Simplifying Summer . . . And Beyond

“Boys In a Pasture,” by Winslow Homer. Can you smell the grass? feel the heat? hear the bees buzzing? Do you remember the glorious freedom of a long summer of such days stretching out as far as the eyes could see? For me, this painting conjures up endless days of wandering around the neighborhood, bike-riding, river-exploring, woods-adventuring. Hours and hours and hours of reading. And precious days spent at grandparents’ homes in the company of treasured cousins, on opposite ends of Virginia. What beautiful boundary lines; what a priceless inheritance

My own children had a different, but I think, equally carefree, happy summer existence. We studied hard all winter, even slogging through snow days (“you’ll thank me in the summer, dear!”), so that we could be free from early May until mid-September. Our kids spent countless unscheduled hours in the yard, at the creek, on the swings. Apart from a short summer swim team season, I did not interfere or plan activities, even when friends came over. We rarely had a summer agenda, besides my occasional attempts to enforce leftover math lessons or some other academic subject that I was sure we were “behind” in. Fortunately, these attempts rarely succeeded, and my childrens’ lives—and educations—were the better for it. When I ask them about their best childhood memories, long summer days outside figure prominently.

In fact, unscheduled playtimes with little to no interference from me were daily fare for us all year round. Among my myriad mom foibles and failures, this is an area I got mostly right. I can’t say that I had a fully developed theory of unscheduled summers and playtimes; instead, it was a happy “accident” of a passel of kids, a shortage of energy, and maybe a slightly selfish desire to get in as much reading of my own as I possibly could.

Some related thoughts I’ve been reading and pondering lately:

Oh, we went to VBS and maybe camp for a week, but the rest of our days were fairly free. We swam and rode bikes. We read and played Nintendo. We climbed trees and caught lizards. And we rested. Those summers of freedom gave our bodies, minds, and hearts a chance to dream, to imagine, and to just be. ~ Story Warren, The Gift of an Unscheduled Summer

Rest, and time to just be. So, so good.

People who can organize themselves and accomplish something as devilishly complicated as a good ballgame are hard to herd around. They can form societies of their own. They become free men and women, not human resources. They can be free. ~ Anthony Esolen, “Never Leave Children to Themselves, Or, If We Only Had a Committee,” Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child 

That was another wonderful bonus of our stay-at-home approach to life when the kids were young. They learned to organize themselves and others without adult intervention. Football games in the front yard were daily fare.

Normal personality quirks combined with the stress of “too much” can propel children into the realm of disorder. A child who is systematic may be pushed into obsessive behaviours. A dreamy child may lose the ability to focus. ~ Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues

Sobering, especially combined with:

With all the pressure to give our children a good education and adequate socialization, it’s good to remember that a mother’s first duty should be to provide a secure, quiet early childhood. For the first six years, children should have low-key schedules so they can just be and grow, and they should spend most of their waking hours outside enjoying the fresh air. This is not just good for their bodies; their heart, soul and mind are nourished with exactly what they need when we leave them alone in a stress-free environment among happy influences that give them no reason to rebel and misbehave. ~ Charlotte Mason, Home Education (from Ambleside Online)

Moms of littles, guard their time! A secure, quiet childhood is a powerful defense for mind, body, and soul. Of course, for moms of many, this becomes a challenge as you must balance the social needs of your older children. For us, this meant outside classes were mostly online classes when we still had little ones at home, and sports were kept to a minimum. But we routinely filled our home with friends and other families so I don’t think my older kids felt too deprived.

Now that we have only two, and soon to be one, left in our homeschool, our schedules look different. Basketball and work schedules dictate much more of our daily life. And it is (mostly) good and right for this stage of our family life. But I do wonder if I would feel differently if that had been our life from the beginning.  As we prepare to launch our fifth young person into adult life, I am grateful for this happily providential rhythm of life gifted to our family by Giver of all good things.

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