This year, we’re making some HUGE changes in our homeschool. We’ve been eclectic homeschoolers the past 4 years, drawing in elements from Charlotte Mason like short lessons, art study, and prioritizing time in nature. But this is the first year we are going all using Ambleside Online with 3 kids. I’m SO excited, but also nervous. If you’re thinking about getting started with Ambleside Online but feel overwhelmed…read this entire post.
I’ll break down everything I’ve done to prepare for our 1st year. From schedules to buying and organizing books, to planning out the riches to resources I’ve prepped (both free and purchased). I hope it’ll encourage you to simplify, and to just get started no matter how imperfect things seem.
Why I chose Ambleside Online
When I first heard of Ambleside Online from a friend, I’d already decided to go a more Charlotte Mason route but hadn’t picked curriculum yet. I was considering Simply Charlotte Mason, A Gentle Feast, and Ambleside Online since all 3 spell out what to read k-12 and provide schedules (some you have to buy).
I think I’d be happy with any of those, but I began digging to see the differences.
Simply put, Ambleside Online drew me in because the books seem SO good and everything is free except the books. I also love that I could see everything (from booklists to schedules to how to teach stuff) without buying.
Simply Charlotte Mason shares free booklists on their website and has THE BEST how to videos for switching over to a Charlotte Mason education. But you must buy the schedules each year. They have convenient, buyable resources for all the riches, but it is expensive…especially starting out with 3 kids.
A Gentle Feast looks wonderful, but they stopped selling their booklist so you can’t quite know all the books you’re signing up to read till you purchase. You also have to purchase the schedule.
Ambleside’s Facebook group just provides SO many free files you can print for artist study, composer study, poetry, copywork and recitation.
Why I almost didn’t choose Ambleside Online
I almost didn’t choose Ambleside Online because it seems like A LOT of reading. Because it is. And I need to remember I’m allowed to remove books, it’s my homeschool. But we’re going to give it a go exactly as is, and see if it’s too much.
The one big deterrent for me was that each of my kids (3 now, someday 4) will be on their own book track, even for bible, history and geography. It sounds SO overwhelming, right?! I felt like school took a long time last year with 3 kids and a toddler, (mainly due to toddler interruptions)…so how long would it take with all these reads and narrations?
I even looked up their groups option, which is new, but decided I’d just try to do 3 separate levels.
But as I kept reading posts from other moms answering this very fear, many responded how they’d seen their kids stop comparing their knowledge to their siblings by having each child reading different books.
Also, many said they’d see siblings excitedly wait to get to read the books their older siblings got to read…a right of passage so to speak.
And lastly, I kind of love the idea that as soon as the child is able, they can start to transition to reading their own books (or some on audio) and narrating. This encouraged me that while this year may be A LOT for me, by next year (5th grade) I’ll probably have one fully independent child!
If this becomes a total flop for our family and I feel buried, I’ll probably switch over to Simply Charlotte Mason’s history/bible/geography instead…which is family style. The older siblings simply have a few extra reads.
I’d been watching TONS of videos from Sonya of Simply Charlotte Mason (SCM), who amazes me at her ability to keep things SIMPLE. If you are looking at Ambleside Online and feeling like you don’t know how to implement something, go watch her videos. She’ll teach you how to do composer study, poetry, geography, artist study, etc.
But Ambleside ends up being much less expensive, and the book lists, free schedule, and community support drew me in.
How to get started using Ambleside Online step by step
We are fresh at this, so I wanted to write down all the steps I’ve taken to prep for this year with a year 1, 3, and 4. This isn’t so much a “how it’s going” post…but rather a “how to just dive in” post.
Step 1: Familiarize yourself with Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophies and methods
Two books that have taken me from “What exactly is a Charlotte Mason education” to “Sign me up…I can do this”:
I read Know And Tell before deciding on Ambleside Online, but it convinced me narration works. I understood all the benefits after reading this book, and consider it to be the best “how to” manual for narration out there.
It had instructions for starting narration with young kids and older kids, expectations, what not to do, and LOTS of sample narrations from different ages. It talks about the progression of oral narration to written narrations, and how often to begin doing written narrations after age 10 or so.
It’s just So. Dang. Helpful!
A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola was my beginner’s guide to what a Charlotte Mason homeschool might look like if I were to start it.
She wrote it after 10 years of using Charlotte’s methods…back in the 80’s and 90’s before it was a popular modern homeschool method. She had read Charlotte’s original volumes, and even got them republished so that more parents could read her original volumes!
I truly don’t think Ambleside Online or another Charlotte Mason curriculum will make any sense if you don’t have a grasp for Charlotte’s methods and why they exist.
Things like oral narration, written narration, learning from living books, exposure to riches like artist and composer study or nature study…learn Charlotte’s why and then see if they resonate with you. If not, you may like a different method more. And that would be ok too.
Ok, now that you’re familiar and on board with a Charlotte Mason education, how do you get started with Ambleside Online?
Step 2: Browse the Website
Go to Ambleside Online with a few hours alone to read and get the feel of things. Perhaps an hour each evening for a while, or an afternoon to yourself if that is even possible.
One thing everyone agrees on: The Website is GOLD.
Another thing everyone agrees on: It’s A LOT of info and 100% overwhelming at first.
Things to know:
- every child is on their own track (even for history and bible and poetry if you use the curriculum as is)
- some subjects are family subjects like Shakespeare, artist study, composer study, and nature study.
- For books that have multiple versions, Ambleside has links to all the versions they recommend on each year’s books. Generally, it’ll be an unabridged version.
Tips when using the website:
- Visit each child’s year and read the footnotes. This explains so much about book choices, book substitutes, how to use some of the materials, etc.
- Print off the master booklist, or at least bookmark the tab, which has all the scheduled reads and free reads for k-12.
Step 3: Join Ambleside support groups online so you can learn from other families
There are two support groups that I couldn’t have fully learned what I know without:
- The Ambleside Online Facebook Group: I read parents questions on here, which answered many of my own. Also, generous parents upload files they make and share them here. This is where I’ve printed all our free material, and saved hours of time. So many awesome free files… from recitation by year, copywork by year, composer and artist biographies, daily schedules you can edit by year etc. GOLD.
- The Ambleside Online forum, where you can ask and read other parent’s questions and answers by year or by subject.
Step 4: Print off each chid’s 36 week schedule
One of the BEST things I did was to print the free 36 week schedule for each of my kids’ years from their site. So year 1, year 3, year 4. This is what you’ll use to buy and keep track of the books you’ve already purchased. Later, you’ll use it to check off your weekly readings.
If you download the .doc version, you can edit it. I got a little hung up on wondering what edits I might like to make before printing…and wasted time and brain space.
Just print as it, especially if you’re new. You can write in notes or scratch something off…but just print off so you can start planning.
If we make significant changes next year maybe I’ll edit the 36 week chart…but for our 1st year I didn’t have the insight to know what I’d change so I just left it as is.
Step 5: Order the books
With 3 levels to buy for, I spent some serious cash on books this year. But I decided to “invest” in physical copies knowing I have 4 kids coming up, and knowing that it’s a pain-in-the-tush to try and time library reservations.
Plus, many Ambleside Online books are spread out over 12 weeks or a year, which is longer than I can reserve books for.
Here’s our year 1 books (most of them but not all, and none of the free reads pictured):
Our year 3 books (most of them but not all, and none of the free reads pictured):
Here’s our year 4 books (most of them but not all, and none of the free reads pictured):
If you are trying to cut book costs, many families recommended only buying the assigned reads on the schedule, and getting free reads (unscheduled) from the library, or as an audiobook, or as a cheap/free kindle book.
The key to saving about 50% on books has been buying used via Thrift Books, Better World Books, and though Ambleside Online Facebook Resell Groups. These are the 3 Facebooks groups I’d join if you’re still looking to buy from other Ambleside Online families:
- Charlotte Mason/Ambleside/Living Books US Only
- Buy/Sell Ambleside (AO) Curriculum Only
- Used Charlotte Mason Items
Step 6: Label the books as they arrive
As soon as books started rolling in, it became clear I needed some way to keep them organized! I labeled our books by Ambleside year using dot stickers and the master schedule.
(If I could do it over I’d use washi tape as it sticks better and you don’t need clear tape on top of a dot sticker).
Step 7: Separate each child’s books for term 1 (the first 12 weeks)
To simplify our days, I got each kid a bin for their books. This way, as they go through the Ambleside weekly schedule, everything should be in one spot.
A few of the books get shared across years, so who knows which bin those ones will end up in each day, but that’s fine.
My 3rd and 4th grader also have their art notebooks in their bin.
Step 7: Gather materials for the riches (artist study, composer study, poetry, nature study, Shakespeare,)
The riches will be done family style for us, so I wanted something for me to keep it all in. I’m using a 3 ring binder, with plastic pocket dividers to hold the riches in. My tabs (feel free to do whatever works best for you!) are labeled:
- 3rd grade recitation
- 4th grade recitation
- artist study
- composer study
Here’s a few pics of what’s inside my binder. This will likely change as we fine tune materials.
Step 8: Plan for daily copywork and recitation
Ambleside Online gives you SO much help with copywork on this page. They’ll also address if copywork and narration are really enough for language arts.
Copywork will be daily with Ambleside Online, and it can be anything you choose. Many parents use a combo of poetry, bible verses, quotes from books the kids are reading, etc.
But how much to do each day?We set these visual timers for 10 minutes, about 4 days a week. I bought 2 of them, and it’s helped my year 3 & 4 do this 100% independently. On days my year 4 is doing more writing via dictation, I let him skip copywork. Here’s my full post on copywork for beginners for more details.
Ambleside Online says:
“Less is more, and children should write only as much as they can write perfectly.”
Perfectly…(?!?) I don’t like that phrase. I prefer Sonya’s take at Simply Charlotte Mason…she says:
“You want him to give his best effort and full attention to his work, so keep the lesson short. Focus on quality, not quantity.”
There are many free files in the AO Facebook group of people who have put together a full year of copywork you can download and print! I think we will likely do copywork from our Cursive Handwriting Without Tears book somedays, and other days I’ll let the kids choose something to write.
This is new for us! But it’s simple and should only take a few minutes per child per day. Just have them recite a poem or bible verse or quote to the rest of the family!
They practice speaking clearly and reading out loud. It doesn’t mean memorize. I know my kids tend to mumble when they read out loud so this will be super helpful for us!
There are tons of free files in the Facebook group with the assigned Ambleside recitation for each year…so awesome! That’s what’s in my binder for year 3 & 4.
If they can’t read yet, like my year 1, then he can practice repeating after me. This will be kind of similar to how we memorize things…simply repeating after me as I read.
Step 9: Write out a “routine” of some kind
I know I’ll be tweaking this over the year, but at the very least I’m going to write a Monday-Friday checklist to help me stay on track. It’ll be nice to just look down and know in addition to the daily stuff, that Monday we’ll do x, Tuesday we do y, Wednesday we do Z (for things like the riches, handicrafts, Shakespeare, dictation for my 10 year old, etc).
I’m seeing with 3 kids, if it’s not written down, I’ll get scatterbrained and skip.
I don’t know exactly how things will look with an interrupting toddler. He’s really the hardest part of this whole thing! And no clue how much my 3rd grader (or even 4th grader) will read on their own.
Here’s my best guess at a “what I aim to accomplish each day” list:
- Math (20-25 min/kid…with mom)
- Copywork (Daily, 10 minutes, anything they choose/OR/a page from Handwriting Without Tears cursive.
- Recitation (3-ish minutes) Each day each child will practice reading out loud something to the rest of us. Ambleside provides those for each term. Not sure how much they’ll recite daily yet?
- Bible Story & Hymn (10-15 min)
- 1 Poem (2 min)
- Spanish phrases from Speaking Spanish With Miss Mason & Francois (10 min)
- Required readings with narrations: Varies, 3-4 readings/day each child that’s not independent.
- One of the riches: (10 min family style…looping artist, composer, nature study, Shakespeare, handicrafts)
Step 10: Just start.
Have the vision, but just start reading and narrating. Yes copywork! Yes to a morning basket!
Of course they’ll be mistakes. Missed things. Bad days. I’m planning on it. But being new to this…I’m going to say there’s only so much planning to be done. Then it’s just time to put in the work.
I’ll be careful to split up readings. So we won’t plow through 1 child’s reading all at once. That is too much! We’ll alternate as best I can, reading with one child and then letting them go on to something else while I work with another child.
You can do this! Any of you more experienced mamas, please leave a tip in the comments 🙂 !