Teaching without Words: Using Masterly Inactivity and Atmosphere in your Home

As homeschoolers, we often focus on what we do: the curriculum we use, the books we read, the co-ops we join. Charlotte Mason, however, reminds us that our children’s most important lessons often have nothing to do with us. In this episode, we explore masterly inactivity – how the art of doing nothing allows atmosphere to play its part in the lives of our children.

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There are voices which carry conviction. A short time ago, when I had been pondering the question of how much home-teaching is likely to cling through life, such an one said to me, “I believe in atmosphere.” The words thrilled through me and I felt I had got the key of the problem. Since then, I too, elect to believe in atmosphere–in those choices, preferences, tendencies, which have no completion here, but which flow from old into the limitless eternity.

M. F. Jerold, “The Atmosphere of the Home”

What is masterly inactivity?

[1:53] But with masterly inactivity, it’s about what we don’t do. I think there is a real art to this. It’s like using negative space in a painting.

[2:32] From School Education, “Perhaps the idea is nearly that conveyed in Wordsworth’s even more happy phrase, ‘wise passiveness’. It indicates the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action.”

[4:51] Charlotte Mason uses Atmosphere to refer to how our children learn through ‘life as it happens’

Masterly Inactivity in School Lessons

[12:36] From Philosophy of Education, “There is no education but self-education and only as the young student works with his own mind is anything effected”

[13:32] We don’t get a say in that internal mental process of our children. And if we try…well, then we’re probably preaching or pandering.

The Active Side of Masterly Inactivity

[16:44] Charlotte Mason writes that authority is necessary for Masterly Inactivity.

[20:53] I know that in the long run, cajoling, bribing, punishing my kids for pushing back against school will do more harm than good in the long run. Building character is a long game: what I do is to consistently give them good and noble ideas to think on, put the right limits in place and let them carry on growing and learning.

Our Values and Our Home Atmosphere

[23:23] From “The Atmosphere of the Home” by M.F. Jerold: “Atmosphere is much more than teaching, and infinitely more than talk. I doubt if we could live a week even with a very reserved person without being able to say what is his aim in life, what is the thing he values supremely. That after all is the kernel of life: to make up our minds what it is that we want, what is worth striving for; and it is this central aim which makes the atmosphere of our lives, which stamps itself inevitably on our ways and words, so that we are for-ever declaring it, though it may be unconsciously and involuntarily.”

[25:18] How can we orient our lives to the right values?

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