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 Gymboree 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.
[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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