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.

Cultivating Habits
“Whether for good or ill, our lives are shaped by our habits. Over time, they become our character and serve to shape who we are, how we think, act, work, and relate. It is the goal of the Ambleside teacher to support children in the development of habits that will serve them well for their entire lives.”
Habits are those elements of our behavior that have, through repeated practice, become ingrained in our character. Good habits make our lives easier and better, bad ones make them difficult and worse. A child, for example, with the habit of neatness, enjoys a bedroom that is free of clutter. For a child without the habit for neatness, however, cleaning his room becomes a stressful, defeating drudgery. A great part of the educational task, therefore, is to support children in the formation of good habits. What makes the task urgent is that the formation of habits is inevitable: where good habits are absent, bad habits will surely take hold.
Habits are formed through labor. We practice those things we desire as habits until they become effortless second nature. Few adults need to concentrate on holding a pencil correctly because it has become habit. For the five year old, however, the act of holding a pencil requires concentrated thought. Good habits ease our way. They are like the rails on which the train of life runs.
Perhaps no habit is more important in the education of a child, however, than the intellectual habit of attention. It is the hall-mark of the educated person. From the earliest grades, we train children at Ambleside to attend to the matter before them. By asking students to make a single reading of the material and then tell back what they have read, we help the child to develop and reinforce the habit of attention, one which will serve them mightily in later years.

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.  They do not strive after the approval of the teacher or the reward of a good mark, smiley face, or gold star.  Nor does the child seek in their schooling to impress, or to win; it is not a competition.  Rather, they learn because it is good to know and a delight to the mind and soul.  A child who masters a mathematics concept should feel the joy that comes from understanding, the satisfaction of a job well done.  They should not feel shame because they were slower than their classmates, or, even worse, pride because they were fastest.
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.

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.
Power of Attention
At Ambleside, we understand that the primary work of both student and teacher is to attend. It is the task that precedes all others. Attend to literature, science, mathematics, history, and geography; attend to insights received from texts and from one another; attend to the practices of thinking, speaking, writing, seeing, drawing, singing, playing, and relating.

Moment-by moment, hour by hour, day by day, students and teachers attend and thereby perform spontaneous “acts of knowing.”

Students everywhere attend to something. The question is to whom or to what do they attend? Is it a fleeting thought; self-consciousness; an interest or person outside of school?
In a typical classroom, students’ attention is often directed to a final outcome: “Do I have to know this for the test?” Students are trained to value knowledge and ideas chiefly because they pertain to examinations.
Ambleside students, however, learn to direct their attention to the “text”—whether the text is a well-written book, a musical composition, an algorithm, a great master’s painting, a nature specimen, or instruction in a special skill—and to the acts of knowing.
Just as the body hungers for nutrition, so does a student’s mind. Ambleside students learn to study a text, to narrate what they saw, heard, or read. During this process, their minds stir and grow as they seize ideas independently, or receive them from teachers or fellow students. Every Ambleside teacher strives to provide students with food for their minds, even as they train students to direct their attention to texts and to acts of knowing.

As they encounter and feed on the many texts around them, Ambleside students become:
  • consistent in habits of directing attention, learning, and working with effort.
  • engaged in understanding and expressing substantial ideas.
  • proficient in reading rich text, writing essays, and speaking publicly.
  • eager to encounter great works of literature, science, music, and art.
  • proficient in conversing and reading in at least one foreign language.
  • mature in relating to themselves and to the challenges they face.
  • mature in relating to, caring for, forgiving, and supporting one another.
  • engaged in a life of devotion to God.