"....Your children shall be like olive plants all around your table." Psalm 128:3

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tweaking AO

Hi friends,

Well, time has flown by and we are finding ourselves at the end of Term 1. We are in our fourth year of using the AO curriculum, and I know how I have raved and raved about this curriculum in the past.

And I still think it's a wonderfully rich curriculum and I really can't say enough good things about it.  But... (you knew that was coming, didn't you?)

This year has been a rough one for me. Major. Understatement. Let me explain...

When we started AO 4 years ago, my youngest was 4, so only the older 4 children were old enough to use AO. And I put my two middle sons, being only 16 months apart in age, in the same year. So basically, we were doing 3 years of AO. Not bad. I could keep up with that.

Then, 2 years ago, Mimi turned 6 and I started her in year 1. A little more to keep up with, but I could still do it.

But this year, Aaron was ready to be bumped up a year, so now I have 5 children in 5 different years of AO (yr10, yr8, yr7, yr6, yr3). Which means ALOT to keep up with...narrations, poetry, composer study, folk songs, hymns, Shakespeare, Spanish, copywork, dictation, Plutarch, Nature journals, current events, century chart entries, commonplace books, etc. Add to all that Math, Science, Grammar, and any other subjects that my fried brain has forgotten.

One CM mom told me, "Five children in 5 different levels of CM? There is no way you can be enjoying that!" And boy, is she right!

I am overwhelmed with all of it, and have even toyed with the idea of going back to textbooks just to get some time to breathe! And I have gone so far as to order a homeschool curriculum catalog just to browse around in (*gasp!*)! Just keeping it real, folks!

Don't get me wrong, my children are still loving AO. They breeze through readings and love to narrate. They love all the books and we have wonderful discussions and learn so much! And I want them to use it and get the full benefit of it.

But I am so stressed out with trying to keep up with everything. And I have some health issues that I am dealing with. (Won't even go there.)

So for now, I am in the praying stage of what the Lord would have me do. I am leaning towards tweaking the AO schedule for our family and dropping some things. But it's hard. I am an "all or nothing" kind of gal, and I can easily feel that if my children aren't getting all of it, they are getting none of it. Crazy, I know.

And then the question becomes "Which things do I drop from the curriculum to cut back on the stress?" Last week I made a list on the marker board of some of the things that we could possible drop from our schedule and I asked the children to circle their favorite things. I decided we would drop what they didn't circle.

Guess what? Every thing I listed was circled! Which is good : they like it all. And it's bad: how do I figure out what to drop?? *sigh*

So, if any AO moms out there have been in the same situation and have any suggestions, I am waiting to hear from you.  :)

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not  on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths." ~ Proverbs 3:5&6


  1. Lisa - totally get this! :) I use AO for help/suggestions/framework but do not follow the schedules! :) And I only have four students! I love the post on Sage Parnassus about cutting back till there is peace in the home. :)

    1. I am glad that I am not alone in feeling this way,Amy It has been such a tough year and we are only at the end of Term 1!
      I think cutting back is the key, too. Now to decide what to cut...
      Thanks for stopping by today. :)

  2. Well, I am definitely not a seasoned AO mom! But I can definitely see how having 5 children in different years would be stressful - I feel accomplished when we get through my dd's year 1 stuff each day!

    Do you combine stuff with your kids? I'm sure you do, but I'm thinking about when my littles are all old enough to do school. I imagine we'll combine as much as possible: composer and songs, poetry (maybe read a selection from each year each day), Shakespeare if possible, Bible, etc. We already do this as part of our morning time (which we do during/right after breakfast), so hopefully by the time dd4 is in year one, we'll have a good flow and be able to combine as much as possible. Also, have you seen Brandy's post from awhile back about combining subjects for students in the same form? I found that to be very helpful.

    All that said, from what I've read, even reading half of the books from AO would give our children such a rich education, so I don't think paring down will matter as much as we think it will. There are more wonderful books than we'll ever be able to read, more information and ideas than we will ever be able to know fully. As long as our children are exposed to wonderful ideas, even from a few books as opposed to many, and they learn to think for themselves, and are grounded in piety, I think they'll be very well off. And maybe fewer books could be better? A deeper relationship with the book and the ideas it contains could be formed. I don't know...just thinking out loud!

  3. Hi Angela,

    Thanks for your input. :)

    I do combine everything I possibly can: composer, picture study, hymns, Shakespeare, folk songs, Plutarch, etc.

    Even so, it is STILL alot to keep up with. Once we are finished with Term 1 (next week), I am seriously going to make some changes.

    Your little Paige is such a beauty. The Lord is faithful, isn't He? :)

  4. I will pray for wisdom for you! I don't know AO but what if you don't have them all narrate orally every week? You could meet with 2 to listen to per week, all week, or per day, and have the others write out their narrations.

    You could break the extras up by quarter, so that you don't do them all every quarter. One quarter for picture study and nature journal, and then drop those next quarter, and add something else. If they still want to do these things, they could do them in their own time. That way you aren't dropping anything entirely, but just for a season.

    Much of what you listed goes beyond the 3 R's, so it would certainly be fine to pick and choose your electives each quarter, or even each year. They will be lifelong learners, so you don't need to cover all the electives as though you're in a race for time. They will explore these things on their own too even after age 18 because you've already captured their imaginations and given them a genuine interest in learning.

    1. Hi Christine,

      Some narrations are oral; some are written. But it is still alot trying to keep up with all the written ones.

      Yesterday the children and I were discussing what to drop from the schedule, even if it just a temporary thing, like you suggested, but they love everything we are doing! But for my peace of mind and sanity, something has to give, even if it is short term.

      Thanks for your suggestions and encouraging words, dear friend. :)

  5. Wow, i feel for you. It's been a while since I had home schoolers at home and then I only had 3 but I can relate. Hang in there, in the end it'll all work out.

    1. I replied to your comment a couple of days ago, but I don't see it, Tori. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to stop in and leave some encouraging words. :)

  6. I haven't been here for a long while and thought I'd stop by and see how you are doing (since we have corresponded). I agree with those mothers (above) who have recommended combining. My good friend taught six children with Charlotte Mason's practical method. Although she had to drop Latin when her sixth was born she kept to the other subjects by combining and using short lessons. She was "eclectic" in that she chose materials from different companies - such as Beautiful Feet Book for some of their years of history, etc. and didn't know about AO, then. The most interesting thing she did is put together a family newsletter three times a year with samples of her children's narrations and drawings. She sent it to family members and to me.
    That your children love books is an enormous advantage toward gaining all kinds of knowledge. Miss Mason claimed that when a child starts reading to themselves silently this is when his true education has begun. Please give yourself credit for fostering in your children this love of knowledge and of reading.
    Trust in the Holy Spirit in enlightening the minds of your children and quickening their hearts. Trust in the freedom of your "Mother's Prerogative" even if this means what you do is different (or less or more) than others or different from someone's decision in what a "set" curriculum is. This will keep you from becoming burnt-out.
    I scrolled down and saw the wonderful handiwork of your family. Beautiful. Well done.
    A mother at church told me that she heard a homeschool speaker say that all children will have "holes" but which holes will they be? This encouraged her to keep home teaching when she felt overwhelmed that her children weren't getting enough. She didn't want them to have the hole of gospel and strongly desired that they "did" have holes in the secular cultural things that went contrary to her Christian believes. I thought this a very good way of looking at it.
    You cannot fill in all the holes. The children will do that. You are knitting a net and like a hammock your children can rest in it - and so can you.
    Take Care,
    Karen A.

    1. Karen,

      Thank you for stopping by and for your words of encouragement. You have left so much for me to consider.

      Burnt out is exactly how I feel and it's only November!

      I like what you said about "holes". I keep thinking about what is being taught (or not being taught) in public schools, and I know that home education is what the Lord's will is for our family.

      It's just a matter of tweaking our schedules and getting back to loving it.

      Thanks again.

  7. I feel for you, Lisa. I am sorry I have no advice to give, but will be praying the Lord gives you wisdom as you make important decisions in the next few days!

    1. Thanks so much for the prayers, Kristyn. :)

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  9. I came back here to see how this discussion was going, since it is a topic for all homeschooling mothers, really. We are all concerned about how much we are getting done at times, and we never really conquer this feeling for good. It will creep back because we are human.

    Charlotte Mason was a wonderful educator, but she wasn't all-knowing. In fact, am I correct in recalling that she wasn't married and wasn't a mother? Wasn't her perspective far different than ours? No curriculum theory or method exists in a vacuum. There are always individual circumstances which make following anything as a purist very problematic. Any pressure we put on ourselves to be a purist in anything is really misguided because we are working from the assumption that the method is The Answer.

    Many of us, even if we don't think public school is a positive thing, will still get stressed if our kids don't know multiplication facts by the end of third grade, because that's when the public schools expect it. We are working from the assumption that the public school's standards are somehow the ten commandments of education.

    Really, we need to be empty vessels as mother-educators, waiting for God to fill us. From that perspective, we get up and make decisions from a position of strength, not stress. In the end education is only a means to an end, and the end is serving God. From that perspective the question becomes: What does God want for this child's life? What work will this child do for God, and what does he or she need to be ready for what God is asking?

    I am telling myself all of these things as I write, not really telling anyone else, by the way.

    We can decide if we're letting it run us by asking how much of our identity is tied up in it. How much does it mean to us to say that we are unschoolers, or classical educators, or Charlotte Masoners, or Sonlighters, or whatever? God, I think would say, it's all a distraction from what he wants us doing everyday. Invest in their hearts, he asks, and let me take care of the rest. Are they kind, humble, helpful, and gentle, he wants us to ask. Are they focused on me, or on their own dreams or their own image? Are they secure enough in my love and provision to let it all go to be fishers of men? Are they filled up enough with me to do whatever I ask at whatever time in their lives?

    One thing I have learned is that because I am both a homemaker and a teacher (and bookkeeper, shopper, etc), I can't have my hand in everything the children do all day. Maybe a teacher of one or two can do this, but not those of us with bigger broods. I can't check every problem, every paper. I can't insure that every mistake gets corrected. I have to trust my kids to learn without me constantly being there, and you know what? They do learn in spite of us, not because of us. At the end of the year when you have to evaluate how things went, you look back and see the growth present in their samples. It's incremental growth so we don't see it daily or weekly or monthly so much. But trust that even if you don't look at their narrations, they are learning something from them. My presence or hand in it is minimal, at best. God created the human mind to learn if given the opportunity. We are to provide opportunity for learning (be facilitators), and God does the rest. In this way too our children learn to take more responsibility for their own learning, rather than thinking that it is our responsibility to put knowledge in them. They have to acquire it and embrace it, not be handed it.

    Again, I am preaching to myself here, and not saying these things because I think you personally need to know them, friend. I am praying for your strength and peace in all this! The bigger the family, the more the mother has to put God in charge. The overwhelming feeling is actually a blessing and facilitates our sanctification through child-rearing.

    1. Thanks for stopping in again, Christine. You make an excellent point: doing "enough" is probably something all home school moms struggle with; it's not just an AO problem.
      And character training is far more important than anything that's learned from a book.
      I like what you said about our children learning in spite of us. That is a comfort, especially with all I am struggling with right now.
      I am comforted with the fact of seeing the fruit of a CM education in my children's lives, in fact...in our family!
      But as for boasting in being a CM educator, I can't do that. Whatever good comes from my feeble attempts will have to be credited to the Lord, Who can make something beautiful out of chaos. :)
      There are elitists in the AO community as I have posted about previously. But even though I consider myself a CM purist, most of my local hs friends use the textbook method. That makes no difference to me. Each to his own. And whatever works for those families is what they should stick with.
      I will have to remember that last sentence you wrote. :)
      Thanks again for bringing out some great points. :)

  10. I asked my husband at the beginning of this year how I would possibly keep up with four children in four different years of AO (my future!). I'm following you to see how you manage it and am praying for you to have wisdom in your decisions!

  11. Thanks so much for the prayers, Bethany. I appreciate it so much.
    I have asked hubby the same question: "How am I going to do this??" He said, "If anyone can, it's you." I guess it's not a question of IF I can do it, but if I can maintain my sanity while doing it. ;)
    And I really want to get back to that point of loving it again. It somehow got lost in what I call my "frantic panic" of trying to get it "all" done. :)

  12. Thanks for your comment on my blog, Lisa. My blog reading has really suffered since the school year started and I'm trying to get back to it but I'm way behind. I'm trying (unsuccessfully) to get myself to just mark everything as read and start over again, but that part of me that says, "but think about all you'll be missing!" keeps piping up. :-)

    I've found one thing that helps when I'm feeling really overwhelmed by all the moving parts in AO is to look at my outside commitments. I've found that sometimes I have so many other things going on that it makes it hard for me to have a regular schedule, which then makes it feel really challenging to get to what I want to get to. And sometimes those outside things just have to happen and there's nothing to be done about it... or sometimes there are things I can change that will help us have a more regular schedule at home.

    Last year I found I needed to switch back and forth between some subjects (I did music and picture study like that for part of last year), stretch out subjects (2 Shakespeare plays and 2 Lives from Plutarch in a year rather than 3 each) and just plain set something aside for awhile (that was nature study last year!) to try and gain some peace. This year we're doing more, but I'm still not doing everything. I've cut back on some of the experiment based science as well as a book here and there for Y8.

    I tell myself that what is on AO is the complete and full curriculum, and I doubt there is anyone who is able to do all of it as listed for each year for each child. (And if there is someone with multiple kids who does do it to the letter, I don't want to hear about it! :-D ) And yes, it is sad to have to skip something... but my kids have their whole lives to read and learn and peace in our home and in their mother is worth more than a couple more books added to the schedule.

    I'll keep you in my prayers, it is a tough discernment process, I know!

    BTW, have you looked at the Preparing a CM Schedule (http://www.sabbath-mood-homeschool.com/p/preparing-cm-schedule.html) and Brandy's planning and average day posts (http://afterthoughtsblog.net/page/3?s=2015+planning+series - not the best link, but I can't seem to find a series index post)? They both really helped me get a handle on what I really could do in a given day and to have more peace about letting go of what doesn't fit.

  13. Thanks so much for your suggestions, Amber.

    As far as outside commitments, we don't have many at all. And even though our dairy goats weren't considered outside commitments, I knew they had to go before we started another year of AO, especially with this being my first year of 5 kids in 5 different levels. Thankfully, I did have enough foresight to know that I simply couldn't keep the goats and devote as much time and energy as needed to home schooling.
    I like your idea of doing only 2 Plutarch lives and/or 2 Shakespeare plays. That would be a big help, especially since my children don't want to drop anything from the schedule.
    I have combined Science with the 4 younger children and we are doing Science notebooks with it. So I have dropped some individual things from that part of the schedule.
    Yes, if there is a mom who can do it all with a large family, I hope I never hear about her. ;)
    I haven't seen Brandy's post or the one at Sabbath Moon. I will have to check those out. I, like you, am a bit behind on blog reading.
    Thanks for suggesting them.
    And thanks for the prayers. :)


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