The summer book study is underway at Elizabeth's and we're getting back to our roots. So if you haven't already visited Simply Charlotte Mason and downloaded their FREE e-book Education is...you'd better hurry on over there and do so! Don't get behind on your summer reading.
This introduction to Charlotte Mason's ideas is based on one of my favorite quotes from her, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life." What I love about this study of that idea is the emphasis on the fact that one of these factors alone is not enough. It takes all three to form our children properly--the atmosphere created by the principles that govern us as parents, the discipline of character training that we carry out in our homes, and the life of thought and ideas to which we introduce our children.
The first of this tripod that we consider is the atmosphere. Six points are developed as we think through what Charlotte Mason spoke of when she used the term "atmosphere"
- Children should grow up in a natural home setting, not an artificial, adapted "child environment." (Education Is, 10) Now Charlotte Mason was talking to families in England who appointed lovely little nurseries and sequestered the children there under the watchful eye of the nanny or the governess while home life was carried on by adults somewhere far away. This is clearly not a challenge for most of us. However, it is good for me to be reminded that my home life needs to be a complete picture of being engaged with the children and their education and running a home that does all the things a home should do--one that nurtures the adults who live in it as well as the children, one that welcomes friend and stranger alike, one whose door opens to the world beyond and shuts to the tight circle of family as life leads. If I allow the fact that so many children live here to be the excuse for why things are poorly kept, poorly planned, or poorly run, I have falsely adapted the environment to them. Charlotte Mason was advocating that children be welcomed into the adult sphere of the home so that they could be nourished by the richness of that environment, not so that the environment could be forsaken because of their presence. It is my job to maintain the atmosphere of "home" with my kids as an active presence in it, not a home where I have despaired to bring order and comfort because the sheer number of little ones makes it difficult.
- We must be careful how we live, because our children pick up attitudes and ideas from us that will affect the rest of their lives. Well, there's an examination of conscience at the end of the day--what ideas and attitudes have my kids witnessed in me today? Have I influenced them for good? What can I do to reinforce the good and wash away the bad tomorrow? In a Catholic home, it is most important that we live in such a way that our kids know without a doubt that holiness is our path and heaven is our goal. And when they witness us stray from that path, it is doubly important that they see repentance, mercy, and the faithful return to the journey. There are so many attitudes and ideas we hope our kids will glean from their life on our home, but of all of them, the pursuit of heaven through holiness is most important. Charlotte Mason said our attitudes would excite in our children "a vague appetancy" toward something--I hope my children are hungry for heaven.
- The atmosphere of our homes is formed out of the ideas that rule our lives as parents. There is no getting over the fact that our homes will reflect what's important to us and that those ideas will be like the very "air" of our kids lives. It will be part of them before they are aware even that it exists. Have you ever stepped into a place and gasped quietly at the holiness that surrounded you? Without seeing a person or hearing word spoken, but just in the atmosphere around you, there was holiness. That's my goal for our home. I bet it was like that in Therese Martin's home. And I hope it will be in mine.
- Atmosphere is only part, not all, of a child's education. We must give the discipline of good habits and the living ideas of a generous curriculum. Our next book study will be all about the discipline of good habits and we are working on creating a generous curriculum of living ideas for Serendipity next fall. But I think something worth mentioning here is that the people who questioned the notions of atmosphere mentioned here were intuiting that the pursuit of the perfect atmosphere was a single-pronged goal, when in truth, it is part of a much bigger picture. But it is a valid part, and there is atmosphere either way. Our kids breathe the air of our home, whatever it is. Seeking order, comfort and loveliness is our way of insuring that the air they breathe is of the highest quality. We take the life-giving air of our faith and filter out any allergens and pollutants that may have gathered in it so that what our families breathe is pure and healthy.
- The atmosphere of home should encourage freedom under authority and obedience. Well, I'll be chewing on that one for a while.
Charlotte Mason wrote: "But due relations must be maintained; the parents are in authority,the children in obedience; and again, the strong may not lay the burdens on the weak; nor must we expect from children that effort of decision, the most fatiguing in our own lives, of which the young should generally be relieved." (quoted in Education is, 13)
I know we'll talk more about this one later, but initially, I think it is a noble and beautiful thing to think on obedience as a gift we give our children. We carry the burden of authority. We shoulder the worry and concern over their moral, spiritual, physical, and intellectual development. We shudder at the influences we strive to shut out while they continue on, blissfully unaware. These burdens are not theirs to shoulder. It is obedience that frees them to be children. When we leave them to decisions that are our own to make or leave room for negotiation, or worse yet, give in to the tyranny of their emotional reactions, they are not happier--they are fretful, confused, and anxious. Obedience is not a demand we make on poor unsuspecting creatures, it is a gift we give the ones we love, the gift of a free childhood, consumed with childish thoughts and dreams and imaginings, not the cares and concerns of the adult world.
Well, keep reading. Summer has just begun!