As the days grow shorter and drearier, a desire for hearth and home can dominate the activities of many families during the month of November. Rushing to work. Rushing to school. Rushing on errands. While these activities are necessary and good, the ultimate goal for many of us seems to be getting tucked in at “hearth and home” at the end of a busy day. The symbolism is not surprising. In a time before central heating and television, families would congregate around the fire, and this led to it becoming symbolically very important. Author Robert St. George illustrated how the house metaphorically represents the body in his 1998 Conversing by Signs by describing the hearth as the heart of a homely abode.
While the North American use of the word “homely” is typically associated with unattractiveness, the real meaning of a “homely” place refers more accurately to simple and comfortable surroundings. A place that is warm, pleasant and cheerful. A place where you feel welcome and included. A place where you are known and loved. If the home is the “first school” in the life of a person, then the best schools should be an extension of such a homely setting.
What are the qualities of places like this? To begin with, homely places are welcoming, familiar, tidy, and comfortable. In homely places, you usually find congenial people with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings. In such places, you can rely on the support and hospitality of like-minded people who share similar ways of thinking and with whom you have healthy and meaningful relationships. In such places, you are fed and energized and learn to feel hopeful about yourself and the world. Just like in Rivendell (that imaginary elven world created by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings), “The Last Homely House East of the Sea” is depicted as a place of peace and refuge.
Every single day, our teachers, staff, and students walk into our school consciously or unconsciously wondering, “Do you know me? Do you see me? Will you grow me?” These are very important questions. If the home is the “first school”, it is not surprising that the place where most children spend the majority of their time has come to be known as a “schoolhouse” and it is there that many answers to these questions can be explored.
We hope that your child and family experience Matthews Hall as a second home during these years. We believe the life of our school is best created when our teachers bring their homes to school, each creating a nest that blends peacefully with other nests to nurture and challenge children through hours of learning, care, counsel, and direction.
Each of our classrooms (and offices!) is an extension of someone’s home and reflects the personality, creativity, and passion of the owner. We work hard to keep such spaces as we do our homes in the hopes that our students will feel known, appreciated and understood. They are our workshops – our nests – and we hope they are, indeed, homely.
Ultimately, a school that feels like home is a place where kids feel “like they belong”! At Matthews Hall, we hope this is true for each student as we work to help them find the hearths in our school – for there are many!
Ric Anderson, Head of School