Our journey to the “best” homeschool curriculum

image by jimmiehomeschoolmom

When I first began homeschooling, I thought my chosen curriculum (KONOS) would be the one to see us through high school.  It was activity based with lots and lots of great ideas for every unit, as well as an emphasis on character building, which my 5 year-old daughter needed at the time!  (Our first unit was ‘Obedience’!)

I think we were about halfway into our second year when I noticed that one of our next assigned activities was to make handmade deerskin moccasins and pemmican.  Now, I have nothing against either of these but at the time I was running a business and had to draw the line somewhere.  Moccasins and pemmican was that line.  I simply didn’t have the time for grandiose crafts and projects every week.   I also wasn’t convinced that we were covering the most important basics by building a “castle” out of the dining room table, chairs, and bedsheets.  So, I began searching for the next “best” curriculum.

It took a couple of false starts before we found Ambleside Online, a curriculum we all love.  First, the curriculum is free.  I didn’t have to pay money for a weekly schedule of assignments in addition to a collection of books and workbooks.  Rather, we use the schedule online and track down the books we need via eBay, Kindle, and Amazon.  Since my son is following in his sister’s footsteps, I only need to buy her set of books once and then sell the books once he’s finished with them.  That’s not all, though.  My kids help put together this list of reasons why we love Ambleside.


  1. It’s a lot of reading and history, and I like both of these subjects.
  2. It’s easy to understand.
  3. If I work hard, I can get all my work done in four days.
  4. It’s a Christian curriculum.


  1. It’s easy and fun.
  2. I get to read a lot of adventure stories.
  3. It doesn’t get boring.


  1. My kids are reading real literature, like the original Mary Poppins, Oliver Twist, King Arthur, and other top-notch books that are rarely used in the public school system anymore.  They aren’t intimidated by these titles or under the impression that anything more difficult than Captain Underpants is beyond their ability.
  2. Their written and verbal vocabularies are amazing.
  3. I use the weekly schedule online to create individual, daily schedules that I can adapt to whatever is going on in our lives at the moment.
  4. Four-day school weeks are entirely possible.
  5. The curriculum includes art history, drawing lessons, classical music, foreign languages, hymn/folk song studies, physical education, biographies, memory work, nature studies, Latin, Shakespeare, Plutarch, and poetry.  Got all that?  The variety of what my kids are learning is impressive, and there are no workbooks!
  6. Ambleside is based on the techniques, practices, and in some cases, the actual books used by educator Charlotte Mason in her schools.  The more I read of her philosophy, the more I found myself nodding in agreement.  For example, she believed it was important for kids to verbally summarize what they learn and have read long before they’re assigned written summaries.  Coming from the public school system, I was exceedingly familiar with the difficulty kids have with summarizing information in their own words, and Charlotte’s method makes so much more sense.
  7. My kids scarcely know what a textbook is.  They learn most things from “living books” written not by a committee of adults who haven’t taught real kids in a real classroom in more than a decade.  They do use textbooks for math (Math-U-See) and Latin.
  8. I’m learning right along with them.  I’ve been reading the original Marco Polo to my son, and I love learning something new!

If you’re considering homeschooling or are taking a second look at your own curriculum, spend some time learning about Ambleside Online.  I’ll be happy to answer questions via email or your comments.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

© Copyright 2011 The Survival Mom, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Survival Mom
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  1. karyn says

    We follow a similar curriculum in that we use Well-Trained Mind, a Classical education book. I know there are difference between CM and Classical but overall I think they work well together. Have you read Karen Andreola's Pinecones and Blackberry Inn books? It paints such a lovely picture of CM in action.

  2. says

    We use Ambleside and are loving it. By using Charlotte Mason methods, my middle child learned to read quickly, despite terrible vision problems, and now that she is older, she looks up her assignments and gets right to work with little help or prompting from me. That's quite a change from the crying and misery that we went through when trying to follow more current methods.

  3. says

    I just discovered AO this year. I will be bringing my two girls home to school this year and hopefully add my son next year. I love the way AO is set up and can’t wait to start using it. Actually, we’ve already been ‘trying out’ different things like quick narrations, nature study, and listening to classical music. I think this is going to be an exciting year. I think it’s funny I found your site in a round about way through ‘Survival” links and not AO links. =)
    God Bless~

  4. Liz says

    I use Ambleside and supplement it some with Tapestry of Grace. My kids love it, especially the older ones (10-16)!

  5. says

    We tried several of the supposed large online schools and they proved totally inadequate. Like you we did some false starts on several programs before actually developing our own and submitting it to the local county for approval. That actually worked out the best for us. The biggest problem with the many online schools is how vague and disorganized their curriculum is.

  6. Breezybest says

    I’m going to start using Ambleside after homeschooling with many different curricula over the last 15 years. We’re definitely going to keep using Life of Fred for math though. Our kids have never understood math so well until we started using LoF. Plus, the books teach other things at the same time and the kids love to tell me what Fred’s been up to each day, even my 10th grader. I have 2 older kids, who graduated last year and 2 years before that, who still use the LoF math books (the trigonometry and calculus ones) to understand more about what they’re learning in college. Plus, they are so much more affordable than most other programs even if you buy every book. I have them all because I have 8 kids of all different ages (21 down to 2). Such a fun and thorough way (with a Christian outlook but not blatant so it’s even accepted by correspondence and charter homeschooling for those that use them) to learn math. Enjoy your children and God bless you!

  7. Roberta Scharon says

    I am looking to start homeschooling my 12 year old daughter. I think I will try Ambleside online to start. Hopefully it will work. I am asking God for guidance. I am going to start the process today. Pray for me and my daughter. Thanks for your website. Hopefully I will come back with good news.

  8. Jessica says

    I have 3 girls who will be starting homeschooling in the next year or so. At the moment I am looking for a preK or kindergarten curriculum that we can use (easily). I am completely new to homeschooling and need something that isn’t going to be incredibly overwhelming. Would you recomend Ambleside?

  9. Ami Johnson says

    I’m hoping you can offer some advice. My husband and I are beyond frustrated at the lack of education he’s receiving at his current STEM school. For example he is reading at a 5-6th grade level at 5 and is not allowed to chose books outside the kindergarten section of the school library. During open house (which occurred 3 wks after school began) we tried to discuss this with his teacher and we’re schooled to learn that she was unaware he could read, and furthermore she doesn’t deal with the library stuff, that’s for the librarian. Two emails directly to her regarding this issue have remained unanswered. The last straw was when she announced to the parents that after 3 months of school they should be able to identify 18 letters of the alphabet, recognise a handful of sight words such as the, if ,and or etc.

    I am all for pulling him out of school and teaching him myself, but my husband is convinced he needs the socialisation school provides. Unfortunately he is the only child we’ve been able to have. My question is this, how difficult would it be on a kindergartener to do a half day of K and a half day of homeschool curriculum? Would the system you use lend itself we’ll to that? I realise that between the ages of 2-8 a child’s brain is able to absorb and retain information better than at any other time, and I don’t want to lose this precious window with daily homework of one letter of the alphabet.

    • says

      Ami, my advice is to pull him out and begin letting him go crazy exploring the world and subjects he is drawn to. He’s just 5. It sounds like he’s not only extremely smart but highly inquisitive about the world around him. Ambleside Online has been fantastic for my kids with high level reading material, nothing that has been “dumbed down”. You’ll be able to do an amazing amount of “school work” with him but it won’t seem like work or school at all. He’ll be reading about things he loves, you can read to him aloud more advanced books. You’ll both love it.

      As far as that paper tiger, “socialization”, over and over again homeschooled kids have proven to have better social skills among kids and people of all ages. Read John Taylor Gatto for some disturbing insights into the purpose and nature of public school. As a homeschooler, you’ll be able to connect him with just about every type of class and activity imaginable because you’ll have more time for that kind of thing. Public school kids come home exhausted every late afternoon, truly too tired for nothing more than tv/video games, dinner, and homework.

      Homeschooled kids get through their assignments far more quickly giving them the time, energy, and mental focus to tackle everything from chess club, sports, drama, music lessons, etc. etc. My own kids are in so many activities and among so many different age groups that sometimes we have to take a break from all the social stuff!

      Look for homeschool groups near you and find families with kids your son’s age. Good luck!

  10. says

    I am a mother of 3, a full time nurse, with a wonderful stay-at-home father but we have a busy homestead and always going going going… I want to homeschool. I am scared to take the leap. I can work with them at least 3 days per week and my husband the other 2. Did you always homeschool or did you make the leap out of public school? I am scared they will drive us crazy but in my heart think they will behave better at home? What are your thoughts? Where should I start? Im nervous about the costs but feel like it will be worth it in the end. Allot of websites are so commercialized, I just want some starting info. I already looked up my states laws and they are minimal. Thanks

  11. Amanda says

    For anyone that wants to homeschool but “isn’t sure” or thinks they can’t pull it off:
    I spent the first year of homeschooling my children thinking that I was a complete failure. I got little to no teaching done and spent the first year just switching ciruculum back and forth. Then, I spoke to a veteran homeschool friend and told her my problem. This is what she told me and I never forgot it and was very encouraged from them on. “This first year you have actually gotten to know two people that you never really new before. It was a bonding year for you all. So, don’t feel bad about really getting to know your own chdren. As for school, one day of homeschooling is better than 100 days of government (public) school.”
    So, just know that all parents are equipped to homeschool even if they think they aren’t. Read the book titled (I think) The Way They Learn. All children learn in different ways. Figure out your children and have a blast doing it. They will have the rest of their lives to learn everything they need to know. I’m 37 and am stl learning. ;-).

  12. Gwen says

    You talk about Ambleside – I just went to their website and its not up? Is there a way to learn more or do you know if will be up soon? I am new to homeschooling and we are doing the charter K-12 for our first year. Don’t love it but don’t hate it – would like more freedom for my child – I like the rigor but she does not learn this way. I am using this year to see what else is out there though I am terrified for some reason of traditional home school – mostly my own fear of doing “enough”. Thank you!

  13. Elizabeth Wika says

    Hello, how much emphasis on and instruction of the critical thinking process is incorporated
    into the AO concept? I am very concerned about my children learning common sense and basic, no nonsense life skills.
    Liz Wika

    • says

      I think you might really appreciate Ambleside Online since it so closely follows the philosophy and, in many cases, uses the same texts as Charlotte Mason used in her schools. As a former teacher of both elementary and junior high grades, I got frustrated trying to teach kids how to write a summary or report in their own words. Charlotte believed that kids should first summarize their readings orally, until they were at least 9 or 10 before asking them to, then, write it down. My 13 year old son now finds it so easy to write without copying because he spent so many years re-telling stories and other reading passages in his own words.

      Also, the books used in AO are not watered down versions. My daughter has read the original Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, and dozens of other very high quality books, and she did it without batting an eye. She wasn’t even a little intimidated when she picked up Oliver Twist or Tale of Two Cities, when I know most adults would think those books are “too hard.”

      I recommend reading some of Charlotte Mason’s writings, which explain her philosophy and teaching techniques before you launch into AO. Good luck!

  14. Ally says

    My daughter is 4, she will be 5 this year. This past year I have been working with her on Pre K basics and was considering starting her in kindergarten this year. My sister in law is a homeschool mom and super woman. She makes it look so easy. I, on the other hand and terrified and lost. We just had our second baby in December, my husband is just starting his career, along with going to school full time for his Master’s and is a type 1 diabetic. I am really wanting a curriculum that already has lesson plans laid out. Something that I can simply follow along with and help keep me and my little one on track. What would you recommend for us? I have looked at Sonlight, A Beca. It is just all so overwhelming and I feel lost.

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