How to Decide What to Combine {A Planning Post}

I don’t usually write planning posts until at least May, if not June, but I received a question through the contact form that I thought was worth writing about. The thing about these sorts of questions is that I think if we lined up ten AmblesideOnline families and asked them how they decided what they combined, a number of things would be exactly the same, but the rest would vary greatly. These are personal things. So while I’m going to share what I do, I don’t want anyone to get it in their head that this is The Way it Must Be Done. It’s just a way. That’s all.

How to Decide What to Combine

So here’s the question:

In your planning posts, I notice that you do “circle time” and combine your AmblesideOnline students for the things that they can do together but you also include things like geography. When you are planning the subjects that you will combine, and it is something that each child would normally have their own reading for, whose AO year do you use as a guide? For example, if I had a year 2, 4 and 5 students and I wanted to include geography in “circle time”, how do you decide which selection your students will do?


Start with the Core

When I plan my Circle Time, I start with all the things that really ought to be combined. These are the things that AmblesideOnline assigns children of all ages, or all children once they’ve reached a certain age. In addition, I include anything that I consider indispensable and also a group activity.

As far as AO goes, then, this would mean things like folks songs, and hymns. Also, once children are in fourth grade, there are Shakespeare plays to be read and Plutarch lessons to be had. Artist study and composer study can also be done during Circle Time. This year, I placed them in Enrichment Friday {which is a sort of overgrown Circle Time, when I think about it}, but for five years, those things were in our Circle Time.

In addition to this, our core includes praying, reading the Bible aloud along with a commentary {right now we’re using Leviticus by Nancy Ganz}, and learning and reciting our memory work.


Options for Combining


I’m not willing to combine my children on history because I love, love, love the way AO is laid out. I like having them study it in chronological sequence. With that said, I am willing to combine them on church history. While AO has sort of matched up Trial and Triumph with the history chronology, I have an interesting situation. I didn’t do Trial and Triumph this past year at all, and only my oldest child has read the book. After spending six years on it with my oldest, I wanted some variety for me. We have done a number of biographies by Simonetta Carr, and they’ve all been very good. Now that I’m starting my last student in Year One, I’m going to add in Trial and Triumph for all three younger students during Circle Time.


When I first started combining geography for my students, it was really easy for me to decide what to do. AmblesideOnline had just debuted the geography lessons for all years, so none of my students had done any of them. I decided to choose a couple of the years and do them with all of my students.

When Daughter Q. began Year One, Daughter A. was in Year Three. Daughter A. had missed Tree in the Trail in Year 2 {long story}, so I decided to just combine both girls for that book.

This coming year, I’m going to do California geography with all three of my younger students. They will be in Years One, Three, and Five. It’s not ideal to do this with my Year One student, but I’m going to do it anyhow for efficiency’s sake. They all need to do California geography at some point in elementary school, so we’re going to knock it all out this year.

The following year, then, there will be books that Daughter Q. missed because she was doing California geography, and so I might be able to combine her with Son O. again that year.

Do you see how this works for me? One choice to combine leads naturally to another.

Truly, I think that Paddle to the Sea, Tree in the Trail, and Seabird could be done in whatever order was convenient for a family. After that, it gets more complicated, but it’s still possible.

Nature Study and Science

I know in my mind that I want to combine the girls for Madam How and Lady Why in the 2016-2017 school year. At the same time, I have my doubts as to whether the Burgess Bird Book is the best fit for Son O. as he has studied birds basically since the day he was born. {It this family, it really can’t be avoided.} That book isn’t exactly expanding his horizons.

So. This means that I have space to do some combining. I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do with it, but I have it in my mind as an opportunity. I still have the book The Tarantula in my Purse sitting on my shelf. It’s not an AO book, but it might work for my purposes this coming year.

Books Assigned Across Years

Parables from Nature is a book that is assigned across many years. I dismiss my oldest from Circle Time and then read aloud from this book to the other three. I don’t even follow a schedule. I just assign a day and an amount of time and we do what we can, making sure there is time at the end for narration and discussion.

Also, at one point I had a Pilgrim’s Progress loop plan. Lately, I’ve been reading Stories from the Faerie Queene. When we’ve finished up, we’ll return to John Bunyan.


Combining is an Art

I really think combining is an art. And, like art, sometimes this means that the more you add, the messier it starts to get. So I’m careful what I do. But at the same time, having multiple children who are not ready to read the AO books on their own requires at least some combining, unless the mother is willing to read aloud for extended hours per day. While technically I do read aloud for a number of hours each day, I prefer some of that to be for fun and not for study!

Another concern is to not inadvertently load the younger children with too many school hours. I know I suggest this over and over, but I’m going to suggest it again. If you haven’t gone through it, the Sabbath Mood Homeschool series on preparing a CM schedule was really helpful for me. When the author went through and showed how she combined time slots in her spreadsheet, that was the most helpful thing for me. This helped me make sure that when I was combining, I wasn’t overdoing for the young ones.

Reading through my more general post called Six Steps to Plan a Circle Time might also help. For me, staying away from the history spines and combining the periphery has been something that has been easy to plan and execute without causing myself lots of grief trying to redesign an entire curriculum.