Atmosphere refers to the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional climate that surrounds a child, that which is breathed in on a daily basis. The manner in which we relate to each other, the ideals which are upheld, even the physical beauty and order of the place all contribute to what Charlotte Mason called “the bracing atmosphere of sincerity and truth.”
Gentle Authority: Firm and Kind
The teacher sets the tone for children through the proper exercise of authority. The guiding light of true authority is the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would like others to treat you.” True authority asks, “If I were standing in this child’s shoes,
How would I want to be listened to?
How would I want to be spoken to?
How would I want to be reminded?
How would I want to be redirected?
How would I want to be corrected?”
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. (Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, 37)
The Overall Gentle Atmosphere
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay says it best:
When teachers value and trust the individual, a special atmosphere is created. Here it is possible to have structure and yet suitable freedom. The atmosphere can be friendly, purposeful, relaxed.
The atmosphere is serene and contented when children are not learning out of competition or fear. They are pleased with their own level of skill. They are interested in the good books read to them or by them. They enjoy communicating: speaking (narrating) and writing about what they have read.
Some people today . . . have perhaps never witnessed the concentration and pleasure of children who are listening to a good book being read aloud. They do not know the unique atmosphere that exists when children are absorbed in creative activities, including self motivated play; they do not know about the atmosphere present when there are good human relationships: where there is respect, trust, order, and time for individuality and work. (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake 73)
The Gentle Art of Learning
“Gentle Art of Learning” refers to a method of education in which the needs of children are given careful consideration. An individual student, for example, is in need of both intellectual nourishment and skill development, but how is this to be worked out in practice?
In Charlotte Mason’s approach, all students feed on the same great feast of ideas found in living books. (These books are read in community by the teacher or an excellent student reader.) Through this daily immersion in stimulating ideas and beautiful language, students of all abilities educate themselves on our best sources.
At the same time, all students practice the essential skills of silent and oral reading, spelling, handwriting, and typing on a daily basis. Eventually, the individual’s skill level catches up with the mind’s capacity to know.
In this way, the mind of the child is nurtured while basic skills are gradually mastered.
Practically, this means the child who struggles to read is not held back or left with an inferior book, but accesses the same excellent sources as his most proficient peer.
The child who struggles with the mechanics of handwriting or spelling is not hampered by this limitation, but has the option to dictate narrations until basic skills improve.
Charlotte Mason’s gentle art of learning meets students exactly where they are, inspires them with our best books, and encourages them to take delight in mastering new skills along the way.