As AmblesideOnline has grown in popularity, I’ve noticed a lot of people who are switching to it. I think this is great! We are finishing up our seventh year of using AO. At the end of this year, I’ll have done Years 1 and 2 three times, Years 3 and 4 twice, and Years 5 through 7 once. The amazing thing is that it gets richer every time. I mean for me, personally. Most of these books have been a joy to read over and over as the years have gone by.
With a curriculum this fantastic, it is easy to not want to miss any part of it.
It’s this fear of missing something that makes some new users run into trouble. If you’re moving a fourth grader to AO, for example, you might look down years and see all these great books your child never read and then you might even start to feel something like regret or guilt. Why didn’t we do this earlier? you ask yourself.
So let’s start by saying don’t think those thoughts.
I say this because I don’t think they are helpful thoughts. We need to learn from the past (this goes for all areas, folks), not dwell on it, wallow in it, or beat ourselves up over it. So you didn’t use AmblesideOnline for the first three years of your child’s education.
If this is you, before we go on, let’s have you take a deep breath, and let. it. go.
(And no singing that silly song. I mean do it for real: let it go.)
Now, there is some ground work to be laid first. Sometimes, if you are switching at the end of a year, this can be done over the summer. The biggest thing is that the child needs to learn to narrate. That is the cornerstone. So take some time to train it, and know that it needs to be trained. Translated, this means be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that.
Okay. Now look at the curriculum, make an honest assessment of your child, and choose an appropriate year. Don’t look back. Don’t try to catch up. Just choose a year and plan to implement it.
If you have a child who is entering fourth grade but is new to a Charlotte Mason education and is just learning to narrate, I highly suggest using Year 3 instead of Year 4. Year 4 adds a lot — things like real Shakespeare, Latin, Plutarch, grammar, written narrations, and more. A child needs to orally narrate well before narrating on paper. And these big subjects might overwhelm the child that is still laying groundwork. So make it easy on yourself and choose Year 3, or drop those things from Year 4 until you are ready.
If you really can’t decide, ask on AmblesideOnline’s free help forum. That’s what it’s there for.
It really is that simple. Sometimes we make things way too complicated, and then we find ourselves asking why is this so hard? The truth is that sometimes it isn’t as hard as we have made it.
So. Before I go, I think we should discuss why I say catching up isn’t necessary. That’s a big thing. A couple week ago in the AO Facebook group, there was all this discussion about combining schedules to make up for lost years and all that. So why am I saying that is unnecessary?
Because I see no evidence that Charlotte Mason did this in her schools. Remember, she wasn’t just a philosopher reading books and speculating about children. She wrote a real curriculum used in real schools that she tested and refined over many, many years. And she just doesn’t talk about catching up when children are behind. She put them in the appropriate form (they didn’t use grades, and while the forms corresponded somewhat to grades, it wasn’t an exact science, meaning children could be moved up or down to the level that best fit their abilities), and that was all.
Surely, her schools received children from other schools, schools based upon other educational philosophies. Surely these students had not read the same books as Miss Mason’s students had been studying. But we don’t see Miss Mason wasting any emotional energy on the idea of these children being “behind” in some way. Her teachers just put them in a class and that’s the end of it, as far as we can tell.
I’m not saying there is never any reason to combine some years. For example, if you have an 8-year-old who is really on the level of Years 1 or 2, you might combine those years in order to give the child enough work. Year 1 especially doesn’t take much time; which is appropriate for age 6, but not so much for age 8.
But let’s not use exceptions to make the rule.
Generally, the only reason catching up is mentioned is because the mother has some sort of angst about the child’s education. She’s worried about missing things. She feels guilty. She has so internalized the idea of chronological history learning that she can’t not start at the beginning of the timeline.
These are the sorts of things that are better let go. Many of the “missed” books can be placed into the child’s free reading pile, and he may very well pick them up and read them on his own. Missing a couple books is not the end of the world. The more important thing is to get rid of the angst that is clouding the atmosphere of your homeschool. That stress will do more to defeat your efforts than anything else.
Remember: in a Charlotte Mason education, we are seeking wisdom. We’re looking to build character. So we’re not so worried that our child missed Fact X from Book Y. Yes, content is important, but if you think about it, we can’t cover everything, no matter what we do.
So let it go. Lay the groundwork. Pick a year. And do it.
You’ll be fine.
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