Monday, August 6, 2012

Chapter 3: Education is an Atmosphere

Ah, atmosphere. Something to be breathed in. A physical environment, a thought-environment, an exciting in the child of the natural "appetency towards things lovely, honest, and of good report."

This section on the 4 pillars of education covers all of those descriptors, and more. Part of me would love to simply cover the physical environment which makes up a wonderful home and learning space, because that's pretty fun, but, alas, there's nitty gritty to be dealt with here:)

The atmosphere in which a child learns (and lives) is, according to Miss Mason, constantly leading him to the good or the base, and there are conditions which can contribute to or hinder a proper environment. First, we must avoid using moralism in teaching religious truths, which is a form of manipulation practiced on the child (Celeste, is this part of where your Angel Food comment comes in?). Similarly to be avoided is use of guilt to motivate behavior, or competition or comparison between students. Some of the hallmarks of modern traditional classical education (a la The Well-Trained Mind) which focus on facts and memorization "produce boredom and the need to employ tangible incentives such as candy, stickers, and grades."

Ok, so we're Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, and we're not doing that. What things do we need to create the healthiest atmosphere?

  • Morning lessons, when everyone is fresh and ready to learn.
  • Lots and lots of free time outside to run, play, make believe, and be loud!
  • School life that mirrors homelife. This isn't elaborated on in this chapter, but I can extrapolate on what this means: real work for the children to help with and be responsible for, routine and rhythm to the day, relaxed mealtimes with healthy food, and the warm embrace of family.
  • Carefully chosen work that meets the child where she is, and challenges without discouraging.
  • Beautiful, orderly spaces in which to work. Lovely art work displayed, natural elements, books, books, books, and wonderful music playing in the background.
  • Cheerful interplay between teacher/Mama and child
Atmosphere is something I feel we've done a good job on in our home, and I mean that with all humbleness; this is a huge part of my vocation, I think. Being a full-time mommy presents the most wonderful opportunity to provide all of these elements of healthy atmosphere. One thing I think is important, which is not covered in this chapter, is student to student relationships, or in our case, sibling to sibling. Because we are so focused on a relatively small number of little people, care can be given to individualized instruction, individual needs, and the rhythm of the day, and also to shepherding interactions between siblings. Breaks can be taken, book time can be extended if everyone is engaged and having fun, and there's no need for recess, because lunch and snack are outside, weather permitting. The challenge I see in our home is continuing to zealously filter out ideas, words, or images we find objectionable as a family, not to create a bubble where nothing bad is ever said, done, or heard about, but to craft an environment where the focus is on the positive, the good, the reverent, the kind. 


  1. Re: Angel Food. I'm not sure what to think about the series. We actually read a story today and the kids *loved* it--the "moral" in this one was delivered with a slightly lighter hand. I would describe this book as less religious stories than little sermons written for children, and thinking of the books in this context makes me like them better. They are certainly living--the priest's writing voice suggests a genuine care for children and an interest in teaching them the catechism through little tales and talks. It is not moralistic in the sense that this chapter describes--definitely no manipulation of that kind going on here. Maybe I should liken it to Aesop's Fables, with the moral taking a larger part of the story? Anyway, we're going to stick with them for now. I do think they make a nice companion to our catechism lessons.

    Another part of this chapter that I found helpful: "However, this approach does not imply that the children are free without restraint. It is precisely because the children know who is in charge and respect that authority that the atmosphere is healthy. As Mason said, 'This element of strength is the backbone of our position. They [the children] are free under authority, which is liberty; to be free without authority is license.'" (85)

    This was my experience when I was teaching. I thought quite a bit about classroom atmosphere in those days because I was the same age as many of my students and I wanted to be sure they respected me as a natural authority without my having to be particularly strict or engaging in disciplinary measures. I found that surprisingly easy to cultivate, and one of the main things I felt effective at as a teacher was maintaining a healthy classroom atmosphere and pleasant relationships with students that allowed me to be kind without compromising my rules or grading requirements.

    So how can this apply in the home? I think the differences are obviously ages of the students (though college students certainly *do* act like toddlers at times) and a lack of emotional investment. That latter one is key for me. I think the natural consequences I mentioned from that section in volume 1 (the boy that doesn't want to jump like a frog :)) is a good start toward creating enough emotional distance to allow me to discipline while still maintaining a happy sense of calm and order in the home. Make rules, enforce habits, remove offenders until they're reading to follow those rules and engage in those habits...something like that. :) And create an atmosphere the children desire to be in so that they don't *want* to be removed from it--that's key too, as this chapter lines out.

    And yes, Angela, I think you have a handle on this section of the chapter, for sure. Definitely a lovely and happy learning atmosphere in your home!

  2. Celeste, I had the same experience while teaching, as I too was almost the same age as my students (though married and pregnant, so that helped my case;)), and I wanted to create that authority while also maintaining an easygoing relationship. I think the goal at home, is, as you pointed out, to create an atmosphere they don't want to be removed from...and to not allow tiny people to send Mommy into an emotional tailspin. That is HARD some days;)
    I'm going to investigate Angel Food books for Year 1...I am intrigued and need to examine them further.