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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