Friday 10 July 2015

Coming Late to Ambleside Online - some thoughts on the high school years

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
'Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I wanted to write about our experience in navigating the high school years for those who are late to start Ambleside Online (AO) and who find themselves having to combine or skip years.
By the time we'd made the move to the AO curriculum, we had already graduated three students who have since completed their respective degrees. I was confident enough just looking at the AO curriculum that it would work for us even though we were late starters. I've seen enough plans and curriculum to know that whatever you do, something will get missed. We can't cover everything but if our intent is to have children who know how to educate themselves, ultimately they will fill in any gaps they think they need to. Isn't that what we all do as adults?

Some background:

When we started using AO as our curriculum four years ago, I placed two boys (15 & 17 years) in Year 8 and my 7 year old daughter in Year 1.
For Benj, who was 12 years of age at the time, I did something a little different - a mix of some AO Year 5 books and selections from previous years that he hadn't read but I wanted him to. (eg. Age of Fable, Madame How & Lady Why - he followed the old one year schedule for this.)
This allowed him to carry on independently so I could focus on my main concern at the time, my soon to be 17 year old (I wrote about him here).
When Benj was 13 years old, I started him in Year 6 because I thought he'd enjoy the books, especially some of the science selections (eg. The Sea Around Us) and because he wanted to do some Modern History. I beefed things up a bit in places, added in some extra Modern History at his request, and his Maths kept pace with his age/grade level.
After completing that year, I did think about jumping him ahead to his actual 'school year' which would have been Year 9, but Ambleside's Years 7 & 8 are two of my favourite places in the AO curriculum. I just think they are exceptional and worthy of inclusion whether a student is 12, 14 or 17 and I didn't want him to miss either of those years.

So, here we are coming to the end of AO Year 8 (his 'official' grade 10) with two years of home education to go. We've been thinking and praying about what to do now, looking at our son's inclinations and talking with him about different options.
He definitely wants to go to university and is interested in an engineering or maths related field, which is not surprising as Dad is an electrical engineer.
He is also very people oriented, musical and creative, and I keep thinking that these affinities may lead to a different scenario - what that could be I don't know, but I don't want to close any doors prematurely.
Four of our five children who have graduated so far made their final decision on a vocational pathway close to the end of their last year of home education and one of them completely surprised us with the direction she took.

We teach our children at home all the way through to a Year 12 equivalent. This means we don't go through the normal channels for school leavers entering tertiary study in Australia, which is via the Higher School Certificate. (See here if you're interested in how we've navigated this previously). So we have to factor this into the plans for our children's final years of home education.

The minimal requirements for most of the universities we'd be looking at would be:

SAT 1 plus 2 Open University units
4 Open University units (the equivalent of 1 Semester)

We'll start off with one unit, which will probably be related to Physics or Maths, and see what the workload is like before adding any more - while at the same time continuing with AO.
Benj would like to study the time period of the two World Wars in his final years of home education and this coincides with AO Year 11.
Some of the ladies on the AO Forum have mentioned how full that year is and how much they couldn't fit in and had to let go. My thoughts at this stage are to spread Year 11 out because it is such a huge area to cover and there are so many good books and other resources available. I also think this is a good time to study Australian politics in more depth.
Year 12 books focuses more on the thoughts and ideas which have influenced history and made Today what it is. It's an important area to consider before entering the university environment and I'd like to add selected books from that year.

University preparation (ie units via Open University) would be spaced out over two years and would be used for credit towards a degree. SAT preparation is mostly timed essays, wide reading and continuing with Maths.

Our school year starts in January and Benj will be finished Year 8 in August of this year and I'm thinking that the rest of the year will be a continuation of the areas of work unrelated to specific AO years eg. Science, Maths, Shakespeare, Picture Study, Plutarch etc with perhaps a biography or two from Years 9 & 10. Benj really likes Churchill's History of the English Speaking People series and would like to finish 'The Age of Revolution' and 'The Great Democracies' before we start Year 11 next year, which would require him to read about two chapters per week.

Additional thoughts:

I've heard many comments over the years about the American content of AO being a stumbling block to Aussie users, more so in the high school years but the only major challenges for us have been Years 4, 9 and 10 where American History (and Government in the high school years) are a focal point.

The AO Forum receives many questions regarding placement for late comers to the curriculum. While it's an important question, and it is helpful to get advice, I don't think there is a right or wrong answer, unless you totally underestimate or overestimate your child's abilities.
Coming in late can trigger panic and a cramming mentality if we're not careful. This video by Andrew Kern helps address this temptation (it's also very encouraging generally & I highly recommend watching it!)

Starting at a lower year than 'grade level' isn't a second-rate choice you should only consider if your child is struggling. It isn't second-rate to treat a child as a unique individual.

I think the bottom line is that a child is challenged but not overwhelmed. For children in the high school years, my concern is that they keep their love of learning and become self-learners, self-motivated and responsible.
Placing Benj in a year that was 'lower' than his official grade level hasn't mattered in the long run. It had enough challenge with a few additions in place and also the added benefit of allowing him to gain more independence because I knew he could handle the content of his books. He was able to go ahead and order his day around what we did as a group, taking responsibility for managing himself.

I knew he could handle his actual grade level but there were other factors that influenced the decision to start where we did with all four children (one being that I would have had to almost re-write Year 9, which I did later on, and Year 10. I didn't have the time or opportunity to do this properly back then.
Subjects such as Maths, were separate from their AO years, and continued on without being affected.
I have no qualms about skipping years 9 & 10 and giving Benj the opportunity of getting stuck into a time period he's really interested in. He has enjoyed the AO years he has done and while I think I could have chosen a couple of different scenarios which would have worked just as well, the choice was prayerfully done and in the bigger scheme of things it hasn't mattered.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps”
Prov. 16:9

I've been reviewing books on History, Literature and Science related to the 20th Century and will post about them and our two year schedule at a later date.


Anonymous said...

You are one step ahead of me Carol. Much wisdom here, I look forward to your reviews.
Have you considered any Australian essayists?

Carol said...

I've got a good book on speeches written by an Aussie, some of them are included in AO's list & there are some by Australians. Essays - not sure but I think I'd like to include something by Noel Pearson. Some interesting stuff here: which may serve the purpose.
Do you have anything in mind?

ChristyH said...

I loved this and it has given me confidence where I have been wavering. I hope you don't mind but I love that poem and am going to paste on my facebook page.

Unknown said...

This is just so helpful, Carol! Prov.16:9 - AMEN. I love your line, "Do the next right thing."

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol,
I just have this thought brewing gently that it would be nice to be able to include some Australian essays/ speeches of significance for the older years... I am sure they are there but need to be searched out because this would not be common to our current educational system.
I have looked at some prime ministerial speeches during the war years, the Boyer lectures, Andrew Olle lectures etc. I have seen Noel Pearson's speech at Gough Whitlam's funeral suggested as being very good! I am sure that with time I will decide on something worthy. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about this ... being the innovative educator that you are:)


amy in peru said...

"It isn't second-rate to treat a child as a unique individual."

i love this, carol!
thanks for this post. you are a wise woman. you're children are blessed! :)

Sarah said...

I love this post. I breathe a sigh of relief as my 14yo son and 10yo are doing AO year 5 this year. It's fabulous to hear how you have chosen your years according to your childs uniqueness and abilities.

Carol said...


Carol said...

You may have seen these already; I haven't had a thorough look through them yet. (I saw Pearson's speech on the monthly essay site, I think, or it may have been somewhere else??): - more recent essays

White Australian Policy; Fraser/Whitlam; Taxation system...
Maybe we should pool our resources & figure out would be worth doing.

Carol said...

Thanks Amy :)

Carol said...

That's one of the reasons why we chose to homeschool. One size doesn't fit all - in clothes or education. X

Carol said...

It's from Elisabeth Elliot & my husband used to quote it to me when I was overwhelmed with babies, toddlers & teaching lots of children!

Silvia said...

Beautiful. Great encouragement even for us, who have been doing this from the beginning, because your experience is freeing, and it reminds me of children are persons.

Much love.

Erin said...

Absolutely fascinated to read your experience. So interesting:)

Actually have just been pouring over AO Gr 11 for my 16yr old. Though I'm afraid I did make changes, partially due to our Faith, partially due to budget constraints and yes the Australian additions, and partially due to his need for remedial work in a couple of areas, and coming in 6mths late I did have to chop and condense. However I've ended up with a result that I'm happy with and grateful to AO for helping me feel confident I'm doing fine. So can't claim I'm doing AO but am doing Gr11:)

by the way looking into Australian politics and was recommended this site

Carol said...

So many things to consider even apart from the academic side of things! Thanks for the link, Erin. Appreciate your experience & your faithfulness in what you've been doing all these years. X

Sharon said...

Loved reading this. I have a 16 year old who is completing her second year of AO - Year 10. She was very well read and stepped into without a hitch. I have a 15 year old who is in her first year with AO and completing Year 7. It is working beautifully for her. We are still working out how to handle the next three years for her but for now just moving steadily onward.

I am loving AO for high school studies.

Carol said...

"We are still working out how to handle the next three years for her but for now just moving steadily onward."
I know it sounds simplistic but I think making a start is the main thing, even if you're not sure how it's all going to work out in the long run. I really don't think you can go wrong with the high school years of AO.

Unknown said...

I love your commentary about handling high school and treating children as the unique individuals they are. It's hard to keep in mind while homeschooling high school, yet we and our children loose so much when we forget. Thank you.

Annie Kate said...

Yes, AO is such a full curriculum that any year is worthwhile, and starting below grade level works beautifully for kids who need to increase their confidence.

Tully Family said...

This is so good- we are entering CM with some older children & lots of littles. I'm thinking through how to do science right now with my 13 & 15 year old. Both have done Apologia's General Science. We began the physical science but they've disliked it. I'm thinking we could do a combo of years 7-8 science from AO & then follow along with their updated science recommendations. Maybe start at the beginning of the books that both years share & then read yr 8 books. I know 13 seems young & maybe it is but I will say science is this boy's strength. They love learning together & it's helped to have groupings of teaching since I have so many children (9)... Do you think it's doable? Or am I crazy?

Carol said...

Hi! I think it's definitely doable. Some of the science is linked to the AO history choices for that year so the only difficulty might be if you were trying to fit the science in to another AO year - if that makes sense. It worked really well to combine my 15 & 17 yr old boys in the same AO year. My two eldest children, boy & girl, always worked well together too. I've always liked to combine everyone for a few things each day regardless of whatever else they were doing and I love mixing the different ages up together.

Tully Family said...

We are not following AO history (I'm using Gileskirk humanities by Dr. Grant).

You mention years 7 & 8 are worth going through no matter how old a child... I'd love to hear how you plan on working out science courses for your child who wants to do college if he starts at yr 7/8. Maybe Australia is different but we need 3-4 credits here: 1 biology, 1 chemistry & 1 physics. I'm not sure how to even write a transcript for this with AO by each year they have a mix.

I'm so encouraged by u saying just begin- I've been a bit overwhelmed with trying to figure it out & I think we need to just start! :) Thank you!

Carol said...

Could you contact me via email? -by here's a link at the top of the page or leave your email address in the comments & I'll get back to you.