We decided when our oldest was about 3 that we wanted to homeschool. In the next several years that followed, I did a copious amount of curriculum research. Trust me, if it’s out there, I’ve probably looked at its website. I have ordered (and then decided I didn’t really want to use) packages from Abeka, Sonlight, and My Father’s World. (Nothing personal if you use one of these, but they weren’t a good fit for us.) I thought for quite a while that we might use Simply Charlotte Mason’s materials. I tried working out my own curriculum plan from scratch. I wasted a lot of money, a lot of time, and drove my husband crazy researching things that I ended up deciding not to use. I had looked at AO before earlier in my curriculum research and dismissed it. But it was always there in the back of my mind, and after I’d been around the block a few times I came back to it and realized that it was what I had been looking for.
Here are a few reasons, in no particular order, that we are really happy with our choice of Ambleside Online as our curriculum guide:
It is literature based. I knew pretty early on that I preferred to use something literature based over something textbook based. AO uses some of the finest literature out there.
It is rigorous – this is part of what scared me off from it in the first place. Not only does it use FINE literature, it uses CHALLENGING literature. But if you study it carefully, you will see that it is built really well, each year gradually increasing in complexity and depth. And now as I am digging into Year 1 with my 7 year old, I’m finding that not only is SHE learning from the books we are reading – I am learning from them too. When we had month off during our mission’s co-op session in April, I found that I missed the intellectual stimulation of reading the AO book selections with her. And this is only Year 1! I love that I can learn and grow and fill in some of the gaps of my less-than-stellar public school education along with my children. Looking at the upper-level (middle and high school) years can kind of intimidate me – I haven’t read most of that stuff! But it also excites me knowing that if we keep going with AO, they will eventually grow into people who are ready to tackle the books on those lists. My kids won’t just learn “content” – they’ll also gain the ability to think.
It is really well-built. The Advisory ladies that put the booklists together did a meticulous job of choosing excellent books, tying together themes and historical periods, and so on. I could never in a million years design my own curriculum plan as well as the advisory has. It is also built from a Biblical, ‘character building’ basis without being moralizing, preachy or afraid of considering other points of view, which I appreciate.
I also really like how they spread out the history time periods across the years. They use a 6-year rotation that I feel is divided up well across the years. It doesn’t try to smash everything in to 3 or 4 years, nor does it overemphasize certain historical periods over others. (Simply Charlotte Mason, for example, has a 6-year rotation too, but it spends three of those years on ancient history and the remaining three smashing in everything since the fall of Rome. Seems kind of out-of-balance to me.)
It strikes a good balance between structure in flexibility. Part of the reason why a standard boxed curriculum wasn’t a good fit for us was that I am a tweaker. I don’t want to pay for an expensive teacher’s guide knowing that I will probably want to structure things differently or order a package of books knowing I may want to switch some of them around. AO provides the booklist and a weekly reading schedule, so I’m not having to start with planning at square one, but it is easy enough to tweak things or swap certain books around if I want (without having to throw the whole thing out). I also appreciate being able to choose the math and language arts resources that meet our family’s needs and my children’s abilities. (Michelle for example is ahead of her age/grade in her reading and language arts skills, and a little behind in math. A standard “first grade” packaged program wouldn’t necessarily meet her needs very well.)
The ladies on the AO Forum are just fantastic, thoughtful women. I have learned SO VERY MUCH from their wisdom and insight. (It’s also nice to have a community, albeit a virtual one, that are as crazy about books as I am!!)
It is economical. The booklists, schedules, forum, and wealth of other information on their website is all available for free. Many of the books used are available for free or at very reasonable cost – and many of them are available in Kindle format which helps us with shipping costs since we live overseas. And each “year” is non-consumable, meaning that once I’ve purchased one set of books, I can use them again for my remaining students. All I will need for James and Elizabeth’s “year 1” will be basic school supplies and a new math workbook.
That all said…AO still may not be for everyone. As they state on the front page of their website, a parent wanting to use AO needs to be willing to investigate and understand Charlotte Mason’s methods, some of which may seem really unconventional to those of us educated in a standard institutional school setting. The booklists alone won’t give your kids a “Charlotte Mason education”. Personally, I’ve found this investigation well worth the effort. But it’s not as simple as an “open and go” curriculum package might be. But maybe if you’re like me and a curriculum package just isn’t suiting your needs, and designing your own curriculum seems daunting, Ambleside Online might be worth another look.