Ambleside Blog

Wednesday Words—The Habit of Family Read Aloud

There are few stronger family bonds than this habit of devoting an occasional hour to reading aloud.[1]

Charlotte Mason speaks of the family read aloud as a habit, 1-2 evenings each week for an hour. “In the first place, to get information is not the object of the family reading, but to make the young people acquainted with the flavor of, to give them a taste for a real "book"––that is, roughly speaking, a work of so much literary merit, that it should be read and valued for the sake of that alone, whatever its subject-matter.“

This rule makes a clean sweep of the literature to be found in nine houses out of ten––twaddling storybooks, funny or "good"; worthless novels; second-rate writing, whether in works of history or of general literature; compendiums, abstracts, short sketches of great lives, useful information in whatever form. None of these should be admitted … and, indeed, the less they are read at all, the better.

Mason contends for the real; real books impress upon the reader embodied ideas through interesting characters and human relations, well-chosen language, literary in nature, and themes central to life, embedded in story. This shared time of reading aloud and active listening provides a formative time for each family member, often revelational, as the text stimulates thought and discussion.

The practice is pleasant at the time, and pleasant in the retrospect, it gives occasion for much bright talk, merry and wise, and quickens family affection by means of intellectual sympathy. Indeed, the wonder is that any family should neglect such a simple means of pure enjoyment, and of moral, as well as intellectual culture. But this, of reading aloud, is not a practice to be taken up and laid down at pleasure. Let the habit drop, and it is difficult to take it up again, because everyone has in the meantime struck a vein of intellectual entertainment for himself––trashy stuff, it may be,––which makes him an unwilling listener to the family "book."

Questions to Consider

~ How can our family create a family read aloud with opportunities  “for bright talk, merry and wise, and family affection by means of intellectual sympathy?”

~ What hinders us?


Wednesday Words—Habit

By Education is a discipline, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body.[1]

Because habit is inevitable, if we are not forming life-giving habits, we will form life-stealing habits. Our children and students reveal to each of us of the kinds of habits, physical, intellectual, and moral which both they and we need to form or reform. This is our starting place.

Thomas awakes, runs down the stairs ready for the day, greeting dad, mom, and baby brother. “Good Morning, Good Morning!” Lily lags behind, mopes down the stairs, and asks, “Are we having oatmeal? I hate oatmeal.” 

Some parents dismiss the difference; Thomas is a morning person and Lily obviously is not! Are we willing to leave Lily to her nature? The truth is Thomas and Lily have formed different habits. Thomas’ habit may be natural or may be the result of formation, his parents having instructed him to greet persons when he comes into a  room. He followed their imperative. Whereas Lily has been lax (and so have her parents) dismissing the imperative, not forming the positive habit, but instead a contrary habit.

With mom and dad’s support, Lily can form the positive habit easily enough. “Lily, try coming downstairs again, the right way?” If need be, dad or mom might run up to Lily, tickling or kissing her (to distract her from herself), and state, “Try that again.”

Questions to Consider:

~ Why do we so easily dismiss the work of forming habits in the lives of our children/students to personality, birth order, gender, etc.?
~ Consider the Four-Part Process[2] of Habit Formation:
~ A Positive Relational Alliance ~ Sowing an Idea ~ Proactive Support ~ Natural Consequences

[1] Mason, Charlotte. Home Education. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989. (Preface).
[2] St. Cyr, William, Ambleside Schools International Internship Manual. Leesburg, VA. Ambleside Schools, 2010. 25-30.

Wednesday Words—Autocracy

Is self-sustained as it is self-derived power and is common to all of us, even the meekest of us, and calls for special watchfulness; the more so, because it shows itself fully in remitting duties and in granting indulgences as in inflicting punishments.[1]

We can all give an example of when we consented for a child not to do something, i.e., homework, setting the table, piano practice, playing with a sibling etc. and when we approved of  indulgences such as, twenty more minutes on the computer, watching television during the week, another serving of ice cream, going home with a friend on a school night, etc. Charlotte Mason speaks to each of us as authorized parents and teachers, and how common this is among us, the vacillation of our authority when defaulting to children‘s persistent pleas or stormy outcries or wielding ways. Sometimes our arbitrary ways arise from unregistered influences in our moods or fatigue. And at other times they are largely the result of bad habits.

Questions to Consider

~How might you participate in that special watchfulness so as not move in and out of authority?  Think of the last time you were arbitrary in your authority, what influences played upon your wavering.

~Do you see yourself having unreasonable pity for a child in your midst with a different standard of relationship which could be described as autocratic? Why? How does this hinder your growth and the child's?

[1] Charlotte Mason, School Education, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989)16, (paraphrased).

Wednesday Words—Authority

We know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person;
that the moment it is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited.[1]

Persons in authority are authorized, and they that are authorized are under authority, holding and fulfilling a trust. They cease to be authoritative and authorized upon asserting themselves, governing upon the impulses of their own wills, becoming arbitrary and autocratic through the use of personal law.[2]

This revolutionary truth imparted a new purpose to my role and responsibility as a teacher and to the oversight of my students. Free from the bonds of behaviorism and rivalry, we were bound by intrinsic truths of love and duty, of must and obedience. And we soared to new heights through increased self-government and responsibility working for Soli Deo Gloria.[3]

Questions to Consider

~How are the bonds of behaviorism seen in your schooling?

~How has rivalry crept in between your children? between your students? 

[1] Charlotte Mason, School Education, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989) 12.

[2] Ibid., (paraphrased).

[3] From the Latin, Glory to God alone.

Wednesday Words—Impersonal Law

impersonal law - a law which reflects the regular order of things, not connected with any one person.

Parents exercise authority over their children. It is inevitable. They will exercise that authority either arbitrarily or in accord with an impersonal law that transcends both parent and child. A father allows a child to stay up beyond bedtime because it is the path of least resistance. He is being arbitrary. A mother grants a third helping of dessert because it will keep the child happy. She is being arbitrary. In Charlotte Mason’s words, the parent “is taking from the child the wide liberty of impersonal law and imposing upon him her own ordering, which is in the last resort the child’s will.”[1]

Avoid the appearance of arbitrariness by avoiding the language of personal preference. Use the language of impersonal law. Time orders our lives. Use the language of time: it is time for bed, time for geography. Moderation orders healthy relations with persons and things. Use the language of moderation: one serving of dessert is enough for us.

The cosmos is not ordered on the basis of what I want or what you want. So, it is wise to drop the vocabulary of “want” and replace it with the language of impersonal law. It is not that “I want you to be kind to your sister.” Rather, “It is right to be kind to your sister and wrong to do otherwise.” It is not that “I want you to help with the chores.” Rather, “It is your duty to help with the chores.”

The right ordering of our lives is not a matter of personal preference! When merely personal preference is suggested through the language of “I want“ or “I like“ chance desires take reign and shipwreck many a life.

Questions to Consider

~Reflect on your relationships with children are they governed by impersonal law? or By the cajoling pleas of their own ordering?  

~Begin using the language of impersonal law with the children today; what do you notice?

[1] Essex Cholmondley, The Story of Charlotte Mason (Petersfield, Hans: Child Light Ltd., 2000) 225.



My Father Made Them All

A mother knows how to speak of God as she would of an absent father with all the evidences of his care and love about her and his children. She knows how to make a child's heart beat high in joy and thankfulness as she thrills him with the thought, 'my Father made them all,' while his eye delights in flowery meadow, great tree, flowing river. "His are the mountains and the valleys his and the resplendent rivers, whose eyes they fill with tears of holy joy," and this is not beyond children. We recollect how 'Arthur Pendennis'1 walked in the evening light with his mother and recited great passages from Milton and the eyes of the two were filled 'with tears of holy joy,' when the boy was eight. The teacher of a class has not the same tender opportunities but if he take pains to get a just measure of children's minds it is surprising how much may be done. 

~Charlotte Mason

It started as an ordinary day. While mother prepares breakfast, three young brothers run out of the door for some fresh air and outdoor time before they begin their lessons. The oldest one runs down the sidewalk toward the main road following his usual course until he notices a recently injured turtle tumbling to the side of the road. Upon closer examination, he sees the turtle has quite a large crack in its shell. As he returns home with the wounded turtle in tow, brothers soon gather around him to assess the situation. It is not an ordinary day after all. It is turtle-saving day! They had learned that turtles like berries and worms. Of course, food is needed to save a turtle; so, they quickly dug up a couple of worms and lined them up in a row with some berries right in front of the turtle’s mouth to make it easy for him, since he wasn’t moving much. The turtle in his turtle way gave thanks and ate and reassured the boys their efforts were worthy. Shortly after breakfast, mother and her boys brought the turtle to the nearby wilderness station, where he will stay until he’s ready to be released. Did the children learn their sums that day? Yes. And, maybe more importantly, they learned that they are ready and able stewards of God’s world and its creatures. They also learned that the turtle is a she, and a red-eared slider, and that a turtle’s shell is a skeleton like our bones. They will remember this day...a fond memory shared by all. Mother has instilled in her children the thought that ‘our Father made them all.’ We believe it was a Divine appointment. We must be on the lookout for these. 

P.S. Word from the wilderness station is that the turtle will have a full recovery. 

Arthur Pendennis is the main character in the story The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy by William Makepeace Thackeray

Wednesday Words—Person Part Two

We are all one flesh, we are all of one spirit; persons are interested in all persons;

and whatever any of us does or suffers is interesting to the rest. [1]

Perhaps the main part of a child's education should be concerned with the great human relationships, relationships of love and service, of authority and obedience, of reverence and pity and neighborly kindness; relationships to kin and friend and neighbor, to 'cause' and country and kind, to the past and the present. History, literature, archeology, art, languages, whether ancient or modern, travel and tales of travel; all of these are in one way or other the record or the expression of persons.

If we will approach children with living thought, living books, if we will only awaken in them the sense of personal relation, there are thousands of boys and girls to-day capable of becoming apostles, saviors, great orientalists who will draw the East and the West together, great archeologists who will make the past alive for us and make us aware in our souls of persons who lived thousands of years ago.

Questions to Consider

~What of human relationships are you reading which connects you with living thought about persons?

~Give description of this thought, why is it living and what does it stir in you regarding the human relationships? With oneself? With others?

[1] Charlotte Mason, School Education (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989), 80-81 (paraphrased).

The Power of the Resurrection

A social revolution [is not] the only one pending: there is a horror of great darkness abroad; Christianity is on its trial; and more than that, the most elementary belief in, and worship of, Almighty God. The judgment to come, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting,––these fundamental articles of a Christian's faith have come to be pooh-poohed; and this, not only amongst profane persons and ungodly livers, but amongst people of reputation both for goodness and wisdom.[1]

This weekend, we who name Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord remember His passion and resurrection, and we do so as a large but diminishing percentage of the population. Why the decline? And how might we preserve the faith for our children and their children? True, there are some hedonists among us who would defy any bounds placed on self and any God who would say “Thou shalt not.” Yet, it seems likely that there are many who long to be free from the tyranny of self, if only offered a way out. Tragically, too often, a generation living in a consuming society see in the faith of their grandmothers an ideology of self-satisfaction rather than a self-sacrificing river of life.

What if the power of the resurrection is more than the ultimate apologetic proof? What if it is more even than a down payment on heaven? What if the power that raised Jesus from the dead is present now to transform a life? How would such a transformed life appear? And what if the power that raised Jesus from the dead is present now to transform a community (a church, a school, a home)? How would such a transformed community appear? Would it not be the salt of the earth, the light of the world? But look around. Where is it to be found? Where is it exemplified?

We believe, my friends, but are we being transformed? Do we know ourselves to be different by the workings of the power of His resurrection within? Do our children and the world see us so? Can we each say, “I am what I am only by the power of Christ’s resurrection, and apart from Him, I am inexplicable even to myself?" Do our children and our neighbors see us as being transformed; not having arrived, but clearly on the road? Our community, is it being transformed and becoming an ever more potent instrument of transformation, inexplicable apart from the power of His resurrection?

To be sure, none of us is completely transformed, but have we even made a true beginning? Are we pressing on; upward and inward, according to the power of His resurrection at work in us? Do our children and our neighbors bear witness to this?

There is of course a price to be paid. Easter Sundays only come after Good Fridays. The power of His resurrection, only comes to those who know Him and are willing to follow after Him, sharing in His death[2], most likely a thousand tiny, daily deaths. Will we die with Him that we might rise with Him?

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile.[3]

[1] Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989), 256.
[2] Philippians 3:10.
[3] William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3.

Minute of Mercy - A Lenten Tradition

"Christ Washing Peter's Feet" by Ford Madox Brown

mercy, charity, clemency, grace, leniency mean a disposition to show kindness or compassion. mercy implies compassion that forbears punishing even when justice demands it.1

We have the smallest, yet dearest tradition for Lent going this year. It is affectionately referred to as “The Minute of Mercy.” Every day at 3:00 (the hour that Jesus died for us on the Cross), we pause in what we are doing. One or two of the students will tell a brief thought about something that strikes them about Jesus’ suffering and death for us. What beautiful, solemn, profound thoughts have been spoken in this classroom. We close our eyes and give one minute to picturing Christ crucified on the cross, appreciating his love and sacrifice for us. We silently pray or thank him, and then we pick up our books again. Who knows what the Spirit shows them? They keep this in their hearts, silently, and everyone is quiet and glad. One day after our history lesson, I forgot the Minute of Mercy and got out my book for read aloud. Everyone, positively everyone, grinned and started laughing. They raised their hands. I lowered my book a little. “I wish I knew the joke,” I said, laughing, “What is so funny?” They called out like birds in springtime. “It’s Minute of Mercy!” “Mrs. Kimball, you forgot!” “We can’t forget the Minute of Mercy!” No, I suppose I really can’t! Because heartfelt praise and reverent adoration are joy to the soul, and people really do long for this with all that they are, even more than a favorite story.

~Ambleside School of Colorado 


Wednesday Words—Person

What we understand to be a Person is the thinking, invisible soul and acting, visible body to be one in so intimate a union that—"Nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps soul. " [1]

If the doctrine of the Resurrection had not been revealed to us, it would be a necessity, in however unimagined a form, to our conception of a person. The countenance of our friend with the thousand delicate changes which express every nuance of feeling; the refinement, purpose, perception, power, revealed in his hand, the dear familiar carriage, the functions of that most marvelous brain cortex, the seat of consciousness, as furnishing us with images and impulses, of the motor nerves as originating action, of the brain as the seat of habit; of the possibility of educating a child in all becoming habits of act, in all sweet habits of thought, by taking measures to secure that these habits become, as it were, a memory of the brain to be awakened by due stimuli,—all these things we believe and receive. [2]

Body and soul sharing an intimate and complete union, matter and spirit are one such that divinity might unite with it. To be a person is to possess the potential for unity with God and a participation in the Resurrection. As Athanasius, the great Bishop of Alexandria and hero of Christian orthodoxy put it, "For the Son of God became man so that we might become divine."

Questions to Consider

~Take a moment to give appreciation for the wonderment of the Imago Dei in the Persons before you.

~How might possibility inform growth with oneself, children and all such Persons?

[1] Charlotte Mason, School Education (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989), 63.

[2] Ibid., (paraphrase 63-64).


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