Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Education is an Atmosphere

The rest of these posts are going to be a bit more "stream of consciousness" style.  Partly because I've got a lot I want to say and it's not all so well organized in my head, and partly because we need to start school on Monday and I'm pressed for time!

Of course during the Institute, we discussed Charlotte Mason's statement: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life."  I think most of us tend to focus on the "atmosphere" part of that statement, because we really like to decorate and re-decorate, lol!  However, the physical atmosphere of our homes/classrooms is only one aspect of atmosphere and not even the most fundamental one.

The most important component of "atmosphere" is who we are.  Our children have an amazing capacity to detect the "real" person behind our words and actions.  They have an uncanny ability to understand what we are feeling and truly thinking and to learn from that.  It is scary to realize that we can not fool our children; their characters will be formed by the atmosphere of who we really are and what we really think interiorly.  Therefore, it is critical that we seriously strive to conform ourselves to Christ in every way we possibly can.  We are called both by our Lord and by our vocation that " we may in all things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ..." (Ephesians 4:15)

Our  holiness is the essential "atmosphere" that we generate in our homes.

Based on this, we can bring a true Christian ambience to our homes.  This is expressed first of all in the way in which we interact with others.  In the CM method, both teacher and stuent are called to approach the material with humility and one another with charity.  Slurs and sarcasm have no place in a Christian home (I say this with trembling, as our family tends to have a very sarcastic wit...which they got, I regret to say even more, from me!) Interrupting and shouting need to be set aside.  Dr. St. Cyr especially stressed the importance of LOOKING into the eyes of the person you are communicating with or listening to.  He gave a lot of interesting information based on neuroscience about how much information is exchanged between two people subconsciously when we look into each other's eyes.   In my own parenting, I have found this to be crucial in enabling children to feel they are being both listened to and loved.  For this reason, the teacher faces the students (I know...I usually sit next to my children!) and looks into their eyes while listening to narrations and discussing the material in any text.  I had never really considered how often I don't look at my children when they are "doing" school-related tasks!  This is an area that is a top priority for me this year.

Secondly, a Christian atmosphere is expressed in our physical environment.  It was great to be able to be in an Ambleside classroom during the Institute and I did come away with some very lovely ideas, which I'll share below.  First of all, though, noting the overall physical atmosphere might be helpful for you.  The room was invitingly painted in a medium beige color--not cold but not intrusive, either.  The books were neatly placed both vertically and horizontally, imparting a sense of order.  There was no extraneous stuff lying around (ummm....).  There were learning displays on the walls, but they were restrained and tastefully done; nothing was garish or over-crowded.  In general, the simplicity of the room made it feel peaceful, but it was welcoming as well because it was not overly stark. Bookcases were wood or wood-like and there was a large antique armoire in one corner that added a sense of history and a homey feel to the room.

I have set up in our own learning area a few of my favorite items (my Ambleside pictures were taken with my phone and are really you get to see my "take" on what I saw there).


This is a picture of the timeline I put up in my school area in Delaware that is based on the one I saw at Ambleside.  I finally feel I understand the idea behind a wall timeline!!!  It is NOT the place to put everything you have ever studied.  It is best thought of as a framework.  Historically important dates serve as "pegs" to anchor other dates the student is reading about or studying.  I did put up our poets, artists, and composers for the year, as well as a few items specifically related to our history study (Middle Ages).  Other than that, the dates are of key events, people, or eras.  I will use this timeline to orient my children whenever we encounter dates in our reading:  Did Robert Frost live before or after the Civil War?  Was he alive when Victoria was Queen?  Could his life have been affected by the World Wars? and so on.  I still need a crucifix above the timeline in the center there!

Bulletin Boards:

A small bulletin board on our artist featuring a note on the key element(s) of his art.  Also, a representative work (which at the Ambleside school was actually 3 works, but I don't have much room).  I loved the way the black cardstock set off the information here and also on the timeline above.  I also made a board to place over the CD player that will eventually have a list of all the works we listen to from our fall composer study (Copland):

A plant, a snake (which we found in a window well of our house in Delaware...the whole reptile thing is really getting out of hand, Lord!), some living things to bring God's creation into our room:

An organized bookshelf.  Since the boys are using a lot of the same books, I have several copies of each so they can read and also follow along with the text when others are reading.  I placed on the shelves only the books we are using this term plus a very few reference books to keep it easier to find what we need.  I am learning (oh, so. very. slowly.) that fewer books are better than more books!

A print (or two) of artwork.  Also, I posted a schedule just because I didn't want to be constantly answering questions raised by my special needs son about what we are doing when (which really would be constant if I couldn't direct him to just look at the schedule).   In the Ambleside classroom, there was no posted schedule, although we did have one in our folders.  Maybe the students would have a copy of the schedule in their desks? I might tape on to the inside of the lids of the desks when they arrive (they are on order now).  No picture of this small wall because it just wouldn't come out right.

A planter's desk that also is used to store books and supplies while giving my arty ds a place to work on his "creations".  I just had the top more firmly attached today, so soon it will be full of books. The Ambleside teachers insisted on clear, neat desks, so I can't have all of his artwork stuff in the desk he will be doing his schoolwork on.

And, lest you think I'm organized, a shot of my desk, where I am frantically trying to lay out plans for next week's lessons!

I have an extremely small and limited space, but I am happy that it is much better put together now than last year!  I am waiting on three individual desks that will be the main work desks for my boys.  As at the Ambleside school, I will stand and face them as they work at their desks reading aloud and narrating.  It will be a more formal arrangement than we have had here in the past, but I think it will benefit these younger boys.  Again, I don't know how this would work out if they were not able to do so much together, but I can tell you that at the Institute, all of the adults in attendance spent the first three days doing about 4th to 8th grade classwork and found it very interesting.  So, I do think you could combine quite a lot of subjects across a very broad age range if you wanted to.  Picture study, nature study, composer study, poetry, history, Bible, and science could definitely be combined.  My dd (17) will work in her room, but she is mainly doing AP online classes through Patrick Henry University, which has nothing in common with Charlotte Mason methods! 


  1. Enjoying all these posts! Love the visuals, too. Everything looks so inviting. Minimalism and neatness go a long way. You are totally inspiring me! The bulletin boards are fantastic.

    What were the directions and materials you used for the timeline?

  2. I'm really happy with the way the timeline turned out. Already, one ds asked me, "Mom, was Norman Rockwell alive when Victoria was Queen?" and I was able to direct him to the timeline and he answered his own question. So great!

    I'll post a step-by-step tomorrow, because, even though I thought I was all finished, I realized I still need to make two more cards: Abraham and Sumerian cuneiform. It's a lot easier to show pictures than it is to describe with words! I am putting up both events/people we have studied in the past (not all of them, of course!!) and those we will be covering this year.

  3. Wonderful and inspiring! I am so grateful for these posts of yours - and thank you for helping me to figure out what was wrong with my wall timeline!! I knew it wasn't working, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what needed to change. Your list in your most recent post is going to be so useful! I have had the opportunity to redo our schoolroom and I am glad to see I am moving in a similar direction to what you are discussing. I like the bulletin boards - I have been thinking something to highlight our current artist and composer would be a nice touch.

    1. Yeah, it only took me 25 years to figure out how to use a timeline, lol! I'm glad this post helped you, Amber :)!

  4. These are great Caroline, I really like your composer space and a list idea! I had to giggle at your snake :D my boys bought a very small lizard over the summer and it sits right next to our nature study/seasonal area. They are constantly catching the ones in our backyard and making natural terrariums and then letting them go, but for some reason they needed one indoors too (one they could go over and see all day long!) Snakes were their other choice (we see a few of those as well) I guess I should be relieved they didn't pick the snake; cricket feeding sounded much better than mice :O

    1. Today they brought in a is getting ridiculous! Yesterday they fed the snake a baby toad, since it was refusing to eat the crickets. Not sure how many baby toads we have around here, so I'm wondering how it will all work out in the long run. For now, though, it's all pretty interesting. Remember, don't pick your lizard up by the tail, you know, or it will detach and you will have tailless lizard scurrying about on your floor! Hear me scream, lol!!