Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

Combining Years with AO

on March 18, 2016

A departure from my current blogs about Parents and Children, but in trying to get my schedule together for next year (can we say OCD??) I thought I should get out how I’m combining things. It will morph and change as I put it together and see the dynamics. But a lot of people struggle with this and I think it’s always good to share what is done.

Ambleside Online is the curriculum we use. It’s as close to a traditional Ambleside/PNEU curriculum as you can find. In other words, purist Charlotte Mason. Do you have to be purist to use her method? Of course not. You can even apply her method, once you understand it, to the curriculum you already have. You may find, as you learn more about and use more living books, that you don’t want to continue with your traditional textbooks or workbooks, but that will come in time, and oftentimes you can still use whatever you have to teach your kids. But I’m a purist (read: snob). So as I’ve grown in my understanding of Charlotte over the past 6 years (wow, I can’t believe it’s been that long), I’ve chosen to use AO and stick with it. Not only that, but the women who run it are a wealth of help, encouragement, information, and inspiration. You won’t find a better cyber support group anywhere.

Ok, promo over.

The curriculum is set up in Years. These are not “grades” as we understand it. On the surface, Year 1 is first grade, since in Charlotte’s school children entered at age 6 and started in Year 1, and we start children in first grade at age 6 traditionally. But as homeschoolers, we can tailor to our children, and some children simply aren’t ready for what Year 1 offers when they are 6 years old. So it helps not to think of the Years as Grades. More like levels. In fact, I have to tailor to my 8yo. She’s in Year 2 this year (she’s second grade, she turned 8 in February). But we’re barely through half of her Term 2 history, and we’re slightly behind in her geography readings. I have to make a command decision–I either try to push through our curriculum, or I go at an even pace and keep her in Y2 in some subjects next year. I’ve chosen the latter. The focus of our education is for her to come away with understanding, which she won’t get if I just get through the readings without stopping to use our timelines, maps, narrations, discussions, etc. She won’t have a relation with her history–she’ll find it a boring chore.  So instead of making her “grade 3”, I will do what I have to to give her a complete understanding of what she is learning.

On to combining.

In 2016-17, I will have the following students: Y5 (C, 11 yo), Y4 (Is, 10 yo), Y2/3 (M, 8 yo), and Y1 (S, 6 yo). Oh, and a 4 yo. That’ll be interesting.

Here is how I will combine things, for now. I’ll explain why for each subject, then list them more concisely. I do this because the “why” means a lot. I’m not just drawing straws here. There is a lot to consider. When combining, you have to consider skills, learning styles (one of my boys cannot narrate when using audio books, while one of mine could listen to three audio books at once and tell me everything), level of ability, time constraints, etc.

Also, note that some subjects aren’t listed. Certain subjects are not included in the AO booklists because they are specific to level and ability–reading, math, grammar, penmanship, etc. My two oldest boys are combined for math, and my two younger kids are in the same math. Everyone’s reading and grammar is dependent on age and skill. Penmanship we will do at the same time but everyone has their own thing to practice. I list those at the end.

ALSO NOTE: I am in no way trying to undo the work done by the fabulous ladies at AO. I’m simply making it work for my family. They have done so much work and if you can follow exactly what they have lined up, I would encourage you to do so. I’m just doing what I need to to stay true while still teaching my children effectively.


This is one subject that I’m keeping very separate for the most part.

C: We never do Trial and Triumph. It’s in some of these years, but we don’t use it. I have different reasons for that, but mainly we read missionary and other Christian biographies on Sundays as a family. So it’s just not part of our school. Beyond that, he’s scheduled for 2 history books and one biography per term. One of those biographies is for Term 2 is about Lilian Trotter. Having looked more into her, I’ve decided to use that for family readings on Sundays, and I’ll spread his other two biographies out over the whole year.

Is: He’ll do the scheduled books, aside from Trial and Triumph. The only challenge will be fitting in Abigail Adams. This year, C didn’t do that one. Only because we couldn’t work it in as he was behind in his other readings. I may have him read it out loud to I next year. We’ll just have to see how things go. I love the freedom to adjust, don’t you?

M: We will spread out Term 3 of Y2 over two terms. If she catches up, we’ll slowly start doing her Y3 schedule. Most likely I’ll just work in the biographies she’s scheduled for. There are many alternatives. Plus we have so many history based books in our house that she would be interested in, I can choose another one to fill the time.

S: He’ll do all his history books, minus T&T, for Y1. The challenge with him is interesting: he already reads at a second grade level. He’s also quick at geography and math, and thinking skills like reasoning, interpretation, and problem solving. No, I haven’t done a thing. I don’t teach formally in the early years. He’s just one of those kids. So could he handle the books of Y2? Oh more than likely. But he’s also still a 6yo boy. In other words, sitting still is not a strong suit, and his fine motor skills (like holding a pencil) are pretty average. So while I’ll ask more of him than I did of his siblings during this year, I’ll also focus on those skills he needs to develop. He can read out loud or to himself more than they could have. But he’ll need accountability and training as much as anyone.


This will be mostly a family subject. Y5 has A Child’s Geography of the World scheduled, along with general geography knowledge from other sources. The thing is, this book is suited for pretty much all the ages. Combined with map work, it will be a complete curriculum that everyone can benefit from. I did edit the schedule because I felt certain sections were redundant–they’ve all learned those other regions in their other readings. But beyond that, this book will be used for our morning family time.

M and S will do Seabird, which is a Y2 book. I did include S in Tree in the Trail this year because he wanted to do it–YOU try keeping a precocious, smart 5/6 yo out of your geography lessons! 😛 So to keep him occupied the rest of this year I’ll read his Y1 book, Paddle to the Sea, to him, and then he’ll be free to enjoy Seabird. It’s scheduled over 1 1/2 terms in Y2, but I’ll spread it out over the whole year. That will give us time to enjoy the maps, learn more about whaling, and read extra books. I think both of them will benefit from the in depth examination.


This subject is heavily scheduled for Y5. Biographies plus 3-4 other books. If I had one child I could do it. But I have 4 doing school, and my Y5, as much as he LOVES science, is a slow reader and has so much else to do. So . . .

C and Is will do all Natural History/Science books together. We are dropping Wild Animals from the first term. We are doing the Y4 schedule of Madame How and Lady Why, because in examining the AO forum, so many moms said they regretted trying to start in the middle (which is where Y5 picks up), if that’s where they were. We had dropped it from this year because I again felt things were too heavy. I’m glad I did–they are enjoying Storybook of Science (the other Y4 book scheduled) but they are behind. So we’ll do the Y4 schedule of MHLW, and if we catch up we’ll dive into the 2nd half of the book. That will actually be our family time book. I am toying with adding Y3’s experiment book to our family time, but we will be making an effort to do nature study using Handbook of Nature Study, plus I have hands on experiment kits and books we can use.

M and S will do Burgess Bird Book, Y1 book, with the companion recently released by Simply Charlotte Mason.


These subjects have been a struggle this year. Each year has it’s own poetry selections, which I had been reading during family time. Literature is also scheduled in each year and I was having my oldest read on his own. He was doing ok, but got behind last year. He enjoys the books, but again, he’s slow, and he has heavy loads. I’ve been incorporating some of them into our evening family story time. But his Y4 and now his Y5 selections are a bit heavy for the little kids (Oliver Twist is one). So my new decision: when I can, I’ll read them to the family at night. When I can’t, the kids have to read them on their own during the summer and winter breaks. They are great books that I want them to read, but it’s just not fitting into our school days/weeks. The only exception will be Age of Fable and Shakespeare; the latter will be part of their school schedule. C and Is will read Fable together, starting with the Y4 schedule, and will also do Shakespeare plays–we will read the stories from Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare as a family, and they will on their own read select scenes from the plays themselves.

S has not heard all the beautiful literature scheduled for Y1, and M didn’t get through all of it last year. So select times she will be invited to sit in and others she’ll have independent work to do while I read with S. Some are fairy tales and I’ll probably invite the toddler to listen as well–good way to occupy her temporarily.

Poetry: M and S will have poems from Y1 schedule to listen to and recite. C and Is will use Y4 poets that we didn’t get to this year for their reading/listening/recitation.

Here it is in a list (using AO’s marking method, *=Term 1, **=Term 2, ***=Term 3):


FAMILY: Lillian Trotter
C (Y5): This Country of Ours (all terms), * ** Lincoln’s World and bio of Lewis & Clark (scheduled is Of Courage Undaunted, but I already have a book, and if it fits I’ll use that instead just to save money), ** *** Carry a Big Stick (bio of Theodore Roosevelt), *** Story of the World V4

Is (Y4): This Country of Ours (all terms), * Poor Richard, ** *** George Washington’s World  and Abigail Adams

M (Y2, gentle transition to Y3): (not by term) Child’s History of the World, This Country of Ours (maybe Columbus by D’Aulaire), Our Island Story, Joan of Arc, other Y3 biographies

S (Y1): Our Island Story, Benjamin Franklin, * ** Fifty Famous Stories Retold, ** George Washington, ** *** Viking Tales, ***Buffalo Bill


FAMILY (Y5): A Child’s Geography of the World, select chapters from Charlotte Mason’s Elementary Geography and Long’s Home Geography

M and S (Y2): Seabird


FAMILY (Y4, current year’s nature study rotation): Madame How and Lady Why (starting with Y4 scheduled), weekly readings from Handbook of Nature Study  plus nature journaling and walks/study, possibly an experiment or focused hands on study

C and Is (Y5): Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 5, Great Inventors and Their Inventions, * bio of Isaac Newton, ** bio of Alexander Graham Bell, ** bio of George Washington Carver (the bios are not selected but suggestions are given; I may read bios during family time, it depends on how heavy our workload turns out, and whether or not we have other things in our schedule during the week)

M and S (Y1): Burgess Bird Book  with companion and activities


FAMILY: Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, select stories we have not read together yet (we have read a few); other books used in rotation for evening family story time; poetry used as time/subject permits

C and Is: Age of Fable (Y4 schedule,moving into Y5); Shakespeare plays: select scenes from plays covered in family time; other books to be read over vacations and breaks; Y4 poetry

M and S: Y1 poetry

S: Y1 books, sometimes M will sit in–Blue Fairy Book, Aesop for Children, and Just So Stories


Other subjects:


We use Mathematics Enhancement Programme, a free curriculum available online. It comes out of Europe so you run into pounds vs dollars and metric vs imperial (US) systems, etc. I don’t often change the wording. For one thing, it’s not the system but the values they are supposed to be adding, and they should early become comfortable with that, especially where money is concerned. For another, an early understanding of the metric system will serve them well, and make it less foreign later on.

C and Is: MEP Y3–they are in this year right now, and it’s hard going. They are learning but it’s been challenging. I fell a little uncomfortable with this, like maybe they should be further along. But I also know they are getting a very deep understanding of the work they are doing and why. I can tell that with this foundation, they will be able to move quickly ahead in future years. So they will most likely stay in Y3 through next year but if they start to find it less of a challenge, I’ll upgrade to Y4

M and S: MEP Y2–they are both very much on track. S has already moved on to abstract thinking, which is funny since he’s younger. But M does have the concepts and processes down, she just sometimes needs hands on and visuals to do her work. Right now they are in Y1 and though we won’t finish by year’s end, I know they will both be ready for Y2.


I use an italics book from Penny Gardner. I’ve been happy with it. All of the kids use it, they just use different lessons depending on their level. We’ll all do penmanship at the same time, just different levels and speeds, with me monitoring their work.


Spelling: In Charlotte Mason, dictation is part of the language arts curriculum. It’s how we teach spelling. After considerable study, I will be giving both C and Is the same work to prepare dictation from, and give them the same dictation, but they will both prepare by focusing on the words they individually are not familiar with. This may present a challenge–what if there are less words for C and more for Is?–but at the same time, in any given grade level class, does everyone have the same spelling ability? Yet all are given the same spelling list and test. So I’m confident this will work by putting them together on this. I’ll move both M and S ahead with their phonics/reading work at the same pace, giving them the same words to spell with tiles. S is ahead in his reading but in spelling he’s exactly where he should be, whereas M is struggling with both. So this should be a nice leveler.

Grammar: Both C and Is will have their own grammar work. Per Charlotte’s method, I will not be starting M on formal grammar lessons yet.

Typing: while not formally part of CM, and not even advocated until between Grades 4-6 by the AO folk, I use Keyboarding Without Tears for all the kids. Really, it’s a way for them to be productively occupied if they have nothing to do between subjects, especially if I’m working with someone else. They just use the level that is appropriate for them.

Foreign language: I’ve been doing Spanish with them since last spring. The older three will continue to work ahead, with C and Is also doing copywork and reading (I’m not sure if I should have M do copywork or reading, we’ll see). S will have it on his own, starting from the beginning, no writing, listening and speaking only. C will continue with Visual Latin, and Is will start.

ARTS (Family work):

Art appreciation: also called picture study or picture talks. We all do the same artist, sometimes using the AO rotation, sometimes using whatever I have. It certainly is less work to use their rotation–as someone else said, they’ve done the work, why reinvent the wheel if I don’t need to?

Art instruction: we are using Artistic Pursuits. I will either continue, move on with the next book, or use another DVD for further instruction. I will also be incorporating brush drawing once a week.

Composer study: we’ll follow the AO rotation if I can get a hold of the works they list.

Handicrafts: the older three are doing sewing right now. I’ll most likely continue, while starting S on the most basic steps, but still do it all at the same time together.

Musical instrument: Is, M, and S are all doing Little Mozarts, a piano curriculum. They are loving it, so I will continue. C was in guitar but it didn’t fit into our spring terms. However, his grandparents gave him a genuine ukulele from Hawaii for Christmas, along with a lesson book. He’s already started on his own and loves it. I’ll teach the other three together while he practices.

Folksongs: another thing we’ll learn together. I had dropped it but it’s been fun adding it back in.

Singing: we’ve been doing Sol-Fa off and on. I hope to be more “on”. 🙂


Plutarch’s Lives has worked out well during family time, but I do need to slow down the readings. So we will continue with that. This is considered Citizenship, also Character Training and History.

Our state requires Health. So we will continue with the Laying Down the Rails books from Simply Charlotte Mason. These are for habit training and have several sections on health and physical habits.

Our state also requires “Social Studies”, which is very vague. But it includes history, citizenship, state studies, Native American studies, government, etc. They are all getting history–world, American, ancient, modern–and citizenship is under Plutarch and habit training. This year I focused on California (oh yeah, that’s our state by the way) readings, but not a whole lot. And that was only because one of mine was technically fourth grade, which is when CA studies are done. Next year, I am considering adding to our family time once a week the following: American studies (anthems, the pledge–obviously, symbols, government, etc), and Native American studies (books I have in the house, maps, visits to local reservations, etc). I also have a book about Canada, and I’d love to incorporate that. We shall see.

Well, that’s it. It’s still going to be a full year, and may mean we can’t rejoin a co-op we were part of. We also may be moving next spring. But this plan works for now. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. 🙂


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