Architecture, Art, Beauty, Handcrafts, Philosophy
Comments 5

Creating a Mason Atmosphere on a Dime by Carroll Smith

Education as an atmosphere is one of Mason’s fundamental pillars for education.  What are the components of education as an atmosphere?  There are two broad categories in my mind:  Spiritual and Physical.  What do I mean?

Mason used the word spiritual to describe all that is not corporeal or physical.  Her definition involved concepts of the mind.  In fact she says, “By spiritual I mean that which is not corporeal; and which, for convenience’ sake, we call by various names–the life of thought, the life of feeling, the life of the soul” (Mason, 1953, p. 168).  What might be some examples of spiritual atmosphere in the classroom:  1) relationships, 2) respect, 3) attitudes, 4) dispositions, 5) creative ideas, and many others?  These are not elements you can put your hands on.  These are concepts of the mind and can only be conveyed by persons.  In considering these spiritual components of the classroom the question is:  Does the classroom have an atmosphere of working together, supporting one another, developing habits, developing relationships and others?  These are just a few ideas about Education as an Atmosphere as it relates to the nonphysical world.

The physical world would be that of space and things.  Examples might be:  1) furniture, 2) pictures, 3) objects from the natural world, and 4) how these are arranged in the classroom. Let me give some examples.  Does the teacher provide a space for items from nature brought in by the students?  What does the furniture look like?  Is it institutional or is it inviting?  Is there a place for gathering as a group?  Are the desks for the students comfortable?  Nicolle Hutchinson’s (CEO of Gillingham Charter School, a Mason school) rule of thumb is:  Would I want this in my home?  Does the furniture look as though you would want to own it or does it look like left over trash from previous schools with dents, scratches and other signs of not being cared for?  The physical furniture and items in a classroom are important.  It isn’t neutral.

But there is a merging of the two.  Atmosphere then in a Mason context deals with the attitudes, dispositions, relationships and those things in the room that contribute to making the room a welcoming place (spiritual element) or a place where the children are respected (spiritual element) and valued (again, spiritual element).  In this sense the two (spiritual and physical) are merged and cannot be separated.  What do I mean?  The arrangement of the room makes an impact on attitudes.  For example, are the students welcomed to display items they have brought in from nature?  Has the teacher thought ahead and provided a place for these nature items?  Are there pictures in the room that reflect an appreciation of beauty?  Is there space for the class to meet as a community?  Community is a spiritual concept but it can only be accomplished when the physical environment makes it possible.   Has the teacher created the physical room in a way that calls to mind a sense of calm, beauty, peacefulness, homeliness and caring on the part of all who inhabit the classroom?  The physical environment conveys a spiritual message.  This is important to think about as we prepare classrooms for our children where they will spend seven to eight hours a day.

In this blog of pictures I want to share with you how Nicolle Hutchinson, the CEO of Gillingham Charter School has created a strong Mason atmosphere in the school.  This blog is about the physical room:  the furniture and other fixings in the classrooms that help support the spiritual components of the classroom.

What is so significant about this and the reason I wanted to share with the Mason community from both home and school education venues is that Ms. Hutchinson has created a Mason atmosphere on a .10 (dime).  What you will see here are pieces of furniture, pictures, and other items purchased for almost nothing at yard sales–yes yard sales.  $1.00 for this, $2.00 for that and before you know it a whole building is decorated with a home-like atmosphere that is truly nontraditional and resembles nothing of an institutional setting.  It is next to amazing what Ms. Hutchinson has accomplished.

Enjoy the pictures and see for yourself how you can create a wonderful “atmosphere” for educating children without spending a fortune.  My thanks and appreciation go to Ms. Nicolle Hutchinson of Gillingham Charter School in Pottsville, PA.

Mason, C. M. (1953). Home and school education (6th ed.). Oxford:  The Scrivener Press.

Several items purchased at a yard sale.

Several items purchased at a yard sale.

A $5.00 set of armour found at a yard sale.

A $5.00 set of armour found at a yard sale.

There is a place for nature and it is welcomed.

There is a place for nature and it is welcomed.

Nature prints find for about $2.00 each.

Nature prints found for about $2.00 each.

A yard sale stool used for nature findings.

A yard sale stool is used for nature findings.

This Old window, desk and other items found at yard sales which give this Title I learning place a charm.

This old window, desk and other items found at yard sales give this Title I learning place charm.

These frames were found at a yard sale and used for framing children's artwork.

These frames were found at a yard sale and used for framing children’s artwork.

Yarn purchased at a yard sale to be used for handwork.

This embroidery floss was purchased at a yard sale and used for handwork.

Embroidery hoops and other items purchased at yard sales and used for handwork.

These embroidery hoops and other items were purchased at yard sales and used for handwork.

A china cupboard top used for a bookcase, microscope storage, nature items and other items used in the classroom.

This china cupboard top is used for a bookcase, microscope storage, nature items and other items needed in the classroom.


This china cabinet was found on the side of the road and is now used for a bookcase and storage in Ms. Hutchinson’s office along with a yard sale chair.


Ms. Hutchinson is seated at the table with faculty member Mr. White. Standing behind her (starting on the left) are Mr. K., Ms. Lengle, Ms. Groody and Ms. Young.

© 2013 Nicolle Hutchinson and Carroll Smith

This entry was posted in: Architecture, Art, Beauty, Handcrafts, Philosophy


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. I enjoy this post so much, I spy a few things I want to do in my home, like the stool with nature findings. 🙂

  2. The pictures are very inspiring, they seem both decorative and functional! It makes me wonder how I might use the furniture already in my home to pull double duty as both furniture and someplace to store school supplies. We homeschool, so I don’t need to worry about it being more home like 😉

  3. Pingback: Education Is An Atmosphere | Beautiful Chaos

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s