This would be our 6th year homeschooling. The girls are in years 3 and 5 of their education. Most homeschoolers don’t see life in “grades”. We usually know where our children are at, and teach from there. But, if you are like me, I like that my girls have a sense of being in a grade level (as their public/private schooled friends). They attend Sunday and Wednesday classes at church, and there, for practical reasons too, children are grouped by grade levels.

We follow Charlotte Mason principles, and in particular, we have been largely blessed and aided by the Ambleside Online Community, and for 4 years, it was best for me to try to follow the plans already laid out for me instead of me trying to devise a full 12 year educational plan with my lack of knowledge and understanding of what children could do, the resources, books, philosophy of education, etc. Coming from a utilitarian paradigm of school, I had not any understanding of education and did not know what children could do at different stages, nor did I know how to approach history, science, math, language arts, etc.

Nowadays, after 5/6 years of learning, I have learned valuable principles, and I have a general idea of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and where we are heading to.

Ambleside Online proposes a year 0 (which is not a formal education year, but there are resources, specially for the moms, on habit training, suggestions on what to do with the children and how to educate ourselves), through y12 course of studies or curriculum, to be followed with Charlotte Mason principles in sight, and in the manner that every family sees fit.

Ambleside Online elicits different responses. As the huge thing that it is, opinions about it come in all sizes and flavors (is that how we say it?). I have had a hard time with the AO curriculum myself, but that’s because of ME. AO per-se, it’s nothing other an altruist effort, an immense labor of love and unrecognized work, done by real women, women like you and me, with all sorts of family situations, backgrounds, all kinds of children. Sometimes we forget AO is just a road map, an ideal, a vast array of resources and suggestions, and at one point, we must emerge with our own understanding and personality, if we don’t want to sink and get crushed by trying to accomplish our idealized version of what’s to have a Charlotte Mason education through the aid of AO.

Note: By no means one needs to follow AO to educate their children, you can follow CM’s principles without coming close to the AO website or forum.

Another Note: You can educate your children without following CM’s principles, or without coming close to CM’s books or ideas on education.

I’m just going to talk here about how I’ve learned to go about terms and years, with the help of AO, and with my personal and limited experience. (We are only approaching the middle point of this journey, so take my thoughts as a grain of salt).


Our first 4 years were rough. Being so new to all this, wanting to do so much so foreign to all of us, and having that ideal taken straight from the AO schedules, was frustrating to say the least. But there were lots of great things, I saw growth, and homeschooling is something for the long haul, not for quitters, God is there, so I’m not going to dwell on our hardships anymore, but roll with the punches. Underneath every challenge there was a blessing in disguise. We are here now, and that’s immensely beautiful, we are living it, enjoying it, embracing it in all its intensity. Life is so good. And my favorite: our God is so good, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.

Present situation:

We started this past August with the girls’ 3rd and 5th year of their education. Ambleside Online proposes a history rotation that starts in

y1 with a historic overview and foundation, and continues to
y2 1000 A.D. to Middle Ages
y3 it’s Late 1400’s-1600’s Renaissance to Reformation
y4 1700’s to French and American Revolutions
y5 1800-1914 up to WWI
y6 End of WWI to present, plus Ancient History
y7  Middle Ages, 800- 1400
y8 1400’s-1688 (Renaissance to Reformation)
y9 1688-1815 including French and American revolutions
y10 1815 – 1901/02 Slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction
y11 The 20th century WWI, Roosevelt WWII, Hitler Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr, speeches
y12 Current Times, plus ancient thought, Sophie’s World, Fighting Terrorism, The Echo of Greece, speeches

As you can see, years 7 to 12 are a second history rotation, more comprehensive.

It’s a known thing in our AO circles that the curriculum is rich enough as to provide with a wonderful and rich education even when not all years are done in full or when not all years are completed. It may be hard to learn that the goal it’s not to do it all, but the faster you learn that, my friend, the better.I just learned that this year, to let go, to find that even if you cannot do it all, what matters is how we go about doing what we can. Many say a child can graduate from high school with any year from y8 to y12. At the AO forum there are subfora for the different “forms” (elementary, jr. high, high school, with different than those partitions and their correspondence). You can ask there how to do plans for credits, ask about equivalences, and all that information pertaining transcripts, diplomas, graduation, college, and the like. I’m not there yet, so I’m cruising and happily skipping through life for now, tee hee.

This year I planned only the first term. (AO is always structured in 3 terms of 12 weeks each, with a week at the end of each 12 for exams). I left several things out, and placed other components to be done in longer than the 12 weeks. Those changes I’m keeping to myself and friends, you can ask me. I just don’t like showing much of them because we all should start with the AO template and then, once we know who we are and what’s realistic for us, we adjust. I compel you to look at it all, because I never forget my friends who say time and again, that our children will surprise you. We cannot, (specially based on our very limited education), judge and foresee what they’ll be able to accomplish or not. Your children -and yourself-, will surprise you.

That said, some families seem to go swiftly through terms and years. They may need adjustment each time the students go to the next form that increases requirements (years 4, 7, and 9, mark the new forms, and come with an increased number of elements and a noticeable increase in the work load). Those families, I was saying, seem to adjust pretty well to all that, and for them, each term means new books, each year new curriculum, and at the most, there are those minor adjustments, and -not without work and effort-, they are there, getting a wonderful education at a good pace, year by year, making progress.

Other families start getting behind. Some in the early years, some later on. Some families in this group who falls behind have one child, others have several children, some have used AO since the beginning, others came later to it, but the common denominator to this type of families it’s that they always struggle with what to do, how to continue (if to take more time to complete the AO years, if to cut, combine, leave books unfinished). It all seems a struggle for us (we are in that category). I used to feel defeat and failure, as if chasing a chimera. But this year I got serious about this, and I said it was about time I let go of that and welcome a different approach that gave me peace, joy, and provided me with a feeling of closure of terms and years, and that exhilarating feeling of starting afresh too.

We “should be” in week 8 or 9 of our 1st term, but we are, according to completed readings, in week 5/6 (and not even in all subjects). What to do? I have decided that in November we will be finished with our first term. How? The first week I’ll wrap up whatever we have done, and prepare exams according to what has been seen. I’ll do exam week the second week of November, and we will have a November and December for a “holiday term”. I want to do what those who have a good pace do, and feel the freedom to read our holiday books, bake, take walks, draw more, etc. We may continue with the literature selections (why not?), but I’m not going to continue with “school lessons”. I will take time to plan the second term that will go from January to March, and the third term will be April to June.

I will spill over the second term the titles unfinished this first term, and I will do the same for the third term. My hope is to have the girls, at least, finish their history for years 3 and 5. (If you are ok with planning your next year and making it be a continuation of the year you have not finished, that’s another possibility). I decide that for us, it’s best to continue to the next year. It’s not a proud or pushy decision. To me, it will be crazy to have one daughter take 2 years for an AO year, and the other 1 year and a half. They are mature for their AO year, they enjoy having different years. My oldest daughter likes to see her sister doing what she did two years ago, since she is two years older. They don’t have a sense of “I’m doing less, or more, or faster, or better” than my sister, they only see how they do things together, and how they have separate years, different books, and they do love that.  If I’m to have them do a year in two, I’ll do it for both or none. I believe in our case it’s healthy to keep their year distance, and I will still call that a new term, a new year, a new grade.

If we were falling behind so badly, my year was not rightfully planned. I believe we can plan reasonable AO years (no matter the adjustments we have to make), to have a sense of growth, progress, advancement, and a healthy fresh new start. If there are challenges in your family (which can range from a gifted child who zips through math or reading at light speed, to children with dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and what not), those challenges will require to modify the AO schedules and guidelines. Years of experience may give you the courage to know you are doing fine, instead of abandoning the whole AO idea and declare that it wasn’t for you, that your children did not thrive with the books, etc. (Things, by the way, I have thought myself and for which I apologize to the AO ladies. Everytime I’ve had in my mind or in private complained about AO, I have complained about the ideal AO I have formulated in my mind, or whatever the way of going about AO I see in others, -too advanced, too much, ridiculously impossible, not for us-, all the while forgetting that it’s going to look different for each of us, that I don’t have to throw the babe with the water, that nobody is asking me to do all they do, or how they do it. AO is there (the website, the forum, the facebook page), to encourage, empower, guide, educate, nurture and support YOU, mom, never to judge you, impose on you, criticize you, or doubt your ability to raise and educate your children).

Finally, this year I’m doing what the wise, loving and caring Auxiliary and Admin AO ladies have been telling us to do all this time, what they state in their website,

We’re in the process of improving the AO website to make it easier to use the AO curriculum. Thank you for your patience. Check on the AO Forum for updates.

AmblesideOnline is a free curriculum designed to be as close as possible to the curriculum that Charlotte Mason used in her own PNEU schools. Our goal is to be true to Charlotte Mason’s high literary standards. AmblesideOnline uses the highest quality books and costs no more than the cost of texts. The curriculum uses as many free online books as possible, and there is no cost to use this information or join the forum.

“AmblesideOnline is an awesome curriculum. I love the flexibility yet the academic rigor.” (Amy S.)

Read more user comments here

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.

15 thoughts on “How to Approach the AO schedules, terms, and years

  1. As you know, I almost abandoned AO completely and even began wondering if the CM approach would work with my youngest. Were you thinking of me when you wrote “Years of experience may give you the courage to know you are doing fine, instead of abandoning the whole AO idea and declare that it wasn't for you, that your children did not thrive with the books, etc.”? LOL 🙂 But I did realize that it's not about doing things perfectly. It's about growth. I like what you said here: “I believe we can plan reasonable AO years (no matter the adjustments we have to make), to have a sense of growth, progress, advancement, and a healthy fresh new start.” I agree with you…even though sometimes I think it's not always easy to pick and choose what to adjust in the schedule for an AO year. And once you get to the HEO years, it's a salad bar approach and there's so much more to choose from. 🙂 I'm still ironing out AO year 2 work for my youngest right now as we are working through it. But it's going well and my daughter is doing well with the Year 2 books and narration and copywork and overall, progressing very well.

    I really appreciated your post Silvia. I appreciate the courage it took to write it and I know that it will be of great encouragement to others.


  2. Sweet Karen, I was not thinking about you, but about ME, but it so happens many of us are in the same boat.
    And yes, those decisions are tough, I won't deny it, but the more at terms I come with the adjustments, the more I enjoy what we set to do.
    As for courage, thanks for commending me, but it was easier than other posts I have written. I feel I was honoring my girls and family, and I did not have to put us on the spot, because this is for some of us, a very natural way of going through the journey. I hope to have honored those who can pull a tight to the schedules style, cause this ain't easy for anyone, but it should be joyful for all
    I love you much, I am tickled to know I may have been of help.


  3. Thank you for this, Silvia. As I am approaching the end of Year 3 with my oldest, I am wondering how I will “do it all.” I am encouraged to know that there are others (even you, whom I have met in person!) that fall into that second group you mentioned above. I am glad you have found freedom in your method of homeschooling with AO. I expect I will have to have a closer look at how I will manage the years ahead, as I have my daughter finishing Year 1 and my 3yo that is getting closer to being “done” with naps! Anyway, just wanted to say I appreciate your thoughts and honesty! Happy Homeschooling 😊


  4. Wonderful post my friend. I have finally found the freedom in using AO to the best of “my families abilities.” I am planning for YR2 and YR4 with a new attitude this year!


  5. So refreshing, my friend! I'm behind on reading, all over the map, but this was worth the 'mental health break' from grading / planning / scheduling yet another class to begin tomorrow…while the other three are wrapping up mid terms. Oh, and then there's our home education. Which is – refreshingly – not even close to 'easy' or 'doing it all' or even 'cramming it in'…it is what it is and I think they are actually enjoying the independence I insisted upon this term, lol. Once again I am wishing Texas bordered Kentucky. Thank you for sharing these thoughts on 'doing it all' and for being so encouraging to those of us who don't “do” AO to the letter. Mostly, but not Every Single Thing Listed. (Folk songs? Their dad plays old mountain songs on his old guitar…close enough for me!)

    That surgery I told you about is scheduled for Oct. 27. Thank you for praying!! Will let you know.


  6. So glad, Sarah.
    And thanks for stopping by, Karen KY. You are always a support to me. I'm very glad your children are doing so well with their more independent mode. This is what education is, right?, self education. (Our role changes, but not according to our desires or plans, but according to their pace and real growth). Prayers will be lifted on your behalf.

    UPDATE: Looking at our first 3 months of school, we can wrap it up with 6 well done weeks, so our next term will start with weeks 7 through 12, for both. So, yes, I'm COMFORTABLE finally with the idea of doing less, and ALSO taking longer. Why not?


  7. What a wonderful post amiga. You know very well I struggled with this but once I let go of my crazy rules I was able to cater to my children's needs without feeling guilty. We are half way (week 6) on our first term and we are enjoying all of our readings (some more than others!) . For the first time we have a good pace, we don't feel like drowning. We are not doing all the books for year 4, we are combining some science and biography books during circle time and yet there is harmony to our education.


  8. Thank you for this post. It was very timely. We are in AO years 1 and 3 and I am FINALLY seeing that peace is better than cramming everything in and being stressed. I also work outside the home part time in the evenings and I get burned out fast. I'm exhausted. I love AO but I'm understanding now that every family is unique with their own puzzles and there's not just one way to do this CM thing. We are in week 8 and things are going pretty well but I'm still feeling the need to pare down a little. After this term I'll evaluate things. I need more time to just “be” with my kids. Trying to find balance is so hard. Thank you again.


  9. Karlita, Stephanie, thanks for stopping by, for commenting, and I'm grateful to hear your testimonies of how you are making this all work in your homes to teach your children, not a curriculum -as a good friend always reminds me.

    Stephanie, yes, stopping and re evaluating is so needed. You are wise to know that need. A proper pace includes time to spend with the children building up relationships and traditions, not just “catching up with those rules or imposed curriculum load” we have planned on paper. So adjustments are needed at every step of the way.


  10. Great post, Silvia. You never fail to encourage me! I felt you just gave me permission to cut out stuff from our schedule. It's extremely liberating to just say 'we can't handle this right now', and to cram it in anyway is not in the best interest of anyone. We're experiencing a crazy year, and cutting out things this year, is what will be best for us. We need to have time to relax and go to the park. When those things are skipped, the workload is just too much.


  11. hi I found AO late in the jouney and although used it as a intresting and informative booklist we never 'did' AO. We choose the path of childhood innocence and concluded that ao introducted history/ideas that destroyed that innocence. We decided that the first five years of schooling would be based on beauty, love and joy and used arts/crafts,cooking, music, sport, life skills, nature, movement, poetry, theater (our own dress-up theater and puppet theater with the children writing their own plays)the only fixed traditional schooling was math and handwriting and reading aloud every day (as these are core skills providing a foundation for all other learning). We introducted history at about 9-10 years old (the brain is undergoing great changes at this age which makes the child ready to begin to discover the wider world building on the foundation of a secure childhood)Even this was pesented in the interactive form of the way people lived i.e where they came from (the ark) how did they get where they are, what do they eat, wear, live in, how do they make those things, with lots of practical experiments of building, sewing and cooking with lots of laughter. Between 13-17 we did the deep and more confronting history with lots of discussion and god's love and abiding power always stressed to give comfort while the discovery of such horror was processed. We have finished now; and the our goal of well ajusted secure adults who love god and love people was well and truly achieved. This is your standard and if a method isn't providing that for your family throw it out or take the bits that are helpful to you, write a mission statement for your family and then you will have a measuring line for all the different ideas out there. Blessings


  12. Helena, hang in there! You've had lots of things on your plate, it's ok to slow down, to breath and simplify, to regain that lost spark.

    Grace. What an interesting testimony. I'm so glad to hear your life educating at home has been so wonderful for your children.


  13. Thank you so much for this post Silvia. I have looked at AO and tried AO a couple of times, but have struggled to “do it all” so I would throw in the towel and do something else that was easier and more manageable. The past few weeks I have been planning our new year, beginning in Jan, and I feel more prepared this time because I know now that it is okay to not cover everything. Just do what we can! I also have children exactly two years apart, three girls actually. I like to keep them two years apart with their school books too, my oldest likes looking back and remembering what she did two years ago. I am still in the planning stages for next year, but your post has greatly encouraged me to do what I feel is right for my family and make AO fit us and our needs. Now to decide upon the correct placement for each girl. 🙂


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