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AO Introduction to

Introduction to AmblesideOnline

AmblesideOnline is a curriculum guide and booklist designed to follow Charlotte Mason's method of homeschooling. Each year/grade has a list of books to lay out what resources will need to be collected or purchased, and an optional weekly schedule based on a 36-week school year to break the resources into smaller increments to help with pacing the books throughout the year. There is no fee to use the curriculum or website. Parents may use as much or as little of the booklists and schedules as they like. Some families follow it exactly as laid out, most tweak it a little here and there to use books they already have, or because they prefer another resource over the one listed. And some use just the Picture Study, Composer Study, and other similar components.

"AmblesideOnline is an awesome curriculum. I love the flexibility yet the academic rigor." --Amy S.

AmblesideOnline Will Not Give Your Child a CM Education

Before getting to the nuts and bolts, we'd like to emphasize that we believe in Charlotte Mason's method and the philosophy behind it, and that it's our confidence in her ideas that prompted us to put this curriculum online. But this curriculum is only one tool and was never intended to replace a parent's understanding of the principles behind a CM education, what its goals are, how it works. Curriculum is only part of the picture. Without the understanding of Charlotte Mason's vision, even a curriculum like AmblesideOnline won't give your children a CM education. It will just be another booklist, a collection of texts and subjects to mark off a checklist. We designed this curriculum so that, instead of spending your time trying to figure out the best CM-quality living books to use, your children can jump into their schooling right away and you will be freed from the burden of trying to create your own CM curriculum, so you can spend your time familiarizing yourself with Charlotte's Mason's vision for raising broad-minded, thinking children who are as concerned about their duty to others, as they are their own rights. No booklist can do that alone--it takes an understanding of all the other components of Charlotte Mason's method. For that, we strongly urge you to read her books, The Original Homeschool Series. They come in a six-volume set, but, if you don't have a copy, you can read them online. If the language is too archaic, you can purchase or read (for free) a modern-language translation. Or, if you want to start with a quick overview, you can read these concise summaries online or purchase the collected summaries in one book. Not sure which volume to start with? Click here for help. There's even an online study group on our Forum so you don't have to read them alone!

First Things First

We assume that families coming to AmblesideOnline are at least vaguely familiar with what a CM education is. If not, you can get a quick run-down here.

We assume that you already know how to get started with homeschooling--what the laws are for your state, whether you need to register with someone, what kinds of records you're required to keep, where to find support. If this is your first experience with homeschooling, you can find regional laws here.

How Does This Work?

We've tried to make it easier for families by combining certain subjects: Bible study, Nature Study and observation, Picture Study (art appreciation), Composer Study (classical music appreciation), Folk Songs and Hymns. Shakespeare and Plutarch's Lives (biographies of Greeks and Romans) are also done together, but students don't need to begin those until fourth grade, or whenever they begin Year 4. Younger children do simplified versions of Shakespeare stories. Those are already included in their booklists and schedules in Years 1, 2 and 3.

Then, each student will have their own history, literature, poetry, geography, and science schedule of books. You'll need to add in your own math curriculum and a foreign language program. Each child will also need to do copywork (transcription) and dictation at their own level. Copious reading, copywork and dictation set the groundwork for language arts. We do not recommend adding language arts programs to this curriculum until Year 4, when grammar may be added. You do not need a spelling workbook, reading comprehension sheets, lessons on writing book reports, or creative writing curriculum. Some people like handwriting curriculums, such as A Reason for Writing, or Italics, and we see no harm in using them, but even those aren't necessary. To read more about how a CM education teaches language arts, read about it on our FAQ.

If you're planning to use AmblesideOnline, your first stop should be the the FAQ for some information about the curriculum and basic instructions. It is not advisable to attempt this curriculum without first reading the FAQ. Homeschoolers hoping to raise their children to be readers, as Charlotte Mason urged, owe it to themselves to take the first step in reading by looking over the instructions for the curriculum they plan to use. The FAQ has all the questions that people routinely ask, with detailed answers and explanations collected from two years of responses to user questions.

What do I need to do to start, what does it cost, and where do I get the books?

There is no charge for using the books, booklists, or any other material found on this website or offered through our list. You don't even need to notify AmblesideOnline or get our permission to use this curriculum. You may join the forum for support or to ask questions if you wish, but even that isn't required.

You'll need to gather your resources: a math program, a phonics program if you have pre-readers, and your books. To do that, decide which Year your child will be doing and click on that Year's booklist to see the resources we've recommended. If your child is just starting first grade, begin with Year 1. If your child is older but has been in public school or isn't used to reading 'heavy' books, you might want to consider a year or two below your child's grade. This is a challenging curriculum, and many of the books are advanced, so Year 7 books will be harder than what most public schooled seventh graders are reading. Don't worry about not having time to finish all twelve years; a child graduating after completing Year 9 of this curriculum will have read the equivalent of senior high books. Peruse the different levels and pick the Year that your child can handle. If your child is already in seventh grade or older, we suggest that you begin by spending a year easing into this with our Pre-7 Booklist, and then begin next year with Year 7, even if your child is a high schooler. Pre-7 lists the most important books from the first 6 years that your child should have read before going on to Year 7. Pre-7 is a nice transition into this curriculum for older students.

To view an overview of each level with options to see the year's booklist and weekly schedules based on a 36-week school year, click on the appropriate Year:

Year 0 (K)
Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5
Year 6
Year 7
Year 8
Year 9
Year 10
Year 11
Year 12

The vast majority of scheduled books are available for free as online e-texts. A few books will have to be purchased; they can be purchased from most large booksellers, such as or any general homeschool bookseller. If a book is only available from specialized publishers, there will be a link on the booklist to guide you to that seller. Otherwise, you can buy from whatever source that works best for you.

Many books are available as free texts, but are also still in print if you prefer to buy a 'real' book.  Etexts can either be read right off your computer screen, or printed and stapled or bound together to make your own copy.  For more information on printing and using free etexts, click here.

Carol H. has a wonderful tutorial for parents just starting with AmblesideOnline; click here. Included on her site are her reasons for using AO and lots of AO helps.

Question: I just discovered the CM and, although my children are still only 5 and 6, it's so unlike what we've been doing. The amount of information can be overwhelming - where/how do I begin? I'm hoping to begin AO in the fall.

Three AO moderators responded:

My children are 10 (5th grade) and 7 (2nd grade) and sometimes I wish I had just known about CM and AO right from the start. We are doing AO yr 2 this yr. The best advice I can give you is to take this time to read Miss Mason's writings, they are available in modern English and downloadable at the AO website (thank You Leslie!) or you can purchase the set.
Also I would suggest making small changes, I find that baby steps work best for me. Since you said that this is totally different than the way you presently do things, start this year and change one thing, let you and your kids get used to that and then make another small change. That way next year will go more smoothly since everything won't be new. Also know that your first year may seem disorganized and seem to lack flow, it did for me. I am now halfway through yr 2 and I finally feel the flow setting in. I have found a rhythm that works for me and my girls and we are settling in. Take comfort that you found it now and not when they were in High School!
Hang in there!

Actually, I am a little jealous of you, since you have found AO so early!! We began homeschooling after my daughters finished 4th and 1st grade in ps, and didn't find AO for another 3 years. But we were just discussing things last night, and both daughters were so full of enthusiasm for how things are going this year. Even my reluctant reader, 11 yo doing year 2, was laughing about the characters in Wind In the Willows, and can't wait to find out what happens next in The Little Duke. (advisory ladies, I thanked God for you. Again.) That said, you don't mention if it is your intent to continue with what you are doing until starting AO. This is just what I would do if I were you, but knowing what I know now. I would start reading the CM series, they are on the AO website, there is also a modern paraphrase if you want to use that to begin.
I don't know what kind of school stuff you do right now, but I would just do year 0 with both children until fall, adding in phonics for your 6-year-old (unless he is already reading on his own) Spend lots of time outside, and read lots of books together. Print out and read the FAQ page at AO, then read it again, then read it again. I am always going back to that for encouragement and answers. In the fall, I would start year 1 with your 6-year-old and keep doing year 0 with the younger one until the following year. This plan would give your kids a chance to "deschool" and be ready to start this new, exciting way of learning. And it gives you until September to read up on CM, collect books and get ready to jump in. Welcome, and feel free to ask lots of questions.

I think you are in a good place with your children being young while you discovered CM and AmblesideOnline. Also, since you do not plan on begining with AmblesideOnline until the fall, why don't you spend some time reading the CM Series Vol's 1 and 2. They will apply to your age of children. As you read more of her writings you will learn how to apply her principles and begin to formulate in your head how things will change within your home and homeschool. I am new this year to AmblesideOnline and have a 7 year old and 5 year old. I am still learning and discovering as I go. The forum is so helpful with answering questions. There are lots of veteran moms with much CM wisdom. I would say, sit back and enjoy some time digging into what CM says about younger ages and how to teach them. I know it may seem overwhelming, but as you spend some time getting to know the website and once you have the books listed for year 1, it really is quite easy to follow. There are schedules already made out for each year so you don't even need to make one yourself. Have fun and relax. We are here to help.

Online Support

You can find support on our active online Forum.

There are also separate email lists for AO members with special circumstances, religious preferences and regional interests.

Any further questions?

Go to our FAQ (click here) and find answers to more questions you may have about scheduling more than one child, implementing nature study, science, math, and foreign language, what we use for history, record-keeping, and much more. There's also a page of responses to questions that new AmblesideOnline members asked on the old email list. You can read that here.

For questions about which Year/Level to start at, read these responses from veteran users, and Cheri's article about AO placement for students coming from a textbook education. You can also read these reviews and suggestions from current members. There's also a page of Suggestions for Beginners. There are even some examples of how members have scheduled their days here. For more basic CM starters, you can also read Cindy's blog post, Charlotte Mason Resources for the Beginner (gone, but you find it on the internet archive.). For a fun look at AO from our old email list, read You Know You're Hooked On AO When . . .

We hope that this helps you get started!

Other Helpful Links

Alphabetized booklists Links to formatted etexts, blank schedule forms, and related email lists Site Map - A list of pages in this site
Making AO Work: The Gory Details on Brandy's blog

Canadian users: click here.