Our family has been using Ambleside Online for the better part of a decade to structure our school days.
There are many lovely Charlotte Mason based curricula available now, but this creation of committed homeschool families has been a gift to my family.
Ambleside Online, like any other curricula, is not for every family or every child within a family but it does provide a wonderful option for many families.
Over the past nearly 10 years, I have learned a few things that have made Ambleside Online successful for us that may help you as well.
A few notes about our context. I used Ambleside Online beginning at Year 1 with my now 8th grader. I only had two students (this year younger brother has started at the local public school) so I’m now down to one.
Sometimes, large families struggle at times with the course load so use your own judgement. (Note there is now a version of the curriculum for large families or groups).
What is Ambleside Online?
Ambleside Online is “a free Charlotte Mason curriculum that prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity and the natural world.” Learn more on the Ambleside Online site.
How to Succeed with Ambleside Online:
1. Remember It’s a Feast
One of the best parts of Charlotte Mason education is that you are laying a feast of wonderful, beautiful things for your child to partake from.
We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can – Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, p. 183).
Part of this feast is the “so-called” extras — art, music, poetry, Shakespeare. Many people feel overwhelmed and start cutting here. Don’t! This is not garnish on the side but the meat and potatoes of a beautiful life.
Plan your day to include nibbles of this part of the feast in each one. Don’t save it up for one day that will never happen. Some people do like to save these bits for co-op or community and certainly that may be appropriate. Just be careful not to leave this on the cutting room floor.
We wanted to listen to Scott Joplin this year so we used him instead of Purcell. There is freedom in the framework but what a blessing to have this wealth of information to choose from.
2. Eat Slowly.
Ambleside Online provides a rich and, at times, overwhelming amount of content. However, you aren’t to feed from a firehose but sip from a teacup. Use the schedules that people have created to space out your reading of a book over a term or a year.
If it is still too much, cut it out or cut back. Sarah MacKenzie’s book Teaching from Rest has been a wonderful guide in setting up schedules for our days that give us peace. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to or visit Brandy Vencel’s site for information on how she develops her schedules.
I’m not just talking about selecting an appropriate amount of books for your schedule, but also about taking time with each one. I cannot tell you the joy we have had over the years slowly enjoying a book and living with its characters over a prolonged period of time.
One year we read Ben Hur from Christmas to Easter following the life of Christ. It is one of my favorite homeschooling memories. Don’t rush books. Savor them.
3. Throw it Out
If you don’t like a book, give it time, but if you really don’t like it, leave it. I have used Ambleside Online for 9 years but we have not read every book on the list. Some years not even close.
Ambleside is a guide not a master. Don’t enslave yourself to any book list or schedule. We homeschool for freedom so why would you tie yourself up in that knot?
This year in particular I have chosen to not include several of the selections for year 8. Every family is different. Many people have loved some of the books I have left off, but our schedule and our interests have prompted me to leave them off our list.
4. Dine with Friends
Community is important for homeschool families. If you are an introvert like me, this can be a different sort of challenge.
Over the years we have participated in co-ops sharing nature study or Shakespeare or handicrafts. Everything has a season.
In addition, Ambleside Online has a wonderful online forum that is one of the very best parts of the entire site. Have questions about what book version to use or how to divide a reading? You can find answers. Not sure about how a particular book fits in or how to handle a family problem? Someone can help you.
They also have read-alongs for many of the books on the lists so you can gain encouragement from others on the journey.
5. Order Out
Ambleside is a complete curriculum but you have to use some outside resources for subjects like math, foreign language or lab science. We are currently using a biology co-op, Khan Academy math and Cambridge Latin to supplement Ambleside.
This is not a weakness in the program in my opinion but one of its strengths. There are many programs that do these subjects well and more and more are being developed with a Charlotte Mason approach.
It is ok and encouraged to bring in resources from outside. Again don’t be a slave to the book list.
The Large Room
“Thou hast set my feet in a large room, should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking – the strain would be too great – but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest. We cannot give the children these interests; we prefer that they should never say they have learned botany or conchology, geology or astronomy.
The question is not, – how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education – but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” – Charlotte Mason (Vol 3, School Education, Chapter XVI, p. 170)
This quote sums up for me the purpose of a Charlotte Mason education — to give my children a large room to set their feet and a life of things for which to care. I think Ambleside is doing that for us.
Ambleside Online offers families a framework for learning in a Charlotte Mason inspired way. It is free, it is accessible and it is proven by thousands of families who use it each year. In addition, it is continually enhanced and improved upon as new resources become available and through feedback in the community.
Of course the site offers much more than just the curriculum with free access to all of Charlotte Mason’s volumes, transcribed copies of Parent’s Review articles and information from homeschoolers who have used the program.
Thanks Ambleside Online!
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may make a small amount of money if you purchase something but at no additional cost to you. Thank you for support Tech Savvy Homeschool.
Looking for more Charlotte Mason ideas?