Thursday, August 25, 2011

Planning Your Ambleside Year

The Ambleside Online curriculum supplies you with a booklist and a schedule for all the readings, so most of your planning for each school year is already done. However, you must still do some planning of your own to prepare for the coming year.

Start by reading through the AO FAQ. If you've already read it, skim through it looking for areas you may not recall well or that you may need to do this year but have not done in the past. The FAQ will help you with implementation details.

Next, check the booklist for the year you'll be using and make sure you have all the books. If there's a free copy of the book available online, the booklist will usually link to that.

Then, you need to tweak the weekly schedule to fit your scheduling style and to include all the extra areas you want to cover each week. I do not try to plan by the day. Instead, I try to have a plan for how much we will cover each day, but then allow my dc to choose or help to choose exactly what we do each day within those parameters. I've tweaked the schedule to facilitate this in two different ways.

I've copied the weekly schedule text right off of the website and pasted it into a word processor, added areas I wanted to include that weren't listed (math, artist study, etc.), then added little blanks (_______) next to each weekly item and multiple blanks (____ _____ _____ ____ ) next to items that need to be done more than once a week. That made a nice checklist that allowed me to easily see what was already done for the week and what remained.

I've also used a chart format schedule (watch the Ambleside website for new, revised chart format schedules). I add rows for the extra subjects I want to include, delete rows for the options I'm not using, and add checkboxes to items that need to be done more than once a week. (I use a large letter 'O' for this. I put several of them into each weekly cell of the spreadsheet.)

(I've blogged about my schedule formats before.)

After I have my schedule set up, I look for any extra resources I will need.

I print the art selections. (I have mine printed in color at a local print shop. I upload the files through their website, place my order and pay online, and simply walk into the shop to pick up my prints when they are ready. I prefer to use the prints from the AOArtPrints Yahoo group.)

I make a CD of the composer selections. (I use Classic Cat to find free and legal downloads. If I can't find a free download, I look for an inexpensive one to purchase from Amazon or iTunes or eClassical. Sometimes I even purchase a CD if I can find one with all or most of the selections, in their entirety, for a good price.)

I look for YouTube videos of the hymns and the folk songs we'll be singing, and I print the lyrics.

I think about what geographical areas we'll be studying for geography and history, and I print maps for those. Sometimes I use generic maps and sometimes I do a search for more specific maps for that historical situation.

The Ambleside forum often has links to maps and other resources for various books. I look through those links for resources we might want to use, and I look in the Files section too. I also save emails from that email list when they have references to resources or advice for future years. I put them in email folders designated by year, and before each new year I read through those for ideas. (If I didn't save the emails, I could search the message archives for the same type of information.)

I usually put everything I print out into a notebook for the student, divided by subject. That way most of our material for the year, apart from books and manipulatives, will be in one place for easy reference.

And then I'm done!

(Updated 7-Apr-2013 to change references to out of date resources.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What is a Charlotte Mason Education? Preschool Edition

When my oldest was 3, I told a group of older homeschooling moms that we were going to have a CM homeschool. They laughed at me! They told me I'd soon give it up because it would be too hard, primarily because at the time there was not a curriculum available (or at least not well known) that used CM's methods. *Now* we run into a different problem--there are so many choices that it becomes confusing. What *is* a CM education?

It's hard to find out what a CM education means, these days, because the idea of it has become fairly popular and lots of curricula, websites, blogs, etc. have picked up on key CM terms and may even call what they're doing CM, but aren't necessarily actually following Charlotte Mason's methods.

Also, a CM education changes dramatically over your child's life. In other words, what it looks like in preschool is very different from what it looks like in high school, and there are a couple of shifts in between as well.

During the preschool years, you focus on just a couple of areas:

* developing a love of nature by helping your child to interact with nature and observe it first hand. This builds a variety of skills in a developmentally appropriate way: fine motor skills, large motor skills, attention, observation, visualizing (making a mental picture of what you have seen, which is needed for reading and spelling), visual and auditory memory, and probably others I'm not thinking of. You could buy a workbook, or a whole curriculum, to work on these skills, but God designed the natural world to develop them in just the right way at just the right times.

* developing key habits that will help your home and school to operate smoothly. Choose one habit to form at a time and work on it for a month to six weeks. Once it's ingrained, don't neglect to maintain it even after you begin working on another. This will benefit your child throughout life because these habits will be second-nature and he will not have to even choose these positive paths.

Beyond that, just including your child in your normal activities (cooking, cleaning, working in the yard, etc.) actually develops the foundations for school much better than any worksheets or packaged activities. I sometimes use worksheets or packaged activities, but I do it because the kids find them fun, not because I feel the need to include them in our preschool. I used to use Montessori activities, until I read CM and realized that I could accomplish the same goals more meaningfully through everyday life experiences if I just intentionally aimed at those goals.

A Charlotte Mason education during the preschool years has more facets than just these, but this is a good place to start. Once you've begun to work on these areas, read Volume 1 and Volume 2, preferably with a group committed to understanding CM's principles. Choose one area to work on at a time, for yourself, and begin to add in more of the elements of a CM education little by little.