Charlotte Mason famously described education as the "science of relationships." By this, she meant that children have relationships with many things: God, self, others, things, and ideas. It is not enough to know about them. In order for a child to be truly educated, a relationship with the person, thing or idea must form. The task of the teacher and the school, therefore, is to put the child in a position to have as many of these relationships as are beneficial.
You will find that we at RiverTree place our emphasis on these relationships. They lie at the core of our educational philosophy. Of course, no relationship is more important to a child than his or her relationship with the Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. Allowing this relationship to develop is of highest importance to us. From morning assembly, in daily Bible times and weekly chapels and on throughout the day, life is lived at RiverTree in submission to the authority of God.
We further recognize that the authority exercised by the teacher in the classroom exists because the teachers themselves are under authority and are bound by certain obligations. There is no tyranny of personality here, no coercion or manipulation. Instead, there are teacher and student working together, under authority, to fulfill their respective duties and learn and grow as God intended. We expect that our teachers will approach their work, not as a technical skill, but rather as an opportunity for discipleship and relationship. Class sizes are intentionally kept small (capped at 16 students) so that the relationships can be strong.
Our curriculum, developed and licensed by Ambleside Schools International, is designed to give children access to great ideas in abundant quantity. It is not a textbook sequence, but rather a series of carefully chosen living books, works of art, musical compositions, mathematical concepts, scripture passages, skills, and techniques that a child is offered. The literary or artistic quality of the work and the quality of the ideas contained therein are of primary importance in its inclusion in our curriculum. The Ambleside curriculum is reviewed and revised yearly in cooperation with ASI and the other schools of the ASI network.
Our education is very rigorous yet it is not stressful. We accomplish this by placing our emphasis on the assimilation of ideas and the mastery of skills rather than on the performance of measurement tasks.
We do not "grade" at RiverTree. Such marks have nothing to do with education and have dubious effects on the character development of children. Instead, at the end of each term parents will be given a written assessment, in narrative form, of their child's growth and development. This is possible, because of our emphasis on relationships. The teacher writes about children she will have come to know very well through many hours together in the classroom.
Part of this report will be derived from the children's end of term examinations. During this week children are asked to tell what they have learned in various subjects. They are not asked to study for these exams, but rather to give an honest report on what they have really learned. For example, a typical examination question in third grade might be, "Tell the story of the siege of Troy. Be sure to include Paris, Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector, Menelaus, Helen and Odyseus." Because this story will be one they have told and discussed before, and probably grown to love, they should know it well and tell it freely. Because the examinations are never scored or ranked, the students should not experience the stress of competition or performance. In short, they will be asked to show what they know, not graded based upon what they have forgotten.
Our school day is structured to take advantage of the natural rhythms of a child's day. Disciplinary subjects requiring the greatest concentration are scheduled for mid-morning, when children are usually most refreshed. We also alternate between disciplinary subjects like mathematics, penmanship, phonics, or grammar, and inspirational subjects like Bible, history, literature or science so that the children are able to enjoy the refreshment variety brings.
Because we believe that children need time to "just be", we schedule in time for unstructured play. Our daily schedule also allows for children in grades K-2 to have regular days off. Younger children often find five full school days per week to be exhausting and our schedule lets them rest and be at home.