In hindsight, I see now that the path the Lord chose for us to be on (viz a vis home schooling) has been perfectly designed and choreographed. Had I simply stayed the course, I think we would have done even better than now. But, the past is the past, and as such you cannot go back and redo things. I am committed to finishing our last year at home with the curriculum we started with originally. The more we follow this curriculum, the better he does. The more we deviate, the worse he does. It is not rocket-science, that is for sure. So my opinion now has changed--where once I was uncertain if our path was the best -- I am now 100% convinced that it has been heaven sent and graciously blessed.
My View on Ambleside Online
My son is highly gifted, but not in a traditional sense (like kids who can get straight As without having to work at it or those who can read a book and recall instantly every detail). My son is gifted in processing and spatial awareness. This means that he tends to get things rather quickly, so keeping him challenged has always been, well, a challenge! In spatial awareness areas, it has meant that he needs a specific type of challenge. He needs thinking materials versus straight information downloads. He needs to chew on things, turn them over and around, and then come to terms with them. The meatier the book or subject, the better.
This need has driven our choice of curriculum for the past six years. When my son was first home schooled, we happened upon Ambleside Online (http://www.amblesideonline.org). This curriculum is available for free, and is based on the teaching philosophy and methods of Charlotte Mason. Miss Mason was a 19th century British educationalist and philosopher who created a teaching curriculum for home education. Her six-volume work is called "The Original Home Schooling Series," and has been in print for nearly 100 years.
Charlotte Mason's teaching methods are enjoying a great following, especially among home schooling families who long for the gentle life of Victorian sensibility. Though designed during the late Victorian period, her writings evolved into quite elaborate theories during the war years (WWI and II) and afterward. Much study has been applied by scholars to analyze and review her 'suggestions towards a curriculum' -- the nuts and bolts of her writings that focus on the teaching of children and youth.
Ambleside Online /House of Education (which was the name of her secondary school program) offers curriculum for children ages 6 through 18. The curriculum is quite advanced, when you compare it to traditional public school programs. Children begin reading (being read) classical literature and historical fiction. They start Y1 with Shakespeare, poetry, art and composer studies, natural history as well as learn foreign language. By Year 4 (4-5th grades), they are reading about citizenship through the Lives of Plutarch (Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans). They have studied mythology, and are reading such books as Robinson Crusoe and Kon-Tiki (both are typically assigned in high school). The emphasis is classical, but the method is far from rote and memorization (drill often used in classical classrooms). The primary mode is what Miss Mason called her "Science of Relations," which simply meant that we all share a relationship with history, with science, with fine art and literature. In such a way, we are able to make connections through our exposure to the work -- we do not need to be taught such things, we instead learn instinctively by observation and experience.
Children come to recognize a work by Monet or a poem by Robert Frost. They are able to distinguish between characters in various Shakespeare plays. They develop a keen sense of vocabulary and an appreciation for complex language. In general, they are able to speak well, to think deeply, and to interpret literature or history or any specific type of writing with ease.
Interestingly enough, when we started using this curriculum, our son's abilities to read, to think, and to analyze deep things was non-existent. Granted, he was only 10 at the time (how deep can you get at 10? LOL!) But, in reality, it took us less than one year of reading more complex literature and history, to begin to see such development take place. Now, we are near the end of our time with this curriculum, and the growth we see has been tremendous. Yes, he still has some specific weaknesses (in writing essays and such), but his ability to understand complex writings is phenomenal. I am blown away by his ability to read difficult texts (college level) and then speak intelligently about them. For that, I am indebted to Miss Mason and her 19th century sensibilities and her strong desire to see children well-educated.