Smart About Your Wool

Smart About Your Wool

My family and I are Charlotte Mason newbies, as in, I just finished my first month of implementing her philosophy. We are new, but we are in love with every aspect of her method. We have seen first-hand how embracing her approach creates peace and cultivates learning in the home. Charlotte Mason is the first educator I have found who consistently brings attention to the whole child. Mason encourages mothers to look at children as persons and to provide the best atmosphere for a child to learn, whether it be living books, food, or even clothing.

I first found Charlotte Mason after a long night of Facebook searching which leapfrogged me into the blogosphere where the information became overwhelming. While I appreciated all the different perspectives and options from a variety of families’ experiences, it soon became too much, and I wasn’t sure where to start to understand the philosophy. Someone suggested I join a local group to go through her writings with discussion, and this landed me holding the light pink Home Education. I was determined to figure out this book and dedicated to understand this philosophy because I wanted to know why so many people were passionate about this way of life. Someone suggested just reading ten minutes a day and trying to recall what I read (which I now know as narrating). After the first week, the ten minutes turned into thirty. I became enraptured by her thoughts and her connections to things beyond simply “education.”

Back when I was a special education teacher, I was trained to observe students in typical classrooms and to figure out what was prohibiting their learning. For example, I often saw the student with Attention Deficient Disorder sitting in the back of the classroom, the student with emotional disabilities unable to use a calming ball, the student with a learning disability not getting pre-printed notes, and the student with autism focused on a tag on his clothing. After a few adjustments, such as moving seats, providing a calming ball, getting notes, or cutting a tag, learning could occur. Simple changes to the environment are what made lasting impacts on learning. I was trained to go in and view every single object, person, and situation surrounding the student to determine how to better accommodate his or her learning. I was looking at education not only with regard to curriculum, but also with regard to the environment, just as Mason describes in Part I of Home Education.

Reading Home Education intrigued me initially because Mason did not dive first into curriculum or benchmarks of knowledge. Instead, she started by introducing “a thinking love,” explaining how adults are essentially not recognizing children for their abilities, and showing how adults are offending children due to poor habits. In Part I of Home Education, she continued by encouraging exercise, daily baths, ventilation, meals, and proper attire. When I finished this section of the book, I began to realize that Mason understood quite well how to educate because of her focus and attention on the environment first rather than simply the “curriculum.” And it is because of this: a child’s environment must create the best possible conditions for learning. Just as my student with ADD could not sit in the back of the classroom because he was distracted, my children too needed the optimal learning conditions to be in the moment, taking everything in. And one of the most overlooked or perhaps unrecognized aspects of environment is clothing.

Clothing to me is as critical to shaping the environment for our children as having glasses is for the nearsighted boy. Charlotte Mason begins sharing her thoughts on clothing in volume 1, Home Education, Part I, when she states, “But possibly it is not so well understood that children should be clothed in porous garments which admit of the instant passing off of the exhalations of the skin.” This painted a picture for me because I had never thought of clothing as a passage for allowing the skin to breath. As I read this, I became curious to know what she recommended for “porous garments.” In this section of her work she mentions wool a total of 14 times as the best material for children in all types of weather.

Woollens have other advantages over cotton and linen materials besides that of being porous. Wool is a bad conductor, and therefore does not allow of the too free escape of the animal heat; and it is absorbent, and therefore relieves the skin of the clammy sensations which follow sensible perspiration. We should be the better for it if we could make up our minds to sleep in wool, discarding linen or cotton in favour of sheets made of some lightly woven woollen material.” (Home Education, pp. 36-37)

After I read this portion about wool, I knew it was true. I didn’t need to research her recommendation because my family was already in love with wool products. My husband and I first stumbled upon SmartWool socks at our local REI store in Scottsdale, Arizona. We were skeptical of wearing wool socks in Arizona in the summer. But the employee promised it would be the best way to wick away the sweat, so we bought them and give them a try because we knew REI had a great return policy. A week later we returned to the store to purchase SmartWool T-shirts for my husband. The socks not only worked, but they also exceeded our expectations, and we began to research what other things we could obtain in wool. Seven years later, my husband still has those same SmartWool shirts that we purchased in Arizona, and he wears them while running in the summer and while snowboarding in the winter. The fabulous things about wool are its durability and its effectiveness in all climates.

The basic reason wool is the best material for our children in all types of weather is because it is a natural product. Most wool products come from sheep, although camel, rabbit, and goat are also common in certain products. Merino wool in particular is very popular as a base layer of wool clothing, and it is recommended for ultimate absorption. You should know that all those new “wick away” synthetic athletic products really don’t stand a chance to wool. Woolx.com explains the science of how this works:

Merino Wool uses a process called “heat of sorption” to absorb and release moisture. As wool absorbs moisture from the atmosphere a natural chemical process in the wool releases heat, warming the wearer. In cold weather the natural crimp in wool fibers creates tiny pockets of trapped warm air that act as insulators, holding in heat next to the body. This same process has a cooling effect in warm weather, as wool releases moisture it absorbs heat from the wearer and the tiny pockets of air created by the crimp in the fiber trap cool air and insulate the wearer from warmer outside temperatures. As wool pull moisture away from your skin to evaporate you feel cool and dry even in hot weather.

When I researched the benefits of wool, I discovered that there is a consensus around six benefits of wool clothing for all types of conditions:

  1. Breathability
  2. Strong and elastic fibers
  3. Fire resistance
  4. Resistance to dirt and odor
  5. Durability
  6. Versatility

As a loyal customer of wool myself, I have experienced all of these benefits. My husband and I only use SmartWool products because we know they work, and we know the company collects the wool in an ethical manner. SmartWool was started in 1994 by a husband and wife pair of skiers who needed to keep their toes warmer while enjoying their outdoor sport. They went from merino wool socks to other clothing products and produced 95% of their apparel in the US. In 2000 the company had over $18 million in sales. In 2005, SmartWool was purchased and is currently owned by Timberland. Peter and Patty Duke, the founders of SmartWool, now have a new merino wool sock company called Point6 which is founded on the same principles as their original start-up. It is critical to consider where a company goes to get their wool, how they obtain it from the sheep, and where the socks are made. Both SmartWool and Point6 have ethical manufacturing policies. Please be a conscientious consumer when looking for new wool apparel.

Providing comfortable clothing in all conditions is important for creating an optimal learning environment, whether inside or out. If you don’t believe me or Miss Mason, please try a pair of quality wool socks and see for yourself. Charlotte Mason looked to science for insight into how to educate children. She applied science to the method of forming habits and to the method of caring for our bodies. Her recommendation to use wool directly flows from her philosophy of education: it is embedded in scientific discovery, verified by experiment, and it is true. When you prepare for your next adventure, whether indoors or out, please be sure to invest in quality wool products for you and your children. It’s an investment that will bless you from the outside in.

Stacie Johnson lives in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan with her husband Tim and three young boys. Stacie has a bachelor’s degree in communication and a master’s degree in education. She currently teaches English to children in China and homeschools her older boys. In between refilling her coffee cup multiple times a day, she enjoys hiking with her family, listening to podcasts, reading, and writing.

©2017 Stacie Johnson

4 Replies to “Smart About Your Wool”

  1. This is so interesting to me. I am drawn to the idea of wearing natural fibres, but that is complicated by clear allergies to wool. Are there options that provide the same benefits as you describe here, but without causing reactions?

    1. Jennifer, thank you for the interest in the article. I know allergies all too well. My son is highly allergic to dogs and it has changed our way of living quite a bit. I am unaware of any other natural material with all the same benefits as wool; however, I also know that wool can come from a variety of animals. Excuse me for not being aware of the scope of a wool allergy, but could you try different types of animal wools ? Another idea may be going to your local REI and asking them for options. I have found the staff there very encouraging and informative. So perhaps visiting a local store or speaking to a representative online and letting them know about the benefits you would like and the materials you need to stay away from. I do hope you can find something that benefits your family to allow them to enjoy all types of weather. Thanks again!

  2. Terrific article about paying attention (and wool). We know in theory to look closely at things, as Miss Mason taught so often, but Stacie reminded us that it is often the little adjustments based on principles of child health or learning that make a big difference.

    1. Shelia, thank you so much for your kind words. As mothers it is so important to always be on the look out for those little adjustments we often just need to be reminded of them. I am so glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks again!

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