What is Ambleside Online?
From their website, amblesideonline.org "AmblesideOnline is a free homeschool curriculum that uses Charlotte Mason's classically-based principles to prepare children for a life of rich relationships with everything around them: God, humanity, and the natural world."
Ambleside Online is essentially a free book list and schedule for each year of formal education, starting at age 6, for history, literature, poetry, geography, and science. They also include information about artist study, composer study, folk songs, and hymn study. You have to pick a separate curriculum for math and foreign language.
The tricky thing about AO is that you must have a solid understanding of Charlotte Mason and her method of education. That means understanding how to teach through copywork, dictation, narration, picture study, nature study, etc. If you're wanting to learn more about Charlotte Mason, this page has a lot of great links and places to begin.
Wow, Their Website Looks Intense...
This is one of the things I hear most often when people look at the website. AO is intense if you're sitting down thinking you'll just print off the schedule or order some books and be good to go. I know the AO board has said a lot in the past that they purposefully keep their website plain in order for it to function well for people with limited internet access.
But, it's not the plainness of it that is challenging for many. The challenge is that there is so much information and not a great organizational flow to it all. You may have to click open four or five links to really get to the place you were looking for. There are lots of corners of their website where gems are hidden and it is not straight forward. This it my biggest criticism of the curriculum as a whole--their website!
So, Where Do I Begin?
1. Read Everything on the Website: Do this on a computer, if you can, because you will want lots of tabs open. Take a long afternoon with a hot drink and a notebook. Write down any questions you have. Print off schedules and click on all of the links.
You will miss something if you are not able to read everything. It is a lot, but it is incredibly helpful! The answers are there, the help is there. It just takes time to wade through it all.
2. Join the Facebook Group: There is a Facebook Group that is incredibly helpful. Join it and search your questions. I guarantee someone else has asked this before! Also, search through the files. Many other AO families have done the hard work of reformatting schedules, creating documents and fun extras and share them in this group.
3. Join the Forum: The Ambleside Online Forum pre-dates Facebook and has a greater depth to the conversation. You can access it here or through the app Tapatalk. I personally prefer the app, but find that both the app and the forum website are cumbersome and hard to search.
If I'm searching for a question I prefer the facebook group. If I need book substitution suggestions, am looking for thorough and detailed answers to a specific question I have or really want to do a deep dive on a topic, the forum is where I go!
4. Gather Your Materials: The best thing about AO, besides that it is free, is that many of their books can be found used, at the library or inexpensively. I would recommend buying your books if you are planning on using AO for multiple children.
They have a ton of information about where you can purchase the books digitally if you're overseas or have a need, but overall AO can be done extremely frugally. I would hold off on buying free reads if anything, since that list is extensive and can most commonly be found at a library.
The extra subjects you will need to purchase are math, foreign language, a phonics curriculum for your Year 1-Year 3 student, and supplies for handcrafts, nature journaling or any extra additions. Some things we've added on as "additions" include maps, art prints, books about our composer or "best of" audios/cds, timelines, and hymn resources (like Habit and Hymns).
5. Pre-Read: If you can, I would pre-read as many of the books as you are able. If you are starting AO in Year 4 or later, many of the books your child will read on their own, so it is very helpful to pre-read.
Some of the earlier books are helpful to pre-read and read the detailed notes on the AO website to see if there is any sensitive material you want to substitute or avoid. In general, it's super helpful to have some grasp on the material before you're teaching it. I listen to most of these books on audio as my pre-reading. I find a lot of them on Scribd and Librivox.
6. Putting it All Together: One of the biggest things to remember is that AO is a menu, not a formula. You can choose to change things so that they best fit your family. With that said, there is a reason why the books are the way they are. Years of work has gone into making AO what it is and sometimes it is just best to trust the process.
I would caution you on adding too many extras, or trying to do too much at once. Some families I know loop the beauty subjects (handcrafts, art study, composer study, etc) like semester classes, so that they're not juggling all of them at once. Others I know save some subjects for the summer and then do a deep dive into just one or two (like geography or nature study).
If you're having a tough time scheduling it, or fitting it all in, go back to the website and really look at their subject time table suggestions. Short lessons is a key to a Charlotte Mason education and especially key in tasting all the subjects in the AO feast of education.
How Do I Do This Much With Multiple Children?
One of the drawbacks to AO is putting it all together for multiple children. So much of this depends on your children's ages, their ability to read the materials on their own and your comfort level with teaching from a Charlotte Mason method.
AO for Groups is very helpful if you have lots of children close in age. I know many families who deviate from the AO schedule in Bible, and history to be able to teach those subjects as a whole family. Many of the beauty subjects can already be taught family-style as well.
I'm Ready To Dive In....I Think...
There is a lot of helpful information on their FAQ page, that I recommend everyone read it over at different times.
AO is not a curriculum that doesn't require any work. If that's what you're looking for, there are many open and go style curricula you can pick up and jump into the next day. But AO does allow for a lot of freedom, it's free and you can typically resell your books (since it's not a consumable curriculum). Those are all wins in my book!
Most importantly, you really need a solid grasp on Charlotte Mason and her method. I have learned so much from this curriculum and it has stretched and grown me as a learner right alongside my child!