We started school on August 22nd, but I am just now getting around to posting about my major overhaul (to me, anyway) of our AO book lists and schedules.
If you would like to know the hows and whys of our journey towards implementing the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, you can read them here and here. Those were the good ol' days...when the children were younger and things were simpler. All I knew about the CM philosophy was what I read in that issue of Old School House Magazine and these 20 principles of a CM education. Looking back, I realize how little I knew about the CM method. But it was a enough to make our days wonderful, rich, and learning-filled. We truly enjoyed every minute of it.
Then, I discovered the AO curriculum. The book lists and schedules were very intimidating at first (*understatement*). Also, the AO advisors recommend that if you haven't read the complete 6-volume series by Charlotte Mason to get acquainted with her philosophy, you should do so to get the most out of AO. Well, I didn't own the series, but I managed to get it a couple of the volumes on my Kindle.
However, with 5 children, a garden, dairy goats, and chickens, I had little extra time to read it. I was able to manage reading volumes 1 and 6 over a long period of time, but that's as far as I got. Regardless of my lack of reading, after we got all the booklists and schedules figured out, we jumped in head-first. My kids loved it! And I loved it! (You can read about my AO "honeymoon" here and here.) In those early years, I thought we had to read every book on every list, or my children wouldn't be getting a "full-fledged" CM education. I thought AO was the complete embodiment of a CM education. I would realize later how totally wrong that mindset is. I also joined the AO Forum. You can read about my experience with that here. Not good. But the good news is that I have since joined a new Forum of like-minded homeschooling moms. :)
Eventually, the AO honeymoon ended, and homeschooling my children became overwhelming - and I got no joy from it whatsoever. In fact, I dreaded it. (Just keeping it real, folks.) Now, don't get me wrong - other than an occasional complaint about a long reading, my children were still loving it, but I wasn't. The AO schedules were simply too much. For example, Mimi was in AO yr3 last year, and for term 2, was required to read Children of the New Forest. That might not sound like a big deal, until you open the book and see that some weeks she had to read 3 chapters, which averaged 50 pages altogether. 50 pages! In one week! Plus all of her other readings and lessons - it was too much! I admit that even Mimi was a bit frustrated at this point with all the readings from that one book - and she is a voracious reader, as are all my children.
Also, the schedules are for 5-day weeks, so if I am sick one day or one of the children is sick, all the readings have to be squeezed into 4 days instead of 5. Or if hubby is home on a weekday and we want to take the day off from school, or we want to take field trip, same thing: squeeze 5 into 4. So there isn't much flexibility. At all. We would spend those 4 days playing "catch up". And it makes our entire week stressed trying to make it fit into 4 days and get it all done. That's one of the things I loved most about the CM method before our AO days: our days were relaxed, and stress-free. There was flexibility; there was time for a day off here and there; there was time for a sick day or field trip, or just to take a day off for no particular reason.
So obviously, I usually felt burned out before the first term had ended. All 5 of my children were in 5 different levels of AO, and I felt as if I was sinking just trying to keep up with 5 kids' worth of narrations, checking Math lessons, Grammar lessons, Spanish, etc. (The full post is here.)
And looking back, I realize now that the problems all started when we began using AO. And while I love all the living books in the curriculum, from my experience there seems to be alot of pressure in the AO community to follow the schedules and book lists to a T.
I realized that some serious tweaking had to be done, regardless of the "all or nothing" attitude I was getting from some of the other moms at the AO forum. I pared it down a bit last year - here. But I knew that there was much more to be done before this new school year started. I had made my mind up that I wasn't going to go through another year of barely keeping my head above water.
So, after much prayer and lots more paring down, here is what we are doing this year:
Poetry. Instead of each individual child reading poetry, I let them choose a poet to study together. They chose William Blake. So we are reading one of his poems at lunch, each of us taking turns reading one poem. Lovin' that. :)
Shakespeare. No more individual Shakespeare. The children chose a play this year, and since we decided to read Plutarch's Julius Caesar (oops - veering off that AO schedule! ;)), they chose Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (love the connection there, but again, not on the AO schedule - *gasp*). And instead of reading it, we did the unthinkable - we watched the Julius Caesar play on DVD! Yikes! It was in the original language, though, so that counts for something, right? hehe.
Nature journals/sketching. We haven't been doing much of this lately. My children are outside so much and very observant about everything in Nature, so I don't push the sketching thing. Besides, we are getting ready to do a Nature Exchange with Amber, so we are getting plenty of hands-on Nature study. :) We might do some sketching this winter. But we might not. :)
For Grammar, each child has a Rod and Staff Grammar textbook.
For foreign language, each child is doing Duolingo.
For composer study, instead of listening to each of the composer's pieces listed on AO, I created a Pandora station for the same composer and that's our background music during lessons.
For artist study, I print the images and put them in clear sheets. Then I slide them under our clear, vinyl tablecloth on our dining room table where we do school work. The children study them together and narrate together.
Each of the olders has a commonplace notebook. Some weeks, they put several entries in it. Some weeks, only 1. Some, none. That's okay. No pressure.
Now for individual changes:
Mimi's yr4 schedule has her reading Robinson Crusoe for this term and part of term 2. And like Children of the New Forrest from last year, the weekly readings of that book alone are up to 50 pages! So instead of reading 2 chapters each week, she is reading 1 chapter. When she finishes that book, she will choose between Kidnapped or The Incredible Journey. Also, instead of reading Madam How and Lady Why and The Story Book of Science, she is only reading The Story Book of Science. She asked to Apologia's Land Animals of the 6th Day, so being the animal lover that she is, she is really enjoying it and uses her Science notebook for sketches and narrations from each lesson.
Natalie's schedule and book list changes for yr7 are a bit more than Mimi's. For example, there are 8 or 9 Science books listed. 8 or 9!! I don't think so. So, instead of all that, she is reading The Wonder Book of Chemistry (all my kids are big Jean Henri Fabre fans :)), Great Astronomers, and a creation worldview weather book (she loves to study the weather and is keeping track of high and low temps for each day, precipitation, etc). She is also using her Science notebook for narrations and sketches from each lesson. We also scratched the following books from her schedule: Be Your Own Selfish Pig, What Ever Happened to Penny Candy?, How to Read a Book, The Fallacy Detective, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made (I am saving that for a later year), and The Story of Painting. Sounds like I am leaving out alot, doesn't it? But ya know what? Natalie is still reading so many living books, and she is loving every minute of it. So I am okay with that. :)
Now for Asher, who is in yr8. Like Natalie, his schedule has too many Science books listed, so we are skipping all of them except for Great Astronomers. Instead, he is studying Apologia General Science and writing and sketching in his notebook. We also dropped the government and economics books (he will start those in yr 10 and 11).
Aaron is in yr9. For Science, he is studying Physical Science and loving it! He is also using his Science notebook for narrations and sketches from each lesson. I dropped/substituted 5 books on his schedule. Again, it sounds like alot. But I am okay with it. And more importantly, he is okay with it. :)
Now for Ian, my senior (*sniffle*) in yr11. I dropped a several of his books, too, including an extra Science book and and Art book. The AO schedule also lists The Great Gatsby for term 1. Now for those who might not know, this book is about a millionaire who falls in love with a married woman and they begin an affair. I don't think so!! So I substituted that book with this book that's far more wholesome - and clean - about missionaries John and Betty Stam. Also, for biographies, Ian chose one about George Mueller, instead of those listed on the schedule.
So the final result of all the paring down, cutting out, substituting, and combining is that our days are much more relaxed and less stressed, just like the good ol' days! And if we want/need a day off, we'll take it; making 5 days fit into 4 days is no longer an issue. Ahhh...sweet relief. :)
I have learned so much over the past several years. Probably the most important thing is that children can get a wonderfully rich CM education without ever using the AO curriculum. It isn't AO or nothing! After all, AO is CM; CM is not totally embodied in AO. There are wonderful options other than AO. But now that I have made some slight adjustments ;), we will probably be staying with AO. For now. :)
Sorry for the long post, friends. Thanks for reading. :)
Until next time...