I started writing about how I plan our homeschool year in this post. Once I got going, it became evident I have a lot to say on the subject of planning. I am a planner by nature – loving the empty space and endless possibilities a fresh new planner provides. They remind me of the truth: “God’s mercies are new every morning,” followed by the equally needful reminder “Great is His faithfulness.”
In the previous post I shared about the structure of our homeschool year – the when and the how long. I discussed our modified year-round homeschool in detail (too much detail?). So today’s post will talk about the pillars of our homeschool year.
Since even before I began this homeschool journey, I have been comparing the idea of homeschooling as a vast ocean. I talked about how I could see friends of mine in their little vessels at sea, knowing they were making it somehow. And then as we jumped into the homeschool waters, I talked about how we started to build a little boat out in the sea. I have talked about the anchors of our homeschool day. The structure of our year (referred to in this post), it turns out, is the hull of some sort of boat. And now it is time to build up the rest of the boat.
That is where my boat knowledge ends. So I don’t know what they call the pillars of the boat. But go with me here.
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The Pillars of Our Homeschool Year
Now that I have laid out the parameters, or the structure of our year, it’s time to build up from there. The pillars of our Homeschool Year are the two curricula from which I take inspiration – Ambleside Online and Classical Conversations. I don’t know how structurally sound a boat will be with only two pillars, so we have our Gathering (inspired by AO and CC) as a major support as well. These three things together make our homeschool work.
What is Ambleside Online and How do We Use It?
Ambleside Online is a free curriculum inspired by Charlotte Mason’s philosophies and schools. It is thoroughly researched and resourced – an invaluable part of a Charlotte Mason-style education. They recommend starting formal CM education after the age of 6 and offer a full 12 year “curriculum” for homeschool education.
While no curriculum is a perfect fit for us, I do rely heavily upon the reading lists and schedules for each year. Charlotte Mason and AO provide the schedules along our three term structure. AO’s team has created a number of options for their reading schedules, even one you can edit yourself. However, we do not follow every part of the AO curriculum.
When I am planning for the year ahead, I print out the PDF version of the year I need and use it to fill in the individual weeks and days of my planner. The Ambleside Online website is not exactly user friendly. I have had to explain how to use it to a couple of my homeschool mama friends. But it is a treasure trove for the book lists alone.
The planning process is not simply a transcription of the AO schedule into my planner. If it were that easy, I wouldn’t need a planner. In fact some AO moms don’t use a planner; they simply print the PDF and show it to their kids as a schedule for the week.
Rather, I use the AO book list and PDF schedule for each year to guide me as I chose which books to read with my kids.
Ambleside Online Offers Us…
I have mentioned over and over on this site that we are primarily a reading homeschool. There is a LOT of reading. The majority of my day is me sitting on the couch and reading aloud with my kids – and I LOVE it! For a little more detail about how we work through the reading schedule, while encouraging confident readers to become independent readers, read this article.
The beauty of the AO PDF schedule is they have broken the readings down in to smaller pieces for me. That way I can put into practice the art of savoring and reflecting on the readings which makes the CM approach appealing to me. The pace of the readings can be challenging, especially as each year passes. I like having checkpoints along the way to make sure we are staying on track.
I can say of AO’s book list and schedule that we have discovered some of our very favorite books through AO. We have traversed the globe, traveled across time, delighted in beautiful words and made thousands upon thousands of connections together. I have cried openly in front of my bewildered children time and again – not from sadness, but in reaction to true beauty.
What We Adapt from Ambleside Online
I love that AO offers help to homeschooling parents without saddling them with any sort of requirements. Since it is free, you are also free to use what you will without feeling burdened by high prices and trying to “get value” out of the program.
But that freedom comes with some added work on the homeschool parent. There is not a lot of direction in certain areas of the curriculum, so I have adapted the way they encourage parents to do those areas to fit our homeschool.
- Shakespeare – we do this with Shakespeare in the early years (1-3) and follow the AO Shakespeare schedule for the later years (4-12) according to a rough schedule I make each year in my April planning session.
- Poetry – we work our way through two poetry intensive programs – PAL (discussed here) in the early years and Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization from IEW thereafter.
- Geography – I have read, from time to time, from Charlotte Mason’s Geography, but we rely on other sources for our Geography studies.
What We Don’t Use from Ambleside Online
What I lay aside from the AO book lists is based on my family’s preferences and time. I know there will come a point in our homeschool journey where we will have to lay aside either most of (or all) of AO or Classical Conversations. They are, in my opinion, mutually exclusive in the middle and high school years. I have not come to that just yet.
That said, we do not slavishly follow any curriculum. There are books we have not finished. There are books we haven’t even started – I refuse to read Robinson Crusoe to my 4th grader. And I do not do AO’s full curriculum. We have not gotten to keeping the myriad journals and notebooks of a Charlotte Mason education. Our poetry study is done more classically, too. And nature walks are not really a part of our school – even if I shudder to admit that.
Other things we do not do from AO include:
- Plutarch – we just don’t have the time for this
- Bible reading on the AO schedules – we do something else
- exams – we just don’t do end of term exams, my kids don’t know really what a test is
Looking Ahead in Homeschool Planning
Now that I have laid out the parameters, or the structure of our year and the first pillar of our homeschool year – Ambleside Online. I will next take up the second pillar, Classical Conversations. This has turned into a series on homeschool planning, I guess. Stay tuned.