Oakbrook 101 Blog: Charlotte Mason - “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
When you think of education three words often come to mind – reading, writing, and arithmetic.
However, Charlotte Mason used three very different words to describe her unique approach to education. In fact, these three words – atmosphere, discipline, life – were the foundation of her philosophy because of how she approached education. She believed educating a child includes all that we do to help students develop mentally, morally, and aesthetically.
By “atmosphere,” Charlotte spoke of the environment our children grow up in. Through our surroundings, routines, sounds, and relationships, we are striving to provide an atmosphere of learning at Oakbrook. You can sense this when you walk into our school where the atmosphere is authentic and multisensory and children are given room to create, explore, and observe. Each year students go on field trips, listen to guest speakers, and dress in character and re-enact historical time periods and special events. These experiences impart a rich interweaving of ideas and knowledge which allows students to make connections and discover new insights themselves. Beyond the learning environment, Charlotte promoted the idea that children were born persons, not just blank slates, but individuals with unique feelings and ideas and should be appreciated and heard. And we believe our students are best able to master the tools of learning – listening, speaking, reading, writing, calculating – in an atmosphere where they are known and loved.
By “discipline,” Charlotte emphasized the importance of training our children in good habits—habits that will serve them well as they grow. In fact, she likened good habits to railroad tracks that parents lay down and upon which the child may travel with ease into his adult life. Good habits are a powerful influence on our children and must play an important part in their education. Charlotte emphasized moral habits like self-control, good use of time, and personal initiative as well as mental habits like observing and remembering. She also highlighted the importance of physical habits such as self restraint and even religious habits like regular devotions, thanksgiving, and prayer. Through activities and lessons our students are nurtured and instilled with good habits beginning in the lower school and those are cultivated in and out of the classrooms throughout middle and upper school.
By “life,” Charlotte wanted to remind us that “all the thought we offer to our children shall be living thought; no mere dry summaries of facts will do.” And the methods that Charlotte used presented each subject’s material as living ideas. Here is where the reading, writing, and arithmetic come in, along with all the other school subjects. But first, they are presented as living ideas. Mason advocated the use of first-hand sources, called “living books.” She believed children should be in direct contact with real books, and read passages or chapters and then recount, or narrate, what they have read, either in oral or written form. You can see this firsthand by visiting events such as Lower School's "Coming to America" in which second graders become immigrants who traveled to Ellis Island. Other activities like the annual Middle School Missions Bazaar provide students with real life lessons in business, marketing, and economics through creating and selling one-of-a-kind goods and products to raise money for local and global missions. It’s also demonstrated during Senior Projects in which students are provided the time and guidance to delve deeply into sophisticated questions, problems, and tasks.
Charlotte Mason viewed children as individual spirits to be kindled rather vessels to be filled. Her work was founded on Scripture and she saw God as the supreme educator and believed there should be no separation between the intellectual and the spiritual life of children. We share this approach and aim to provide an educational experience that is adventurous as well as a solid preparation for life. Children become better learners when a school community cares for the whole child, supporting emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being while inspiring creative and intellectual growth. That’s what we aim to provide at Oakbrook. We hope you will join us throughout this school year as we share more about our Charlotte Mason philosophy.