There are many important aspects of home-life from first training to highest education; but there is nothing in the way of direct teaching that will ever have so wide and lasting an effect as the atmosphere of home. And the gravest thought concerning this is that in this instance there is nothing to learn and nothing to teach: the atmosphere emanates from ourselves–literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them. There is no pretence here or possibility of evasion; we may deceive ourselves: in the long run, we never deceive our children. The spirit of home lives, and, what is more, [home atmosphere], is accentuated in them. Atmosphere is much more than teaching, and infinitely more than talk.
“The Atmosphere of Home” by M. F. Jerrold Parent’s Review Volume 8, no. 12, 1897, pgs. 772-777
Atmosphere isn’t a “child-environment” that we can create. It “emanates from ourselves—literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them.” So how do we go about building an atmosphere that we want our children to live and breathe?
Mason repeats the aphorism that if we ‘Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; a character, reap a destiny.’ Volume 2 p. 29
Our destiny, our life, the Atmosphere of Our Home is dependent on daily actions. We make the choice. We begin again. We do the next right thing. Habits are grown, a character established. We become more and more who we were meant to be.
Mason continues, “And a great function of the educator is to secure that acts shall be so regularly, purposefully, and methodically sown that the child [and all persons!] shall reap the habits of the good life, in thinking and doing, with the minimum of conscious effort.” p. 29
Yes, we want a home of beauty. We want to “lead them in ways of order, propriety, and virtue, instead of leaving their wheel of life to make ugly ruts in miry places.”
But we need the habits, the disciplines, to make the atmosphere. The atmosphere depends on the habits; the habits are motivated by atmosphere. Atmosphere and discipline go hand-in-hand.
I noticed a small example of this in the past few weeks.
At the end of each day, we would have a big mess of books, notebooks, pencils, and papers strewn on the floor, chairs, and table of our school room. Most days I’d find the time before dinner to tidy it all up. But it irked me! Why was I continually picking up after everyone? And then, the days that I didn’t get to tidy up, led to mornings when we were ready to start school, but then had to tidy. Where was the order, propriety, and virtue?!
This was one of those areas that I took to Barnes and Noble with me. I tried to understand our current habits: when school was done, we were done. By the end of the school morning, everyone was tired. We were often getting ready for an afternoon activity and I felt there was no time to pick up. But more than all of that I realized that the system for putting our things away, just wasn’t working! Since I’ve now combined my children into one curriculum and schedule, rather than keeping everyone in separate years, I thought it would be simpler to keep like-notebooks together. We had separate piles for geography notebooks, narration journals, science notebooks, math journals, nature journals, TBG books, and song books. That’s a lot of piles!!! And we would stack these piles on top of each other. You can imagine the mess that ensued, especially when we needed a pile from the bottom of the pile! I had really thought that this way was the simplest, but it led to “ugly ruts in miry places.” I knew I didn’t want four different book baskets cluttering the room, so I went ahead and bought these fabric bins. At $3.45 a piece, they were a good, quick solution. And it has worked. Everyone keeps all of their own notebooks and supplies in their own bin. At the end of the school day, we simply put the bins back on the shelf! We changed our habit and the atmosphere of our school room improved! The atmosphere led to a better school day—we started on time, we wasted less time, we finished easily. Emma, the 5 year-old, declared to everyone that she was “going to organize her bin perfectly” and everyone had to follow suit! Later, she declared she wanted to keep her own glue stick, colored pencils, paints, ruler, and scissors in her bin and everyone had to follow suit! There were even less piles for me to manage. One habit, led to another, led to another. We became clean, orderly, neat, regular, and punctual again.
It reminds me of the proverb, “For Want of a Nail.”
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
For want of a bin, a habit was lost.
For the want of a habit, the school room was lost.
For want of a school room, atmosphere was lost.
For want of atmosphere, education suffered and a mother was at her wit’s end!
Are we Snells the only ones whose days can unravel like this?!