Ambleside and COVID-19

The coronavirus has come, and the nation is mobilizing. Not, as in 1941, to the Pacific seas, the deserts of northern Africa, the fields and the forests of Europe, but to home and “social distancing.” Still, in no way are we to make light of the current crisis. It is a matter of serious concern. Witness the images coming from Italy. While, thankfully, the disease seems to be much milder in children; many of us, myself included, have elderly parents for whom this virus would be a death sentence. As a people, we must be prepared to endure significant inconvenience to protect our parents and grandparents.

From Newberg, Oregon to Ocala, Florida; from Cape Town, South Africa to Linz, Austria and Calcutta, India; Ambleside schools are closed. Students are at home. Many are engaged in home learning, Ambleside teachers supporting by phone and video conference. We hear reports of students delighting in regular, on-line connections with teacher and classmates. More importantly, we hear reports of parents making the most of this opportunity, connecting afresh with their students over great texts and worthy work, rediscovering the delights of a mind-to-mind, student-parent-text, relational engagement. Crisis is opportunity, and this crisis is an opportunity to kindle afresh a shared, family delight in learning and working together.

Four things to keep in mind:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Keep it “living.”
  • Keep it delightful.
  • Be unafraid.

Keeping it simple. Often, less is more. A few things, done carefully and well, will foster more growth than a multitude of tasks done with compliant tedium. In most cases, even with teacher support, parents will not be able to sustain the full pace and richness of the Ambleside curriculum. Thus, Ambleside schools are sending home a workload that is sufficient to keep students actively engaged and growing but not overwhelmed. If parents have the wisdom and discipline to keep the screens turned off, there will also be bonus hours for nature walks and nature painting; for reading verse and composing verse; for knitting, paper cutting and Legos; for card games and board games; for family Bible reading and family read-a-loud.

Keeping it “living.” Twaddle is the word Charlotte Mason uses to describe books and things which are to mind as cotton candy is to body. While children may desire cotton candy, even be enchanted by it, cotton candy has no nutritional value and too much of it will certainly make one sick. The same is true of twaddle. Children may desire it, even be enchanted by it, but it lacks any nutritional value for the mind and too much will certainly make one sick. A great majority of child television programs, contemporary children’s books, and videogames are twaddle. Like cotton candy, they provide little if any healthy nutriment to mind and too much will make one sick. Observant parents can easily recognize the pernicious effects of hours spent with unworthy books or in front of screens. In contrast, “living” books and things are idea rich, noble in message and beautifully crafted. They are ordered to cultivating a general sweetness and benevolence. In Charlotte Mason’s words, “The life of the mind is sustained upon ideas… When we compare the mind with the body, we perceive that three 'square' meals a day are generally necessary to health, and that a casual diet of ideas is poor and meager.”  Living books and things feed mind and soul. For suggestions of living books, you can find the ASI Reading List under the library tab on the ASI home page,

Keeping it delightful. We are creatures made to delight, delight in God’s creation and God Himself, delight in family and friends, delight in good books and good things, delight in good work and good play. Of course, every person’s life has its share of distressing events, but life is meant to be a series of delights punctuated by adversity, not a series of adversities punctuated by the occasional delight. The greater the maturity of a man or woman, the more he or she can sustain delight in the good, despite distressing current events. For the well-educated, life is a delight. It is one of Charlotte Mason’s core principles that “studies serve for delight.” In preserving an atmosphere of delight, it is important to remember that stress is the great delight suppressor. Conversely, relational joy (the pleasure of sharing a moment or a task, even a difficult task, together with someone who values me and connects with me) is the great delight multiplier.

Being unafraid. Our children will be watching us, taking their emotional cues from us. When we face adversity with peaceful confidence, they learn to face adversity with peaceful confidence. When we fret, they learn to fret. But how shall we avoid our own fretting? Let us remember that we may not be in control, but God most certainly is. Let us keep our hearts stayed on Him and meditate upon the words of the psalmist.

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
    will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
    my God, in whom I trust.”

For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence;
    He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

You will not fear the terror of the night,
    or the arrow that flies by day,
    or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

*Amish Country Side wallpaper Public Domain, Stylized by CAM 2020.