For the seven years I was a public school teacher, I spent much of the month of August preparing my classroom. I (poorly) painted walls, wrote names on desk tags, behavior charts, and baskets, and hung up brightly colored posters and signs. So much concern went into preparing the “best possible” learning environment, but not much effort went into preparing myself. How would I invest in getting to know my students? What would I do to restore myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually so that I could continue to give whole-heartedly?
"When we say that "education is an atmosphere," we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a 'child-environment' especially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child's level." Charlotte Mason's 6th Principle
I had never considered education as an atmosphere. During my first year at Ambleside School, that panicked August feeling washed over me. But a gentle, peaceful leader told me, “Don’t worry too much about setting up your classroom. Spend your time praying, learning the philosophy, and preparing your heart.” This was such a welcome relief! The ideas I put into the atmosphere, the peace that I emanated, were more important than the physical things that I did. Now, I try to transfer that idea to my own home atmosphere.
When I wrote about Charlotte Mason’s 4th principle, I mentioned all of the things that we should not do to educate and discipline our children. But she said that what we should do is to view education as an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. Moms, much of the home atmosphere rests on our shoulders! I hope that this post encourages you as we set out to create a home atmosphere where children grow in character and wisdom.
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Home Atmosphere and Home Environment
Our home environment affects the atmosphere, but “atmosphere” and “environment” are not one in the same. In the decades preceding Charlotte Mason’s work, people believed that setting up a pristine child-environment would teach them about conduct and beauty. But Charlotte Mason said that the home atmosphere is not only shaped by things, but by people and events. Through these, ideas fill the home and our children’s minds and hearts. Our physical homes, daily activities, and the words we speak teach our children what is valuable.
Education is an atmosphere–that is, the child breathes the atmosphere emanating from his parents; that of the ideas which rule their own lives” School Education, page 247
We are the home atmosphere.
Yes, the atmosphere strongly relies on us, Mamas. This is an idea that struck me as I read a Parent’s Review article by M.F. Jerrold:
There are many important aspects of home-life from first training to highest education; but there 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. There is no pretense here or possibility of evasion; we may deceive ourselves: in the long run, we never deceive our children. The spirit of home lives, and, what is more, is accentuated in them.” Volume 8, number 12, 1897.
I hope this idea doesn’t fall on you like a weight. There is already so much pressure on you today, but maybe the pressure is firmly pressed in the wrong place. Instead of worrying about what activities to keep our children busy with, maybe we should instead worry about creating a home atmosphere that they want to be in. Let’s ignore the pressure to fabricate a picture-perfect childhood for our children, and instead teach them responsibility and give them ideas that will inspire them to grow in maturity and love.
Creating a peaceful atmosphere at home has more to do with who we are than what we do.
If we want to teach our children to love Jesus, we fill our homes with hymns and prayer and Bible reading time. To teach children generosity, we drop change in the bucket and give without hesitation. For children to learn gentleness, we need to watch our tone and our reactions in situations that aren’t ideal. This learning atmosphere is created by how we go about our real lives, day in and day out.
Changing our Mom Habits
If we spew anger into the atmosphere with harsh words and outbursts, how do we shift to an atmosphere of gentleness and peace? Or how do we show our children delight in learning when we mostly take delight in our cell phones? How do we change our habits? This is a tough one! We focus on how to help our children form positive habits, but how do we form them ourselves? I think the process is somewhat the same as it is with children, but the challenge is that we are both the initiators and overseers of our own habits. Here’s what I think we need-
A friendly ally.
Maybe you are your own friendly ally- preparing the environment to help yourself succeed. This might be reminders written around the house, or physically changing things that cause problems in the home. Maybe keeping a journal helps you to hold yourself accountable. A friendly ally could be a real friend that you can meet with regularly to discuss how you are doing on your journey.
We can inspire our children by putting them in the way of words of wisdom and beauty, and this is no different for ourselves. Seek the wisdom of others. Recently I was inspired to make some changes in our home after taking the eCourse Create an Atmosphere Where Children Thrive. (You can read more of my thoughts about it here.)
Not JUST an Atmosphere
I think it’s important to note that education is not just an atmosphere.
Charlotte Mason said:
Meantime, we sometimes err, I think, in taking a part for the whole, and a part of a part for the whole of that part. Of the three clauses of our definition, that which declares that ‘education is an atmosphere’ pleases us most, perhaps, because it is the most inviting to the laissez aller principle of human nature.” School Education, page 148
Education is also a discipline and a life. Establishing a positive home atmosphere will not constitute an entire education, but it will be a part of the complete, beautiful process of learning.