Frequently Asked Questions

We have answers to your questions about an Ambleside Education.

Frequently Asked Questions

We have answers to your questions about an Ambleside Education.

Things become much more to us when we remind ourselves that somebody has thought each thing out; and this sort of thinking-out is very delightful.

— CHARLOTTE M. MASON —

Things become much more to us when we remind ourselves that somebody has thought each thing out; and this sort of thinking-out is very delightful.

CHARLOTTE M. MASON

Foundation & Philosophy

Why does your Mission Statement call for the renewal of Christian education?

By the renewal of Christian education, the intention is to revive an authentic Christian philosophy of education with the pedagogical practice informed by the philosophy. It is not just the teaching of another worldview; it is the teaching itself which is founded/established upon the worldview. Every educational system has an underlying philosophy informing its pedagogy. The models of education we have grown up under are largely products of the Enlightenment.

 

One thinks of Locke, for whom knowledge was the sensible apprehension of data which one mastered. The human mind was considered a blank slate. The process of education consisted of data and techniques being transcribed onto the blank slate, beginning with the young child through adulthood. Another Enlightenment thinker, Rousseau, believed that human persons have innately within them all they need, and the role of education consisted of self-expression and self-discovery. These philosophies are the foundations of the two primary systems of behaviorism and constructivism, which underlie education today.

 

In their experience as K-12 students and in their university training, the great majority of Christian educators have been educated according to behaviorist and constructivist principles. These secular principles have informed their philosophy and pedagogy, their individual practice on which Bible class, prayer, and the entire syllabi are simply added.

 

Every philosophy of education involves both an anthropology (an understanding of the nature of persons, including student and teacher) and an epistemology (an understanding of the nature of knowledge and its acquisition). The pedagogical practice in most Christian schools is based on secular anthropology and epistemology. While there may be uniquely Christian content (Bible class, chapel, etc.) and faithful Christian teachers, still the fundamental pedagogical practice remains the same as the secular school down the street.

 

Distinctly different from either behaviorist or constructivist pedagogies. Charlotte Mason based her pedagogy on the conviction that all Good, True, and Beautiful Ideas are but expressions of the Eternal Logos. Therefore, all coming to know Truth is coming to know something of the work of God. The preeminent teacher in an Ambleside classroom is the Holy Spirit.

 

Every worthy idea, whether in grammar or history, poetry, or science, reveals some aspect of our Creator. Therefore, it is the well-chosen text that is the focal point in an Ambleside classroom, be it a classic book, a math algorithm, a work of art, a science diagram, or a musical composition. The teacher’s role is to direct the student’s attention to the mind of the author, artist, composer, algorithm, and so on.

 

Given this power of mind, it is essential that every student independently perform the act of knowing. Nothing can be truly learned by teacher activity alone. The primacy is with the student, who must perform the act of knowing. The teacher is not to be a lecturer. It is not her responsibility to write on the alleged “blank slate” of a student’s mind.   Rather, the teacher must be the facilitator of a mind-to-mind meeting between students and ideas presented in a well-chosen text.

How does an Ambleside education differ from a classical, Christian education?

The term classical is claimed by schools as unique and diverse as the numerous Christian denominations. Perhaps the primary point of unity is that in most classical schools, fundamental learning objectives are divided according to three proposed stages of learning, the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages. These proposed stages define the kinds of learning to be expected and are alleged to build upon one another.

 

Ambleside insists that every grade incorporates all three of these aspects of learning and that students in kindergarten and first grades can grasp not only facts but a broad array of ideas and to compose their own cogent responses to them. At Ambleside, children of all ages are seen as having a great capacity. What distinguishes the young from the old is not capacity but experience and needed background.

 

Classical schooling often begins with the quantifying of student skills and abilities. Some will only accept students of “above average” ability, at age five! When students of “normal” or “below average” ability are accepted, children are assessed and grouped into ability levels. What does a five-year-old begin to believe about herself when she is placed in the lowest reading group and continues year after year, without the expectation of real growth and without the kind of support that transforms weakness to strength?

 

An Ambleside education begins with the conviction that Children are Persons1, that every child defies our capacity for measurement. Other school models would not argue with this foundational truth at face value, but in the application of this principle, they veer in the wrong direction. At Ambleside, teachers are keenly aware of each student’s strengths and weaknesses, but no child is ever defined or labeled by his or her weaknesses. Students are not grouped according to ability, for Ambleside recognizes that optimal growth for all occurs when the strong and weak face life together.

 

In most classical schools, one finds the same competitive grind that is present in traditional public and private schooling. Students strive to win awards, get the highest grades, be the best, outperform their peers, and tend to live in a high-anxiety, competitive atmosphere rather than a high-joy, life-giving atmosphere. Some play to win the competition. Others refuse to play the game.

 

Ambleside considers this competitive structuring of school life to be very counterproductive. The brain works 30% better when it’s running on joy rather than anxiety. Students at Ambleside are not complacent but possess a fervency that is born of the joy and delight of learning and growing together.

 

Christian classical schools have as central to their mission the formation of the minds and hearts of students. But beyond the use of inspirational classical texts in the older grades and the use of classroom management techniques to order student behavior, most classical schools have little understanding of the dynamics of human formation.

 

At Ambleside, there is a very clear, applied philosophy of human transformation. The tools of atmosphere (culture), discipline (the intentional training in habit), and living ideas (the intrinsic relations of persons and things) form a mutually reinforcing triad of human transformation.

How can the ideas of a 19th-century British educator be relevant today?

Charlotte Mason gave expression to truth, in much the same way that the 1st-century ideas of a man from Tarsus, the 5th-century B.C. ideas of a man from Athens, or the 5th-century ideas of a Bishop from Northern Africa might be relevant in the 21st century. They are relevant because they give expression to truth, and truth is timeless and always relevant.

 

Charlotte Mason built a pedagogy on a philosophy of education shaped by a Christian anthropology, convictions regarding who the student is and who he/she is becoming. She also makes specific claims about the nature of knowledge and learning, claims that fit with a Christian epistemology (philosophy of knowledge).

 

Distinctly different from modern and post-modern philosophies of education, Charlotte Mason believed that all True, Good, and Beautiful Ideas are but expressions of the Eternal Logos. Therefore, all coming to know Truth is coming to know something of the work of God. The preeminent teacher in an Ambleside classroom is the Holy Spirit.  Every worthy idea, whether in grammar or history, poetry, or science, reveals some aspect of our Creator. Therefore, it is the well-chosen text that is the focal point in an Ambleside classroom, be it a classic book, a math algorithm, a work of art, a science diagram, or a musical composition. The teacher’s role is to direct the student’s attention to the mind of the author, artist, composer, algorithm, and so on.

 

Given this power of mind, it is essential that every student independently perform the act of knowing. Nothing can be truly learned by teacher activity alone. The primacy is with the active, not passive student, who must perform the act of knowing. The teacher is not to be a lecturer. It is not her responsibility to write on the alleged “blank slate” of a student’s mind.   Rather, the teacher must be the facilitator of a mind-to-mind meeting between students and ideas presented in a well-chosen text.

What difference does it make to have a “philosophy driven school”?

A philosophy is simply a set of answers to questions. In reality, all schools follow some philosophy, even if it is “we do what we want”, or “we do a little of this and a little of that”. Most cannot articulate a philosophy, but use a materialist/behaviorist approach that attempts to manipulate children into learning. The philosophy to which Ambleside adheres is cohesive and consistent with a Biblical view of the child. It has been extensively applied in real life with thousands of children and has proved to be both practical and profound. We know of no other philosophy of education that is so consistent with a Christ-centered worldview, and that fosters both excellence and humility in student and teacher alike.

What do you mean by the phrase 'a living education'?

What Charlotte Mason meant by “living education” is the conviction that our minds require nourishment in the same way our body does. Minds are not just products, they’re dynamic and alive. A living education seeks to provide what a living mind needs to flourish.

Charlotte Mason talks both about living books as a gateway to the mind, and then she also speaks about living ideas in the living books, which furnish the mind with nutriment, real food for its growth and learning. There’s reciprocity in a living education, both teacher and students share in accessing the text in similar and diverse ways.

How do you handle doctrinal differences in the classroom?

We cultivate in our classrooms an idea that we are all children of God and fellow travelers on our journey of faith. In matters of faith, we seek to unite our students around the person of Jesus Christ, allowing many issues of doctrine to take second place. Teachers are asked to refer students to their parents to resolve controversial doctrinal issues. We seek unity in essential matters of faith and welcome diversity in the non-essentials. The overarching principles for any sensitive discussion are love, respect, and understanding.

Academics

Are you accredited?

Yes, Ambleside school of Boerne is fully accredited by Accreditation International (Ai), the National Council for Private School Accreditation (NCPSA) and through Ambleside Schools International.
This accreditation requires a Self Study, a Plan for Continuous School Improvement, On-site Evaluations by Peers, and Annual Reports with a Five-Year Cycle of Re-evaluations. Accreditation International accredits schools and accrediting associations including Montessori, Waldorf, Middle States Association, National Independent Private Schools Association, Christian Schools International, and many others. We are pleased to have met their high standards of quality.

What curriculum does Ambleside use?

We have a partner relationship with Ambleside Schools International (ASI), from whom we derive our curriculum. The curriculum has been carefully selected by experts in the application of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education with and is evaluated, supplemented, and improved each year through a collaborative effort of all member schools. The following information comes directly from Ambleside Schools International.

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.

 

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.
– Gouin series for Spanish instruction.

Why does Ambleside cover so many subjects?

Ambleside covers 16 subjects a week because our philosophy is to spread a rich feast, to offer many avenues for learning, and to allow the mind of the child to appropriate knowledge. Subjects are taught in short lessons so that the habit of attention can be developed. Poetry, literature, phonics, read aloud, dictation, composition and grammar might, in another school, be grouped under Language Arts. In the same way, world and American history, citizenship, geography might all be grouped under Social Studies. We teach these subjects separately because we are committed to having short lessons (to cultivate the habit of attention) and frequent change (a change is as good as a rest).

Academic performance and Reports of Growth

Our students receive an extensive written evaluation of their academic as well as their character development twice a year. In addition to weekly assessments in math and grammar, twice yearly our students have week-long essay exam periods that are an important educational evaluative tool at Ambleside.

 

The reports of progress and the exams are further supplemented by parent teacher conferences where the parents and teachers discuss strong and weak areas and strategize on ways to partner and improve the whole student. Our goal is for students to be engaged learners, more interested in gaining knowledge than in getting a grade or besting a classmate. We have found that greater understanding and learning happens when our students search their papers for teachers’ comments rather than glance at a grade and feel self-satisfied or discouraged. We would rather put before our students the challenge of doing their best work, than the contentment of just getting the grade they wanted. In our classrooms students rarely ask, “Do we need to know this?” They simply apply themselves to learning.

How do you evaluate students without letter grades?

In most schools, assessments take the form of assigning a grade to some form of work. The validity of this kind of assessment is very questionable. Often what is being assessed is the ability to take the test or complete the assignment, not knowledge. Then, there’s reporting—if a parent gets a document that says A, A, B, B, A, A, the parent really does not know what this means. What do students know? What do they not know? How are they growing? How are they not growing? The traditional report card does not answer these questions. More problematic still is the fact that what a community values becomes the focus. If getting the grade is the value, students undervalue the learning itself.

 

Ambleside believes that a teacher gains real knowledge of her student’s growth in learning by attending to every bit of work a student does, both orally and in writing. Students’ knowledge and understanding are continually assessed in every class. Teachers frequently call upon every student, ensuring active participation by all. Records are kept of student responses, both oral and written. Because class sizes are limited to sixteen, teachers know their students intimately and know their capacities, where they are strong, and where they are weak. Ambleside focuses on accountability for growth giving consistent feedback, in a small class size which allows for relationships with one another, and the subjects studied.

 

Students use copybooks in many subjects, including Bible, composition, history, grammar, literature, mathematics, science, transcription, etc. These can be referenced at any time for accuracy, neatness, and thoroughness. Rather than filling out worksheets with true and false, matching, or multiple-choice questions. Students tell what they know both in word and illustration.

 

This kind of global focus gives a much more accurate assessment than a percentage of correct answers on the weekly test for which they crammed. Twice a year, Ambleside parents receive a 12-14-page written report on their child detailing growth and the need for further growth in both the varied content studied and relational maturity.

What is narration? Why is it emphasized so much?

Narration, in simplest terms, is “telling back” whatever has been read, seen, or heard. A student who narrates is asked to use the author’s own language, sequence and detail in their retelling, not in a parroted way, but in a way that makes the material their own. Narration, at Ambleside, is used in all subjects, including the disciplinary ones. Narration is a simple, yet powerful, tool for the development of the mind. As a result, children learn to acquire knowledge from books; select, sort, and classify ideas; supply both the question and the answer; visualize; express themselves readily, fluently and with vitality; assemble knowledge into a form that can criticize, hold an opinion, or bring one thought to bear upon another. We narrate – in some way – most lessons. While frequently oral, narration may also mean using manipulatives to illustrate equivalent fractions; diagramming the parts of a dissected mushroom; acting out the story of Joseph; painting a picture of a scene from a reading; writing a thoughtful essay; or providing examples of “prevarication” in a class on ethics.

How much homework can I expect?

All students are required to complete 30 minutes of reading every day. In addition, students in earlier grades may have up to 30 minutes of other work (math, phonics, grammar, written narration). In middle school, on average, students can expect up to an hour of homework daily in addition to the reading. The homework will not be busy-work or work given simply to fill the time.

How does Ambleside challenge the gifted child?

The curriculum at Ambleside would challenge a gifted adult, so a gifted child has no difficulty finding material to stimulate the mind. We do not define our students by their gifted areas because our focus is to educate the whole person-we value character as much as intellect. It has been said that Ambleside offers a gifted education to every child. Students who have been bored in other schools are delighted to find Ambleside’s education interesting and challenging. Ambleside is founded on the belief that all children have the ability to take something from the rich feast of ideas offered by our curriculum; if the food for the mind is nourishing and abundant, both the gifted minds and the average minds will be well fed.

How do you utilize technology in the classroom?

We utilize technology in a manner that supports our students being prepared for all of life. Junior high students are supplied with laptops that they use in writing, creating spreadsheets, and appropriately searching and connecting in relation to their studies. In preparation for this, students in grades 5 and 6 are given assignments to learn keyboarding at home. We are intentional, however, to prioritize class time for “face to face” relational interactions, rather than “face to screen” interactions. The emphasis in our classrooms is on the education our students will not likely receive elsewhere — great books, writing, neat calculations, deep discussions, frequent contact with nature, art, music, handwork, and relationships to persons and ideas from throughout history. Please see a further explanation of our use of technology on our “Resources Page,” which also has some thought provoking articles on the subject.

Our college system is predicated on standardized entrance exams. Are your students prepared to take those exams?

Because they are so well educated, Ambleside students have tended to do exceptionally well on standardized tests. Just given the breadth of their studies and curriculum, their vocabularies and math skills tend to be far above the norm. Our students have done very well on standardized tests. The rigorous thought they have learned helps prepare students for varied aspects of learning. Because of Ambleside’s focus on “soft,” relational skills, Ambleside graduates tend to shine even more brightly in the interviews many colleges require.

 

In terms of practical preparation, Ambleside high schools offer after-school workshops to prepare for standardized tests. A teacher stays with students and helps with the practice and instructs in the varied kinds of testing. Ambleside recognizes that standardized tests are a hoop through which college-bound students must jump and prepares them to jump well.

Does Ambleside use the Common Core standards?

NO. Ambleside is not limited by the Common Core. Students at Ambleside are given a broad, classical curriculum which uses whole literature and fosters deep, critical thinking skills. Our goal is not to educate just for a job but for life as whole, as Dr. Daniel Coupland of Hillsdale College expresses clearly and simply:

 

“Yes, man is made for work, but he’s also made for so much more… Education should be about the highest things. We should study these things of the stars, plant cells, Mozart’s Requiem… not simply because they’ll get us into the right college or into the right line of work. Rather, we should study these noble things because they can tell us who we are, why we’re here… If education has become –as Common Core openly declares– preparation for work in a global economy, then this situation is far worse than Common Core critics ever anticipated. And the concerns about cost, and quality, and yes, even the constitutionality of Common Core, pale in comparison to the concerns for the hearts, minds, and souls of American children.”

 

At Ambleside we focus on growth in mastery of academic and interpersonal habits and skills, knowing that achievement follows that mastery. However, a singular focus on short-term achievement may not result in desirable character formation.

Why is Kindergarten 5-days per week? What are Ambleside Afternoons?

We believe young children will learn best in school if their early childhood is spent in long hours of nourishing relationships and unstructured play. Learning to submit to a routine, helping with chores, running, jumping, climbing, and spending long hours outdoors provide a great foundation for learning. These are the years for careful formation of early habits –attention, obedience, and self-control among a few. Our Kindergarten Program allows children time to make the transition from home to school without neglecting this important foundation for learning. And, having kindergarten 5 mornings per week allows them to be in school when they are fresh, but still have time for rest and play in the afternoons.

 

We offer optional Ambleside Afternoons, which include home-like activities, such as baking cookies, playing outside, story time, etc. for those whose children are ready for a longer day, and whose schedules necessitate this time.

Discipline

How do you handle discipline issues?

We have a school-wide discipline policy that is published in our handbook. Students are expected to come to school ready to learn and respond to the authority of the teacher. Our desire is to train students in habits and to support their weakness in every way possible. Natural consequences are used as much as possible for inappropriate behavior (for example, undone homework may result in after school study time). Classroom interventions, a conversation in the hall, jogging instead of playing at recess, a visit to the principal, are all strategies used in training our students. If a student is unresponsive to the teachers or administration, the child may be sent home. Consistent difficulties in discipline generate a broadened discussion to determine whether the school / parent partnership is strong enough to continue to educate the child.

Parental Involvement

What is your requirement for parent involvement hours? What if a parent is unable to volunteer that much?

Our parent volunteers are a critical aspect of our community. We desire to give the parents an opportunity to partner in the education of their children and to give students the opportunity to interact with the broader school community. We have a broad range of opportunities to fit each family’s gifts and abilities. Parents attempt to volunteer at least six hours a month. Families with extenuating circumstances are graciously excused from some or all of the volunteer expectation (new baby, sickness, single parent).

Do you accept students of different faiths?

Yes, Ambleside does not require students or parents to sign a statement of faith, as long as they have a clear understanding and full support of the school’s commitment to center on Jesus Christ. Teachers, staff and board members are all required to sign a statement of faith and code of personal conduct.

Teachers

What guidelines do you use in hiring teachers?

Teachers at Ambleside must have a daily commitment to Jesus Christ, and must be creative, thoughtful, engaged learners with broad interests and educational knowledge. Teachers who thrive at Ambleside enjoy ideas, read regularly, and are passionate about our philosophy and willing to adapt old ways of teaching to a challenging approach. We value experience with teaching children, graduate education, and we require at least an undergraduate degree.

What kind of training do incoming teachers receive?

We make a significant investment in our teachers by requiring intensive training in the Ambleside method. Each incoming teacher attends a weeklong intensive Ambleside teacher training Institute in addition to the week of in-service before the beginning of school in August. In addition, we send our teachers to Internships at our sister schools to train and have the opportunity to observe their peers in action. Twice each year, they are trained by representatives from Ambleside Schools International in their own classrooms, in addition to being observed and mentored approximately weekly by our Principal. Also, our Friday afternoons are reserved for further teacher training and preparation. We offer classroom observations to parents — please come and see!

How does the role of a teacher differ at Ambleside from other schools?

At Ambleside, teachers are given twelve to sixteen disciples for the year. The teacher’s primary responsibility is formation in the largest sense of the word. Formation includes the relationship with science, history, literature, and art, but it also includes much more. It includes the kind of person you’re being in relationship to self, others, and God. Teaching is both a ministry of discipleship and instruction, the formation of habits of skill and knowledge, equipping them for learning for a lifetime.

 

In many schools, teacher roles are departmentalized. An eighth-grade literature teacher might have a hundred or more students. This makes discipleship quite impossible. At Ambleside schools, elementary and junior high students have a primary teacher with whom they spend most of the school day. Ambleside high schools use a team approach to discipleship, with primary teachers meeting regularly to discuss how the growth of each high school student can best be facilitated. Limiting class size to sixteen makes this possible.

 

Most teachers, with all good intentions, find it difficult to support students who are weak or who lack understanding in a particular field of knowledge, because they have not been trained in the art of bringing up a student in academic work or behavior. This common teacher weakness is often not addressed in education classes or at schools in general.

 

Because of this lack of understanding, students are divided into groups according to ability, specifically in disciplinary subjects such as reading and mathematics, making it easier for both the teachers and the students. Under such conditions, students have reason to equate challenge with failure in a particular area of study. More often than not, the student never rises above the lifelong struggle in those subjects. They hardly ever overcome it. At Ambleside Schools, teachers are instructed to support weaknesses in students’ knowledge and abilities through practice which is purposeful.

Miscellaneous

Where do Ambleside students go for high school? Do students transition successfully from Ambleside to other schools?

Ambleside students have attended public and private high schools and have transitioned well to both. They have done well in their studies and have been complimented by their instructors for their fresh insights and critical writing. When queried about the benefits of an Ambleside education, they credit ingrained academic habits with easing the stress of a heavy load, narration with training them to master books, dictation for teaching them to take notes, and “all those written narrations” for training them to write well. Locally, former Ambleside students are attending public schools and Valor Christian High School, and are performing at or near the top of their classes. Ambleside prepares students especially well for the higher-level thinking and discussion required in Honors/IB/AP classes.

Does Ambleside plan to offer high school?

Ambleside plans to expand to 9th Grade starting in the fall of 2024.

How often do the children have PE?

In addition to twice weekly conditioning classes for students in grades 3-8, each class has ample outdoor time that supplements their learning goals, including nature walks and organized games between the grades.

How is Ambleside different from a classical school?

In the use of great books, profound thinkers, and foundational skills for learning, Ambleside is similar to classical schools. Our view of the child’s mind is different from that of many classical schools. Is the mind a vessel to be filled, or a spiritual organism with an appetite for all knowledge? The trivium used in many classical schools approaches the mind as a vessel to be filled, and segments knowledge into a grammar stage, a logic stage, and a rhetoric stage. At Ambleside, we see the mind as an immature, but complete spiritual organism. We emphasize ideas, not information, and integrate the elements of the trivium into every grade level. By the rhetoric stage, a classical education will be similar to an Ambleside education. However, at Ambleside we do not artificially limit or label a child’s mind; we expect to be delighted and surprised by the creative expression of even our youngest students.

Where do Ambleside students go to college?

Ambleside graduates have been accepted at the following schools (multiple acceptances to many of these):

 

Auburn University
Baylor University, Honors College
Belmont University
Christopher Newport University
Colorado School of Mines
Colorado State University, Honors Engineering
Cornell University, NY
Drexel University
Fordham University
George Mason University
Georgia Tech
Grove City College
James Madison University
Messiah College
Ohio State University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rhodes College
Rhode Island School of Design
Southern Methodist University
St. Edwards University
St. Mary’s University, TX
Texas A&M University
Texas Christian University
Trinity University
University of Chicago
University of Dallas
University of Kansas, PHD in Biology
University of Texas, Honors College
University of Virginia
Virginia Institute of Technology, Honors Program
Wake Forest University
US Military Academy, West Point
Westmont College
Wheaton College
William & Mary (Full Ride Scholarship)

Have questions about Ambleside?
Reach out for answers, to schedule a tour, or to begin the application process.
Have questions about Ambleside?
Reach out for answers, to schedule a tour, or to begin the application process.