Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Long Days Outdoors

"I make a point, says a judicious mother, of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months. That is well; but it is not enough. 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. Impossible! Says an overwrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children than a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighbouring London squares. Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children; and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them. A journey of twenty minutes by rail or omnibus, and a luncheon basket, will make a day in the country possible to most town dwellers; and if one day, why not many, even every suitable day?" - Home Education pg. 44

I was that judicious mother of which Charlotte Mason writes :) I tried to get the children out for at least an hour everyday and felt like really hot stuff if I got them out for more than that. Every once in a while, we'd go to the local arboretum or walk the trails at a nature reserve, too. What a shock to me when I read this section of Home Education! I had no recollection of The Charlotte Mason Companion mentioning four to six hours outside! Had I written my reaction down it would've read something like the following: "What on earth is this nonsense all about?! Four to six hours indeed. How idle does this woman think I'm willing to be? She wants me to sit outside for five hours on a blanket!? Are there women that do this? Are there women that want to do this?"

I was not impressed.

But, then I kept reading. "It would be well if we all, persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things." I pondered her words as I sat and watched my two year old mesmerized for a full ten minutes by one lady bug. I wasn't concerned about the laundry at that moment. Somehow, all this time outdoors was beginning to seems less ridiculous than it had seemed at the first reading.

So, I read some more. "Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun––the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?" I decided it was time to give Miss Mason a run for her money. I was going to take up the challenge. I would give it a shot, and just see if this four to six hours a day was even possible. I was about seven months pregnant at the time and had three small children under six years old. If I could do this, then I'd admit that Charlotte Mason wasn't being completely insane.

We tried it. First, we went to the arboretum or a local park for two to three hours at a stretch. I would often take a packed lunch along. It was autumn when we first got really serious about this plan, so the weather was often gorgeous. Soon, two hours seemed like hardly any and three and four hours were more the norm. We were regularly spending long hours outside at least four days out of the week. It was getting easier. I found I had more energy and more patience. I found the children spent their time sweetly and that their interest in nature was rapidly growing. I also found that, when we spent long hours outdoors, they napped really well that afternoon once we got home ;)

One day, while reading Home Education, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that Charlotte Mason did not necessarily mean that all four to six hours had to be spent in a row. What a revelation! My husband built a picnic table for my 31st birthday gift, and lunches soon went outdoors. Sometimes breakfast and dinner,too! On busier days, these outdoor meals and a nature walk after lunch would add up to two hours on their own. Couldn't an hour be spent in the yard gardening and later a little game of ball played with Daddy in the backyard? I was beginning to see how this "out of doors life" could actually be lived - and enjoyed.

We were enjoying it! So much so that we kept it up through the arrival of my son and on through the next full year (although, the dead heat of summer was trickier). Even with a newborn, we were frequently going out for what we have come to call "Park Days". I think these days were especially nice with a newborn - what a blessing to just rest and let the children play happily. Sure, sometimes it's not so easy to get out the door, but over a little time, we've worked out a system that makes things a bit easier for us. Even with the school year now in full swing, we've been able to have five hour Park Days twice a week, often taking school books along for my oldest daughter. I think narrations have been best when she's been outside ;)

There have been so many wonderful surprises coming out of "trying" this seemingly impossible way of life. For instance, when we are galavanting out in some prairie or riverside, my house is staying clean! I never would've come up with that idea! :) But, it's true! We do chores in the mornings before we leave, and when we come home for nap - it's still clean! How wonderful. Although, the children aren't ;) We've also figured out to make the most of rainy days to keep up with the house. We usually do a little extra housework and spend a bit longer on lessons on those days. We have all learned so much about nature, too, and have improved in our habits of observation and attention. Not to mention the many restful days we have spent together, enjoying our Father's creation.

All of this has been an unexpected "fringe benefit" of researching the Charlotte Mason method. I didn't know my five year old would learn to identify a sycamore tree just by playing under one. I didn't know my toddler would learn to distinguish between a Monarch and a Painted lady (without a book). I didn't know how much I would treasure moments in the grass with my six year old and my baby both lying in my lap. I didn't know I would be able to slow down this much. I love it.

I laughed out loud when Miss Mason said mothers could work wonders once they were convinced that wonders were demanded of them.

I am so glad I was wrong :)

For more posts on Long Days Outdoors, please click on the "outdoors" tag below :)