A Charlotte Mason Summer Study


As  promised, I'm going to wonder aloud with you this summer over some of the offerings at Simply Charlotte Mason. All my downloads are printed and tidy in a pretty new binder, so I'm ready to go! I'd like to start with the free e-book Education Is... before moving on to Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habit Handbook.

Education Is is a quick read and wonderful introduction or reminder of the essence of Charlotte Mason. Charlotte Mason was a British woman of the last century who founded the House of Education in Ambleside, England, in the beautiful Lake District. She was born in 1842, an Anglican woman and a pioneer in educational reform. She founded the Parents National Educational Union (PNEU), perhaps the first homeschool support group ever. She seemed to love mottoes, and her motto for the parents of the PNEU was Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. She wrote volumes about the three educational instruments: the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and presentation of living ideas. All three components are integral to the healthy growth and development of a child:

Think about it. If we give our children only the atmosphere in our homes, they
will learn only what we already know, and our focus may turn to events and activities
at the expense of teaching our children how to think and read for instruction
However, if we give them only the discipline of habits, they will have good
character but will be lacking in mental development.
And if we give them only academics, we might very well raise smart delinquents
or, at the very least, burden our children with intellectual exhaustion. All three
components of Charlotte’s three-pronged approach are vital in the education of our
Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. What a well-balanced, all-around
approach! ~Education Is...

Charlotte Mason asserted that children are educated by their intimacies. That makes infinite good sense, doesn't it? Children learn from who and what they hold close.

The goal of such an education is to surround the child with noble people and books and other things with which to form relationships. For a Catholic parent, the first intimacy we want for our children is a true personal friendship with the Lord. All our educating is directed to that end.

We also recognize that the child living in a home that is also his "school" will form very close relationships with his parents and siblings. It is these relationships that we pray about unceasingly. We endeavor to be good examples and mentors. We want strong. loving bonds between siblings. Despite our inadequacies, we strive in our homes to emulate the Holy Family.

The child will also have intimacies with literature and nature and music and art. With an eye toward the ultimate goal, only the finest of these are set before the child. Children need the time and space to meet fine ideas and to make them their own. The atmosphere of the home and, indeed, of the child's entire environment can be ordered towards the purpose of presenting living ideas. ~Real Learning

May_2008_005In Education Is we consider six particular thoughts on atmosphere:

1. Children should grow up in a natural home setting, not an artificial, adapted "child environment."
Before the Montessorians start throwing tomatoes, please consider  that Miss Mason meant 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 a 'child's level.'"  She was not writing to parents in the slums of Italy where Maria Montessori founded her Casa de Bambini. she wasnot seeking to correct severe developmental and educational delays. She was addressing the parents in nineteenth century England who were likely to tuck their children away in a fully appointed nursery with a governess, far from the comings and goings of family life--far from the intimacies which should educate the child.

2. Character traits can be learned through the atmosphere of the home.
We will discuss this at great length when we fully explore the discipline of habits, but it only makes sense that children learn a great deal through imitating the life of virtue that should be readily apparent in the actions of their parents. And that keys into:

3. We must be careful how we live, because our children will pick up attitudes and ideas from us that will affect them the rest of their lives.

How shall these indefinite ideas which manifest themselves in appetency be imparted? They are not to be given of set purpose, nor taken at set times. They are held in that thought environment which surrounds the child as an atmosphere, which he breathes as his breath of life; and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents. Every look of gentleness and tone of reverence, every word of kindness and act of help, passes into the thought-environment, the very atmosphere which the child breathes; he does not think of these things, may never think of them, but all his life long they excite that ‘vague appetency towards something’ out of which most of his actions spring. Oh, the wonderful and dreadful presence of the little child in the midst! Volume 2, p. 36,37

4.The atmosphere of our homes is formed out of the ideas that rule our lives as parents.
As Catholic parents, we know that our sacred vocation is to raise children to know, love, and serve God.

5.Atmosphere is only part, not all, of a child's education. We must also give the discipline of good habits and the living ideas of a generous education.
It is not enough for us to strew the house with good books and works of art. It is not enough to play music in the background as we read aloud at teatime. That we do those things is certainly important. And then, we must rise to the challenge of the discipline of good habits in ourselves and in our children so that all those good ideas can flourish. And we must prayerfully consider what constitutes the curriculum of a generous education so that we know what things to put within reach of our children.

6.The atmosphere of the home should encourage freedom under authority and obedience.
Yep. It sure should. But I think I've written quite enough on authority and obedience this week;-)

Consider the atmosphere of the home in which you educate your children. My vision is much the same as the one I saw many years ago:

The atmosphere of the home we are considering is alive with living books and  living ideas. There are art books and prints of works by the great masters. There is a garden, however small, where wee hands are invited and encouraged to touch, to feel, and to grow. And every afternoon, at four o'clock, there is teatime. Flowers on the table, Mozart on the CD player and a goodie or two on the table. The children are seated around the table where they are given the undivided attention of their mother and encourage to talk; to discuss and to relate living ideas; to celebrate the feasts of the liturgical year. That is the atmosphere of education. ~Real Learning


These days, teatime is likely to be earlier in order to get out the door to soccer practice and they are a fair number of balls and ballet shoes scattered about, but all in all, this vision has served us well.
So, tell me, what does an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life look like to you? Post your thoughts to your blog and leave a link in the comments (Mr. Linky was a disaster).

Links so far:
The Bookworm
S/V Mari Hal-o-Jen