What is the Ambleside educational philosophy?

Over a century ago, Charlotte Mason defined education as “an Atmosphere, a Discipline, a Life, a Science of Relations.” At RMCA, we have discovered that this is a universal truth, and to the extent that a person understands—even unconsciously—this truth, he or she will be effective in bringing up children who are ready for a mature adulthood.

Education is an Atmosphere

The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every school; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and the moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.    ~ Charlotte Mason

Atmosphere is the spirit of the culture in which the student is immersed. Our classrooms complement students’ encounters with truth, goodness, and beauty. As an extension of the curricula, they help form students’ awareness of purpose and desire. Walls display old masters’ works, wise sayings, and maps of faraway places. Students’ works of art sit next to objects from nature, inviting consideration and reflection. Natural light filters into the classroom. The panorama of the Front Range beckons. Children enjoy playgrounds and recess fields adjacent to fields and open space.

Within that backdrop, RMCA teachers cultivate an atmosphere focused on learning through relationships. Students encounter the past and present, the awe of science and mathematics, the frailty and nobility of humankind, and the relationship between authority and obedience. Free from the burden of competing for ranks, grades, or prizes, they learn preeminently for the joy of learning.

Students experience the guiding hand of a teacher who is both loving and firm. Teachers allow students to experience the natural consequences of their actions, and students experience the delight and the struggle of everyday life. In cultivating an intentional atmosphere, RMCA desires to nurture the following means and ends with our students:

●      Joy and belonging

●      Relationships that include rather than exclude

●      Culture that transcends fads

●      Pursuit of and love for ideas knowledge

●      Delight in work and in the struggle to grow

●      Effort and enjoyment of effort’s fruit

●      Rigor, challenge, and an opportunity to meet mind to mind

Education is a Discipline

By this formula we mean the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully whether habits of mind or of body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structure to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits. ~  Charlotte Mason
Rocky Mountain Christian Academy’s approach to education is a radical departure from what has become known as ‘traditional’ educational practice. We recognize that each student is responsible for her own education and is able to make choices and develop habits that lead to life-changing disciplines. Our teachers avoid cajoling, entreating, and bribing and otherwise convincing students that they ought to learn. Instead, they strive to present education as a desired exploration and discovery of great works of literature, music, art and science.
 As this journey progresses, RMCA teachers go beyond merely measuring academic performance, focusing on the kind of person a student is becoming.
Does he give focused attention to the task at hand?
Does she put forth consistent effort?
Is he thorough?... are some of the questions that a teacher considers when assessing a child’s engagement and mastery..
Through a variety of habits and disciplines, the teacher daily demonstrates what it means to learn for life. Long before imaging technology’s confirmation, Charlotte Mason recognized that the physical brain is shaped by its experiences. Mason knew life could be “duly eased” for children “by those whose business it was to lay down lines of habit upon which behavior might run easily.”
Our teachers help students cultivate habits proper to learning and mature living. They work alongside families to equip students to live full, satisfying lives.
Key to discipline is the intentional cultivation of habit. Habits are those elements of our behavior that through repeated practice become ingrained in our character. The formation of habits is inevitable. Where good habits are absent, bad habits will surely take hold. Good habits ease our way. They are like the rails on which the train of life runs. We practice those things we desire as habits until they become effortless second nature.


Education is a Life

For the mind is capable of dealing with only one kind of food; it lives, grows and is nourished upon ideas only; mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.  ~ Charlotte Mason                                  
A century ago, Mason wryly observed, “there is but one sphere in which the word idea never occurs, in which the conception of an idea is curiously absent, and that sphere is education!” Today much that passes as education is actually data and technique, assessed by quizzes and tests.
We agree with Miss Mason that Education is a Life. In her words it is a “ life… sustained on ideas.” Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. These ideas have a life of their own. They capture our imagination, grab hold of us, inspire, impress, and even possess us.
Living ideas, while occasionally original, are most often received from someone else. The job of the teacher, then, is to not be the sole conduit through which all of a student's information must pass. Who could possibly be up to that task? Rather, the teacher should serve as philosopher, guide, and friend. A teacher need not master every idea a child could need; she need only have the ability to find them. And we find them in living books. We call them ‘living’ because they were written by an author who desired that his work be read and enjoyed, and because they open life to us and draw us in. Transformative ideas are also encountered in reading books, working through math, enjoying nature, and experiencing the arts.
Meaningful learning happens when students engage novelists, poets, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, musicians, historians, and explorers. Enduring learning best occurs when students wonder, ask why, and see how. RMCA teachers foster this engagement using carefully chosen curriculum and following a model that emphasizes these living ideas.

Education is the Science of Relationships

....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. 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
Parents and educators often put a child on the path of a single interest (sports, music, or science, for example), based on the child’s environment or on cultural trends. But a true education lets children encounter—and develop vital relationships with—varied people, ideas, and things outside a child’s initial interests.
When a child forms such relationships, he develops wide and vital interests and joy in living. His life will be dutiful and serviceable when he understands the laws that govern each relationship. He learns, for example, the laws of work and the joys of work when he grasps that no relation with a person or a thing can be maintained without effort.
We agree with Charlotte Mason that the object of education is to give children the use of as much of the world as may be. True education, then, lets children make the world their study rather than only career preparation or cultivation of natural ability.


  • Christ-centered education
  • Founded in 1998
  • 200 students in preschool through 8th grade
  • Typical class size: Preschool and Pre-kindergarten, 12-18 students; Elementary, 12-16 students; Middle School, 10-17 students