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    Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method 2

    January 25, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Today we read about Method #2: Never leave children to themselves. It is here that Esolen discusses the modern tendency to micromanage our children. Children’s lives, culturally speaking, consist mainly of organized activities and car rides. We organize them young and early, herding them to preschool and gymnastics and the like. They get older, and we send them to school, where their days are strictly managed, and then we offer them a buffet of organized “after-school activities” to keep them busy.

    Stereotypically speaking, this is what goes on with children.

    It’s funny, because I know this is true, but our close personal friends, though their kids might take a ballet class or we might take some swimming lessons (so I don’t have to hold four kids in the pool at once in the summer, ya’ll!), allow their children plenty of free time to wander around, and I’m thinking this might be the case with you, too.

    My problem is that, in talking with non-homeschoolers (or even worse: school teachers), I find that communication can quickly break down sometimes. Unorganized activities don’t seem to count. Inventing games doesn’t count. There have been a few times where someone clucked their tongue at friends of mine, and questioned whether they ought to have more children, because they “couldn’t afford” to put their children in organized activities.

    It never dawned on this person that this family had no interest in organized activities, and couldn’t have cared less about affording them or not.

    Wendell Berry, in his essay The Work of Local Culture (available in the compilation What Are People For?) talks about people just like this, and explains:

    To have everything but money is to have much.

    Because this “much” cannot be weighed and measured, nor bought and sold, I find it makes some people very uncomfortable. Yes, this family had wonderfully happy children and a vibrant family culture, but couldn’t the children please get a trophy or win a prize or something? That was the general sentiment of this person.

    The same type of people insist that children cannot be “socialized” outside of organized activities — especially the organized classroom. But Esolen tells us that we have so organized children that

    [c]hildren no longer play because we have taken from them the opportunity and, I’ll insist, even the capacity to play.

    I really have met children who cannot seem to think of something to do, and their mommies seem a little like slaves.

    With that said, Esolen claims that he hasn’t seen children playing pick-up baseball for a decade, and I found myself wondering if all really is lost in New England. I don’t know that baseball is the thing around here, but there are plenty of pickup basketball games, skateboarding groups, and so on, for those who are interested. Granted, all the children are not outside, the way I remember it being when I was a child, but there are still some here on my edge of the country.

    I found myself wondering what Esolen would think of Charlotte Mason. His claims that children need to be by themselves to be themselves reminded me of Charlotte’s concept of masterly inactivity. This is where the parent — or even the teacher — wisely lets the child alone to learn something for himself.

    Of course, he also picks on the Forty-Five Minute Lesson Rule, where everything in a classroom apparently is allotted 45 minutes. Charlotte Mason believed in short lessons. She did not think that it was wrong to have a child read a book slowly, devouring only one chapter in a day. Of course, outside of the classroom there was plenty of time for free reading at whatever speed the child chose. Though I wondered if Esolen would frown upon Ambleside’s careful monitoring of the reading pace of the assigned texts, I have seen great fruit born of forcing a child to slow down and absorb the ideas in the book. My initial response is that there is room for both, while still allowing a child to pursue ideas, and never diminishing the importance of ideas. Narration and discussion are probably the perfect remedies to the Forty-Five Minute Problem.

    Two or three times a month, my son and his best friend play this game they call Dark. It started with just the two of them, but recently they began organizing their younger sisters into teams. I’m not sure exactly what the game is all about, but I know that it can only be played outside at night, and it is so much fun that winter has little impact on its appeal (granted we do not have freezing temperatures for the most part), and sometimes they almost break the play nook window.

    I always thought this an amusing waste of time, but seeing as Esolen thinks children no longer invent games, I find myself rejoicing over this simple pleasure of theirs.

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    11 Comments

  • Reply Cindy January 30, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    Here I am finally reading through all the posts and enjoying it very much. About the 45 minute lesson, I think of it in terms of a math problem my son did in college. One problem took him 2 hours and I think he learned more that day than years of math lessons. I long for the time to let a child struggle through something. I think Charlotte was fighting for that time too just in a different manner. Short lessons leave time for longer grappling.

  • Reply Go quickly and tell January 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Here’s my rather long-winded explanation to your query ~

    http://hiddenart.xanga.com/740069601/fine-art-fridayyours-truly/?nextdate=last&leftcmt=1

    Hope it makes sense 😉

    Dana in GA

  • Reply Kristen January 26, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    When I was growing up we made up so many games! My siblings and cousins and I would play for hours when we had family get-togethers on birthdays and holidays. Often we didn’t remember which games we made up and which games we didn’t.

    In fact, when I became a camp counselor many years later I tried to teach the children some games. They didn’t know any of them, and I realized that we had made them up years ago. They were good games, too.

    I hope our kids have memories like these. I love it!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Mystie, I love your idea about creating a space for dance! Funny, because I was recently telling my husband that one of my favorite memories from my teen years is square dancing with our youth group from church every year around Valentine’s Day. They don’t do that anymore, but I remember we talked about trying to organize something like that for the church someday in the future.

    I have a friend who grew up in a family that gathered with three or four other families at a nearby park almost every Friday night. They bar-be-qued and the adults talked while the children wandered the park and played games or whatever they wanted to do. It was so simple, but she appreciated it growing up.

    I love your boys’ game! So cute…

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 26, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Kelly, I remember when I was pregnant with my third child, the ladies at the OB’s office would rave about how “lucky” I was to stay home with my children. Little did they know my husband had just lost his job and their household incomes were probably twice ours consistently, even when he was employed! I never had the courage to say, I’m blessed to have a good husband, yes, but “luck” has very little to do with the life we live.

    I had sort of forgotten about Gatto’s take on the School Bell Effect, so thank you for reminding me! I agree with you on that.

    Amy, If you read all of the club entries, it will be almost as good as getting to read the book yourself. 🙂

    Dana, I can be patient, but I am still looking forward to your answer. 🙂

    I think that “destroying” imaginations is probably hyperbole. However, I recently had a conversation that made me think that the minds and hearts of our children are definitely being stunted. My son has this friend that he sees only occasionally, and the in the past the encounters have always resulted in him begging us afterwards for electronic devices like computer games, video games, iPods, and cell phones. His friend was obsessed with them and is raised in the Usual Way with lots of fast food and organized activities and time at home filled with media and homework, etc. Our response to our son has always been that we do not want those things in our home because we are intersted in something different for our family at this time, but when he is older, if he disagrees with us, he will be able to make his own choices; for now he needs to just rest in our decision. Well, this past time he actually came to me and said, “Mom, I am so glad you never bought me video games or that other stuff. He [the friend] isn’t interested in anything anymore. You were right!”

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 26, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Jen, I like to think I learned my lesson from hard times (so, Lord, just please don’t send more! Right?). But there was a time when I really bought into the children need to do everything/join everything and generally be organized by well-meaning, loving adults, and when we just didn’t have the money for that, I felt incredibly guilty. I made my peace with it long ago, but Esolen still comforts me. I often think that starting out poor was the biggest favor God did our family. 🙂

    And I just love the stories you tell about your children. They are precious!

  • Reply Mystie January 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    We’ve been a part of a group of all-ages who get together on Saturdays to play ultimate frisbee. For us that was back when we had one child who watched from his stroller, but I know a bunch of them are even still getting together a couple times a year. And church picnics and camps are generally a time for softball, volleyball, or ultimate frisbee.

    My husband and I are talking about creating some sort of area on our acre for dances. We learned swing dancing in high school (which somehow didn’t count as “dating”), and now only get to during wedding receptions maybe once a year. But that would be such a perfect hospitality & community-building thing to do! And I want my boys to be able to dance. 🙂

    My boys and a couple of their friends have a word game they created. It goes like this: “Guess my word that starts with M.” “Monopod!” “Nope.” “Moon!” “Nope. You’ll never guess it.” “Then I give up!” “[random word that begins with M]”

  • Reply Go quickly and tell January 26, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    While I believe all parents homeschool (in varying degrees), I havent totally bought into Esolen’s premise –

    that imaginations are being destroyed

    and this is how….

    That stated, I love the book and the way it encourages parents to examine their visions.

    It reminds us that all factors stimulate those *filaments*

    Blessings,
    Dana in GA

    PS Havent forgotten that I promised to answer one of your earlier questions in a post. It’s gestating 😉

  • Reply amy January 25, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Brandy,
    Thank you for your posts on this book. I am so interested in reading it, but don’t have the money to buy it right now, so I am reading it vicariously through you. Love your thoughts on it. Thanks so much!

  • Reply Kelly January 25, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Back when I had five children, a coworker of my husband’s, a woman with two children (who, along with her husband, made twice as much as my husband did — this was in the military where everyone knows everyone else’s business) said to me that she would like to be able to stay at home but she didn’t like being poor. Talk about different priorities.

    About the 45-minute lesson, Esolen may be thinking of it the way John Taylor Gatto writes about it — the lesson ends at a preprogrammed time no matter what. If the discussion is just getting really interesting and the bell rings, too bad. If you’re just about to understand a difficult math concept and the bell rings, too bad. On the other hand, if the subject is something that could have been dealt with in twenty minutes, too bad — you have to wait for the bell. Gatto says it teaches students not to care about what they’re learning.

  • Reply Jennifer January 25, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks for this post, Brandy. This seems like it is a very fun book to read. I know you ascribe to all of its principles without even knowing the entirety of the book…I like to think of you when it is time to “just be” at our house. It goes against everything culture tells me…that I need to keep my children busy and occupied at all times. Monday mornings, when I clean house and make my kids play by themselves for a few hours, are one of the most interesting and endearing times of our week. I love to observe them using their imagination, and I wouldn’t feel confident in times like these if it weren’t for your wisdom and example, so thanks!

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