Monday, February 29, 2016

Getting Started with Ambleside Online Year One: You Don't Have To Get Everything Right the First Time

Welcome back for another coffee chat, friend.
So, have you been diving a little deeper in Charlotte Mason's ideas since we chatted last?  I hope you have, and I hope you've been inspired and encouraged by the ideas you are encountering.  There's a lot to take in though, isn't there?  It can feel a little daunting.  What you start to realize is that Charlotte Mason education, regardless of if you follow the Ambleside Online curriculum or not, is more than just an-open-and-go curriculum.  It's a whole paradigm shift that's likely to change your life and the way you look at the world.  It can be easy to freak out a little bit and want to get it right all at once and then get discouraged when you can't or don't.
Guess what: you won't.  Get it all right the first time that is.
And guess what else: That's OK.  I don't think anyone gets it all exactly right. 
Charlotte Mason's ideals are a worthy goal to shoot for.   But the fact of the matter is that we are all limited by our understanding and our circumstances.    We are all – from the very beginning beginner to the seasoned veteran who has been doing this for 20+ years – on a continuum.  We are all learning and growing in our understanding and implementation of CM's ideas. And we all have those seasons in which certain things need to get laid aside.  So if you are one of those very new newbies…don't compare yourself too much with those who have been at this for a while.  Start where you are and commit yourself to learning and growing as you go. 
I'll tell you straight up that we haven't "arrived" yet.  My poor oldest student has been quite the little guinea pig as we've gone along.  My lack of understanding of and trust in Charlotte Mason's methods in the beginning led me to try multiple different supplementary curricula.  She's been inflicted with spelling programs and writing programs and science textbooks with demonstrations and experiments.  None of these things are really in line with CM's vision for these subjects, especially for younger students. And after a while, I discovered that we really didn't need them after all. Copywork and dictation – oral and written narration – nature study – these are really enough.  Did any of this bumbling around on my part really hurt her though?  No, not really.  (Hurt my pocketbook some, but that was the only real harm done!)   We still don't do foreign languages all that well, and don't even aspire to learn multiple foreign languages as was Charlotte's practice in her school.   I'm very haphazard about habit training too.  That's not to say we don't do it, it just doesn't look all neat and packaged as it appears to be in CM's writings.  And I'm not comfortable with watercolor paints, so we use colored pencils or watercolor pencils in our nature journals - I figure its better that we keep them with pencils rather than waiting until I can figure out the dry brush watercolor technique that Charlotte Mason's students used in their journals.  That's not to say that we can't learn eventually, but in the meantime...that's what it is. 
I don't tell you these things to give you an excuse to do things poorly.  I do tell you these things because I want you not to be afraid to jump in, even if you only know a little right now.  You will learn and grow over time right alongside your children.
Just do it, my friends. You'll be glad you did.


  1. Jen, this is such a wonderful and encouraging post! I love how you pointed out that we aren't going to get it all right and that it is a learning process...a continuum...even for seasoned, veteran homeschoolers. And dry brush watercolor....I haven't even tried to attempt that! LOL We do use watercolor paints sometimes when we do a sketch in a notebook, but I don't know how to do the dry brush technique. We typically use color pencils, regular pencils, and my youngest uses crayons as well. :)

    1. Exactly. Better to keep them with a medium you are comfortable with than get paralyzed by those that you aren't. :) I see this paralysis about wanting to do everything just so from new moms on the forum all the time, so I wanted to address that fear in this series before I start getting into some of the more nitty-gritty practical stuff. I'm so glad that you were encouraged by it, Karen!

  2. Amen, Jen, we all do crazy things with our oldest child because we cannot understand CM that fast (some of us), but when we do, it's really simple and impactful. And everything falls in place by His Grace.

  3. Amen, Jen, we all do crazy things with our oldest child because we cannot understand CM that fast (some of us), but when we do, it's really simple and impactful. And everything falls in place by His Grace.

  4. This is a wonderful post. I have read 3 of CM volumes and at least 4 other books on CM. I have been learning about it for at least 2 years. My son is barely 5 and is on the autism spectrum. I learn the most about CM from the failures of others. This post was so refreshing and one that I can relate to.

    I find books (including Ms. Mason's volumes) noble, lofty, idealistic and timeless when speaking about the CM method. There isn't anything that I find disagreeable but I often find myself feeling defeated and wondering if my son's education will ever arrive at what Ms. Mason's students experienced. Even the videos from Ambleside Schools International are absolutely inspiring yet seem so out of reach. Maybe I am not far from these ideals but I often "feel" that way. Hearing from others that have found what works in the midst of the continuum is immensely helpful to this new pilgrim. Thanks for sharing and keep writing.

    Perfectionism is a struggle for me, thus the negative feelings about my abilities to "teach" my son. I still look for how to strike a balance from doing things well and not compare to set a standard before me that's not really mine for me to aspire. I have to remind myself that God chose the right teacher for my son and rest in that fact.

    1. So glad it was an encouragement to you! Blessings on your family as you seek to bring CM's ideas to life in your own family situation.