Back in March, I suddenly announced to our children that we would have a new way of doing school, starting the next morning. Gabriel looked at me and said, "Are you ever going to settle on one way of doing things?"
To which, I replied, "Just as soon as we're all happy with the way we're doing things."
I think we've finally found that way. Sure, we'll tweak things here and there as we go. But, for the most part, we're all happy with this way.
The first book I read about homeschooling was The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I loved, and still love, this book. I like the idea behind this book. The things I like best about the 'classical' method, as described in The Well Trained Mind, are chronological history, foreign languages at an early age, good literature from the beginning, and narration/copywork/dictation. There were a few things I didn't like. Mostly, I didn't like the way they were doing history. I want them to read good books about history. However, Gabriel was getting bogged down in outlining his history lessons, and didn't have time to read other books about history. This was unfortunate, since the history encyclopedia was only supposed to be a history spine. It was killing his love of history. Also, the science was just not working for us. So, I started searching for other ways of doing things.
We tried unschooling. Over the past two years, I have made my peace with unschooling. I think unschooling could be a wonderful way of doing school. The idea of a child being able to study whatever he wants to is wonderful. The main reason I like this idea is that the children are wholly engaged when they are interested in something. However, Gabriel went to school for 4 years. He was very interested in being able to study whatever he wanted to, but he did not feel comfortable being in control. So, we abandoned that idea fairly quickly.
We went back to The Well Trained Mind, while I searched through other ideas. My mom, who had planned to homeschool my nephew again this year, but had to send him back to school, sent me the things she had purchased for my nephew. I had recommended that she try Sonlight, based on my nephew's personality, and the way my mom liked to do things. I liked the idea, and I loved the books Sonlight had chosen, but I did not like the fact that they separate American History from World History. I wanted to do it all together, and I was struggling to do that. So, I abandoned combining The Well Trained Mind with Sonlight. There just wasn't enough time in the day to do both.
Then, one day, I got around to reading a website that I had bookmarked 6 months previously. I ended up printing about 70 pages worth of reading material from the website, so that I could read it at my leisure. I was hooked. Ambleside Online introduced me to Charolotte Mason. There is a lot about Charlotte Mason that I like. There is almost nothing that I don't like. I think the one thing I don't like is their approach to spelling, and I will continue a formal spelling program.
Charlotte Mason has the components of classical education that I love, and none of the components that I hated. Here are the things that I love about what we are doing now:
The boys are all reading great literature about each subject. In between each quiet reading time, they have an active time. They do both 'science' and 'nature study'. They are studying Spanish. They are doing copywork. They are doing narrations. They are doing history chronologically, which helps it make sense. They utilize a 'book of centuries', which is similar to a timeline, only easier to write in.
One of the best parts about it is that the moms who run Ambleside Online have made their schedule available for free. This has taken the work of creating a schedule off my shoulders.
The one thing I didn't like about Ambleside Online is that it is light on American History. I have struggled with my need to balance chronologically ordered history with my need for the boys to study American History now. So, I have just added the Sonlight Core schedule that my mom gave me to the Ambleside schedule that the boys were using. This is especially light for Gabriel. These are excellent books, but books that are way below his reading level. However, that is okay. These particular books are not meant to challenge his reading ability. They are meant to inform him about American history. I believe they are accomplishing that. This particular year is the first half of American history (for 3rd graders), and they will read the second half next year.
I plan to have Gabriel do the Core 100 from Sonlight next year, in addition to Ambleside Online. Xavier will do the Core 4, in addition to Ambleside Online. Really, Ambleside Online is not for slouchers. It is not an easy course. However, my boys are readers. For them, it is not a difficult course, either. If they were not such good readers, it could cause some struggles, but they are good readers. Plus, I have cut some of the books out, since they are religious books. We do not do any of the Bible study, plus a few of the other books have proven to be a little on the religious side. For the most part, though, I have found their selections to be stellar.
I will talk, in another post, about what books they are reading, and what they think of them, plus our plans for the coming year. Of course, if you want to look now, you can certainly head on over to Ambleside Online. Xavier is doing the 2nd year course, and Gabriel is doing the 7th grade course. Dominic will begin the 1st year course in September.