ambleside curriculum

Our AO Year 4

For those of us who follow Ambleside Online, the curriculum is shaped according to what Charlotte Mason called forms. Form I encompasses years 1 to 3, and Form II years 4 to 6.

NOTE: Every time I mention a book, I will be linking to Ambleside Online Year 4 detailed schedule. From there, you can go to links to buy the books. Ambleside Online is a free curriculum, free to use, but copyrighted, and it is against the law to reproduce part or all you find there in your personal blogs or websites. READ MORE HERE.

If you have been following AO with your children from year 1, year 4 it’s a jump, but not into the unknown. It has several add-on practices that I am sure you are familiar with already.
Last year, I went through a time of being scared of year 4. Year 4 is many times described as the year in which the children transition into reading most of the school books on their own (with the exclusion of the books that will be always guided by the parent, which are Plutarch and Shakespeare at least, maybe some still like reading poetry, maybe one or two more titles).
Some children have been very independent in their readings since even year two, and others may still need the parent in year 4. For those with children that live graciously with challenges, don’t let that rob you of your joy. It’s very easy to be in a constant tension thinking about the ideal, or the average year 4 student, and yours not be there.
If you are doing year 3.5 or are thinking about it, I almost took that route when I decided to get at year 4. Why? Because I had seen growth in my daughter. Because year 3.5 is a break more than anything, and one cannot stay there long waiting for a great jump in skills. That growth will happen too with the regular (meaning historically new) year that has new challenges. After all, they have 3 years (years 4, 5, and 6) in this form to get to soak in the new components, and you need those and the rigor of each year books, to challenge, not just their skills, but their comprehension and understanding.
Better than remembering the horror (tongue in cheek) year 4 stories, plunge in with a confident spirit. I like hearing the books that were hard for other children, but remember they don’t have to be hard or impossible for your child. Whenever a book gets tough, let others know at the forum, there is a way to conquer it and make it work.

I love every time I read Jeanne say that she and her Jemimah are no quitters. By this time we all should know that the hard books have a high chance of becoming favorites and books that help us grow. Remember the divide and conquer principle. Some ideas:

  •  Break the long readings into sections (if they are not already divided as in George Washington’s Word). This book has lots of names, dates, events. Just go slowly, model narration if needed initially. We do a section, sometimes two, a day. It cannot be rushed or crammed. It is a wonderful book that contains world history, a panoramic of what happened in Europe, America, and the world, at the times of George Washington.
  • This Country of Ours, in the week’s reading it’s noted if it’s a longish chapter, divide accordingly.
  • Madam How and Lady Why. Sometimes, having to still read most of the school books to your student has advantages. Since I introduced my daughter to this fascinating book, I have been able to show her not to panic when one is not so clear about what the author is talking about with a few pages. Kingsley’s style is very different to much of what we had read up to now. Even after reading his Heroes, this geology book is very unique, but it is a gem for studying earth science synthetically (in perspective, from the big picture to the small), as opposed to busy text books with lots of trivia and not a discernment of the hows and whys of the laws and phenomena we observe. It’s particularly rewarding for us, believers, because Kingsley, contrary to appearances (Madam How and Lady Why personifications), acknowledges and openly gives credit to our Creator for the world and its wonders.
  • Abigail Adams. My husband has to listen to some of it in the car on Sundays. Though not always easy to narrate from it (again, many names and dates thrown at you), it’s such a wonderful book that I am already mourning its ending, and we are half way there. The pictures by John Singleton Copley (remember the memorable Watson and the Sharks?), a painter we have studied before, are such a source of delight.
  • The Story of Science, by Fabre. It’s a book many children read on their own. For us, some chapters are deceivingly easy. All we read in the other books is tying up wonderfully with this one.
  • Robinson Crusoe. This was such an unexpectedly loved by all book. I read it aloud to my family and they made me finish it 2 weeks earlier. Ahem. We should not rush the books, but 2 weeks I could do, don’t you think?


Now for the new components.


  • Latin. I chose Getting Started with Latin. After twenty something weeks, we are going back to the beginning of the book. My oldest needs time, and we have plenty to learn Latin. I once knew Latin, but I have forgotten much. I am re learning it. I don’t do declensions yet, we are not there, but when that comes, I pray we’d be fine (grin). We do this orally once a week.


  • Grammar. Don’t sweat it. Start with mad libs, and transition to Simple Grammar or whatever grammar book you want to use. I am realizing that copy writing, and now dictation, are doing wonders for the girl’s spelling. We do it once a week, but as with Latin, both are not quite consistent yet. Again, we have time ahead.
  • Dictation. My girl refuses dictation. She says she writes much on her own (which is true), but I insist. And once she does it, she even likes it. Yes. That’s kids. Specially the ones that don’t like changes. Specially the ones who are challenged. My girl will be perfectly happy doing year 3 for the rest of her life!
  • Plutarch. This was, to me, hard to believe it could be done. I grabbed a paraphrase by the horns to prove myself wrong, to believe Plutarch is, if not easy, doable. You all need to thank Anne White. She has done a superb job breaking the lives into 12 installments, and adding some vocabulary clarifications, and some intros to each life, and each reading, and some open ended questions at the end, as well as ideas for narrating (orally or in written form). Is this easy? Not always. Some weeks the reading appears to be a places and names jigsaw puzzle without rhyme or reason. What do I do? I model narration. Oh, boy, that will bring you down to your knees, and you will like it the more because of that.Here you have the absolute article on how to study Plutarch.
  • Written Narrations. If your children are those for whom getting some writing done is difficult, for whom even oral narrations have been such a challenge. Breath. Just a couple of sentences can be a decent beginning. My daughter does write well, and pages, but again, don’t you think it’s all fine and dandy. She does not like written narrations. Why? You can tell me. Because,,
  • Age of Fable. This is her favorite candidate to read by herself and do written narrations from. But not the first weeks. Actually, as every year, I make a silly mistake or two. I thought the whole intro was due the first week. And it was cruelly painful. Then I laughed and we went back to it, and did a gods and goddesses tree, and it was the hardest chapter. After that, each myth is only two or three pages. If more, it’s broken into two readings. Again, read it sometimes yourself, don’t miss the bonuses when Bulfinch tells us Milton, Shakespeare, or another literary titan, has made use of that myth in a poem or prose.
  • Shakespeare. This was a leap of faith. I had read Hamlet two years ago, without much understanding. This time I said, I will read it aloud to the girls while they work on a puzzle, or with play dough, or in the night… We had prepared before, they had read a Classics Illustrated comic and Lamb’s version before. Even so, some parts where difficult but there were a few moments of understanding. Much went over their heads. And some of that you want it to exactly go over their heads. But there were days when ideas and thoughts came from their mouths and my jaw dropped in disbelief. Can it be those my 7 and 9 year old girls at the time? (Hamlet was the play for the first term, right before they turned 8 and 10). The second play scheduled for 2014-2015 was Midsummer Night’s Dream. That was much better. Comedies are easier for our children. They were familiar with this one, we had even read about Pyramus and Thisbe (the myth that Bottom and his friends try to put in play in the forest). We have started our third Shakespeare, Richard II. It is not going to be an easy one by any means, but we will do our best.Please, read Jeanne again, this time on Shakespeare.


Finally, I cannot tell you how all this will play off and look like in your home. I wrote this with the moms of children who experience challenges in mind. You are going to have to be the judge of when and how many of the new things to attempt. You don’t want to be scared of all this forever, but you don’t want to worry and shovel this down the throats of, again, any child, least of all children with already a fragile relationship with some of their lessons components.

I don’t imply lessons are ever easy for anyone, but there are additional circumstances (dyslexia, ADD or difficulties focusing, reading struggles of different kinds…), that surely make the days of some families extra difficult. But don’t let that rob you of your joy. Look at what they are doing, how they are improving, and try that ever lasting dance of tightening the rope and cutting some slack. I can tell you that, if nothing else, this will be a phenomenal trip for YOU. And it’s important you see it like that (OK, at least most of your days), otherwise you will enter that gloomy loom, and we want to inspire them, not to make them ever conscious of their limitations. Even if they get a fraction of this education, granted they care (and they will), it’s such a blessing and a gain and a joy.

My girls have never considered Shakespeare a bore or an elitist author (even when they prefer his comedies). They have no notion of some books being considered titles only the high classes or the extremely gifted children or adults read. They don’t have our biases, thank goodness! But again, when I tell others my girls are reading Shakespeare, or Plutarch, they may think they are writing college papers or dissertations. It’s sad these classics are that removed from the love, fun, and joy they elicit. I don’t know if people will believe me when I say I had a blast reading The Odyssey, or that today my 8 year old daughter asked me not to start reading the last chapter of Wind in the Willows because it’s very special and she does not want it to end. (You need to know that it does not fail, though, in the lyric chapters, when the main plot is suspended, she also begged me to stop, and said she had no clue of what was going on). Learning to submit to a difficult text is no easy feat. But if you are here for the long haul, you better learn you cannot conquer Rome in one day.
For my oldest, Plutarch is fun (because I believe it is fun). In our vacation, we were fortunate to visit places we read in our books. I know, you may be thinking we are an out of the ordinary family. And while that’s true, we also hurt and have hardships, like all of you. Ask Heather, she will tell you how real we are. And though I know many of you admire and enjoy all we enjoy and do well, each of you has strengths, even the challenged children have them. The trick is to never let a day pass (no matter how bad, and how many times you had to hit the restart button), without having looked and appreciated something beautiful, or without at least having been in touch with one idea at least, something that ignited them and that made them think. And some days I have had to dig very deep for this, but it’s there.

14 thoughts on “Our AO Year 4”

  1. Hi Sylvia, thanks for sharing your heart and thoughts. It's a journey isn't it, just one day at a time, leaning on God for wisdom & strength to educate our children as closely to a CM education as possible. My boy has been a struggling reader, but an excellent listener with wonderful comprehensive narrations. My daughter has no issues with reading, and is just wired different. Like you said, as long as we enjoy the moments, take a breather when it's just tough, at the end of the day, our children are receiving wonderful knowledge, and learning about different characters through the rich literature, and I am thankful to God for the opportunity to learn along side them.


  2. Sarah, you are an inspiration to me. I think of you and love it's what comes to my mind, I remember you saying the read aloud books you have discovered and done, how you enjoy all the riches of this education… and I know it's not always easy for you either, but we can choose joy, and you DO.


  3. Thanks for telling me each child will do her own Year 4, and to keep it simple. And thanks for your valuable and down to earth help on how to do Plutarch, Shakespeare, how to stay steady on our math and don't change every month whenever difficulties arise. You are an inspiration.


  4. Oh my!!! This post needs to be archived on the forums somewhere Silvia! Yes and Yes! I will be referring to this post very often! There is always beauty because God is in it! We just need eyes to see and sometimes we smile in faith more than because we can see. But it is so encouraging to see that each child does progress, even if on their own timeline. We need to respect the process and the journey and appreciate the reality of where we are! I really do hope we can put a stickies or link on the forum for Y4 and the special needs board. It is such a beautifully communicated picture of the uniqueness and similarity of the AO journey. Well done, Silvia. I'm so appreciative! With much love, Betty


  5. Silvia, such lovely inspiring words. Where were all the blogs like yours when I was attempting to navigate the sometimes rocky waters of Year 4? Ah, how many years ago was that? Your thoughts brought back many sweet (and not so sweet) memories of years gone by. My daughter will be doing year 4 with two of her children next year and I hope I can be as much of an encouragement to her as your words here! Actually, I'm sending her the link. LOL!

    Silvia, you add much to the AO/CM community. Thanks so much for sharing.


  6. Yr4 was a big jump for my Natty, Silvia; you probably remember how I inundated you with questions about how to do it all. 😉
    You were so helpful to me and always have been my biggest cheerleader. 🙂


  7. I recognized myself more than once in your description of the Year 4 jump. This momma was certainly “jumpy” about it; my daughter did just fine, especially after I relaxed. I enjoy your posts, Silvia. Grace flows through them. I'm thankful for your wonderful words of encouragement.


  8. Que bonito! Con una hija le pase por arriba ya a ese año sin darme cuenta del salto y al empezar por el medio, pues todo fue un salto enorme! Jajaj.. pero con el otro estoy muy abajo aun y ya tendre en cuenta este aliento tuyo que como siempre me ha ayududado tanto con esa tenacidad que te caracteriza amiga!
    Dios te bendiga: )


  9. Thank you, Silvia, for your words of experience and encouragement. I will be passing through this trial next year. I hope to remember that you, along with many others, have gone this way before, and I can too! Blessings.


  10. Thank you Silvia!

    I recently started Year 4 with one of my sons. I have recently been frustrated over having him read Age of Fable. So I was really interested to hear your thoughts. My oldest, on the other hand would have eaten it up…but you've encouraged me to keep trying. I agree with your other comments on Yr 4. Thank you for sharing all of this 🙂 Mary


  11. It's a lot to take at once, Mary. Be patient and keep trying. Don't feel bad for postponing or taking breaks, just don't drop completely, only hang in there and draw from those things that click faster and are loved, to get through the more challenging ones.


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