"Let them learn from first-hand sources of information––really good books, the best going, on the subject they are engaged upon…"
— Charlotte Mason
In Charlotte Mason’s thought and experience, curriculum is not a product; it is an outcome of a philosophy. With this in mind, Ambleside Schools International drew on Mason’s collected works to create a formal curriculum for pupils in grades R–12 and an informal curriculum for preschool and after-school care.
As the children mature, the curriculum they encounter broadens and deepens. It moves beyond fundamental skills to advanced work that prepares them to cultivate a rich intellectual life, regardless of their direction after school.
The Ambleside curriculum is comprised of skill-based (disciplinary) and content-based (inspirational) instruction. These are not mutually exclusive forms of instruction—each discipline is infused with inspiration; each inspiration requires its discipline. Disciplinary and inspirational instruction work in tandem, enlivening pupils’ rigorous engagement with ideas and natural growth in knowledge.
The curriculum for each subject consists primarily of living books or narratives. These nourish the mind, allowing it to assimilate information and gain knowledge. Some are classics that have stood the test of time; others feature beautiful language, universal themes, rich characters, or intricate plots. Still others offer disciplinary information in an inspirational, accessible format.
Whenever possible, Ambleside Schools International (ASI) and Ambleside Schools International of South Africa (ASISA) select books that are in print, readily available, to accommodate the broadest possible audience. Some resources are selectively available via used book stores and websites; these have been chosen because they will most effectively reach the mind of the pupil.
The Vine School has begun publishing books about local South African artists. The first is about the life of Irma Stern and is part of the Grade 4 curriculum. The second book about Peter Clarke is in the pipeline. Both books are by children’s author Katherine Graham who is a parent at the school.
The school has also piloted an isi-Xhosa curriculum, taught in accordance with Ambleside principles which focus on speaking and understanding, rather than learning grammar rules. The curriculum is still in development and will be shared with other Ambleside schools.
“Give children a wide range of subjects, with the end in view of establishing in each case some one or more of the relations I have indicated. Let them learn from first-hand sources of information––really good books, the best going, on the subject they are engaged upon. Let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher. The teacher’s business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge, but by no means to be the fountain-head and source of all knowledge in his or her own person. The less parents and teachers talk and expound their rations of knowledge and thought to the children they are educating, the better for the children.”
— Charlotte Mason
The Ambleside curriculum provides:
- a wide and varied course of study
- an alternating weekly plan for skill development and content mastery
- exposure to knowledge that is vital, fruitful, interesting and ideas-rich
- books characterized as representing “the best thought of the best writers”
- materials that aid in understanding and exploring, without diluting, the discipline
- grade level sequences for core subjects, among them mathematics, grammar, composition, spelling and phonics
- grade level sequences for inspirational subjects, among them literature, poetry, history, geography, science and citizenship
- science observations and experiments correlated with science texts
- handwork projects and picture study reproductions
- abbreviated versions of Shakespeare’s plays
- Bible, nature study, art, composer study and recitation
- Afrikaans and IsiXhosa instruction
- physical education for skills, fitness and sportsmanship
- conference calls with home and school educators on a variety of topics.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, The Vine School, in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town,adapted the curriculum for remote learning and continued to provide quality education to every pupil throughout the whole of the second and third terms. Pupils kept up with essentials in all core subjects like maths, science, reading, grammar and phonics, without neglecting history, literature, art, composer study, poetry and citizenship.