Making Ambleside Online “Click!”

If you’ve ever looked at the Ambleside Online curriculum you have probably felt a little overwhelmed. Maybe you took one glance and said “nope!”

Well, I dismissed it pretty early on and when I was researching what curricula we’d use for first grade something made me take a second look. I’m so glad that I did.

I’d like to share how Ambleside started to make sense to me and how I order it to keep it simple.

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First, I realized that it isn’t just books that you read or this whole feast of subjects that you cram in to make sure they are covered. Ambleside Online is just a curriculum, that’s all. It’s a tool that helps you get the job done. What makes this amazing is how you lay out this feast of subjects and how you approach reading these books.

Ambleside Online is a Charlotte Mason based curriculum. Charlotte Mason is an approach or methodology and there are countless different ways and curricula available to follow a Charlotte Mason education. There are several aspects to a Charlotte Mason education and in order to better understand Ambleside Online you have to know some basics behind the Charlotte Mason approach.

There’s a lot. I know. I’ve been reading about Charlotte Mason on other blogs and in books and I have more to go. I’ve probably read the whole Ambleside site but I have yet to delve into Miss Mason’s original writings.

When I realized that Ambleside is more than a booklist, I began to actually read through the introduction page and the FAQ page and the articles and topical discussions. While reading, it all started to come together; this is actually quite simple, yet it’s so rich and full and challenging and beautiful is what I thought to myself.

To be honest, I wasn’t completely sold at the beginning of my Ambleside journey. I thought why should we learn about British history and why would we start way back in the first century. I thought we should learn history that would be more relevant. We should begin our lessons with early American history, when it wasn’t too long ago.

But then I started to look up books and drive myself crazy, wondering if the books I chose would be appropriate in content or length or if the book was actually a good book. I started to wonder if I would have to pre-read everything. And there were so many books I wanted to include. I realized that scheduled on Ambleside for history reads there were three books for the whole entire year. Three. Okay, so if I want to teach American History, how do I choose three comparable books?

I was making things much more difficult than they needed to be. I took a breath and opened one of the links next to a book that was available online (and most of the assigned readings are available online, for free). I read one of the stories that was assigned for week one. Wow, that is the story she gets to hear. I opened another book online. This is what I get to read to my daughter, she will love this! I opened one more book and read the assigned reading. I can’t believe we would have missed this!

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Now that I had done my research, thoroughly, and read all about Ambleside and read a few of the assigned readings, I was ready to plan it out. I was ready to accept Ambleside Online completely.

The easiest way, I have found, to make Ambleside Online not look overwhelming is breaking the assignments into three categories: Daily Work, Readings, and Weekly Work.

The Daily Work consists of copywork, phonics or reading instruction, math and foreign language. These are the subjects you may typically do at the table. Readings are the assigned passages or chapters from the books scheduled on Ambleside Online. For example, in year 1, there are between six and eight assigned readings per week. The readings you spread out across your school week. The Weekly Work are the subjects you focus on once a week: Nature Study, Handicraft, Picture Study, Composer Study, Timeline, Mapping, Hymns, Folksongs, and Art.

We keep the lessons short, 10 to 15 minutes. This is part of the beauty. There are many reasons for this, the primary reason is practicing the Habit of Attention. The total amount of time we spend doing our school work is about two hours. This leaves the remainder of the day for free time to play, be outside, meet with friends and of course we moms need a time to run errands or work around the house.

I work from a checklist in my planner. The Daily Work is listed at the top and starts off blank for the week. As we complete 10 to 15 minutes in each subject for the day, I put a check mark and write out which lesson was finished. Reading instruction/ phonics and math are not provided by Ambleside Online. They do list suggested programs. Then I list the readings and as they are completed they, too, get a check mark. Then the Weekly Work is listed. Each day we do 1-2 subjects and they differ depending on the day of the week.

Mentally, seeing only three categories of schoolwork a day makes it less daunting than seeing 16 or more subjects that need to be completed. I hope that my explanation has helped Ambleside Online “click.” I hope that it has become more clear. And, that you too can find this to be a delightful way to educate your children.

 

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Planning My Homeschool Year

Yes! I love this time of year! I get to plan out my homeschool. Anyone else get as giddy as I do when pulling out the fresh new planner and bringing out the new school books and supplies?

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Now, I do have to say that my oldest is going into Kindergarten this year and you should know that I am an over planner. Which means I don’t have years of experience at this (but I have had homeschooling on the brain for over three years). And it means that when I plan, I tend to do more thinking than doing. But, because I know that about myself I have also learned where to simplify the planning process and I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be tweaked and tweaked until it’s perfect. Because we all know that plans, no matter how perfect they are, always change.

I began with knowing what my state needs from me and what subjects they require me to teach. Our subjects must include Math, Reading, Writing, Spelling, English Grammar, Geography, U.S. History, and Citizenship. My curriculum choices are Kindergarten Earlybird Math, Logic of English Foundations, Five in a Row, Kids of Integrity, along with various other resources.

Then I took a look at the calendar. I decided to spread out my 36 weeks by doing six weeks of school and one week off. I like to be able to have the flexibility to cover things we missed and catch up during the off week. Or use the week as a planning time for the next term. Or use the time to work on mom projects around the house. This year I wanted to also take time off from Thanksgiving to New Year’s because I know it gets hectic that time of year. It would also be great to make time to truly focus on Christmas and enjoy family time. I also wanted to take a week off at Easter.

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My schedule worked out like this: School starts August 10th, we school for six weeks. A week off at the end of September – apple season! Bonus: my Dad is visiting us then too! Then eight weeks of school brings us to Thanksgiving. It will be six weeks of break til the New Year. Then six weeks of school until the middle of February. Perhaps that week will allow us to recuperate from all the birthdays – the whole family, with me being the exception, has birthdays during the early part of the year. Then four weeks of school brings us to Easter break. A six week session of school and a week off at the beginning of May. We finish out with six more weeks, finishing the school year at the end of June.

I found a great planner that I purchased and printed last year from Teachers Pay Teachers by Tanya Rae Designs. It is editable and I get free updates. It’s designed for school teachers but totally works for homeschool moms too. I like it because it is super customizable and super cute (it’s a colorful chalkboard theme). I don’t mind the extra work of figuring out which pages to use and how to set it up. That kind of stuff is fun for me. In fact, another homeschool mom and I made a night of making our planners. It was great!

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My planner has to have a few key elements to make it work well for me. In my planner I want a “year at a glance” grid page showing which weeks we have school and which weeks are break weeks. I want a page where I can list the subjects and the curriculum I’m using for each. I have a scope of sequence page, it looks like a grid with the weeks down the side and the subjects across the top. I use this page to show the outline of my year. I also have to have the monthly curriculum planner. This layout allows for more detail and for me to write notes if I need special materials. The most important pages are my weekly planner pages. I can plan out which lessons are done on which days. These are my go to everyday pages.

After knowing what subjects will be taught, the curricula that will be used, when we will have school, and getting a planner, then it’s time to put it all together. The idea of planning my homeschool year is to have a guide or an outline from which to work; I don’t want each and every day planned before my school year begins. I just want that overview from which to work. Go week by week, but without starting from scratch.

Do you plan out your whole homeschool year or do you plan homeschool from day to day?

What I Have Learned: Meal Planning and Putting it to Paper

I have struggled with this whole meal planning business off and on. I have come to realize that meal planning just doesn’t happen. It is something I have to work hard at doing. It has to be purposeful, intentional.

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The classic method of pen and paper is usually what works best. I can jot down an idea, scribble it out, move it to another day with an arrow. It’s just easier to “think” when writing, opposed to using a calendar on the computer or some meal planning service. Now, I have used Plan to Eat and liked it but it hasn’t been a consistent tool for me. If you are more of a computer organizer I’d highly recommend checking them out (I am not an affiliate, just a mom who is speaking from her own experience). Plan to Eat is pretty user friendly and especially after you build your recipes. I think the best part was that it automatically created a grocery list based off your meal plan. And you can delete items you know you already have so that you only get a list of what you need.

Anyway, like I said, pen and paper has proven to be a true friend when it comes to meal planning. I really enjoy using this two week schedule printable. It has spaces to include breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas. I typically shop on Tuesdays and occasionally I’ll go on Monday or Wednesday depending on the food situation or my schedule that week. So having the two week layout helps me to start my plan for the week on Tuesday and wrap around to the following Tuesday. I try to plan for 8 days because there is always a day I plan a meal and then when it’s time to make it I am not in the mood for cooking that meal. This way allows me a little wiggle room.

How do I know what meals to plan? Great question! I have found it helpful to come up with categories. My categories are Pasta/Grain, Asian, Traditional, Vegetarian, Mediterranean/ Middle East. You might think up Italian, Chicken, Pork, Soup/Stew/Crock pot/ Casserole, Skillet, Salad, Breakfast for Dinner, Pizza night, or even Cajun. My family likes to eat very different cuisines and they can be pretty particular about their food. I think that’s a big reason it has been such a challenge for me to plan. I also don’t want to feel obligated, nor do I have the time, to cook 7 days a week. That’s why you only see five categories.

Here are my categories and what they mean to me in more detail. Pasta/ Grain means cooking spaghetti, or pierogi, or gnocchi, or quinoa, or orzo and whatever sauce and veggies to go with it. Asian means a lot of different choices like Indian curry or Thai curry (and there are a bunch of curry ideas for both) or peanut satay chicken, or stir fry, or fried rice, or homemade Chinese food. My traditional category is cooking up a meat, veggie, and starch. So I might make a meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas. Or I’ll make herbed chicken thighs with roasted potatoes and green beans. Maybe I’ll make Jamaican jerk chicken breasts with sweet potatoes and broccoli. Fajitas, burgers, and Shepard’s Pie also fall into this category because they are a meat with a veggie and starch.

The vegetarian category is the most difficult because we are not fans of substitution type meals. No tofurkey burgers or lentil “meat”loaf for us. We like our veggies and want to eat more of them, definitely. But I haven’t found any “go-to” vegetarian recipes that aren’t curries. But nonetheless, here are some meal ideas I have listed: grilled cheese (actually – you have to try this Blueberry Balsamic grilled cheese from Amanda K. by the Bay) with butternut squash soup, mushroom and kale and wild rice casserole, red beans and rice. Not too inspiring but I guess we can work on that. And for the last of my categories I have Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food. I like to make a Greek salad with chicken, or tabbouleh and felafel, or spiced chicken kebabs.

I plan to cook five days a week and I plan a day of leftovers. Okay, so that is only six days, what about the last day? What do you do for a meal that day? Well, it all depends on my mood or what’s on the calendar. Usually, almost always, there is an event on the weekend – that serves food, or we go to my in-laws – and they prepare a meal, or we have enough leftovers to come up with something to eat, or I’ll make something “easy”, or we’ll get takeout. This is where you know you and your family’s style. For us, I try not to cook anything big on the weekends. This is the time I want to spend with my family, not spend time in the kitchen cooking (or cleaning). I know for some families it works best to make the big meals on the weekends and save the easy or quick stuff for during the week.

Now that we know our categories and we know how many days to plan to cook something you just plug it all in. Here was last week’s plan. I know that my hubby loves homemade pizza so that works for Tuesday. A family member has been staying with us for a while and agreed to cook Wednesday. Thursday’s plan is to cook Jambalaya (maybe the “Mediterranean” category will have to change to the “Other” category). Friday we’ll cook burgers and dogs since we have a bunch leftover from July 4th weekend. Saturday I can make a salad with grilled chicken. And Sunday will be soup and grilled cheese.

I had actually, for the first time, made a plan for two weeks out. My goal is to not go shopping again until the 21st. So for next week’s plan I have written down Leftovers on Monday, Chicken with sweet potatoes and a veggie on Tuesday, Tikka Masala on Wednesday, Teriaki stir fry on Thursday, homemade pizza on Friday, Leftovers on Saturday, Make a sauce and do spaghetti on Sunday and Monday we will try rice and beans.

So far writing it down on paper has been super helpful. Over the last few months I’ve been able to keep dinner on the table and there have been maybe 2 complaints. And when I say complaints it means that we ordered takeout when we really shouldn’t have and that the meal really was a dud. My hubby knows he can be a difficult customer and he has loved my cooking and loved that he can count on coming home to a yummy meal. My confidence has really grown since I decided to refuse to fail.

And now with a few months of weekly meal planning under my belt it’s time to try shopping every two weeks. Eventually I would like to go monthly. It’s a lofty goal, but I find that the more trips I make the more money I spend. It will also leave a little extra time in my week to go other places with the kiddos for nature walks or field trips or play dates.

Another trick I’ve learned about planning my meals is to write down on my master list (the list with the categories and meal ideas) any meals I’ve made that my family loves. Lately we are enjoying homemade pizza (with a copycat Uno’s Chicago pizza dough crust), Thai red curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, and I recently found this Jambalaya recipe that now will go into regular rotation – it’s super YUM and easy to make. And yes, my children eat all this spicy food, usually. 🙂

Writing down dinner plans have been priority to lunch and breakfast. As long as we have eggs, steel cut oats, cereal, and leftovers then everyone can eat breakfast. I’ll also go to our local bagel shop for “yesterday’s bagels,” a bag of seven for $2. Can’t beat that.

And for lunch, well, that’s the next part of meal planning that I need to learn to plan. I’ll get deli meat every so often for sandwiches or my hubby will eat leftovers or eat out. The kids and I will eat PB&J or chicken fingers or leftovers. Yeah, these meals need a little more love and care, but I’m happy that I have found what works for me. Good old pen and paper – and the discipline to use them.

What is your meal planning trick? How do you get it done?

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Kindergarten Ready or Not?

Ah, the question that all parents ask: do I send my four going on five year old to kindergarten this year or next year? I was faced with this predicament last year with my then four year old daughter.

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I had recently attended a homeschool convention in our area and was making preparations for the next school year. I get a little eager when it comes to planning. But the trouble for me was deciding on curriculum. There is a pretty big difference between what I deem appropriate for preschool and for kindergarten.

In my opinion, preschool is more relaxed and the most important thing is reading to my little ones, exploring, playing and talking to them about what they see and experience. In fact, I probably don’t “do” preschool the way a lot of other moms might. And I’m okay with that. My philosophy aligns with the adage that “play is the work of a child” (Maria Montessori). But, I digress, my education philosophies can be saved for another post.

Kindergarten is still a very playful and exploratory stage. However, learning to read and beginning to see math formally becomes important. I researched which curriculum I wanted to use and found a few that I really liked. I thought that they would be great for us to work through. Then it dawned on me… do I really need all this now?

My daughter is super smart. I know she wants to start to learn how to read. I think she would enjoy doing school. But there was still something in me that was asking if she was really ready. I found out that in our state (you can find your state’s cutoff date here), children who turn five after January 1st may go to kindergarten the following September. My daughter’s birthday is at the end of January so that would make her one of the oldest if she were to go to public school. Coincidentally, the state where I went to kindergarten, the rule was that children must be five on or before September 1st the year they begin kindergarten. My birthday is at the end of September, so I was one of the oldest kids in my class. By the time I was in high school I didn’t like being the oldest. I felt that I was behind the other kids, and that I should be smarter because I was older. I really let the age thing bother me; I carried that through college as I bounced from major to major. I thought that I was “running out of time” and that I was “too old” to still be in school (crazy, I know, but I let society dictate what I was supposed to be doing and that I didn’t “measure up”).

My experience influenced my thoughts about why I wanted to put my daughter in kindergarten “early.” I didn’t want her to compare herself to other kids her age and think that she wasn’t smart enough because she was a grade behind. I talked to my mom about whether she had a choice to start me “early” or not. The conversation was enlightening: she did have a choice and she was considering sending me when I was four about to be five. She had talked to a few other moms and found out that those who sent their child to kindergarten “early” regretted it. Some kids even repeated kindergarten. The moms who waited were glad. The decision came down to maturity.

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One teeny tiny year makes a big difference in maturity between a four and five year old. Attention span, self control, and emotional and social development change much in these years. A child is usually considered a “big kid” at five years old. They are showing greater independence and they begin to gain better control of their emotions.

It makes sense. Why push your child when they are not emotionally ready? I continued this conversation with my mother in law. She was saying the exact same things. I talked with friends who have kids who are only a year ahead of my daughter. They agreed with the maturity issue.

Finally, my hubby and I decided that we would wait. We are going with the state’s cutoff date. We don’t see the need to push our daughter at this stage in the game. It doesn’t mean that we won’t teach her certain things because it’s at a different grade level. It just means that childhood is such a short period of time. This is the time where we want to foster a love of learning. We want to make learning as natural as possible. And for us, a kindergarten curriculum at age four is simply too much.

Feel free to weigh in, what was your deciding factor for starting your child in kindergarten and at what age?

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