Beginning AO With Older Students

Starting with a seventh grader

We are a family of 9. Our children are 18, 17, 14, 12, 11, 6 and 3. The baby is our only boy. I used to add 'so far,' but since he is 3 1/2 it really does look like he's going to be our caboose.

We are in our 13th year of hsing. My oldest two are doing our own version of CM at home. Our 14 year old is profoundly retarded and doesn't read or speak, so we focus for her on things like self-help skills. Our 12 and 11 year old are in years 6 and 5 of AO, and the 6 and 3 year old spend the majority of their time playing outside, making messes inside, and distracting everybody else. <g>

Just to complicate matters, AO does have a Year Seven posted, and year 8 is so close to finished that I can taste it and years 11 and 12 are currently scattered over my morning room table in various stages of development. The upper years has its own e-mail list with an emphasis on jr high/high school. To subscribe to the list send an e-mail to:

Whichever year you decide to use in the end, I would take a look at the House of Education Year 7, because there are some extras there that aren't in the younger years (current events, more specifics on nature study, for just two examples) that you may wish to include should you do one of the lower years. There is also a list there of the books from the lower years that you don't want to miss. So you could do the Pre-Year 7 as free reading in combination with year 7 if you like.

As for which year - I really can't answer that for you. I can tell you that I think, like most curricula, year 4 is a jump in difficulty. So I would think you definitely don't want to put your two in anything lower than 4.

You'd need to look over the books and see what they've already read and what falls in with their reading levels. The years only roughly correspond to grades - because following Charlotte Mason's methods results in an advanced curriculum. So you'd need to look at a couple sample books from a year and compare that to your children's reading ability.

You can also combine years - I sometimes have added books from the lower years to my girls' free reading lists so that they don't miss the best books.

You might also take a look at Donna-Jean's pages or try - she is also homeschooling a high school student

I do believe that a Charlotte Mason education is both fun, enjoyable, full of delight and life, but also a good preparation for university level work. Narration is an example. It is deceptively simple (I suggest reading the PR articles on narration on AmblesideOnline's webpage). But in my honors English courses in high school I had a teacher who had us do the same thing. This isn't what she called it, but it is what we did. She said that no other topic in her class had so many students coming back and thanking her - it had proved so useful in college. She was right.

My own two teens have been taking online philosophy courses with a WA state college professor who has a PH.D. He liked my daughters' work and contributions so much that he invited them to take their second class with him for free. He said they gave consistently college level analysis and he wished he had them in his real life classes. I say this not to brag, but to offer encouragement about the methods CM used.



How do you begin with older students?

I've used CM methods from the beginning, but I know CM herself believed her methods would work well with children who began at age 14. Take a look at volume 6 of the original series if you can--especially the sections entitled "A Liberal Education in Secondary Schools."

You might have to choose other books instead of the AmblesideOnline ones, or you could select the ones that suit your needs from the list. Let your children read, and narrate--both orally and in writing. Make "How To Read a Book" by Adler your first project, and then go from there.

Traditionally, "classical" or "liberal" education was begun anywhere from 12 to 19--it is never too late!


Starting with the FAQ's is an absolute must. Pre-Year 7 can be used as a warm-up until the fall, if that is all your child needs, or it can be a full year's (or more) curriculum, if you think the material in Year 7 would be too challenging at that point. Even Year 6 would not be below the abilities of most ninth graders unused to a CM style education. My oldest used the pre-7 list, and then moved in to Year 7 and did great.

One thing to be sure of, is that you use a mix of literature and factual reading, as students need practice in narrating both. And regardless of your child's age, start with very short lessons, and oral narrations. Longer lessons and written narrations really need to be worked up to--jumping in at that point can be difficult, and frustrating for any age of student.

Lori Barre

3 years ago, when I pulled my children out of public school, I started trying to figure out how we were going to homeschool. One hard lesson I learned began with the realization that my children were content reading twaddle, and disliked hard work. It took a couple of years for them to make the change from twaddle to solid literature, and while I still can't say that they appreciate hard work (that is something that comes as an adult, and sometimes never), they willingly work hard at reading literature that is non-twaddle. They are now much more willing to stretch their abilities . . . remember, a mind once stretched can never go back to its old dimensions.

I also found that keeping the readings short in the beginning helped . . . 10 minutes of readings the first year, 15 the second. My 9 year old son (almost 10) is supposed to read 20 minutes daily (each, lit and history), 12dd is supposed to read 40 minutes daily (each, lit. and history). I don't know that my ds is going to be able to do 40 minutes at a stretch when he is 12 . . . very different temperament. I have talked with him, and encouraged him to work on stretching his reading time as he is able. I have seen great strides in this past year . . . but it has taken us 3 years to get this far. I also pander much more to his likes and dislikes than I do my dd. (she loves reading, and is very able to read just about anything). Currently, I'm letting him read "My Side of the Mountain." He is actually enjoying it, not just slowly waddling thru like he does with many other books. I am planning on trying him with "Call of the Wild" and "Robinson Crusoe" soon. To supplement and encourage what is a budding interest in the out-of-doors I'm seeing in him, we are currently reading "The Tracker" by Tom Brown (editing out the Indian religion/spirituality as I go). We also are taking hikes and encouraging the growth of out-door skills.

All this to say, that the C.M. method is not always an easy path to stay on, but if we persevere to stay on the path, eventually things DO seem to work out. It's taken 3 years to see some fruit with my 9ds. It was not easy, it was not always fun, but it is rewarding in the end.

Charlotte urged that education be a continual diet of living ideas. Textbooks are void of living ideas . . . they are NOT living books. Living books feed directly into long-term memory. Textbooks feed into short term memory only. We are not necessarily here to make it easy for our children, but neither do we want school to be overly difficult. Find the level he is comfortable with in living books, and have him read there . . . but don't forget to stretch him occasionally. He may not seem to 'get it' when reading harder books, but you may be surprised at the growth it causes a couple of months down the road after he's had time to 'chew' on it.

7 is very young, and it is very tempting for little boys (and some girls) to like concrete assignments. Reading literature and narrating is a bit "fuzzy," and a bit intimidating. Take it slowly!

In short, I would continue to steer clear of textbooks!

Just my .02


Problem: My 15 year old is not self-motivated. I'm afraid that unless he has to answer to some higher authority, such as a correspondence school, he won't complete his education!

My oldest was not at all self-motivated when we began AO several years ago. She was in public school, and (long story short) was almost allergic to anything remotely academic. To get her back on track, we started out really slowly over the summer, beginning with copywork, math, and one book that she was required to read from each day (I had a list from the pre-7 books. When one was completed, she just picked up the next one).

As a family, we were already enjoying nature study, poetry, composer and artist studies, and read-alouds. (This is often the easiest place to start if you are new to AO, because you can have all of your kids together, regardless of their ages.) By the end of the summer, she was ready for the full curriculum, but I added in the subjects slowly, one or two at a time. First literature, then French grammar (she was already bilingual), then history, etc. By Christmas she was covering almost every subject, and with casually 'finishing up' over the summer, she did manage to complete everything before the following September. This also set a pattern for schooling year-round which gives us lots of flexibility with our schedule.

What was most important to my daughter was having a predictable routine--I could not leave it up to her to complete her assignments when she felt like it (because she never felt like it ;-). In fact, even though she is doing wonderfully now, she still needs to know what is expected of her each day, or she would do nothing but play with the cat (or her youngest sister), artwork and piano <g>! I don't assign times, but she does have a list that she works from each day, with a certain amount to be completed before lunch, the rest after. If she feels the need for a break she can take it, but she knows that the work still needs to be done.

Good luck! Lori Barre

Placing an older child just starting AO in a lower Year,and how that would affect the child's college transcript later.

Note that AO refers to AO's Years 1-6, and HEO refers to House of Education, which is AO's Years 7-12.

Some Mom's do use Year 4 for their 9th graders, but they add to it and supplement with books from Year 9. I would encourage your friend to do the same because, in my humble opinion, Year 4 (as written) isn't high school level work. It was designed to be used by 4-6th graders, not for 9th graders. It may be a "good fit" for her son, but she does need to consider high school graduation requirements as well as college admission standards.

Her concern about fitting in all the years is a good one and shows that she is thinking ahead. There are several ways to approach HEO for high school and her choice will depend on her son's needs, his interests, as well as her state's graduation requirements (which I guess are yours as well?)

Some common approaches to HEO:

1) Begin HEO in 7th grade and at Year 7 and work all through the levels until Year 12. This is the most "ideal" approach and works well for children coming up through AO or those that begin at Year 7 and are either academically ready or have been through a similar classical type reading program.

2) Following HEO in historical sequence, but with some modification. This might mean beginning in Year 6 (9th) and trying to finish through Year 11 (12th). Usually some combining is required to do this, but generally speaking the idea is to cover Ancient through Modern History in 4 years.

3) Starting in AO for one year and then skipping up to HEO to finish out high school. This option is useful for students to get warmed up to reading classical books. A good choice is to spend 9th grade reading the Pre-Year 7 book list and then working through Year 7-9 or some combination before Year 12.

4) Some parents choose to read HEO out of order and will do Year 9-10 for US History credit, Year 12 (or beefed up Year 6) for Ancient History, and Year 11 for Modern History. The choices are based on their state or anticipated colleges entrance requirements. This also makes keeping a transcript a little easier as it will match a traditional "textbook" or standard high school record.

5) Some parents do use the lower levels of AO and beef them up to meet high school standards. This approach is often used with children who need to move at a slower pace, have learning disabilities, or who cannot read the suggested HEO books (they are too difficult). Also, this approach works well for Moms who like to keep all their children together in one history period (Year 2/7; Year 3/8; Year 4/9 and so on).

There are more options, I am sure, but these seem to be the ones posted most frequently to this group. As far as fitting it all in, really there is no way to do this unless you start AO in Year 1 and move into HEO at Year 7. This is the way the curriculum was designed to be used, so unless you fit into this sequence, you will not be able to complete each year prior to high school graduation.

Since your friend is coming to AO/HEO late, she needs to consider doing something different, which sounds like what she is planning on doing. My .02 cents would be to encourage her to pick an approach and then plan out how she wants to proceed through high school. Once she has a plan in place, she can then begin to pull together her books.

A good idea is to consider using Leslie's Lite schedules either as is, or for inspiration in creating her own program. These are slimmed down book lists, yet are still upper level in their scope and sequence. Your friend might want to look over the Year 9 lite book list here.

She can always substitute some books from Year 4 in place of the suggested, but more difficult Year 9 titles. This book list, however, is more meaty and is more along the lines of what a 9th grader should be doing.

Another suggestion is to read Leslie's blog and see how she created a high school program for a friend's child coming late to AO. This would be a good start for any Mom who has not been using a classical or living books approach. See that here.

I hope this helps. Please have your friend join this group once she gets settled and can post questions. There are many Mom's on this group who are doing one or more of the above approaches and they can give her more practical advice.

In truth, there is no right or wrong way to use the book lists. The ideal way is to follow the program as written and implement the curriculum using CM's methods. Your friend is welcome, however, to use HEO as she can and make it work for her and her son. No one will tell her she is doing it wrong :). I would just caution her to make sure she is aware of high school graduation requirements as well as any college requirements. The last thing I would want is to see a student think he/she is prepared for college only find out that the course work taken was not enough nor was it high school level (a wise Mom on this list shared this advice when I was considering my son's high school plans -- it stuck with me and I took it to heart. High school is supposed to be harder and more advanced than elementary studies).

~Carol H. :o)

Karen Glass wrote a blog post about starting AmblesideOnline with an older student..

See also: this 40-week plan for a student new to AO, unused to reading for fun, planning to start Year 7 the following year. This plan used books designed to help the student develop an enjoyment for reading, and was also designed around some books that the student already owned.

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