Thursday, April 22, 2021

In the Storm with Jesus

I was getting together my prints for our next Picture Study time with my granddaughters and I pulled out an old book I have called "Rembrandt and the Bible."
I looked over some of my favorites, and then my eyes fell on “Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” It’s not one of the six for this term, but I like it anyway.
And it brought back some memories. I recalled a time I taught a children’s Sunday School class, using Charlotte Mason principles and picture study. (As the church’s Christian Education Director, I had some liberty in curriculum. I used CM’s principles many times in that role over the years.)
I sat in the low chair with the kids at the round table, surrounded by bold murals of Noah’s Ark. (I’ve often wondered if those who use that account for church nursery decor recognize its full story of death and destruction, and of God’s deliverance to an obedient few. But I digress.)
We opened the large book and I showed them the picture. I introduced the idea of narration to them, and I gave them time to look carefully at the painting.
I closed the book, and they told it back to me. “There was this boat,” one of them began. “And a big wave!,” another chimed in. One child went on and on with quite a few details. Not to be undone, one boy said loudly, “I saw a guy throwing up!” (Truly, I had never noticed that before.)
And then we talked about how Jesus was in the boat during the storm. Because this was our church time, we opened the Bible and read the historical accounts from the different Gospels of this moment. One young observer asked why the artist hadn’t included the “other little boats.” And we talked about the miracle that followed.
The kids decided to re-enact the painting in a kind of tableau. It wasn’t done up with great costuming or beautiful sets. It was a jacket or two, a blanket from the nursery, more little chairs were arranged, someone was Jesus, and one kid was “the guy throwing up.”
I’ve often wondered what they told their parents about that Sunday School class that day.
But that painting has come to my mind a lot lately. I’ve thought about the period of time in Rembrandt’s work. It depicted a terrible storm - one that caused seasoned, professional fishermen on a familiar sea to be filled with terror. Wave crashed upon wave, unrelentingly.
And Jesus was in the boat. He was the same One they’d seen perform miracles; recently, even.
The big moment is yet ahead - Jesus will calm the storm, still the waves, and all will be well.
But often we’re stalled out in Rembrandt’s painting. No calm, no miracle, no stillness. Wave upon wave is hitting us, with no let-up in sight. Hardly the stuff of encouragement, of blessed assurances, of all-is-well.
And yet - Jesus was in the boat all along. Jesus is with me in my storms today. He has performed miracles in the past. And He may show His mighty power yet again. And I come to Him with my troubles and fear in my heart, asking for Him to do again what He’s done before, or for what I believe He can do now.
But in the meantime, I’m safe. It surely doesn’t look like it or feel like it. And sometimes I might feel more like the guy losing his lunch over the edge. But Jesus is with me, before, during, after. I’m safe. And He is safe to trust.

At AmblesideOnline, we're praying for you and yours today. Lean on Jesus. He’s with you, no matter what waves are hitting you.

Friday, March 26, 2021

A New Opportunity

 In its nearly 20 years of existence, AmblesideOnline has never charged for its online curriculum or forum. Our entire offering has been and will always be free. 

We have been able to pay for our work through  Amazon's Affiliate program, but we now have an opportunity to provide an additional way to support AO. 

Living Book Press publishes a number of books that are in AmblesideOnline's curriculum. LBP has several titles for which they've sought and gained reprint rights, and some that have never before been transcribed and republished. This is already a wonderful contribution to the Charlotte Mason community in general, and the AmblesideOnline family in particular. 

One of our objectives at AmblesideOnline is that of using the best possible books that are also readily available. On our site, we include links to free online sources where they exist. We suggest that our families buy used books for their home or group's library, and we also link to inexpensive Kindle e-books. 

As we list books for each year, we have provided links to Amazon. When you purchase a book through that link, AO receives a small percentage, as an Amazon Affiliate. This has helped us sustain the work of AO over the years, a work which we offer completely for free. 

In the light of recent concerns and as assurance regarding those concerns, and also because we are grateful for the work of Living Book Press, we have entered into an additional affiliate program - this time with LBP. On our website, you will see this symbol:  £,  which is a direct link to purchase that title through LBP. When you buy the book that way, AO will also receive a small percentage to help us with the ongoing work of AmblesideOnline. 

We will continue to link to both Amazon and Living Book Press (where applicable), in order to provide our AmblesideOnline family with as many options as we can. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Equipping the Power

Charlotte’s primary-level students narrated a little at a time, to fully develop their powers of attention and their skill in telling back.

“[Attention] is the power of bending such powers as one has to the work in hand; it is a key to success within the reach of every one, but the skill to turn it comes of training.” (Formation of Character, p. 95)

They used the same stories for “telling back” as they did for other subjects, from mythology, fairy tales, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and the Bible; and they told about “how we know the world is round and a great deal besides; for all their work lends itself to oral composition and the power of such composition is innate in children and is not the result of instruction” (Philosophy, p. 191). Does that contradict what Charlotte said in Formation of Character? No, it is the attention, or the listening ear, that must be trained; but the power to tell (aside from a few basic instructions in what is expected) is a natural one.

The junior grades “wrote their little essays themselves.” “Little” seems to refer only to length, because oh my, the reading list... “We could do anything with books like those,” said an unnamed headmaster. Charlotte scolded him for missing the point, but I think he was at least half right: the ability to narrate well, and to turn that skill into written composition, does begin with the choice of books. Some writers can start from a point inside their heads, without any outside reference, but for most of us, that’s as hard as being handed a brush and told to paint, without having anything to look at. “Compose something,” my piano teacher once commanded, when I was about ten. But since I knew very little about listening to music, much less about creating it, the result was worthless, a waste of time. I knew my way around the piano keyboard, but I had no musical ideas, nothing to write music about; I did not understand even how to begin with the “major lines,” much less work out the details. And she never asked me to do that again. Why, similarly, do teachers ask children to shape composition bricks, but refuse to give them the right mud for the task, never mind straw?

"For right thinking is by no means a matter of self-expression. Right thought flows upon the stimulus of an idea, and ideas are stored as we have seen in books and pictures and the lives of men and nations; these instruct the conscience and stimulate the will, and man or child ‘chooses.’" (Philosophy, p. 130)

Excerpted from Ideas Freely Sown: The Matter and Method of Charlotte Mason, by Anne E. White

Thursday, February 25, 2021


Education theorists talk about the recognition, strategic, and affective networks of the brain. The recognition network is how you process information, including your receptive skills. The strategic network is how you respond to information and express what you have learned. The third is the affective network, which has to do with how you personally engage with what you’re learning.

What are the most important things you can think of in a Charlotte Mason education? “Living ideas?” We get some of these seeds of inspiration from books or from oral teaching, but they are also a part of our everyday explorations. So for that, we access the recognition network. “Narration?” Probably the strategic network. “Children are born persons.” What does it mean for us to remember that grownups are born persons too? We listen to each other; we acknowledge that we have different points of view; but we try to work together to achieve shared goals and build community. You could say that that requires all three of our neural networks.

“Masterly inactivity?” This relates closely to “born persons,” by allowing learners to make their own connections and take responsibility for their own learning. One of my education textbooks says that the affective network determines “whether or not an individual finds what is being taught to be important, interesting, and worthy of attention or action.” In other words, “does he care?”

What about “Education is the science of relations?” The relationships we build with the world, and with others are also building us; and we don’t stop building just because our children no longer need us to do math with them. Again, I think, all the networks.

One of the things that  researchers are getting better at all the time is admitting how complex our brains are when it comes to learning. Back in the era when doctors started doing lobotomies, they thought it was a genius idea because they had perfectly mapped out (they thought) how the different parts of the brain were supposed to work and what they were supposed to do, and they didn’t see how one little change could affect the other functions. But we now know that it’s very hard to draw a permanent you-are-here map of what connects with what. Things change around, and functions are shared. The limbic system of the brain used to be associated with emotions, but neuroscientists now see it as more of a very complex communications center, and it’s responsible for a great deal of learning and memory. What that means for us is that if we engage with information in a way that stimulates us emotionally, for instance through a story, we are more likely to retain it.

Excerpt from Ideas Freely Sown: The Matter and Method of Charlotte Mason, by Anne E. White (to be published soon)

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Charlotte Mason and the "Kindergarten Problem"

After that introduction, Charlotte goes on the warpath against Froebelian kindergartens, which were soaring in popularity at the time. Those of us who attended North American kindergartens in the late twentieth century might not quite understand her objections; we might think of singing along with the teacher’s autoharp (or boom-box), or of playing at the sand table, or painting with drippy paints at an easel; and of the whole thing being rather fun, at least in comparison to the higher grades; but the early kindergartens were not quite like that. Children were led through programmed activities involving boxes of geometric shapes, and other materials such as “folded paper and woven straw.” Sometimes they sat at little tables, sometimes they stood in circles and moved as prescribed (think of the actions for “I’m a Little Teapot”). (If you really want to know more about the purposes and methods of kindergartens at that time, see if you can find a copy of Norman Brosterman’s book Inventing Kindergarten.) When Charlotte Mason quotes Anne Sullivan as requesting not to be sent any more kindergarten materials for Helen Keller, she is rebelling not so much against the nice craft supplies as against the ways that they are supposed to be used.

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think, whereas if the child is left to himself he will think more and better, if less showily.” (Anne Sullivan, quoted in Home Education, pp. 195-196)

There was one more twist to the “kindergarten problem,” and that is that Froebel (like Pestalozzi before him) was undoubtedly a genius, with a deep desire to pass on his vision of the universe. A child who played with his wooden cubes, and made designs with toothpicks and dried peas, might have ended up with, at least, an amazing sense of artistic design. (Frank Lloyd Wright was apparently one of those.) But Froebel had died in 1852, when Charlotte Mason was ten years old; and by the era of Home Education thirty-plus years later, his own writings (dense and difficult) were skipped over by busy young teachers. His methods had been adapted and restyled; the activities were kept, but the understanding was lost. The kindergartens of Charlotte’s time might be called merely Froebel-ish.

And that is the context in which she wrote,

[if a child participates in too-structured early learning],during the first six or seven years in which he might have become intimately acquainted with the properties and history of every natural object within his reach, he…can distinguish a rhomboid from a pentagon, a primary from a secondary colour, has learned to see so truly that he can copy what he sees in folded paper or woven straw,—but this at the expense of much of that real knowledge of the external world which at no time of his life will he be so fitted to acquire.” (Home Education, p. 179)

The early-years curriculum described here is one which produces skillful hand-eye co-ordination, and also teaches children to think “showily,” to quote Anne Sullivan; but which misses out on heart. It is the equivalent of learning scales without music, or capitals of the world without people. It might even be read as an echo of St. Paul’s “If I do this or that good thing, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Ironically, those who recommend such a structured program (or its contemporary equivalent) might say that they are, in fact, providing “real knowledge of the external world,” perhaps in the same way that Eustace Scrubb was raised to enjoy pictures of grain elevators. Charlotte Mason, on the other hand, describes fortunate children whose early years allowed them to become “intimately acquainted with the properties and history of every natural object within [their] reach”; whose parents realized that they could pick up most of the common shapes-colours-numbers lessons simply by living, working, and playing. Playing included playing outdoors, as often as possible, and not only on playground equipment, or at soccer practice, but by climbing (trees, preferably), touching, digging, splashing in creeks or at the shore, listening, looking; particularly looking. “The child’s observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge” (p. 177). The goal is, like that of the kindergarten, to teach children to “see so truly”; but the eyes are focused here not on rhomboids and weaving straws, but on objects which will be theirs for a lifetime.

Excerpt from Ideas Freely Sown: The Matter and Method of Charlotte Mason, by Anne E. White (to be published soon)