Continuing from last week:
Freedom where freedom is due
What kids need is for their adults to practice Mason’s “masterly inactivity” at the right times. “Wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education,” Mason wrote. A “wise passiveness,” as William Wordsworth defined it. Plenty of free play and outdoor time provides healthy development and waylays anxiety, not to mention how all that outdoor activity will whet appetites for whatever is put on the table.
Parents’ active role is building a safe, nurturing pasture for their lambs where their needs are met, using the same guidelines Mason gave for education: good habits, good conversation and good food. Only within those limits we can safely give kids freedom and end the power struggle and manipulation. Kids “need open-ended play to help reduce anxiety but not open-ended food choices,” as Dorfman explains. A child’s hunger offers daily golden opportunities to inspire his affections for the right foods and to make eating a time for rich personal interaction and enjoyment as a family.
Mason in the Middle
As is frequent in society, we swing from one extreme to the other. We have the bulk of schools skimping on recess and PE for more “academics” and standardized test prep. Then on the other end of the spectrum, we have the Forest Schools: day-long, year-round outdoor play. Though certainly less appealing to children, the extreme academic approach is far more comfortable for most American parents than full-time outdoor play.
As usual, Charlotte Mason education offers the solution, a healthy medium between the extremes of our day. My daughter, now 22, attended Charlotte Mason schools K-8th, where she benefitted from this balance. Along with half-days of school in the early grades, she had at least an hour of outdoor free play, mostly playing soccer, every day. Regular nature studies stacked on more outdoor time. When she moved for high school to a larger private school, she had to adjust to sitting in classes all day without a breath of fresh air. She saw playing sports for two hours every day after school all through high school as a much-needed stress reliever.
Mason’s original schools, however, were even more radically contrasted to our academic-heavy culture, and may offer a challenge even to many who espouse her philosophy. Mason’s actual practices in her own schools took outdoor play well beyond my daughter’s K-8th experience. The practice in PNEU schools was far closer to the Forest Schools, while balancing outdoor activity with indoor learning and good books.
“Ideas are the only fit sustenance for the mind,” Mason wrote, but she believed that children should have twice as much time to play as to work. Mason pretty clearly said: no homework. Students in her schools were outside four to six hours a day, a mix of free play, guided learning activities, and strenuous organized sports. Mason recommended that most of these activities have adults close at hand, because there is “a great deal to be done and great deal to be prevented” outdoors.
“I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children,” Mason declares in Home Education. Scientific studies are supporting a more definite movement toward Mason’s own practices. As teachers and parents, we face daily choices as we struggle to keep our children out of the cages our culture relentlessly nudges them into. A video or the playground? Or how about a book or the playground? Can we prioritize several hours of daily outdoor play in our children’s lives? Do we have the courage to do it, to follow Mason’s radically balanced approach, at least little further than may feel comfortable, for our children’s sake and even for our own sakes? The educational extremes in each direction don’t lack that courage of their convictions.
1 Jennifer Roback Morse, in “Why the Son of God movie does not deserve our support,” The Christian Post.
2 James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., John C. Norcross, Ph.D., and Carlo C. Diclemente, Ph.D., in Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward.
Anna Migeon is the mom of two young adults who have always eaten anything put on the table, from cow tongue and to turnips. The one time they resisted, within 10 seconds they were begging for a taste. Her children were born in France, where Anna was inspired by the strong food traditions, delicious dishes and healthy attitudes toward eating. Her children attended Charlotte Mason schools, where Anna learned more about raising kids who love what’s good for them. Anna has conducted workshops, coached parents and written about how to get picky kids to eat better according Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. She will be presenting a workshop at the Charlotte Mason Institute Conference this June. Her blog is Sacred Appetite: Restoring Healthy and Harmonious Family Meals. Anna lives in San Antonio.