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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    AO with the Less Academic Child, Revisited

    August 8, 2017 by Brandy Vencel

    Years ago, I wrote my original AO with the Less Academic Child post. That was in 2012 and my daughter was only midway through Year 1 at the time. A couple years later, I wrote AO Selections for the Less Bookish Child. In that post, I compare my book choices — what I did with my first Year 3 student, versus what I did with my second (my “less academic”) Year 3 student.

    (Interestingly enough, my third child’s Year 3 looked identical to my first child’s, and the Year 3 I’ve prepared this year for my last child is a bit of a mesh between the two options. In case you were wondering.)

    The years have flown by, and the child I dubbed my less academic child — my outdoor child — my child who would rather do her own thing than do prepared school lessons — has remained exactly that.

    The upper years of AmblesideOnline can be quite a challenge when your child doesn't seem ready. Here's how we adjusted the curriculum for this year.

    And that’s okay.

    The question, however, is how to do the upper years of AmblesideOnline with a child like this. What decisions do we make?

    First, Philosophy

    I know, I know: we give the same feast for different powers. In A Philosophy of Education, Charlotte Mason writes:

    I would remark on the evenness with which the power of children in dealing with books is developed. We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. The child of genius and imagination gets greatly more than his duller comrade but all sit down to the same feast and each one gets according to his needs and powers.

    The surprises afforded by the dull and even the ‘backward’ children are encouraging and illuminating. We think we know that man is an educable being, but when we afford to children all that they want we discover how straitened were our views, how poor and narrow the education we offered.

    pp. 182-183

    This is generally true, yes. But I think we can also look to the practice of using forms rather than grades. We Americans, we think in grades. Are you eight-years-old? You should be in third grade; end of discussion.

    Forms are a European construction. Similar to grades, they also were, in the time of Charlotte Mason, more flexible. Children in Form I, for example, were roughly what we would think of as first to third grade ages. But if a child of fourth or fifth grade age was really struggling, that would be grounds for moving the child down to Form I. If a child was gifted and capable of much more when only age 7, he might be moved up to Form II.

    Make sense?

    When I make decisions about my children, I’m balancing a variety of principles. Some that stick out are: give a generous feast, don’t dumb things down to a “child’s level,” but meet the child where they are at (this last one is where the form flexibility comes in).

    So now I’ll share some of the adjustments I’ve made to make AmblesideOnline work for her. This is not a general recommendation for how to do AO Year 7 — not even if you’re talking about your own less academic child. I mean this as an example rather than advice. I really have no clue if I’m doing the best thing — only time will tell, which is why usually I share things after I’ve done them, rather than before!

    Doing Two Years in Three

    I knew that Year 7 was going to be too big of a leap, even if I chose the Arnold-Forester history book rather than Churchill (which I did). It wasn’t just that the books were hard, but that they were more abstract. I decided early last year that we were going to need to do Years 7 and 8 over three years instead of two. This would allow her more time to mature, and allow me to get through more of these wonderful books at a pace that would fit her.

    I was dreading the summer because I knew this was going to take a lot of work on my part. But before I got started, AO for Groups was announced! Guess what AO for Groups does? It spreads Years 7 and 8 out over three years! That’s right! AO had done most of my work for me!

    Hallelujah and amen.

    Instead of starting from scratch, I used AO for Groups Form 3A as my starting point. This was waaaaay easier.

    While AO for Groups is designed for (duh) groups, I don’t plan to combine my girls when my next one hits Year 7, even though it’d be possible — they could do Form 3C together as far as the timing goes. My younger daughter doesn’t require any adjusting, and she’s completely independent, so I plan to use what I did with my oldest child, which is the full Year 7. With that said, the important lesson here is that looking at AO for Groups Form 3 is worth doing, even if you aren’t planning to combine your children.

    Managing the Schedule Down-Forms

    My child has already done years 1-6. Year 7, then, is the obvious choice. But it’s too much for her! Indeed. That is where thinking creatively about the schedule comes in. I am essentially using the template I created for her Year 6, but plugging in the new books. (I have made videos on how I create my templates and also how I plug AmblesideOnline into those templates to create weekly schedules if you are interested.)

    The amount of time and energy she spent last year on school is sufficient for this year as well. The books will be new, but I’m giving her another year before I make any major adjustments to how her time is spent. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is this quote:

    The upper years of AmblesideOnline can be quite a challenge when your child doesn't seem ready. Here's how we adjusted the curriculum for this year.

    While this is true in general, it feels especially true with this daughter of mine. One of the reasons she rejects school lessons is because she has her own ideas about how she wants to spend her time and, frankly, her ideas have merit. She wants to be outside practicing her naturalist skills. (Or inside doing the same — she recently spent her own money on an aquarium so that she could build a toad habitat in her bedroom.) I wanted to create a schedule that she could embrace because it respected both her need for instruction in all areas, as well as her right to “long hours daily” doing whatever it is she has up her sleeve.

    Cutting Books

    With less academic children, there is a time to cut books. This is often because they read (or write) more slowly. It can also be because they need therapy that is taking some time up in the schedule.

    I’m not going to tell you every book I did or didn’t choose, though I will talk about Bible and science more specifically later on.

    We need to be careful to cut books but not subjects or genres. For example, you might decide there is too much literature. Good and fine; some of that can be moved to the read aloud pile anyhow. But don’t cut literature as a whole.

    How did I make my choices? This is where my template comes in. If I’m plugging in books and run out of room week after week, that’s a sign I need to make a cut. So then I look at time — which subjects are happening? What are the books and how do they fit? What is the obvious choice to cut? For me, the decision was usually made for me once I started looking at each book and how much time it was going to take her.

    Substituting Books

    Yes, I had to make some substitutions, even though I was spreading two years over three. Again, if I consider that I am treating my Form III student as a Form II student, book subbing makes sense. Some of the books are more “adult” than she is ready for. I found this especially true in science and Bible.

    I think it was Carol who reminded me of Charlotte Mason’s mentions of padding. For example:

    [I]t seems to be necessary to present ideas with a great deal of padding, as they reach us in a novel or poem or history book written with literary power. (Vol 6, p. 109)

    While this sort of thing is generally true of living books, some books have more padding than others. An example is The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer. My oldest son was ready for this book (as well as the other Year 7 Bible recommendations) and gobbled them up. He loved it! The more I thought about my daughter, the more I realized she needed more padding than that — much more. It dawned on me that what are biographies of martyrs, saints, and missionaries but theology books clothed in story? They are the glorious display of someone living out our theology in the flesh, are they not?

    So we settled on a biography of Gladys Aylward, The Small Woman by Alan Burgess. (You can read Carol’s review of this book here.) While it doesn’t coincide with our history era (not at all), it does coincide with our recent reading of my husband’s grandma’s memoirs (not published — just something she typed up for the family members who were interested) of what it was like when she and her husband were missionaries in China in the 1940s and eventually expelled by the anti-Christian Communists. This was a very personal choice, but I think it’s going to work well.

    With science, it was a similar situation. AO’s living science curriculum for Years 7 and 8 is fabulous — I used it with my oldest and we loved it. But I knew it’d be too much for my next child, except for the Fabre book (she started reading Fabre when she was very young because she loves insects). What to do wasn’t much of a question — I own a huge stack of Isaac Asimov’s How Did We Find Out About… series for children. I combed through my stack, picking topics that I thought would cultivate her interest and broaden her view.

    Choosing a Language

    I’m not going to lie: language has been a big struggle. We’ve tried a number of things over the years, and while I’ve found great fits for my other students, nothing has worked well for her. I prayed about this for her — you see, we do not learn languages in order to go through the motions of learning a language. And since that’s the case, I have to figure out a language that she can actually learn — a curriculum with which she can thrive.

    It was a huge relief to finally settle on American Sign Language. I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier — I have a distinct recollection of talking to a man at a homeschool conference where I was speaking when she was younger. He was a specialist in learning disabilities and he said that when he did intervention in the schools, he almost always started his students on sign language — that he found it was very therapeutic for them and they picked it up well.

    My daughter started with ASL Rochelle a few months ago and it’s been a dream come true. She is really, truly learning the language! She finds deaf clerks at grocery stores and insists we go more often and use their lines so that she can practice. She even said she would like to work with deaf children someday!

    Don’t Forget to Read It For Yourself

    As an aside, I really, really encourage you to continue your own education — to establish yourself in educational principles so that you can make adjustments easily and with confidence. It’s hard to make decisions when you don’t have guidance, and that’s what principles are: guidance. You can read blog posts like this and you can join the private LD section of the AO Forum and you can listen to podcasts and even my talk on Charlotte Mason’s 20 principles, but at the end of the day, you need to be steeped in this yourself in order to be independent in your decision making. And that means time spent reading and thinking. There’s really no way around it, but the good news is that this pays big dividends in the end.

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  • Reply Jacquelyn June 25, 2022 at 6:47 am

    Hi Brandy! Do you have a place where you talk about how you pared down Y5 and Y6? I wonder if I should check out AO 4 G as a starting point too… My oldest who is science inclined, but not bookish is also struggling with the readings– and he’s an 11 in y4! I fear that Y5 and Y6 will be too much for him.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 25, 2022 at 11:48 am

      I’m sorry! I never wrote about those years. In general, though, my approach has been to stick to specific times and whatever we get done in that time is what we get done. If it’s really killing me to miss a book, I put it into free reading and read it aloud.

  • Reply Rachael August 14, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you! And struggle with Tozer. Yes, more padding needed.

    I lived in china from 2000 to 2003. Hudson Taylor, Gladys Aylward were hero’s for me as a teen. The Stams, also. China holds a special place in my heart.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 15, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      This explains your email address. I always wondered about the China reference. ♥

      • Reply Mama Rachael August 15, 2017 at 4:17 pm

        Yep. Many folks wonder if I sell china, like what you eat off of. But no, had this email for nearly 15 years, from my time living in China. 😀

  • Reply Rebecca August 10, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Thank you. I never thought of sign language! Also, I have some reluctant readers and because I began homeschooling just last year and they are older, the full Ambleside curriculum is overwhelming to them. I told myselfe I would cut it down, but cutting down is so hard for me! You’ve given me courage.

  • Reply Melissa Greene August 9, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Great post Brandy! I also have a less academic child and this really resonated with me….

    “One of the reasons she rejects school lessons is because she has her own ideas about how she wants to spend her time and, frankly, her ideas have merit.”

    One of my boys feels like school is encroaching on his free time to pursue his interests, even though formal lessons are only approx. 3 hours per day. He will be heading into Year 7 this fall, which I am modifying. I agree that we definitely should not cut subjects! However, I do cut the shear number of books, still providing a feast through a variety of subjects.

    My biggest struggle this year has been scheduling science. I love the look of AO Year 7 and 8 science. Ultimately, I want to keep my Year 7 and 8 students together for science, but I know that’s not going to work. So, I’m trying to figure out which books to assign my Year 7 student. My Year 8 student will be able to work through the full load independently. I think my Year 7 child would enjoy and be capable of the Year 7/8 science, but at a slower pace so the difficulty lies in figuring out which books to assign in which order. Does that make sense? Do you have any suggestions? I’m actually considering going back to previous years of AO and assigning some of the books he’s missed like The Story of Inventions, It Couldn’t Just Happen, The Mystery of the Periodic Table, Secrets of the Woods, and School in the Woods. Then we could start AO Year 7 science in Year 8. Thoughts?


    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 15, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      Your idea on covering missed books first makes a lot of sense to me. I definitely see an argument for having another year of maturity before starting the Year 7 titles. That is pretty much how it’ll work out for my daughter as well!

  • Reply Jenny August 8, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Thank you. Just thank you. Inspiring and encouraging!

  • Reply Cindy August 8, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Do you ever have a child who really can’t stand reading so many different books each week? I have one that loathes trying to keep them all straight in his head, begging me to let him read one at a time at a faster pace. I’m never sure how to handle this: trust the system and follow the schedule, or tweak it a bit for that ONE child?

  • Reply Renee August 8, 2017 at 9:55 am

    This post was so refreshing to me! I have 7 children and there are a few in there that certainly require some adjustments. We love AO! I have two students who have already graduated and still I second guess myself all the time. Anyhow, I love how you mentioned that even therapy can require extra time, plus the writing and reading possibly taking longer! I just really enjoyed how factual and unapologetic you were in this post. Thank you! And blessings on your new school year!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 15, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      ♥ Blessings on your new school year, too, Renee! ♥

  • Reply Kristina August 8, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Thank you so very much for this blog post. I am starting year 7 with my least academic child. I will be implementing some of your suggestions post haste. I so appreciate your encouragement.

  • Reply Andrea C August 8, 2017 at 5:50 am

    Wow — just from the hints here and there about your daughter’s personality and interests that this post gives, she sounds like the most wonderful, special, truly delightful young lady! And it’s awesome to read about how you are recognizing her special interests and differences and adapting what you’re doing, so that school will be life-giving for her and not a huge drain on her free time. I’m really inspired. This sounds like a great year, and then too you just have to put it in perspective because this is still SO ACADEMIC. You know? Compare this “less academic” schedule to what our kids would be doing at a similar grade level in public school. Anyway, loved this! Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 15, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      Such a good point about “less academic” children still getting academics in a CM education. I really shudder to think what they would have done with her in public school! I really think she’s remarkable, but it’s in such an unconventional way that I don’t think anyone would have seen it — or it would have been crushed out of her before it really revealed itself, you know?

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