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Contrived Atmospheres

 
 
Recently, my friend AnnMarie told me an interesting, humorous, and instructive story. She and her husband decided it was high time that they taught their young children about hard work. As he had been raised on a farm, he came to the conclusion that taking care of animals was how he learned how to work hard. While they did not live on a farm now, they could still use animals to teach this valuable life lesson.

They hired someone to build a chicken coop and eagerly purchased some adorable little chicks. At first, taking care of them was all fun and games but as the year went by and the weather started to turn colder, their enthusiasm waned. That hard work ethic they were so desperately looking for didn't materialize. The chickens had stopped laying eggs. It was easier to run to Costco to get the eggs, which they regularly did. The experiment was a failure.

What went wrong?  Well, first of all, the husband grew up poor and  in rural Michigan.  If nobody got out of bed to chop the firewood for the stove or feed the chickens, there would be no warmth in the house or eggs for breakfast. However, with their recent  chicken experiment, if nobody gathered the eggs and they went bad, they simply went to the grocery store. Second, it turned out the husband actually hated chicken chores and anytime he worked on the chickens with the children it was clear that it was not his favorite thing to do. It was his father who had a passion for taking care of animals, not him. In hindsight, they realized that the children could see that there was no real need for chickens and that they had fabricated a situation to teach them a lesson. In other words, it was fake!

The Nortons have since learned that contriving an atmosphere doesn't work. Life's natural circumstances are all that is needed to teach the lessons God wants us to learn. Also, the parents' attitude towards circumstances impacts the atmosphere greatly. Charlotte Mason warns us about carefully constructed circumstances that are not natural and reassures us of what is truly needed:

"What if parents and teachers in their zeal misread the schedule of their duties, magnified their office unduly and encroached upon the personality of children? It is not an environment that these want, a set of artificial relations carefully constructed, but an atmosphere which nobody has been at pains to constitute. It is there, about the child, his natural element, precisely as the atmosphere of the earth is about us. It is thrown off, as it were, from persons and things, stirred by events, sweetened by love, ventilated, kept in motion, by the regulated action of common sense. We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby's needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges." Vol. 6, p. 96

Teaching from Peace,

Nancy


5 comments:

  1. This is so good, Nancy. We often think we must "DO SOMETHING" versus just "BEING". I appreciate this reminder going into summer break. <3

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    1. Yes, Amy dear, I totally agree. We get that order mixed up often, don't we? I can't wait to see you this summer at the LER!

      Warmly,
      Nancy

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  2. I have a feeling that the Nortons are not the only family to find this lesson out through experience! Right now the rural/pastoral life has a cultural appeal, and I know I have at times yearned for the atmospheric lessons that such a life could offer my kids. But, I find I would rather pay the butcher and baker than spend my days laboring at their tasks. Contentment in my own small bit of green grass is not a bad course to follow. ;)

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    1. You raise a good point, Angela - it does have such cultural appeal. We do need to be content with such things as we have.
      Warmly,
      Nancy

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  3. Rural life is so idealized right now. I love our life out here in the country, but it is over-romanticized. I'm not sure people have a clear idea what it means, it's just far enough from what they know that they can paint it in all kinds of beautiful faux-nostalgia.

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