A friend recently confided that she and her student were “butting heads.” The student was getting all of her work done, but with a poor attitude and much conjoling. This sounded like a familiar scenario to me, but that’s because I’m homeschooling a 10 year old boy. (Coincidentally, if you are a boy mom, here’s a little heads-up: Boys hit some argumentative hormones at 10, which I think is before girls do — or so I’ve heard.) At any rate, children all hit an age when they want to negotiate and argue, and that is somewhere approaching the “middle school” era (or, as Dorthy Sayers put it, in the dialectic stage). My 10 year old has always been a negotiator, so he hit this stage pretty hard.What struck me in this conversation, though, was that my friend’s daughter was not anywhere near that age just yet.
Living in Strain
Since she came to me for insight, I wanted to help her out. It worried me to see that the relationship between mother and daughter was strained. Not that I have all of the answers, but sometimes a person just a few years down the road and with the same guiding principles can really put things in perspective. Since the point of friction seemed to be the doing of schoolwork and I know they are an Ambleside Online family, I asked about their schedule and perhaps hit the nail on the head.
The truth is AO is a full curriculum (aka path). The advisory members say this all of the time, but I think our over-achieving hearts sometimes turn a deaf ear, so let me put it this way: If you are using AO and add something else to it, you are going to burn out your students. Why? Because AO is rigorous. Of course it is. That’s why you (and I) chose it. Does that mean you must ONLY do AO? Not necessarily.
Tweaking the Curriculum
If you’re a committed AO user like myself, these next few words might feel uncomfortable, so I’ll just whisper them. You can tweak the curriculum. Whew! I can’t believe I just typed that, but it’s true, and I bet you already have. But, if you’re too embarrassed to admit it, I’ll just list off the ways I have lovingly tweaked the AO curriculum so that it works for my family in different seasons.
- My first child did everything BY THE BOOK. The reason? Because I could devote most of my attention to him. My second child had to have my divided attention. My third child went to K4 so someone could teach him something. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but he really did go to K4.)
- My oldest son got so interested in The Message Bible that he asked Dad to read it to him at bedtime. All of those lovely Year 4 bible readings (in the King’s English!) went right out the window, but now we just do L7’s Year 2 KJV bible readings in morning time together. Ta-da!
- We live in a very homeschool friendly town full of daytime activities for folks like us. Whenever my kid signs up to be in a community theatre play or take a class at the zoo, I have to take that into consideration with his AO schedule. Typically, we can just delay a book (like one of the literature selections) until we have time to add it back. For example, my Y4 student and I read The Princess and the Goblin over summer break.
- We have also delayed a book for a much longer period of time. I’m still figuring this one out, actually. My middle son qualified for a one-day-a-week gifted program through our local public school. This past school year (his Year 2) he was gone ALL DAY on Mondays to public school, which meant I only had him 4 weekdays each week. There’s no way we were going to get all of Y2 done “on time” without dropping (for now, anyway) Pilgrim’s Progress. I’m hoping to read it to him over the summer, or maybe I’ll put Little Pilmgrim’s Progress on his free read list.
- Co-Op. Need I say more? My kids and I go to Tuesday afternoon co-op, and there are many Tuesday mornings when we only get math and chores done before it’s time to pack up and leave for co-op. Can you do Year 4 in four days a week and Year 2 in three days a week? Um, no. Don’t hurt yourself.
Okay, there are my confessions about not staying on schedule, signing up for too much stuff, and generally bending all of the rules. But, here are my little cheats for making up time.
- Dad to the rescue! Since we have a block of time carved out for bedtime reading to the children, there are many times when I have asked Dad to read a school book at bedtime (typically a literature selection). Admittedly, he is not going to ask for narrations like I am, but he’s good at general book discussions.
- Nature study is foundational to a CM education, and I would never suggest that it can be dropped altogether, but there are seasons (especially the winter one) when we have had to ease up on nature study — either because we were busy or because it was too cold to be outside. When it’s oppressively cold (or hot) outside, that’s a good time to do a quick book-based nature study and then move on to other AO subjects. Trust me, when spring finally hits, you’ll want to drop the books and head outside. It *should* all even out.
- I like to take time to teach my kids thoroughly about our composer and artist each term, BUT there have been some busy terms when I just played a lot of music in the background and hung some prints in conspicuous areas and called it good.
- As I alluded to above, sometimes a subject can be put into morning time rather than taught individually. We have done that with bible readings, Shakespeare, poetry, etc.
- Sometimes outside activities can straight up substitute for an AO subject. At L7’s gifted program as well as in his co-op class this year, he did a major unit on mammals and land animals, respectively. Our AO nature study rotation was mammals. We read some books and talked a bit at home, but I knew he was getting field trips and live animal demonstrations in his classes, so I was able to focus my attention on history here at home.
Protecting the AO Integrity
With all of the above stated, I want to come to the defense of AO as written. It really is an all-encompassing program. There is no need to add to it, and if we all did it exactly as written then our children would have beautiful educations. However, AO is written for the masses. The Advisor members can’t know that I live a mile from the zoo, that our local gifted program is amazing, or that two of my three sons play the piano 3+ hours a day (each, so 6 hours) because they love to do it.
My only advice here is to tweak cautiously and lovingly. Don’t drop a book because it’s challenging, and don’t avoid an entire subject completely just because it’s inconvenient. In most of my tweaking, I’m delaying a book so that we can add some outside activity without losing my mind. I’m not tweaking because I need to catch up on my TV viewing.
Preserve the Relationship
I hope some of those confessions help you cut yourself (and your child) some slack. Doing all of the things on your AO checklist is admirable, but if you and your child can’t stand each other at the end of the day/week/month/year, then was it really worth it? (Yes, I know there is an exception if you’re dealing with a particularly lazy child, but that is another discussion altogether.) One way to set yourself up for success is to either severely limit your outside activities or tweak the curriculum until it’s possible to do both. If you try to do too much at once, you and your student will burn out.
Until next time, I’m reading:
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (family read aloud)
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (family read aloud)
- The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Moderately challenging books:
The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge (with my Y2 student)
- Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie Bober (with my Y4 student)
- Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass
- The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie
- The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene PhD
- A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
- Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason and Karen Glass
- Volume One: Home Education by Charlotte Mason (for my CM study group)