Ambleside Online Planning: My First Year with Two Students

two book stacks

The day has finally arrived – a day I have longed for and dreaded and worried about: the day I begin planning to homeschool two students.

Now, to be fair, I did some lessons with L5 this past year. He worked his way through Math U See Primer and Getty-Dubay handwriting books A & B. He also participated in our morning Circle Time, which means he’s learned some poetry, hymns, and facts (usually set to music). One of my favorite Circle Time Projects we have completed is a Bible Bookcase. Each day of Circle Time we have added a book of the New Testament to our bookcase (and made a paper chain, adding a link). Next year we’ll tackle the Old Testament.

But, this fall, L5 will become L6, and that means Ambleside Year 1. I considered waiting another year until he turns 7, but I think he’s ready. I’m glad that, as a homeschooler, this is an area where I have full control, and I’ve based my decision on my student’s (and our family’s) readiness and not the date on which he was born.

Block Schedule vs. Checklist

Last year, A8 and I operated on a block schedule, but this year I’ve decided to modify to a weekly checklist (Mystie Winckler inspired me) and a loop schedule for our Circle Time extras – Shakespeare, Nature Focus, Composer Study,  Picture Study, and a book of Saints (we are Protestant, but I think church history is still relevant). This past school year we struggled to keep up with the blocks on our own schedule. It made things more difficult than they needed to be. When we start each school day with math and then Circle Time, it should be easy enough to tell my Year 3 student he needs to complete 2-3 AO assignments per day and my Year 1 student he needs to complete 1-2 AO assignments per day. Here are my checklist templates (and all of their free reads laid out for the choosing) for this fall:

Year 3 Checklist

Year 3 Free Read Synopses

Year 1 Checklist

Year 1 Free Read Synopses

Ambleside Online Forum &  Facebook Group

The free read synopses pages came from a cool idea I picked up from one of the moms on the Ambleside Online Forum. Those ladies are so creative! They’ve made assignment bookmarks ready-to-print and shared their own schedules and other tips and tricks. If you use AO and have never participated in the forum (l was like that), you owe it to yourself to go check it out.(Pro Tip: Be sure to click on “User CP” at the top of the forum page. It’ll show you the posts you’ve made and all of the responses from others.)

Of particular note are the AO Curriculum Help sub-forums that are broken down by student years. This is where you are going to find some amazing Year 1 mom has found or created Burgess Bird Book color sheets and photo prints just ready to download and send to print at your local print shop. Or, another thoughtful mom has warned you that the Create Space print edition of a certain school book is total crap and you should spring for the Dover Classics edition. Here lately I read a mom’s warning that one of the Year 3 free reads is actual the first book in a set of two, and you’d better have the second book on hand to read because the first book’s ending just does not satisfy. Oh, and don’t forget, under “Resources”there is a forum to buy/sell AO or CM materials.

There are also sub-forums of CM Study Hall where you can discuss CM philosophy with people who are actually in your same boat — I think we’ve all had the experience of trying to discuss Charlotte Mason with someone who either (A) thinks CM is unschooling, too light on science, etc. or (B) can’t get past the fact that you’re homeschooling let alone wrap their minds around the fact that you have an educational philosophy.

AO even has a few private forums for parents of large families and parents of children with learning disabilities and giftedness. These are nice, safe enclaves within the AO community to discuss your specialized questions.

Another AO resource that took me forever to discover is the Ambleside Online Facebook Group. You have to request to be in the group, but the community there is so worth it. And, like the AO Forum, this page is closely and strictly monitored for spam and sales pitches.

Ambleside Online Form I

The difficulty I’m going to face with having two students this year is that both of my students are in Form I, which means they must listen to me read their assignments to them and narrate back to me as we go. That’s a lot of one-on-one time (which I will love!) that will have to be carefully put into our school days. Yes, audiobooks can sometimes fill some gaps, but AO recommends the homeschooling parent do the reading as much as possible. This makes total sense to me since the parent has to stop at intervals to have the student narrate. This is a skill you just get a feel for doing. For my day-dreamy A8, it’s just about every paragraph. For my ultra-focused L5, I think is may be more like every page. The key is to ask for narration before they drift away (mentally). A8 drifts very easily during read alouds even though he is an excellent reader. I think it because he is a visual-spatial learner. I imagine this year we will be doing some bedtime readings (thank you, DH!) and some weekend catchup.

Ambleside Online’s Forms and Years

If you are unfamiliar with Charlotte Mason’s Forms, here’s a quick breakdown:

Form I covers grades 1-3

AO Year 1

AO Year 2

AO Year 3

Form II covers grades 4-6

AO Year 4

AO Year 5

AO Year 6

Forms III & IV cover grades 7-9 (junior high)

AO Year 7

AO Year 8

AO Year 9

Forms V & VI cover grades 10-12 (high school)

AO Year 10

AO Year 11

AO Year 12

Ambleside Online’s Years roughly translate to grade level, although AO is literature based, and many families who transfer over to AO from other types of programs – be it public school, private school, or other homeschool curricula – find that they need to at least start their student at a lower “grade” until they are comfortable with the required reading level. A8 didn’t start Year 1 until he was 7. He had attended pre-school and then private kindergarten at age 5, so we took an entire year to transition him home (and I had a baby) before we started AO Year 1 (1st grade). It’s a little weird to me that my sons whose birthdays are 3 years and 10 days apart will only be two grades apart, but that’s how it has worked out.

Curriculum in Form I (AO Years 1-3) is purposefully full of books written above the students’ reading levels. This is to help bring young children up to a high reading level quickly so that as they progress on to Form II (starting in AO’s Year 4) they will be able to read most of their own books and begin written (rather than oral) narration – not for every subject, but ease into it gradually.

 Importance of Living Books

Why, you may ask, does a fourth grader need to be reading comfortably at the 1000+ Lexile level? Because living books like Natalie Bober’s “Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution” (Lexile 1130) are written at a higher reading level. AO Year 4 students learn about the American Revolution from this rich text written by a master biographer rather than a textbook written by a committee. Living books make history (and other subjects) interesting rather than dry; intriguing rather than grueling. Those first three years of reading to your students trains their ears to understand these higher level books by AO Year 4 – and, if there’s a delay, AO has designed a Year 3.5 to fill the gap.

Moving from Form I to Form II

It’s a little scary to think that A8 will move on to Form II in about a year’s time, but it’s also exciting to see him take some of the reins on his own education in the near future. By the time he (hopefully) hits his stride in Year 5, J3 might be ready for Year 1. Then I’ll be back to two kids in Form I.

Until we meet again next Friday, be well.

I’m reading:

Novel:

Moderately challenging books:

Stiff books:

Diana

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