Ambleside Online

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AO Compared to Other Curricula AmblesideOnline.org

How does Ambleside Online compare to other curriculums/methods?

In a nutshell, here's what we generally hear about AO: Pro's of AO are its price, its online support group, a great booklist, rigorous education that challenges students, flexibility, well-rounded inclusion of culture, slow pace of reading to allow savoring of books, and closely follows CM's own schools. Cons are that it requires some planning (a plus if you like flexibility, but not if you need something scripted and planned down to the day), can be overwhelming because there's so much information on the website, and doesn't keep the whole family in the same history rotation.

LivingCMinCA has written a blog post that may help describe some of how CM/AO is different from other curriculums.

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I'm a curriculum junkie. [Other curriculums] seem like they're trying to SELL you their plan along with a nice list of resources. It still blows my mind that Ambleside Online was put together by a group of moms who really want to help others implement CM education without packaging it and marketing it to make a profit. WOW!! Almost everything needed is available online for free. I'm just so very thankful for those who had the vision and generosity of spirit to bless so many.

Now, I'm also interested in classical education. In fact when I began my homeschool journey it was Karen Andreola's book on CM that set me on fire and gave me a vision for our homeschool. However, when it came down to the nitty gritty I couldn't figure out exactly what to do and I was really doubting myself. So I switched to following a more classical approach a la Veritas Press and The Well Trained Mind. After stumbling around with that for a while I finally discovered Ambleside Online. Ambleside Online seems like the perfect blend of CM and classical. It seems like CM was just trying to breathe life into what was a classical education back in her day.

Honestly, one of the reasons I left CM back in the beginning was because I thought it was too relaxed, not rigorous enough...more like un-schooling. I confess I didn't read CM's original writings and may have misinterpreted Karen Andreola's book altogether. I have found Ambleside Online to be wonderfully rigorous, but the short lessons and the student-directed narrations as opposed to teacher-directed multiple choice tests make it ever so gentle despite the meaty readings. I think AO has perfectly blended CM and classical and stands head and shoulders above [curriculums for purchase] because it is freely given to whosoever will accept it.

Rebecca in Arkansas

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I don't know that I'd agree at all that Ambleside Online is a blend of CM and classical, if what is meant is "modern classical a la Well Trained Mind." I think there may be some methods/books used by both philosophies but these two philosophies are in fact QUITE different "from the roots up" Even when a method looks "the same" it is often used with different goals and purposes by the two philosophies.

Just thinking of something as basic as "what is a child" and then address that from the perspective of the two philosophies, and I think you'll begin to see differences.

One thing that makes me grit my teeth is the apparently common assumption, from reading ABOUT Charlotte, that CM is this sort of gentle unschooling/tea and crumpets and wildflowers but no WORK. I hear all the time, "I love CM for the younger years but I want my older students to be CHALLENGED and to have a RIGOROUS education so I'll do Classical now." LOL These people, if dropped into a CM school in the later forms, would simply fold under the workload. CM is challenging, demanding, and hard work, which should be nevertheless enjoyable to the children most of the time. But enjoyable because the will and mental powers have been trained to see the whole world of delicious ideas out there and so naturally desire that world, and because it makes efficient use of drives and interests normal to the child; NOT "enjoyable" because it's incredibly easy or undemanding.

Anyway, from what I can see, Ambleside Online is a faithful representation of what was done in CM's schools. I've seen/looked at/even experienced for a short time some of the "combination CM/Classical" curriculums, but from what I can express in a short email, they [combination CM/Classical curriculums] are mainly Classical gentled a bit, and with nature study and copywork/narration/dictation tossed in to "make it CM." Not that this is bad or evil or unnecessary in the homeschool world---in my opinion, the more variety out there the better homeschool families will be able to find their own ways. And not that I think there should be some sort of litmus test to apply the term "CM" to oneself (OK, if I do 40 percent CM and 30 percent unit study and 30 percent workbooks, am I "CM'? LOL, who cares?) But if one wants the results that Charlotte Mason achieved, then one should apply her methods. If you mess with the mix, you'll just naturally get different results. That might be fine--maybe you WANT different results. But you should be prepared. Whole wheat flour is terrific. It doesn't "ruin" it to mix it with white flour, but the resulting bread will not give you the same fiber wallop or nutritional profile. If you want the fiber wallop, go for the whole wheat.  ;-)

OK, maybe a strange analogy, must mean I'm hungry. LOL Anyway, I started out this journey as a Well Trained Mind homeschooler. Then began "mixing in" some CM and other principles; then became increasingly convicted that I needed to decide just what it is I desired for my children, and then have the courage to take those steps accordingly. Reading Charlotte Mason's ACTUAL writings over and over has given a different perspective on many things than I used to have.

Michelle D.

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I am a new Charlotte Mason homeschooler in that I have only been trying to implement her methods into our homeschool for two years. My son was in public school for K-5th grade so we are also new homeschoolers! Charlotte Mason was the very first method I learned about and Ambleside is the only curriculum I have used with my now 12 year old son. We had plenty of experience with textbooks and workbooks in the public school and that wasn't working well for us. I wanted something different and Charlotte Mason seemed like such a perfect fit. Ambleside Online has been a blessing to us - in that it is free and that it is so well-devised and pre-planned. I heartily recommend it to anyone who is looking for a Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum. It is not for everyone ~ and sometimes people think that it is the "only" Charlotte Mason curricula out there. This is not the case.

If you haven't read Miss Mason's actual volumes, I suggest you do so (you can read them online now at this link - you can also see her volumes in Modern English). I believe reading her volumes is critical to understanding her method and developing a proper perspective on her educational philosophy. There is so much more to her philosophy than the curriculum and without a firm understanding of 'why you do it', it is very hard to know how to create or replicate her actual curriculum. Once you 'get it' though you will see that the curriculum is secondary to her methodology. In essence, the curriculum, whether self-created or purchased/borrowed, will simply flow out of the understanding of her educational philosophy.

With this said, I think that there is no "best" curriculum to teach a Charlotte Mason education. I know many families that use Sonlight, Tapestry of Grace, and everything in between. When asked if they are teaching their children using Charlotte Mason's methods, they will say YES! I know just as many Ambleside Online members who would say the same thing.

If you are looking for an inexpensive curriculum and one that is well-designed, then Ambleside would be a very good choice. Caveat Emptor: it is not easy to use! I say that with lots of love in my heart for the Ambleside Online Advisory ladies - they are awesome. Ambleside Online is well-planned but it is not 'out of the box' user-friendly. It assumes that parents want full control of their children's daily lives (which is such a good thing) and that moms want total freedom and flexibility to schedule, plan and organize their day. It also is non-graded which makes placement of older students extremely difficult. If you are starting at the beginning, it is much easier to just flow along with the program. Older students can do the curriculum but moms have to be willing to just jump in and backtrack a bit on history or try and create their own plan to build on their previous curriculum.

It does work, however, and it is a wonderfully rich and varied curriculum. It is also free to use and many, many families take all or part and create their own curriculum from the booklists. You will not find directions or lesson plans, so bear that in mind. You will find general instructions such as 'read x pages this week' or 'spread this reading over 12 weeks.' It affords flexibility which is why so many families like it. You can pick and choose and decide how many pages to read or which books to skip based on the needs of your child. And because it is non-graded, children can enter the curriculum at their skill level versus entering at a grade. Many families combine children into one or more levels and/or spread a year into longer periods. It works well for slow learners and advanced learners and those in between.

I love Ambleside Online in that I can do what I want with the schedule and booklists. I feel sometimes as though I am charting my own course and would prefer to "see" a general lesson plan to know if I am doing all that I could be doing. I also would love to see what others are doing in their homes. I am a visual person so being able to "see" it in progress, would do wonders for my self-confidence.

My .02 cents is to do what you feel would work best for your family. If you feel you need more detailed and planned lessons, then go for one of the other curriculum's mentioned. If you want total freedom but don't want to try and do your own curriculum, give Ambleside Online a try. Most importantly, keep in mind that there is "no best," "no right" and "no perfect" curriculum out there. Your heart intentions are what matter most - do what is good for you and your children and just let the rest (worry, schedules, planning, etc.) go. Enjoy the journey and experience every day as it was meant to be: savored and praised.

HTH!

Carol :o)

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Sonlight considers itself to be a "living books" curriculum and in that regard it is very CM-ish. In fact, if you ask many Sonlight users, they will say that they do indeed teach using Charlotte Mason's methods. Sonlight doesn't follow a true Charlotte Mason schedule (you can see those true CM schedules over on the Ambleside Website -- under the actual PNEU Programmes used in Miss Mason's schools) but it does offer a literature-based curriculum and incorporates narration, copywork, etc.

I have never used Sonlight but have many friends who do. They love it. I looked at it initially but decided that it was going to be too expensive for us. Also, it didn't appeal to me and I tend to be quite picky about certain things. Anyway, if you are comfortable with Sonlight there is no reason for you to change from it. You might want to spend some time reading through Miss Mason's Original Homeschooling Series and get a better feel for her methods. In time, you may decide to move more closely to her ways and then desire to change from your current course. Or you may just stay the course you are already on.

I think it is very important to remember that there is no "right" way to teach a Charlotte Mason education. I guess if you followed her programmes exactly as written and used the same books, you would have the right to say that you were following a pure Charlotte Mason curriculum. However, that is not going to be possible as many of the books she taught from are not in print and are very rare finds. So you have to settle for the next best thing. This might be to use Ambleside Online (which is what we use) or Sonlight or any other "living" books curriculum. You can even do your own thing and merge different types of curriculum (eclectic) and still teach using Charlotte Mason's methods.

You must decide what will work best in your situation. I know that in my homeschool, Ambleside Online is our "best" fit. I have one very gifted student and he has special learning needs (he needs challenging books to read) and a curriculum that really pushes him to think in bigger ways. He could read any textbook and reguritate the contents (he has an almost photographic memory) but he wouldn't really "enjoy" the study. He would be checking it off his list so he could move on to his real interests (music or computers). So for us, the very idea of teaching using a slow and savory approach to the books has been the key. My son is forced to slow-down and read for content and depth. It has been a wonderful process and he just lights up when he comes to tell me about his reading.

We like Ambleside Online for the reason that it is free and that it relies on a good mix of new and old books. The old books are all classical literature and history. The new ones are a bit of both. In all cases, the reading is challenging and therefore really stretches the child's understanding and builds strong vocabulary. We also like the pace. In other curriculum, books are gobbled up and read very quickly. In Ambleside Online, books are spread over many weeks. This allows for a slower paced day, more free time in the afternoons and generally and more low-key learning experience. The rush, rush, rush has been replaced with a savoring of learning. The other big plus for me is that everything is planned out for you. I could spend hours designing my own curriculum and I will admit that sometimes I lean this way. But I have such peace when I use what is already setup. I now have a good schedule for us and our school runs comfortably. So for us, using Ambleside Online takes all the effort out of planning and preparing a curriculum.

I would just encourage you to consider your heart. The Lord has a story for you -- and it will be what he wants for your homeschool. It will not be like my story or that of anyone else on this list. You must trust Him and then obey. If he calls you to stay with Sonlight, then you must do this. If he leads you to Ambleside Online, then follow his lead. He knows what is best for you and your children.

~Carol H. :o)

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One mom asked about differences between Ambleside Online, Sonlight, Tapestry Of Grace, and My Fathers World. These are some of the responses that were posted to the email list (all included here with permission from the authors - of course!)

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I have only used Ambleside Online so I cannot really comment on the use of other curriculum's you listed. I can, however, say that of the curriculum's you are thinking about, Ambleside Online is the only one that is 100 percent Charlotte Mason in its scope, its sequence, and its theory/methodology. Ambleside Online is different from the others in that it is based off the teaching methods of Charlotte Mason and the entire structure of the curriculum is intentionally similar to her PNEU school programmes. Ambleside Online uses some of the same books, follows similar schedules, and encourages parents to teach of the curriculum using her methods only. If you are wanting to teach your children using CM methods, then you need to go with Ambleside Online or another CM-like curriculum (some other similar programs are simplycharlottemason.com, materamabilis.org, or charlottesdaughters.org).

If you are unsure what CM is and is not, read this helpful file.

Tapestry of Grace and My Father's World are unit studies and are classically inspired. My Father's World combines some CM with classical -- but mostly it is an integrated program for multiple age-use. These are really popular program choices. CM didn't advocate the use of unit studies and believed that they forced student connections via their integrated approach. She believed that the student should draw their own conclusion and make connections through the books only. Many families like unit studies, especially in the lower elementary years, and appreciate the multiple age groupings which allow them to teach all their children with one yearly program.

Sonlight is a literature-based reading curriculum. It differs from Ambleside Online in the methodology used. It uses some CM tools like narration, but is more traditional in its overall approach. It is another very popular curriculum, though some people find the pacing and sheer number of books suggested to be a bit much (most Moms I know use the books, but alter the suggested reading schedule).

My suggestion is for you to decide what type of teaching method you want to use in your home. There is no "right or wrong" answer; there is only the one that works best for your family. The choice is up to you and no one is going to tell you that what you decide is wrong or any less better than Ambleside Online.

~Carol H. :o)

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I haven't used Tapestry of Grace as a full curriculum, but I did my own thing before Ambleside Online using their booklists. Their booklists look fantastic at first glance, and really they do have quite a few good selections. My kids enjoyed the activity books included...but I felt that I was continually trying to make sure I had the supplies for this or that activity. And then, when we really got into the books, I was a little less impressed. I found myself choosing books from higher levels, even though my kids were first grade and under, because the lower grammar selections just seemed kind of twaddly. I think Tapestry of Grace is designed for more independent reading even by very young students. Ambleside is written to the child's comprehension level, not his reading level. Also, just the richness of language was not there in Tapestry like it is in Ambleside Online. I tried reading the beautifully illustrated Unwitting Wisdom (an anthology of Aesop's Fables retold) to my kids, and they asked me to stop about halfway through the book. Milo Winter's Aesop, on the other hand, I had to get a second copy because they take it to bed with them and I can't find it for school.

(That is, I was reading a couple fables a week at supper time...not trying to get through all of Unwitting Wisdom in one sitting.)

The really great things about Tapestry of Grace in my opinion are the fact it's designed to use the same history rotation for all ages, and you can go through their booklists and find a book about nearly any history topic for any age. I love the focus on Bible and Church history and the books on customs of the Jews and so on. But the Ambleside Online books have made my daughter say, "Wow! THIS is a school book??" And there is not a lack of Bible and Church history in Ambleside Online...it's just not as strong an emphasis as in Tapestry of Grace.

All that said, I can't speak to the organization of Tapestry of Grace, because I didn't feel the need to get the actual Tapestry book.

Julie in TX

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One major difference between Ambleside Online and all the other curriculums I have looked at (Tapestry of Grace, Sonlight, etc) is that with Ambleside Online you use the same book for 12 weeks. So, instead of reading 12 different history books (a new one each week), you read the same books (maybe 2 "spines" and 2 biographies) for 12 weeks! I really love this approach of truly interacting with the authors and the books themselves.

We have always been book gobblers at our house. Now with Ambleside Online, we are savoring these wonderful books! The analogy I heard (probably on this list LOL) was that gobbling a book (reading it in a week) is like driving through a neighborhood. You can tell a bit about it, and get the general feel. Savoring a book (reading it in 12 weeks) is like walking through the same neighborhood. You can tell what the people are like, maybe even interact with some of them, you can name the stores, probably even stopped to look in the windows! I love this analogy!!!!!

This to me is a HUGE difference!

Also, in looking through my Tapestry of Grace friend's bookshelves, they use a lot fewer "living" books. I don't generally consider Usborne, DK, and Kingfisher books to be on par with the type of books CM advocated.

HTH,
Debi Z

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I have used Sonlight too and felt the books were not as deep and everything was so rushed! I don't do all the extra busy work stuff already as I was using it CM style (it really isn't CM) and found Ambleside Online about a month or so into our year 1. I switched. Never looked back.

I have looked at the other programs you mentioned and remain so impressed with Ambleside Online that nothing else compares. It truly is the only curriculum I have found that is really CM, in my humble opinion.

As for the Exploring Creation series, it is good. Ambleside Online recommends it as an option for science beginning in year 3.

Lani

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I have used at least one year of all of these curriculums. It really depends on what your goal is. I respectfully disagree with Carol here (an unusual occurrence), and say that I do not believe that either Tapestry of Grace or My Father's World are unit study curriculums. They are integrated curriculums based on a history cycle (4 yrs for both if I am not correct).

The major difference between the other curriculums and Ambleside Online is that they all rush through books, while Ambleside Online uses less books and goes through them more slowly, savoring the books, and developing a relationship with the books, the stories, and the characters.

What I miss about the other curriculums is that they do a better job of covering world history. I really do miss that feature. I also miss the 4 yr history cycle. Personal preference here. I think that the books used by Ambleside Online are on a higher level and are more meaty and challenge children's minds. I also like the fact that nature study and fine arts are so well covered in Ambleside Online. Tapestry of Grace does that to some extent, as do the others, but I think Ambleside Online does a better job of it, spending a whole term on an artist and really looking at the paintings (I still fall short in this area, but I do like it, and music is similar).

The big advantage to Tapestry of Grace over all the others is that you can teach the same subject matter to all your children at the same time, except at different levels. If that is something you wish to do, go with Tapestry of Grace. My Father's World does that to some extent, but not to the degree that Tapestry of Grace does.

I do not regret changing from the other programs to Ambleside Online. I feel that my children are quite challenged and are learning a lot. I have tweaked Ambleside Online somewhat to fit my family's needs a bit more, and I do not always do things in quite a CM way - I still have a lot to learn and lack discipline myself.

Sonlight does not follow an organized history cycle, and even though I love the books, I like Ambleside Online better. I do like the organizational structure of Tapestry of Grace better than that of My Father's World, and even Sonlight. But Ambleside Online is well organized also.

They all use living books, and unlike others I have no objection to Usborne and DK books, in fact my children quite like them. But the depth of those books does not really compare to the depth of the Ambleside Online selections.

I don't know if this is at all helpful, but those are some of my impressions of the 4 programs.

Christina

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I have to admit that we were unschoolers until we jumped into Ambleside Online (our oldest was in 8th grade). So, I do not have experience using Tapestry of Grace, Sonlight, etc.

That being said, every curriculum we ever tried to use (Learning Language Arts through Literature, Five in a Row, as well as a myriad of math programs) were laid down after a very short period of time. The only curriculum we had ever stuck with was our own take on Miquon with our oldest 3. When we decided to try Ambleside Online, I committed to 1 term. I thought (dh and kids agreed LOL) it would be a miracle if we made it a WHOLE 12 weeks :-)

Well, this year we will start our third year! While it can look quite intimidating on paper (the website itself is huge!!!), it has not been difficult to implement at all! The 12 week schedules (available in the Yahoo groups files) are amazingly time saving!!! We revise them before each term based on which books we will use (I am not sure we have used all the books in any term yet) and then they tell us exactly what to read each week!

I won't get into all the details of how we schedule things. Suffice it to say, every family is different. Some moms make multiple spreadsheets, daily schedules, and lesson plans (some even use them LOL). Other moms just use the reading lists and get through the assignments as the spirit leads (sorry, I got carried away there heehee).

I am NOT one of those "have it all together" moms! I figure if I can do this, anyone can! My kids figure it must be the most user-friendly curriculum EVER if their mom can stick with it LOL.

Debi Z

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I have used all the programs you mentioned except Tapestry of Grace. I used Sonlight for 4 years with my oldest, but when it came time to add in my younger two I had a dilemma. The pace and volume of reading in Sonlight is hard to keep up with unless you have only one or two children and maybe stretch each core out a little. Ambleside Online has an easier pace to follow and is organized better in terms of the schedule, in my opinion. When it came time to school three children I had to reevaluate my goals in homeschooling. One of our big reasons for homeschooling was to have more time together as a family and to build better relationships. That being said, I don't want my children all going their seperate ways for the day to do their work. I also don't want to spend a lot of time planning and preparing (which, by the way, is why I haven't used Tapestry of Grace).

Sonlight and Ambleside Online are both wonderful curriculums, but very hard to teach all your children together using these by themselves. If I wanted my children to work independently I would probably choose Ambleside Online for K-8 and Sonlight for highschool. So, we are now using My Father's World - we LOVE it. I find it to be very CM friendly including copywork/dictation, short lessons, no grammar in the early years, living books, written and oral narrations, art and music study, nature study, handycrafts - and everything is put on a daily schedule with teaching helps. They also provide a strong international/missionary focus. School is to be done early in the day to make time for other pursuits. All children in grades 2-8 can be taught together using one level. Like someone else said it is not really a unit study as language arts, math and some science are not integrated into the 'unit'. Language arts uses Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons (we use Queen Homeschool instead) plus narration and copywork which go with the unit. Writing Strands and and an all in one grammar course are introduced later on. Math is your choice. Science is Apologia plus extras. You can choose your own readers and read-alouds. This alows you to save money by using the library or online books or you can buy the books of your choice. We are using Ambleside Online selections as our read-alouds as they fit into the topics we are studying (many Ambleside Online books are used as part of the units). Some years I will use Sonlight readers packages for independent reading.

Alison in Canada

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"I do not believe that either Tapestry of Grace or My Father's World are unit study curriculums. They are integrated curriculums based on a history cycle (4 yrs for both if I am not correct)."

I must say that I agree with Carol's assessment here though as all the literature and everything correspond to the history- that is, by definition, a unit study- just that the 'unit' is a historical period . . . in my opinion, this feeds the child the connections rather than allow them to come to it themselves.

Now, I am not saying not to read literature from the same time period being studied at all... just that doing so exclusive to other literature is limiting to the child.

just my humble opinion...

Lani

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I think homeschoolers feel that the terms Unit Study and Integrated curriculum represent two different approaches to learning. Some consider unit studies as separate themed items, like reading about horses or other interest based subjects. Others feel that whenever you combine more than one subject area, like history and literature, you have an integrated study.

Interestingly, Tapestry of Grace and My Father's World both received awards in 2007 from Old School House magazine as being the no.1 and no.2 (respectively) in the "Unit Studies" category. I guess it really does depend on your perspective and whether or not you consider these programs to be unit studies or integrated or both.

~Carol H. :o)

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I used Sonlight for 3 years (2nd, 3rd, and 4th, to be explicit). My last year of Sonlight overlapped my first year of Ambleside (PUO). It was the biggest relief to stop racing through books with nary a moment to think about them. Many of the Sonlight books are good - some of them are even great - but it's difficult to appreciate the finest food if you are already stuffed to the brim. There was just no time to digest all the info from the Sonlight books.

That said, I think Sonlight can be used in a very CM way, with narration, etc, for the most part-but those Usborne books for the majority of history/science in year 2 nearly killed me. Since I've been part of the Advisory, I have learned how very, very difficult it is to choose from among many possible resources. It's hard to say "no" to things that really are very good. So, I sympathize with the folks at Sonlight. But I still think they schedule too many books, too fast.

No one can really say which curriculum is best for any given family. Unlike Sonlight, Ambleside has no money-back guarantee. :) On the other hand, we don't charge as much up front, either. ;-) Sonlight has been "in business" longer than Ambleside, and they have many satisfied customers. And they've changed a lot over the years, as they worked out the "bugs." I know it's hard to be looking seriously at curriculum, and wanting the best for your child, and making these decisions.

I have never looked back. There are things about Sonlight in the upper years that I didn't want to deal with. I am much happier with the Ambleside program, which follows CM's ideas so closely. I'm not sure just what philosophy Sonlight claims for itself. Maybe none - they don't call themselves classical or CM. They are a "living books" curriculum, but Ambleside is more than that. We have tried to emphasize again and again that children need to develop "living relationships" with all areas of knowledge, and the Ambleside literature choices are always made with respect for a child's intelligence. (I'd much rather spend our poetry time with Emily Dickenson than the book of silly food poems we got with SL 3.)

I'm not sure how helpful this was, but those are my opinions and experience - for what it's worth.

~Karen

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The Advisory is unable to stay updated and provide reviews about all the various resources for CM families. You can see a slew of comments about all kinds of programs at HomeSchoolReviews.com.