The Atmosphere of the Home: An Introduction

“Therefore, we are limited to three educational instruments––the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas.”     Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, pg. xxix

Let’s talk about atmosphere, shall we?  When we are limited to three educational instruments, it seems worth our while to think them through pretty thoroughly.  This topic is of especial interest to me as I am a really visual person.  I love to decorate, to make a house feel like a home, to set a table just so, or to find just the right piece of art for each spot in my home. When I first heard this was a full one-third of the formula for education, I probably thought something along the lines of, “Well, one out of three is a start…”  A deeper study of what Charlotte meant led me to find that what she meant by “atmosphere of environment” is about so much more than what your surroundings look like.  It is about the attitude I bring to our home, the amount of time we spend in nature, the sounds and smells that surround us, and how much I allow my children to spread their wings and do things on their own while giving them a strong sense of place in which to feel rooted.  The topic grew before me and I realized, I wasn’t anywhere near understanding this one-third of the equation!

“The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every School; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a Current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.”  Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, pg. 97

How much did I long that we should embody this goal set before us!  That even a “chance visitor” would be able to see “the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teacher and children alike” when they enter my home!  Because what is the good of a home perfectly arranged and full of beautiful things, when it gives the air of a gallery that children cannot touch and do not enjoy?  On the other side of the coin, when the children make the entire house into a play room, respecting no sense of order nor propriety, are we truly helping them to appreciate the true, and good, and beautiful?  Where does this happy balance land for each family in our quest for a glow on the faces of both teacher (mother) and student (child) alike?

“It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us. It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense. We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby’s needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges.”  Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, pg. 96

To love young and old, be gentle and loving with man and beast, learn from tumbles, give and take a teasing with ease, and to delight in his surroundings.  This is what atmosphere teaches us. This is why we must think through the atmosphere we present through the person we are, the parents we are, the tone we use and allow in our homes, the art and music we enjoy, the places we go, the meals we make… The list goes on and on!

This post is the beginning of a series wherein we will discuss Charlotte’s writings on the topic of Atmosphere.  I look forward to sharing my findings with you and reading your comments and emails.  First we will give some thought to the atmosphere of our attitude, then on to how we keep the inside of our home, ending with our outdoor life.  Links to each post will be below for easy reference.


List of posts in this series:

The Atmosphere in our Home: An Introduction (You are here)

The Atmosphere in our Home: Our Attitudes, Habits, and Tone

The Atmosphere in our Home: Decoration and Organization

The Atmosphere in our Home: Sounds, Smells, and Textures

The Atmosphere in our Home: Going Outdoors

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