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First 2 Weeks Using Ambleside Online For Grades 1, 3, & 4

Ok guys, trial by fire here. We just finished our first two weeks using a completely new-to-us curriculum, Ambleside Online. Did I mention this is our first year doing narrations too? I’d say it went “ok”, perhaps better than I thought. And no, we didn’t get to everything.

Since it’s nice to just hear what homeschooling realistically looks like, especially in a Charlotte Mason homeschool where there are so many transitions, I wanted to share what our first two weeks looked like so you know imperfect is OK.

If you’re new to homeschooling and want to learn more about getting started, read How To Start Homeschooling For Beginners: Curriculum, Schedules, Socialization, & Legal. And if you’re on the fence or need to revisit your “why”, read my Pros And Cons Of Homeschooling.

If you’re still learning about Charlotte Mason’s methods, here’s how to find living books, a beginner’s guide to copywork, how to get started with oral narration, and also everything we did to get ready for our first year using Ambleside Online.

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Our first two weeks using Ambleside Online

I won’t sugarcoat this…it was choppy. The 2nd week was muuuuch better. We haven’t added in everything yet, and some things I’ll postpone till term 2 or 3 (like Shakespeare or Plutarch). I also dropped one book from my year 2 and year 3’s schedule I’ll explain later.

1st grade is easy, with a 1-2 short Ambleside readings per day plus narrations and math, handwriting workbook, and he’s still learning to read.

3rd grade’s AO books have been fun, with 2-3 readings/day plus narrations, math, daily copywork, and recitation. At this point I’m reading all my daughter’s books out loud. My goal is to hand off one easier scheduled book to her by term 2.

4th grade is a big jump in reading selections. There’s more reading, larger vocabulary, and harder books. This meant I sometime’s chopped a weekly reading into 2 or 3 smaller chunks for my year 4. He’s doing narrations for all and also daily copywork and recitation.

I used the 36 week schedule and colored in the books as we completed them. This came out to 2-3 readings per kid per day.

Ambleside Online 36 week schedule for year 1, 3, 4, with week 1 and 2 book readings colored in which shows they have been read.

Before we began our week, I let the kids know this year was going to look different.

I told them the main difference was that each of them would be reading through more books (or I’d read them out loud or use an audiobook) and that they would be narrating, or telling back what they read for each school reading.

I explained that free reads were books they didn’t have to narrate, and were just for enjoyment! But that they did have to spend time daily in a free read either via audiobook or actual book.

I also shared that each of them would have their own books instead of all shared books this year.

The assigned readings

First off, we finished all assigned readings, wahoo! Well, almost. I dropped one book from my year 3 & year 4 schedule. I’ll share which ones and why below.

So for me, that was about 6-7 readings a day plus narrations for all. I’ll share our narration experience in a bit.

Week 1 I was waiting to get the illustrated version of Little Pilgrims Progress in the mail. While this is a scheduled year 3 read, and scheduled again in higher grades with the regular Pilgrims Progress (not Little Children’s Progress), I’m going to use this as a read aloud for all 3 kids! I don’t want anyone to miss out on this one.

Week 2 it came in the mail and WOW. So worth the $$ for the hardback illustrated version. It’s beautiful. Everyone likes listening and daily this is short. 1-2 easy read pages plus a picture.

I set out the books the night before

Setting out the books for each daily reading helped my brain SO much. It’s really only 2-3 books from the week’s list per day to finish it all.

So the night before I’d just pick which 2-3 books per kid and lay them in front of their bin. Then when we’d go to read, I’d just check the pages/chapter on the schedule. Below is a pic of the how I set out our books.

3 levels of Ambleside Online books for year 1, 3, and 4 organized in bins. Each daily book reading is laid on the floor in front of the bins so the kids know what books to read that day.

One thing that shocked me a little was that there are fewer book readings (per day) than I expected. More for my year 4, because he has a heavier load and I also found I needed to split each week’s book reading into smaller chunks for him.

How long did all the readings take each day?

6-8 readings for 3 kids at around 15 minutes/ book (including narration) is about 1.5-2 hours of reading per day chopped up.

It’ll be less once my oldest takes over his reading more, and possibly even less when my year 3 can do even one of her own readings next term. I want to ease her into it though as she’s not yet a strong reader like my year 4.

I thought my oldest would be reading all his own books, (and he may later on) but this week I read everything to him except Poor Richard and Storybook Of Science which both have shorter chapters and read smoothly.

I’m going to slowly hand off more of the reading to my year 4. By term 2 (12 weeks away), he’ll be ready for to take on one more book independently, I think. Also, there’s audiobooks we haven’t tapped into yet.

Books I dropped from the schedule

One thing I’m forcing myself to remember…this is OUR homeschool. I can drop or add what I need to. I’m a rule follower so this is hard for me using a pre planned curriculum like Ambleside!

I dropped Bullfinch’s Age Of Fable for my year 4 and don’t plan to read it, ever. Ambleside is HEAVY on greek and roman mythology (as opposed to Simply Charlotte Mason which barely touches it). We already have a D’Allaires Greek Mythology book with pictures (not an AO book) and I feel that’s just enough for us. I don’t want to invest in so,so much mythology mentally or time-wise.

I also dropped the biography “DaVinci” for my year 3. I’m looking to lighten the schedule and I’m content to drop that.

Did I pre-read any books?

I didn’t pre read any books, because I was planning to read them out loud.

As I end up handing over some of the readings to my year 4 and maybe year 3, I’ll pre-read those sections. I want to know what they are learning and learn along with them!

It will also help me to see if they are gleaning much (which I’ll see with their narrations).

How to tell if a level is too hard?

The Ambleside Advisory recommends picking a level with books that challenge but don’t frustrate your kids. Here’s their getting started post.

I think we’ll be ok in the years I’ve picked, (for sure for my 1st grader), but I probably could have bumped my year 3 and 4 to be a year 2 and 3 since we are not used to this many books or to the rich vocabulary used in many of them!

AO says if you have a 1st grader, put them in year 1. But if you have a 3rd or 4th grader coming in not used to heavy literature type books, then a year below might be better.

Ambleside Books are advanced! Even the AO books I’ve seen listed on Simply Charlotte Mason book lists are scheduled for older years over there.

Will you get behind if you go down a level?

While many moms fear bumping down a year because they’ll be “behind”, that’s just not the case.

Ambleside says kids who complete year 9 will have completed the equivalent of senior high level books. So yes, you may not want to miss out on the year 12 books if you bump down a year now, but your kids will still be more well read than any other public school child.

AO says the goal around year 4 is to get the child reading most all their own books, aiming towards independence. That’s not always the case…many families are still reading most their year 4 books out loud.

Let me just say that I have an AVID 4th grade reader, way above grade level for reading. But I cannot fathom handing him Robinson Crusoe or Madam How And Lady Why at the moment to read on his own.

The books are awesome but vocabulary is next level

Ideally, you want to find the Ambleside Online book level that pushes your kids but doesn’t frustrate them. They’ll glaze over a lot of hard words, learn some of them through context, while others may be worth looking up definitions.

I chose level 1, 3, and 4 for 1st, 3rd, and 4th grade. It would be totally fine to go back a year if these were too hard.

When they say the “big jump” is level 4, I can see why! We look up words a LOT.

I knew Ambleside pushes kids and parents, often reading higher level books much earlier than other Charlotte Mason curriculums. I’m not totally sure why they push some of these up so much? But we’re rolling with it.

I’m also 100% ok to take it down a notch and rid a few books if needed. I know whatever they are getting is still so much more than they would be most other places.

The beauty in any Charlotte Mason curriculum is watching kids make their own connections. Maybe they miss 50% of the details with these advanced reads, but they will certainly remember something. Sometimes aha moments and connections made become apparent years later. I’m just trusting the process!

How we organized our day (with a toddler)

We didn’t follow a timetable, though I may need some kind of loose block schedule to keep me on track.

Our first day, I ping ponged around with 3 kids ALL DAY. Chatting with my husband about this frustration, we thought it’d be good to work with the kid that had the lightest load first and finish everything, so mentally it’s 1 less kid to think of. This ended up working really well!

Here’s what our routine has been *sort of* been the past 2 weeks:

Morning time

Morning time when my oldest finally wakes up: bible/hymn/poem/Little Pilgrims Progress

We didn’t follow the August AO hymn, we just sang one of our own each day. I’ll try to learn AO’s September hymn though!

Instead of reading 1 poem for each child individually like I did on day 1 (as scheduled), I switched and read 1-2 poems/day during morning time!

So I shelved my year 3 and 4 poetry Anthology books from Ambleside Online and am using our Year 1 AO Poetry anthology. There are 365 poems.

When we finish that, I’ll use the others. I don’t care that they read the poems selected for their year in that year. Mainly, I just care we are reading poems, and Ambleside poems are a gem.

Morning time books on a table for a Charlotte Mason homeschool using Ambleside Online. Great hymns of the faith, Little Pilgrims Progress, Ambleside Online poetry Anthology volume 1, Robin Hood read aloud, and the ESV bible.

After morning time, recitation:

Right after morning time, every day, my year 3 & 4 would take turns reciting from AO scheduled recitation pieces! I printed off free recitation collections for year 3 and 4. People generously put this in the Ambleside Online Facebook files. Boom…easy. We just took out the printed pack each day and I’d have my bigs read from it.

I didn’t do any recitation with my year 1 yet. I’ll eventually have him repeat after me since he’s not a reader yet.

My year 3 primarily recited: The Tiger by William Blake, and also 3 of the short bible passages listed.

My year 4 primarily recited: Charge Of The Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Break Break Break by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It only took each of them a few minutes! By the end of 2 weeks they had pieces of it memorized (even though that’s not required)!

At first, I didn’t know what the purpose of recitation was and if it was supposed to be memorized.

The purpose is to give your kids practice reciting clearly, with volume enough to hear, so that someday it helps them with voice inflection and also public speaking. They don’t need to memorize it! Though sometime’s that just happens.

After recitation, I worked with my 1st grader:

After morning time I worked with my year 1 kid while the 2 bigs did copywork(one stanza each day of their recitation poem), silent reading, or entertained my toddler. Here’s what I tried to finish.

Next up, I did the Ambleside readings with my year 3 & 4 plus math

Again, this was a little ping pong game. I worked with my year 3 doing one AO reading, math, and another AO reading. Then same with my year 4.

There were often interruptions, lunch in between sometimes, and I found a big challenge was actually the noise level. It’s hard to concentrate in our home! I’d often send a child to a quieter bedroom to work, the outside table if it wasn’t too hot, or give them headphones. (Headphones are a HUGE win here!)

What Ambleside Online work could be done independently?

So what did the other child do independently while I wasn’t working with them? We got better at this over the course of 2 weeks, but if they weren’t working with me they were:

  • doing 1 independent reading if possible
  • copywork
  • playing with the toddler
  • 20 minutes of silent free read time

I’m going to be ramping up listening to some free audiobooks via Librivox soon to help decrease my read time with each child.

Books I know are available on Librivox from year 4: Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hallow, Paul Revere, & Story Book Of Science.

Things we didn’t get to our 1st 2 weeks using AO

  • We didn’t read Shakespeare or Plutarch.
  • We didn’t start Spanish.
  • I didn’t do nature study.
  • I didn’t implement a Timeline yet, where the child chooses what to add (want to ASAP).
  • The kids didn’t do the independent bible readings.

In term 2 we’ll read Lamb’s Shakespeare Tales for the play Twelfth Night as a family. I’m not doing the full plays yet. We’ll start with Lamb’s version for kids. Baby steps.

Eventually I’d like to buy Simply Charlotte Mason’s 3 step Shakespeare books. They hold your hand and also warn you of parts to be aware of you may want to skip.

I also plan to add Speaking Spanish With Miss Mason and Francois, but not sure when. It comes with audio clips to help us with pronunciation!

I was confused which bible reading to do in the morning since each kid has different scheduled ones. I learned that the scheduled AO passages are meant to be 2 school readings a week, but not in leu of family devotional reading.

So we’re doing Simply Charlotte Mason’s Genesis-Deuteronomy study for our morning time and I’ll get the older 2 to begin bible readings when we’re not so overwhelmed.

Our family read aloud at the moment

We are reading this version of Robin Hood and my kids LOVE it. It took a few chapters though, because the language is so different. I try to use inflection in my voice to help but it’s “fancy speak”! Now they ask for it every night before bed!

Yes, it’s a scheduled year 2 literature book, but my year 1, 3, and 4 are loving it. This lets us all enjoy it without missing it. I’ll just sub something for Robin Hood next year when my year 1 is a year 2.

We also cheated and watched the old movie on Amazon Prime with a couple chapters left to go. If you’re a sucker for old classics, here’s over 100 Old Classic Family movies for movie night.

Are we happy we chose Ambleside Online so far?

I’d say yes, but I’ve got a lot of kinks to work out. Ambleside Online gives me the satisfaction of knowing we are going to cover so many incredible books, and there are oodles of FREE resources in the Facebook group. I’m in quite a few homeschool Facebook groups, but this one is gold for Ambleside users.

I’m going to have to figure out how to spread some of the riches to the afternoon some days, and create a daily schedule so I know which one to do when. We used to use a loop schedule for things, so I may do that with the riches like art, Shakespeare, nature study, etc.

Here’s how to get started with Ambleside Online where I share how we organized all the resources before starting.

Do you like these types of updates? Let me know in the comments and be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel where you can stay more up to date!


Monday 13th of November 2023

Thanks for sharing this! I think one of the biggest things I've struggled with is where we should be at with writing (because there's so much that goes into being a good writer: handwriting, grammar, holding ideas in your head...). I'm curious how you feel about your switch to Ambleside in terms of writing. I know you've done Brave Writer in the past (with Dart). Are you still incorporating those things? Or emphasizing grammar/copywork/dictation less?


Wednesday 21st of February 2024

I love your response to this. I struggle with the same notion that we need formal writing so early. I used to teach Kindergarten and the public schools start writing so early that the kids absolutely hate it! I love narration for this reason! So many kids would express themselves just fine if given the opportunity to narrate their thoughts instead of writing them down.


Tuesday 14th of November 2023

I've really missed our use of Brave Writer Darts for grammar, and plan to incorporate them again if we can. Many Ambleside Users do this. I'm giving myself as much time as needed to get used to Ambleside before adding Brave Writer back because it will be extra to do. If it's too much, then we'll have to figure out what needs to go. I recently did a video on YouTube on my thoughts on incorporating Brave Writer with Ambleside, and if they're compatible. You might find that helpful! I feel like without Brave Writer we'd have copywork and dictation covered with Ambleside, but I miss the *gentle* basics of grammar which is where the Darts & Arrows from Brave Writer come in. I struggle with having another book to read though, since Ambleside is a lot! I'm going to see if we can treat Dart/Arrow books as family read alouds and yes, they may replace some Ambleside free reads I'd read out loud but that's ok. There are TOO many great books out there to read them all and I'm coming to grips with that! I have no doubt that writing will be right where it needs to be LATER in the journey, based on the testimony of so many Charlotte Mason families (without using Brave Writer). But I do struggle to trust the proecss and doing some grammar seems like a good middle ground for our family! Hope that answer helps.