Well, now I know.

The copywork lesson is never longer than the student can attend to properly. As the attention of the student increases, the understanding of the student increases, and the value of the lesson increases, which increases the length of the lesson . . ..naturally. In this way, the child rises to the responsibility level that he can manage, while developing the valuable skill of Attention. All of this happens in an encouraging environment, because the student doesn't develop the "Habit of Error".

I mention below some specific helps that CM has brought to my son, but I don't know how to explain them without explaining CM theory somewhat. So I'll start there.

Miss Mason believed in a broad education, and reached aggressively towards a classical education for her students. In spite of this, she began education very gently. Her attitudes towards children are very respectful, both as to their needs and as to their abilities.

To understand how a CM education works, one must understand what she often refers to as 'The Habit of Attention'. The habit of attention is admittedly easier for some to develop than for others. However, without the habit of attention, it is difficult, inefficient, and to some degree impossible to learn anything. Thus all of her educational practices are designed to help the student increase his ability to 'attend' to his lessons. Each child must begin where he is in the development of this habit of attention. Yet, there must be a philosophy whereby he can progressively strive for specific goals of attention, and by choice, manage to develop this habit of attention . . ..(which is stated much better in Miss Mason's own words which can be found at AmblesideOnline http://www.amblesideonline.org/ by following their first link, which is to Miss Mason's writings. This takes you to the table of contents. Scroll down to see the table of contents for the first volume, and keep scrolling until you see Parts III and IV. Click on those if you want to read them. Miss Mason isn't easy reading. If you have questions, ask me, or join AmblesideOnline's support group and ask there.).

Thus, the child's will must be engaged towards this end. This involves not only the habitual habit of attempting to learn (which is aided by the use of Living Books, which is listed below), but specifically employs the choice of the will. When the child would prefer to not apply and/or develop habits, then the child's 'moral' training is engaged to learn to do what is right (bit by bit here as well, of course----and amazingly gently and respectfully). The student may be brought to understand that when he does make the choice to attend to what he should, and thus exercise his will, he is actually playing the part of a hero, which is what he is invited to do . . ..(which is stated much better in Miss Mason's own words which can be found at AmblesideOnline by following their first link, which is to Miss Mason's writings and scrolling down the table of contents for the first volume until one sees Part VI, The Will, and clicking on that link). It is a beautifully positive message, and positive messages are the best training tools. Miss Mason has been known to recognize the need at times for discipline, but she does not need to dwell on that message, as she develops the habits and the will in such a remarkable way that children thus trained are not filled with rebellion and unkindnesses.

As NLDers have difficulty with both habits and focus (unless they hyper-focus, which is exhausting), this has been invaluable to our oldest son . . ..as seen by the results of her theories in application mentioned below.

Miss Mason's philosophy is driven by a concern that we do not 'offend' a child by requiring what should not be required. It is also concerned that we do not 'hinder' a child by offering material that is actually beneath them, or is presented to them in the form of 'twaddle' (there is a definition for this below). Instead, material should be presented to them in the form of Living Books. Living Books are written by authors who have a love for their subject matter, and bring the subject to life for the heart of the child, often at foundational levels. In so doing, the child's attention is fostered by the literature itself, developing the whole child as a person. Then, as the child interacts with the literature, in particular via 'narrations' or 'telling the material back', (which isn't always that easy, try it at your own 'reading' level), the child must organize the material in his mind.

This Habit of Attention is also applied in the development of Observation of Detail. This observation is deliberately developed via various subjects---probably seen most easily in her approach to the study of nature. Questions are put to the child about what he sees in nature. If a young student is observing a chicken, he is asked to describe the way the feathers fit together, and then to explain why that might be, and/or what they might be compared to (ie-shingles). If the student is observing squirrels, the student is asked to draw what squirrel prints would look like in the snow . . ..and/or asked which direction the squirrel faces when he is moving down a tree . . .etc. In the study of great art, the student observes a painting, then delightedly describes it in great detail (with practice), or tries his hand at replicating some portion of the painting with tempera paints with the decided goal of developing observation of various details (how the velvet frock is made to look as if it shimmers---or how the sky is made to look blustery . . ...--not so much to become an artist himself as to develop a keen sense of observation).

Learning new material is not totally unlike learning a new language. One is not fluent in a language until he can think and thus speak the language. Neither is the student fluent with new ideas until he can speak about them. If one can not think logically and orderly in a given language, or a given subject, he cannot be fluent in it. [Now, if one wishes for their children to simply learn how to study for an exam, then this will not seem important to them. However, if one wishes for their child to develop habits which enable them to think fluently, and for themselves, whether it be about this hypothesis and/or that group of facts, sorting out what is true and what is not, then one might wish for the child to learn how to organize his thoughts fluently.]

[What is twaddle? Miss Mason felt that lower quality literature did not have the proper respect of the child's intellect and desire to learn. Charlotte Mason also felt that good habit formation was 10 educations. Part of this education via habit formation is helping the child become comfortable with, familiar with, and actually hunger for what he can receive from good literature. It is helping the child to develop the habit of learning. Thus, exposing children to lesser literature, which she referred to as twaddle, is not the aim of the parent or educator, but is actually contrary to such aims.]

Miss Mason did not believe in long lessons, and believed that the short lessons she employed had enough power to prepare the children for life IF the proper habit of attention was being developed and applied by the child. Thus, the child has plenty of opportunity to engage himself in outdoor activities, learning from nature and from his own play, learning to be productive through the employment of handicrafts, but mostly enjoying and benefiting from nature.

Charlotte Mason did have general guidelines for teaching reading and writing and spelling, and foreign languages, and studying the work of accomplished artists and composers and poets, and more.

To date, we have studied each of these subjects via the CM method with surprisingly excellent results (all except reading, which our sons learned before we learned about CM -- We are currently developing CM styled reading lessons for our 4 yo daughter.) As a CM education involves the juggling of many (excellent) books, our son has had to learn a lot about organization as well . . . which is greatly needed for NLDers.

As our son's dysgraphia has caused his spelling to be quite atrocious in spite of his ability to spell to some extent out of context, our first dramatic impressions of CM's methods came in his ability to spell increasingly well.

How did that happen? Our son had already studied phonics, but only spelled phonetically. What changed? We began CM styled copywork. You might best understand this in CM's own words. Of course, she puts all of this into the light of the habit of attention. If you'd like to understand this phenomenon, go to http://www.amblesideonline.org/ , read Vol 1, Part V, third portion, number XII.

As the child attends with the type of focus which CM lessons develop naturally (that is, the lessons will work if they are presented properly . . .which becomes natural fairly easily---but not automatically), then the child's attention focuses on the words in an almost mystical fashion, which in turn begins internalizing what can hardly be forced into an NLDers mind.

As long as my son does copywork with proper attention 3X's/week, he spells remarkably well (not perfectly, but remarkably and **increasingly** well). When he stops doing the copywork, his spelling skills diminish. Does this mean he might benefit from a lifelong habit of 'copywork'? Perhaps. However, this does not concern him. This is actually an enjoyable pastime for him, as he uses this time to write quotes from author's or other sources that he particularly appreciates. At times we ponder how well he might be spelling if we had begun this process early in his academic training.

Now we are moving beyond that step to studied dictation, which is also discussed in the same section Part/portion/number of her Vol 1 as spelling is. (This is listed above).

Even though studied dictation has only been practiced for a month or two in our home, the results are already gratifying. He is paying attention to the nature of words in his written work in ways he never did before. Skills involving 'important little things' such as proper capitalization of proper names is happening without drill, lecture, or nagging. Prior to studied dictation, he just didn't 'attend' to these types of instructions effectively. His punctuation is improving as well, predominantly from the same study.

As for his ability to 'see the forest instead of the trees', that has increased dramatically since 1) we began studying via a CM education, and 2) we used one of the AmblesideOnline Curriculum assignments as a focused study. That particular assignment is a classic read titled How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. It is truly an empowering book. Our son seems to be elevated daily by this book.

How does CM help see the forest? Via narration. First verbal narrations, and then written narrations (which can move from mere 'telling back' to other types of formats, such as outlining a chapter, and etc.). The kicker that makes this work towards a Habit of Attention, is that the student is expected to be able to do this after only one reading of the book!!! The student does not know which material his teacher will ask him to narrate, thus, he must be able to give a solid narration from all of it . . .. This absolutely requires his attention. Each student's attention is developed incrementally from his earliest readings. In order to present young scholars with material worthy of this type of attention, the student's earliest literature-for-narration is read to him in order that he might be exposed to material worthy of narration . . .. It is a beautiful process. Truly it is.

How did How to Read a Book help him to see the forest instead of the trees? It taught him tools to use when 1) preparing to read the book, 2) interacting with the book---for example, readers are encouraged to make notes in the book, to 'make the book their own' . . .. I know schools cannot do this to a great extent, but it is about the only way an NLDer can interact with certain subjects, [such as biology . . . . . .which led my son and I to believe that all NLDers should require their IEP to include this stipulation], 3) how to ASK THE BOOK QUESTIONS, and how to usually find the answers in the book for themselves while they are reading . . ..which should be possible with a single reading using appropriately chosen materials, as the literature is well written . . .enabling the student to expect to find answers to most of his questions, 4) defined the purpose of reading to a level which is usually not considered in education [this book was written in the ?40's?, and was a call to the schools to teach students reading skills which are necessary for truly reading a BOOK (not just a paragraph) above a 6th grade level. This is rarely accomplished in schools . . ..more rarely attempted, 5) looking for the author's point of view and his main point in a work---which helps the NLDer in particular see each paragraph as it fits in the forest. This was particularly important . . ..and the previewing of the book, and the markings in the text, and the asking of questions as one reads are all important to prepare one to see the author's main point. Any book worth reading has a main point, as well as supporting points, even if one doesn't agree with them.

The Yahoo-Group: LivingMathForum is one of the voices today encouraging teachers to teach mathematics from a similar philosophy. The use of engaging, and often literary quality books to teach math is very effective, though CM had not developed her math instruction in quite that type of extreme. This approach to math is increasingly valuable as mankind's mathematical knowledge has increased exponentially in recent years . . ...and is still increasing. In this world of increasingly abstract mathematical awareness, exploration AND problem solving, it is more and more difficult to create a math rich environment that correlates with even a significant fraction of what is known and understood mathematically speaking. Living Books used in math education help the teacher to create a math rich environment, which is discussed informally, much as if mathematical ideas are dear old friends, bringing mathematical language into the child's common vocabulary (teaching him the language of mathematics as it were . . ..helping the child to become fluent in the language of mathematics). This helps to alleviate fears which could have occurred in the child's heart and mind. Instead of fears, children are filled with wonder, questions, explorations, and most importantly the ability to speak the language of mathematical reasoning. The childrens' minds grow with reasoning, engaged as they are with fluent, inquisitive conversations about and with their dear old friends (the mathematical concepts).

Am I really sure all of this is working? Yes. By employing living books in all subjects, my son's global thinking abilities are being built, exercised and nourished. This is delightful to him as he is exposed to the enthusiasm and power of many excellent authors.

A few weeks ago he came out after completing a reading assignment. He was eagerly asking to read the constitution. He felt compelled to read what was put in the constitution once he realized what the founding fathers left out (because they thought we would always embrace those ideas . . . but most of us have never heard of them). He was really excited. Then about a week ago, he said, "I'm so glad we are using CM and AO (AmblesideOnline). It's like I was blind, and now I can see!" He sees history in light of various models and streams of thought, comparing them and contrasting them in ways I never knew about until we learned about them together. It is enlightening his mind in ways I didn't know about. It is truly exciting.

That might not be the type of description you were looking for, but if I were to tell you that simply copying down words onto a paper and telling back what the student felt was pertinent in a reading might not quite give the picture.

So, I hope this windy post has made more sense than created confusion!

I know that in our early, non CM years, I heard various blurbs on Charlotte Mason education, and I thought, "Copywork? My son can't copy one single word correctly! How could copywork help my son?" Well, now I know. The lesson is never longer than the student can attend to properly. As the attention of the student increases, the understanding of the student increases, and the value of the lesson increases, which increases the length of the lesson . . ..naturally. And the child rises to the responsibility level that he can manage, while developing the valuable skill of Attention, as well as strengthening his will and resolve, building his character, and giving him a vision for his own future.


AmblesideOnline's free Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity, and the natural world.
Share AO with your group or homeschool fair! Download our printable brochure