"When I was young I told a tale of buried gold, and men from leagues around dug in the woods. I dug myself."It has been nine years since I had a student going into Ambleside Online's Year Eight. You forget a lot in nine years. What I did remember, from our first round, was a lot of difficult, and most of it not as appealing nor as easy to understand as the Middle Ages, King Arthur emphasis in Year Seven. I also remembered that Year Eight covered an awful lot of ground: from the start of the Tudor era, the Renaissance and Reformation, through the Elizabethans and the Stuarts, through Cromwell, the Puritans, and up to William and Mary at the end of the 1600's. For Canadians, that period covers an introduction to the First Nations peoples, the founding of New France, and the beginnings of the fur trade. (Americans get to study the Pilgrim Fathers and the early colonies.) I remembered the Apprentice reading Cavalier poetry, Utopia, Whatever Happened to Justice?, and a version of Everyman...and Children of the New Forest, since we were trying to coordinate somewhat with Ponytails' Year Three (same time period). We tried reading some of The Betrothed on Project Gutenberg, but it was just too big a book for us to handle that way, and the public library didn't have a copy (still doesn't), so we dropped it after a few chapters.
"I thought the tale of treasure might be true"
"You said you made it up."
"I know I did, but then I didn't know I had." ~~ James Thurber, The 13 Clocks
Now might bring a certain knight of gay and shining courage--"But, no!" the cold Duke muttered. "The Prince will break himself against a new and awful labour: a place too high to reach, a thing too far to find, a burden too heavy to lift." ~~ James ThurberThat's an awful lot to dump on a middle-schooler. Not to mention all the literature, science, math and everything else that's part of a school year. How are they supposed to make sense of all this, and not get so burned out that they forget about love of learning? How's a homeschooling mom supposed to get fired up by a curriculum outline where almost Every Single Book is by John something or other? The mere fact that so many of this year's readings can be found in the Harvard Classics is worrisome. It wasn't like we were going to desert Ambleside or anything, but I was feeling like Year Seven had been a bit of a picnic compared with what lay ahead.
A lock of the guard's hair turned white and his teeth began to chatter. "The Todal looks like a blob of glup," he said. "It makes a sound like rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms. It's waiting for the Duke to fail in some endeavour, such as setting you a task that you can do." "And if he sets me one, and I succeed?" the Prince inquired. "The Blob will glup him," said the guard. ~~ James ThurberI was more interested in giving Dollygirl a wonderful and manageable Year Eight than I was worried about being glupped. I looked really carefully at the original P.U.S. programmes that covered the same time periods as Year Eight (they're not on the Ambleside website, you will have to go to the CM Digital Archives if you want to see those terms). There were a few differences: less incidental material for history and literature, more plant study, more writing spelled out. I took the general format and started swapping books around. What I came up with wasn't bad, but I wanted a way to communicate "here's what to do when" to Dollygirl--as in, more specific instructions and possibly a weekly checklist. When Ponytails was in Grade Eight and using AO's Pre-Year-Seven, I used Carol Hepburn's outline as a weekly checklist and let her set much of her own schedule. Would that work? By this time I was also looking at the AO 36-week schedule for Year 8 and wondering how much of that we were going to end up keeping and how much might be different.
So this is what I did: don't try it at home. I copied Carol's outline into a file, thirty-six times, changed up the Pre-Year-Seven books for all the AO Year Eight, P.U.S., and other books I thought should go in there (like math books and Canadian history), and then started copying in the page breakdowns from the AO schedule.
Actually it didn't look so unworkable. In fact, it was so workable that I started seeing where I could add in a few of the "extras" from AO Year Eight. Science was going to include a unit about the heart and lungs--well, there's where we would read about William Harvey. The writing guide we had included a sample essay by Francis Bacon which was also on the AO schedule. If we dropped Shakespeare in Term Three, we could fit in Dryden's play about Antony and Cleopatra, All for Love, which is hidden in the Free Reading list. Et cetera.
Then I cut stuff. It hurt, but I really pruned it down. I chucked a useful but boring plant book; even if the P.U.S. did botany every single year, and the readings weren't long, it wasn't contributing much. I trimmed down the literature and the geography.
And what I ended up with was...more or less...AO Year Eight. Or somewhere between Year Eight and Year Eight Lite. Scrambled into our own sequence, but still mostly there.
Year Eight is going to be great.
The Golux gazed a last time at the Princess. "Keep warm," he said. "Ride close together. Remember laughter. You'll need it even in the blessed isles of Ever After."....A fair wind stood for Yarrow and, looking far to sea, the Princess Saralinda thought she saw, as people often think they see, on clear and windless days, the distant shining shores of Ever After. ~~ James Thurber(Part Two will explain what we're keeping and what we're switching.)
Related post: Ten Things I'm Doing to Plan Year Eight Better.