Charlotte Mason devotes numerous pages in her volumes to the idea of using “atmosphere” as a tool of education. You are no doubt familiar with the various elements of atmosphere — building/maintaining good relations, keeping a cheerful home, etc. We are quick to incorporate such features into our homes. They are, in a sense, the low-hanging fruit in a Charlotte Mason environment. But early in Volume 1, she addresses another “fruit” that, perhaps due to our general ignorance of physiology, we easily overlook: brain health in general and blood quality in particular.
Physical blood — 9 to 11 pints of it — flows through 60,000 miles of our vessels every moment, bringing health, strength and vitality to our bodies and brains. At first, I found Ms. Mason’s focus on healthy juvenile blood unexpected, as I would not have instinctively named it as a building block of a successful educational environment. But the wise philosopher knew better. The reason is simple: learning requires a healthy brain, and a healthy brain requires healthy blood. Blood is as essential to the brain as ideas are to the intellect. Both supply the elements of nourishment necessary for growth and maintenance, like taxis carrying vitality through a network of tiny highways. A lack of quality blood negatively affects the physical organ just as a lack of quality ideas negatively affects the spiritual organ. In fact, Ms. Mason referred to this general point as something “definitely and positively that the mother owes to her child under the name of Education” (Home Education, p. 20)
So, how does she suggest parents give the youthful brain the best opportunity for success? Here are several tips to consider, along with a few tidbits gleaned from my own nutritional training and clinical experience.
Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts: intellectual, moral, volitional. (Home Education, p. 22)
Encourage them to strive for knowledge, bear up under burden, and do rightly even if self suffers. A well-training mind is vanity without a well-trained soul.
Help your child to alternate work and rest. Because blood flows to the organ or appendage most in use, allow a little time for the redirection of blood to his brain (for learning) after playtimes and mealtimes.
3. Nourishment: Mixed Diet
Offering a full variety of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) supplies what the body and brain need for optimal operation; avoid repeating meals everyday. Of great import are Omega-3 fatty acids high in DHA, a critical component for successful brain development and anti-inflammatory activity. Dr. Nemechek has a terrific protocol for building and healing the brain, including help for autism and learning disabilities.
4. Nourishment: Digestion
Food is only useful to the body if it is digested (broken down into elemental nutrients) and absorbed. Promote both activities by encouraging your child to chew his food thoroughly. Also, drinking too much fluid at mealtimes can actually dilute your stomach’s HCl acid, which is required to break down food into nutrients, so limit water intake while eating. Children with frequent bellyaches may have stomachs with a too-high pH. An HCl tablet or teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar before meals can aid with digestion.
5. Nourishment: Absorption
Mason probably did not know much about the importance of intestinal absorption of nutrients, so she left this subject unaddressed. However, today we know that a healthy gut microbiome permits nutrients (vitamins and minerals) to uptake from intestinal cells into the bloodstream. This is the physiological goal of eating. Intestinal aids include multi-strain probiotics, aloe, raw (“wet”) foods, glutamine, and nutrient-specific enzymes (for underactive pancreases). Allergenic foods should be avoided, of course, as they can cause inflammation and then intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”).
6. Happy Mealtimes
No pains should be spared to make the hours of meeting round the family table to be the brightest of the day. (Home Education, p. 27)
Mason believed a child’s cheerful frame of mind promoted digestion, so try to remove stresses and irritations at table time. Herein also lies wonderful moments to train him in manners and morals.
7. Clean Air
With every breath, the worn-out, oxygen-deprived blood in our veins is revitalized in the lungs. There, it picks up oxygen molecules, changes from purple to red, and pumps through the heart to give new life to every cell in the body. The brain, especially, requires oxygenated blood because that organ alone consumes 20% of the body’s oxygen and energy! Opening windows to welcome fresh, clean air into your home is a health-promoting act. So is sending children outdoors to play. If your city’s air is polluted, as is mine, you could invest in a portable air purifier. My family uses this one. Also, encourage your child to take a few giant, deep breaths of fresh air daily; it is calming and very health-promoting.
Ventilation. In Mason’s day, home ventilation was critical. Modern air conditioning units and indoor fans largely mitigate this problem, but don’t overlook the happy, healthy feel of a gentle breeze flowing through open windows. Cracked windows during a rainstorm can do wonders for a child’s natural curiosity of nature.
The blood transports cellular debris to be excreted via perspiration. Encourage your child to perspire daily, if not sweat outright. Physical movement promotes the flow of stagnant lymph fluids, the toning of muscle, the firing of neurological activity, the movement of the bowels, the relieving of stress and the elimination of cellular waste via the skin. Regular, perspiration-inducing physical exercise is good for the child’s mind and body.
After sweating, it is important to scrub perspired debris from the skin. Sweat that collects on the skin can block pours, enclose bacteria, and impede the elimination of future bodily debris. (Now you can tell your dirty child that science demands he take a shower.)
Moving Toward Brain Health
Stepping back from the trees, let’s reconsider the forest of brain health. This wondrous organ is mysteriously tied to the mind and personality, such that a weakness in the physical arena can deleteriously impact the nonphysical arenas. Parents have the responsibility to give their children every opportunity at educational success, and a most basic starting point is to give their little brains all that is needed to develop, heal and flourish. Nearly all the tips above are free, but they may not come naturally to your child or family. Make a few small changes until they become habits, and build on those successes by adding more.
There is much more to be said about brain health and the life-giving mystery of blood, but that can wait for another day. For now, I leave you with the wise words of Ms. Mason:
For it is not too much to say that, in our present state of being, intellectual, moral, even spiritual life and progress depend greatly upon physical conditions. (Home Education, p. 37)
I urge you to expand your view of “Education is an atmosphere” beyond what you can see around you to what is happening inside your child’s brilliantly designed head.
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