Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ambleside Online / Homeschooling

I know, it's been a while since I've posted. I have been busy doing other things more important than my blog (imagine that!) and besides that, I have been totally unmotivated to use the internet. Even still, here I am to share a WONDERFUL resource I just found this morning 'by chance'. This post will be listed under my 'frugal friday' posts even though I am a day late :)

So, last evening I was telling a brother about a book we all liked a lot called "The Sign of the Beaver" by Elizabeth George Speare. What a great book! I am so thankful we discovered it years ago ... that and many other great books using the free Ambleside Online curriculum. This morning the brother asked me the name of it again and I did a search to see if it was on Librivox ... it wasn't, but what I found was a whole list of books recommended by the Ambleside Online folks that are available on librivox for free listening. (that link is for the first 4 years; scroll to the bottom for the link to the next page, and so on.) And what was not for free to listen was free to read on Project Gutenberg. And what was not for free on either of those is not free to share ... but chances are, the library has them anyway, in book and/or audio format.

Now let me give you a little history.

When I first started homeschooling I got my hands on a book called "A Charlotte Mason Companion" by Karen Andreola. I have no idea how I came across it, but I am thankful I did. From there I found a book called "Charlotte Mason Study Guide" by Penny Gardner. Soon after that I actually drove 2 1/2 hours (one way) to attend an all-day conference put on by Penny Gardner to better explain Charlotte Mason and her ways with educating children. I was just in to my first year of homeschooling and knew I did not want to have 'school at home'. I was an atheist, so religion had nothing to do with it; I wanted my children to be able to think 'outside the box' and Charlotte Mason seemed to know how to foster that with what she called a 'living education'. Yes, she did use textbooks, but certainly not exclusively. Mostly she used the real world around us ... hence the term 'living education'. This seemed right up my alley as I loved to spend as much time as possible outdoors, enjoying the birds, the trees, the bugs, and so on.

At some point in this small period of time I found the website Ambleside Online. Here was exactly what I needed!! While I did not follow the plan 100%, I did adapt it to suit our needs. Also, I started at year one with the book list and began reading every book I could to the children (whatever our public library had). I would read to them each night, sometimes for two or more hours at a time. And more often than not, I would read to them during the day as well. This book list was an indispensable tool for us. Without it, I would have had no idea what books to read to the children!

Now, I do not agree with every book listed, but who cares. We had enough discernment to know what we agreed with and what we did not agree with ... and still do.

Without Ableside Online we would have never discovered books like the Little House series, The Story About Ping, The Burgess Bird Book, The Handbook of Nature Study, Understood Betsy, Heidi, Science Lab in the Supermarket, Lassie Come Home, Gone Away Lake, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Calico Captive, Tom Sawyer, The Story of Inventions, Plutarch's Lives, Shakespeare, and of course ... The Sign of the Beaver. There are so many more. I must admit though, I never could make it through The Wind and the Willows ... but I tried!!!

Reading these 'twaddle-free' books was such a great way for the children to learn grammar. They even had copy-work from the same books and enjoyed that a lot. Each child is different, so what works for one may not work for the other(s) but everyone likes a story read to them, right?!

It's interesting to look at my children's strengths and weaknesses now. Even though we did not do much 'book learning' for grammar, they still learned so much just by hearing and reading quality books and also by doing copy-work. 

For instance, Brianna was always good at reading. She learned when she was four and hasn't stopped since. She has also been a natural speller and can read stories in such a way that captivates the listener. But, believe it or not, she is not a good writer (besides poems; she's really good at that). She can produce an essay or story that's ok, but nothing spectacular, which seemed strange to me at first since she is so good at reading, has devoured every book she could get her hands on, and has a great imagination. It's just getting it from her head in to written form that she's not that great with. Good, but not great.

Tylor has always had a hard time reading and still struggles. He does best with 'just the facts' and has a hard time with fiction. To this day he still stops me when I'm reading, fiction or non, and says, "What's going on?" and we'll have to digest it a little for him. His spelling used to be terrible until (by his own choice) he got hold of Rod and Staff spelling, grade 6. You see, in that grade they start to really break down the roots of the words. He finally understood WHY the words were spelled like they were, and ever since then he has not had a problem with spelling. But would you believe it? He is the best at writing stories and essays, grammar and all. He has always impressed me with this ability.

Corban struggled with letters but did finally learn how to read when he was about 9 1/2 years old. Once he started though, he never stopped. I think he checked out every book about gardening and bugs at our local library. He also got a little bit in to trains, but mainly it was nature-type stuff. His writing and spelling to this day are absolutely terrible, no matter what method or approach we've tried to use. He just cannot spell (though he does still practice!!) Even still, he somehow knows how to write beautiful papers ... I just have to correct the spelling :) and give him plenty of time. Recently he has asked to go through a basic English book again; I might do it too just to keep my brain working.

I shared all of that to say again that each child is different ... and THAT is why I did not want my children in public school. Many years ago I had a vision for my children. I wanted them to KNOW how to LEARN and think for themselves. I am so thankful to report that I believe I have succeeded ... sometimes a little too well. Looking back now, the only thing I would change a little is to not have them on such equal grounds with adults. They were never afraid to question those older than them ... which is good, but it certainly has its place and there is a time to just be quiet and listen. It takes humbleness to just be quiet and let others do the talking, even if you THINK you have the answers. Just be quiet and see what happens. Chances are, you'll learn something!!!

Oh the joy of being a 'feminist' and a 'hippie' in my past life. I do believe there were some strengths gleaned from those ways of thinking ... but also some weaknesses that I am still trying to come out from under. Thankfully I live among some very patient people! ;)

There's so much more I could say here but that's all I have time for today. I pray this was helpful to someone.


  1. Love your post! We spent hours reading when the kids were younger. Now we are doing "college" at home, and I'm still reading aloud to our younger - by his choice. It's a blast to learn together with your kids. Hours well spent.

  2. Thanks for letting me know! :)

    I have been thankful for this book list ... this morning I put "Call of the Wild" on to my youngest son's MP3 player. This time of the year he is known to spend a long time in the tractor and this will be so nice for him to listen to! And also today I put "The Pickwick Papers" on my daughter's MP3 player so she can listen to that while sewing. My oldest will probably want something too, but he'll have to listen on his 'free time' because it would not work to listen to it while working. I'm curious to see what he'll choose.

    I am not sure yet which book I plan to put on my phone, but I will listen to it a little each day while I'm rebounding (mini trampoline). I remember I really liked "Call of the Wild" so I might just do that until I think of another or till it's over.

    We are so excited for this great resource!!

    I am not sure if we do 'college' at home but we are always learning something on our own and something together. We have videos from 'the great courses' that I got for a decent price; right now we are learning about various events in history that had a big impact and also learning about structure / architecture (believe it or not, I have always been interested in that kind of stuff). We are also reading a history book together and an autobiography.

    Just trying to keep my brain active!

  3. Thank you for posting this. It is so helpful. We've been bogged down by following a Christian curriculum with endless workbooks and books my children aren't interested in reading, which my middle 2 children really struggle with, having tears and upsets almost every day. Home schooling had become a real chore with me making them more miserable every day by enforcing the curriculum. I knew something had to change but didn't know what to do and had never heard of Charlotte Mason despite homeschooling for the last 10 years and living in the UK not too far from Ambleside!

    We've begun reading some of the books on the list and stopping the rigid curriculum which is saving us a fortune and making for a peaceful home and happy children.

    God bless you.

  4. Praise the Lord!! Thank you for sharing Vicki. I pray you continue to grow and discern what works best for you and your children ... that's the key I guess is that we are all different and what works for one may not work for another. But really, I don't see how we can go wrong doing it this way!

    God bless you too.


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