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    Home Education

    Making AmblesideOnline Work for a (Very) Large Family

    July 19, 2017 by Michele Elliott

    [dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen we started with AmblesideOnline (AO) back around late 2000 (it might have been called PUO then), I had a 9th grader, a public school 5th grader, an infant, and a toddler. So: one student. Easy peasy.

    By and by more children came, by birth, adoption, and foster care. I have 10 children, and before I had my 10, I had various configurations of my children and children for whom we weren’t a forever family. I have done AO with four students, four 2 year-olds, and a three year old! I’ve had 6 students for a few years now, with a new one starting each time one graduates. (I’m all out of toddlers now; my youngest starts Year 1 next month.) All that to say, I’ve had to learn how to make AO work for us. And it does! I love the richness of a Charlotte Mason education, even done imperfectly by me. And AO has been our guiding light through the years.

    If you are in love with AO like I am, know that it is completely possible to thrive, even with a (very) large family! Here are tips to get you started.

    Combine Readings

    One of the ways I’ve made AO work for us just got a whole lot easier with the introduction of AO for Groups. I have always combined where I could, especially in Years 1-3, where I’m doing all of the reading. I really encourage all of you large family ladies to take a look at AO for Groups! The way they are combining things is very similar to the way I have done it, and they’ve done the leg work for you!

    For example, Trial and Triumph is used in Years 1-6. We would begin with the first student, and as each new student began Year 1, they would just come in where we were. When we reached the end, and the oldest had finished Year 6, we just started back at the beginning with the younger students. Everyone will have completed the book at the end of Year 6, but their starting and stopping points won’t be the same. Make sense? Poetry, the Holling books, Shakespeare, and History Tales/Biography are all easy to combine in this way.


    Get Creative

    But combining isn’t just for blending Years together. “Education is an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life.” Move a literature selection to bedtime, take school outside, play your composer at dinner, (or breakfast, or chore time). Let a child or two narrate at dinner. Use summer and holidays to learn a handcraft and do more nature study. Allow the richness that is the Charlotte Mason philosophy to permeate your home. It will make accomplishing it all with a large family much easier, and it’s beautiful!


    Use Audiobooks

    Last year my Year 4 student just wasn’t ready to read his books on his own, and my sweet 5 year old insisted on “doing school” each day. This was a lot of reading for me. One way I tackled this was with the help of audiobooks. Miss Mason stressed the importance of children seeing the written word, but I think there is a place for audiobooks used judiciously.

    Librivox is a great source for free audiobooks and I use Audible as well. I might read to one child while another listens to an audiobooks and then switch them. Or I might have one child be heavy on audiobooks one day, and another child heavy on audiobooks the next day. They love them, and narrate well from them, but I don’t want two days in a row (or consecutive readings of the same book) to be audio. So I switch it up a lot. They are also a lifesaver when I am sick or when I have a fussy baby. This list has been helpful in finding good Librivox readers.


    Hack Your Pre-reading

    Another way I use audiobooks is for my pre-reading. I often play some of the day’s readings while I’m doing my makeup and picking up my room. When I’m alone in the car, or having a cup tea, or making dinner. Basically, I squeeze it in the cracks and it really helps me keep up. This is especially helpful with my older kids.

    Sparknotes is another resource I have used to help me keep up with my high schoolers readings. Reading chapter summaries will help you know if they are tracking what is going on. It can also help you pull out themes and highlights. Always trying to pre-read for your oldest will help a lot as the years go by. But resources like this are useful when you need it.


    Manage the Narration Line

    I don’t know about you, but the narration line was one of the biggest threats to my attitude. I feel quickly burned out and on edge when I can’t get a moment’s peace, and with so many kids needing to narrate it seemed like a never-ending circle. I have tried to tackle this in various ways over the years. The newer they are to independent reading, the more I find it is necessary for them to narrate immediately after reading a book, or at least before starting another one. So, I will call for those narrations in between reading to littles. If they are done reading and they are waiting to narrate, they are free to draw or play quietly. But they are not free to leave. It is too hard to get them back on task and we lose a lot of time if they leave the area! Narration by drawing can also be used. But I recommend you set a timer, because if your kids are like mine they may draw all morning.

    My children who are able to narrate well even after reading other books often have to wait until later. I start with my youngest student. When her individual readings are done, I call for narrations from my olders. Then I move to my next student. Does this make sense?

    For instance, last year I had students in Years 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 12. I was doing all the readings for Years 0-4. After Circle Time, I started with my Year 0 student. As we finished a subject, I allowed my Year 6 & 8 students to narrate whatever they needed to. This was also when my Year 2 or 4 who was listening to an audio selection would narrate. When my Year 0 readings were done, I allowed my Year 9 & 12 students to narrate before I started Year 2 readings. And so on.

    I do the individual readings for each year before I move to the combined readings. I’ve also done it where I started with combined readings, but it seems to work better for my kids to have that break. I’ve also utilized an audio recorder or my iphone for narrations. This has been a mixed bag for me. It has worked well for some of my kids, and not so well with others. Sometimes they tend to be a lot shorter in the recorder, and sometimes it’s hard to follow up with them if there are ideas you want to flesh out with conversation. But for some kids and some books, it has been a great help. It’s something to have in the toolbox anyway.


    Protect Your Mornings

    Protect your mornings! I have found that any time is not really as good as another. When the morning goes, so does the day. It’s just SO HARD to pull it back in. At least in my house. So I guard my mornings and if there are things that must be done in the morning, I try to put them all on the same day.

    If we are going to be in the car, we listen to our composer. Then maybe a literature reading from a couple of the years. This is one area that organization really pays off. I have all of our composer/hymn/folksong selections in a playlist on my phone before the school year starts. In a season where we drove a lot, we kept hymnals and folksong lyrics in the car. I have any audiobooks available for our readings downloaded. It’s very easy to fill the cracks like this if you plan ahead.


    Leverage Circle Time

    Circle Time is one of the best things I’ve done. We come together for Bible, hymns, folksong, picture study, and poetry. I also usually have a few non-AO books that I’m reading. Usually two books that are for everyone, two just for littles, and two just for bigs. I set a time limit for Circle Time that works for us, usually an hour, and read the books on a loop schedule. It might just be 10-15 minutes in each of the books. I start with a book for everyone, let the littles go, move to a book for the bigs, then switch. Not everything is read every day, and it doesn’t matter. The next time that book pops up in the loop, we pick up where we left off. You would be surprised how easily we have accomplished covering a great many things this way. We have done fun literature, biographies, science, state history, the Uncle Eric books, and many others.


    Explore Scheduling Options

    Speaking of a loop schedule, this can be a lifesaver during busy times. You can make time blocks as Charlotte Mason used to do — I know Brandy has posted about this before. Then when the time is up, move on.

    Or you can treat each week as a module. Set a time to end your day, and when the time comes put the books away.

    Seriously. Put them away.

    Then just pick up where you left off the next day. This works really well for me.

    But also, don’t be afraid to cut. Some of my children have had no trouble getting all their readings done in the time allotted, and others have struggled. Don’t be afraid to reduce the schedule. Be ruthless if you need to. Those free hours really are necessary for everyone. Build in a margin, and protect it.


    It can be done!

    These are some of the ways we have made AO work for us with many children, animals, moves, and illnesses. Embrace it as a life, combine where you can, protect the margins, fill the cracks, and cut where you need to. What worked beautifully one year may not work at all the next. Our dynamic seems to be changing all the time. But if you are in love with AO like I am, know that it is completely possible to thrive, even with a large family!

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  • Reply Raia August 4, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Ahhhhh! Thank you. This was so helpful. Last year was our first using AO with three students and I felt like we accomplished less than 10% of what was scheduled. And I pulled out all my hair reading so. many. books. aloud while trying to take care of a toddler and 4yo as well. Thank you for giving me hope for this year!

  • Reply Natalie July 26, 2017 at 10:00 am

    I think you just saved our year!! So grateful you took the time from your busy schedule to post this! Bless you!
    -Mother to 8 under 13… 7 boys. Cm follower since the beginning.

  • Reply Dinora July 22, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Supper helpful! Thanks a bunch.

  • Reply Hailey July 22, 2017 at 9:22 pm

    Encouraging and practical. Thanks!

  • Reply Niki Feistel July 21, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    Thanks, Michele! What an encouragement this article is to me. I was just debating throwing in the towel on AO as I add yet another student this year. I am slightly overwhelmed but I just might have the courage to keep at it now. So many good and realistic ideas. Do you blog some where? Keep the big family CM/AO stuff coming, Brandi. Thanks a lot!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 21, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Michele doesn’t have a blog, but I’m trying to rope her into blogging here more often! 🙂

      • Reply Heather July 22, 2017 at 5:04 am

        Yes please!

        • Reply Bambi Moore July 31, 2017 at 1:47 pm

          Yes, I too would LOVE to hear more about AO and the big family. That said, I know how precious her time is (10 kiddos here too), and I appreciate whatever she has time to share with us!

  • Reply Karis July 20, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Just a note to further plug Audible: you can get a LOT of the Ambleside books very inexpensively for Kindle, and on the right hand side you can click “Add whispersync narration for $1.99” or whatever – and that gives you the text synced up to the audible, so your kid can use the kindle to read and listen at the same time. The text is highlighted as the word is said. For any kids who are reading but maybe not ready to read schoolbooks independently, it’s a big help!

  • Reply Carrie D July 20, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    WOOHOO! AO for groups! I had no idea that was on the AO site. . .thank you for making me aware of it. You just saved me a lot of prep work this summer!

  • Reply Mama Rachael July 19, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    This is great. I currently only have 1 doing school (year 1), and a 10 month old. But we adopted a set of embryos (the 10 month old is the first!) and have 3 more embryos waiting for us. So, we hope and pray that we have successful transfers and add 3 more babies to our lives over the next 3 years (1 this next year and twins year after!). I realized today that if God answers these prayers, when the youngest two start year 1, I’ll have two in year 1, a year 2, a year 3 and a year 8. Oh, boy! And it’s encouraging to hear how others are doing it. Thank you!

  • Reply Ten Arrows July 19, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    This was so encouraging! When I saw the title in my inbox, I thought it might’ve been addressed to me personally! LOL I also have ten, ages 26 to five, six kids still at home, and the youngest due to start year 1 in a few weeks. As I always say, I have only to look at my olders to find the strength to keep going with the youngers in this homeschooling lifestyle.

  • Reply Hayley July 19, 2017 at 10:46 am

    A great article, Michele. You write just as you sound! I love the “Seriously. Put them away.” I could totally hear you saying that. All of what you wrote has come in handy and helpful for me with only! six and only three currently school age, but the same rules apply to make my days go smoother and easier.

    Love the article. Love that I know you in real life.

    • Reply Michele Elliott July 19, 2017 at 1:24 pm

      I love you Hayley! This is high praise coming, as it does, from one of my wisest friends. ?

  • Reply Suzanne July 19, 2017 at 9:09 am

    LOVE this! Thank you so much for the encouragement. I have one starting Y2 and two starting a more formal Y0, and then 4 more (so far) coming along after. I have looked ahead with tiny glimpses and then shut that door in my mind to think about later, knowing it can be done but I can’t think about tackling it now! This is so encouraging to look over and I will file it away to come back to when I am faced with many more to read to in one day!

  • Reply Heather July 19, 2017 at 3:58 am

    oh, I love this! we’re a family with #10 arriving soon & I’ve found that means my educating looks very different than smaller families. 🙂

    • Reply Melanie July 19, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      So much wisdom here! Thank you for sharing what’s worked (and hasn’t worked) for you. We are down to 3 at home, but I still found myself thinking about how these ideas could help me!

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