Now that we are homeschooling properly (whatever that means) I find that our lack of organisation feels like a huge problem. I’m not sure that it is, but how we feel about something can change what it actually is or does in our lives. So being or feeling disorganised means i enjoy our days less (and get a lot less sewing done).
While looking through the incredible Ambleside Online website – a free curriculum based on the Charlotte Mason approach to teaching, I found so many fantastic links. Lots are very American, some have really hideous web design but most are worth a good look at. For instance, there are literally hundreds of really good free books if you are looking for ‘living’ or more classical literature, all available online from the Baldwin Project. Best of all, the Ambleside site says very clearly:
It’s normal for a child in Year 1, and even Year 2, to need all of their school books read to them. Children who are still learning to decode phonetics will not be able to comprehend their lessons unless they have help. Easy readers such as Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books can be used additionally for phonics practice. (Easy readers have not been scheduled into the curriculum because the age/year at which a child will need such practice varies.) Parent and child should be working towards the goal of the child reading the majority of his own books by Year 4 or 5. A transition suggestion is buddy-reading, where parent and child take turns reading a paragraph at a time.
Still, I feel like I need a little help with organising both the records of what we are reading together, how we are practicing Wee Bear’s writing and reading, and maybe even looking more than one lesson ahead. (I’m not there yet. My brilliant idea last night was a giant solar system collage poster, since she’s really into the planets right now. No, we illustrated and dictated a little story about princesses and zombies and pet bats. Thank you Halloween commericialism.)
So the two sites I would send you to for homeschool (and indeed home organising in general print outs are) Donna Young’s Printable site. Practical rather than pretty, there is SO MUCH information it will blow your tiny mind. Mine has exited, stage left. I’m using the Zaner Bloser cursive practice sheets – or hope to – as WB has developed a bit of a phobia about cursive. “No Mama, don’t write in CURSIVE!” – whether that’s because it’s harder (and anything requiring effort is verboten for her) or she can’t read it, I’m not sure. At any rate, we don’t want to scare the horses and the best thing (for both of us) about Charlotte Mason is her emphasis on short lessons stopping before the child gets bored and resents the lesson. If we happen to be writing as part of our story time, that’s not an issue. Those days when we sit and “do class” it has to be short – this little bear wants to be moving.
Young children may be impulsive, need to move and have trouble focusing enough to listen to an entire story and narrate it. Charlotte Mason knew this and therefore recommended that children not do formal school until they were 6 years old. She said that no child under six should be required to narrate. They would gain more from playing, exercising their limbs and getting to know their environment first-hand in a casual, natural way by being outdoors.
Some children still aren’t ready at six. There is nothing to lose and much to gain by waiting until a child is ready. More is required from Ambleside Online with each progressive Year, so the child who is not ready for Year 1 at age 6 may not be ready for Year 2’s more intense history at age 7. Some children need a year or two more to mature. One Ambleside student wasn’t quite ready at age 6; he couldn’t keep still and was easily distracted. He didn’t start Year 1 until he was 8. Two years later, he is in Year 3, reading most of the books himself and enjoys school – a couple years made all the difference. Had his parents insisted on making him sit still for school at age 6, it would been a struggle for both the student and his parents and he would have quickly learned to dislike school. How do you know if your child is ready? When he can listen along and follow a story and tell enough about back to convince you that he comprehended.
In the years when a child’s readiness is still developing, there are things you can do to prepare him for Ambleside Online. Severely limiting TV watching will help his mind to reach its intended potential and help his ability to focus attention. Jane Healy’s book Endangered Minds explains the relationship between the visual information of TV and a child’s attention span. Help your child become less dependent on visual images by reading him chapter books with few pictures – perhaps Peter Pan, Pinocchio, fairy tales, or E.B. White’s books. These sorts of books encourage him to form pictures in his mind as he receives auditory information. Get him used to hearing well-spoken language in the form of poetry and well-written stories like Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit series, nursery rhymes and classic children’s poems, A.A. Milne’s Pooh classics, and James Herriot picture books. Cultivate an interest in growing things by planting a garden (or even a potted plant) or watching insects. Listen to music together, including classical music by Mozart and Bach. Go for walks and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature together. Help your child learn to be observant.
Finally, I’m enjoying the many printables available from – there are so many for free and those that are paid for are very reasonable in cost. The idea of ‘notebooking’ or journalling fits in very well with both the Project Based Homeschool approach and Charlotte Mason but for at least a good while, I will have to pull back my expectations about how much writing she does. It seems to work really well right now if she draws the pictures and I do the writing to her dictation – the opposite to what I was expecting but hey, it works! Please check out the Notebooking tutorials and try out some of the downloads. I am seriously tempted by “Managers of Their Homes” but that might be going a bit far. After all, Charlotte Mason herself pointed out that while children do grow like plants (needing good soil, weeding when the plants are fragile and growing, etc) people – including young ones – are not “rows of carrots” who will all turn out the same.