The Atmosphere of Education

One of Charlotte Mason's mottoes is "education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life". She grounded her entire view of education in the simple fact that "children are born persons" and are to be treated as such. You can read her 20 Principles which discuss what exactly she means by the personhood of the child, education as an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life and more over here.
Principle 6 reads: "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."
A child-environment is a false environment, one that doesn't exist once you get past a certain age. I remember the brightly colored Kindergarten that I went to (half-day, I'm that old) and by second grade, it was a different story. I also see child-environments as ones that select which ideas a child should be obtaining - regurgitated ideas, essentially. While children need to learn life skills and basic arithmetic, staging environments for them isn't the way to do it.

Charlotte is pointing us to where it all begins: the home. We aren't to make mini-preschools in our homes, but rather to create an environment where the child is fed great ideas and is respected as a person. Additionally, she mentions that bringing the world down to the child level will kill any enthusiasm for the idea. We should be aiming to create a home atmosphere where a child is brought up to the ideas vs the ideas being dumbed down to them.

What's the difference between a child-environment and reasonable accommodations? My ASD kiddo needs accommodations, my petite girls need them, even the baby needs them. I see accommodations as something that you supply for a person in order to help them function in the world. My ASD kiddo just received a bunch of sensory items in the mail, when we use them my kiddo can then be focused. It's not making a child-environment, but rather giving them a tool to use to help them in the world. My petite girls all need stools to reach various things; without those stools they are deprived of their dignity in some areas (bathroom) and have a hard time functioning in the world (we see this in public bathrooms, actually).

I like to think the atmosphere of my home is pretty rich, that we have good ideas to feed the children and that they can pick up things simply by being in the house. One doesn't need gobs of money to do this, either:
  • Spotify or Pandora play great music for free (although sometimes ads are not kid-friendly, especially on Spotify around St. Valentine's Day, yikes)
  • There is plenty of art online to look at, as well as books of great artists at the library, thrift store, etc
  • Nature tables of rocks, empty wasps' nests, sticks with buds in vases, and so on provide an up-close and personal view of nature (although make sure you don't have any hitchhikers coming inside with you or else you may get REALLY up-close and personal with nature ;-) )
  • Nature walks provide some greenery when you don't have any. Our yard still has no grass. The kids love to romp in the dirt - digging holes, looking under rocks, and so on - but the mountain in our backyard provides trees, shrubs, flowers, grass, scat, prints of animals and people, and more. 
  • Well-stocked bookshelves of living books - kids can take up and read as they see fit. We also hit up the library for subjects we lack (sharks, at the moment). Most of my books come from thrift stores both online and offline.
  • A prayer corner provides everyone with a quiet place to go to spend time with God. The art and statues in the corner remind us at a glance what our ultimate goal is.
  • Any kind of life skills, such as helping with cooking, cleaning, hand-work (Moose right now is helping his Grandpa with a woodworking project). 
There's always some things that I feel like we could improve on, such as less Netflix; but we're headed in the right direction. Many times one of the kids come to me and say "did you know _________?" without me ever having sat down and formally "taught" them. Yesterday the kids made a plethora of connections with Euclid and Archimedes based on other books they've read, documentaries they've seen, and conversations that they've heard Greg and I have. There's no way I could teach them the connections, they make them on their own. Not to mention I make connections as well - Greg, bless his heart is always happy as I fill the gaps of my own education (especially in history) and patiently listens to me go on and on about the Persians or whatever. (He has a history degree so he can appreciate my enthusiasm!)

With our homes providing a great educational atmosphere, we know our kids are getting good ideas simply by living, Moose is a great narrator for his age, despite me never really teaching him how to narrate like I did Peanut. Simply by being in the house and within earshot of Peanut doing her narrations, he picked up what I was looking for and most days can deliver great narrations. I've given him some suggestions (such as, "tell me in your own words what you remember" lest he tell me verbatim everything I just read), but he does understand the overall goal.

So there's my musings on atmosphere and how it relates to education. I'm a work-in-progress, as is the house and everything else; but I like to think I have a good foundation started that we can build on in the future.


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