Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ambleside Online Years Are Not Equivalent to Traditional Schooling Grade Levels

"One limitation I did discover in the minds of these little people; my friend insisted that they could not understand English Grammar; I maintained that they could and wrote a little Grammar (still waiting to be prepared for publication!) for the two of seven and eight; but she was right; I was allowed to give the lessons myself with what lucidity and freshness I could command; in vain; the Nominative 'Case' baffled them; their minds rejected the abstract conception just as children reject the notion of writing an "Essay on Happiness." But I was beginning to make discoveries; the second being, that the mind of a child takes or rejects according to its needs.

From this point it was not difficult to go on to the perception that, whether in taking or rejecting, the mind was functioning for its own nourishment; that the mind, in fact, requires sustenance––as does the body, in order that it increase and be strong; but because the mind is not to be measured or weighed but is spiritual, so its sustenance must be spiritual too, must, in fact, be ideas (in the Platonic sense of images). I soon perceived that children were well equipped to deal with ideas, and

that explanations, questionings, amplifications, are unnecessary and wearisome. Children have a natural appetite for knowledge which is informed with thought. They bring imagination, judgment, and the various so-called 'faculties' to bear upon a new idea pretty much as the gastric juices act upon a food ration. This was illuminating but rather startling; the whole intellectual apparatus of the teacher, his power of vivid presentation, apt illustration, able summing up, subtle questioning, all these were hindrances and intervened between children and the right nutriment duly served; this, on the other hand, they received with the sort of avidity and simplicity with which a healthy child eats his dinner." Vol 6 pg 10-11

The years in the Ambleside Online curriculum do not correspond with the grade levels of traditional schooling. The following is an example of some books read in year 4 and their corresponding reading level.

Year 4
Holling: Minn of the Mississippi (6th grade)
Stevenson: Kidnapped (6th grade)
Bober: Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution (9th grade)
Bulfinch: Age of Fable (9th grade)
Burnford: Incredible Journey (12th grade)
Defoe: Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (12th grade)
Irving: Legend of Sleepy Hollow (College Junior)
Plutarch's Greek Lives; Stadter version (Graduate Level)

My 9 year old year 4 student will not be able to read these particular books on his own but when they are read to him, as the above quote states, he will take or reject the ideas from these books according to his needs. He will bring his natural appetite for knowledge, imagination and judgement to these books and he will receive the sustenance his mind requires to be healthy.

Complete Year 4 Curriculum

Daily Lessons:

Penmanship or Copywork
Foreign language
Musical Instrument Practice

Weekly Lessons:

Art Appreciation
Grammar (AO's Language Arts Scope and Sequence for this level is here.)
Correspond history readings with a timeline or century book and map
Music Appreciation, including folksongs and hymns
Nature Study
One Life from Plutarch
A Shakespeare play


This site has many versions. [note] x Penny Gardner has a list of Old and New Testament stories to read straight from the Bible that may be useful for Bible time. | Bible timeline | Study questions with nice maps |

History: 1700's up to the French and American Revolutions

This Country of Ours by HE Marshall (purchase) (purchase for Kindle) Charles I-George III [note]
** ***George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster (purchase) 349 pages
OR The Story of Mankind by Hendrick Van Loon (purchase/purchase for Kindle) [note] x
optional supplement: ***An Island Story [note] 1 2 x

Term 1
This Country of Ours (purchase) (purchase for Kindle) [note]
Optional: Story of Mankind by Van Loon [note]
OR A Child's History of the World [note]

Term 2
This Country of Ours (purchase) (purchase for Kindle) [note] (purchase)
George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster (purchase) [note]
OR Story of Mankind by Van Loon [note]
OR A Child's History of the World [note]

Term 3
This Country of Ours (purchase) (purchase for Kindle) [note] (purchase)
George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster (purchase) [note]
OR Story of Mankind by Van Loon [note]
OR A Child's History of the World [note]
optional extra: An Island Story [note]

History Tales and/or Biography

Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula (purchase/purchase for Kindle) [note]
* Poor Richard by James Daugherty (purchase)
** *** Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober (purchase/purchase for Kindle) (note).


Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling (purchase) [note] MR 1 2 BF

Natural History/Science

The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock (purchase), as scheduled in Nature Study; online. You may find it helpful and fun to participate in the Outdoor Hour Challenge blog.
Supplies for Nature Study:
Nature notebook and pencils or paint for each student
Begin to build a library of regional field guides
Plenty of time to allow Nature Study to be a fun learning experience for both parent and child

Madam How and Lady Why by Charles Kingsley (purchase for Kindle) (see Study Guide/links by Katie Barr; see also: resources below), first half:
* The Glen, Earthquakes;
** Volcanos, Transformations of a Grain of Soil
*** The Ice-Plough, The True Fairy-Tale, The Chalk Carts
The Storybook of Science by Jean-Henri Fabre (purchase/purchase for Kindle)
Optional: Physics Lab in the Home by Robert Friedhoffer (purchase for Kindle) (search [note]

Those preferring a textbook option may use the Exploring Creation With . . . series by Jeannie Fulbright for science in Years 3-6 (purchase): also available here. A support group is available.


A curriculum or program for handwriting is not necessary, but if you want to use one, these are some we've used and can suggest:
A Reason for Writing (Level A: purchase) (Level B: purchase)
Getty Dubay Italic Handwriting Series (purchase)


Select a program that meets your family's needs from our page of Math Options.

Foreign Language



* Alfred Lord Tennyson (purchase for Kindle)
** Emily Dickinson
*** William Wordsworth (purchase for Kindle)


The Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch preface to 14 (Minerva-Niobe) (purchase/purchase for Kindle)
* ** The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (purchase/purchase for Kindle) [note] Free audio podcast.
** *** Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (purchase/purchase for Kindle)
*** The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford (purchase)
short works (purchase a collection of all of these short works for Kindle):
*** The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (purchase) (listen to it on
*** Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (purchase) (listen to it on librivox; scroll down)
*** Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving (purchase) (listen to it on; scroll down)

Additional Books for Free Reading [note]
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (purchase) (for Kindle)
Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter (purchase) (for Kindle)
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (purchase) (for Kindle)
The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit (purchase) (for Kindle)
A Book of Golden Deeds by Charlotte Yonge (purchase)
Bambi by Felix Salten (purchase)
The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis (purchase all in one volume) (purchase boxed set)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (purchase for Kindle)
The Magician's Nephew (purchase for Kindle)
The Horse and His Boy (purchase for Kindle)
Prince Caspian (purchase for Kindle)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (purchase for Kindle)
The Silver Chair (purchase for Kindle)
The Last Battle (purchase for Kindle)
Little Britches series by Ralph Moody (purchase) (some language; please preview)
The Borrowers by Mary Norton (purchase) (purchase complete Borrowers boxed set) (purchase for Kindle)
Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight (purchase)
Gentle Ben by Walt Morey (purchase)
Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright (purchase)
Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (purchase)
Return To Gone Away by Elizabeth Enright (purchase)
By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder (purchase)
The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia Hale (purchase); 22 chapters; The Complete Peterkin Papers has a few additional chapters, but each chapter can stand alone. These were originally printed as serials in a magazine.
** Calico Captive (girl interest; purchase/purchase for Kindle) or The Sign of the Beaver (boy interest; purchase/purchase for Kindle) by Elizabeth George Speare
*** Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (purchase)
Tree of Freedom by Rebecca Caudill (purchase)
Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (purchase)
*** The Reb and the Redcoats by Constance Savery (British view of revolution) (purchase)
Justin Morgan had a Horse by Marguerite Henry (purchase)
See it online at Ambleside's website.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Short Synopsis Of Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education

"No sooner doth the truth ... . .come into the soul's sight, but the soul knows her to be her first and old acquaintance."

"The consequence of truth is great; therefore the judgment of it must not be negligent." (Whichcote).

1. Children are born persons.

2. They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.

3. The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but––

4. These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence, or by undue play upon any one natural desire.

5. Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. The P.N.E.U. Motto is: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."

6. When we say that "education is an atmosphere," we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child-environment' especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child's' level.

7. By "education is a discipline," we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits.

8. In saying that "education is a life," the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.

vol 6 pg xxx

9. We hold that the child's mind is no mere sac to hold ideas; but is rather, if the figure may be allowed, a spiritual organism, with an appetite for all knowledge. This is its proper diet, with which it is prepared to deal; and which it can digest and assimilate as the body does foodstuffs.

10. Such a doctrine as e.g. the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge; and the teacher's axiom is,' what a child learns matters less than how he learns it."

11. But we, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum; taking care only that all knowledge offered him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas. Out of this conception comes our principle that,––

12. "Education is the Science of Relations"; that is, that a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books, for we know that our business is not to teach him all about anything, but to help him to make valid as many as may be of––

"Those first-born affinities
"That fit our new existence to existing things."

13. In devising a SYLLABUS for a normal child, of whatever social class, three points must be considered:

(a) He requires much knowledge, for the mind needs sufficient food as much as does the body.

(b) The knowledge should be various, for sameness in mental diet does not create appetite (i.e., curiosity)

(c) Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because his attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.

14. As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should 'tell back' after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.

15. A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising. and the like. Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment. Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.

16. There are two guides to moral and intellectual self-management to offer to children, which we may call 'the way of the will' and 'the way of the reason.'

17. The way of the will: Children should be taught, (a) to distinguish between 'I want' and 'I will.' (b) That the way to will effectively is to turn our thoughts from that which we desire but do not will. (c) That the best way to turn our thoughts is to think of or do some quite different thing, entertaining or interesting. (d) That after a little rest in this way, the will returns to its work with new vigour. (This adjunct of the will is familiar to us as diversion, whose office it is to ease us for a time from will effort, that we may 'will' again with added power. The use of suggestion as an aid to the will is to be deprecated, as tending to stultify and stereotype character, It would seem that spontaneity is a condition of development, and that human nature needs the discipline of failure as well as of success.)

18. The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to 'lean (too confidently) to their own understanding'; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs.

19. Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas. To help them in this choice we give them principles of conduct, and a wide range of the knowledge fitted to them. These principles should save children from some of the loose thinking and heedless action which cause most of us to live at a lower level than we need.

20. We allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and 'spiritual' life of children, but teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"Why aren't children in the early years doing an abundance of writing?"

Back in the 90’s when I was a teacher in the public school system I was trained in the New Jersey Writing Project. We learned to teach children the writing process through something called Writer’s Workshop. We taught children to brainstorm, write, edit, and to publish their work in a finished product. When they were finished they had a story. The process was cumbersome and the stories the children produced were well, childish, bland, flat, and predictable. Being hindered by their lack of knowledge, the grammar and vocabulary was simple. But the product did not matter so much because what really mattered was the process, right? Charlotte Mason had a very different perspective. She called the practice of teaching young children composition an educational futility. 

“I think this great moral teacher here throws down the gauntlet in challenge of an educational fallacy which is accepted, even in the twentieth century. That futility is the extraction of original composition from schoolboys and schoolgirls. The proper function of the mind of the young scholar is to collect material for the generalizations of after-life. If a child is asked to generalise, that is, to write an essay upon some abstract theme, a double wrong is done him. He is brought up before a stone wall by being asked to do what is impossible to him, and that is discouraging. But a worse moral injury happens to him in that, having no thought of his own to offer on the subject, he puts together such tags of commonplace thought as have come in his way and offers the whole as his 'composition,' an effort which puts a strain upon his conscience while it piques his vanity. In these days masters do not consciously put their hand to the work of their pupils as did that 'prodigiously well-read and delightful' master who had the educating of George Osborne. But, perhaps, without knowing it, they give the ideas which the cunning schoolboy seizes to 'stick' into the 'essay' he hates. Sometimes they do more. They deliberately teach children how to 'build a sentence' and how to 'bind sentences' together.” vol 1 pg 244-245

She explains that to expect original thought from a child is to do him great injury and frustrate him because you are asking the impossible.  She goes on to explain that composition comes naturally and therefore does not need to be taught formally.    

'Composition' comes by Nature.––In fact, lessons on 'composition' should follow the model of that famous essay on "Snakes in Ireland"––"There are none." For children under nine, the question of composition resolves itself into that of narration, varied by some such simple exercise as to write a part and narrate a part, or write the whole account of a walk they have taken, a lesson they have studied, or of some simple matter that they know. Before they are ten, children who have been in the habit of using books will write good, vigorous English with ease and freedom; that is, if they have not been hampered by instructions. It is well for them not even to learn rules for the placing of full stops and capitals until they notice how these things occur in their books. Our business is to provide children with material in their lessons, and leave the handling of such material to themselves. If we would believe it, composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed due use of books. They should narrate in the first place, and they will compose, later readily enough; but they should not be taught 'composition.'

Oral narration is the first step to becoming a good writer.  A child of six that is asked to write a composition of any kind is hindered by his lack of writing skills.  He does not know how to spell nor understand punctuation and grammar.   The forming of his letters can become a hindrance as well.  As a result the child must limit his composition to fit his limited skills.  Let him compose orally and you have just removed all of the obstacles to successfully communicate his ideas.   When a child narrates he is telling back what he knows from an experience he has had, a reading selection, nature observation, or picture observation.  When he tells back what he knows from a chapter in history or literature he will incorporate the grammar and vocabulary from the selection read.  As he gets older he will learn to add connections he has made or his thoughts and opinions into his narrations.  If you are presenting the child with living books written by authors using rich language and complex sentence structure your child’s narrations will eventually reflect that which has been model.   It follows that if you are presenting the child with dry, uninspired text books, his oral narrations will reflect the writing modeled in those books.  At the age of 10 or 11 the child will begin composing written narrations.  By this age the child will have spent extensive time reading and listening to models of good writing and are far better equipped to write than a child of younger years. 

There is wisdom in Charlotte Mason’s writings on this topic.  I can see there is also truth in it.  Let your child compose, orally, everyday with all of his books.  Just be sure those books are of a high quality with vital ideas and a rich vocabulary written by one author who is passionate about his subject.  

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