Today I remembered that I had written this post several months ago. So I went to find it…
We went to the beach a few weeks ago. I’d forgotten how terrifying waves are to a small child. The awe of something so powerful makes a toddler shake from head to toe.
That terrified toddler reminded me of another favorite moment from several years ago.
We were again at the beach, and Josh was three. It was a particularly windy day, and we were out enjoying the wild waves. Josh was horrified of being so close to the imminent danger of the ocean, but he also couldn’t stay away.
So he stood with his back to the waves.
High up on the sand.
My wave watching was interrupted by his little voice shrieking to be heard over the roar of the ocean.
I turned to see him terrified. Shaking all over.
He yelled to me…
“Mom! MY GOD MADE ME THIS OCEAN”
Then he paused.
“MY GOD MAAADE IT FOR ME.”
More shaking. More turning around to see the horrific waves.
A minute later he had more to say:
“AND HE MADE IT FOR YOU TOO!”
I still get teary whenever I remember that little boy shaking by the great ocean that his God made.
“…how ready we are to conclude that children cannot be expected to understand spiritual things. Our own grasp of the things of the Spirit is all too lax, and how can we expect that the child’s feeble intelligence can apprehend the highest mysteries of our being? But here we are altogether wrong. It is with the advance of years that a materialistic temper settles upon us. But the children live in the light of the morning-land.”
A week or two ago, after a particularly atrocious day with children and school, and life, I stayed awake much of the night pondering the idea of atmosphere in the home. As I’ve written before, the responsibility of the mother for this atmosphere can occasionally feel like a real drag. Sometimes it makes me want to go screaming right over the cliffs of insanity. (Not really. Well, sort of.)
Charlotte Mason says there is no escape for parents. We create the atmosphere that affects our children – consciously and subconsciously, for the rest of their lives.
Yeah, she said that.
So as I thought and thought, and prayed and wrestled with my responsibility in the home, a few things converged in my head. As these weeks have gone by, I’ve spent much time pondering how I might possibly do things differently. Thank goodness the Lord gives strength for this mighty work. Because some days I’m drowning. And it feels like I’ll never make it. But then there’s this little thought:
“…I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.”
-Charlotte Mason (Emphasis hers)
I am aware that she was not talking here about atmosphere in the home, but she says this same thing so many times in her volumes, that I think I can use it interchangeably among her many ideas…
And so I’ll take you through the quotes that have been in my heart these weeks.
“We produce an environment other people have to live in. We should be conscious of the fact that this environment which we produce by our very ‘being’ can affect the people who live with us…the effect on them is something they cannot avoid…
Our conversations, attitudes, behavior, response or lack of response, hardness or compassion, our love or selfishness, joy or dullness, our demonstrated trust and faith or our continual despondency, our concern for others or our self-pity, all these things make a difference to the people who have to live in our ‘environment’. Enthusiasm and excitement infect other people: expectancy that God can intervene and do something in this moment of history and doing something practical to show that expectancy in prayer affects the attitudes other people are going to have in their troubles.”
-Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking (Emphasis hers)
Whoa. That’s serious. I’ve read that section over and over. It’s still just as hard to put into practice several years after I first came across it!
It’s so much responsibility as a wife, a mother, a follower of Jesus! Sometimes I just don’t want to think that how I handle these minutes, this hour, well, it’s shaping people. It’s changing the course of history right now. It’s real easy to think that tomorrow, tomorrow is when I’ll create a different sort of atmosphere in our home. That’s when it will be easier to achieve. Tomorrow is when I’ll be the sort of wife I know I ought to be. Or the mother that I long to be for my children. Annie Dillard has famously stated that “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.
All of this makes me want to do my best, and it reminds me that I am powerless to do this without the aid and guidance of the Holy Spirit. All of these women I’m quoting also got that. We take these ideas and beg the Lord to help us live them. Every day.
Sometimes it takes fiction to bring the point home. The Dean’s Watch is one of my favorite books. The atmosphere described throughout the book gives plenty of food for thought. (Polly is a young orphan brought on to live as a servant.) We can learn much from Polly, I think…
“The door opened and Polly came in with a heavy tray laden with the pie, warm plates and a large, brown, steaming teapot. Her face was flushed and beaming and instantly the atmosphere in the cold stuffy room was subtly changed because she was happy.”
-Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean’s Watch
I’m reading George MacDonald by C.S. Lewis. What a book! In the preface, Lewis says he wanted to write this book to show how many of MacDonald’s ideas have had a profound impact on his writing. I am certainly seeing the connection. This one struck me as pretty funny. And then not so funny.
“I appeal especially to all who keep house concerning the size of troubles that suffices to hide [the] word and face of God.”
Uh. Yeah. That’s one to think about for awhile. Here, maybe looking at a barn will help.
And then there’s the big one. The one that makes me stop dead in my tracks whenever I think of it. It makes me cry, it prods me on to be a better mother, wife, and follower of Jesus. This is the quote of quotes on atmosphere in the home. Charlotte is speaking here of ideas…the atmosphere of ideas. (In this quote she assembles ideas from the books of Isaiah, Philippians, and also a quote from S.T. Coleridge.)
“Ideas may invest as an atmosphere, rather than strike as a weapon.
‘The idea may exist in a clear, distinct, definite form, as that of a geometrician; or it may be a mere instinct, a vague appetency towards something, …like the impulse which fills the young poet’s eyes with tears, he know not why.’ To excite this ‘appetency towards something’ – towards things lovely, honest, and of good report, is the earliest and most important ministry of the educator.
How [should these ideas be] imparted? They are not to be given of set purpose, nor taken at set times. They are held in that thought-environment which surrounds the child as an atmosphere, which he breathes as his breath of life; and this atmosphere in which the child inspires his unconscious ideas of right living emanates from his parents.
Every look of gentleness and tone of reverence, every word of kindness and act of help, passes into the thought-environment, the very atmosphere which the child breathes; he does not think of these things, may never think of them, but all his life long they excite that ‘vague appetency towards something’ out of which most of his actions spring.
Oh the wonderful and dreadful presence of a little child in the midst!
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, Parents and Children (Emphasis mine)
Wow. I remember the first time I read that. It was just as terrifying, stunning and motivating as it is today. Thank goodness for the mercy of the Lord. God promises wisdom for those who will ask!
“Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing;
Learn to labor and to wait.”
Several years ago while reading When Children Love to Learn, I remember coming across the words of Marion Berry. It was like a gust of fresh wind blowing into our homeschool when I came across her particular slant on Charlotte’s method. I felt I could trust Marion’s words, because they described in real life what Charlotte was attempting to convey to us mothers throughout her writing. It helped that Marion was trained at Scale How (Charlotte Mason’s teacher training college) and was able to have actual experience with Charlotte!
Last year I had the chance to read Marion Berry’s book I Buy a School. I wish it was in print again so that all of us using Charlotte’s method could be encouraged by that book. Again, Marion’s writing was a breath of fresh air. I had many additions to my commonplace book, and from there into my soul. The forward of her book will help you understand why:
“In a PNEU school we do expect and attain a high standard of reasonable behavior and conscientious work, but it is not achieved by a scheme of rewards and punishments. It owes much to the atmosphere of strenuous happiness which pervades the place, and perhaps most of all to what a very sympathetic and appreciative mother meant when she said to me ‘You really do give the children something to live by’.”
I was particularly struck by her description of their Shakespeare time at her school. Of course, I saved it to think about later. I am quoting at length, because as you will see, there are many other things to think about in addition to how she enjoyed Shakespeare with the children:
“…this time I was in charge of the II Form, twenty-nine lively nine to ten year olds, and here it was that the children themselves opened my eyes to the tremendous potential of the termly Shakespeare play. Dean Colet’s ‘Let the children prosper in good life and good literature’ was one of Charlotte Mason’s maxims. Her belief in the eager intellectual life of quite young children was amply justified in my forty years of experiencing the impact of Shakespeare in Junior Schools.
I approached my first lesson in some trepidation. There had been some parental opposition – ridiculous starting them so young – spoil it for later on. The play was The Tempest and I buoyed myself up the the thought that they’d soon know what ‘Yarely – Yarely’ meant if they shouted it loud enough. There was about ten square feet of empty space in the corner and I said we’d have it for the shipwreck, and who wanted to be on board? An enthusiastic uprising left just one boy, crimson with embarrassment, sitting stolidly at his desk. I felt I had betrayed him, but it was only a temporary set-back. He soon became a fanatical devotee and bought himself a Complete Works (five shillings in those days) which he ranked with his stamp album. He was only eight and a half years old.
Confusion reigned one day because the school dinner had not been cleared away from our classroom when we came flocking back for afternoon school. The headmistress’s elderly mother was fussing round saying ‘Can’t they stand in a line and answer some questions?’, when this David Lissaman saved the day by shouting out ‘Can’t we do our Shakespeare?’. In a twinkle, Trinculo and Caliban were stretched out on the floor under someone’s man, to the huge delight of all the children and utter bewilderment of the the table-clearing girls.
For the end of term entertainment for the parents, in a church hall, we put on a scene with Ferdinand and Miranda, and I had the gratification of fathers following every word, almost ready to be the prompters, and a mother exclaiming ‘These children are doing Shakespeare as if it was “Alice in Wonderland”!’ In the summer we were on to ‘As you Like it’, and when I arrived in the morning I’d find a bunch out in the garden taking it in turns with ‘Here I lie down and measure out my grave’. It was like a phrase of music to them. They called it ‘When Adam was tired’. Coriolanus came round (a new play to me) and was tackled enthusiastically. The day we finished reading it was a bad one for me, being in a daze with a wisdom tooth, but I got them into the gym saying cheerfully ‘Now we’ll choose the bits we like for acting’. The response was uproar, everyone shouting out their favourite scene, showing an amazing grasp of the play as a whole. I parcelled them out in scenes and groups as quickly as I could, and as the noise subsided two little boys were left shouting ‘Have you got a two-er?” Of course I had. The two sentries, and they set happily to work learning the words. To give everyone a chance to get going, the classroom, the gym and the garden had to be used. Finding some of them down the passage by the dustbins, I expressed my displeasure rather forcibly. ‘It’s the road to Rome,’ they explain, and I retreated, abashed, thinking ‘I don’t deserve to have such children’.”
That quote brought me so much hope and joy as I read it. (And again now, as I write it for you!)
I felt inspired to try for a happier time with Shakespeare. Although we have had good experiences with it over the years, I felt it could be a more enjoyable part of our day. My personality often causes me to get mired in how I think it “must be done”. This can cause me to never try in the first place! I wanted to incorporate more ages into our Shakespeare reading, but wasn’t sure how to achieve that, due to the difficulty we were having just getting the basics done.
And then one day, I’d had enough stressing over it. After I had everyone set up for lunch, I just grabbed the pile of Shakespeare books and mentioned that we would all be reading it together…right now. Of course no one was really surprised. They are used to me and my crazy ways. I had people read parts, and I fed lines to the people who couldn’t yet read. As luck would have it, there was a wrestling match involved in those lines, which added to the general hilarity.
It was a fantastic start.
I wish I could say it is always a smashing success when I grab the books and we read our lines. It is almost never simple. There are so many of us, of course there will be some sort of attitude, or problem, or something. Always. But we push on.
“…I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them.”
-Charlotte Mason (emphasis hers)
For some reason the last few times we have read Shakespeare, people feel compelled to yell their lines. (I was glad to see from Marion’s writing that we were not alone in yelling our Shakespeare!) This adds a certain flare to things. It brings on mispronunciation like nobody’s business. It almost always makes me laugh. This yelling can also push a child who is wobbling on the edge of a bad attitude to just go flailing over the edge into complete insanity. You just never know. It’s all part of life. The good, the bad, the yelling.
One of my favorite things about the Charlotte Mason method is the way Charlotte valued all children; rich, poor, strong, weak, bright and dull. She believed in what she called “spreading the feast” for all children: reading the same rich books, studying the same art, enjoying Shakespeare, history, studying nature and science – all the goodness with each child, and letting them take what they could get! Read More
School started last week. As usual, it was a bumpy start. I wasn’t intending to write about it due to the horrifying nature of the entire week. But when I spent a few minutes writing notes about it (to make myself feel better about worse weeks in the future? To comfort myself that it couldn’t get worse than that? I don’t know. I just write about things.), I decided to share. Maybe you can laugh at me. If nothing else, it might make you feel very, very good about your last school week… Read More
When you’re new to the Charlotte Mason method, everything can seem a little overwhelming. It certainly was for me! I remember bumping around the internet, reading all the books I could get my hands on, searching, searching for someone to show me the way. Read More
As I read a William Blake biography this week, I was struck by a tiny quote of Blake’s. Because of the wider truth of it, I have spent some time pondering. Thought I’d share.
“Without Unceasing Practice nothing can be done. Practice is Art. If you leave off you are Lost.”
Last week I had the privilege of flying hundreds of miles away to Iowa to attend the Living Education Retreat. (Yes, my husband is amazing for staying home with crazy people.) I knew it was going to be a relaxing trip when I got to the airport early, was the first in line at security, was massively complemented by the inspector, did not have my bags or myself searched, and found that my gate was a few hundred yards from the security checkpoint. Can I mention that NEVER in my life (with a fair amount of flights), have things gone that smoothly? Read More
Some books change you, and you can never go back to who you were.
L’Abri was one of those books for me.
By the time I was finished with it, I had a fresh understanding of the power of God, His faithfulness, and His love for me. I was humbled and grateful to have been able to read that story of God’s glory. I had a sense of the reality of God’s provision and strength in our average, daily, somewhat monotonous lives. I had a new confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit.
I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone who would listen. Read More
The longer I use the Charlotte Mason method, the more I love it. I think many of my Charlotte Mason friends feel similarly. This is truly an amazing method that just keeps on giving.
And yet. There’s a little issue that creeps up now and then in my life, and by what I observe around the internet, maybe you’ve experienced this too: The case of the Charlotte Mason husband.
The Charlotte Mason husband is one who loves his wife and children, is supportive, hardworking, and intelligent; and yet he does not gain the respect of his wife, because he has failed to read and narrate six pink volumes. Read More