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    Masterly Inactivity: The Experiment

    June 3, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    On Monday, I decided to do a little experiment. My husband and I were taking the children to the park. He and Son E. had plans to fly E.’s new remote-controlled plane, so I knew I’d be the one watching the other three play on the playground. I determined that I was not going to intervene. Before they started playing, I reminded them of some basic playground manners, as my girls can be snobbish if I don’t threaten coach them, etc. But other than that, I decided I was only going to get involved if it was life or death.

    This means, naturally, that I did have to scold the toddler with a death wish once or twice. (One cannot learn one’s lesson if one dies in the process of making one’s mistakes.)


    I’ve worked on masterly inactivity for a while now, and I think I’ve gotten much better about it. Nevertheless, I was surprised at how many times I had to stop myself from interrupting their play. Going to the park with a friend makes it much easier for me to ignore my children, that is for sure!

    I could give a number of illustrations from what I learned by doing this, but I’ll try and restrict myself to one. Q.-Age-Four was trying to get onto a swing. It was a bit too high for her. Normally, I would have seen her struggle and come to rescue her. This time, though, I sat back and watched.

    The first time, I saw her cautiously lift herself up into the swing until she was sitting in it upon her knees. Slowly, she stood up. All went well until she tried to lower herself down into the seat to sit in it properly. Instead of hitting the seat, her feet hit the sand!

    She didn’t turn to me or ask me for help, though. Instead, she tried a similar version of her first attempt, which went even more poorly, and she ended up actually falling in the sand. It looked painful to me, but she never complained.

    She tried a third time. This time, she did the same. She seemed pretty convinced that the problem was her balance and not her methods. And she succeeded! My mother heart was cheering for her, but I kept quiet.

    It’s such a little thing, I know, but I did stop and wonder how many little things I might keep my children from learning or discovering or even just imagining by being too helpful.

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  • Reply 31 Days of Charlotte Mason: Masterly Inactivity | Afterthoughts August 28, 2019 at 10:49 am

    […] Masterly Inactivity: The Experiment (3 June […]

  • Reply Mystie June 8, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    We were at the park again today, and my 15-month-old again climbed up to the 6 1/2 foot-high slide and went down all by himself without anyone even nearby, and a concerned school child shepherded him over to us asking, “Did anyone lose a baby?”

  • Reply Silvia June 8, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    In the context of play time, because it achieves masterly inactivity, or it can!

  • Reply Silvia June 8, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    I’m a bit like that too, and I’m very inclined to do a bit of what others do. I can lead also, but I pick up clues, and if most of the moms are too much on top of the kids, I feel bad if I’m not. If I see some relaxed (or lazy ha ha ha) I change colors like a chameleon.

    Heather, I believe laziness for the moms is as good and productive as boredom for children!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 7, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Heather, Maybe you are like me, and vary depending on environment. I know I am much more tempted to be overbearing at the park than at home. Part of that is because I am on my guard–there are strangers, or streets for my toddler to dodge into, or whatever.

    Kristen, I think your oldest is the exact same age E. was when I first heard of this concept!

  • Reply Kristen @ Dem Golden Apples June 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I have so much to learn from you. I’m gonna go dig into this now. Thanks!

  • Reply Heather June 6, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Interesting conversation, girls. I don’t know where I lean, I’ll have to think about it and see how I tend to be. I’m probably more hands-off due to laziness. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts June 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    We went to the park again yesterday, but this time we were together and my sister-in-law was there as well. It seems that having company myself keeps me from being overbearing {which is funny because I am not typically overbearing…it is something about the park with not much to do!}. Anyhow…my children stood back and were intimidated because there were so. many. parents. on the playground–on the toys, playing with their kids, “teaching” their kids to play at the park. It was really an interesting case study on the opposite situation. Ahem.

    AMANDA: Thank you for finding us! I just added my name to his account because he said I am embarrassing him by signing him up for female friends. 🙂 I dont’ know much about FB, but I just sent a request to join your group. Or I think I did!

  • Reply Pam... June 5, 2011 at 12:35 am

    It’s good to give ourselves and others (even the ones that forget they brought kids…unless they brought 13 kids! lol!….much grace. It’s good medicine.

  • Reply Silvia June 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Pam, ha ha ha, I confess I’m sometimes in the second category. It’s because I talk a lot, but I truly remember I brought them, ha ha ha.
    And yes, it’s silly to see them intrude that much. I wonder if they did need some of that childhood, seriously, I do that in other things, as when I find myself finishing a puzzle they are doing, or being me the one who erases something, instead of them… but I’m more and more conscious of this intruding and controlling wrong approach.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m being patient or trying, with these moms because I’m not all that wise and great in many areas. But it’s so much joy and fun to see them thriving and having fun between bumps at the park.

  • Reply Pam... June 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    ‘Wise passiveness’: the power to act, the desire to act, and the insight and self-restraint which forbid action..[yet not without] a sense of authority.”

    “‘We could an’ if we would’ and the children know it––They are free under authority, which is liberty; to be free without authority is license.”

    We see moms on all ends of this. Some, unable to have a conversation with another adult. Others have endless conversations; for they walk into a place and ‘forget’ that they brought their children.

    Yet “This [concept] is quite a different thing from overmuch complacency, and a general giving-in to all the children’s whims.” (notes from Vol. 3)

    Masterly inactivity builds character and an inner strength in the parents and children, both.
    Good words ladies.

  • Reply Amanda June 4, 2011 at 12:38 am

    Hi Brandy! I looked for you on Facebook, and found your husband instead. 🙂 If you’re on there, I’d love to invite you to a group I started called (our city) Homeschooling Network. Look it up if you like! I’m planning to man an organization booth at the conference.

    And I have to say, I LOVED the idea of masterly inactivity when I first read about it. I think I’m a natural at ignoring my kids while I talk to friends… doh! 😉

  • Reply Kelly June 4, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Well done, Brandy. 🙂

    I always figured I shouldn’t help them climb up anything they couldn’t manage on their own because then I’d be stuck standing there making sure they didn’t get hurt by falling, since they were obviously not big or skilled enough to do what they were doing. So it started off being a kind of laziness, like Mystie said, but then I realized it was better for them that way after all.

    I never had a good park friend — all the other moms spent their time playing on the equipment with their kids.

  • Reply Mystie June 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Other playground moms have reproachfully helped my children at the park more than I have, I think. 🙂 My little tiny tot was merrily climbing up the equipment to the 6 1/2 foot high slide over and over and only fell off once (at about 3 feet or so). An unknown mom brought him to me, because I had my back turned getting lunch out. He wasn’t hurt and didn’t even cry, so he would have been just fine starting again. 🙂

    *Sometimes* laziness and selfishness with time and effort *does* pay off. 🙂

  • Reply Silvia June 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Good for you!
    I don’t do very bad on this. But I only have two daughters and they are passed those years. However it is not hard for me to see them try things that are unnerving for other moms who come to their rescue.
    Today they had almost four hours of play, yes, with other ladies, and I could visit ALL THE TIME. I always look at them in the distance, and only went with them to the bathroom that is kind of isolated. I saw them go up the ropes, swings, by the sides of the park with friends, and my youngest who is always without shoes in the park (and never has had any problem with anything cutting her feet at all), came COVERED from dirt, ha ha ha. Literally, from face and head to toes. It was the poster child of a happy childhood!
    If they are on a bike or skates, they have always had to be on those by themselves, and amazingly, they have learned those fast. I almost never pushed them in the swings either, the less you do for them, the faster they figure it out.

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