Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cultivating a Life-Long Love of Learning (Part 1) ~ Education is an Atmosphere

Suitcases are coming home from camps and summer holidays stuffed with smelly laundry and souvenirs. While backpacks are getting filled with bright new binders, crisp white paper, and coloured pens. We are trading long summer evenings with cooler nights as the crickets’ chorus of chirping plays softly in the twilight. Children’s sandy toes and sticky fingers, sun-bleached hair and freckled faces will all get washed and scrubbed fresh and clean. Parents and children are all getting ready for the first day of school whether they want to or not. It’s that time of year. Pool gear will be swapped for school gear.

Before we jump into another year of schooling, it is beneficial to scan our environment and examine our lives to ensure we provide a rich and nourishing education for our children.

All around us children are craving knowledge. They have a natural curiosity that is evident in the endless ‘whys’ and ‘hows’. Children are born to learn and need to have their minds nourished as well as their bodies. This is an area that is near and dear to my heart.

I have had the privilege and responsibility to provide and invest in the environment of my children’s education. Every year has presented new challenges, taxing obstacles, and demanding hurdles.

Every year we have learned in an atmosphere where mistakes are common, failure is a tutor, grace is poured out, patience is essential, forgiveness is continuous, and love is unconditional. Every morning, God’s mercies are new—they never come to an end.

And so, we live and learn and love. Everyday learning alongside one another: learning to live an abundant life and needing every ounce of God’s grace that washes over us.

As we head into another year of learning, I’ve been re-reading and reminding myself of the philosophy of education that has shaped our years of learning. The last few years of heart failure, open-heart surgery and a difficult recovery has left me depleted.

I need gentle rhythms and peaceful seasons to permeate our home where our children live and learn. It is time to go back to a quieter life: where we will have space to breathe and room to grow.

Charlotte Mason was born in England in 1842 and died in 1923 and has become known as an innovative educator. Well ahead of her time, many teachers still use her philosophy of education today. She has been a mentor and has greatly influenced learning in our home as well as thousands of other families in the world.

Miss Mason taught that there are three main instruments of education. She strongly believed that: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

The first instrument in education is atmosphere. The atmosphere in education refers to the realm of relationships. Mason suggested, it is in the relationships the child has with God, with his parents, or her teacher, his peers, her learning, or with himself that real learning takes place.

Children learn from real things in the real world. 

In her book, “A Philosophy of Education”, (p. 158) Charlotte Mason wrote:
 “Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe, --the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making.”
The primary focus of our children’s education is that the child learns about God and His world. This provides an atmosphere that does more than exercise the mind, but it nourishes the heart. This atmosphere is built up as relationships are built up. Charlotte Mason considered the atmosphere in education to be the “thought environment”.

We build up this atmosphere—this thought-environment—by setting a feast before our children, but also by taking a back seat at the right time and getting out of the way of real learning that takes place because the Holy Spirit will guide the minds of the children into His glorious truth. 

We, as parents, teachers, home educators, grand parents, have the power to help our children by investing in an environment that fosters questions, cultivates wonder, exercises the mind and nurtures the heart. If we have the power to help, we also have the power to hinder with an environment that stifles questions, chokes wonder, starves the mind, and damages the heart.

Charlotte Mason further clarified what she meant by atmosphere in her book, “A Philosophy of Education” (p.94) when she wrote:
“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’ specially 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.’”

What is the atmosphere in your home? What rules your life? For what are you reaching? 

We can invest in the atmosphere of our children’s education by eliminating stress, emphasizing co-operation, encouraging our children instead of nagging, motivating them with loving affirmation, and learning alongside our children. By investing in these ways in our children’s education we find that we are putting less emphasis on merely achieving good grades and making a living and place more importance on developing the character of our child and living a full life.

Children need to learn respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness more than they need standardized testing. Children need to learn attentiveness, obedience, and truthfulness. Children need to become critical and creative thinkers.

Their curiosity must not be squelched by boring lessons and long lectures.

Children need to learn how to live in the world they are in by interacting with other people and things in their own environment with much time to play, be active outside, tumble, run, shout, and be encouraged to use common sense.

Charlotte Mason, directs our attention to what our focus should be, in her book, “School Education” (pp 170-171):
“Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life. — We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking — the strain would be too great — but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest . . . The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care?”


As the new books are cracked open and young lives are being shaped, it is time to once again examine if we are setting our children in a large room where life can be explored in a rich way, where the atmosphere is saturated with what is true, pure, lovely and of good report, and in which we are more concerned to ask of our child: how much does he care?

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