Monday, February 22, 2016

Getting Started with AO Year 1: Getting to Know Charlotte Mason

So, friend, are you ready to get started?  If you haven't already read the Introduction to this series, you can click over and read it here.  And then come back for today's coffee-chat: Getting to Know Charlotte Mason.
So first things first.  If you click over to the Ambleside Online Year One page and open up the booklist.  The very first thing you see is this:
Note: These booklists and curriculum suggestions are incomplete without a thorough understanding of Charlotte Mason's ideas and methods. We cannot emphasize enough that you take time to familiarize yourself with her philosophy by reading her books.
And then you might freak out a little when you realize that Charlotte Mason wrote 6 rather thick books.  And she wrote them 100 years ago.  And you are still suffering from baby brain.
Please don't slam your computer lid and run away now.  The fact of the matter is: they are right - you do need to know something about Charlotte Mason's ideas and methods.  Consider the curriculum offered on the AO site your syllabus and CM's works the teacher's manual.  You will not be able to successfully use the one without understanding the other.
But: that doesn't mean that you have to read all 6 of those volumes before you can even get started.  Guess what….we've been doing this for four years now at our house and I still haven't read all six.  I'm working towards that, but I haven't reached the goal yet.  And I hadn't read *any* of them when we started AO, although I had read a lot about her.   It is okay to start small, act on what you DO understand, and make it a goal to learn more as you go and build on what you already know.  This is what I have done, and I assure you that you can start giving your children a rich education TODAY, even if your understanding of CM is small and incomplete.
My recommendations for starting small:
If you are brand new to Charlotte Mason, I suggest Susan Schaeffer MacCaulay's For the Children's Sake.  This is a short and very accessible overview of Charlotte Mason's ideas.  This book was the introduction to CM's ideas for many, many people.  Just be forewarned: once you've read it, you may never look back. J
If you've read that already, or you are otherwise a little familiar with CM's ideas, than you may be ready to dive in to Charlotte Mason's actual works.   You can go a couple of different ways with this.  Volume 1, Home Education, is her book that particularly pertains to children under the age of 9.  If you have all little ones, this is a good starting place.   Or you can start with Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education.  This was published just before her death, and is a good summary of her ideas as tested and worked out over her lifetime.   You can't go wrong with either of those.  I read Volume 1 first, and then 6, and then 1 again, and then 6 again, and then started filling in with the others.  
You have a couple of different choices for how to read these, once you've decided which you want to start with.  There are various versions available for free on Ambleside Online's website, including the original text or a modern language paraphrase.   You can also purchase the physical books.  They are unfortunately out of print at the moment, but can be found used reasonably priced.  Look for the books with the pink checked covers (like these or these.)  If you decide to go with Volume 6, there is also Karen Glass' very helpful annotated abridgement, Mind to Mind.  She has taken out some of the dated references and rabbit trails while leaving in the essential 'meat', making it another good starting place for the slightly intimidated.
If you have the luxury of having a Charlotte Mason community in your local area, do whatever you can to connect with it.   If you don't have that luxury, though – I well understand.  It wasn't until this year that I did either. If that's your situation, the Ambleside Online Forum is an excellent online community.  I have made lasting real-life friendships through that community.  There is a wealth of knowledge and experience there, and no question is too dumb.  Start reading and come on over and join the conversation.
Another resource I highly recommend is the Afterthoughts blog.  Brandy has all kinds of helps for those new to Charlotte Mason.  Subscribe to her Newbie Tuesday newsletter – click over there right now and do it. You'll be glad you did.  I recently read the 2015 compendium, and even as a non-newbie found them a helpful refresher.  Her 31 Days of Charlotte Mason series is also a good starting place, and she has some great talks to download in her shop.  Start with the 20 Principles overview one.
When you've exhausted all this, you can check my Classical and Charlotte Mason Resources tab for more ideas….but I think I've given you enough to keep you busy for a while.
For newbies: where are you going to start?  And for non-newbies: what was your favorite introductory resource to CM?


  1. I am excited about this series. I have been using AO for 4 1/2 years now but get a bit tongue tied when asked about it. It seems a little complicated to explain where and how to start. I am sure that I will be directing many friends who are interested in CM here. I first heard about CM and AO through Jeanne. She mentioned "For the children's sake" but not really being a reader at the time, I never looked into the book. I went straight to AO, read the FAQ and everything else I could on the website and started. I then began, very slowly, to read through Vol 1. It took me two years to finish. I am happy to say that I have grown in my love for reading since beginning this CM journey. I've only now just read "For The Children's Sake" and I wish I had started there. I think I would have understood the beauty of CM approach more than I did when we first began. It is a wonderful overview and I'm excited to be reading it again and discussing it with a friend. Thanks for taking the time to write. I'm looking forward to your next post.

    1. Thanks Tania! I have had a lot of people ask me about how to get started too, which was my inspiration for writing this series. I hope it will be helpful to many. And yes, isn't it funny how discovering CM and AO grows us Mamas as readers too? :)

  2. I have just seen this post here, which is very helpful. You directed me here from the AO forums. These are great starting ideas, thank you!

  3. I'm just seeing this series! We're starting year 1 with my oldest this month!!! You've inspired me to finally finish For the Children's Sake! Baby brain and all!!!