Ambleside Blog

Training Children as Ministers of Grace

Children are open to vanity as to all other evil dispositions possible to human nature. They must be educated to give and to help without any notion that to do so is goodness on their part. It is very easy to keep them in the attitude of mind natural to a child, that to serve is promotion to the person who serves for indeed he has no absolute claim to be in a position to pour benefits upon another. The child's range of sympathy must be widened, his love must go out to far and near, rich and poor; distress abroad and distress at home should appeal to him equally; and always he should give some manner of help at real cost to himself. Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, 66.
       
Charlotte Mason evokes several principles in her call for children to serve:
• Service is a deliberate work – they must be educated. Children must see adults serve and must be given some instructions on how to serve. What must a young person know about visiting the elderly at an assisted living home? How might they give? How might they help?
• Service widens one’s sympathy - love must go out to far and near, rich and poor; distress abroad and distress at home. Children must be informed about the persons they are visiting. What are their distresses?
• Service involves self-sacrifice - some manner of help at real cost to himself. What is the personal cost? Discomfort? Time? Work?

An Ambleside teacher shares his experience with service:
Over this school year my ten and eleven year old children have been going to a local nursing home once a month.  There have been several interactions between students and residents that demonstrate the presence of God in these visits.  I would like to share one such occurrence.  The residents range in ability, some able to communicate well and others only able to utter a moan or move a few fingers. 

The first time we went I knew it would be uncomfortable for some of the students.  Most adults have trouble being genuine at these places.  Many students were shy and unwilling to touch the residents’ hands or even the game pieces they had touched.  When we got back to school after the first visit one boy asked why we went there.  “They can barely stay awake,” he said, with many other students agreeing.  As a class we discussed these things not in an attempt to win over the cynics but to actually ponder the legitimate question from the mind of a child.  ‘What a glorious question for a young mind to struggle with,’ I thought to myself.  The ‘least of these’ teachings given to us by the Savior had an application now and we read several scriptures where Jesus cared for those that were ignored by others.

However, instead of thinking that it was our class caring for the ‘least of these’ I discovered I was wrong.  A student new to our school has had some past experiences with being bullied and on random days he may withdraw from others as a defense.  Our class happened to be visiting the elderly on one of these days.  When we arrived he tried to sit in the corner of the small room away from everyone.  I called him out into the hallway where I saw his hands trembling and tears in his eyes were on the verge of spilling over.  I did my best to help him regulate himself. 

To my surprise an elderly gentleman, who must had been watching, called the boy over to sit next to him.  The man was masterful at pulling the boy out of his anxious state.  He asked for help when he did not need it, used the boy’s name like he had known him for years, and clapped wildly when my student won a round of the game. The friendliness of this stranger almost brought me to tears, especially when he looked up at me and winked, as if to say, ‘I’ll help him out, Teach!’

Near our time to leave I always allow my students to go look at the fish tank on display. As they were enjoying the fish, I went to the man and thanked him for his kindness. I found out he had been an educator in New England as a younger man.  It was clear he was passionate about the life he lived pouring support into young people.  He told me about two boys he befriended while they were in middle school and his friendship with them continues to this day. I would have enjoyed continued talking with him, but I had to shorten the conversation to get back to my students. I thanked him again and as I stood I realized that it was the residents, even the invalids, which were serving us.  I went to each person and thanked him or her for playing with the children and asked the students to do the same.  I watched as the students went around the room thanking the residents.    It was not difficult to see that it was the elderly men and women that felt they had accomplished the service that day. 

At the beginning of each visit, the students walk down the hall, find a seat next to a resident, and start playing a game, interacting, and just being with them.  In the beginning, I thought we came to shine the light on those less fortunate than us.  I pitied them for the monotonous days, lack of visitors, and having to be wheeled everywhere. But now I see how God’s ways are so different yet much more perfect than our ways.  By coming to serve, we allowed them an opportunity to serve us and in so doing their sense of worth and value shone bright upon each of their faces.  These ministers of grace, both young and old are a revelation of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
 

An Exercise in Contrast -Gaining Perspective

A simple exercise of taking the time to measure the length and height of a Brachiosaurus allows one to have a moment to see. What might a person consider during this moment?

  • The creature.
  • The human.
  • What distinguishes one from the other?
  • What is realized upon this recognition?

Suppose more of our lessons gave us something more to think about?

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Ambleside Homeschool family

The Gift of Love and Gladness

In the days before Christmas, anxiety about the holidays is heard in many exchanges with family, friend, and stranger. Topics vary from decorations, shopping, baking, guests, travel, to the most menacing of all  - the illusive gift for that special someone. Charlotte Mason speaks about “a shade of anxiety in the mother’s face as she plans for the holidays.”  We all have had experiences of being around persons who are anxious; no help is needed; yet all help is needed. One is in a quandary of just how to be and act in an atmosphere of anxiety.

In order to not have ourselves and our loved ones breathe in this anxiety, one must break away and come to Him.  Our hearts cry out with the children, “ Come to earth O, tiny King, take away our sadness. At your birth our hearts will sing filled with hope and gladness.”   The young children of Ambleside School of Fredericksburg sang these melodies repeatedly with increased volume as the resonance of the vowels of each word were emphasized – resounding the message of come King, take away and bring.

Come away from the anxious thoughts and multitude of tasks and come to the King – receive his love and joy. And in these days of Christmastime, may you be a conduit of Jesus’ gladness and love to all. Happy Christmas to You!

The Gift of Self

The Gift of Self

"He must feel it in your touch, see it in your eye, hear it in your tones, or you will never convince a child that you love him, though you labor day and night for his good and his pleasure. Perhaps this is the special lesson of Christmas-tide for parents. The Son came––for what else we need not inquire now––to reinstate men by compelling them to believe that they––the poorest shrinking and ashamed souls of them––that they live enfolded in infinite personal love, desiring with desire the response of love for love. And who, like the parent, can help forward this "wonderful redemption"? The boy who knows that his father and his mother love him with measureless patience in his faults, and love him out of them, is not slow to perceive, receive, and understand the dealings of the higher Love". Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Gospel of John

There is no greater gift we can give our children than the gift of ourselves.
May you and those you love have a blessed Christmas.

Bill and Maryellen St Cyr
Ambleside Schools International

Grace: a most important lesson

My oldest son has struggled with perfectionism since, well, birth.  I know this because it is part of his personality.  "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree," so the saying goes.  And, as God would have it, He chose to place one recovering perfectionist (me) with another who is testing its promises of fulfillment and identity.  And God has put us smack dab in two of the most intensely relational situations in life: the home and the school.  

How I have longed to help my son see that perfection is not the goal, is self-defeating, is a consuming monster (too strong?  I don't think so), and is even undefinable.  I want him to be free from the trap of its noble sounding urges.  I have learned to see my role as mostly in putting my failures on full display and allowing God's grace and sufficiency to regain my conquered heart and identity (and to speak this out).  And when my son gets emotionally intense in a perfectionist battle, I have learned to give him firm hugs and whisper "there is grace being sprinkled over you right now."  

But I know that the Holy Spirit is my son's best Teacher, as Charlotte Mason has helped me to understand.  He is the very One who knit my son in my womb and who is speaking messages of endearing love and unconditional favor to my son's soul.  And I am getting to witness the overflow.

In these past few weeks, I have been privileged to witness some of the work of the Spirit in my son.  On several occasions during school when he usually would have shut down because of some missed expectation of his own, I have witnessed him choosing to speak grace over himself.  Radically, profoundly, amazingly, when once a bit of frustration would lead to a melt-down of tears and anger, he has taken to saying "no pressure, no pressure" to himself as he breathes and opens his palms.  Then he gives me a relaxed smile and moves past his frustration to tackle to matter at hand.  I can not put words to what is happening, except that I am witnessing a transformation caused by profound grace.  The Holy Spirit is his Teacher.  And grace is one of His most important lessons.

My Soul Rises

My Soul Rises

When I think about Thanksgiving I think of a people or a person whose soul rises beyond the temporal to the eternal.  The soul surveys a thousand good things from common life and ascends in praise. “How good is life, how joyous it is to go out of doors, even in the streets of a city! Surely a pleasant thing it is to see the sun! How good is health, even the small share of it allotted to the invalid! How good and congenial all the pleasant ways of home life, all family love and neighborly kindness, and the love of friends! How good it is to belong to a great country and share in all her interests and concerns! How good to belong to the world of men, aware that whatever concerns men, concerns us! How good are books and pictures and music! How delightful is knowledge! How good is the food we eat! How pleasant are the clothes we wear! How sweet is sleep, and how joyful is awaking!”

This is indeed an example of a rising soul! Yet, a rising soul is not a soul that rises only in appreciation for everything that pleases the self. The rising soul also emerges on an ascending path towards God in the midst of a world of suffering. The soul ascends in spite of the pain, in spite of the fear and in spite of the loneliness.

A heart full of thanksgiving surveys all of life. This way of being moves one on an emerging path to the presence of God – Excelsior!
 


  Mason, Ourselves, 192.

The Science of Relations

Charlotte Mason had an idea she calls the ‘science of relations’.  What she meant by this is that in giving children a broad and liberal education, they will naturally connect related ideas by themselves.  This frees teachers from the need to artificially force connections of ideas for the students.  A good example of this artificial or forced connection is unit studies.  In fact, Charlotte Mason was opposed to using unit studies in education because it relieved the child of the valuable effort exerted in making their own connections, something she believed children were quite capable of doing. 

This past week our homeschool experienced a lovely example of the science of relations.  During our Bible time we were reading from the book of I Samuel and we read about Israel being unhappy with God as their King.  The people were complaining to Samuel and telling of their dissatisfaction with his sons and wished for God to give them an earthly king.  Over the past couple years we have read through the entire Child’s Story Bible and my children know quite well how things turn out for the Israelites with their long desired “earthly kings”.  After we finished reading the I Samuel passage in school and its narrations, my 7-year-old daughter got very quiet and deep in thought and then blurted out, “It’s just like the frogs, Mommy!”  At this point I gave a kind of interested, yet confused look as my mind was trying to make a connection between the Israelites and frogs.  She continued to say, “You know, Mommy, like when the frogs were unhappy and they wished for a king and so they begged Jupiter to give them one.  Then Jupiter sent down a big log to be their king, but they weren’t happy with that either and they grumbled and complained.  Finally, Jupiter sent down a crane to be their king and he ate up all the frogs.  See, that’s what it is going to be like for the Israelites.”  At this point, in amazement, I said, “Yes, I see that connection.”  I had remembered that we read this story in Aesop’s Fables a couple of years ago. 

This is exactly what Charlotte Mason was talking about when she suggested that children, even as young as 7, can make connections with bigger and broader ideas on their own. And, something very different happens when a child’s own mind labors to connect an idea themselves; they own it.

A Lovely Young Lady

I have the distinct privilege of being the friend of a very intentional, loving mom.  We have enjoyed being in relationship since our children were very young.  Her youngest wasn't born when I met her, nor was my youngest.  We have witnessed each other's families grow.  Her oldest just turn twelve years old and is the subject of my musing today.  

My friend and I meet at a park with our children semi-monthly.  While they create forts and act out medieval dramas (complete with crowns and armors of ivy), we read about and discuss one of our favorite subjects: Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education.  Since this summer, I have noticed the fact that her twelve year old daughter is not a little girl anymore.  She has become a young lady in every sense of the word.  She holds herself with dignity, dresses with modesty, possesses a loving, interested and courteous demeanor, and is not self-absorbed.  She can play with the younger children with ease because she has no doubts as to her identity.  She doesn't think that playing with them is below her and they love her for it.  She has an unselfish confidence.  Her beautiful character brings tears of wonder to my eyes.  And it brings a different sort of tears to think of the loneliness of her position amongst her peers.  She is almost in a class of her own.

Ambleside and the Pursuit of Maturity

A few years ago, at my favorite pub on Capitol Hill (Washington, DC), I shared brunch with a former student. She had been part of the first high school class to graduate from Ambleside. Having completed her university degree, she was spending the summer working in Washington. The food was typical pub food, but the conversation was excellent. She was engaging, conversant in a wide variety of subjects, comfortable in sharing her thoughts and desires, her delights and struggles. And, quite atypical of a contemporary twenty-something, she was genuinely interested in the thoughts and desires, the delights and struggles of her former teacher. It was a rich time. As we neared the end of our meal, I leaned over the table and said, “Let me tell you the most difficult, the most painful thing in your life right now.” Her eyes opened a little wider, and she began to listen intently. I went on, “You are an intelligent, engaging young woman. The way you have conducted yourself throughout our time together, the way you walked into the room, your impeccable manners, the quality of our conversation, your interest not just in yourself but in me; all of this points to the character of a mature young woman. Yet, you are surrounded by wo-girls and man-boys (physically adults, but emotionally-relationally functioning like thirteen year-olds). And, that is a very lonely place to be.” A small tear began to slide down her cheek, and I continued, “But what is the alternative.”

In a recent TED talk entitled “The Demise of Guys” (see demiseofguys.com), Philip Zimbardo points out that we are facing an enormous crisis. In his ebook by the same title, Zimbardo maintains:

In record numbers, guys are flaming out academically and wiping out socially with girls…

Young men are motivated, just not the way other people want them to be. Society wants guys to be upstanding proactive citizens who take responsibility for themselves, who work with others to improve their communities and nation as a whole. The irony is that society is not giving the support, means or places for these young men to even be motivated or interested in aspiring to these things. In fact, society-from politics to the media to the classroom to our very own families – is a major contributor to this demise because they are inhibiting guys’ intellectual, creative and social abilities right from the start.

While I don’t agree with everything Zimbardo says and he doesn’t claim to have a complete answer for the problem, he has recognized something very important. In today’s European-American cultures, young men are increasingly a mess. The typical twenty-six year old male of today is a very different creature from the twenty-six year old male of fifty years ago. And, young women are not far behind. It’s not just that biologically young adults are increasingly functioning at lesser levels of psychological, emotional-relational maturity. Fewer and fewer have any vision for maturity. They dream only of perpetual adolescence.

What went wrong? As a culture, we have forgotten that maturity is an achievement. It must be intentionally cultivated and does not occur apart from hard work on the part of child and adult. Achieving maturity is not something we come by without effort. Almost two thousand years ago, Paul of Tarsus wrote the Corinthian church, declaring:


When I was a child, I spoke like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
In a highly indulgent, consumption-oriented society; this giving up of childish ways is a challenging task. It requires concerted effort on the part of young and old alike. It requires a community that has a clear vision of what maturity looks like and how it is to be achieved.

Ambleside is just such a community. In fact, perhaps the most distinctive thing about an Ambleside high school is its vision for and commitment to spiritual, psychological, and emotional-relational maturity. It is our goal, that when a young man or woman graduates from an Ambleside high school, he or she will be functioning at an adult level of maturity, able to think like a mature adult, work like a mature adult, serve like a mature adult, and appropriately regulate his or her emotional life as a mature adult.

We agree with Charlotte Mason’s words, “to direct and assist the evolution of character is the chief office of education.” Consider the graduate, who, in addition to having mastered a broad and rich curriculum, can manage emotional distress well and stay her best self; can stay on task when head and hand are tired; is careful, accurate, neat, and dutiful in work; has appropriate respect for appropriate authority; and maintains a good relationship with God, self, peers and teachers. Such a student will surely do well in university and even more importantly in life. It is just such a student that we seek to cultivate at Ambleside.

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