Finding our way in Ambleside

This is gonna be a long post but also a run-down and an update on what we’ve been doing in our homeschool.

We’ve become more structured in our homeschooling in the last month, now that my eldest is 11 and my youngest is of state school age. I want my children to be school-ready academically, because school is a possible future option. However I’ve never been really keen on the National Curriculum (which has always seemed unnecessarily restrictive). I’m also not fond of the newer ways of teaching Math the way it’s done in many state schools now (which has been a recipe for disaster with my eldest when she used to attend school… I’ve since found that she learns Maths best with a more rigorous approach, and Conquer Maths is a great fit for her).

I’ve been trialling a Charlotte Mason-influenced approach over the past weeks, and I’ve observed my daughters’ reactions to the material. They’ve shown a rather bemused interest in all this, as the texts used are nothing like what they are used to. These tend to be rather quaint, archaic 17th, 18th century texts.

We follow the Ambleside Online Curriculum quite loosely, because its free, it’s well laid-out, and the variety of the text selections appeal to my children. Surprisingly so, since they have had little prior experience of reading such texts, apart from some Beatrix Potter books. I will also never find myself following any curriculum wholesale, because I’ve not found, and neither do I believe, that any commercial or public curriculum can be perfect for all. We are all individuals, so I prefer to mix and mash up stuff to suit each person’s talents and circumstance.

“Skool” now takes up about an hour each day for each of my 2 younger ones, and about 2 hours each day for my eldest. Not much, and still leaves the kids with lots of free time each day. I like it. I don’t think my kids would be happy if homeschooling required them to sit at a desk and work for 8 hrs a day! Charlotte Mason was a British school teacher a century ago and she loved children and understood them. She advocated being light on the number of hours reserved for schooling. She advocated the exposure of children (from as young as possible) to readings of rich literary texts that stimulate their emotions and imaginations, enriches their vocabulary and powers of comprehension, and develops their moral compass.

Charlotte Mason herself was a devout Christian lady, so her idea of a moral compass is pretty much Christian-influenced. Our children have always had a secular upbringing, but I am not averse to exposing them to some of the literature suggested in the curriculum which have a theistic bent. I’m comfortable with my children reading any kind of theistic texts as long as I know they have learnt how to read and think critically. To that end, I also supplement with once weekly P4C (Philosophy for Children) sessions with my children to help develop their powers of critical thought. I bought this book “The If Machine” by Peter Worley to get P4C session ideas. It comes highly recommended and I’ve had a look at the material and liked what I saw. Granted, the book is geared towards leading a group of kids in philosophical enquiry, with lots of classroom discussion/management tips. Still worth a look-in for any parent wishing to introduce philosophical methods to young children. The ideas are really fun and perplexing.

I found the volume of reading suggested in the Ambleside curriculum a bit too much for my kids. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that it’s too much even for most children, except the very literarily-inclined, so I made the decision to leave out about a third of the required reading. They are mostly really good books but I think it would be too much to expect my daughters to read all of that since they are not that literarily-inclined. It’s still early days for now. Perhaps if they got used to the high standard of writing in these texts in future, to the point of finding it easy to read, then we will consider adding more of the reading selections to our day.

My daughters, in particular, have really surprised me with their ability to cope with the 18th century texts and their love of a routine schedule. I wasn’t sure at first if they would be put off by the complexity of the English language in the selected texts, but it has been proven to me that not only did they find the texts interesting, these texts opened new doors of knowledge to them that they otherwise may never have known, i.e. Parables of Nature, or Pilgrim’s Progress. Some of the texts, I thought, were not adequate, so I’ve substituted our own Geography, History and Science material. Otherwise, I found the Literature, Poetry, Art and Music appreciation selections very good and of great depth and meaning.

Daily copywork. Well this is something we never used to do, but it’s been a welcome addition. My kids enjoy it. Doing handwriting practice has a calming, soothing quality, and it has helped my daughters improve their levels of concentration and handwriting quality. I usually decide with each of them what to write for copywork, and let them draw pictures or decorate the page after they’re done writing. I also do daily writing practice with my son. I spend no more than 15 mins on this each day with each child. Donna Young’s website has some really great (and free of charge) writing practice papers to print out. The improvements in all our handwriting as a result of spending a few paltry minutes each day doing copywork is so immediate. It has even worked wonders on my own handwriting (as I usually write out the copywork for them first, so they can use my writing as the example to copy).

I also really love the suggestion of making learning Latin and/or a foreign language a daily routine. My eldest has started on Latin and we’re using the Galore Park Latin Prep syllabus, which is very well laid-out. Years of learning Romance languages and being a bit of a linguistic geek has helped me a lot in picking up Latin quickly. I’m now learning alongside my daughter. Well, I’m always staying one step ahead of her so I can guide her better through the lessons. She has a mild fascination for Latin after reading about the Romans in ““Our Island Story”(one of the required reading texts in the Ambleside curriculum). She corrected me too after her first Latin lesson. “Mum, it’s pronounced ‘Kah-ee-sar’, not ‘See-zer'”, she said to me, because prior to that, I’ve always pronounced the word “Caesar” as “See-zer”, as most English-speakers do.

Before I started with Ambleside, I was very dubious that the Ambleside curriculum schedule would go down well. After all, we had been unschooling for a while and that was what the kids were used to. But no, they absolutely loved the little chart I made for each of them, which is just a checklist of daily things we try to cover in our new Ambleside-inspired routine. I emphasise the word “try” because so sceptical was I about whether it’d pan out well, that I faced quite a bit of trepidation the night before I gave my daughters the little charts I made.

I had the charts laminated so they could use dry wipe markers to make checkmarks next to each task they’ve completed during the day. Then they can erase the marks the next day and start again. When I handed it to each of them, my daughters’ faces lit up and they dashed off to their room to stick it on their wall. All the while, I could hear them saying excitedly “This is such fun!”

I was surprised at that reaction. I thought they would look like dread. But no, they actually thought it was fun. Who knew!

Actually, I’ve noticed my daughters have developed a natural habit of recording things down in their journals everyday. It has been going on for 2 years now. At first they’d only draw random pictures in their journals, but later they started writing in them, recording down daily events, etc.

This is where I realise how influential some events are in a child’s formative years, and how little control we have over them in some cases. The first person who sparked their interest in keeping a diary was a homeschooled girl who was very likeable and mature for her age (she was only 5 at the time, 2 years younger than my eldest). We had been invited to her home by her kind mother. We all barely knew each other, but her mother was the first person to make me feel welcomed when I went for the first time to a local homeschooler meetup.

The little 5 year old girl showed my daughters her diary in her bedroom. Ever since then, my girls took up the same hobby.

My girls also like to make up schedules in their diaries. Even for seemingly mundane things like “Spoke to x today” (x being the name of some friend of theirs). They’d mark a tick or something next to an item in their self-made daily schedules in their diaries.

As I silently observed my children, I feel awed and amused at the same time. It’s true what they say. Each child is their own person. They certainly didn’t get the scheduling characteristic from me! My dad was a stickler for routine and organisation, and my husband occasionally writes lists and schedules – for shopping, packing luggage for a vacation, future plans, etc., I guess maybe my girls got it from my husband in some way. Or maybe my dad.

It has got me thinking as to how different homeschooling styles can suit different folks. Although my daughters appear to love schedules, they would never automatically love following any routine or school timetable just because its on a schedule. I know this because they hated school back then when they used to go. And when we did structured homeschooling in the early days of homeschooling years ago, they too hated it (which was why we became unschoolers).

I think they’re only liking our current schedule because the material used in the Charlotte Mason-inspired Ambleside Online Curriculum appeals to them. The range of subjects covered in this curriculum, and the way the schedule is structured, also appeals to them. If I had enforced a different sort of curriculum on them, using different materials, they might have hated it too.

It’s a long road ahead of us. Of finding our niches and expanding our knowledge, and trying to ensure we’re all enjoying it at the same time. I’m flexible about tweaking and mixing and matching different aspects to find the right homeschooling fit for my family. And that’s the best thing about homeschooling. Love it.


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2 thoughts on “Finding our way in Ambleside

  1. Very cool! I’ve also been influenced by Charlotte Mason ideas, as well as unschooling philosophy. I agree about different approaches for different kids. At this point I implement CM ideas in a very loose way, because that’s what works better for my boys; but I still see the influence in the way we do things, particularly the idea of “living books”.

  2. We, too, just embarked on “official” Ambleside this year after a few years with another curriculum. Regarding the journals – I’m reading a wonderfully helpful book, The Living Page: Keeping Notebooks with Charlotte Mason by Laurie Bestvater.

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