In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air. And this, 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.
I am still reading Home Education though I had set it aside for a while. Now that I've picked it up again, I can't think what seemed more interesting. I've just started reading Part II, "Out-of-door Life for the Children" and I feel I'm being scolded a bit. (The kids and I have been staying inside far too much!)
It seems amazing that this book was first published in the 1880s. Today, the pressure to put our children in school begins so early and is so pervasive that it's almost invisible to us. (What daycare doesn't offer educational activities?) Even those of us struggling to provide more playtime, more experiential time, find ourselves planning too much. (Some day I'm going to write a post on all our preschool activities, or lack thereof.)
Ms. Mason encourages taking tea outside, saying "meals taken al fresco are usually joyous, and there is nothing like gladness for converting meat and drink into healthy blood and tissue." Just a few weeks ago, when it was still warm, I discovered the joy of the outdoor snack. The kids were delighted and I had no dishes to clean. It's been a bit chilly lately, but I suspect the kids wouldn't mind continuing snack time outside.
All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children's laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.
I'm reminded of my recent post on our revised (and more relaxed) nature study time.
They must be let alone, left to themselves a great deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this--that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space; wherein to wonder--and grow. At the same time, here is the mother's opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit, without further help or knowledge of hers. Then, there is much to be got by perching in a tree or nestling in heather, but muscular development comes of more active ways, and an hour or two should be spent in vigorous play; and last, and truly least, a lesson or two must be got in.
Ms. Mason encourages mothers to join their children outdoors, to enjoy the time together, resting and letting baby get dirty. (For a woman with no children of her own, she seems to understand Second Daughter very well!) Don't bring a book! (Or, at least, don't bring a book to read to the children.)
For me, the battle isn't so very much between playing outside and providing lessons. I'm relaxed enough about our lessons to recognize the greater value, in may ways, of the fresh air. The real battle is order and cleanliness and productivity. You see, I can start dinner cooking in the slow cooker and prepare the pie crust for our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie while the children play inside (as I did yesterday). Not so much if I'm outside with them. (Being Saturday, Kansas Dad actually took them out while I worked in the kitchen, but that's not our usual day.)
Contrary to Ms. Mason, I think I would be happy enough to send the children out under the care and watchful eyes of their big brother when he's old enough. I wonder when that will be...
Remember, you can read along online here.