Friday, December 29, 2017

Why Don't You Write Me a Letter

(Obscure and meaningless cultural reference in title. It's the title of an old Pop song from back in my day)

Handwritten notes and cards are rarer than ever these days, but this is a good time to bring back the charming form of personal connection.  Take some time over the next month to write some thank-you notes with your children.  Thank people for gifts. Thank people for being part of your lives. Thank the mail carrier for delivering mail.  Thank somebody at church for being there.

"you can seldom write one letter too many, but you may easily write one too few, and be sorry for it all the days of your life."

From a Parent's Review article in 1890.

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Picture this:

The table is full.  There’s a computer, there are notebooks and art prints - and stacks and stacks and stacks of books.  

It’s a typical summer scene, one that has been here in my kitchen for years.  Dinner, if I can manage it during these weeks of planning, is spread on a picnic table out back, or on trays on the porch.  When I’m really in the thick of it, I have been known to mutter from behind a wall of history, biography, and free reads, “Fend for yourselves.”  There is organizing, combining, synchronizing, and tweaking the calendar (Do I use the half week of Thanksgiving as a catch-up week?  Do I spread that week over two weeks?  How long do I stop for Christmas? Do I try for summer lessons, or just use that time for anything we miss?).

And when I’m finally done with getting ready for the school year, I find that the beauty that is a Charlotte Mason/AmblesideOnline education looks abundant and very, very full.  

Then a funny thing happens. 

When the books find their way to the designated shelves, when the notebooks and supplies land in desks or in bins, when the calendar is in the laptop or phone or absorbed into a daybook, when the homeschool lessons actually begin - 

Suddenly, everything changes.  What was seen as so much, even a little daunting, morphs into inadequate. There is a temptation, even with a rich feast of a curriculum like AmblesideOnline, to use it as a base from which to do more.  

Just read a poem a day?  Yes, that’s nice - but how about several poems read each day for comparison? What about researching the poem, looking for its literary devices, and defining vocabulary words?  Surely several highlighters are needed, at least, maybe in a few different colors?

Literature?  Great books are good, yes, but what about study guides, or supplemental readings, or, again, those lists of vocabulary words?  

History?  Is this the actual best prescribed rotation for the story of mankind, and shouldn’t some of the tales from long ago and the uglier viewpoints of the past be left out?  And why on earth start with the history of a country other than our own?

Nature study?  OK, but my little yard isn’t all that exciting, and a walk in this neighborhood doesn’t yield much to see - so isn’t it best to add videos of nature, of important and real nature, and focus on stuff happening in rainforests and places far away?

Narration? Just ‘tell it back’? Really? That’s it?  Isn’t there more? Shouldn’t it all be written down, corrected, recopied, and used for a study of the principles of composition?  

Hymns and folk songs - just sing them? Don’t we need musical analysis, the history of each work, and lots of hymn recitation?

And just like that, a path of freedom and beauty turns into drudgery, and becomes instead a path towards burnout and exhaustion. 

This feeling that more is needed is just that  - a feeling.  It bears no resemblance to the truth.  I know this now because, well, I’ve been at this for awhile. I’ve homeschooled this CM/AO way since 1990, and the children whose curriculum plans were on my kitchen table this past summer include two of my three grandchildren - the ten- and seven-year-old daughters of the little girl I began to homeschool all those many years ago.  

I’ve learned a lot of things through homeschooling my four children (three of them graduated, one still in high school) and now through helping to homeschool my grandchildren.  And the main thing I’ve learned is this:

It is enough. 

It is enough to park in the poetic mind of one man or woman for a season, and hear their words read aloud, singly, daily, for the inspiration or challenge they bring.  Before long, a student recognizes the poet’s style, and a phrase or stanza or even the entire poem stay with that student, often for a lifetime. 

It is enough to walk around the same yard, the same street, the same park or field, on a simple walk - and find that your child gets familiar with a single tree, with the sound of a returning bird, with the flow of a stream or brook, with the change of the seasons, with decay and renewal, and with wonder over God’s creation.  And the intense observation that comes from sketching a leaf, a feather, a nut, a web, or an animal track is the foundation and the essence of real science.  

It is enough to read a book - not someone else’s take on it.  Imagine if you were given the choice of whether to stand in the front of the crowd and hear Abraham Lincoln give his second inaugural address, or to read a political commentator’s evaluation of it in a newspaper?  It’s the same with literature. There is simply no substitute for interaction with an author, for getting to know and witness firsthand the strength of the words and the force of the worldview.  

It is enough to narrate - to use this powerful tool, even through the first steps of objections, last-word parroting, and missing facts. Very soon a pattern emerges out of the new habit, due to a strengthening of mind muscle, of attention, and of building associations.  Blank stares are replaced with “this reminds me!” discoveries, and connections with other books, history, life.  And the analyzing, categorizing, connecting - and yes, the composing - is done by the child, not the study guide. 

And it is enough to sing, just sing a hymn, and to learn to sing it even - maybe especially - without accompaniment.  There may be no instruments available for your child when he walks in a hard place or wakes from a nightmare or waits for difficult news, and finds comfort and guidance in singing quietly (or bravely),  “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well, with my soul.’ “

There are some supports used at times in an AO education, of course, such as a study guide for Plutarch, an introduction to a new book, or a more specific essay style-question for a narration. But the general Charlotte Mason principle that “the mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum” does not require for its implementation a paid advisor, an insider’s interpretation of the six volumes, or a heretofore unrevealed new approach to one subject or another.  This method is well-tested, and many of us have lived the harvest of its beauty and simplicity. 

So to the young mom whose table or laptop or library card or Amazon account has been full, and who is daring to go forward but feeling a little bereft and uncertain without charts, unit studies, and workbooks - 

Be reassured. It is enough. 

To the harried homeschool teacher who’s been at this for awhile but life has gotten very tense and now high school looms large, with worry about tests and college and jobs and the future - 

We’ve been there.  It is enough. 

And to the new homeschool mom whose children know facts but don’t care, and who is seeking for them to know Robert Louis Stevenson and Johann Sebastian Bach and William Shakespeare and, above all, the Bible, at least as well as or better than they know the current athletes, musicians, and celebrities - 

Join us, and countless others.  We’ve discovered - it is enough. 

In fact, we’ve learned it’s not just enough. 

It is more than enough.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

What Could An AO Co-op Look Like?

The real answer is it could look like almost anything you like - it would be your co-op, your gathering of a few local homeschooling famiiies, and you would decide what would work best for you.  You might meet once a week or once a month- or something in between.  You might have ten families all doing AO on schedule, and you could essentially have a cottage school together. You might have two families, and one of them isn't even all that keen on Charlotte Mason, but you could still figure out some things that are compatible with your regular school days that you could enjoy doing together. You might live in a concrete jungle with a two hour drive to any green space so you don't want to do anything but nature walks on a co-op day, or you might live in the woods and have people come out to your house so you can combine nature walks with your co-op day.

We have two possible approaches to suggest.  First, we have some suggestions I have compiled from my own experiences with an AO or CM co-op and collected from others.  These suggestions are intended for use by families using AO essentially as written, but it wouldn't be difficult to adapt them for use with those who combine other curricula, or just do CM, or for a group with a mix of homeschooling philosophies.  I hate saying the possibilities are endless because it is such a cliche, but really, the following ideas could be combined in too many unique ways to tabulate, and one of them is probably just right for your group.

(scroll down to the end for the second suggestion- an exciting announcement)

Don't let the perfect become the enemy of good enough to get started.  Just figure a few things out and jump in, committing to being flexible, tolerant of other families' foibles and your own.  Keep a sense of humour and work out the kinks as you go along.

To begin with, ask around and find out who else might be interested.

~Collect names and ages of families/children, so you know what you will need. For instance, if you have no high school students, your co-op will look different to a co-op that includes several high school students.
Then have a get-together so you can plan out your co-op.  Try a park day, or a Saturday morning while the parents who are not the primary homeschoolers are able to be home, or hire a couple of teenagers to supervise the kids in the backyard while parents/teachers meet in the living room. Parents work together to plan things out. Everybody needs to volunteer to do something, or the thing will fall apart. This cannot be a drop the kids off time, and you should not accept three moms doing lessons and working with the children while two or three other moms sit in another room and chat as a matter of course for your co-op. Some ideas to discuss:

~What is it you each want most from a co-op? If most of the moms really just want some time with other adults, consider having a parents' study group a couple of times a month instead.

~If you have AO families (or families using all the same curriculum from any CM type offerings), think about dividing your kids into forms- so all kids in years 1-3 would do the same things together on co-op day, and all the year 4-6 or 7 would be together, and then 8 on up would be together (fuzzy lines are okay here). 

- Consider going in together and hiring an art teacher, foreign language instructor, somebody who can teach a handicraft, a music teacher, a singing instructor, a math tutor, a biology teacher (not all of the above at once, necessarily)- knowledgable instructors who can give some focused weekly instruction and directions that all of you can practice at home throughout the week.

--For AO families: Consider this a good time to use one of the 'Unicorn' (that is, really hard to find or expensive) books. If only one person in your group has that wonderful hard to find book, ask if they would consider bringing it and reading aloud from it at co-op meetings. 

Things you will want to consider in addition to what year each of the students is in and what books they are reading: 
~Meals and/or snacks (brown bag, collect dues and order in, potluck, don't have them?)
~How often do you meet?
~Where will you meet?
~Do you want to collect dues and hire a specialist for some things? 
~Time of day? 
~any standards of behavior or statement of faith that need to be ironed out?

Here is a group of suggestions- pick and choose! Some of them would be best for a co-op where all families are following the same AO schedule, some would work best for families that are at least on baord with Charlotte Mason, and some would be compatible even for a group where only one person is a CM homeschooler. 

Things a co-op group could do together with the kids in year 3 and below :

  • Read aloud and then act out a fairy tale, folk tale, or myth with the kids
  • Same with the Lamb's retelling of Shakespeare
  • Parables of Nature
  • A weekly science demonstration- something fun about basic science stuff, how things work, why water does what it does, how toilets flush, why you don't put a magnet on your computer, etc.
  • Work together on some of the geography concepts we have listed for those years
  • Read Heroes (or other Greek myths, D'Aulaire's is good)
  • Play a game- a board game, an outside game, something fun that they might not get to do at home because they don't have enough kids to play. One of the old school yard games is a good choice, something like duck, duck, goose, Mother May I, or something else.

Year 4 and Up:
  • Read aloud Shakespeare together in character each week
  • Plutarch
  • Read Bullfinch's myths together
  • Pick one free read from any of the upper years and read it aloud together and narrate, discuss
  • Some basic map drills
  • Dictation
  • Mad Libs to learn parts of speech, or some other basic grammar lessons on parts of speech
  • Play a game- a board game, an outside game, something fun that they might not get to do at home because they don't have enough kids to play. This is a good time for something like kickball or soccer or some other loosely organized team sport.
High School:
  • Some of the above things as well as:
  • Roar on the Other Side
  • Grammar of Poetry (while each of these books is used for a specific year, you could group together all students in years 6-8 or 9 and work through one book one year, and the other the following year.  Lani, one of our auxiliary members, tells me  her co-op found it easy to go through  'Grammar of Poetry by doing it together twice a month (with homework in between, but just practicing lesson covered) over two school years. Roar was easily done in one year this way. GoP worked quite well for 6th and 7th grades.')
  • Writing class
  • Foreign Language
  • Volleyball, soccer, kickball
  • Biology- dissections 

Things that could be done together with a wide range of ages, or divide up the group if that would help:

Folk songs- also view Children of the Open Air videos to learn Sol-fa, or Music at Home,

Swedish Drill

Picture study


Recitations- if the group is too large for all to take a turn reciting, draw names for five recitations (need not be done all at once, could divide this up and have one at the beginning of the day and one during a snack or lunch time). See the Burrell article on recitation on the PR section of the website and have a short lesson on recitation).

Listen to composer music, perhaps read aloud a biography of the composer over a few weeks by reading each co-op time.

A timeline- similar to recitations, it does not matter that all of them are doing different times, draw names and five people come up and put something on a timeline and explain why they chose that event or person (would require having the same location in order to use the same timeline, or having a portable timeline that could unfold so it can be easily seen)

"Book reports," just narrations- not everybody needs to present if that would take too long, either choose ahead of time or everybody knows they might be called on, or draw names and have a few people come up to share their favourite reading that week.

Biography- share a biography of the term's composer, artist, or poet and read aloud together every week.

Learn Latin (or some other foreign language if you all agree on the language)- or just play something like Rummy Roots together (it's a card game of Greek and Latin root words)

Handicraft: have different people come prepared to teach different handicrafts through the year, or hire an art instructor to do group lessons. 
PE- play an outdoor game (kickball seems to work pretty well for large groups of kids with disparate skills, but there could be other sports presented and the basic rules learned)

Nature study- also do some kind of object lesson using Hons- Present something like a branch from an oak tree, a basket of seashells, a pinecones, rocks, bones, etc and have the kids just look it over and find out as much as they can from their own observations and then combine knowledge, read something from Hons, ask a few leading questions, discuss.

Nature Walks- You might also consider booking time at a local nature center for some specific lessons 

What if you are the only CM or AO mom in the group?

Things you could probably get other moms to go for, regardless of educational philosophy:

  • A nature walk, trip to a nature center, getting an interpretive guide to talk to the kids
  • Going in together for an outside art teacher or drawing teacher, or somebody to do dissection with the teens, or somebody to teach a craft, or foreign language+
  • singing hymns and/or folk songs
  • Book reports- you don't have to be on the same page for this at all- the kids read what they read independently, and the other kids give a book report and your kids narrate a book they finished that week.
  • PE- whether drills, or kickball, or volleyball, etc.
  • Some kind of recitation- perhaps a public speaking opportunity.
  • Mad Libs for parts of speech is still fun in a group, regardless of educational philosophy and background.
  • Map drills for continents, oceans, countries, states

  • Book Discussion group

I'm sure there are ways other things could be adapted so they are mutually beneficial and compatible with your individual goals for your families.

We would encourage you to focus on organizing your co-op in a way that would not burden parents too much by requiring a lot of outside work to keep up, but that could, at the same time, somehow incorporate things they might already be trying to fit in (like reading a biography of the term's artist together, or picture study, or some of the geography work, or recitation and dictation) so that they would be gaining some community but not at the cost of having to cut out large chunks for the school work they wanted to do or squeezing it into fewer days a week. How much the co-op would do would depend on whether it met weekly or monthly, full days or half days, and where you meet. If it is not a place conducive to nature walks, for example, you will want to either forego them, or you would omit other things to make time to drive to a place for nature walks. 

Here's a sample schedule for one co-op:

Opening prayer, recitation of Philippians 4:8 or CM's motto
Hymn - 10 mins
Picture Study - 10 mins
Folk Song and sol-fa instruction - 20 mins
Swedish Drill - 10 mins
Paper Sloyd/handicraft - 20-30 mins
Shakespeare - 20-30 mins
Drawing lesson - 20-30 mins
Lunch - 30 mins
Nature Hike with journaling and/or Free play

Another co-op of just two families (8 kids, 4-11) meets twice a month, once for a field trip planned by one of the mothers, and the second time the other mother does the following with the kids:

Recitation - we gave the kids a chance to recite poems (their choice) or play piano pieces they had learned for each other.
Picture Study
Nature Study - more often 'object lesson' type of stuff for the 'class' type meeting - mostly on various aspects of plants this past year. Our 'field trip' outing was often a park or nature hike, though so it rounded out a bit.
Composer Study - introducing the composer, listening together and discussing what we heard, with the understanding that we'd all continue listening at home through the month.
Handicrafts - we did Paper Sloyd in the fall and hand sewing projects in the spring.

Have you worked out a local co-op or study group compatible with AO that works for you?  We'd love to hear about it!

Announcement and Possibility Number 2- As Leslie recently announced, '
AmblesideOnline is putting the final touches on a streamlined version of AO that can be done with groups of students in Form I (grades 1-3), Form II (grades 4-6) and Form III (grades 7-8 or 9). Are you thinking of doing AO in a co-op setting? Are you hoping to start a CM cottage school? Perhaps you need a way to streamline a large family into a couple of Years? AO 2.0 may be just what you're looking for!  Coming soon!!'

You could have a co-op using this 2.0 program designed for cottage schools working with kids coming out of public schools, or you could use the 2.0 as your source for books to do together once or twice a month.

Note: It is a lighter version than our official AO curriculum, which is still, in our opinion, the 1969 mustang, the 1957 Chevy, the Ferrari, the Porsch, and the car we don't even have yet- the solar operated, green fueled and designed durable and affordable hover-car! In short, the AO curriculum as seen on the website is still a winning and excellent combination of classic and modern, style and workmanship, heavy duty, road tested durability and affordability. That is not going away.  This AO for Groups curriculum is for cottage schools and larger families.  It is the 12 passenger van for families who don't fit in the AO family car anymore. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Sample Year One Schedule

The usual caveats apply: this is one sample of one mom's work with one of her kids, and we are excited to be able to share it with you all. We hope it will give you ideas about your own schedules and be an encouragement. It's not a blanket endorsement, a recipe, or a straitjacket. It is meant to be a helpful example. Huge, huge thanks to Tanya for catching the AO spirit and letting us share it.

Tanya moderates a FB support group for San Diego Charlotte Mason Homeschoolers. I'll let her introduce herself:

I'm Tanya Stone. I've been homeschooling for 7 years, since my oldest entered Kindergarten. I've been using Ambleside Online for about 5 years. My children are 12, 11, 9, 7, and 5.

Do you have a schedule to share? Let us know!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Guest Post: Year 1 Review

We want to welcome back Diana, who has very graciously allowed us to host her review of Year one and how it worked for her. I was so excited to share her post that when I posted the year 3 review I forgot to mention two generic caveats:

1. This is how this year worked for Diana with her child. It's not to be considered a full endorsement by AO (neither is this very generic caveat to be seen as a disavowal of anything in particular). It's one example of how a family made AO their own. We hope it inspires you. It's not meant to be a recipe or a list of commands.

2. Any list of books in order from easiest to hardest is going to be just a bit subjective (Diana addresses this as well).  I recently read aloud a very easy picture book to a group of kindergartners- and I had to stop and explain things several times.  They all live on a tropical island.  Most have never lived in America (even the two or three with American parents).   While their English is excellent, among the class were children who had no idea what such things as a moose, a bonfire, autumn leaves, and jam were because they have never seen them or been exposed to them, or they use different terms.

So without further ado, here's Diana!

 Last month, I was able to write a guest post for Ambleside Online's official blog, Archipelago, detailing my family's journey through Year 3. Today I am writing a similar post about our experience with Year 1.

 This is my second time teaching Year 1, which was way more easy than the first time around since I, myself, have begun to wrap my mind around Charlotte Mason's philosophy. Of course, every home school is going to look different, even if we're using the same wonderful Ambleside Online curriculum. I definitely believe that our uniqueness (both strengths and weaknesses) as mothers and as a family at large are what makes each set of parents the best teacher of their own children. Just know going into this post that we are a very literate family. I mean, none of us have been awarded a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize, but both Dear Husband and I are working writers, and two (so far) of our three sons have been early readers. Maybe your family is more of a hands-on or science-y type. That is great! I hope that you are playing to your strengths and covering for your weaknesses just as we are striving to do.

 One more note about us. Our Year 1 student, L6, is ... well ... slightly different than most kids his age. First, we suspect that he may be on the autism spectrum. Although he gets along very well in this world, he has a few symptoms that have lead us to this theory. We have not pushed for a diagnosis in the past, but we may in the near future. 

Second, L6 is what some people call "gifted" but is better labeled "asynchronous." It's funny because you would think the higher the IQ the easier a child is to teach, but that's not always the case. Often an asynchronous child thinks differently or faster than their peers but still at an age appropriate maturity and emotional level; hence, the out-of-sync label. Basically, teaching an asynchronous child -- and "twice exceptional" if our suspicions of autism are correct -- can be very frustrating because you're not sure when to push for excellence or when to back off. Thankfully, AO's curriculum is a broad feast. It's absolutely perfect for an asynchronous child. Basically, if some of the stuff we do in Year 1 seems strange, it probably is just a little.

 Okay, so just like in my Year 3 review post, here is a list of the Year 1 books in order of hardest to easiest (in my humble opinion):
  • Parables of Nature (AO’s paraphrased edition) by Margaret Gatty (Literature)
  • Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula (History Tales / Biography)
  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (Literature)
  • Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling (geography)
  • The Burgess Bird Book by Thornton Burgess (Natural History / Science)
  • The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (Literature)
  • Viking Tales by Jennie Hall (History)
  • Bible: New King James Version (Bible)
  • Our/An Island Story by H.E. Marshall (History)
  • *Shakespeare for Everyone: Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It (Literature)
  • The American history books by Ingri D'Aulaire
  • James Herriot's Treasury for Children (Natural History / Science)
  • Oxford Book of Children's Verse by Iona and Peter Opie (Poetry)
  • A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (Poetry)
  • Now We are Six by A.A. Milne (Poetry)
  • Aesop's Fables (Literature)
  • Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin (History)
*Our family does Shakespeare together in morning time. We have substituted Shakespeare for Everyone in place of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare – a personal preference.

  Specific Scheduled Book Advice This ranking is very subjective. At the Year 1 level, I am prone to label a book "more challenging" because its stories are longer -- even if you chop them up into different sittings -- rather than just by an elevated writing style. There are several books on this list that L6 could "read" as far as de-code the words, but he could not read these at length and comprehend, so these have all been read aloud to him.

 If this is your first time doing Year 1 with a student, all of these texts are probably new to you. L6 is my second student to complete (nearly!) Year 1, so these books are my old friends but somewhat new to him.
  An Island Story and Trial and Triumph are both books we will be using for the next two years. L6 listened in quite a bit with British history when his older brother passed through it, so he has taken to An Island Story very easily. He especially enjoyed the chapters around the King Arthur era since we have read several Margaret Hodges picture books of the same setting (Saint George and the Dragon, The Kitchen Knight, Merlin and the Making of the King). L6 is a HUGE fan of picture books. He's a lap sitter and a snuggler. Bedtime reading is a big deal to this kid.

  Trial and Triumph contains a lot of death and church history, both which can be confusing to a six year old, but I'm glad to introduce some church history to my kiddos. I've seen many AO users comment that their child is too sensitive for this book, but so far my boys have weathered it well. In fact, L6 was very excited to pick up on the use of "creeds" in the chapter on the Nicaea counsel because we memorized the Apostle's Creed as part of our morning time recitation work this year.

 Fifty Famous Stories Retold is probably the easiest book 
Aesopscheduled for Year 1. This one, along with Aesop's Fables, is not only great for teaching history and literature, but they are also excellent for teaching children to narrate. L6 is already a master narrator. I'm not sure if it's from watching his older brother or if it's because he's particularly good at holding thoughts in his head.
The stories in these two books are so short and so focused that narrating their central theme is fairly easy. If your kiddo is struggling with narration, these two texts are great starting points to work on that. We happen to already own a different version of Aesop's Fables than the suggested Milo Winter edition. Rather than bouncing around the book to follow the AO schedule exactly, we just read them in the order they are placed in our book. No big deal!

 (Wcapehart's note: HOORAY!!  This is exactly correct!  Sometimes, the very best book is the one you already have!)

We're still reading through Viking Tales by Jennie Hall, but it's a very lovely addition to An Island Story, Year 1's main history spine. I'm so glad the AO Advisory made sure our Year 1 students had a little bit of understanding of the Norwegian influences in European history. This book sort of lays the groundwork to understand The Little Duke in Year 2 since the main character's family in that book is descended from the vikings. L6 is in love with Scandinavia because he attended a vacation bible school program that was all about Norway. When we busted out the Viking Tales in Year 1/term 3, he was very excited! This is also a good time to add in the D'Aulaire book Leif the Lucky, if you happen to own it.

 Speaking of D'Aulaire, the three of those books scheduled are all very fun and beautifully illustrated stories of American history. I've sometimes seen other CM communities give AO some flack about focusing so much on British history in Year 1. To each her own, I guess, but let me just chime in from my experience. First, the D'Aulaire books do introduce American history in Year 1. And, second, having seen my 9 year old pass through Years 1 and 2, absorbing all of this British history, I can tell you that when we got to honest-to-goodness American history in Year 3, he had a very good understanding of how the first English settlements came to be. It was astounding. Hang in there in Years 1 and 2 with your British / European history. You are building a foundation that will really begin to shine in Year 3.

  Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling is really not that difficult of a book. It has some lingo in it that can be challenging, but all of the illustrations really help support the text. I rated it a bit challenging because it was L6's first foray into geography. L6 did some amazing map work (thanks to maps purchased from Beautiful Feet Books) to go along with the chapters. (This is geography. Do the map work!) I hear there's a short film about this book on available on YouTube, but we haven't watched it yet.

Holling's books transport you, as a reader, to another world. You really just have to jump in and be swept away. Yes, Year 1's main character is a wooden Indian in a canoe. Hold onto your hat, though, because in Year 2's Holling books the main characters are a tree and a bird carved from whale bone. Year 3? A hermit crab. Yep.

 As already noted, we traded Lamb’s Shakespeare for a line of books called Shakespeare for Everyone written by Jennifer Mulherin. I found the Georgian / Victorian language used in Lamb’s only confused Shakespeare’s Elizabethan era plays, so we opted for a modern retelling followed by film viewings.

 I know most people advise to "start with the comedies," but since my Year 3 student had just read about Henry V of England, we started our family-wide Shakespeare project with that play. Maybe it's just because we're a house full of mostly boys, but Henry V went over very, very well. In addition to the retelling, we studied the St. Crispin's Day speech ("We few, we happy few, we band of brothers ...") and watched the Kenneth Branagh film -- which my boys were happy to see included not only Gilderoy Lockhart, but also Professor Trelawney (Emma Thompson), Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and Batman (Christian Bale).

 Because we do Shakespeare as a family, we had our own rotation going rather than juggling Year 1 and Year 3 assignments. Now I see that AO has moved to a Shakespeare rotation, we will probably try to jump on board (so long as we don’t repeat what we’ve done recently). 

Do not be intimidated by James Herriot's Treasury for Children. These are really just a bunch of picture books all in one binding. I don't know about your kids, but it really wasn't a stretch to read picture books about farm animals to my kids. Just enjoy these little gems, and feel free to read the entire book, even though not every chapter is scheduled. You may find that your Year 1 student wants to become a vet for a while after reading this book.

 The Scheduled Bible readings for Year 1 are basically just a list of popular tales from the Bible. My kids are all quite familiar with the New King James Version as that is what we read from at home all the time (and use for recitation). No matter the translation you prefer, don't go into Year 1 Bible worrying about whether you child understands absolutely everything. You don't have to turn this into Sunday School with a planned craft or song. Just take time to familiarize them with these iconic stories and get them used to reading from the Bible rather than a Bible-type book (even though there are some excellent Bible story books out there, too, like The Jesus Storybook Bible.) Make this time fun and relaxed, because the Bible is a book they will enjoy reading every single year with AO and, hopefully, daily throughout their lives.

 Speaking of enjoy, my kids and I have all enjoyed Parables of Nature. I know that sounds crazy because they are crazy-long. Sometimes I even find myself dreading to begin one of these, but I'm not sure why (other than length) because my kids always enjoy them. It's really the same with Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book. I think, perhaps, my kids appreciate parables and fairy tales more than I expect they will. Funny story: I took L6 (and his brothers) to see a live performance of Beauty and the Beast at our local community theater. After the show started, L6 (who was, of course, sitting on my lap) whispered to me that the show wasn't like the book. I told him it's supposed to be like the Disney movie ... and he had no idea what I was talking about! I completely forgot that he had never seen the film. He was primed to see a performance of the Blue Fairy Book story. That's a proud AO moment. ;-)

Oh, The Burgess Bird Book, how I dread you some days. It's not so much that the stories are a bit repetitive (describing birds can get old), but it's more that I know L6 wants to color a picture of each bird, and it's so difficult to find coloring sheets of birds that look like a Flycatcher or a Martin -- there are helpful mom-created web sites out there, though. I've also found several coloring images here. These resources just aren't comprehensive of the whole book. If someone systematically went through this book and created companion coloring pages, I would appreciate that! L6 wants to color each bird just right, and I hold my breath each time as his little perfectionist heart goes to work. I do appreciate this book, though, for getting us thinking about birds but still being a narrative form.

I'm glad we also have a field guide and online resources at our disposal to liven things up. We've looked up birds on YouTube and at the Audubon web site to see videos and hear bird calls. We also bird-watch at our feeder. We read a picture book called The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon this year. I thought that was a nice tie-in. Whatever you can do to blow the dust off Peter Rabbit, Jenny Wren, and all the endless parade of bird varieties the better. With my oldest son, I simply read the book, and he really didn't get much out of it. With L6 I've made these efforts to make it more of an interactive experience. Oh, and remember, you don't have to read the chapters in order (or even all of the chapters). Pick the chapters by the birds you want your child to learn.

I'm going to lump the poetry books together even thought they are each wonderful in their own way. It has amazed me with both of my Year 1 students how much kids love poetry if someone will just make time to read it to them. Kids are not nearly as afraid of rhyme and meter as we adults are. In fact, L6 and I recently read a free verse book called Love That Dog by Sharon Creech -- we loved it! It dealt with the death of a beloved pet dog, which is something our family just went through. Now We are Six by A.A. Milne is a particular favorite of my children's because it's so funny. All of the AO poetry options come in colorful illustrated editions, which is not always necessary, but is nice for a 6 or 7 year old.

I find Rudyard Kipling to be challenging. I want to like him, but I am just not there yet. Just So Stories scheduled in Years 1, 2, and 3 were hard for me. That said, I was able to punt those readings to Dear Husband for now. That sort of feels like cheating, but until I can love Kipling I wanted the kids to hear him read by someone who does. Another option is to get an audio book. It would probably help if I would spring for a picture book version, but right now we just have a cheap paperback. I need to get on board, though, because Kipling is sprinkled throughout the AO years. Thankfully, everyone in this house but me has loved Just So Stories.

Free Reads Free reads for Year 1 are mostly read-to-me type of selections. There are not many that L6 could and would read on his own and still comprehend. That said, he is a skilled reader and has read some on his own (those are in bold). This year we have read:
  • Charlotte's Web
  • Peter Pan
  • The Red Fairy Book (some stories)
  • St. George and the Dragon
  • The Velveteen Rabbit
  • Plenty of Fish
  • Seeds and More Seeds
  • Let's Get Turtles
  • Frog and Toad books
We have read countless books at bedtime as well. As previously noted, L6 loves picture books, and he is usually able to read any picture book (to himself or to his little brother) off the shelf at the library. I could never list all of them, but we tend to follow the advice of booklists from sources like The Read Aloud Revival, Housefull of Bookworms, Honey for a Child's Heart, and others.

 Much to my chagrin, L6 has read all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and every single Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants, etc.) book. Additionally, he has read some Roald Dahl books -- The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for sure -- and we have read several books together as a family, including The Hobbit, The Borrowers, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the Ramona series (Beverly Cleary).

  Various Daily Instruction

 We are a Math U See family. L6 is nearly finished with the Alpha book. He has taken to math very easily like his older brother. When the day comes that he is ready to run with math, I think he will be exceptionally good at it. Right now, though, he'd rather do his one page of math and then go ride his bike. I'm not going to argue with that at age 6.

 L6 has naturally good handwriting (much better than his older brother who struggles), so Copy Work is a breeze for him. We haven't really started Foreign Language with L6 just yet. I want him to go through Classical Academic Press' Song 
School Spanish curriculum with his friend, but that friend is not quite ready yet.

Since he is reading on his own, we are not taking time for daily Phonics or Reading Instruction, although I do love for those skills (in addition to actual books).

We do Recitation together in morning time, choosing to memorize favorite poems or Bible facts set to music.

 I am not great with Handicrafts. I hate that about myself, though, because I see others making things and wish I had that skill or drive. The boys are probably behind in this because Dear Husband and I are both inept, but we are trying. We do paint and draw a lot, and we do a lot of freewriting (ala Brave Writer). I've taught the boys a bit of handsewing.

  Weekly Instruction Subjects

 We very closely follow AO’s artist, composer, and folksong/hymn study rotations, utilizing morning time to do this as a family. Additionally, I have taken A9 and L6 to a couple local symphony performances for a little in-person music appreciation. A9 and L6 both take piano lessons from me at home, we hope someday that L6 might take violin lessons. With his hyper-focus abilities and dexterity, we think he might have a knack for it.

 We also learn about nature topics in morning time, according to my own reading of the Handbook of Nature Study, various picture books, and field guides. A9 and L6 both sketch in nature journals, and we belong to a weekly hiking group for kids (taking its cue from the Wild and Free movement). J4 and L6 both like to attend a monthly nature class at our local Conversation Department, and all three boys are involved in Cub Scouts.

 We also attend a local school co op one day a week, which gives the boys 4 hours of classroom experience each week. In order to fit this in, we stretch the 12 week AO terms into 15 week intervals.

  Sports and Recreation
 All three of our boys all take a weekly swim class designed for homeschoolers at a local indoor pool. L6 and his brothers are now playing Little League Baseball, and I think A9 and L6 might be interested in track next spring (2018). Our community also has a monthly "homeschool skate" at our local roller rink. We've only been once, but L6 loved it! He's turning out to be an individual sport type of guy (no surprise there!). Probably our best source of recreation, though, is living in a cul de sac where the boys ride their bikes and scooters up and down the street.

  An Introvert's Life Unlike my extremely extroverted oldest child, L6 is typically content to stay home and play in the backyard. He's probably more involved in activities than he would choose just because we travel as a pack, but it's probably good for him. We try to make concessions for both boys who are pulling in opposite directions. This is our Year 1. It's probably as different from yours as each child is uniquely made, but I hope this helps someone out there. Until next week (or so). I’m reading: Novel:
Moderately challenging books:
Stiff books:
Diana Save Save

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Guest Post: Year 3 Review

We are excited about this!! You are about to be blessed, especially if you are looking at year 3.

 We want to introduce the Nelson family today, who would like to share with you the details of how they implement AO Year 3 in their homeschool. The Nelson family has three children -- all boys -- and they've been homeschooling with AO for three years, using Years 1, 2, and 3. Diana Nelson blogs at You'll want to bookmark that and follow her blog.

 We are so thrilled to be able to share this post with you.  It is the first in a new series we hope will grow- guest posts by AO users on how AO works for them.   We are so thankful that Diana graciously shared this post with us to use on the blog, and thus with all of you.

We hope her generosity and spirit of sharing freely encourages and inspires others the same way she has blessed us.  So without anymore fanfare- here's Diana on year 3:

As my oldest is about to enter Year 4 (we'll probably start the first Monday in August), I find myself looking for advice from Year 4 veterans. And, since we are just finishing up Year 3, I thought I'd offer that type of advice to those about to begin Year 3. First, and this is in no way scientific, here is a list of Year 3 Books in order of hardest to easiest (those in bold above the line are books I might allow my son to read independently occasionally; those in bold below the line are books he actually did read independently by the end of the year):
  • The Heroes by Charles Kingsley (Literature)
  • Marco Polo’s Adventures in China by Milton Rugoff (Geography)
  • Parables of Nature (AO’s paraphrased edition) by Margaret Gatty (Literature)
  • This Country of Ours by H.E. Marshall (History)
  • Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula (History Tales / Biography)
  • Bible: New King James Version (Bible)
  • An / Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall (History)
  • *Shakespeare for Everyone: Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It (Literature)
  • Children of the New Forest by F. Marryat (Literature)
  • The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (Literature)
  • The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (Literature)
  • Pagoo by Holling C. Holling (Natural History/Science)
  • Secrets of the Woods by William J. Long (Natural History/Science)
  • Leonardo Da Vinci by Emily Hahn (History Tales / Biography)
  • American Tall Tales by Adrien Stoutenberg (Literature)
  • Child's History of the World by Virgil Hillyer (History)
  • Landing of the Pilgrims by James Daugherty (History Tales / Biography)
  • **[all Year 3 poetry] William Blake, Sara Teasdale, Hilda Conkling, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Bard of Avon by Peter Vennema and Diane Stanley (History Tales / Biography)
  • Good Queen Bess by Diane Stanley (History Tales / Biography)
  • Science Lab in a Supermarket by Robert Friedhoffer (Natural History/Science)
  • A Drop of Water by Walter Wick (Natural History/Science)

*Our family does Shakespeare together in morning time. We have substituted Shakespeare for Everyone in place of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare – a personal preference.

 **We do poetry in morning time or at "tea time," which is why he did not read independently.

  Specific Scheduled Book Advice Even though A9 can read several of the history / biography books on his own, I was hesitant to just hand it all over to him because we are still doing a mommy-and-me style timeline. A9 is probably an above average reader (he was an early reader), but he's still a reluctant one. He's the type to skim rather than read carefully, so we chose to read aloud more than was probably necessary.

An Island Story is an old friend. We've read it for the past three years, so that one is familiar and easy.

This Country of Ours starts out overlapping the timeline in An Island Story, so even though the chapters are longer, An Island Story has brought us up to this point.
Child's History of the World is another book that overlaps. It's by far the easiest reading level of the three main history books scheduled in Year 3.

 The historical biographies are all fairly easy reads. We did Leonardo Da Vinci as a read aloud just because in Term 1 our son was not quite mature enough to read independently AND give a good narration. (Plus, it's a little boring.) A lot of maturing happened this year! By the end of the year I was able to transition more and more over to A9.

 We started American Tall Tales as a read aloud, but he was able to read the second half independently with good oral narrations.

 The most challenging book in Year 3 is The Heroes by Charles Kingsley. Not only is it an elevated prose, but also my son was only slightly familiar with Greek gods and goddesses. A9 picked up Percy Jackson: The Lightening Thief at the library around the middle of Term 2 -- purely coincidentally -- and I think that helped him relate to The Heroes a little better.

Marco Polo's Adventures in China was the next most challenging. I know there are many options from which to choose for your Marco Polo book. We landed on Milton Rugoff's after I checked out a few options from our library (inter-library loan). I liked all of the photos, maps, and sidebar info in Rugoff's book. I have seen AO Advisory members comment about the many Marco Polo options, saying that all of them are great books, and the only reason there are so many options is so that there isn't a mad rush on just one version. All that to say, if you're planning Year 3, you'll be tempted to worry and fret over which Marco Polo book to choose. Relax and buy the most affordable and most available one on the AO list of options. And, remember the purpose of this text is to teach geography, so be sure to map out the Polos' travels. We also checked out a book from the library about what Mongolia is like today. I thought it a good idea that A9 understand that parts of Mongolia today are urban and industrial.

  Parables of Nature is another old friend. I would almost be tempted to let A9 read one of these stories independently, but frankly we just enjoy these together way too much. They are a time investment, but when we settle in to these stories we always have deep conversations.

 Even though Trial and Triumph is familiar from Years 1 and 2, I still read this one aloud just in case it raises any questions. There's a lot of death -- and church history (obviously) -- that I want to help A9 interpret. I've seen Catholic AO users say this book is very protestant, and I've seen protestant AO users say this book is very Catholic. I think the book does a fairly good job walking that line (we are protestant), and I can see why the AO Advisory has chosen it. Still, I find this book needs a chaperone.

 My kiddo is so familiar with the New King James Version of the Bible that I find that he gives excellent narrations. In fact, A9 asked to begin a written narration on New Testament reading assignments. Sometimes we also read the same selection out of The Message or the English Standard Version if the selection is particularly challenging (more typically in the Old Testament).

HenryV As already noted, we traded Lamb's Shakespeare for a line of books called Shakespeare for Everyone. I found the Georgian / Victorian language used in Lamb's only confused Shakespeare's Elizabethan era plays, so we opted for a modern retelling followed by film viewings. Because we do Shakespeare as a family, we had our own rotation going rather than juggling Year 1 and Year 3 assignments. Now I see that AO has moved to a Shakespeare rotation, we will probably try to jump on board (so long as we don't repeat what we've done recently).

 I turned over three of the literature selections (by MacDonald, Marryat, and Kipling) for Dear Husband to read to A9 in the evenings. They were all tackled at bedtime with very little involvement from me.

They read Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen Taylor last year in Year 2. DH says he thinks A9 could have read these independently, but we thought it best to have Daddy pronouncing the words properly and doing character voices.

  Pagoo and Secrets of the Woods for Natural History / Science were reserved as read alouds so we could reinforce the science involved. Rather than giving these over to A9, we checked out additional picture books from the library that involved sea life and woodland creatures to support the scheduled books.

 The other two Natural History / Science books (by Science Lab in a Supermarket and A Drop of Water) were both books I felt I could hand to A9 and he would run with it. We did the experiments together, but really he required hardly any guidance at all.

  Free Reads A9 would not read any of the free reads unless made to do so. He would be much more likely to choose a book from the library based on his own interests (and he frequently does), so we compromised. A9 has assigned free read time during which I set a timer for 20 minutes, and he reads a Year 3 free read of his choosing. So far, in Year 3 he has read:
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  • Through the Looking Glass
  • Swallows and Amazons
  • King of the Wind
He has also read "on his own time" countless books in the fantasy genre, to which he seems naturally drawn. We've also completed several family read alouds this school year, including The Hobbit, The Borrowers, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Love That Dog, and the Ramona series (Beverly Cleary).

Various Daily Instruction

 A9 is still loving Math U See for his main math curriculum. He finished the Delta book around Easter and has jumped right into Epsilon. I'm also trying to get him interested in Beast Academy math, which is more problem solving style questions. Math nerdiness run in our family, so A9 is a bit ahead in math. I know many kids his age in the Beta or Gamma Math U See books. I love that those books are not grade-specific so kiddos can be comfortable doing their best without undo pressure.

 In Term 3 of Year 3, A9 began learning typing / keyboarding online at, which is a free program that saves his progress. We are still plugging away at Copy Work, but this child is perpetually behind in that department. Even though his handwriting is atrocious, his spelling and grammar are naturally exceptional (I mean that in a good way). I expect dictation in Year 4 to be a breeze.

For foreign language, we went with Classical Academic Press's curriculum. A9 started out with Song School Spanish and has since moved on to Spanish for Children Book A. Next year we will add Visual Latin 1 and see how we do. I'd love for him to add in French someday, but recently he has shown interest in learning Japanese. We shall see what will be.

  Weekly Instruction Subjects We very closely follow AO's artist, composer, and folksong/hymn study rotations, utilizing morning time to do this as a family. Additionally, I have taken A9 and L6 to a couple local symphony performances for a little in-person music appreciation. A9 and L6 both take piano lessons from me at home, and A9 took a guitar class and belongs to a community boys choir, which performs many folk songs and spirituals.

 We also learn about nature topics in morning time, according to my own reading of the Handbook of Nature Study by by Anna Botsford Comstock, various picture books, and field guides. A9 and L6 both sketch in nature journals, and we belong to a weekly hiking group for kids (taking its cue from the Wild and Free movement). Oh, and all three boys are involved in Cub Scouts. We also attend a local school co op one day a week, which gives the boys 4 hours of classroom experience each week. In order to fit this in, we stretch the 12 week AO terms into 15 week intervals.

  Sports and Recreation
 The boys all take a swim class designed for homeschoolers at a local indoor pool. During the winter, A9 played Upward Basketball and participated in an archery for kids program. All three boys are now playing Little League Baseball, and I think A9 and L6 might be interested in track next spring (2018). Probably our best source of recreation, though, is living in a cul de sac where the boys ride their bikes and scooters up and down the street.
  Whew! Man, that sounds like a lot, but remember we're not doing all of it every day. Also, A9 is an extreme extrovert. L6 is much more introverted, so I'm hoping he's going to take it easy on me. J4 seems to be somewhere in the middle. I hope this record of how our Year 3 played out helps someone out there.

 Until next week (or so).

 I'm reading:
Moderately challenging books:
Stiff books:
Diana Save Save