My husband John thinks in word pictures, and several years ago he described a word picture that has stuck in my mind ever since. He explained that some people are like thermostats and some are like thermometers. A thermostat regulates the temperature and atmosphere of the home. It is set to a constant temperature, and if the atmosphere around it heats up, it kicks in and gets that temperature back to normal. On the flip side, a thermometer reacts to the temperature and atmosphere around it. If the air around it heats up, it heats up too. In other words, a thermometer is controlled by its atmosphere; a thermostat controls its atmosphere. There’s a big difference.

Now bring that word picture into our discussion of Education is an Atmosphere. Mama is often the one who sets the atmosphere of the home because she is usually the one with the children all day every day. You’ve heard the saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” And I’m sure you’ve seen the difference in your children when you’re “on top of your game” or when you’re too tired to even try. We’ve all been there and done that.

We want to stay on top of our game; we want to be thermostats! But we often find ourselves drained, exhausted, and just plain ol’ weary.

Charlotte Mason recognized that mothering is a demanding job — and especially when you add schooling into the mix. She knew the importance of being a thermostat (though she used the phrase “always serene”, probably because she hadn’t heard my husband’s word picture :-). But more than that, she gave some suggestions for helping us moms keep that emotional margin that is so essential to creating the atmosphere you want your children to absorb.

“It is not for nothing that the old painters, however diverse their ideas in other matters, all fixed upon one quality as proper to the pattern Mother. The Madonna, no matter out of whose canvas she looks at you, is always serene. This is a great truth, and we should do well to hang our walls with the Madonnas of all the early Masters if the lesson, taught through the eye, would reach with calming influence to the heart. Is this a hard saying for mothers in these anxious and troubled days? It may be hard, but it is not unsympathetic. If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day,

  • out in the fields,
  • or with a favourite book,
  • or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures,
  • or in bed,
  • without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents” (Vol. 3, pp. 33, 34).

Four great suggestions for mothers who want to refresh their Atmosphere mind-set! Here are a few more ideas for “resetting our thermostats”:

  • Listen to some praise music.
  • Simplify your plans for the next meal you have to make today. Make it easy!
  • Say No to a stress-building, time-eating event that is stealing your joy. (And feel your shoulders relax.)
  • Do a 15-minute cleaning project. (A serene setting helps create a serene atmosphere.)
  • Take a 20-minute nap.
  • Sit down for a cup of tea (or a Coke!).
  • Take a 15-minute walk.
  • Karen Andreola mentioned more ideas in an article she wrote titled, “Mother Culture and You.”

Education is an Atmosphere. The ideas that rule your life make up a large part of your child’s learning and shaping as he or she grows up in your home. Next time we’ll move on to Education is a Discipline.


  1. Great article! This reminds me of a favorite quote by Horace Bushnell, which I’ve quoted here;

    My suggestions for Mom refueling, being a thermostat:

    1. Mom NEEDS to make time to go out on a date with her man! My hubby and I find that we’re usually needing this time together more than we even realize it until we’re out together. We’ve found that we enjoy day-time dates the most, dropping the kids with friends and just hanging out together all day, talking, driving, going to local flea markets or antique stores to just stroll along, holding hands and being together, maybe go out to lunch too. Now we’ve gotten to where if one child has a play date or sleepover invite, we find something for the other to do as well so we’re freed up for a date.

    2. I’m finding that taking the time to do what I love to do helps me… gardening, scrapbooking, or drawing/painting maybe. My kids benefit from coming alongside me, and enjoying the tranquility and comradery we share as we work on something creative together, yet on our own (me doing my thing while child does his/her own work).

    3. Take a day off from doing school more often. Surprise the kids, and just do something fun or relaxing unexpectedly.

    4. Another homeschooling friend and I swap kids every other Thurs. from noon to dinner-time. So, once a week, we each have about five hours completely to ourselves, in the middle of the day, for whatever we want to get done (or to just totally veg!). It’s been a VERY good arrangement. The kids enjoy it too!

    So, there’s my two cents!

  2. Set out a blanket in your back yard. Or, if you live in the city or a big town,
    go to a park. Lay on the blanket (preferably alone) and just listen.
    You’ll hear the most amazing sounds. And if you happen to fall asleep,
    so be it. Just relax!

  3. Memorable, needful word picture. Humble gratitude.
    My number one way to ensure effective thermostat monitoring:

    ~time in my prayer closet… when things are heating up, to step aside and reorient to that which is true and right and pure… to connect to Him… then I can regulate much better. ~warm smile~

    Again, sincere appreciation for a most helpful post.
    All’s grace,
    Ann Voskamp

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