Thursday, June 14, 2012
Our Curriculum: A bit of why and how
We use AmblesideOnline for our curriculum. It is founded on the principles of Charlotte Mason who was an educator in England at the turn of last century. She ran a school called Ambleside. I came across other CMers at Home School Blogger and was intrigued by the things they mentioned. I am so thankful to have found this source. I was doing a classical style education but finding some things weren't quite the right fit. Finding AO has been the best for us. I know God led me to it.
One of the reasons I felt drawn to CM is that all content areas are to be studied with story-type books versus a text book. CM believed that one author who is passionate about the topic would create a much more accurate and interesting account of the material. For this reason, most of school feels like reading time. We might be reading from 6 to 7 books to complete history, science (nature in early years), literature, and even grammar! This literature-based learning fits right up my alley and I think is especially suited to girls. (Though many CMers of boys have no complaints!)
One of the best things about CM is that young children learn to narrate the stories, which means they retell as much as they can remember of the story. When they are young, the stories are very short so they can remember the details. You also don't have them narrate for everything at first either. You give them time to get used to that, but they still listen to the readings. Lydia is already narrating events or stories without being asked. She has heard the girls do it for a couple of years now so she just thinks it is natural. The other day Mary was so excited to narrate about what she learned from a book called "If You Lived in Colonial Times", and as Lydia listened she was enthralled. She asked me after, "Will I get to read that book too?" Isn't it wonderful that she is already excited about reading this book! Unlike curriculum where the child reads a portion and then answers questions, narration forces the child to organize the events in order and to recall important (to them) details. This not only increases the likelihood that they will remember more of the presented information, but it also helps them to make their own connections to the material to discover what is helpful or needful to remember.
While narration is building their skills of organization and description like pre-writing, copy work is building the grammar base. CM students spend time each day copying in their best handwriting quality words, sentences and eventually paragraphs. Of course there are many options of quality writing. Our girls often copy scripture they are working on for memorization or catechism questions which discuss answers to questions about God and the Bible. Sometimes I have them spend time copying short classic poems, or portions of their reading that they really enjoyed. Sometimes it is famous quotations from the people of the history they are studying. In any case, the physical practice of spelling the words, placing the commas, capitalization of certain words and so on teaches many wonderful grammar lessons! Think of it like the toddler who keeps walking around the same room over and over to build his muscles. Or the preschooler who sings the same songs over and over to learn the sounds and the words.
So as the children continue to read (or listen to) quality literature, and copy quality writing, and narrate the information that has sparked interest in their minds, they are building muscles which will help them to become communicators, writers, logical thinkers, inventors and problem solvers. I am still very early in this process, but I am starting to see the beginning of this in the older girls. Hannah was reading a book for fun the other day. I asked her if she was enjoying the story. She said the ideas were pretty interesting but the writing was not very interesting as if it were written very simply for a little kid. This book is about Rose Wilder the child of Laura Ingalls. Rose never wrote about her life, but the author knew how so many loved the Little House books. I am not saying he is a poor writer at all. I have read the book. But I know what Hannah meant. Compared to some of the classic literature she reads for school, it is simple language. I am glad to see that she can appreciate the more complex writing. I related this to her own writings. I mentioned that this is a good lesson for her to remember as she chooses her vocabulary or the way she writes things.
One of the other things I love about AO curriculum is that the recommended books are usually older classics that are so popular you can find them at most thrift stores or they are in the public domain so you can find them for FREE! This is such a big help! I try to carry the book list with me when I know I will be visiting a thrift store or yard sale, so I can pick up any I am still missing. Any books I buy, I mark the AO year on the spine so we can tell at a glance to what year it belongs. I have never had any of the girls whine about time to read the books.
AO has curriculum for up to year 11. They have never done a 12 level because 8 through 11 is high school level anyway. There is a yahoo chat group that is so helpful if you are using AO. Actually there are several and I won't list them all here, but if you visit the link I put above, a link is given in the first paragraph of the curriculum page for the email support group! I have gotten so many wonderful links, hints, and encouragement from these moms (and some dads!). I am not sure if I would have enjoyed this near as much without this group!
I have much more to say about AO curriculum, but I will leave this for now and see if anyone asks any questions. I would be happy to update with those answers!
Most importantly, seek God and His guidance for your curriculum. Don't just use what you can get from a friend, or what other homeschoolers are using, or even what looks easy. Seek God and research to find the best fit for your teaching style and for your children to learn. Most of all you both need to be enjoying it. Yes, we all have days when we think we can't do this, but if most of your days are happily spent teaching and you see the fruit you desire from your labors, then thank God! :) I do!
With All My Heart~