Mother Culture: Spiritual Life

“Education is part and parcel of religion and every enthusiastic teacher knows that he is obeying the precept, ‘feed my lambs’––feed with all those things which are good and wholesome for the spirit of a man; and, before all and including all, with the knowledge of God.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 246

We’ve already started talking about how we must take care of not only the physical parts of ourselves that we can see, but also those parts of ourselves that, while invisible, are of greater importance than our physical selves – our minds and our souls.  We talked about the importance of wide reading to feed our minds on their proper diet of knowledge.  Now let’s talk about feeding our souls on the knowledge of God.

I’m going to write this article based on the assumption that most of the people reading this come from some variety of a Christian faith, as I do. Charlotte herself was a devout Christian and the crux of her method was that all knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit.

“But we hold that all education is divine, that every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from above, that the Lord the Holy Spirit is the supreme educator of mankind, and that the culmination of all education is that personal knowledge of and intimacy with God in which our being finds its fullest perfection.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 95

So how do we apply this as mothers and teachers, grandmothers and aunts, sisters and cousins?  We realize that the Holy Spirit is consistently reaching out to us and trying to give us this gift of knowledge, but we must respond to Him in kind.  Through prayer and reading of the bible, we show our openness to receiving those gifts the Holy Spirit wants to generously bestow.

When you take this time to pray, to contemplate God’s Word, and to find time to quiet your thoughts and listen, you are setting an example to every soul in your household.  When I took the vows of marriage, I agreed to the idea that my vocation as wife was predominantly to help my husband get to heaven. His vow meant he accepted the job of helping me to get to heaven (he has the much harder job!) and together, each child we bring into the world is one we will raise with the goal of heaven for that soul.  Taking time to pray for each person in your home is fulfilling that role of wife and mother and letting your husband and children see you or simply knowing that mom has time in the day set aside for prayer creates an atmosphere where prayer is valued.  Herein lies a beautiful paradox – that time “for yourself” benefits every soul around you!

Further, to not only read, but to study and understand the Bible key to your spiritual life.  As Saint Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”  He should know, he translated the entire bible into Latin from the original Greek and Hebrew.  No matter what your denomination or non-denomination, there is certainly resources out there for you both online and in your local church. If you don’t have a group, start one.  If you don’t feel you need a group, perhaps a good study bible would be right up your alley or a copy of your catechism.  Find a way to connect to the Lord through a deep study of His Word and a whole new world will open up for you and all those around you.

I would also suggest that as a family, you look at what it means to keep Holy the Sabbath day.  We mothers too often can make excuse after excuse as to why we remain busy all week long and cannot find time to read, take a walk, or enjoy quiet time.  On Sundays, we are actually commanded to do so.  It’s one of the ten.  Consult with your spouse as to what you discern to be appropriate ways to spend your Sunday and stick to it.  Come into your Monday ready for the week ahead and refreshed, rather than harried and exhausted.

Mother Culture: What We are Reading

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Amy is reading…

Natural History:


My husband bought this one for me! He heard about it on NPR on his morning drive to work. Heard that it was about Nature and Words and knew I’d like it. It’s fascinating. Part dictionary, part biography, part social commentary, part nature writing. It opens: “This is a book about the power of language–strong style, single words–to shape our sense of place.” Of course, I’d be hooked! The author notes the words that have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary: acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, dandelion, fern, hazel, heatherto be replaced by broadband, celebrity, chatroom, cut-and-paste, voice-mail. Macfarlane has interesting things to say about what this says about our society and what it will say for its future. The Glossary he creates is lovely to read.

Parenting:


How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was a birthday gift from my brother and Sister-n-law. I’ve tried a few of the simple practices mentioned and it does seem to help.

 Charlotte Mason:

Volume 1 Part 2. For the Charlotte Mason Reading Group I lead. I hope to write a follow-up post of complementary books and links to this wonderful section.

Volume 2. Chapter 1 and 2. For a second Charlotte Mason Reading Group that both Camille and I will participate in virtually! I’ve never done this Volume in a discussion Group so can’t wait!

Mason’s Ourselves. With my daughter Grace! She is starting this book for the first time.

A Touch of the Infinite: Studies in music Appreciation with Charlotte Mason by Megan Elizabeth Hoyt. I appreciate the careful research the author did for this work, of Mason’s volumes, but also the Mason archives and the books Mason references in her volumes and her programmes. I learned a lot and the book covers a lot! Composer Study, Hymns and Folksongs, Solfege and so much more. It has a great list of resources in the Appendix.

Literature:

Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter is one of my all-time favorites, so I decided to read another one of her trilogies. I’ve finished Volume 1 and now moving onto the second:


It has everything I love about Kristin: history, romance, the medieval church, beautifully crafted characters…

Fun Fiction:

If you are looking for an enjoyable, easy read that is refreshing and thought-provoking, this is it! If you’ve wondered what the “Benedict Option” could look like, this is the book for you. It has homeschooling, Latin, Chesterton, discussions on feminism, hospitality, Little Women, marriage, and beauty. I found myself reading quotes aloud to my husband again and again!

Family Read-Alouds During Lunch:

I alternate between Animal Farm and Winter in the Willows (a sequel of Wind in the Willows written by another author)

With the Little Girls at Bed-time:

Betsy-Tacy. They love this sweet little book and often now play “Betsy-Tacy” throughout their day!

In the Car:

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. We are listening to this Audible book from the Newberry-Award winner, Jacqueline Kelly. I like this second novel even more than the first! I really think these books could fit in the “Nature Lore” category of a Mason curriculum. We all love it.

 

Camille is reading…

 

 

 

 

I got an unexpected email that it was finally my turn for The Cleaner of Chartes at the library.  Given that my library only lets you keep books for two weeks and there are no extensions if there is a waiting list, I’ve made this one a priority.  It is delightful so far (I’m about halfway through) – an interesting story that jumps from the early life to the current life of Agnes, a woman who was abandoned as a baby and was then raised in a convent.  She is unable to read or write due to some cognitive disability, but has other gifts that allow her to live her life independently far from anywhere that she ever called home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had just finished Mere Motherhood. I did not expect it to be quite the page turner that it was and I was done in only two days.  It is probably the first time since my fourteen-month-old was born that I can claim I read a book in that short a time. It is a story of a homeschooling mother and one that any of us can easily relate to.  The initial enthusiasm, the doubts, the new babies, the trials, the excitement over milestones, and the worries over gaps.  Beautifully written and a lovely story.

 

For my book group at church, we are reading A Mother’s Rule of Life.  It’s a book I’ve read before, but needs to be reread every few years.  It helps me to frame my day in the way a religious order might – focusing on my core priorities first and making sure my schedule reflects what is most important to my vocation.

 

 

 

 

 

I am also trudging through Gilead.  I hate to even state it that way, but it is true.  The book is not long at all, and I really like it when I am reading it, but it is somewhat slow moving and I find myself picking up other books rather than this one when it is time to read.  I’ve read enough glowing recommendations to know I should persevere…

 

 

 

Lastly, I read this great little ebook, The Confident Homeschooler, to get me ready for the school year.  I found some really good and practical nuggets that have been serving me well so far.  Most of my educational reading is really more philosophical than practical, so this felt refreshing and enjoyable before our new year started.

Our Read Aloud:

Each night after the little ones are tucked in, the oldest two kids and I read one chapter per night before bed.  We’ve just started The Yearling.  This is one I missed in my youth and I’m excited to be reading it with them.

Atmosphere of the Home: Organization and Decoration

“The whole atmosphere of the house was so extraordinarily good–nothing ignoble seemed natural within its doors, and moreover the actual surroundings, the books, the pictures (reproductions of old masters) the simple furniture and the wildflowers for decoration everywhere were a revelation in themselves in those days when the world either lived in a crowd of ancestral treasures or in the unutterable hideousness of the Victorian Age when prosperity had to be apparent.” – In Memoriam, p. 74

Whenever I read Charlotte’s work, what stands out to me is the sense of beautiful simplicity.  In the way she can distill educational ideas into a fully formed philosophy and in the way she makes suggestions about things as simple as what the proper clothing for children is (woolens, if you were wondering.  See volume one, p. 36).  When it comes to the decoration of the home, her ideas also convey a beautiful simplicity.  This is where we can take our inspiration.

I’m sure most of you have at least heard of, if not read Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  While I have reservations about her rituals of talking to inanimate objects, there is so much good in the book that I can’t help but just overlook the stranger aspects.  The main part that helped me? Don’t attempt to organize clutter. Just don’t do it.  Rather than looking for a system to organize all of your things, it is better to simply assess whether or not those things actually bring you any level of joy in the first place.  Here in lies the core of simplicity.

Let’s consider an example.  The last time I moved, we cleared one room first and packed it up so that all the items and furniture would be near the door in another space.  Cleaning up that room was suddenly very easy.  I checked the walls, dusted the mantle, and vacuumed.  It took all of 3 minutes. It then occurred to me that each item in that room added to my total cleaning time.  For certain items, this seemed like a worthwhile use of time. I want to sit.  I really like sitting. If it takes an extra 2 minutes to dust an armchair or to move it in order to vacuum underneath, that is fine with me.  Even if that is 2 minutes every week for the rest of my life and now I have invested 52 hours of my life over the next thirty years in the maintenance of that armchair, it is worth it in order to be able to comfortably sit.  Now, what are the items that I own that I don’t have strong feelings about?  Am I willing to dedicate the time to maintain that item for its (or my) entire lifetime? How much does it cost in cleaning products or professional maintenance?  How many things are you keeping that take an emotional toll – that you keep out of guilt or some obligation?  Each item you own has a cost far beyond the price you paid at the register.

Home should also represent the atmosphere you want to create – what words do you use when considering the ideal atmosphere? Some ideas I think of for my home would be calm, joyful, faith-filled, warm, orderly, and hospitable.  It took a long while to realize that my home did not match those words.  My home followed trends and was filled with stuff that didn’t carry much meaning at all, but that I really liked when I saw it at the store and bought rather impulsively. When you consider your list of words that describe your ideal home atmosphere, does your home match that description?  If not, start the process of having a home that matches your vision and not the store shelves (and it doesn’t matter if that store is Goodwill or Restoration Hardware).

Lastly, your home should carry your personal touch and reflect your family culture.  In a world where sites like Pinterest or shiny catalogs in the mail try to tell you what your home “should” look like based on the latest trends or a desire to create a sense of status, it is easy to feel like our homes must look a certain way.  Instead, consider who your home serves and how it can serve them best.  Does each person have a place to sit and read or paint or simply think?  Is the kitchen laid out to make cooking efficient and enjoyable, while leaving room for those who need a glass of water and a snack to not have to bump into the cook?  Does every item have a home, making cleaning easy for you or any member of the family? Is your love of camping clear when people walk in the door? Your love of books? Your love of watercolors? Whatever it is, your home shouldn’t look identical to any catalog, it should be where your family feels represented, respected, and loved.

If you have any doubts about whether or not something is worth your time or effort, or if it adds beauty or distracts from it, put it away for a few weeks and see if you miss it.  If not, give it away to a charity or someone who would be blessed by it.  You will enjoy the simplicity and the beauty found within that simplicity.

Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci

Mother Culture: Creativity

“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, pg. 34

The idea of Mother Culture extends beyond reading.  We are created to be not only minds hungry for knowledge, but bodies needing fresh air, movement, and proper nutrition and we are souls craving God.  Something that encompasses body, mind, and soul is the fact that we are made in the image of the Creator – as such, we are creators ourselves. While our God is able to create ex nihilo, or out of nothing, we must use the materials he has given us. The command written on our bodies, minds, and souls is inescapable, we are made to create.

All too often, those who are not naturally “crafty” start to recoil a bit here and the excuses begin… “But I can’t sew a straight line!” or “I only draw stick figures!”  Hear me out.  Creativity extends far beyond what many of us term handicrafts.  While those skills are often outlets for creativity, they are also skills for everyday life.  We should expose our children to them as well as ourselves, but we don’t have to adopt any handicraft as our personal hobby.

Our ability to create expands far beyond handicrafts –  It is what makes us come alive.  It makes us more fully human.  Our creative talents and drive are as individual as each soul on earth, so it is imperative that you find that thing that stirs your imagination and creative drive.  I invite you to think about something that a) you have done in the past or currently do that you really enjoy or b) something you have a strong desire to learn to do.

Searching for ideas? Let me attempt to jog your thoughts.

First, the usual suspects… the Handicrafts. Sewing, knitting, embroidery, needle felting, basketry, spinning, weaving, etc.

What about the fine arts… Painting, drawing, charcoals, pastels, sculpting…

Domestic arts might be right up your alley – perhaps something others consider a chore is instead an enjoyable outlet for creativity for you… Cooking, home decorating, mixed drink making, entertaining guests, baking, home organization, etc.

He’s my baker.

Are the outdoors your cup of tea?  Perhaps a vegetable garden or flower garden is for you. Pressing flowers, collecting nature specimens, growing interesting plants, tending to a pond, bird watching…

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What about creativity with language – perhaps you are a writer, a poet, a blogger, or an avid journal keeper?

Are you the person friends go to when in need of fashion advice?  It could be that your ability to balance fashion trends and modesty is exactly the art that you not only love, but that could be a gift to those around you.  Accessorizing, hair styling, applying make-up beautifully, and other arts of beautifying a person’s outward appearance are so important and yet often overlooked.

The dramatic arts may be where you shine.  Not only acting on stage should come to mind – no stage is necessary for you to use your gift. If you take special delight in singing your babies to sleep to show tunes that stir your heart, that is beautiful.  Singing, playing an instrument, creating costumes, memorizing monologues and speeches of the great plays, or dancing may be the thing that brings you joy.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some category or so many ways to create.  It’s very possible and quite likely I’ve forgotten to mention yours.  That’s ok. What matters is that you’ve found that thing and next… that you DO IT.

Yes. DO IT.  Schedule time to create.  This is not selfish.  This is not what the popular culture would call “Me Time” wherein you retreat from responsibilities to do something fun and frivolous.  This is the time you need to be the person you are in the fullest way possible.  This is the time you will use to show your daughters and sons that parents aren’t just people who sign permission slips and cook meals and earn money and send them to their room.  Parents are human beings who have interests.  Mothers have interests beyond their children and beyond their spouses and those interests might have been around before either of the latter two came along.  Parenting can be grueling and difficult, but showing your children that it extends beyond cleaning up spills and scrubbing bathtubs is how you create an atmosphere in your home that will encourage your children to become parents someday rather than buying into the cultural idea that children should be put off until we have done all the fun stuff.  Show them that parents do fun stuff.


Lastly, do what you love simply because you love it.  If you are cooking because people need to eat, that isn’t necessarily using your creative gift.  If you make a meal simply because the recipe looked exciting and you remember that you can give it to the woman down the street who just had a baby because your dinner is already made… that’s using your gift.

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

“That he should take direction and inspiration from all the casual life about him, should make our poor words and ways the starting-point from which, and in the direction of which, he develops––this is a thought which makes the best of us hold our breath. There is no way of escape for parents; they must needs be as ‘inspirers’ to their children, because about them hangs, as its atmosphere about a planet the thought-environment of the child, from which he derives those enduring ideas which express themselves as a life-long ‘appetency’ towards things sordid or things lovely, things earthly or divine.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, pg. 37

The above quote, so eloquently written was once summed up for me as, “More is caught than taught.”  Rather pithy, I’d say.  It gives credence to Charlotte’s idea that atmosphere is a full third of education.  How many of us have found ourselves using phrases with our children that we distinctly remember our mothers saying to us?  This may be wonderful, or it may be less than ideal, but either way it shows that to some degree, each of us are indeed a product of the atmosphere we grew up in. How then can we think through the atmosphere we set our children in each day?

First, we need to assess the atmosphere we set in our homes.  While many of us can immediately point out where we struggle, let’s begin instead with what we do well.  Mothers are slow to recognize all the good that we bring to our homes – Often, because the best of what we bring to our homes are small, daily actions that bring a sense of order, direction, kindness, and love to those around us.  The way you put that bandage on a boo boo may be what your child remembers more than anything, because each time you do it with a smile and a kiss.  Or perhaps the voices you do when you read aloud will be what your kids strive to recreate for their own children.  It is time to consider all of the beautiful traditions, actions, or kindnesses that you routinely do and to give yourself a pat on the back for them.  It might even be a good exercise to ask your children about their favorite memory or their favorite tradition – it may bring something to light that you didn’t even realize was important to them.

Once you realize how you are doing so many things right,  pick one thing that you would like to improve on.  We could probably all think of a much longer list, but when working on a new habit it is best to focus on one at a time.  Prioritize what you’d like to see improved most and put a plan into action for only that one thing.  Pray about it, talk to other moms (especially if you see they seem to have a strength where you think you have a weak area – we learn so much from fellow moms!), and come up with a system that works for you and your family.

When you have chosen your one thing, consider the attitude with which you approach that thing.  Will is be one of resignation and duty or an attitude of positivity and hope?  The way we approach a challenge will also be a part of the atmosphere of our homes.  Share the new thing you are working on with your family and allow them to help you and to see you challenged.  Next time you see your child struggle with something difficult, you will have more sympathy for them and they will see you as a compatriot as well as a parent.  Your example in how to improve yourself is likely to be far more important than the actual improvement itself!

“This relation of habit to human life––as the rails on which it runs to a locomotive––is perhaps the most suggestive and helpful to the educator; for just as it is on the whole easier for the locomotive to pursue its way on the rails than to take a disastrous run off them, so it is easier for the child to follow lines of habit carefully laid down than to run off these lines at his peril. It follows that this business of laying down lines towards the unexplored country of the child’s future is a very serious and responsible one for the parent. It rests with him to consider well the tracks over which the child should travel with profit and pleasure; and, along these tracks, to lay down lines so invitingly smooth and easy that the little traveller is going upon them at full speed without stopping to consider whether or no he chooses to go that way.”  – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, pg. 109

What to consider when thinking about what improvements we can make in the atmosphere of our home?  A good place to look is the list of habits Charlotte mentions in her books. It is a very long list.  Don’t let that intimidate you.  One at a time is the best pace. Forming these habits in ourselves is the easiest way to form them in our children, or at least set the example by which they can easily grasp the same habit later.  It is far more difficult to get a child trained to put their dirty clothes in a hamper when they see us dropping our own on the floor.  Something like 90% of our lives are habitual, the rest of our actions need decision from our minds.  If you set a habit well in yourself it will set your course for life, just as the rails of a train set its course.  What Charlotte told us years ago, modern books confirm.  This is the best place to start to avoid decision fatigue and unpleasant habits that form due to lack of consideration on our part.

Lastly, consider the tone of your home.  Consider the way that you speak to your children – both the words you use and the volume with which you use them.  We want to be careful as the words we use become part of the inner monologue of the child’s mind, as well as they way they speak to siblings, family members, and friends.  The tone we use is likely the one passed down to us from our own childhood and will likely be seen in the homes of our adult grandchildren.  If you sense that there is some improvement to be done in this area, it may be a good place to start.  Disrespectful language coming from us, the music we listen to, the shows and movies we watch all factor into the education of our children. Yelling, slamming of doors, stomping of feet, and other violations of a peaceful tone can create a restless undercurrent in the home.  Even if it seems a wildly uphill battle, this is a place where creating a new habit in yourself, and perhaps inviting your family to join you in this new endeavor, will improve the communication in your family and make every later improvement a more fruitful one.

 

Mother Culture: Reading

“The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, “I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!” That is the secret; always have something “going” to grow by. If we mothers were all “growing” there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls.” Parents Review Volume 3, no. 2, 1892/93, pgs. 92-95

I love to read.  I always have.  Not everyone comes into adulthood with this attitude, but that is somewhat irrelevant to our discussion today.  Today we are going to chat about why we simply must read; why it is neither a luxury, nor a selfish act; why is neither dreadful, nor dry, nor dull.  Why reading is simple and delightful and entirely necessary to our flourishing as a human being. But first, we shall chat about food.

No one denies that we must eat each day.  Quite frankly, a cursory scroll down your facebook page or the health section of the paper or even a conversation with friends will likely lead you to the fact that many of us think a lot about what we eat.  Some people go paleo, others dairy-free, some have allergies, others have sensitivities, and still others abstain from groups of foods by choice and often with the claim of much scientific evidence in their corner.  Whether we eat enough, or too much, or the right things and how that affects our moods, weight, and energy levels is fodder for hours of discussion.  Like it or not, our bodies were made to survive by eating food and so we simply must make choices as to what foods we will take in and how to prepare them.  We cannot avoid food or our bodies would suffer and eventually die.

“Diet for the body is abundantly considered, but no one pauses to say, ‘I wonder does the mind need food, too, and regular meals, and what is its proper diet?'”  Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 24

Now, our bodies present a physical reality that cannot be ignored and so we deal with our hunger, thirst, elimination, warmth, and tiredness day to day.  As Charlotte points out above and I am bringing up now, how often do we consider the realities of our non-physical selves?  Our minds and spirits each have needs in order to grow and thrive.  How often do we see those around us in life who suffer greatly because they have not fed their spirit or their mind sufficiently and when even a small difficulty befalls them, they are overwhelmed?  So what is the proper diet of the mind?

“A child is a Person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of a person.

Knowledge ‘nourishes’ the mind as food nourishes the body.

A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food.” Charlotte Mason, Vol.6, p 18

Do not take the word “children” above to mean only those under 18.  We are all children of God.  This is true for each one of us.  It is our responsibility as parents to provide our children with sources of knowledge, but as we become independent adults it is also our duty to provide ourselves with food for the mind.

Perhaps you are thinking I am about to tell you that you must have some very thick classic in the works at all times, or perhaps you do indeed read People magazine quite often and so you’ve got this covered.  I would love to lead you back to reread the first quote at the top of this post.  Scroll up, I’ll wait.  I’m encouraging you to read variety.  A peppy novel is easy to read when time is short in the carpool line.  A moderately easy book, maybe that you are reading with friends in a book club, is perfect for when the youngest of your crew is put to bed and you have fifteen minutes to spare.  Then keep a more challenging book around too.  When everyone is in bed may be your prime reading time – are you giving that time to Netflix instead?  On the contrary, maybe getting up 15 minutes earlier would give you the space you need to get to a good book?

I have also heard of many variations of the three book rule.  Perhaps one non-fiction, one fiction, and one book to grow a personal interest? One history, one science, and one thriller?  One for work, one that you should have enjoyed in high school, and one spiritual book?  This is your list, make it your own.  While you should seek books that will help you be a better human being in general, they should also help you to be the best version of whoever you uniquely are.  Your stack should not fill you with dread, it should feel like a tempting meal for a hungry traveler.  Maybe thinking of it as a meal would help – one appetizer, one meat and potatoes, and one dessert.

“Working men will have leisure in the future and how this leisure is to be employed is a question much discussed. Now, no one can employ leisure fitly whose mind is not brought into active play every day; the small affairs of a man’s own life supply no intellectual food and but small and monotonous intellectual exercise. Science, history, philosophy, literature, must no longer be the luxuries of the ‘educated’ classes; all classes must be educated and sit down to these things of the mind as they do to their daily bread. History must afford its pageants, science its wonders, literature its intimacies, philosophy its speculations, religion its assurances to every man, and his education must have prepared him for wanderings in these realms of gold.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, pg. 43 (Emphasis mine)

Let me also let you in on some of the ways that I sneak in a bit of reading throughout the day.  I used to be very much of the mind that reading should be leisurely, enjoyed in silence, and supplemented by things like tea and a couch.  As such, when I became a parent, I was convinced that I would never find time to read again.  It was impossible!  It was when I let go of the perfect, Pinteresty vision of what reading should look like that I realized I could sneak in reading instead of a lot of the other activities that were taking up my time, or at times that I could do more than one thing.

First and foremost, women with newborns – this is my favorite time for reading.  Newborns need lots of time to cuddle and nurse and moms need lots of rest in this phase of life.  Now is a great time to sneak in a few minutes here and there to read.  When I have a nursing baby, I get lots of reading done.  That is, if I put my phone down.  Ahem.

Secondly, consider an e-reader.  I don’t really love them, I prefer a beautifully bound book, but you know what… I’d rather read than not read and always having a Kindle full of books in my purse means that I can read when I am waiting in the parking lot to pick up a child, or in the waiting room at the dentist, or any other spot that I find myself with a few minutes to spare.  One caveat, I will say get the inexpensive black and white version of the e-readers.  The fancy, LED-screen, app-filled, mini-computers are both harder on the eyes and more likely to lead you into the world of email and social media than reading.  Simplicity is key.

Third, assess your time.  Where are your moments in the day that feel… sluggish? Easily wasted? A bit frantic or scattered?  Often, we have entire pockets of time in our day that go to waste because we aren’t even sure what we should do next or we allow ourselves to waste time on the same frustrating thing over and over rather than fix it and regain that time.  Identifying the problem and creating a system to deal with it could both free up a lot of mental energy and time.  For example, when I bought a home and had children who were 6, 4, and newly born I found that each time I walked into the house, if I wanted the coats put away, I had to hang them in our entryway closet.  In everyone’s rush to be home, I would often find myself with two coats on the floor at my feet and wet shoes tossed either on top or near those coats, while I also had a new baby and my own coat to put away.  It was frustrating for me and my children had a terrible habit.  One day, I put up a set of 6 hooks in that same closet at the height they could reach.  Within two weeks of practicing, everyone hung up their own coats and scarves, mittens stayed in pockets, and shoes had a home next to the hooks.  I was free to hang up only my own things and the baby’s.  It freed 5 minutes each time we arrived home, but it also left me with a happy feeling rather than a frustrated one and thus improved probably at least the next 15 minutes following each arrival home.  From a $20 set of hooks.

Lastly, do not feel like this list of books must be entirely your own.  Perhaps listening to an audio book with your husband in the evening might be something you do to wind down from the day, or even consider reading aloud to one another.  I like to read good fiction to my older children each night, one chapter each evening.  They are of the age now that if I read just slightly above their reading level, it could easily qualify as a “moderately easy” book for an adult.  Quite frankly, this is one of the most joyful parts of my day as I missed so many good stories in my youth and this gives me the ability to not only enjoy them, but to share them with my children.  Listening to audiobooks in the car is a great idea, as well as while you walk or exercise.  Put a speaker in your bathroom (I use this one attached to my phone and Audible app) and listen during the shower or listen as you clean your kitchen or do laundry.

Once you truly understand how your mind will come alive when given its proper nourishment, and you begin to see the fruits of a mind awakened to wonder and knowledge, you’ll come up with lots of ideas for finding a bit more reading time.

I’d love to hear other ideas – where do you find yourself sneaking in some reading time?

“Varied humane reading, as well as human thought expressed in the forms of art, is, not a luxury, a tit-bit, to be given to children now and then, but their very bread of life, which they must have in abundant portions and at regular periods.” Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 111

Need some book recommendations?  Here are some of my favorite places to go:

Modern Mrs. Darcy

Well Read Mom

Living Books Library

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

Mother Culture, An Introduction

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The term Mother Culture was coined in a Parents’ Review Article in 1893. The author of the article is not clearly listed, but Charlotte was still alive and editing the periodical, and so we can assume she would have seen it and known of its being published, though the term did not appear in any of her six volumes.

The term seems to refer to the idea that a mother must keep growing in mind and intellect alongside her children.  That she cannot hold still and do only the daily necessities of life – feeding, clothing, and supervising the children while maintaining the cleanliness of the home – but rather that she must prioritize the feeding of her own mind as well.  Why?  Because we must take the long view of life.  Our children will grow up and will need us to meet them where they are when the questions get difficult and life’s trials seem complicated.  They need to know that we have been learning and growing and are up to the challenge of giving sage advice and wise counsel when it is needed.  In the words of the Mother Culture article: “There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong…Is there not some need for “mother culture”? But how is the state of things to be altered? So many mothers say, “I simply have no time for myself!” “I never read a book!” Or else, “I don’t think it is right to think of myself!” They not only starve their minds, but they do it deliberately, and with a sense of self-sacrifice which seems to supply ample justification.”

In a more modern article titled, “Stop Cleaning the Kitchen – Read a Book”, Susan Wise Bauer, wrote “Recognize that you may be reluctant to read because, on some deep level, it doesn’t seem worthwhile. Activities that produce an immediate result are always more satisfying than activities that don’t. We need to acknowledge to ourselves that we enjoy seeing visible results for what we do. In many ways, it’s more rewarding to get up in the morning and clean the kitchen than to get up and read. After all, if your husband or your mother walks in, you can say, ‘I am a useful human being. I am a useful member of society. Look at my kitchen.’ But if your house is filthy, the baby is screaming, and you have a book in your hand, you won’t feel at all rewarded.”

I will say, my trouble with both quotations above however, is the focus on the negative -that someday you may not be smart enough to do you job well and right now you must sacrifice your time to large tomes and the state of your home will likely suffer.  For so many of us, adding another thing to the day can feel like a burden – this is then made more difficult when what you are asked to add the schedule seems somehow selfish or unnecessary. What I am here to state however, is the positive. Throughout the bible, we are told to “Be Not Afraid”. I think it is much more fruitful to focus on the fact that we are children of God in the same way our children are.  God gave us the True, the Good, and the Beautiful in order to lead us closer to him – passing this on to our children IS our job, but partaking in it is too.  God gave us these gifts, let us not turn them away.

 

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Phillipians 4:8-9

What a lovely ending to that verse, “The God of peace will be with you.”  It made me think of one of those goals that Charlotte Mason calls us to. To be serene. To have the serenity of the Madonna.  That long and oft quoted part of the book wherein she gives us as parents the permission and direction to participate in leisure for the benefit of our whole selves as well as our families, “It is not for nothing that the old painters, however diverse their ideas in other matters, all fixed upon one quality as proper to the pattern Mother. The Madonna, no matter out of whose canvas she looks at you, is always serene. This is a great truth, and we should do well to hang our walls with the Madonnas of all the early Masters if the lesson, taught through the eye, would reach with calming influence to the heart. Is this a hard saying for mothers in these anxious and troubled days? It may be hard, but it is not unsympathetic. If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.” Volume 3, p. 33

All of this – a focus on truth, beauty, and goodness; a serene mother; dwelling in the good honorable, right, pure, lovely and excellent things; drawing closer in relationship to our Lord… what does this do?  It creates the atmosphere of our home.  When Charlotte chalked up a full 1/3 of the tools that we have at our disposal for education to atmosphere, it is no small thing to take some time to contemplate what type of atmosphere we want in our home and how to achieve this.  If we infuse our lives with rich books and experiences and we have our disciplines of habit in good order, we have only 2/3 of our formula in order.  It is our God-given duty to create the atmosphere in our homes.  The truth is, we do this whether or not we give it a single minute of thought.  We must contemplate the type of atmosphere we want and what mindset we must have in order to create an atmosphere of serenity.  Then we will be able to begin to create the proper atmosphere for education in wisdom and virtue.

In my view, this is the ultimate goal in Mother Culture – when the mother is reading, enjoying a trip to the museum or gardens or seashore, attempting a slightly challenging new recipe or learning as she grows something new in the garden, when she takes a class online or begins a blog to share her knowledge with the world, when she does anything that adds to the atmosphere of learning in the home in a way that is serene and joyful, that is when her children will learn the most from her.  From the example of her desire to learn throughout life, they will gain the same desire to learn.

The Series:

Reading

Creativity

Spiritual Life

Ten Minutes

How Camille Met Charlotte Mason

My third baby in a sling, my older two children aged four and six, we were in a neo-classical program and I was exhausted.  Partially from having a newborn, partially from trying to make memorization of long lists of facts (that compounded on each other each week) seem fun to a four- and six-year-old, and partially because I was sure there was more to homeschooling than this.  I never seemed to have time and the kids never seemed to have enthusiasm for the joyful things we wanted to do after we were burnt out on our memory work. I knew there had to be more to homeschooling than this.  As I hung out in the parent lounge to keep the squawking newborn from being too disruptive in class, I met someone who would become a lifelong friend.  After many conversations, she pulled me aside and told me I should read Charlotte Mason’s Volume 1.  She said she was reading it with a book club and that it had really shaped her ideas about how to go forward in the schooling of her daughters. I found a way to download it to my Kindle that same day, and then proceeded to read it in a week during my ample time spent nursing at night.  It had the dual effect of opening my eyes to a new philosophy of education and the great relief that my instinct was right – there is so much more joy to be found in homeschooling than I had experienced thus far.

When I saw my friend again the following week, I told her I had read the book, cover to cover.  She laughed, saying her book club had been reading it for over a year, soaking in the ideas deeply with a slow read and here I had consumed it in a week!  But I had taken her recommendation to heart, and we now had a whole new bond.  I joined her book club as they read Volume 6 and I found even more lifelong friends, a new co-op, and dear friends for my children as well.  IMG_6228

Mason’s ideas were starting to permeate not only our homeschool, but also our home.  I realized that in order to implement her ideas of education being an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, there simply was no line of demarcation between “school” and “after school” – it was all one fluid life at home.  It was this knowledge that would allow us peace as we moved away from those dear friends, lived overseas, lived in temporary housing, added another son to the mix, and now aim to create the atmosphere of home in a new place yet again. Our atmosphere, discipline, and life we take with us everywhere we go and it has been a fruitful education for every member of our family.

This method brought more peace, more joy, and more learning than I ever could have imagined.  Far from being casual and easy, it was vigorous and challenging, but also natural and enjoyable.  Not every moment was so Pollyanna, of course, but if it wasn’t it was because of poor attitudes or some outside factor, and not the work itself. School became a time to hike and make great discoveries, read and meet characters as new friends, listen to the great masters of music, view the great masters of art, write down our daily observations, new ideas, and reflections on great works.  Questions abounded, a sense of wonder grew, and a deep joy has taken root.

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It is at this point in the journey that this blog seemed like a natural next step.  One of those lifelong friends mentioned above is Amy, my partner in this venture.  She has been a mentor to me as well as a kindred spirit from the first.  We are both setting up a new home in a new state and want to share with you not only how Charlotte Mason’s ideas take root in our daily schedules and the books we choose in our homeschool, but also how Charlotte has changed how we cook, decorate, entertain, and organize.  I hope you’ll come along with us as this blog takes form.  We welcome your suggestions and questions, as well as good conversation in the comments.  We’d especially love to hear how Charlotte’s ideas have taken shape in your homes!