We have chosen to implement Charlotte Mason methods using the Ambleside Online (AO) free curriculum. While I say “free” I mean everything is free except the books, obviously those have to be purchased. BUT the great thing is if you’re just getting started you only have to buy one year’s worth of books each year because your younger children can re-use the books the older children used. Most boxed curriculum requires you to purchase separate materials for each of your children every year which gets quite expensive. We typically spend around $200 on Amazon.com per year for our new book selections and we buy all the books including the free readings. One could save a lot less by shopping thrift sales.
When I was first introduced to AO, I was completely overwhelmed and confused by their website. Because it is a free curriculum written and managed by homeschooling moms, there are no pretty visual graphics, it is simply loads of text. I decided to just pick and choose the books from their lists rather than following their full curriculum. When I finally took the time to actually read what was on their website and digest it and I was so amazed by what I found. Not only can you find the entire six volumes of Charlotte Mason’s works online, but they have planned out curriculum and schedules for 12 years of schooling including Bible verses, poems, artist study, composer study, hymns and folksongs. This saves me a TON of time. It is so nice to have everything planned out for me, all I have to do is implement it.
Our homeschool has run much smoother since I decided to follow their schedule. My kids are enjoying it more and I am less stressed because I am not responsible for putting it all together. The only change I have made is to take their weekly schedules and spread them out in my own planner which I find easier to decode (If you are a member of the AO Facebook group you can access my filled out schedules for Years 1-4 as well as bookmarks for each year).
We absolutely love the hymn and folksong selections, I think that is one of my kids’ favorite things. We usually play the hymns during breakfast and folksongs during lunch. It is the sweetest thing ever to see my little 2 year old daughter walking around the house belting out “Nearer My God to Thee” or “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
If you are new to AO and Charlotte Mason, here are a few tips for navigating the site. I recommend starting first at the Overview of who Charlotte Mason was and what her methods were. Next, read the About AO page to get an understanding of what this curriculum entails. Lots of other great questions are answered in the FAQ.
Now that you have an idea of what this curriculum entails, start by clicking on the year your child will be in (remember year 1 starts at age 6). The Detailed Curriculum will list subject by subject what books are used and includes links to either read the book online or purchase the book. I highly recommend purchasing real books, children form relationships with real books that they simply can’t with kindle or computer books. The 36-week schedule will show you everything that should be done during that one week. Those items can be spread across your week however you desire. I tend to frontload our schedule so Monday and Tuesday will be very heavy reading days but get progressively easier so we can take Fridays off. The daily work items should be done every day of the week and the Weekly Work items will only be done once during the week. The Weekly Work items are typically those things that we do together as a family. I know many parents of older children give them the weekly requirements and let them manage their reading across the week. That is a great way to practice time management.
The AO curriculum provides you with a list of the books that are required and the order they should be read in. This does not give you a Charlotte Mason education, as their website clearly states. In order to have a Charlotte Mason education you must educate yourself about the methods she employed in teaching her students. You can read the entire series on AO’s website. There are also a lot of great articles written by AO on various subjects from copywork to narration to foreign language.
On this site I have done my best to explain as simply as possible what Charlotte Mason suggested for each subject, but I can say from personal experience, there is nothing that can substitute for her actual words. For additional support you can join the AO facebook group and/or forum.