As a stream can rise no higher than its source, so it is probable that no educational effort can rise above the whole scheme of thought which gives it birth; and perhaps this is the reason of all the fallings from us, vanishings, failures, and disappointments which mark our educational records.
— Charlotte Mason

Method of Education

Ambleside School of Fredericksburg is a private Christian school based on the philosophy of Charlotte Mason (1842-1923). Ambleside is a movement that is redefining education by:

  • providing a broad and varied curriculum of inspirational and disciplinary subjects through direct encounter with living books
  • instilling the importance of daily habits in order to author a full and free life
  • valuing right relationships with God, self, others and creation

Our primary concern is the kind of student each child is becoming, not the mastery of particular technique. We‘re confident that the student who masters the art of learning will attain his full potential for mastering data and technique. The student who masters the art of relating well to God, self, others, ideas, and creation will attain the fullness of life for which she was created.

We endeavor that the students should have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many as possible of the interests proper to him: not learning a slight or incomplete smattering about this or that subject, “but plunging into vital knowledge, with a great field before him which all his life he will not be able to fully explore” (Charlotte Mason). The courses of study vary between the grades, their time at school, and the depth at which they are encountered.

Narration is the basic methodology of Charlotte Mason education. Narration is an active retelling of what the student has heard and learned. Such a retelling requires the use of the child’s whole mind as well as their memory, and demands careful attention to a single reading of the source, without review and repetitions.

Ambleside students do the scholar’s work of the first hand reading of primary sources of literary merit that present inspiring ideas in all subjects, not dry, predigested facts and texts. Their study also includes direct contact and observation of real objects from nature (plants, minerals, animals, the elements), and art, music, and other human disciplines (maps, instruments, machines).

We must go back to the axiom of Augustine, “The soul of man is for God, as God is for the soul.” The soul has one appetite, for the things of God; breathes one air, the breath, the Spirit of God; has one desire, for the knowledge of God; one only joy, in the face of God. “I want to live in the Light of a Countenance which never ceases to smile upon me” is the language of the soul. The direct action of the soul is all Godward, with a reflex action towards men. The speech of the soul is prayer and praise, the right hand of the soul is faith, the light of the soul is love, the love of God shed abroad upon it.
— Charlotte Mason

Belief

There is no greater truth than the love of God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that we discover fullness of life.

Thus, parent and teacher have no greater responsibility than cultivating a child's joyful and obedient relationship with a loving God.

With this in mind, the Ambleside community assembles each morning to acknowledge God through prayer and praise. Students study the Bible daily, not merely as an academic discipline, but to experience how this holy mystery —God with man — is revealed in the Old and New Testaments.

Chapel and meditative reading are part of our school’s weekly routine. Reliance upon the Father’s guiding love is part of our school’s daily rhythm. As parents, teachers, and students relate with one another and with their communities, they endeavor to move toward one another in genuine love.

The employees of Ambleside School of Fredericksburg and hail from diverse backgrounds. However, they share a common commitment to Jesus Christ and the central teachings of the New Testament. All Ambleside faculty and staff affirm the Nicene Creed and Ambleside Code of Personal Conduct.

The Discipline of Habit

At Ambleside, we consider the process of student work to be as important as the end product. Rather than developing persons who are able to study well for the next exam, we are interested in helping students develop a life of study. We ask the questions: Did she attend? Did he put forth effort? And was she thorough? We believe school is not just an institution to get through, but rather a place to develop habits that will serve children the rest of their lives.

The Importance of Delight and of Struggle

Children will naturally delight in the feast of great ideas set before them. They will savor them and grow in the ability to enjoy and celebrate their relations with persons, ideas, and creation. But they will also at times struggle. We consider the struggle to be as essential to the learning process as the delight. Children must learn to labor with problems not yet grasped, to remain on task when uncertain of the outcome, to struggle to completion when mind and hand are tired, to experience the rewards and negative consequences of their actions. There will be no growth in character without the struggle. Foremost among the enemies of the delight and the struggle necessary for the cultivation of a learner are entertainment and indulgence. In the classroom, entertainment and indulgence both encourage passivity. To grow, a student must be strenuously engaged in the work of learning. Thus, Ambleside teachers, while often creative in their presentations, make no effort to entertain their students. Ambleside teachers, while being loving, will not be indulgent.

The Priority of the Relational Life

Children live in relationship with God, self, others, creation, and the world of ideas. These relationships are cultivated in the educational process through a broad, challenging curriculum and a faculty that seeks to relate to students, parents, and one another in accordance with the principles of Jesus Christ.

A Stimulating, Non-Competitive Atmosphere

In an atmosphere of sincerity and truth, students are free to learn for the pleasure of learning. Students do not compete with their peers for rank, grades or prizes. Learning is the focus, not besting a classmate. Real life is placed before the students to study and discuss. Students are stimulated to observe, explore, and understand.

Education as Vital, Dynamic, Living

Real learning occurs when the learner wonders, asks why and how. And it needs to happen in an atmosphere that stimulates thought, in an atmosphere rich with ideas. Our objective is to place the very best books before our students, books rich in content and ideas, putting them into relationship with the finest authors. Through the use of “living books” students interact with scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, historians, artists, poets, and explorers.

The Infinite Dignity and Potential of Each Child

Because children are born in God’s image, they are therefore born with great potential for a fruitful and full life of interests and relationships. At Ambleside, children are not identified or limited by their strengths or weaknesses. All children participate in a broad, rigorous curriculum—all children calculate, solve, attend, explore, ponder, recite, paint and sing. The expectation that prevails within the school is that all students will learn and grow to their full potential as persons and attain their vast inheritance.

No sooner doth the truth . . . . come into the soul’s sight, but the soul knows her to be her first and old acquaintance.”

Observe how it covers the question from the three conceivable points of view. Subjectively, in the child, education is a life; objectively, as affecting the child, education is a discipline; relatively, if we may introduce a third term as regards the environment of the child, education is an atmosphere.
— Charlotte Mason

Ambleside Philosophy of Education

The Ambleside Method is based on the thought and practice of English author, philosopher, and educator Charlotte Mason (1842-1923). Mason recorded her thought in 6 volumes, but distilled its essence into the foundational principles below.

  • Children are born persons—neither good nor bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.
  • Principles of authority and obedience are natural, necessary, and fundamental, but they are limited by the respect due the personhood of children.
  • This personhood must not be encroached upon, whether by the direct use of fear, love, suggestion, or influence, or by playing on a child’s natural desire.
  • Teachers, thus, are limited to three educational tools: atmosphere and environment; the discipline of habit; and the presentation of living ideas.
  • Education is an atmosphere does not mean bringing the world to a child’s level. It means considering the educational value of his atmosphere—both the persons and the things in it.
  • Education is a discipline means developing the discipline of habits of mind and body, formed definitely and thoughtfully. The brain is shaped by habits.
  • Education is a life means that children need intellectual and moral—as well as physical—nutrition. The mind feeds on ideas; thus children need a generous curriculum.
  • Education is the science of relations. A child relates to many things and thoughts; thus we train him in physical exercise, nature lore, handicrafts, science, art, and many living books. He requires much, varied knowledge that piques his curiosity.
  • Children are taught, when they can understand, that their chief responsibility as persons is to accept or reject ideas. To help them choose, we give principles of conduct, and offer a wide range of knowledge. These principles should help children avoid some of the loose thinking and heedless action that cause us to live at a lower level than we need.
  • We allow no separation between the intellectual and spiritual life of children. Rather, we teach them that the Divine Spirit has access to their spirits, and is their continual Helper in all interests, duties, and joys of life.

Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason’s (1842–1923) life began with the coronation of Queen Victoria and ended as Europe was still reeling from the carnage of World War I. An English educator, author, and thinker, she witnessed—and provoked—profound social and cultural change. Orphaned at an early age, always in delicate health, and never with much financial security, Mason was an unlikely pioneer of a social and intellectual movement. That she succeeded in doing so much testifies to the power of her ideas, the depth of her friendships, and—as she herself said—the work of the Holy Spirit.

After teaching for nearly 30 years, Mason settled in the village of Ambleside, in England’s Lake District. With the support and encouragement of friends, she founded the House of Education, where she ran a teacher-preparation program, oversaw the operation of a global correspondence school, and advised education officials.

Mason spent her life bringing “common thought on the subject of education to the level of scientific research.” Her theories were tested in thousands of English schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Teachers and children using her approach consistently flourished in knowledge and character.

Mason was, herself, a voracious reader who cultivated a rich life of the mind. Her thought and practice were shaped by the influences as diverse as the classical canon, 17th century Anglican poets; 19th century novelists and poets of nature, contemporary social critics, thinkers, and educators; travels abroad; and a vast correspondence. However, her colleagues, students, and friends recall encountering her rich imaginative life and powerful intellect not in a vacuum or a lecture, but in relationship with her.

Mr. H. W. Household, secretary for education in the English county of Gloucestershire, described his experience with Mason thus:

In the summer of 1919 I first saw and talked with Charlotte Mason, but many letters had passed between us since 1917 when 5 of our schools began to work under her. The first visit to Ambleside, when I stayed with her at Scale How, was followed in the next 3 years by 2 other visits. In June 1920 she came to Gloucester to meet and talk to the considerable number of teachers who were working with her in our schools.

The days spent with her were memorable. When you first saw her, knowing that she had been an invalid for many years and must have suffered much, you looked for marks of pain, weariness, weakness. But there were none. After an hour you never thought of that again.

Years had written many lines upon her face, but they were not lines of suffering. They spoke perhaps of the passage of time, but not of age—unless age is what gives and does not take away. You no more felt that she was old than that she was frail and weak of body.

She had quietly—she was always quiet—put pain and weakness and age away from her, and you were conscious only of what she had—of her surpassing gifts. It did not seem to you that she lacked anything. Her face was full of light, wide sympathy and understanding, delicate humor, gentleness, and love.

When she talked with you she brought out the best that was in you, something that you did not know was there. That is a rare gift. The learned and the great are seldom so endowed. We admire them from afar—and remain afar. She caught you up to her level, and you never quite fell back again. She had given you new light, new power. She expected much of you, more sometimes than you knew you had to give. But she was right: You had it and you gave, and of course you gained by giving.

Her power to inspire deep personal affection in the hearts of many who never saw her was remarkable. She taught a new thing, a new way. In teaching she had to show the old things and ways for what they really are. But her criticism left no sting.

She could not be anything but generous, and the ways of her mind were wide. She did not make you feel small and foolish. You did not bite your lip or flush with vexation. She lifted and inspired. She did not drive; she led you and you went with her by happy choice.

We attempt to define a person, the most commonplace person we know, but he will not submit to bounds; some unexpected beauty of nature breaks out; we find he is not what we thought, and begin to suspect that every person exceeds our power of measurement. I believe that the first article of a valid educational creed—‘Children are born persons’—is of a revolutionary character… We must either reverence or despise children; and while we regard them as incomplete and undeveloped beings … rather than as weak and ignorant persons, (whose ignorance we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own), we cannot do otherwise than despise children, however kindly or even tenderly we commit the offence.
— Essex Cholmondeley, The Story of Charlotte Mason

Children Are Persons

Who hasn’t been defined by character or ability? “You are very musical”…or athletic, bright, or mathematically inclined, says a teacher. “You are tone deaf, clumsy, average, and have no aptitude for math,” says a grandparent. Defining a child is a common way to identify who he is, to locate something he is good at, to bolster his self-esteem, to place him in the right track in school, to direct his extra-curricular activities.

At Ambleside, we do not define children by their strengths or weaknesses. Children are not—like unmolded clay—‘incomplete and undeveloped” beings. Instead we view all children as persons, created in God’s image, with a vast potential for a fruitful life filled with interests and relationships.

As persons, all children at Ambleside:

  • experience a broad, rigorous curriculum.
  • calculate, solve, attend, explore, ponder, recite, paint, and sing.
  • are held to a high standard in relationship to self, others, ideas, and work.
  • learn without the external motivation of grades, rewards, punishment, or manipulation.
  • participate actively in the learning process each day.
  • learn to complete punctual, accurate, neat, work.
  • Demonstrate complex thought, mastery of material, and academic skill.
  • receive support as they master the habits of a life well-lived.
  • encounter a wealth of ideas and knowledge in well-written books.
  • complete tasks worthy of their attention, time, effort, and thought.

 

...we have relations with what there is in the present and with what there has been in the past, with what is above us, and about us; and that fulness of living and serviceableness depend for each of us upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of. Every child is heir to an enormous patrimony. The question is, what are the formalities necessary to put him in possession of that which is his? We do not talk about...educating him with a view to his social standing or his future calling. We take the child as we find him, a person with many healthy affinities and embryonic attachments, and we try to give him a chance to make the largest possible number of these attachments valid.
— Charlotte Mason

The Science Of Relations

Parents and educators often put a child on the path of a single interest (sports, music, or science, for example), based on the child’s environment or on cultural trends. But a true education lets children encounter—and develop vital relationships with—people, ideas, and things.

When a child forms relationships, he develops wide and vital interests and joy in living. His life will be dutiful and serviceable when he understands the laws that govern each relationship. He learns, for example, the laws of work and the joys of work when he grasps that no relation with a person or a thing can be maintained without effort.

Mason warns that interests are not to be taken up on the spur of the moment; they spring out of affinities that we find and lay hold of. And the object of education is … to give children the use of as much of the world as may be. True education, then, lets children make the world their classroom.

Children at Ambleside establish relationships with 16 to 20 areas of knowledge. Their studies provide life-giving knowledge, delight, and beauty.

Study, conventional wisdom says, is career preparation or cultivation of natural ability. Delight, conventional wisdom says, is found in passive entertainment—not relationships with our vast world. But “fullness of living and serviceableness depend for each of us upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many we lay hold of.”

At Ambleside, children build vital relationships when they:

  • participate in a full, varied curriculum.
  • identify and explore areas of personal interest.
  • complete chores and care for school property.
  • relate to students in different grades.
  • build relationships with the elderly and other adults.
  • spend time with nature.
  • play!
The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every school; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and the moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.
— Charlotte Mason

Education As Atmosphere

Ambleside teachers welcome students into an atmosphere of beauty and inspiration. Classroom furniture is the work of craftsmen. Natural light filters into the classroom. Children observe birds feeding outside classroom windows. Walls display old masters’ works, wise sayings, maps of faraway places, and nature objects the class gathered.

At Ambleside students encounter the past and present, the awe and wonder of science and mathematics, the frailty and nobility of humankind, the ebb and flow of life, and the relationship between authority and obedience. And—free from the burden of competing for ranks, grades, or prizes—they learn for the joy of learning.

Ambleside students experience the guiding hand of a teacher who is both loving and firm. Teachers allow students to experience the natural consequences of their actions, and students experience the delight and the struggle of everyday life.

Ambleside teachers cultivate an atmosphere that nurtures:

  • joy and belonging.
  • relationships that include, rather than exclude.
  • culture that transcends fads.
  • pursuit of, and love for, knowledge.
  • wonder, as students relate to knowledge, others, and God.
  • delight in work and in the struggle to grow.
  • effort and enjoyment of effort’s fruit.
  • rigor, challenge, and an opportunity to meet mind to mind.
  • variety in work, conversation, and focus.

 

By this formula we mean the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or of body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought, i.e. to our habits.
— Charlotte Mason

Education As Discipline

Charlotte Mason understood—long before sophisticated imaging technology confirmed it—that the physical brain is shaped by its experiences. Mason knew life could be “duly eased” for children “by those whose business it was to lay down lines of habit upon which behavior might run easily.”

Thus, Ambleside teachers help students cultivate habits proper to learning and mature living. During this formation, Ambleside teachers work alongside families, equipping students to live full, satisfying lives—rich in devotion to God, service to others, and continued personal growth.

At Ambleside, students learn the discipline of education as they practice the habits proper to learning and mature living:

  • attention.
  • narration.
  • careful approach to work.
  • obedience.
  • mature relationships with others.
  • critical thinking.
  • generous spirit.
  • reverence.
  • courtesy.
  • physical fitness.
  • moral fitness.
For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.
— Charlotte Mason

Education As Life

Charlotte Mason believed that minds are nourished when they engage ideas —the best thoughts of the best minds. These life-giving ideas exist in the “thought atmosphere” that surrounds students; they breathe these ideas as their bodies breathe life-giving air.

Indeed, Mason wryly observed, “there is but one sphere in which the word idea never occurs, in which the conception of an idea is curiously absent, and that sphere is education!”Today much that passes as education is actually data and technique, assessed by quizzes and tests.

Contemporary students only pass time in school. Day-to-day, week-to-week, even year-to-year, their minds find only scraps of ideas to feed on. But intellectual starvation is not the only option for this generation!

Real learning happens when students engage novelists, poets, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, musicians, historians, and explorers. Real learning happens when students wonder, ask why, and see how. Ambleside teachers foster this engagement using carefully chosen Ambleside curriculum.

For example, a student gleans from the Psalmist the idea that one knows God in stillness. From composition she receives the idea that silence—or sound associated with night—emphasizes solitude or peace. From composer study she learns that Mendelssohn copied St. Matthews Passion, without believing the work could be performed again. These ideas are seeds in the child’s mind. As they germinate, others emerge, and a whole crop springs up from just one morning’s sowing.

At Ambleside, children experience education as a life each day. They receive consistent intellectual nourishment via:

  • living books and living things.
  • “worthy thought and worthy work.”
  • times of silence and reflection.
  • narration and discussion that promote assimilation of ideas.

 

Give children a wide range of subjects, with the end in view of establishing in each case some one or more of the relations I have indicated. Let them learn from first-hand sources of information––really good books, the best going, on the subject they are engaged upon. Let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher. The teacher’s business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge, but by no means to be the fountain-head and source of all knowledge in his or her own person. The less parents and teachers talk and expound their rations of knowledge and thought to the children they are educating, the better for the children.
— Charlotte Mason

Curriculum

In Charlotte Mason’s thought and experience, curricula is not a product; it is an outcome of a philosophy. With this in mind, Ambleside Schools International drew on Mason’s collected works to create a formal curriculum for students in grades K–12 and an informal curriculum for preschool and after-school care.

As the children mature, the curricula they encounter broadens and deepens. It moves beyond fundamental skills to advanced work that prepares them to cultivate a rich intellectual life, regardless of their post-secondary paths.

The Ambleside curricula is comprised of skill-based (disciplinary) and content-based (inspirational) instruction. These are not mutually exclusive forms of instruction—each discipline is infused with inspiration; each inspiration requires its discipline. Disciplinary and inspirational instruction work in tandem, enlivening students’ rigorous engagement with ideas and natural growth in knowledge.

Curricula consist primarily of living books, narratives. These nourish the mind, allowing it to assimilate information and gain knowledge. Some are classics that stand the test of time; others feature beautiful language, universal themes, rich characters, or intricate plots. Still others offer disciplinary information in an inspirational, accessible format.

Whenever possible, ASI selects books that are in print, readily available, to accommodate the broadest possible audience. Some resources are selectively available via used book stores and Web sites; these have been chosen because they will most effectively reach the mind of the student.

The Ambleside curricula provides:

  • a wide and varied course of study.
  • an alternating weekly plan for skill development and content mastery.
  • exposure to knowledge that is vital, fruitful, interesting, and idea-rich.
  • books characterized as representing “the best thought of the best writers.”
  • materials that aid in understanding and exploring, without diluting, the discipline.
  • grade level sequences for core subjects, among them mathematics, grammar, composition, and phonics.
  • grade level sequences for inspirational subjects, among them citizenship and science.
  • science observations and experiments correlated with science texts.
  • handwork projects and picture study reproductions.
  • abbreviated versions of Shakespeare’s plays.
  • Spanish instruction.
  • conference calls with home and school educators on a variety of topics.