Ambleside Online is an extensive K-12 curriculum based on the Charlotte Mason method. This means kids read real books rather than textbooks, spend time in nature, and are allowed time after school to pursue their own interests. The resources on the Ambleside website are completely free, as is membership in the support network. The authors are adamant that simply reading the books on these lists won't give your child a Charlotte Mason-style education, though: you'll need to thoroughly understand and apply her methods, which they've made available to users in free online e-texts via a contemporary-language translation of her 6-volume home school education series.
Year 0 isn't a formal Ambleside Online year like the others, which have booklists and schedules; it covers the time from birth till formal schooling begins around age 6 or later. There is no book list as such at this level, and books don't share the same prominent place they have in other years. Book suggestions provide examples of the kind of material that's consistent with the standards Charlotte Mason set. There's no need to find all the books and read them according to a schedule. Simply use the list as a guide for selecting the best books from what you already own or have access to.
Picture Book Suggestions
Many picture book lists are available, but Charlotte Mason felt children would be better off with only a few really good picture books than a lot of merely entertaining ones. Compiling a short list is difficult because we tend to love what we grew up with. We also tend to love whatever our own children love. It's hard to separate sentiment from objectivity, but the Ambleside authors have attempted to do just that, favoring books that are good for all children.
What books qualify? Mason said of education, "The answer cannot be given in the form of 'Do' this and that, but rather as an invitation to 'Consider' this and that; action follows when we have thought duly." Following are some principles about how books should be chosen by parents wishing to embark on a Charlotte Mason journey with their children.
Text should be literary to prepare children for the challenging books they'll read in school, and cultivate a delight in beautiful names. Children should not develop a taste for easy books that undermine their capacity to read classics later. Books should be chosen to help decrease dependence on pictures, and rely more on imagination to envision pictures in the mind from the text.
Illustrations should "have a refining, elevating effect upon our coarser nature" and bring us into the "world of beauty" while helping our children develop an affinity for and an attraction to the beautiful, the lovely, the pure, the refining—because "education is concerned to teach him what pictures to delight in."
Stories should have the noble, beautiful, inspiring kind of living ideas that Mason espoused, including "the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority and obedience, of reverence and pity and neighborly kindness; relationships to kin and friend and neighbor, to 'cause' and country and kind, to the past and the present."
Classic stories and poems illustrated by good children's artists (such as Gennady Spirin, Barbara Cooney, Edward Ardizonne, Ted Rand) are almost always a safe bet. Parents should also look at books used in Ambleside's Years 1 and 2 when their children are ready for "chapter books."
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