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    Educational Philosophy, Mother's Education

    31 Days of Charlotte Mason: Education is an Atmosphere (Day 6)

    October 6, 2013 by Christy Hissong

    Seeing that we are limited by the respect due to the personality of children we can allow ourselves but three educational instruments — the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit and the presentation living ideas.
    — Charlotte Mason (Vol. 6, p. 94)

    My uncle owns a beach house that the whole family uses at different times of the year. It’s on an island about 30 minutes from any semblance of civilization, and when we stay there, we STAY THERE, rarely leaving the island, soaking up the sun and sea and saltwater marsh, humidity and nightly thunderstorms when the wind blows so hard the Spanish moss looks like the scattered sails of ravaged ships. We go barefoot and read local authors on the screened porch and eat our weight in Lowcountry food, immersing ourselves in the ether of this place, garnering every last morsel to nurture our souls the rest of the year.

    That place has an atmosphere all its own that has nothing to do with how the house is decorated or what activities fill our days. So does my home.

    Charlotte Mason says:

    It is not an environment that these [children] want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us. It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense.

    Vol. 6, p. 96

    An atmosphere can’t be manufactured — it just is.

    In a Parents Review article entitled The Atmosphere of Home, M. F. Jerrold says:

    [T]here is nothing in the way of direct teaching that will ever have so wide and lasting an effect as the atmosphere of home. And the gravest thought concerning this is that in this instance there is nothing to learn and nothing to teach: the atmosphere emanates from ourselves — literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them.

    So all my curriculum, all my pre-reading, all my manipulatives and even all my beloved living books are not as important in my child’s education as who I am. (No pressure, huh?) Scripture identifies the husband as the head of the family, but as a wife and mama, I’m the heart of the home and the atmosphere my family breathes has to start with me. My child (and my husband) are persons, and I can’t impose my idea of perfection on them. I can’t dress up like Barney Fife and enforce a Mayberry atmosphere in my home, but I can pray that the fruit of the Holy Spirit will ripen in me and permeate my home with the essence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

    Charlotte Mason says atmosphere has a great deal to do with relationships: Parent/child, child/siblings, child/God, child/self, child/world. And what better place to interact with people of every age, economic background and nation than the world of the home? A child learns to serve by helping the family rake leaves or taking a turn at laundry duty, to deny themselves by helping meet the baby’s needs, to love others by feeding the hungry, to honor the elderly by listening to grandma’s stories, or to comfort a friend on the loss of a pet. This atmosphere of learning to live is never contrived, but is the natural outgrowth of living in community.

    And what of that most precious of all relationships? Who hasn’t delighted in the Creator on a woodland walk, learned to trust the Father during financial uncertainty, worshiped Him with songs and hymns and spiritual songs, or had faith strengthened when seemingly impossible prayers are answered? Charlotte Mason said children must learn to face life as it is or they will become hothouse flowers, ill-equipped to live in the Father’s world. What safer place to grow in grace than in a home that echoes with the certainty that “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

    Atmosphere is everywhere, but it isn’t the same everywhere. If we surround ourselves with whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, we will be wrapping our families in an atmosphere which will nurture them now and feed them eternally. Yep — even better than the beach house.

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  • Reply 31 Days of Charlotte Mason: Education is a Life (Day 10) | Afterthoughts August 28, 2019 at 9:46 am

    […] been talking about Charlotte Mason’s three tools of education. We discussed atmosphere here and here. Next, we discussed discipline here and its attendant conception of habit formation here. […]

  • Reply Christy Hissong April 26, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    You are so welcome, Tracy — glad it was helpful!

  • Reply Tracy Barton Niles April 26, 2018 at 3:48 am

    I love this. I sometimes struggle with explaining my choice for homeschooling with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. I have all the ideas in my head but the words come out all muddled up! Thank you for this writing!

  • Reply Nicole Williams November 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    What a beautiful picture you painted for us of how atmosphere just is. It’s funny how we sometimes have to look outside our own situation to see how it all comes together. Sort of like not being able to see the forest through the trees! If someone came into that lovely beach house, and tried to dress it all up as something it’s not, it would be so obvious. It made me realize more than ever, that as much as I long for the “beach house atmosphere” in my home, what I really need to embrace is the atmosphere in my own home. Thank you, Christy!

  • Reply Dawn October 7, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Convicting, Christy. I am coming down from a couple of days when I have not been at my best, and the effects in the home are obvious. Thank you for the timely nature of this post (and for Brandy for scheduling and hosting this wonderful series:).

    PS- As one who spent years in the Lowcountry and grew to love it passionately, I was particularly drawn in by your opening image. You did it justice:).

  • Reply Nelleke Plouffe October 6, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    For me it’s challenging to think of atmosphere, because in the end it just is what it is, and trying to force or create one from the outside in doesn’t work. It has to come from the inside out…love your reference to the fruit of the Spirit.
    I’m starting up a Charlotte Mason study group here on P.E.I. Because the moms have children of various ages, we’ve been advised to start with Vol. 6. Would you have any other ideas or advice for us? I’d really like to hear it!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 7, 2013 at 5:25 pm

      How exciting about your study group! I hope it goes well! My study groups have been such a blessing in my life. The only advice I can give you is not to bite off more than you can chew. What I mean is, don’t be afraid to break up a big chapter into smaller selections so that you aren’t trying to discuss the whole world in one meeting. I think especially here of chapter 10, which my group divided into four or five different selections, I think.

    • Reply Christy October 8, 2013 at 1:41 am

      Our support/study group has been such an amazing way to grow together in on our CM journey. Our group began with one amazing mom with lots of CM wisdom (who happens to be on the AO Advisory, ahem) and several of us who sort of “grew up” together in our knowledge and understanding of the philosophy. Over the years as new families have joined our community, we’ve realized how important it is to keep feeding the intellectual hunger of our more CM-experienced members as well as offer newbies the basics. So in our meetings we discuss the assigned reading first (philosophy = why to), take a break, and then move into more practical application of the philosophy (methodology = how to). Those who ask questions get answers, and those who answer are reinforcing their knowledge by explaining it to others. It has been a winning balance for us. Blessings on your new endeavor!

    • Reply Nelleke Plouffe October 8, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      Thank you so much for your encouragement! The truth is, we’re all pretty new to Charlotte Mason here. Many have read books about her philosophy and methods, like When Children Love to Learn and For the Children’s Sake, but few have read CM’s own works. We’ve had a Charlotte Mason group here for a long time, but it was usually topical and quite practical (topics like how to do narration, or Nature Study, etc.) I like your idea of starting with discussion of the reading first, then moving on to practical matters.

  • Reply Celeste October 6, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Lovely thoughts, Christy, and a good challenge for us all. (Though I must admit that it sounds like it would be hard to top that beach house!)

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