Taking an Experimental Year Away from AO (but not CM!)

Have you ever wondered how your kids would do with a different curriculum?

My kids are curious, intelligent and wonderfully interesting people. They have fond memories of our homeschool books and have learned a lot from them. However, they just haven’t fallen in love with our Ambleside Online school books. “Fond” really is the appropriate descriptive word. There isn’t that “spark” of joy in learning that I remember having around their age. It’s not that they don’t love to learn. It’s just that I’ve noticed that their best learning moments aren’t happening during our homeschool hours, but outside them with completely different books and activities!

The truth is that I am afraid I started my kids on the Ambleside Online curriculum about two years too early. If we were reading the Year 1 and 2 books at their current comprehension and maturity levels, they would certainly be getting much more out of their books and, more importantly, enjoying them rather than “pushing through.”

My kids have learning disabilities and overcame a challenging start to life in the foster care system. If I could start over with homeschooling, I would take much more time in “Year 0” and introducing numbers and letters and exploring outdoors and reading high quality picture books rather than jumping into challenging academics so soon.

This realization has put me in a bind. I’m unwilling to keep pressing forward through AO when those same books will have a *much* stronger impact a year or two from now!

So, I have decided to take a “Gap Year” (or possibly two) and see if I still want to go back to the Ambleside Online curriculum afterward, when my kids are more mature and the language is more within their grasp.

In the meantime, I am planning to use these three curriculum plans this year (drumroll, please…):

  • Brave Writer – This is a Charlotte Mason-inspired language arts curriculum (but not “pure CM”). Copywork and dictation are provided, along with brief lessons about qualities of good writing, using the original text as the model. What makes it not CM are the writing projects completed once per month. Narration is not discouraged, but the emphasis is on having conversations with your child about the readings rather than a straight re-telling.
  • Living Math – Math history readings and related activities
  • Frank Hall’s An Arithmetic Primer – a classic mathematics text (freely available online). My kids have been thriving with this approach!

That’s it. Between them, they include many of the same aspects of AO that we love. Brave Writer includes poetry, Shakespeare, nature journals, art study, deep conversations, copywork, dictation and learning from “living books.” Living Math includes hands-on math activities and chronological history with geography and timeline built-in. Frank Hall develops arithmetic skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and geometry) without worksheets.

I still can’t believe so much is packed into just a few resources!

What’s missing is the sheer number and complexity of readings from Ambleside Online. We won’t be reading so many books at once! We can pick and choose which books to read, just one per child per month in language arts. Even with the Living Math resources, we’re not trying to check off a HUGE list of readings. My kids will be able to read most of the book options independently.

Another important difference (from my perspective) is that both Brave Writer and Living Math emphasize quality over quantity. There is no need to rush or stay on a particular schedule. Lingering is welcomed and encouraged. There really isn’t a “syllabus” at all except for the suggested pace of one month per Brave Writer book and two weeks per Living Math lesson.

I’m looking forward to sharing how this year goes! Either way, it should be interesting!

2 responses to “Taking an Experimental Year Away from AO (but not CM!)

  1. There is a lot to like about Brave Writer! The beauty of learning Miss Mason’s principles is that it lets you sort through options and pull the stuff you love, while realizing what is best left behind. 🙂 I hope this turns out to be a great year for you and your family.


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