Wednesday, August 11, 2010


3 : a surrounding influence or environment

I recently came across an article on a particular type of home schooling (if you don't home school, let me assure you there is a whole language out there that will sound foreign the first time it touches your ears).  The article was on the Charlotte Mason style of home schooling.  I didn't get past the title before stopping to ponder:  Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.  I still haven't read the article because I wanted to think for myself about what these three words atmosphere, discipline and life mean. 

Atmosphere is a great word to ponder.  It's ever-present (literally, since the primary definition relates to the air we breathe), but that makes it easy to take our atmosphere for granted, to not spend any time or thought making sure our atmosphere is one that we actually want around us.  Which is sad since an atmosphere is a "surrounding influence."  Having recently had our kitchen renovated, I've given a fair amount of thought to what I want the atmosphere of our home to be.  It's been helpful to try to articulate what I want people to feel when they enter our home and what I want us to feel as we live here.

Before we started our renovation, I met with a kitchen planner who helped us plan the lay-out to move our kitchen from one with five doors and no cabinet space to one with two doors and far more functionality.  As I talked with the planner, she asked lots of questions about what I envisioned for the kitchen.  One thing that came up was that I didn't want our kitchen to feel formal.  I wanted lots of light.  I wanted comfort.  This translated into light cabinets instead of dark ones, honed counter tops instead of polished ones.  This was especially important with our kitchen since it is, in my opinion, the heart of our home.  It's literally the room where our nourishment originates, so I wanted the kitchen's design to reflect our heart for the atmosphere of our home.

An Atmosphere Where Caterpillars Can Live on the Kitchen Counter

Like our kitchen, I want our home to feel welcoming, inviting, comfortable. I want people to feel like they can kick their shoes off or keep them off, stand or sit, talk or listen.  I want our home to be a place where people can be themselves.  I've been to homes - and you probably have, too - that are beautifully decorated, but so put together that I immediately feel like I need to be on my best behavior.  (And I won't even go into how I feel in these homes when my children are with me!)  I don't want people to be on their best behavior in my house - I want them to be their normal, everyday selves.

A relaxed breakfast atmosphere...

It's not terribly surprising that I would want our home to be a place where people can be themselves since that's one of my primary goals for our family - that A, B and K would be exactly who they are meant to be, with no outsider, including me, telling them who to be.

So when I think about how atmosphere relates to home schooling A, it seems clear that one goal should be educating her in a way that encourages her to be who she is and who she is becoming.  This is an encouraging thought because it has been central to my idea of home schooling all along.  In fact, our entire history plan has been created and centered around A's love of dance.  Ballet was invented in the renaissance, so that seems like a good place to start our history studies.  When I worked last weekend on planning for the year, this idea came through loud and clear.  My mission said, in part, "To equip A to fulfill her personal mission in life."  My vision includes, "A confident A who knows academics, but more importantly know her heart..."

How can I foster an atmosphere that enables these things?  I don't think the answer has much to do with improving my decorating skills or keeping a cleaner kitchen floor.  It has everything to do with balance: balancing a neat home and a family who enjoys being together, balancing school work and time connecting, balancing learning from books and learning from life.  Now to live in a way that is consistent with the atmosphere I want.  A bit harder than writing about it...


aimee Guest said...

Balance has always suggested to me two parts equally weighted to one another(what's the definition WordGirl?) Maybe it's a lack of balance that we really need, because just as you so eloquently expressed a clean kitchen floor doesn't carry the same weight in your mind as encouraging the hearts of your children and visitors in your home. For me, family does tip the scale against math, planting seeds for God does outweigh intellectual achievement. Even within what you'll be teaching this year, the renaissance will tip the scales when compared to grammar. Let's give up on balance and give into a life that finds the important things each day and lets the others fall by the wayside without guilt or comparison!

Sigh, it all sounds good. Why do the dirty bathrooms still beckon and the laundry insist on refilling. I guess I do have to find a ba-I mean, I way to maintain the less important.

I like you, my friend. You're one in a handful that would have read that title and then decided to think about atmosphere for yourself rather than let the article define it for you first. You encourage to find my own path rather than piggy back on someone else's.

WordGirl said...

I suppose balance does technically imply equal weight on each side - but there are really more than two sides, don't you think? It's not simply clean house or teach A. It's the house, my children, myself, my family, my friends, my marriage. Keeping all of those things filled to the right degree is the image. And now I think BALANCE needs its very own post.

I love what you say about me not reading the article, but deciding for myself what atmosphere means. It actually made me tear up a bit to read it, especially since I have spent this day reading a book and doing little else, thanks to a throbbing headache. Your comment made me feel like I did something worthwhile today - write this post. Thank you for that.