This summer, I've been dabbling in using Ambleside Online. I've got two years of actual homeschooling under my belt now, and I am more willing to slash and burn without guilt if a book list or curriculum doesn't look like just what I'm looking for. ;)
When I first looked at Ambleside many moons ago, my initial thought was honestly, "I am not interested in a curriculum that's designed to be cheap." It was a turn off that most of the books were so old that they were out of copyright. Because it was so cheap, I thought that that was the goal, and it is not our goal to homeschool on a shoestring at the Suburban casa. Just because a book is old doesn't mean that it's quality literature, and just because a book is new doesn't mean that it's bad quality. (I like 19th century women's Christian fiction, but that is for it's curiosity value, not because it's well written. :) I will gladly pay to get quality curriculum, so I didn't think AO fit us.
Then there was the "I don't have a clue how to really use these book lists. Isn't there more?" factor. The website confused me initially. Also the best way to get a lot of the books was online, and we had a single desktop computer in the kitchen.
This year, I was given an iPad for my birthday, and school was so much less stressful to me that I decided I wanted to just print off the Year 1 book list and try doing some of the readings with the boys. I crossed out Our Island Story because I am happy with our history curriculum. I crossed out the Bible readings because I'm happy with the resources we have for that. And then it looked more manageable. :) One of the things that attracted me to Year 1 was that I have a vintage copy of "Fifty Famous Stories Retold" that I found as a child in an old trunk, and it has made many moves with me over the years. And I also wanted to find a way to get in "Paddle to the Sea".
So I've been reading to them while they've been eating snack in the afternoons. And I've been surprised at their positive response. We read a lot of books, but I don't think it's my imagination that they're engaging with these stories more than average. I suspect it's a combination of the short length and the richness of the stories. They often clamor for more when I'm done, but I now know about intentionally spreading it out to give them time to mull over what they're hearing and to let them live with a story longer to make it more a part of them. I usually don't give in.
I read the story of Polycarp yesterday, and after I finished, Seth immediately said, "Wow. He was really brave." We had a short talk about martyrs and the early church, and it could tell that he was mulling it over.
The day that I read the first Parable of Faith about the caterpillar and the bird, I was almost in tears when I finished. I read it all in one sitting, and the boys sat still and completely quiet through the whole thing. They asked questions afterward. They were really listening.
At this point, I am sold. I want to keep going with Ambleside into the school year along with our history and science readings, and I'd like to learn how to schedule some of my own books in a more Charlotte Mason way. I suspect that doing more AO planned by CM experts will give me a better sense of how to do this on my own one day.
So if you're interested in AO, but you're waffling because of some of the difficulties and misconceptions that I had, I'd encourage you to give it another look. Just dabble a bit. It's not the big commitment I thought it might have to be, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how rich the readings are.