Monday, January 19, 2009

How I use Ambleside Online’s curriculum

Kelly P asked me in the comments to the post below to describe how I used AO’s Year 1 schedule, and in thinking about what to say, I thought I’d better make something clear first. I have a nineteen year old daughter at home who helps with breakfast and supper, makes lunch every day, and makes sure the kitchen is cleaned up at all times. This means I’m able to spend a larger chunk of my morning with the younger kids than I ever could when my older kids were eight years old and younger. After about the first two weeks of officially homeschooling, I decided that my academic goal for that year was to have my first grader reading, so I dropped most of the lessons recommended by the curriculum I was using. Maybe I’ll post that background info some time… why I homeschool the way I do, and that sort of thing.

When I started Ambleside Online* in July of 2007, my four youngest children were: 4yod, 6yos, 8yod, and my 12yos, who has severe developmental apraxia [original linked page has disappeared -- apraxia usually refers to lack of speech, but in my son's case it affects not only his oral motor abilities, but also his fine and gross] and is functionally extremely delayed, and may even have some mild mental retardation. These four are still studying together (ages now are 6, 8, 10, and 14), and it’s been a very good thing for us.

Let me give an overview of what an ideal day looks like for us:

Before breakfast everyone has to help out somewhere, whether milking the goats, straining and chilling the milk, letting the chickens out of the coops, collecting eggs, taking the scraps bucket out to them, checking water for all the animals, helping with breakfast… After we eat, everyone is supposed to stay in the general area (the kitchen, breakfast room, and living room make one L-shaped space) and either help clean up from breakfast or make sure the living room is tidy and vacuumed for Morning Time.

What we call Morning Time is for all the children, even the oldest three – 19yod, 18yos, and 16yod. Ideally we start at 9:00 and finish by ten or fifteen minutes till 10:00. Not so ideally, we start late, and cut the hymn and Plutarch so we can still finish before 10:00.

Hymn: sometimes something we’re learning to sing during Communion (our family is the choir and I try to have something we can sing once a month), sometimes an old favorite. I don’t really have a plan for learning particular hymns.

Prayers and Scripture: We started using the 1979 Prayer Book for morning prayers about five years ago when we were attending an Episcopal church, and love it as a framework for our prayer time. We vary what we do a little bit, which I won’t go into now, but I want to later to show how everyone is able to participate. For Scripture readings, we’re using the lectionary in the 1928 Prayer Book, since that’s what our current Anglican church uses. Everyone who can read takes a turn reading.

Plutarch’s Lives: we’re reading the bio on Poplicola, and using the study notes provided at AO’s website. First we review the previous lesson, then those of us who can read aloud well take turns, reading one or two sentences before passing to book (the sentences are very long and complex), and then we discuss the new material.

After this, I send the younger kids outside to run around for a few mintues, go to the bathroom, and get a drink of water, while I go into the school room to make sure I have everything in order for our AO time. The older kids stay in the living for their Japanese lesson together and then go to their individual studies or work.

AO time with the younger kids:

Bible memory passage: we have a new passage we’re learning that we work on each day, plus several that we’re reviewing. I put every passage on an index card and have a file box set up to keep track of the Scriptures we’re working on. I’ll explain the system more in depth later.

Poetry: every day I read one poem from the current author, and one from Ambleside’s collection that is taken from the Oxford Book of Children’s Verse. And, as I mentioned in the last post, there are always requests that I reread old favorites and sometimes one or more of the children want to recite something they have memorized.

French lesson: Just do the next thing using The Learnables, though we talk a little about the weather, and I like to ask them questions that they can answer, all in French.

History: There’s a chapter from Our Island Story nearly every week, so we do that on Monday. Librivox has it for a free download, read by Kara Schallenberg, and that’s what I use. The other history books for year 1 are Trial and Triumph, Fifty Famous Stories Retold, and Viking Tales. In the first part of the year there’s one chapter from 50FS per week (not all of the chapters were scheduled), and in the second part there was one chapter from Viking Tales per week. I read those chapters on Tuedays. The chapters from Trial and Triumph come up about once every four weeks – nine chapters are assigned in year one – so I usually read those on Wednesday, or wherever they fit in best in that week. After the chapter I’d have one or more children narrate it to me. More on narrating later.

Literature: Generally there are two of Aesop’s fables each week and I did them wherever they fit best in the week, which was usually Wednesday. When there was a story from Shakespeare or the Blue Fairy Book, I usually needed to read a little bit each day for the whole week. Kipling’s Just So stories could be read in one or two sittings, ditto the stories from James Herriot’s Treasury for Children. Again, narrations are requested after I finished the day’s passage, but I usually let them have paper and crayons when listening to everything but Aesop. With Aesop, I’d stop after a couple of sentences and ask someone to tell me what was going on – the sentences aren’t terribly long, but they are very dense, and I wanted to use them as a kind of training ground for what I expected in a narration.

Nature and geography: Thursday is for nature, using the Burgess Bird Book. I also have a Peterson’s guide to birds and a disc of recorded bird calls that we listened to. And of course we watched the various birds that turned up at the birdbath and the feeders. Years 1 and 2 also include chapters from Parables from Nature, but I found them so syruppy sentimental that I quit using that book after the first two chapters. I have no problem with the fairy stories (witches, giants, dragons, and all) in Lang’s fairy tales (which evidently some moms have since Ambleside has an apologia for including them in your child’s literary diet) but I cannot stand pietistic moralizing little cutesy stories featuring talking flowers and insects. If anyone knows a good reason why I ought to be foisting these things upon my poor innocent children, please let me know. Friday is for geography (Paddle-to-the-Sea). We have maps on the wall in the school room and followed Paddle’s progress. It took him four years to make his journey and I’m happy to report that it didn’t take us quite that long to read about it! We also located people we were reading about on the maps and placed flags for them. Slightly off-topic, but we have a timeline along three walls of the room and we located people on the timeline, too, and placed flags for many of them and sometimes a picture or something too.

That sounds like a lot of work, and it really is a lot of information, but we were usually done by 11:30. The kids go back outside till lunch, which is noonish. They eat quickly and usually go back out, or if the weather is bad they can play in the attic or basement.

After lunch is when it gets tricky, since that’s when I need to work on their individual studies – math, reading instruction, etc. I don’t have that down pat, yet – sometimes I keep 10yod in after AO time, but other times I work with her after lunch. The three others get squeezed in where I can fit them. I’m not happy with this and need to figure out something better.

Around 1:00 we have a read-aloud time when I read a chapter or two (or three or four depending on how much time we have and how much clamoring for more they do) and the children are allowed to color or play quietly or lie on the floor or whatever, as long as they’re quiet, during this time. No narration required for these stories. Older kids really come in handy here since they can read if I need a break, or on Tuesday, which is music lesson day for three of the children. Last year we read Little House in the Big Woods, Farmer Boy, Heidi… and I’ve forgotten what else.

After read-aloud they’re free the rest of the afternoon (except for chores that have to be done before supper). They have to spend the first hour in Quiet Time, which is time alone. The 10yod has QT in the girls’ bedroom, 6yod in my room, 8yos in the boys’ room, and 14yos can be in the school room or in the living for my colloquium with the older kids. After that first hour, they’re allowed to go back outside, or play together indoors as long as they’re quiet and don’t disturb us Big Folk.

HTH

Update: Seeing the “AO time with the younger kids” section written out reminds me of how daunting AO looked to me before I started doing it. I looked at that site off and on for at least two years before I decided I would just make myself do it, since I need a better structure to our days. Once I made a kind of chart, planning what I would do when, I realized that it’s not really too much after all — you’re spending anywhere from five to thirty minutes on any given topic, so you really cover a lot each day. It’s just like eating an elephant — one bite at a time.
;-)

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* In their license agreement, Ambleside Online asks users only to link to their main page, not to individual pages within the site, which makes it a little awkward since I can’t point you to certain useful pages at the site. I’m sure they do this because they really want newcomers to the site to familiarize themselves with Charlotte Mason’s ideas. Just following the AO book schedule will give you plenty of interesting things to read to your children and will certainly be worthwhile, but it will NOT give your kids a Charlotte Mason education. You do need to read over their site and familiarize yourself with CM’s ideas if you’re going for a CM education.

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