Ambleside Blog

Fear Not

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

-Isaiah 41:10

How much of what we do or don’t do is because of fear?  We fear we are not good enough, we fear we will be rejected, and we fear failure.  But God says, “fear not”.  Let me repeat that, God says, “Fear not”.  As God’s people, we need not be afraid of anything, but rather to trust in the promises of God’s word.  When we take on the responsibility to educate our own children the temptation to be fearful manifests itself in many ways such as, fear of teaching multiple grades, math, writing, enough socialization, getting them to college, and others.  But, before we begin a fear based thought process, let us remember the words of our God, “Fear not, for I am with you.”

The Question "Why?"

To really master an area of study a child must understand “Why?”.  It has become popular in both homeschooling and some schools to educate children with rote learning.  But, rote learning does not ask the children “Why?”.  Why is this a verb?  Why do we need a coordinating conjunction?  Why is the ozone layer important?  Why is 8 X 5 equal to 40?  Why must we keep our brush relatively dry to paint accurate details?  Why should letters always sit on the baseline?  For example, if a child cannot explain in his own words why a particular word is a verb, how it is different from the other words in the sentence, and why it would belong on a certain place in a diagram, then he doesn’t understand a verb no matter how well he can recite the definition.  The ability to answer the question,“Why?” separates real from superficial understanding.  The proof of real understanding is a student being able to answer the question of “Why?”.  

Impressionism: Up Close

Last week we did our first Picture Study. Our approach to the study of art comes from the ideas of Charlotte Mason:

As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else-where we shut out the middleman.

- Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosphy of Education, Homeschooling Series Vol. 6

We study one artist each semester. Each week we read a little bit about the artist's life and technique, then a quality print of one of the artist's pieces is put before the boys. They are given four to six minutes to study the work, to really look at it, and to take it all in. Then the piece is turned over and they are asked to "tell back" what they saw. I also provide a magnifying glass for them to use, if they would like to take a closer look at some particular detail in the picture.

The painting we looked at last week was done in the impressionistic style, where the artist uses dabs or small strokes of unblended color that, when looked at as a whole, create the visual effects of light and shadow and surprising detail.

Last week was Michael's first experience with Picture Study. I turned the picture over and told them to begin their observation. Michael immediately reached for the magnifying glass and wouldn't put it down. He was scanning all over the painting, looking only through the lens of the magnifying glass. At one point King asked to use it. Michael reluctantly gave it up, but he kept an eye on it the whole time, not once looking back at the painting until he had the magnifying glass back in his hand.

I must add that the original of the work we were looking at was only about six by nine inches, but the print we had was blown up to about five times that size. Needless to say, this only served to further magnify(!) the problem.

I decided that I needed to take away the magnifying glass completely. After some protesting, Michael again reluctantly gave it up. But he was now completely obsessed with it and could hardly glance down at the painting without asking for the magnifying glass back.

Mom, I NEED it! I HAVE to SEE something!

Finally, exasperated by how quickly this exercise had gone so wrong, I whispered sternly,

Michael! I'm telling you: you better be able to tell me every single thing that is in this painting by the time you are done!

Charlotte Mason may have rolled over in her grave at that moment, but Michael straightened up and really started looking at the picture for the first time. He didn't ask for the magnifying glass again and we ended up having a lovely discussion about what they both saw in the painting.


Homeschool Blindspots

I recently read an article from the Virginia Home Educator Magazine by Reb Bradley, entitled Homeschool Blindspots, and found it very thought provoking.  Many times we go down a chosen path in life thinking that we are doing right only to get further down the path and see the error in our ways.  Choosing to homeschool is a major commitment and one in which we should regularly examine our motives.  If it is true that “an unexamined life is a life not worth living” then unexamined homeschooling is a homeschooling not worth doing.  This article is excellent for any parent, not just homeschoolers.   

Here are some of the main “blindspots”:

1. Having Self-Centered Dreams
2. Raising Family as an Idol
3. Emphasizing Outward Form
4. Tending to Judge
5. Depending on Formulas
6. Over-Dependence on Authority and Control
7. Over-Reliance Upon Sheltering
8. Not Passing on Pure Faith
9. Not Cultivating a Loving Relationship With Our Children

Here is the link to the article.  It is a bit long but, worth every word.

Fairy Tales Aren't for Sissies

This summer I decided I would read to the boys from a book that my brother recommended* called Favourite Grimm's Tales. It contains familiar stories like Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Puss-in-Boots, Little Snow-White, Rapunzel, and Little Red-Cap. The boys were skeptical.

When we were trying to decide which story to read first, they turned down all stories princess related because: "Ew!" Other stories were dismissed because they had "already heard that one." We settled on "The Bremen Town Musicians", as none of us were familiar with the story and the pictures suggested it might prove interesting, or at least amusing. We were right. It was an entertaining story and not at all predictable.

Next, we decided on "Puss-in-Boots". Thanks to Shrek, he was a familiar character, but none of us could really say that we knew his story. When the estate of a Miller was divided, all that was left for his youngest son to inherit was the family cat. "Bummer!" But wait... as it turns out, this kitty in his swanky boots was quite the clever puss and managed to turn things around for the poor fellow. The boys were impressed.

After being pleasantly surprised with our first two selections, we decided to venture into princess territory with Cinderella ("Ew!"). If you are not familiar with the true story of how Cindy hooked up with her prince, let me tell you it is not for sissies. Many parts of the story are similar, like the stepsisters big ugly feet not fitting into Cindy's little slippers. What I didn't know was that, at their mother's suggestion, one sister cut off both of her big toes and the other cut off both of her heels, so that their feet would fit into the shoes. It was all the blood leaking out of their shoes that tipped the prince off each time that he had the wrong girl.

Much to everyone's surprise, the boys thought the story of Cinderella was kind of... "Awesome!" Ew.

*My brother's school has an Amazon Online Store with prescreened book recommendations for children. If you end up buying anything through these links, his school gets a percentage of the sale from Amazon, although you don't have to pay any more than you normally would for the item. I, on the other hand, get nothing for mentioning this book, or my brother's school, or the school's store. I just wanted to share a good book with you and tell you how I found it.

Telling or Teaching?

Our neighbors asked Mike if he would stop in twice a day while they were out of town and take care of their pets (two cats, two turtles, three beta fish, and five goldfish). Mike agreed, and I decided the opportunity for him to have a hands-on lesson in responsibility was worth the effort on my part. As it turned out, I was the one who needed the lesson.

On our twice daily trips, I referred to the list of morning and evening "to-dos", while Mike performed each task. I stepped in with words of caution ("Don't pull the turtle's leg out too far!"); reminders ("Did you turn on the light?"); and to do what he physically couldn't ("Don't climb on the turtle tank to turn out the light! Let me do it."). I was proud of Mike. He did (pretty much) all the work without complaining (much) about it. I was proud of myself too for facilitating the learning experience.

About mid-week, I asked Curtis to take Mike over to do his evening chores, so I could finish making dinner. I was confident Mike knew what to do, and if not, there was always the list for reference. Curtis, like I, would be in a purely supervisory role.

Upon their return, I asked Mike how it went.

"Fine. Great."

"You gave the cats food and water?"

"Oops." [blank stare]

"What do you mean, 'oops'? Didn't you look at the list?"


Curtis interjected from across the room, "NO! Obviously, you didn't read the list! If you had, you wouldn't have forgotten to feed the cats!"

"YES! I did so read the list! It said, 'Evening: turn off the lights.'"

I explained, "Michael, that was just for the turtles, the first thing on the list. You have to read the whole list."

So what happened? Mike had already been through the routine several times. How could he forget such a basic and vital item like "feed the cats"? Upon reflection, I remembered something my brother told me:

Learning happens in the mind of the child, not in the mouth of the teacher.

Charlotte Mason (whose philosophy of education and method of teaching we follow in our homeschool) calls it "masterly inactivity" or "wise and purposeful letting alone". If I am always hovering, cleaning up behind, and reminding my children what to do and when to do it; all I have managed to teach them is how to be directed by a source outside of themselves. Then, when that source is no longer there, why am I surprised that they forget to "feed the cats"?

What we must guard against in the training of children is the danger of their getting into the habit of being prodded to every duty and every effort.

- Charlotte Mason, School Education

While Michael indeed did most of the physical work, I had created a situation where it wasn't necessary for his mind to be fully engaged in the process. He didn't need to think or remember, because I was there thinking and remembering for him. Both the list and the responsibility were firmly in my hands the whole time.  

It's like being driven to a new place and then asked to navigate back to the same spot yourself the next day. After passively riding along, even two or three times, how well do you really know the way? As a passenger, you have to be quite motivated and pay close attention at every turn to be able to confidently and successfully find your way on your own. If you were an eight-year-old boy you might not care too much about where you were going, or how to get there, or doing it yourself the next time. Even if your mother had been calling out each turn as she made it, you probably still wouldn't be able to get there on your own.

Curtis had it right. (Indecently, Charlotte Mason observed that fathers tend to have an easier time with this "letting alone" than mother's do.) Curtis was present as an authority for safety and supervision, but the responsibility for the job was Mike's and Mike's alone. I had the right idea, but all my telling him what his responsibilities were did very little to actually teach him how to be responsible.

So once again, the lesson for myself is to get out of the way. My role is to guide, facilitate, support, and to create an atmosphere where my children can enter into relationships with the world and all that is in it. I can put these things before them, but they must do and learn for themselves.

Social Opportunities

There are numerous opportunities to socialize your children with others.  Here’s just a few to get you thinking.

Open Your Doors - One of the easiest ways to socialize is to invite other people over to your home.  Invite people of various ages and backgrounds.  Sometimes you can make a meal and “entertain” but other times you can just casually visit with others over a glass of lemonade or tea.  Make sure to include your children in this and not just let them run off into another room.  Also, inviting your children’s friends over to play is a great way to observe, from a distance, your children’s interactions.

The Local Park - Invite a few families and their children and meet up at a park.  The children can play to their hearts content and you can chat with some other adults.

Classes - Sign your children up for some fun classes.  This gives them an opportunity to interact with other children as well as a different teacher.  Group settings can provide a great opportunity for building social confidence.  Check out your local recreation center, look online for dance schools, gymnastics, Little Leagues, 4-H programs and the like.  The Internet is a great help in this area.

Social Organizations - As a family you can get involved in your local church, synagogue, club or any other organization that reflects the values and interests of your family.

Engage with Others - Model for your children healthy social skills by friendliness and conversations with others.  Show your children that you are interested and open to all persons, not just those that share your same religion, background or socio-economic status.

Why Socialize?

Parents may ask why they need to put forth the effort to socialize their child since they interact with siblings and parents on a regular basis.  I would say that those relationships, although probably the most significant and lasting, are limiting.  And unless you have an unusually large family, there is a limited social network available.  Broadening your child’s sphere of persons will only help them to develop the social ‘habits’ of self-control, listening, attention, empathy, submission, truthfulness and affirmation as well as the necessary social skills of friendship making, healthy assertiveness, problem solving, cooperation and the confidence to deal with teasing or bullying.  These are important life skills and are necessary for healthy development.  We are created as social beings.  We live and work in social relationships and it is not in your child’s best interest to stunt them in this area.

Social confidence is an important skill.  Don’t let your kids leave home without it.


One of the most frequently asked questions about homeschooling is, “What about socialization?”  More often then not, I have seen homeschoolers shrug or laugh off this question.  After 6 years of homeschooling my own children and being around other homeschooled children, I think parents ought to give more consideration to this question.  Obviously, we don’t want the bad influences on our children that peers can bring, but we must recognize that there are good influences that come with peers too.  A few to mention are confidence, open-mindedness, acceptance of others, ability to handle themselves in a group and a broader outlook on life.  Children who are homeschooled strongly reflect their family and it’s values, but they need to develop as individuals too.  Remember that they will need these social skills to one day spread their wings and fly.  These social skills begin in childhood and are built upon throughout life.  Socialization is a necessary part of developing the whole child.  Don’t shortchange your child by limiting their social interactions with other children.  They need the necessary skills built through peer interactions to develop properly. 


Subscribe to Ambleside Blog