Among submissions to a family cookbook that I compiled

when I was pregnant with Hayley were some charming
offerings in a completely inedible genre.
I trust they make you smile!

Harmony Elixir

1L good temper
2L forbearance
1L patience
2L cheerfulness
1.5L contentment
3L unselfishness
1L fun
2.5L human kindness

Mix ingredients well. Take one wineglassful first thing in the morning. To be repeated as soon as the effect wears off.

Delightful Pie

2 parts unselfishness and
1 part patience.

Work them together.

plenty of industry

Lighten with
good spirits

Sweeten with

Add good deeds as thickly as raisins in a plum pudding. Bake with warmth from a tender heart.

For Preserving Children

1 grassy field
1/2 dozen assorted children
2-3 small dogs
a pinch of brook
some pebbles

Mix the children and dogs together well and put them in the field, stirring constantly. Pour the brook over the pebbles. Sprinkle the field with flowers and spread over all a deep blue sky, and bake in the hot sun. When brown, remove. Set aside to cool in a tub of water.

The Recipe Analogy

There are some recipes in life that, no matter how the ingredients are combined, the result is always unpalatable and unattractive. If you use poor quality ingredients, no matter how you treat those foodstuffs, you’ll probably end up with your head over a bucket if you consume the results.

It’s the same with home education. Quality ingredients are essential.

Some recipes, no matter how skilfully put together, still don’t work just right. Perhaps the oven was set at an incorrect temperature. Perhaps an incorrect measure was used or an inappropriate technique. All sorts of things can go wrong with even the very best recipes.

With home education, it’s not only the quality of the ingredients that can undermine the results. Atmospheres, measures and techniques can equally sabotage even the best efforts.


For the most part, the quality ingredients that relate to home education are selected as you develop your own ideas, philosophy, approach and resources. These, together with dedication, persistence and a good sense of humour, will stand you in good stead as you start putting it all together.

Just as you’ve learned to wander around the market and choose quality food, you will aslo develop your skills in selecting what you need for home education.


You’ve heard the saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” That’s true in so many ways. But equally, “All play and no work makes Jack a dole bludger.” I can’t remember who said that to me, but there is equal truth in those words, too. A sound work ethic recognises the value of  both work and play.

In today’s society, the pleasure and benefits of free time are often swallowed up in the busyness of having to do so many little things that we don’t have time for in the midst of the daily grind. So many adults have simply lost the art of true relaxation. At home, we have the perfect opportunity to teach our children to see the value to be obtained from hard work, and the reward of leisure time to follow.

“No bloke goes to his grave wishing he’d spent more time at the office!” I’ve heard that quote attributed to several famous authors or orators, so I won’t actually ascribe it to anyone. Teaching our children about appropriate measures in life is often best exemplified in the appreciation we have of our own work/leisure balance.

With cooking, you learn about tolerances with measurement – an extra teaspoon of flour when you’re measuring three cups isn’t an issue, but a full extra cup can be a disaster. In home education, you develop a similar sense, learning when to walk away or when to persevere for just a little longer.


Technical harmony in home education has its roots in practicalities. Even if only one child in the family is home educated, every family member still contributes to the harmony of the experience. If you’re not the at-home parent, it’s vital that you acknowledge that your partner is working as they educate your child, and give them credit for the work they do. All family members should participate in some way in maintaining the order of the home. Those who are at home are primarily educating or being educated, and too many domestic requirements of them will undermine what they’re there for.

Another technical aspect to consider is tone of voice. Brad and I both have a tendency to be word sensitive but tone deaf when we speak. I get to observe a lot of home educating mothers, and I try to learn from them the tones of voice that are effective in eliciting easy-going responses to correction, requests and the like. I still have a lot to learn! It is worth paying attention to yourself and your child’s reactions to you, and learning different delivery methods and vocal intonations. Simple changes like that can make a world of difference in the harmony stakes.

Whatever techniques are required in your home education experience, just as with cooking, practice develops your skills.The first time I made a white sauce, it was a disaster – the sauce was burnt, lumpy and had to be thrown out. These days, I can just about make a perfectly acceptable white sauce blindfolded. Afford yourself the time and space to develop your technical skills.


It is the atmosphere, perhaps, which is most crucial in harmonious home education. If the homelife is full of scraps, disagreements and slanging matches, or worse, learning can be very difficult.

To continue the recipe analogy, the factors relevant to the dish’s cooking environment could be considered Container (pot or pan), Movement (stirring on stove-top or still in oven), Heat Quality (intensity and distribution) and Position (middle, top or bottom of oven, or choice of hotplate).

We could extrapolate that into home education terms, but in many ways, those aspects are self-explanatory. I’d rather explore the concept of Atmosphere from a different angle – a harmonious home education atmosphere has, I believe, three key aspects: Agreement, Answers and Authenticity.

We’ll use a well known poster that has been around for several decades to illustrate.

Children Learn What They Live

by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn to confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte


Children quickly pick up on atmospheres between parents. If you are at odds with each other, the harmonious atmosphere of your home education environment will be undermined even when one partner is away at work.

If you’re a two-parent family, do your best to be in agreement with your partner about your decision to home educate. Keep talking until you are also in agreement about how that will take place, or at least to a place of compromise. Talk it through as two adults with the best interests of their children at heart.

Harmony is good for us – stress isn’t. Very generally speaking, of couse. You won’t be in agreement with your partner or your children, automatically, about everything, all the time – after all, you’re human beings, not robots. Genuine agreement about a lot of things requires time and discussion. Even in a unified relationship, you’re still two individuals with separate perspectives, whose input is relevant to decision-making. If you respect one another while you reach places of agreement, your home atmosphere will still feel safe and harmonious to your children.

A quick read through of the environments listed in Dorothy Law Nolte’s well known piece can easily leave us wanting to avoid the first seven living environments at all costs and embrace the rest whole-heartedly. I suspect that Dr Nolte’s words were intended in reference to atmospheres (entire, engulfing environments) rather than concepts which are naturally encountered by humans, however.  Let me explain further.


There is a big difference between living with constant, unrelenting, nit-picking and perfection-insistent criticism and someone pointing out that they know you didn’t do your best in a certain area.

Each one of those first seven nouns (explored below), exercised as a first answer by wise parents, can, I believe have a positive influence in a child’s life. I think it’s important to consider that these apparently negative things should not be avoided at all costs, but faced and dealt with openly and wisely.

When any such response is a first answer only, then coupled with discussion and training, it can be a positive, encouraging influence in a child’s life.

Noun Avoid this Atmosphere Train this Answer
Criticism Incessant disapproval expressed by pointing out faults or shortcomings. The ability to analyse and evaluate or judge the quality of a piece of work.
Hostility A state, condition, or attitude of enmity; antagonism or unfriendliness – treating someone as the enemy. An instinctive opposition or resistance to an idea, plan or project which is potentilally harmful in some way.
Fear A debilitating apprehension or feeling of anxiousness related to a possible or probable situation or event. An early warning sign which can protect from danger.
Pity An over-indulgence in the wretchedness or miserableness of the situation. A sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the distress or misfortune of another, often leading to an act of kindness or mercy.
Ridicule Speech or action intended to cause contemptuous laughter at a person or thing; derision. The ability to find the broadly or extravagantly humorous in circumstances, especially to defuse personal intensity.
Jealousy Mental unease from suspicion or fear of rivalry Vigilance in maintaining or guarding something precious.
Shame Constant, strong, painful sense of guilt, inadequacy, embarrassment, unworthiness, disgrace, dishonour, disappointment or condemnation. An awareness of wrong-doing which leads to making amends in an appropriate way.

Momentary stress, which is handled with discretion, can lead to long-term harmony in home education – a result which is pleasing for both parents and children. Endeavouring to turn negatives into positives is part of our parental charter – not always easy, of course. Negatives, as first answers, become tools in our hands when used astutely.


The final  dozen items from Dr Nolte’s work are wonderful reactions and atmospheres. In my opinion, however, they do need balance. It’s easy to read through those words over and over, and consider that there can never be too much of any of them. The balancing factor that I see is authenticity.

Again, there is tremendous difference between giving an insincere compliment and an authentic one.

Noun Insincere Authentic
Encouragement Says that coming last is okay “if you did your best”. Deflects attention from failure to areas where the child does succeed. For example: “You came last in a race? Huh! Well, never mind. I saw you climb to the top of the pine tree this afternoon, and that was impressive.”
Tolerance Allows bad behaviour from the other person. Does not cross your personal boundaries, but acknowledges the child’s need. For example: My child needs to fidget while being read to – she may not throw spit-balls at me, but she can do origami or the like.
Praise Disconnected and automatic. Stops and pays attention to the efforts of the child, then finds a genuine point of praise. Be effusive if that’s what you mean, but don’t eulogise if you don’t mean it. Children have very sharp ‘BS meters’.
Acceptance Is resigned to how the child is, but does not embrace them fully. May poke fun at issues to ‘jolly’ the child out of them. Allows how the child is to be ‘normal’ and approved, giving space and time for change. It doesn’t ignore problems, but provides for individuality as they are addressed. For example: A professional advised a friend about her daughter’s extreme shyness, that it should be like the most normal thing in the world. When visitors arrived, the mother would introduce the rest of the family, then lift the tablecloth where her painfully shy little girl hid beneath the table and introduce her in a normal tone of voice. The visit would continue, leaving the little girl to emerge if and when she was ready. With time, the girl gained confidence, and is now a very socially competent young woman.
Approval Has an ulterior motive or admires without having paid true attention. Assesses the child’s character or behaviour without a personal agenda. For example: A teenage girl can walk out of the house made up in a way that is inappropriate for her age. The parent may silently permit the gesture, afraid of an argument; say, “You look fabulous,” without having even looked; or discuss the situation, taking into account the teen’s motivations, etc., thus providing genuine approval in the situation.
Recognition Has not been earned, or reward is disproportionately large. Rewards appropriately and for due cause. For example: opening a maths book doesn’t earn the stamp of approval for completing a page of work, or deserve the reward of a trip to the ice cream parlour. A child who is appropriately recognised and rewarded feels genuinely valued and satisfied.
Sharing Forces the behaviour without concern for understanding. Is exemplified by the parents and understood by the child.
Honesty Contrived, can be excessively apologetic. Used for selfish purposes. Considerate, can be painfully truthful. Used for another’s good, or for the general good.
Fairness Based on assumption or prejudice of some sort. Free from bias or injustice; well informed. For example: deals with what has actually happened, rather than one child’s propensity over another’s.
Kindness and consideration Used to manipulate circumstances. Has the best interests of the other person at heart.
Security Based on external possessions or false beliefs about people or relationships. Encourages trust in what is true or reliable.
Friendliness Used to impress others or get something from them. Considers the other person more important than yourself. Can be quite self-sacrificing.

Nobody likes it when someone pretends something they don’t feel. Children, especially, are quick to feel patronised and distrusting of future expressions if they cannot identify the authenticity in what they are told, or in the atmosphere surrounding them..

My father was fond of quoting Shakespeare:

This above all: to thine own selve be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

~ Hamlet, Act 1, scene 3 78-82.

Authenticity is an important factor in a harmonious home education environment. If you’re being authentic with yourself, you’ll be more conscious of affording others, including your children, the same courtesy.


Ingredients, measurement, technique and atmosphere – and that equals a harmonious home education environment? Well, potentially, but no more than flour, eggs, milk and sugar, measuring cups and spoons, bowls and pans, a wooden spoon and a hot oven equal a delicious cake. It all depends on what you do with it.

In short, be in agreement with each other, don’t be afraid to answer issues, be authentic, and get creative in how you put it all together. It’ll probably turn out Fabulous, Dahling!

In the anxiety to get beautiful colour harmony,
do not exhaust all combinations on one canvas.

~ John F. Carlson