Are you looking for ways to create a more Charlotte Mason atmosphere in your home?
Today we want to address a great question, and here to join me are Jenn Faas and Laura Pitney, my friends and coworkers.
Sonya: Here’s the question: “Can you give some tips on great ways to create a Charlotte Mason atmosphere? How should I be thinking about our homeschool space? What am I trying to create?”
It’s a good question, but I want to touch on one part of it first. When this mom asked how to create a Charlotte Mason atmosphere, or a good atmosphere in her home, I think the number one thing about creating an atmosphere is your attitude. You could be in the most beautiful surroundings, but if you are short-tempered and pushy with your kids and just being ugly, you’re not creating a good Charlotte Mason atmosphere. So let’s clarify that right up front. I also think that your surroundings can either enhance or detract from the habits you’re trying to instill in your children and what you’re trying to do in giving them a Charlotte Mason education. So let’s talk about how to make your space work for you. What’s interesting is the three of us all have different personalities. We all have different spaces. And no, we’re not going to include pictures of our spaces because that’s not going to help the viewers figure out what works for them. So let’s just talk about some ideas of how to make the space you have work in a Charlotte Mason way.
Laura: I think you hit on a crucial point, that we’re all different, that we all have different personalities. Therefore, how our homeschool happens, where it happens, what it looks like, is going to be different for everybody. I do think there are some key things that a homeschool situation needs to have. Like you’re saying, that’s not just the attitude, but wherever it is, it has to function. It needs to practically work itself out. So if you’re scattered and having to hunt down supplies or materials from all over your house, if you don’t have it gathered and ready, functionally, it’s going to be a struggle to get it done. To me, that’s a big deal, despite what the personalities are, it’s got to function. Because our spaces are so different, that’s going to look different. I have friends who have a library, a whole room devoted to just books. I have a friend who has a coat closet she turned into storage for homeschool supplies. Using the space that you have, functionally, that’s key in helping you have the right attitude in the school environment.
Sonya: I think it’s also a key in establishing habits and modeling the good habits. How can your child develop a habit of orderliness if your homeschool room is chaos? So a place for everything and everything in its place I think is a key. Charlotte talked about the habit of neatness, which is a step further, where you’re arranging those orderly items to look pleasing to the eye. That’s where you, Laura, have a big head start over what I do, you’re much further along that path. That’s just your personality. You’re very good at that, but I can still work on the orderliness. When we are scattered and we’re hunting all over for things, it’s hard for our children to give that full, focused attention. It disrupts their mindset as well as their best effort. Some of us are more naturally organized than others, but if you can at least get something set up and keep it running that way, there’s a lot more at stake than just being an organized person.
Laura: It’s something that you can learn. For some of us, it is natural. My brain naturally works in that way. I can see the mess and know the 10 steps that I need to do to make it orderly; that’s just how my brain works. But for those that struggle with that and it’s not something that’s natural, it can be learned. It’s something that you just choose one thing to work on at a time, and figure out, “Okay, here’s a stack of my children’s schoolwork, and it’s a mess, and it’s not orderly and it’s not neat. So what can I do just to fix this one problem?” The organizational side of things can be super overwhelming and a lot of times you can feel defeated before you start, but I want to say that as an encouragement, it can be learned. You can seek out advice, you can Pinterest, you can do all the things, but just take one thing at a time and figure out how to make that thing best function.
We were also talking about how, because of personalities, the orderliness and the neatness, even that looks a little different. So let’s say you’re a personality that likes everything to be put away. You don’t see anything on your school table when you’re done. All the bookshelves are put back. Maybe you have some books in some baskets. It’s all put away. Everything is very clean and put away. That may be your personality, but somebody else may love the objects, may like the nature tray, and likes the homeyness of what all the objects can bring. So that’s what we were saying, each school space is going to look so different based on even that visual appeal mom may have, or the family may have.
Then, if you’ve been at it a long time, you have a lot of things. You have just collected a lot of things over the years. Or, if you’re just starting out, you may compare yourself to somebody else or you may say, “Oh, I need this, this, and this,” but that’s not true. I always go by Simpler Is Better. You don’t need all the stuff, you really don’t. So whether or not you have a devoted school room, Jenn has a devoted school room, we use our dining room table, we just fit the space. I’m the type of person that the clutter and mess bothers me. It literally depresses me, it just drags me down. So I like to have everything cleaned up and put away, especially by the end of the day. I just feel like it allows me to reset. So knowing that about the atmosphere, I need to do that, because it affects me emotionally and my attitude towards my kids; the mess bothers me. For other moms, the mess doesn’t bother them, they don’t even see it, and that’s okay. There’s no right or wrong with that. So I say all that just as an encouragement to know your space, know what kind of visual things affect you. If you haven’t thought about it, it’s something to consider because it does affect us.
Another thing we were talking about is utilizing the pieces of furniture that you have in your house. Shop your house first before you go buy a new bookshelf or a cabinet or things like that. There’s probably something in your house you could use to help with that organization or the orderliness or the neatness. I’m all about the baskets, so if you’re going to buy anything, buy some baskets.
Sonya: When we started, we were just using the dining room table and the living room. We would sit on the couch when we did our read-alouds. So I think some kind of a writing surface is necessary. But like you were saying, even some personalities come into play, not just when school’s over, but while school is happening. I have a friend who loves to light candles while they’re doing school work. That would drive me crazy. But for her, it makes the homey atmosphere. Some serve tea while they’re doing this, and so it just depends even while you’re doing the schoolwork. But the writing surface is necessary and some kind of comfortable chair for read-alouds, whether it’s a dedicated room or shared space. We did a lot of stuff at the breakfast table when the kids were growing up. So we would keep our Scripture Memory cards, our box, on the little countertop right beside the table so we could grab it easily. I know you do some things at breakfast too, Jenn, don’t you?
Jenn: We do. You guys have said so many great things, and I feel like along the years, I’ve been kind of a case study for Laura because she has helped me grow through two different houses that we’ve been in. Our first house, like you said, we only had a dining room table and that’s where we did our school. And Laura helped me get it functional. That’s always been her word. It has to be functional. Her stuff is beautiful and makes you want to stay there and be homeschooled as well. But the functional is the core of everything. So I just want to encourage the moms that I think we’ve all seen on Pinterest or other places this beautiful school room and think “Oh, I want to do something just like that.” But to really take that time like you said, Laura, and think through: what is your space that you have available? It may be the dining room table. It may be a whole homeschool room.
I am fortunate enough that that’s what I have now. I do have six children so we did move. We outgrew our old house, and when we moved we were very fortunate to have a basement. So I have that dedicated homeschool room now. But even now it’s not functional to have every single thing there. For me, that was an easy trap to fall into. “Oh, now this is my homeschool room. So this is where everything has to be and everything has to happen.” And Laura helped me to see that, “No, shop your house, use your furniture.” If you’re doing some things at the breakfast table in the kitchen, that’s okay. That’s where we tie our family block things to breakfast and to lunch, so it wasn’t functional for me to go downstairs or to have them carry things back and forth. So now I have a cabinet in my kitchen that has one of the cabinet shelves devoted to our binders and some things we use for that family block time. Then I have on the table another thing of pencils and pens, and I have maps under this little caddy that I have on our kitchen table. So it doesn’t have to be only one place: that is your homeschool space and that’s it. As Laura said, really take that time to think. I think that’s huge. Think about your personality. Think about those things that make you happy, and then also think about that space that you have. Think about your budget. There are some things that you may prioritize over other things. So pick that one thing, like Laura said, that is the project that you want to really work on and try to solve the functionality of one certain thing. Shop what you have and then don’t be afraid to use different spaces. Even if you do have a homeschool room, still think, “Does that work for everything?” Or are there other spaces in the house that maybe you would do things in.
When you said to have a reading spot for your children, that’s another thing for us, as I do have one that’s in college now and another one that’s in high school. As they’ve gotten older, it is difficult for those older kids to do all of their work with a two-year-old running around. So I’ve found that having a space for them to go do some work they need to do is important, away from us, to really have that quiet focus time. It’s hard for my son to do chemistry with a little sister crying next to him, and so we’ve done different things for that. It may be now they go upstairs to the dining room table for a period of time and complete that work and then come back down, or some of mine have desks in their rooms, or just a quiet space where they can go if they need that.
Sonya: Some of that takes into consideration the child’s personality, too, and how he or she learns best. Some of them, noise doesn’t bother them but visual movement does. As they get older, especially, help them figure out how they can learn best, how they can study, and what will keep their attention focused best. That will be helpful for them and as we create these spaces that work for us.
Laura: Another thing I thought of was just with the whole feel of the room and the atmosphere of the home, I really try to have at least one seasonal thing happening just to kind of feed that atmosphere. So whatever’s blooming outside, we may do a small vase on the mantle or on the school table; or if it’s around the holidays, we may do a little pumpkin or just something that’s a gentle touch of life outside of school, if you will. I feel like that anchors me. Our days are on repeat a lot, especially as the school year progresses; so for me visually, just to see that little touch of either a change of season or, “Oh, we’re looking forward to this holiday or vacation.” If we’re going the beach, maybe we’ll get some shells out and put them on a tray on the school table. Just something. I try to keep at least one thing that’s different and that I change out just to keep some freshness in the atmosphere of the home.
I also have dedicated space for the physical school objects that each child has. So when we talked about having the order and neatness, whether it’s a cubby or part of a shelf or wherever it is, training the children to be responsible to help with the atmosphere, I feel like there’s a value in that, too. First of all, it helps them to consider me as their mom and as their teacher. “Think outside of yourself and be respectful to me and learn that and put your school stuff up.” I feel like there’s a lesson in that for them, that whether they want to do it or not, they’re helping with the orderliness and the neatness.
Sonya: It’s a good way for them to practice the habit.
Laura: It’s for my sanity too, you know? It’s a responsibility we can turn over to them versus when they’re young and it’s all on us. So each one of my children has half of a shelf, depending on the supplies they have, but they’ll physically walk over, get out what they need, bring it to the table, and physically walk over and put it up. It’s a whole process, but it helps keep that atmosphere going and that visual cleanliness going that I need. I know that that’s one of my weaknesses, or strengths, I don’t know how you would look at it. It also helps the end of the day be better. When we’re cleaning up all along throughout the day, it’s not a nightmare for any of us to have to clean up all the hundred things we did that day.
Sonya: Everybody pitches in.
Jenn: Don’t be afraid to change things. Maybe I’m just saying things because of the traps that I fall into, but when you get something working in a certain way, I find with six children, oftentimes six months later what was working well is not working anymore because they’re growing and they’re people and they’re changing. Don’t be afraid to change those things if it’s not functioning the way it was before. Figure out a tweak that you can make and how it can start to function for you again, definitely as they get older. Like you said, though, they are people, and they are persons, right? They all have their own personalities. So at some point handing over that control of, “Okay, this is the space you have. Yes, take responsibility for that.” As they get even older, “What is going to help you to function better?” Let them have a hand in that.
Sonya: Two other things that came to my mind in the actual space. One was some kind of nature component, which you talked about with the seasonal thing. I never thought of doing the seasonal “pretty.” I did like a houseplant.
Laura: Which is good. Houseplants are good. And you kept it alive.
Sonya: True. Or a vase of fresh flowers. Grab a bouquet from the grocery store or something and throw it in there. Something like that would add some freshness. We have woods in our backyard, so I did not put curtains on those back windows right beside the dining room table and right from the living room looking out the back. I didn’t put any curtains on those because I wanted to see the green trees while we were doing our schoolwork there. So some kind of nature component really helped me.
Then the other thing was some kind of beautiful art, whether it was just the picture study that you’re studying that week, or if you have something framed, something beautiful to look at. It’s not obtrusive, it’s not in your face, but it’s on the wall. I remember Charlotte talking about even in the nursery, if you have just one or two real good quality works of art, that will help cultivate the children’s tastes and their imagination, give them something beautiful to look at as well.
Jenn: That’s important.
Sonya: Those are good to have.
Laura: And lots of baskets.
Sonya: And lots of baskets.
Jenn: Another thing I was thinking of is don’t forget your outside space, because we want to be outdoors as much as we can. So on those nice days, we have a picnic table that’s on our back porch, so we can just carry our things out there to the picnic table. If you have the space that you could have a table outside and take your lessons outside, or take a blanket outside, that becomes part of your school there. So you don’t have to always think of your school room as inside when we need a change. Is there anything we could put outside that would help us want to bring lessons out there?
Sonya: That’s a good point. Any final words of wisdom? I’m going to ask Laura because she’s the homeschool room guru for all of us. Any final words of wisdom for our readers?
Laura: That’s a tough question. I just want to encourage everybody that it doesn’t have to look like your best friend’s or your sister-in-law’s or anything you see on Instagram. I think that’s the biggest struggle: wanting it to be what you think is expected versus just loving your children, being thankful for the home that God gives you, and making that space work. They can do it; I know they can! It’s within their grasp. It takes effort. Sometimes it’s hard to have to purge. I just wish I could counsel them all. That’s where my heart is, to invest in your home and your children. It just looks different for everybody, and to be encouraged by that; it’s okay that it’s different. It’s not what you see on Instagram or at a neighbor’s house.
Sonya: That reminds me, Charlotte said something like, “The individuality of the parents is a treasure for each child.” It’s not that every parent needs to be exactly like every other parent. I think it goes for our homeschool rooms, too. I am a different person than you are, but I still can create an environment that will support the habits I’m trying to instill in my children and help them pay full attention and enjoy our Charlotte Mason homeschool. Thanks so much for your thoughts.