The Science of Relations

...we have relations with what there is in the present and with what there has been in the past, with what is above us, and about us; and that fullness of living and serviceableness depend for each of us upon how far we apprehend these relationships and how many of them we lay hold of. Every child is heir to an enormous patrimony. The question is, what are the formalities necessary to put him in possession of that which is his? We do not talk about...educating him with a view to his social standing or his future calling. We take the child as we find him, a person with many healthy affinities and embryonic attachments, and we try to give him a chance to make the largest possible number of these attachments valid.

Charlotte Mason, School Education

One of Charlotte Mason’s most significant insights into the education of children is the idea of establishing a relationship between the mind of the child and the mind of the author, composer, artist, or poet he is studying.  The establishment of this direct connection creates a new and vital basis for education, which not only affects what a child learns, but how the child is then equipped to take that knowledge and apply it to his own life and growth in virtue.

I had been homeschooling my eight children for over twenty years when I attended training at an Ambleside internship in Denver.  I’m sure everyone else was wondering what I was doing there—didn’t I have it all figured out after so many years?  However, not only do I believe that we learn throughout our entire life, but also, from the perspective of many years of child-rearing and educating, I had realized my need for an educational approach that would strengthen the virtues of personal initiative and responsibility in my younger children.  I wanted to find a way of educating that resulted in my students and I being on the same team and not experiencing a situation in which I was the pushy teacher/mom and they were the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”!  I wanted a positive and supportive relationship with my children, and I wanted a method that resulted in them humbly supporting one another and not proudly competing for attention, affection, or rewards.  I wanted a method that would result in them seeing and embracing for themselves the joys of learning.  In short, I wanted a method that produced not only knowledge but a virtuous soul.

At the internship I learned it is important that education is based not on teacher- or student-directed models, but on a direct relationship with the material being studied—“the text” as the teacher. Placing the focus of education on the material has the effect of putting both the instructor and the student on the same “side”—one in which both learn and grow together. I learned why this approach was important and how to implement it by changing my instructional style. Instead of spoon-feeding information to my children, I inspired them through direct encounter with the author and his text and thoughtful questioning, which allowed them to develop their own understanding of and relationship with their lessons.  

I implemented this method at home with great eagerness and anticipation.  In the past three years, I have been so encouraged by the impact this “science of relations” has had on our lives. Following are some of the ways I have seen my children blossom as a result of the Ambleside method: 

An eagerness to learn

My younger children generally are happy to sit down and “do school”.  They are eager when approaching new material, and even older dry material that sometimes elicits a few moans and groans seems to grab their attention once we begin our work.

Taking responsibility for their own learning

On the few occasions I have been sick, I have been amazed to come out of my room to find the children working through their material just as if I was there. They understand for themselves now how to approach the material, how to read and narrate, how to ask questions of themselves and one another that address important principles/ideas presented in the reading.  They are willing and able to pursue learning and do their educational duty without needing me to be the enforcer.

An ability to engage with the material

By stepping away from trying to present my own opinions and ideas, I have created a space for my children to feel confident in engaging with the material we are studying.  Their insights are not the same as mine, but rather are their own reactions to ideas they encounter.  This is one of the greatest joys of this method—having the privilege to hear what they are thinking and getting a special insight into who they are as persons. 

Willingness to tackle difficult material

Small and steady increments of reading have resulted in my children being willing to approach more difficult reading projects in their own free time. Recently we finished To Kill a Mockingbird, and my son decided to read Go Set a Watchman.  When I asked him how he was enjoying that book, he said, “Well, I’ve just read a few chapters, but sometimes it can take almost half the book before you really get into the story!”  The virtues of patience and perseverance have been developed in him even at a young age by the Ambleside educational method.

Responsibility in other areas of life

Picking up after themselves, delighting in volunteer work, managing their own time, seeing a job that needs to be done and doing it without needing to be asked (like dishes or sweeping), practicing musical instruments faithfully, and gladly assisting a brother or sister who needs help have all been ways in which the lessons of duty and personal initiative have spilled over into everyday life for my younger children.

-Carolyn Haydu, Ambleside Home School

If you’re interested in learning more about Ambleside Schools International and attending one of our upcoming internships, visit our website at Look under “Upcoming Training” and “Ambleside Events” for more information and registration. For more information on our homeschool mentor program go to “Educator Support” and click on “Homeschool” at the top of the page. Come with friends!