In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October.
(Home Education, pp. 43-44)
Everyone” who has studied Charlotte Mason even casually surely knows that she insisted that children be outside for six hours every day, rain or shine, without fail. As is often the case with what “everyone” knows, “everyone” is wrong. Certainly outdoor time plays a critical role in the life of all people and especially children. We are growing to understand more about the importance of time spent outdoors. In the outdoors, children have more freedom to exercise appropriate physical and mental muscles, they develop a love for the world around them, they practice skills needed in other areas of life. Even as adults, time spent outdoors refreshes and soothes us.
Charlotte Mason did not have 21st century research to tell her she should emphasize outdoor time, but she had the benefit of wisdom and experience which showed her its importance. She recognized the difficulties involved in getting outside with children: “educational and social” pressure, mother’s responsibilities to the household, travel to a suitable locale. But still she urged mothers to do their best to get the children outside as often and for as long as possible,
… not for the gain in bodily health alone — body and soul, heart and mind, are nourished with food convenient for them when the children are let alone, let to live without friction and without stimulus amongst happy influences which incline them to be good.Home Education, p. 43
Her encouragement to mothers to do their best did not go so far as to insist on taking the children out in all weathers. A little rain, in the British climate, certainly did not suffice to stop an outing, but she did qualify her instructions by noting, “on every tolerably fine day, from April till October.” Notice that this omitted the winter months altogether, as well as parts of spring and fall. And British summers being fairly mild by the standards of some other parts of the world, Charlotte Mason seems to have been aiming for temperate weather in which to make these extended outings.
Many of us now live in such climate-controlled environs that venturing outdoors in even fairly mild weather seems uncomfortable. We’re bombarded with safety warnings about the dangers of weather that is too hot or too cold, too windy, too wet, or too dry. A little research will show us, though, that many people all over the world manage to function well in weather conditions that seem “extreme.” Charlotte Mason did not insist that we spend long hours outdoors in such conditions, but if we live in places where weather conditions are not ideal, we should adapt to those conditions as much as we safely can.
Cold weather is not my area of expertise, but I remember as a child going outdoors to play in winter in the American midwest. Cold temperatures that in Texas where I live now would cause a general work shut-down were fine for walking to school and playing outside at recess where I lived then. We acclimated to the cold over the long winter months, and we dressed appropriately. With proper precautions, including watching for danger signs, we were able to enjoy the outdoors even in the midst of significant cold.
Hot weather I know about. A few years back, during a long drought, we had weeks of temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. During that torrid summer my family still went to the park once a week and spent four to six hours outside. How did we survive without heat exhaustion? Dressing for hot weather doesn’t help in quite the same way that dressing for cold weather does! Every summer we make a few adjustments. Most importantly, we allow our home to be very warm. We usually keep the thermostat above 80 degrees starting in the spring. This allows our bodies to stay adjusted to the warm temperatures so going into the heat doesn’t shock them.
When we go outside, we try to go out in the morning, when it is not so hot, and stay out so that we can gradually adjust to the rising temps. We stay in shade, preferably natural shade from plants, and we try to stay on grass surfaces. Natural shade and natural surfaces feel cooler than artificial shade or concrete. When the heat is extreme, we take advantage of access to water for playing, but even then we also pay attention to the need for shade. We avoid splashpads that have an artificial surface and no shade or just awnings, and try to find an area with water and trees around. It goes without saying that we bring lots and lots of drinking water with us when we go outside in the heat, and we make sure we drink it.
No one will tell you that you must take your family outdoors in all weather. Charlotte Mason did not insist on that at all. She merely cataloged many benefits of time outdoors and ways in which it might be spent profitably, and she encouraged us to find creative ways to get our children into the outdoors. She left it to us to determine what, exactly, constitutes a “tolerably fine day” in our area and for our family.
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