More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment
Charlotte Mason Via Ambleside Online Vs. Charlotte Mason Via Heart of Dakota
Fellow homeschool moms – this is wonderful post by Carrie on the topic of teaching Charlotte Mason using Ambleside Online vs. teaching Charlotte Mason via Heart of Dakota. It really is also a post comparing straight-forward Charlotte Mason style teaching done very simply, vs. making changes based on experience that may result in a better balance of education for our children today. I thought you might enjoy reading this for our “More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment.” So, without further adieu, here are Carrie’s thoughts on the matter, which have shaped our resulting Heart of Dakota PreK to 12th grade curriculum. I hope you enjoy!
When did Carrie use Ambleside Online (AO)?
I find this subject near and dear to my heart, for I used Ambleside Online for 4 years with my oldest son, Cole, before I wrote the HOD guides for his level. He used the AO years right on grade level. We used each level exactly as written. He used Ambleside 3 in grade 3, Ambleside 4 in grade 4, Ambleside 5 in grade 5, and Ambleside 6 in grade 6. He did use Drawn into the Heart of Reading along the way with Ambleside Online. After that he began piloting guides for HOD, beginning with Creation to Christ.
Carrie’s Initial Thoughts and Experiences with Ambleside Online
Since we did AO as written and did it for multiple years, I feel pretty clear when I share my initial thoughts about our Ambleside Online experience. First of all, I am grateful to that program. AO introduced me to Charlotte Mason (CM), and it helped me learn about the CM way of schooling. CM’s focus on character training and the importance of God’s Word thrilled me. In fact, I remain enthralled with that today. Her methods of studied dictation were a complete breakthrough. I believe there is nothing better. CM’s slower, more thoughtful reading process and the deeper thinking about what was read is pure genius. Fewer books done better is still my motto. We enjoyed our years in AO to some extent, and I definitely felt good about some of the old, classic books I was introduced to along the way.
My Oldest Son’s Initial Response to Ambleside Online
My oldest son, Cole, was one of those early readers who could read the AO books without trouble. He definitely rose to the challenge and completed his assignments without difficulty. Blessedly, he was a natural narrator and was not a fan of writing. He completed his school in a timely fashion and did what he was asked without complaint. So, his initial response to Ambleside Online was good. However, the further we went down the Ambleside path, the more I found that there were some definite problems running under the surface of his education.
Developing Dislike of Orally Narrating, Lack of Enthusiasm for Book Selections, Antiquated Language, and Little Guidance on Scripture Instruction
The first bump that appeared was his outright dislike of orally narrating every text. He began to really frown over narrating, though he could do it easily. The next bump appeared after we ramped up the number of daily written narrations. While he did them well, it began taking him longer to complete them. He began to dread written narrations.
The next bump was his lack of enthusiasm for the book selections. This really surprised me. The antiquated language and the old-fashioned story lines began to color his opinion of the books he was reading. This was a child who loved to read anything! He didn’t complain about the books. But, he was no longer excited about his school day or what he would read. I also felt like there was no guidance on Scripture instruction or character training. I felt alone in coming up with my own plan for this.
Repetitive Days… Reading… Narrating… Reading… Narrating
From my perspective as a teacher there were also increasing bumps. First, I felt that my son’s days were pretty repetitive, with him reading and narrating… reading and narrating…. and reading and narrating. We did do poetry, composer study, hymn study, nature walks, and handicrafts. In fact, we did one of these each day. But, it still seemed like his day involved a lot of reading and narrating. My oldest is such a hands-on child that he missed more activity. As a teacher, I missed the connections that can be made through a more unit study approach through projects, timeline, research, geography, primary source documents, guided drawing practice, notebooking etc.
Delayed Grammar and Writing Instruction Posed a Problem
I also increasingly felt like the delayed approach to formal grammar and writing instruction was leaving me wondering how to talk to my son about grammar and writing skills that I felt he was needing earlier than CM advocated. I was left alone to figure out many other skills that I wanted my son to be gaining along the way, it seemed. They just weren’t a formal part of AO. Skills like dictation and copywork were also left for me to implement, gleaning from CM’s guidance.
The things I felt my son was missing, he was missing too.
In the beginning, I loved the idea of a more streamlined day with the focus on reading and narrating. However, as I watched my son’s enthusiasm for school and learning wane through the years, I began to see that the things I felt he was missing… he was missing too. I began asking myself, just because my son could read Robinson Crusoe as a 9 year old, should he? Or, would he benefit more from it later, when he had more maturity?
Some books are richer when read later.
When Pilgrim’s Progress scared him, as he read it at such a young age, because he was worried he couldn’t face the trials that Christian faced. I realized it might have been better to save this book for a time when he was more mature. By waiting, he could potentially really appreciate the complexities of the allegory and be encouraged by Christian’s journey. The further we went, the more I began to see that maturity has as much, or more, to do with enjoying the richness of classic books as reading level does. Some books are richer when read later.
The first newness or awe of reading a classic book cannot be regained.
There is never the same newness or awe of reading a classic book as the first time you read it. Why not wait until the newness and the richness can come together and be appreciated by a mature reader? Why not read the easier wonderful classics and new classics too when your child is younger, saving the harder classics for when your child is older? As I pondered these questions, I realized I wanted a book list with a different balance of books. I wanted a list that that took into account the fact that our young children are not living in the same era as Charlotte Mason. Thankfully, hardships don’t impact children on a daily basis now as they did during that time.
The Importance of A Balance of Old and New, As Well As of Skills
I longed for a balance of old books and new books, as well as a balance of skills. So, I began the quest of taking as much of CM’s philosophy as I agreed with and adding in the skills I knew from my own 20 years of teaching experience would be necessary for kiddos in this day and age of education. What appeared then was our guides from Creation to Christ (CTC) on up.
The Switch from AO to CTC
When my son made the switch from AO to doing CTC, I can honestly say that it was challenging. CTC asked him to do thing that he had not done before. His day was definitely longer. Yet, by the end of the year I had seen so much growth in my son spiritually and Godly character-wise that I was a firm believer that the switch had been a good one. What’s more, my son was enjoying his learning again, even with a longer day. His day was much more varied. Overall, I felt his learning was richer. I knew exactly what to expect from him each day, and he knew exactly what was expected of him.
What changed once we made the switch?
Much changed for my son, once we made the switch. He no longer dreaded narrations, as they were only once daily and rotated among the subjects. The balance of books piqued his interest. I often found him digging deeper into topics that interested him. He began voluntarily sharing about things that he’d learned. Our dialogues were filled with enthusiasm! Likewise, my interactions with him were much more varied, and I was more enthusiastic as well. My son opened up about his faith. We had opportunities all throughout the year right within the guide to talk about his walk (and mine) with the Lord. It was the education I’d wanted him to have, but could never figure out how to give him.
A Love for Reading, Balanced Skills, Teacher Guidance, Focus on God’s Word, and Character Training
My other kiddos have only ever done HOD. I must say that within their education I continue to find this same richness, love for reading, solid balance of skills, teacher guidance and help, focus on God’s Word, opportunities for character training, and academic excellence too. Every year, as we begin pondering what to do next in HOD, I pull back out CM’s original volumes and reread all that pertains to the stage of learning we are entering. I take as much as I agree with from her philosophy and then add things from my own research and years of experience as a teacher and educator as well.
HOD – A CM Education with Some Differences
So, within HOD you will see a CM education with some differences. You will see her wonderful focus on reading living books and narrating from them, doing copywork and dictation, composer study, artist appreciation, hymn study, nature journal, steady diet of poetry, sketching practice, timeline work, etc. But, you will also see the richness of research, hands-on projects, notebooking, formal writing instruction, formal English instruction, geography lessons, lessons on primary source documents, mapping, etc.
An Organized Way for a Teacher to Guide, Direct, and Facilitate Learning
I know that CM also included many of these things I just listed. However, I was in desperate need of presenting these things from a teaching standpoint in an organized fashion. I needed it to be laid out for me as a teacher to guide, direct, and facilitate my kiddos’ learning. I wanted lessons that lent themselves to helping my kiddos make connections as they were learning. More than that, I wanted God at the center of my boys’ learning. I wanted His Word integrated throughout our day. Likewise, I wanted character training to be a part of each guide. I wanted training in becoming a Godly young man or woman to be a part of every year. This is how we designed HOD.
I learned much from my oldest son’s journey and my years of teaching that helped me reach the philosophy I have today.
Each family must make their own choices as to what they are looking for in their children’s education. However, I wanted to share a bit more about what I was looking for in my boys’ education. This is why we wrote the guides the way we did. AO was a part of my oldest son’s journey that I learned much from. I can honestly say it helped me fine-tune my philosophy of education. It helped me know in my heart what I believe about how kiddos’ learn. It helped me take my 11 years teaching in the public school classroom, combined with 2 years of doing my master’s in education to be a principal, and then another 20 years as a homeschool teacher and put them together to reach the philosophy I hold today.
Implementing this philosophy, as we continue to create HOD to have a balanced approach to skills and learning, continues to be a journey for me that I enjoy. I pray you will find what you are seeking too.