Archive for the ‘Charlotte Mason’ Category

Charlotte Mason on Nourishing the Mind

December 13, 2006 @ 1:27 pm | Filed under:

Ooh, I’m so happy y’all are up for this conversation!

I thought it worthwhile to post a few short excerpts from TOWARDS A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION to whet our appetites…emphasis is mine.

We want an education which shall nourish the mind while not
neglecting either physical or vocational training; in short, we want a
working philosophy of education. I think that we of the P.N.E.U. have
arrived at such a body of theory, tested and corrected by some thirty
years of successful practice with thousands of children. This theory
has already been set forth in volumes [The Home Education
published at intervals during the last thirty-five
years; so I shall indicate here only a few salient points which seem to
me to differ from general theory and practice,––

(a) The children, not the teachers, are the responsible persons;
they do the work by self-effort.

(b) The teachers give sympathy and occasionally elucidate, sum up or
enlarge, but the actual work is done by the scholars.

(c) These read in a term one, or two, or three thousand pages,
according to their age, school and Form, in a large number of set
books. The quantity set for each lesson allows of only a single
reading; but the reading is tested by narration, or by writing on a
test passage. When the terminal examination is at hand so much ground
has been covered that revision is out of the question; what the
children have read they know, and write on any part of it with ease and
fluency, in vigorous English; they usually spell well.

—Volume 6, page 6

There is, of course, much more to the Charlotte Mason method than the simple plan laid out in paragraph (c), but that’s her nutshell explanation. You select a number of excellent books, have the student read them slowly over the course of the term or semester, and expect clear and thorough narrations either orally or on paper for each book, each chapter or passage, as the student makes his way through them.

By "no time for revision," she means no time for review, no ‘going over it again’ at a later date to make sure the student still remembers it. Miss Mason’s assertion is that the student who narrates WILL remember, without note-taking, cramming, or second reads. I’ve been familiar with this assertion of hers for almost a decade now, and it still shocks me when I take the time to think about it. Can you imagine if we all possessed this ability? A skill she takes for granted as the product of her educational method?

The unusual interest children show in their work, their power of
concentration, their wide, and as far as it goes, accurate knowledge of
historical, literary and some scientific subjects, has challenged
attention and the general conclusion is that these are the children of
educated and cultivated parents. It was vain to urge that the home
schoolroom does not usually produce remarkable educational results; but
the way is opening to prove that the power these children show is
common to all children
; at last there is hope that the offspring of
working-class parents may be led into the wide pastures of a liberal

Vol. 6, p. 8.

She wrote A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION after thirty years of putting her ideas to the test in Parents’ National Education Union Schools. (The PNEU you always see in connection with CM.) She saw these results time and time again, across the board, with the students in PNEU home and cottage schools—rich kids, poor kids, kids whose parents were highly educated, kids whose parents were not. There are many examples of their work in Vol. 6. The end-of-term essays will knock your socks off.

Doesn’t it make you wonder what happened? If her method is so successful, why didn’t it make it into any public school model in, say, the United States? John Taylor Gatto has a theory about that…

But of course Mason’s ideas are being put into practice in many homeschools nowadays. I will be interested to see if a time comes that she makes her way into the mainstream.

As I said yesterday, the Charlotte Mason method isn’t just about training the mind’s powers of attention and memory; it isn’t all about intellect. There is so much more to what she meant by "an educated person." For the more complete picture, her "20 Principles" are the place to begin. These are laid out in the preface to Volume Six. The commentary provided at this link is particularly useful.  Just a little something for you to chew on during the holidays…

One-Handed Posting

December 12, 2006 @ 1:29 pm | Filed under:

I have this big old Charlotte Mason post I’m dying to write,* but the baby has a cold and will only stay asleep if I hold her. She’s propped on my shoulder right now. This means my friend Charlotte will have to wait. I am re-reading her TOWARDS A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION right now, again, and again it is utterly wowing me. If you haven’t read CM’s original works, I’d recommend starting right there, with Volume 6. If her Victorian-speak turns you off (I rather like wrestling with it, but I admit it does make for slow going!), one of the generous Ambleside folks has written—and made freely available—modern English translations of some of Charlotte Mason’s books.

What blows me away about Volume 6, and the reason I keep re-reading it and am pretty much always DYING to talk it over with people (anyone want to come for tea?), is how clearly it explains CM’s method, and how simple the method actually is. Shockingly simple, with shocking claims as to results. As an educational method, CM’s concept is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. Really. Think about it—where else do you find an educator saying her students only have to read (or be read) something ONCE and they remember it and can intelligently discuss the work forever after? That is pretty much what CM’s method promises.**

And it’s what I’ve seen with Jane, who got a couple of years of pretty steady CMing. (I am giggling at how much Miss Mason would likely loathe my lazy and careless acronymizing of her name and ideas. I repeat! Sleeping baby on my left shoulder! No feeling in my left arm!)*** Anyway, Jane, thoroughly CM’d at age six and seven, drifting into a looser, just-CM-flavored approach for the next few years: her powers of retention astonish me. She can read something once and tell it back to you almost word for word, months later. For a while I was chalking it up to her amazing genetic material (oh I crack myself up) and then one day it hit me: DUH. What Jane can do is just what Charlotte Mason’s students could do. It is just exactly what Miss Mason says will happen.

But how much is CM, and how much is Jane’s brain? Chicken or egg? This is one of the things I want to talk about, and it’s one of the reasons I keep returning to CM’s books. Rose is bright and has a good memory, but she does not (yet) display the same astonishing powers of retention that Jane does. Her education thus far has been joyful and CM-inspired, but certainly not in adherence to Miss Mason’s entire philosophy. 

You understand that I’m not comparing the two girls, right? This isn’t a Marcia-Marcia-Marcia situation. Rose is doing just fine. I’m simply pondering the significance of the facts.

Jane: Educated a la CM method for two years (age six and seven); possesses a skill CM says her students will possess.

Rose: Not educated strictly according to CM’s entire set of principles; is smart and capable, certainly at or beyond "grade level" according to contemporary educational standards; does not, however, possess the almost-total-retention and narration ability described by CM.


Also: how ironic is it that I have to keep re-reading Charlotte Mason’s books? Ha. Maybe I should put her ideas to the test on myself, maybe I should narrate the entire book as I go and see if by the end my own powers of attention and retention have improved in the manner she confidently asserts they will. (She asserts it about children, though. I don’t know if she made any such claim about adults, especially women in their late thirties with lots of small children, one of whom is snuffly and keeps mommy up at night.)

Anyway, I’m really wanting to talk about this. I know, I know, no one has time right now, two weeks before Christmas. Later, though. In my spare seconds (stop laughing; you’ll wake the baby!) I’ve been perusing sample PNEU syllabi. They fascinate me.

*As opposed to the big old Charlotte Mason post this turned out to be.

**Just to be clear: Charlotte Mason’s method promises more than a good memory, much more. Her aim was to educate the whole person: to make sure "education" involved a well-developed conscience, a controlled will, and sound habits, as well as mastery of knowledge.

***Baby shifted! Freed up the second hand! Still sacked out, twenty minutes later. She is just too, too delicious, snuffles and all.

Oops, she’s awake!


See what I mean by delicious?

This series of Charlotte Mason posts continues with:
Charlotte Mason on Nourishing the Mind
Gearing Up for a Charlotte Mason Term
Rose’s Reading List

Previous posts on Charlotte Mason:
Who Is This Charlotte Mason Person, Anyway?
How Do You Defend Your Relaxed Approach?
The Long-Promised Charlotte Mason Curriculum Post

How Do You Defend Your Relaxed Approach?

The other day I mentioned that I’m an advocate of a non-academic early childhood. In the comments, Betsy wrote:

I have a question about your relaxed approach. I have been relying
on this for years and every one has looked at me like I have three
heads. I got into quite the discussion after Mass on day when two moms
were playing the competition game of what they were going to home
school their soon to be 3 year olds. I chimed in talking about waiting
until the child is ready and being relaxed…you should have seen the
look of horror on their face!!! How do you handle the "neglectful"
response that people seem to give me all the time.

You know, I really love it when people give me an opening like those looks of horror, Betsy. I enthusiastically grab all opportunities to jump up on my soapbox!

In my experience, if you answer skepticism with an eager flood of information, people will nearly always reframe their initial response. Quite often, the are-you-crazy looks are a gut reaction, but when the skeptic hears that you have actually put some thought and research into the issue, her response changes. She may still disagree, but at least she acknowledges that your point of view is an informed one.

So, for example, if someone said, "Are you nuts? Everyone knows that you’ve got to give kids a strong start from an early age or they’ll be behind their peers and never catch up," I’d say, "Actually, there are many educators and scholars who believe just the opposite. Have you read the works of Charlotte Mason? No? John Holt? John Taylor Gatto? Montessori? No? Oh." (Brief pause to digest this astonishing fact.) "Well, if you’re interested in how children learn, you’d probably find them quite fascinating, especially Mason; I know I do."—And then I’d launch into a brief but fact-packed description of Charlotte Mason’s vision for children under seven, emphasizing the richness of a young life filled with storytelling, nature study, cheerful housework, and song.

I have never, ever presented that picture of early childhood to someone without having the person respond positively. "Oh, that sounds so nice!" is a typical response. I really think people—especially mothers of little ones—recognize the beauty of that vision, even if they remain in disagreement over the issue of early instruction in reading and math.

You know, that touches on an important point. In such conversations (and they occur with surprising frequency), I’m truly not out to convert anyone. I don’t initiate them; but if someone opens the door I will jump through it as if there were chocolate on the other side. My aim in this kind of discourse is simply to show that there is thought behind my opinion. It’s amazing how much that relaxes people and shifts the tone of the conversation from confrontation to exchange of ideas.

What happens is that people begin to ask questions—specific questions like, "But what about math?" or "So when do you start teaching reading?" Which means I can respond with specific answers, and suddenly, instead of being on opposite sides of an abyss, we’re two interested parties discussing learning strategies. It’s a whole different kind of conversation, because it naturally leads to book and idea recommendations. ("Oh, gosh, my kids have learned so much math just from playing store or cooking. You learn a ton about fractions from making cookies!")

And that kind of conversation is just FUN.

Who Is This Charlotte Mason Person, Anyway?

July 22, 2006 @ 7:15 am | Filed under: , , ,

If the name means nothing to you, you may be wondering what all the hoopla is about. Charlotte Mason was a British educator and author of the late nineteeth and early twentieth centuries. She wrote a lot of books and articles about education; she founded a teachers’ college and a correspondence school for families (the PNEU, or Parents’ National Education Union). She had a vision for a method of learning (and living) that was an antidote to dry, dumbed-down or excessively stern and rote systems of education favored by governesses and schools of her day (and still, in many cases, ours).

Her method was simple, rigorous, and lively. For each term, she (or her colleagues) drew up a list of what she called "living books," eloquent and impassioned prose for all subjects: history, literature, science, geography, civics, and poetry. No dull, committee-written textbooks for her students. All reading was to be of the highest literary quality.

The material was read slowly and thoroughly. In the early years, teachers or parents read the books aloud to their young pupils; as the students got older, they assumed more of the reading themselves.

As they read (or listened), the students narrated back the material. That is, they re-told what they had just heard in as much detail as they could possibly remember. Until age ten or so, children narrated orally; after that, they wrote out their narrations, thus developing excellent composition and retention skills.

You don’t really know something unless you can tell it back—we’ve all experienced this. Often when one of my kids says something funny I want to remember, I repeat it over to myself until it is fixed in my mind. That’s narrating, and it’s a cornerstone of a Charlotte Mason education. Such a simple idea—simply tell it back!—and yet so incredibly effective. At age eleven, Jane has a memory that frightens astounds me: she can often repeat back word for word entire passages she has read. I’d like to take credit for passing on brilliant genes (as if I had anything to do with them, ha!) but it probably has more to do with her early training in CM’s narration techniques. I therefore grudgingly give all credit to Charlotte Mason and, you know, God.

Living books, narration, exposure to a wide range of subjects and ideas—these are the chief elements of a Charlotte Mason education. She also enthusiastically encouraged firsthand study of the natural world. She wanted her teachers (including parent-teachers) to get their students outside every day for fresh air and encounters with flora and fauna. Shoot, where did I just read the funniest excerpt on someone’s blog about a person spotting a child in a tree—and then much higher up was the child’s teacher "who had been trained at Miss Mason’s college"? I’ll look for that link. It was delightful and a perfect example of the adventurous and lively attitude Charlotte Mason liked to cultivate.

When we bring Charlotte Mason’s ideas into our homes and schools, we find that education becomes—as she put it herself—a life, a lifestyle. Our children retain their eagerness for knowledge and experience, their appetite for facts and big ideas. Miss Mason didn’t want children going through the motions of learning, cramming for tests and then forgetting everything right afterward. And of course none of us want that for our children either, whether they’re in school or not.

Amiable Indeed: the Charlotte Mason Blog Has Begun

July 22, 2006 @ 3:40 am | Filed under:

The delightful Amyable of Among Women, the Blog of Virtues, and Haiku of a Homeschooler has taken me up on my suggestion. It gives me immense pleasure to announce the launch of a blog called A Full Life: The Works of Charlotte Mason. Says Amy:

My goal here is to share the wisdom of Charlotte Mason as seen in her
writings, in manageable, “muse-able” sized pieces. For my own sense of
order and sanity, I’ll be going through her six volume “Home Education”
series, in order.

Hurrah! This is just what I had in mind. Now we can add it to our Bloglines subscriptions, and (as Ann said in the comments this morning) get our Daily Dose of Charlotte Mason. What a manageable way to read—or re-read—her books! Brava, Amy! And thank you!

The Long-Promised Charlotte Mason Curriculum Post

July 19, 2006 @ 11:13 am | Filed under: , , ,

All righty. When I started the curriculum series I had no idea my hubby was about to be offered a job on the other side of the country. Naturally my post on Charlotte Mason curricula got shoved  to the back burner when we decided to up-end our entire lives. But I haven’t forgotten. So let’s talk about Miss Mason.

Perhaps you’ve read her amazing books. (Her writing is dense, not easy, but worth the effort. Take her slow. Read a passage a day and take time to ponder.)

(Oh! Oh! I just had the best idea. Someone should do a Charlotte Mason blog. Like the Blog of Henry David Thoreau, which offers a selection from Thoreau’s journal almost every day. All of Charlotte Mason’s works are online*, in the public domain. Some devoted blogger out there could choose a passage every day and post it for the enjoyment and edification of all the rest of us. I am tempted, tempted…but no. Really, very much no. PLATE ALREADY FULL. :::tells self sternly::: Overflowing, even. So: brilliant idea up for grabs.) *Updated to add: Ask and ye shall receive. Or I shall, at least.  The Blog of Charlotte Mason has begun!

*Enormous thanks to the diligent folks who volunteered their time to type out CM’s books for all of us to enjoy!

This post is not a primer on Charlotte Mason education. Much excellent material has been written in that vein already. This is simply a look at some of the places you can go to find materials to support your efforts to educate your children a la Miss Mason.

There are two free Charlotte Mason-inspired programs of study available at a click of your mouse: Ambleside Online and Mater Amabilis. Both websites offer thorough and detailed schedules for a curriculum steeped in literature, history, narration, geography, and nature study. Many of the books recommended for use in both programs are available as free online texts.

Ambleside is Protestant in orientation; Mater Amabilis is Catholic. Both sites contain a wealth of useful articles in addition to the schedules and booklists. Each has its own email discussion groups where you can ask questions and get advice from real parents using the programs. It is truly amazing that such comprehensive resources are being offered at no cost whatsoever; the women behind the two programs (in the case of Ambleside, a collaborative board of homeschooling parents, and for Mater Amabilis, homeschooling mothers Michele Quigley and Kathryn Faulkner) have poured hours of effort into these curricula purely out of a desire to share their knowledge of Charlotte Mason’s methods with others.

For more schedules and syllabi, see the Simply Charlotte Mason link below.

And then! There are the 4Real Learning discussion boards, home of naturalist MacBeth Derham and  Elizabeth Foss where hundreds of mothers (and a few fathers) share ideas, books, and philosophical questions connected to home education. See especially the artist study and composer study threads—generous volunteers have already assembled links to many months’ worth of paintings.

Other websites of interest:

UPDATED to add: Charlotte’s Daughters, Learning from Charlotte Mason and the Parents’ National Education Union, a compilation of syllabi from several Parents’ Union School terms.

Simply Charlotte Mason: or, as I like to call it, “Simply Crammed with Material.” Sample schedules, booklists, narration helps, nifty bookmarks, and much, much more.

Mozart and Mudpies: See how one mother applies Charlotte Mason methods in her peaceful home. (Broken link now fixed.) Want more glimpses into CM households? Visit the many inspiring blogs in the Ambleside Online/House of Education webring. Some of my favorites are Higher Up and Further In and Dewey’s Treehouse.

Looking for many of the living books treasured by CM devotees? Try the Baldwin Project for free downloadable texts (with illustrations), or inexpensive hard copies.

Charlotte Mason Research & Supply Company: the website of well-known author Karen Andreola (The Charlotte Mason Companion, Pocketful of Pinecones). Not much practical info here; Karen’s put all that in her books. (I dip into my CM Companion at least once a month for refreshment of spirit, and found I was lending it out so often that several years back I bought a second copy just to circulate among my friends.) The website contains information about Karen’s books and the Original Charlotte Mason Series.

Author Penny Gardner‘s site does contain several interesting articles in addition to ordering info for her useful book, The Charlotte Mason Study Guide, and her highly recommended italic handwriting and recorder instructional materials.

If you did not already click on the links embedded in the “not a primer” paragraph above, you’ll want to check them out:

Charlotte Mason 101.

The Deputy Headmistress’s Charlotte Mason tutorial.

I have many more links to add here (you should see my list: nature study, picture study, Shakespeare, other stuff, all these lovely bookmarks begging to be cut and pasted), but this is enough to get you started. I’ll post a notice whenever I update, and do be sure to share your favorite CM resources with me.

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Charlotte Mason Was a Wise Woman

July 16, 2006 @ 9:28 pm | Filed under:

It’s been about three years since the day at the park when I realized my daughters were lacking a vital, a crucial, an indispensible piece of knowledge. I don’t know how we’d missed it—these kids knew Tennyson before they could read and discussed the periodic table of the elements over dinner. (Okay, so we had a placemat with the periodic table on it. Still. We did discuss it. As in: "No, dear, we don’t smush peas on helium.") They’re bright kids, well-educated kids, but there was a giant hole in their education and it was the kind of hole that left an opening for serious pain. Literally.

See, we were at the park, as I said, and a bunch of kids were playing ball not far away. Suddenly a cry rang out: "DUCK!" Every person in the vicinity ducked out of the way of the large ball hurtling toward our group. Except my kids. All three of them (there were only three at the time) LOOKED UP AT THE SKY. I kid you not. "Where?" cried Jane. "Is it a mallard?"

Is it a mallard. The kid knew her times tables at age seven but had no clue that when someone hollers "duck," you get your head out of the way. When I stopped guffawing, I decided I’d better rectify that little oversight right quick. Back at home, I put the kids through a bit of boot camp. I figured while I was at it, I might as well throw in some other quick-response commands. I lined up the three little girls, ages eight, five, and two, and drilled them in Duck, Hit the Deck, and On Your Feet Maggot. It was a smashing game and we played it every day for a week. They made mighty giggly little soldiers but they got the point and I felt reasonably comfortable out taking them back out to dangerous places such as the park.

At some point I added another command, and for something that started out as a whim, it has turned out to bring immense peace and pleasure to my home. It had occurred to me that one of my biggest pet peeves was calling one of the kids and having her yell back, "Wha-at?" instead of coming to SEE what because if I’d wanted a conversation of shouts, I’d have hollered what I wanted in the first place.

I remembered what Charlotte Mason has to say about habit-training, how a mother should pick one habit at a time to cultivate in her children. Start with a bad habit that vexes you, Miss Mason says (somewhere; I no longer remember which book—probably all of them), and devote a period of several weeks to replacing it with a good habit. This is the best parenting advice I’ve ever encountered. Such a simple principle: instead of punishing for the inappropriate behavior, you take the time to develop the behavior you want to see.

Of course my children didn’t know what kind of response I wanted when I called out their names: I’d never bothered to explain it. Did I just expect them to instinctively know that the "whaaaaa-ut" hollerback drives mothers up the wall? When I examined the situation, I understood that I’d never given much thought myself to what kind of response I’d prefer. I just got annoyed by the one I didn’t prefer.

So after the Duck drills, I started working on the "what to do when I call your name" routine. And oh my goodness has it been a pleasure to see it in action these past three years. By now it’s completely automatic. I call a name and the child in question cries out, "Coming!" Simultaneously she leaps to her feet and runs to wherever I am, landing before me with a "Yes, Mom?"

It’s marvelous. Maybe the script isn’t your cup of tea but I truly love it: the quick response, the way I can take it for granted that all I have to do is say a name and the needed child will appear before me—with no irritation, no resentment. It’s all automatic; we hardly notice it anymore; it’s simply what one does. It is, in fact, a habit.

Habits (good and bad) are catching. Wonderboy has picked up the routine too, without our doing anything to teach it. In fact, he’ll see your "coming!" and raise you one—half the time I holler out for Rose or Beanie, the boy will chime in his own "Commmmm-ee!" in chorus with theirs. Sometimes he just stands at the bottom of the stairs barking out his sisters’ names and supplying their responses for them. Or maybe he just thinks their names are Rosecoming and so forth.

I know the drill-sergeant routine is a little hackneyed, but it’s been a most successful means of following Charlotte Mason’s habit-training advice. Very Mary Poppins-esque, really: the silliness of the drills (nothing says fun like calling your children maggot) is the spoonful of sugar, far more palatable than the pill I used to be, scolding them for not coming when I called. Kids pick up an awful lot by osmosis, but not everything. Just ask my little birdwatchers. No, dear, it isn’t a mallard. It’s a soccer ball and it’s about to give you a concussion. Now DUCK!


May 5, 2006 @ 10:51 am | Filed under: , ,

(Part 2 of The Not Supermom Series.)

The Deputy Headmistress directed me toward this post at Dominion Family, and I have come to trust the DHM’s recommendations.

Writing on the importance of educating both mind and soul, Cindy says:

“This does not mean I shy away from rigorous study. I love rigorous study. It is just that I don’t confuse taking a test with learning. I try not to forget the things that can’t be measured: poetry in the heart, deep discussions, time for thoughtful reflections, love of beauty, the fellowship of suffering, the euphoric feeling of using the right word, honest toil, gentle breezes and warm days.”

Beautiful, and right on the mark.

This is exactly what I am getting at when I talk about striving for a joyful atmosphere in our home. As Cindy points out, Charlotte Mason has a great deal to say about the importance of “atmosphere” in education: Education itself, she says, is an atmosphere; it is a life. “Atmosphere,” writes Michele Quigley,

“is many faceted, from the actual physical aspects of the home to the tone and spirit of family life. In creating an atmosphere of learning, the child has easy access to the materials needed. Books are put where the child can get at them, art supplies are easily reached and musical instruments placed in a special but accessible area. There are beautiful art prints to look at and beautiful music with which to inspire the mind and soul.”

There it is again, that mind/soul connection that Cindy spoke of in her post. I am reminded of Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin family (Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, A Ring of Endless Light—which last is one of my three Most Deeply Moving picks from Semicolon’s recent booklist). Life in the Austin household means symphonies booming in the background during housecleaning, family in-jokes about literature and art, animated dinner-table discussions about The Big Questions of Life, evening sing-alongs, a house furnished in books, and car rides punctuated by quotes from ancient philosophers. I wonder, sometimes, just how much my own idea of family life was shaped by my multiple readings of that series during adolescence. I reread them all last winter and found myself grinning at the depiction of an atmosphere I’ve been striving toward in my own home for some ten years. Well looky there, I thought. Here I’ve been trying to Meet the Austins in my own living room, and I didn’t even realize it.

I gave a talk once about atmosphere in the Little House books, for after encountering Charlotte Mason’s writings, it struck me that a large part of what appeals to me about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books is the atmosphere that suffuses the Ingalls home—no matter which little house they lived in. Here’s an excerpt from the talk:

The atmosphere of love and family bonding is so strong, so pervasive, that when you read about this family, you want to be a part of it. And while I’m sure Ma and Pa Ingalls had plenty of off days that didn’t make it into the books, the warm, loving atmosphere of the home they created was consistent enough enough to inspire their daughter to put her childhood memories down on paper so that they would never be lost. Look at the things that stick in Laura’s mind all the way to her 60s:

—Pa ruffling up his hair, playing mad dog;
—Pa telling stories as he greased his traps or made bullets—stories Laura never forgot;
—Ma making vanity cakes for Laura & Mary’s party;
—Ma letting the girls share the grated carrot used to color the butter on churning day;
—Pa’s music, right down to the words of the songs he sang;
—Ma putting aside her work to play games with the girls during the terrible three days when Pa was lost in a blizzard.

That last one is one I think about a lot. Imagine how hard it was for Caroline to keep calm and cheerful under those circumstances. I think she must have seen it as her duty to maintain that atmosphere of serenity and cheer for her children, lest they be consumed by fear for Pa’s safety. How would I measure up in the same circumstances? Would I allow my worry to let me grow sharp with the children? Or would I throw myself wholeheartedly into the task—because it is work—of maintaining an atmosphere of love no matter what?

We all know how hard it can be to maintain that atmosphere. A mother’s mood is the air her family breathes. When I become cross, impatient, distracted, so does everyone else. My mood can poison the atmosphere or sweeten it: it is up to me.

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