Ambleside Blog

Wednesday Words--Duty

Duty - An understanding of the meaning of must, moved by ought, a heart stirred by that which a person owes to another, that which a person is bound by natural, moral or legal obligation to pay, do, or perform.[1]

The infant soul is born a law abiding being, with a sense of may, and must not, of right and wrong. And––this being so––who has not met big girls and boys, the children of right-minded parents, who yet do not know what must means, who are not moved by ought, whose hearts feel no stir at the solemn name of Duty, who know no higher rule of life than 'I want,' and 'I don't want,' 'I like,' and 'I don't like'?[2]

Hearts are stirred by desires. We have forfeited our sense of duty to obey our parents, love our neighbor, honor the aged, remember the Sabbath to “this amoral commercial culture (that) has proved potent because human beings love things. In fact, to a considerable degree, we live for things.”[3]

Questions to Consider

~How might we bring traditional religious meanings to our everyday life with children?

~How might we provide meaning in a sense of duty for our children to everyday life without living through things, creating ourselves through things and depending on such material for meaning?

[1] Paraphrased from Charlotte Mason’s Home Education and Noah Websters 1828 Dictionary.

[2] Charlotte Mason, Home Education. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989) 14.

[3] James B. Twitchell, Lead Us Into Temptation, The Triumph of American Materialism. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999) 19.

June 9 - One Day, One Year Apart: An Ambleside Teacher's Reflection

June 9, 2020 found me cleaning out my classroom after a long, difficult year. It was the first time I’d been allowed in the building in months. A date - March 12 - was still written on the board, along with that day’s schedule: Lectio Divina, Math, Literature… Also written on the board was the benediction my students and I had exchanged on that last day in the classroom:

“It is good to be me here with you.”

These words had been written on the white board in our empty classroom for almost three months. As I tried to scrub away the marker residue, I was reminded of all the things we had lost in those months, and I was overcome with both a feeling of profound sadness and sweet relief. I was sad because of all the time I had missed with my precious students; but I was also relieved that the trials of distance learning were over. Not knowing how to reconcile those two feelings, I went home and wrote a reflection on the year: 

One of my students called March 12 our "last Together-Day;" the name stuck, and memories of that last day in the classroom have carried us through these difficult months. Standing in my classroom, trying to scrub off the residue from a schedule written in ExpoMarker that's been written on my board for almost three months, I'm reminded of how we started our very last Together Day - the same way we began every Thursday - with Lectio Divina, a "sacred reading." We quieted our hearts and meditated together on Psalm 34:4-5:

I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from my fears.
They looked to Him and were radiant,
Their faces will never be ashamed.
We didn't know that was going to be our last meditation together, but He did; we didn't know it would be our Last Together-Day, but He did. And He gave us the words of strength and encouragement we would need to carry us through.

In that final week of "in-person" school, we were all a little afraid and anxious; many of my students seemed to understand that any day we might wake up and not be able to be together. So in those last four days in the classroom, we changed the way we ended each day: as one of my girls put it, "Good bye will happen eventually, but I'm just not ready yet." We'd already stopped shaking hands at the end of each day, and so, in those last four days, we also stopped saying "good bye." Instead, as each of us left in the afternoon, we said, "It was good to be me here with you." And when the day came when we gathered online instead of in our cozy classroom, we were ready with the same words: "It is good to be me here with you!" We didn't know how long we were going to be apart, but it didn't really matter, and we didn't really ask. The Lord delivered us from our fear and gave us the strength needed to do each day.

And each time we smiled at each other on a computer screen - felt the joy of being together and the sharp pang of being apart - we were reminded of the far greater burden of the sin that separates us from God. But we also felt the joy of knowing that Christ has already delivered us, and that one day soon we will be together with Him. And that that Together-Day will last forever!

The end of the school year is never really the end - we'll see each other in the Fall. But it is a time to reflect and recall all the good work of the year. We know that all good work belongs to the Lord; and that has never been more apparent than now, at the end of a painful, hard season. Soli Deo Gloria!

What a difference one year can make…

June 9, 2021 and once again I was standing in an empty classroom, wiping away the last residue of another school year. But this time it was completely different. Yes, I was still a little relieved the year was over - after all, it had been a hard one! But there was no sadness left. Instead, I was filled with overwhelming joy. Remembering how I’d felt exactly one year before, I once again went home and wrote down some thoughts:

In the exhaustion at the end of the school year, it is so easy to look back and just remember the hard parts; it’s so easy to just be relieved that it’s over. In a very real sense, the past ten months have been harder than any that came before: maintaining cohorts meant being isolated from coworkers and support systems; masking and sanitation requirements made classroom management all the more complicated; balancing distance learners and in-person instruction doubled the workload; trying to preserve a sense of normalcy for the children while worrying about quarantines, temperature checks, social distancing, and sick loved ones meant putting my own emotions aside every morning... At times it felt impossible, and many days I wanted to just give up. This year was HARD.


But despite the frustration, tears, and sacrifice, this year was a year of wonders! It was a year of recognizing needs, lifting requests to God, and watching in awe as He faithfully answered prayers. It was a year of watching even the smallest children do things the world had decided were impossible. A year of overcoming. A year full of the simple joy of being together.


Last spring, we mourned the loss of "together days". This fall, we didn't know how many together days we'd get before we might be forced to shut down again; everyday my students and I prayed for just one more day in the classroom. Now it's spring again, and against all odds, we rejoice in a whole year of "together days".


Our God is a good father who rejoices in giving gifts to His children. This year, He overwhelmed us with the gift of each other, of time spent in the presence of the ones we care about. Many days the togetherness didn't feel like a blessing: it was exhausting and overwhelming; many days there were tears, careless words, and outbursts of temper. But looking back, I wouldn't trade those Together Days for the world.


To my students - both past and present - I would like to say this: being your teacher has been my greatest joy and privilege. We did the work, and we did it together, and...



Ms. Perry is the 3rd Grade Teacher at Ambleside School of McLean, Virginia

Wednesday Words—Revealer

Revealer - a person who discloses or makes known, one that brings to view[1]

It is as revealers of God to their children that parents touch their highest limitations; perhaps it is only as they succeed in this part of their work that they fulfil the Divine intention in giving them children to bring up––in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.[2]

After reading this passage and others, a discussion ensued in our work of instructing teachers; how was God revealed to you as a child? From simple acts of a mother praying aloud, through an open window the child at play hears the prayer; from a book of prayers, the child moves her finger along the crucifix and knows of Jesus. I learned there was an elderly single lady that made my mom happy and she wanted us baptized. Even with mom’s aversion to anything of faith, she did so. And from a scholarly man, whose mother never learned to read but regularly interlaced words with Scripture, teaching her favorite hymn “Begone Unbelief, My Savior is Here” With seasonal comings and goings to church at Christmas and Easter to invitations to Bible clubs, Sunday school and church, God revealed Himself to children in places of divorce and poverty, of love and of faith.

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless, until it finds its rest in thee.
~Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Questions to Consider

~In reading the above excerpts from teachers, what do you notice about how God makes himself known?

~Reflect on your relationships with children, how do you reveal God and what do you reveal about God?

[1] Websters Dictionary 1828

[2] Charlotte, Mason, Parents and Children, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989) 41.

Wednesday Words—The Effort of Decision

Children should be saved the Effort of Decision

As summer approaches, many parents experience a sense of dread. This dread is the emotional response to a reality before them; the children lack the needed good habits for enjoying leisure. Thus, they fall prey to excessive entertainment. Neil Postman[1] makes an important distinction between work, leisure, and entertainment, describing entertainment as a time in between work and leisure.

A child does have summertime work. It is a continuation of much of the year’s work: approaching God through reading and praying, caring for the younger children, contributing to the household and outdoor chores, tending to areas in need of organization, drawers, garage, basements etc., practicing music, sport, and where needed a measure of academic work, i.e. math facts. But summertime also offers a greater space for leisure. Leisure, as freedom from work, is a time to grow in delightful practices  as handwork, painting, reading, cooking, writing, doing good for others, (whom shall I bless?), dog walking, hiking, etc.  Entertainment, well  it’s the time  between work and leisure. It is like dessert after a fine meal, a delight if not over indulged, a treat but not the meal. Habits of overindulging in amusements, and one rears thrilled, manic then sullen, melancholy children; much as if the children were fed a bowl of flavored sugar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Intuitively parents know the abundant consumption of technology is not good for the children, but what else is to be done? What’s the harm after all? If parents don’t think long and hard enough concerning the influences of entertainment on the family, they will ultimately concede to its attraction because the effort of decision is the greatest effort in life. Unless clear habits are determined upon in advance and cultivated; when pressed, parents will inevitably give way to the clamor of playing video games or spending time on technology.

We all know that such questions are difficult to settle [in the moment] because of the wear and tear on emotions and relationships, the irritated spirit and headache it leaves behind.  For this reason it is, we may reverently believe, that we are so marvelously and mercifully made that most of our decisions arrive, so to speak, of themselves: that is, ninety-nine out of a hundred things we do, are done, well or ill, as mere matters of habit…. this wonderful provision for recording repeated actions and reproducing them upon given stimuli––a means provided for easing the burden of life, and for helping us to realize the happiness which appears to be the divine intention for us so far as we become like little children––it is startling and shocking that there are many children of thoughtful parents whose lives are spent in day-long efforts of decision upon matters which it is their parents' business to settle for them.[2]

Questions to Consider:

~Why not use leisure time to inform oneself  by reading  Postman’s books listed below?

~ Why not settle the decision for your children regarding time spent with work, leisure, and entertainment prior to the summer?

[1] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology

[2] Charlotte Mason, School Education, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1899) 20-21 (paraphrased).

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


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