Why would AO be seen as more rigorous than SCM?


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  • Claire

    Do you all find this true?  I can’t see a difference in subjects taught from one to the other.  What is the difference and why would someone seek out AO to add rigor?  Is it an atmosphere issue?  Long time SCMers lets hear from you all on this topic!


    I don’t know if more rigorous is accurate, but it is more time consuming.  They just require a LOT more reading – as do several other popular programs (Sonlight for example).  I’m personally fine with my grammar age kids spending a half hour on history reading, some other programs seem to require closer to 1 or 2 hours – that’s just too much for us.  The literature reading suggestions are also shorter.  My children still read lots and listen to audiobooks, but it’s just not required. 



    All I have are some observations. No offense is intended, and I didn’t take offense at what I experienced, but I am still turning it over in my own mind to understand it.

    I went to a gathering recently where there were a lot of people who use AO and various other methods/curricula. Many of the attendees were new to CM and new to home education in general, and the seasoned CMers were explaining how to use CM to the newbies. I was the only one who used SCM. When I mentioned SCM the subject was quickly changed and usually the comments that followed were about how AO is EXACTLY what Charlotte Mason used in her school. I think they were viewing SCM as less… something? Less rigorous? less “pure” CM? Something I don’t really know what.

    When visiting the AO website I also notice as part of registering there are directions not to link or discuss other CM curricula/sites. Having run my own forums on other topics I understand this is a decision based on many factors and in itself is neither good or bad, but it does effect the “culture” of the site and the thinking of those who support the site.

    In my opinion, while Charlotte Mason was a gifted educator and even a visionary in many ways, things have changed quite a bit in the last hundred years and while the principles of a quality education remain the same, the tools available to achieve those principles have changed in extraordinary ways. I wouldn’t want to throw out the best available tools to implement the principles just because it wasn’t the exact same tool Charlotte Mason used in her school.

    In addition, Charlotte was a director of a school not a mama at home surrounded by a brood of her own and having to get the car repaired, the taxes done and the bathroom cleaned between lessons. As a mom I also have to “work nights” if my kiddos are sick, or sleepless, etc. These realities (and others!) can and will change how we implement the principles.

    In my humble opinion, SCM takes the principles of Charlotte Mason and implements them in a gentle way, taking these differences in situation and available tools into account. Other people might place more value on the direct connection to exactly what Charlotte Mason actually taught.

    And that’s OK!


    I think that SCM and AO book recommendations are very similar. The difference for me is that SCM isn’t scheduling every subject into one grade level package, but instead SCM organizes subjects (Scripture Memory, History, Science, Picture Study, Literature etc) as a buffet for customization. AO has grade level plans that include History and Science scheduled together. Both AO and SCM have helped me to implement CM in our home. And both are more than reasonable in price 🙂

    My preference:

    SCM—Bible studies, Scripture Memory, History Modules, Geography, Picture Study

    AO—Literature, Science, Shakespeare, Plutarch

    AO—High School Plans

    I use both to choose hymns, poets, composers, artists.

    And I own most of SCM offerings….love love love the copywork pdfs and Spelling Wisdom.


    I’ve often heard that the SCM books are a lower reading level for the grade level than AO.  And actually, when I’m planning their independent reading lists, I look at AO 1-3 years behind my DC’s grade level for ideas.  So I guess there may be something to this.  However, I’m not too concerned that my DD won’t be ready to read The Black Arrow for 7th grade.  😉  One of my issues with AO has always been that I thought their books would be better enjoyed by a later grade then what they have it scheduled for.  I actually read The Black Arrow this summer and loved it…I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much in Jr. High.  We tried AO “as is” when my oldest was 6 and I felt like all the readings were over her head, especially Parables From Nature.  

    I do find a lot of great information there, so I’m not anti-AO by any means.  I follow SCM a bit more closely, mainly so I can keep my DC combined as much as possible.  I do visit AO for book suggestions, planning help, and the how-to’s of CM.  I do agree that SCM seems a bit more gentle…especially in the early years.  As a busy mom (who doesn’t have a cook, maid, chauffer, etc. like Charlotte had), I need gentle!


    I think they’re both great curriculums. I agree w/Holly. I used AO for a year or so and the booklist is pretty rigorous. I actually had a hard time switching to SCM because I felt like it was ‘less.’ But I now fear my daughters lack of enjoying reading may stem from me expecting her to read books that were too challenging for her (she’s not as academic as my son…but first child so I was still learning:) Not AO’s fault, I should have been more discerning. Some kids do great w/the list…my son didn’t have as much trouble. 

    I think AO is a great site and I refer to it every year when I plan, often pulling in extra lit. books, devotionals, etc. But I think SCM is more grade appropriate and family-friendly. I start w/my SCM plan as a base, and then if I see things I want to add from AO it’s not overwhelming. 

    I didn’t like my kids on separate AO history cycles when young…reading different chapters of This Country of Ours to each kid when none of us really liked the book was hard…we only lasted about 1/2 a year doing that:) But now that my kids are aging and I want them to read mostly independently I do have to adapt the SCM schedule a bit. But not a big deal, I just hand over more family readings to them. :)Gina


    curlywhurly…I completely agree with your opinion.

    I think we personally are enjoying SCM book choices more. AO is an excellent resource but I often get the feeling it’s “THE only way.” I love the flexibility of SCM and not feeling so chained to certain book choices.


    This is simply my opinion and no offense intended.

    There is truth that many with AO can be quite dogmatic that it’s THE ONLY way. I’ve encountered this many times at different CM conferences. AO is a wonderful resource that I’ve pulled from, but it no way is the only way. There is also an anti-capitalist bent that I’ve encountered from the same people. It’s as if because AO has been so graciously provided for free (which is fabulous), then resources that aren’t free are somehow wrong. Personally, I will happily pay money for things that I enjoy using and don’t have to put together myself. 

    Some AO book choices are slated too young IMO, too. Also, we don’t want to forget the principles of short lessons and spreading the feast. AO, especially in the HOE upper years is TOO much. You need to weed and choose. 

    There was the recent flap when AO said no-one could share their booklist and Lindafay from Charlotte Mason Help pulled down some of her wonderful helps because of it. It’s simply a booklist and Lindafay wasn’t selling anything, but rather offering opinions on which books worked best in her family and why. If she was taking the AO list and marketing/selling it, then I would see an issue, but she wasn’t. 

    Personally, I love the SCM framework for our Bible, History, Geography studies. If I feel we need more on a topic, I go to CMH or AO for an additional resource. 


    I should add, I get the feeling it’s the “only way” from AO users, not my own feelings.


    I didn’t read all of the responses, but from what I have observed the attitude that AO is ‘more rigorous’ has to do with the fact that AO recommendations are the OLD books, and therefore perceived as BETTER books.

    I will say that my major in college was English literature, and I love the OLD books! But that doesn’t mean that they are the ONLY good books, and I believe that Charlotte would be assigning quality, living books (both OLD and NEW) if she were with us today.

    I knew one family in particular who pulled their 5th grade son out of PS, and put him on this rigorous schedule of AO selections. His previous reading experience was akin to, “The Hardy Boys” and the like. Obviously, he was frustrated and hated to read, and therefore hated homeschooling.

    It was very sad to watch, because the attitude surrounding this family was that only the OLD books were valuable and would teach their son to love literature. Not true, and quite frankly, it didn’t seem fair to ‘throw him in the deep end’ like that. One of the things I love about SCM is that they teach that the child has to love the book to learn from it!

    I use some of the recommendations from AO, some from Sonlight, some from MFW, some from Veritas Press…

    But SCM is our backbone because of the ease of using the teaching materials, and that they are not dogmatic about using their resources only. I think this is the best place to learn how to implement a CM education and how to find living books for yourself and your children.

    Just an opinion, for what it is worth ;0).


    It is more rigorous.  By the time you get to the upper grades the difference is actually pretty extreme.

    I am actually a middle-of-the-roader.  I use the wonderful relaxed basic framework here, but keep in extra nature study readings, more Shakespeare, Plutarch, a little more intense poetry reading, because after using AO for several years we would really miss those things  NO one, however, misses the HOE seventh grade history list.  Wink

    The women at AO are terrific.  I learned an enormous amount from them.  I’m grateful, mostly, that I was there and tried AO before SCM was up and running.  Yes, there is a bit of an “We’re the most closely patterned after Charlotte” thing going.  That was a very important goal for them, and they did a good job.  They do NOT just use resources Charlotte used—but they tried to keep the effort levels and types of things very similar.  They did a good job.  If that is very important to you, then you might like AO.

    However, on some other CM philosophy issues, I think Sonya and Karen are actually much closer.  And these are things that really count–things like habits and atmosphere and the “wholeness” of the program.  The AO ladies are impressive–but my vote for the best student of Charlotte’s actual intentions that I know is actually Sonya.  🙂  And she wins hands-down at making the most important parts of CM available and accessible to the average mom.

    So you just have to decide what part of CM you think is most important.  I kind of blend the two a little bit.  I have to have my Plutarch.  🙂  But I’ll never stress us out trying to read the Venerable Bede either.  🙂


    I just read Bookworm’s post and rechecked my own and realized that somehow I lost a paragraph which isn’t surprising as I was using my phone. 🙂 I’ll not try to recreate that paragraph, but simply say that I agree with Bookworm that AO is more rigorous in the amount of reading and the level of reading. The upper grades are very different from SCM. Many of the same books are used, but spread out a bit differently. I’ve learned from Michelle (Bookworm), others, and some trial and error that I will likely always be a middle of the roader too. I love the SCM framework and use it mostly in full and simply add in other resources as needed or desired. 

    I also agree that Sonya is one of the most gifted people at helping make CM doable in a real life homeschool. Her understanding and ability to pull out gems from CM’s writings to share, esp. with new homeschoolers or new to CM homeschoolers is unmatched. Others that I’ve been privileged to hear have been wonderful – at the LER in MN and the CMI in VA, but it is different. With Sonya’s teaching, I feel like I’m learning more about a friend and her wonderful methods. With the others, I feel like I’m learning super intellectual and deep principles, but in a more academic way. Both are very beneficial and I am not trying to knock either, but simply pointing out the difference. For mama-teacher training, I always recommend starting with SCM’s website and materials. It is easier, more relatable, simple. However, I am already planning to return to the CMI conference next year, too. Dr. Jennifer Spencer’s topic – “Theory of Personal Integration” was phenomenal!

    I don’t “know” any of the AO creators, only users and I certainly think that everyone has the right to use what they want in the manner that they choose. I greatly prefer the openness and willingness to share, welcome ideas from other places, learn and grow that I’ve only found here. I appreciate the SCM team’s willingness to have ANY curriculum choice discussed and their recognition that the SCM way is not the only way. That is important to me. I liken it to how Charlotte believed that education was for all children. AO is a great resource, CMH is a great resource, and SCM is a great resource. You can’t really go wrong, imo, unless you continuously stress that what you’re doing is too much or not enough or __________. 



    At 1st, I thought AO was the best curriculum I could use with dc. Quickly into setting up my 1st homeschool year, I saw where SCM recommendations were more practical and relevant for my life today. If I was a home educator 100+ years ago in Victorian England AND had a nanny, AO would have been my choice hands down. I choose selections from both SCM and AO in my planning. AO may seem more rigorous in the academic challenge presented to the student, but I have come to realize that a rigorous academic curriculum does not equate to a better one. Also, with the exception of using living books, there are other areas relavent to a CM education besides the complexity of the literature chosen to teach content subjects. Examples are habits, discipline, manners, service, and character. One can be just as rigorous or lax in these areas regardless of if they use AO or just barebones 3r’s as their curriculum. AO may cover these areas in depth, especially if one studies all of CM’s writings as recommended, so I can’t compare SCM and AO in these areas. However, I do feel just as SCM covers academics thoroughly, SCM also encourages rigorous output from the student in these non-academic areas of life. I haven’t purchased Laying Down the Rails yet, but feel it to be more challenging (in a good way) to put into real life practice as the challenge to teaching Plutarch in depth if I used AO in full.

    Like others, I think both are wonderful choices. I’m not saying one is better than the other. SCM is somewhat more practical for me, I see it as just as rigorous, and has more variety than mostly vintage English style writings in comparison to AO.


    This was an interesting response everyone, thank you.

    I really must be forging my own path with CM because I was so naive about this issue.  I was prompted to ask about it by something someone commented on the AO forum about their recent switch. 

    I had no idea, and I know this sounds really stupid, that everyone actually followed the booklists of these sites verbatim.  No idea.  I started out four years ago by reading both sites, reading Charlotte’s books, reading Karen’s book, doing my SCM weekend of training, and then went off and created my own booklists!  I thought that was what everyone did!  🙂 

    This is really eye opening for me.  You all excuse my lightbulb going off!  Embarassed


    I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the way this conversation has gone and especially the input of people who have used both curricula. I may have been involved with home education for 20 years and know CM pretty well, BUT I don’t know much about AO, and only recently registed there to be able to learn more. The perspective of those who have BTDT is very helpful! I have found the discussion delightful and enlightening. 🙂

    And Claire, I think the way you have done it up til now is a much better way to go about designing your child’s education- it is tailored to the needs of your family!

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