A “Living Education” in the Classroom
At Ambleside School, we believe that every person is created by God and born to learn. The student’s mind is a spiritual organism, not an empty vessel to be filled with facts and information. Just as the physical body is nourished with food, the mind is nourished with ideas. Ideas inform our conscience and impact the choices that we make. The source of all truth is God Himself, whose truth is communicated to us through His Word, through other people, and through His creation.
Therefore, education should offer interaction and relationships with a vast number of ideas, people and things, inspiring a student to ask the question, “What does this tell me about God, man, myself, or the world around me?” Our aim is to train students to discover how to acquire knowledge for themselves and to fuel their God – given hunger for ideas. Great ideas emerge primarily from “living books.” These books are choice works by original thinkers that convey vital ideas. They have not been simplified or interpreted for students.
Our teachers do not predigest the material and offer it to students in a tidy lecture. Instead, our students spend class time interacting with writers, scientists, artists and historians who were passionate about their work. They read excellently written books that have timeless stories, important facts, and life lessons connected to their guiding ideas. We incorporate textbooks strategically, particularly in subjects such as math, science, and grammar. After students have read a text, they practice narration.
Narration is the act of retelling, in the student’s own words, what has been heard or read. To narrate, the child’s mind must be focused and active. This simple technique requires students to summarize, order, remember, and attend to detail. By narrating orally, pictorially, or in writing, students internalize ideas and information that they have heard, read, or experienced. Our teachers help students move from merely repeating this information to higher levels of thinking, including application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Narration spans a variety of subjects, which are carefully scheduled and arranged to create a “rhythm of the day.” This rhythm enables students to alternate between inspirational lessons, such as poetry or nature study, and disciplinary work, such as grammar and math. Our teachers carefully prepare lessons to help the student’s mind move between subjects that encourage reflection and those that require focused skill. This mental movement is refreshing, as is time spent outdoors in physical activity and exploration.
No matter what the subject, we attempt to keep our lessons short and focused . We begin each class with a brief review of the previous day’s lesson. The teacher then introduces any new words or concepts and provides a single reading of the text. By reading a passage one time, the mind must learn to attend. We believe that students must develop habits and skills that are necessary for learning.
These habits include attentiveness, imagination, neatness, and careful execution. Rather than developing students who are merely able to study for the next exam, we are interested in helping students develop a life of study. Habits extend beyond behavior to character development, which we emphasize through our interactions with one another, as well as through the compelling ideas that emerge from our readings. Students who are focused on learning are able to master skills needed for future study. Skill areas at Ambleside include such subjects as phonics, composition, and memorization of math facts. These examples are a small portion of a generous curriculum. We offer studies in history, poetry, literature, math (using drill and manipulatives), science (including lab work), geography (with careful map work), citizenship, music, art, grammar, composition, phonics and Spanish. Some illustrative distinctives of our curriculum are:
- Bible lessons from the Bible itself
- Weekly nature study and recording of observations in nature journals , through writing, drawing, and painting
- Picture study and Composer study lessons expose students to one artist and one musician each term. Students study several representative paintings and pieces of music
- Copy work and dictation form skills in spelling, writing, and listening, as well as providing practice in penmanship
- Memorization and recitation of inspirational poems, prose, and Bible passages
- Weekly handwork in crafts such as weaving, stitching, woodworking, and quilting
- An annual Shakespeare festival
We assess student’s understanding of subject matter through a variety of means, including daily narration, skill tests, report cards, and standardized testing, as well as end-of-term exams. These exams consist of broad questions in the inspirational subjects and specific questions in the disciplinary subjects. During their end-of-term exams, younger children dictate their answers to adult scribes, while older students write their own responses. Students enjoy the opportunity to tell what they have learned and to talk about the ideas that have impacted and energized them. This is an important early step in their process of becoming good communicators and life-long learners.
Despite the importance of assessment, our teachers attempt to keep students free from peer competition. They do not use grades or prizes as artificial incentives to motivate children. Learning for the sake of learning is the focus, not besting a classmate. Naturally competitive students enjoy surpassing their own previous ability and are encouraged to press beyond what they were capable of doing the day or week before.
Ambleside teachers are expected to allow their students to struggle at times. We consider the struggle to be as essential to the learning process as the delight. Students 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.
Learning is an active pursuit, which requires great concentration and focus, but yields great rewards! At Ambleside, we strive for excellence without overwhelming pressure, discipline without harshness, and order without legalism. We desire to be a school that is full of both grace and truth.