“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.”
This is my approach, and my wisdom, for ensuring that I pursue both diligent mornings and also leisurely afternoons. And, it is also the approach, and the wisdom, in which I share with you how to implement the kind of afternoons that Mason said should never be encroached upon by the demands of the classroom. It is true that mornings should not encroach upon afternoons, and afternoons are to be filled with the kinds of things that promote exploration, connections, and digestion of ideas. It is also true that in order for this to be the reality, we must be intentional about both our mornings, and our afternoons.
In order to be intentional about our mornings and our afternoons, we must know how to both schedule and to unschedule our lives in order to the time and margin to have a wide a feast of lessons and a stretch of exploratory hours in the afternoon. We must also know what to fill those hours with, and how to get from where we are to where we desire our days to be. I wholeheartedly believe that these types of days are worth our great efforts and are entirely achievable, if we will simply have the faith in ourselves that we can, indeed, work wonders and if we will faithfully set about the course before us in which to work those wonders.
If leisurely afternoons are what we seek, our morning schedule is where we must start. In order to have mornings that don’t encroach upon the afternoon hours, they must be carefully, prayerfully, and faithfully scheduled. Our mornings must have a framework, in which every lesson has a place and every lesson, in its place, has a time attached to it. One of the most common mistakes that I see in the scheduling of morning lessons is not giving every single lesson a place. If we have a designated amount of hours in which to get done a designated amount of lessons, but we haven’t given each lesson a space within those hours, then we are doing ourselves, and our mornings, a huge disservice. We, far too often, overestimate what can be done and underestimate the amount of time that it takes to do it. The second most common disservice that I see among moms and schedules is giving each lesson a place, but then planning too much material for the lesson itself. If a lesson should be 20 minutes long, then there must be 20 minutes of material in that lesson, including time for narration. Before approaching our afternoons, to craft them into the leisure and exploration that we desire, we must be brave enough to sit down with our morning schedules and to arrange them, realistically and faithfully, into schedules that fill the morning hours appropriately. Then, we must be diligent in keeping this schedule.
“And now we will take a look at the carefully arranged time-tables.
Practically all of the book work is done in the morning,
when the children are fresh and ready to tackle the more arduous part of their work.
The hours are not long…the lessons are carefully arranged for the various days….”
~Miss O’Farrell (Parent’s Review)
With the same courage that we schedule our morning lessons, we must remove from our calendars, and minds, the clutter of constant comings and goings. The seemingly obvious, but often ignored, truth that we must face is that we only have a certain number of hours with which to work. If we crave the afternoons that we know are absolutely best for the children, but we fill our afternoon hours with errands, extracurricular activities, tutors and lessons, and constant comings and goings, then we are not only failing to set about the course that works the wonders of leisurely afternoons, but we are also sabotaging all efforts to obtain these afternoons. We can not multiply time, and we can not make it more than it is. We can simply be good stewards of the time we have been given. This stewarding means that we simply can not do every good thing that is offered us. In this age, we have an endless array of options for classes, clubs, co-ops, activities, sports, and projects. This is a far cry from the days when such things were a rare treasure, and our homeschooling pioneers would be amazed to see what all we have available to us. Those who have gone before us did not have such wonderful opportunities, and they also did not have the indulgent struggles that come along with the offerings. Instead of choosing one things which we believe to be best, we have made a habit, an entire culture rather, of indulging in all of the things. We take every hour that we possibly can, and even hours that we can’t, and we fill them with all manner of good things. These things are, indeed, good. But, just like rich chocolate, they are best when consumed in the proper quantity. We must return to the drawing board, if we truly desire afternoons that are not infringed upon, and decide what to remove from our burgeoning calendars. The straw that broke our schedule’s back has long been ignored, and is our first and primary hindrance to leisurely afternoons.
“Brisk work and ample leisure and freedom should be the rule of the home school.”
~Charlotte Mason (Suggestions)
Once we have carefully scheduled our mornings and bravely unscheduled our afternoons, we will have hours with which to fill with exploration, digestion, and making connections. Mason describes these hours as being used in “occupation” and in “field work”. She makes it clear that the children have hours both with which to freely play, describing this as the “out of door life of children”, and also hours with which to pursue a wide variety of occupations. As wide as the lesson feast, so was this feast of occupations. Mason’s occupations included music practice, drawing, handicrafts, dancing and exercise, listening to reading, reading, and productive hobbies. Mason’s “field work” included nature study, object lessons, collecting flowers, special study readings, games, and some physical geography. I have followed the model laid out by this list of choices and crafted my own list of choices with which children can fill their afternoon hours. I have identified primary activities, in which most of the available time should be spent, and also some secondary activities that allow for exploration but are not the same in quality as the primary activities. (For instance, Minecraft is an imaginative, strategic, exploratory game, but using a device of any kind simply can’t provide the same quality of experience as being outdoors.) Following are the lists of all of these activities:
Dry Erase Activities
Wooden Letters and Numbers
Educational (Living) Videos
These lists can be put to use in the following ways:
1. Outside Play and Handicrafts
These things should be the priorities for afternoons, along with practice of any instruments that the child is currently learning. This will often require instruction in various handicrafts, which depending on the child’s age can be accomplished during morning lessons or during selected afternoon times.
2. Masterly Inactivity
A mother should be pursuing her own outdoor life, handicrafts, and reading during at least some of this time (using the rest for tasks that she must complete), and should not allow herself to hover over her children, directing their every move, and removing all measure of exploration that this time allows for. This means that the children should be in charge of their hours and should learn to use them wisely to accomplish a wide feast of worthy things. Learning to use their hours in this way occurs solely through using their hours. This means that a mother has to be a guiding and steady force, without being a domineering or overbearing one.
“The mother exercises the friendly vigilance of a guardian angel, being watchful, not to catch the child tripping, but to guide him into the acting out of the duty that she has already made lovely in his eyes. For it is only as we DO that we learn to do, and become strong in the doing.” ~Charlotte Mason
3. Use a Timer
Begin to implement leisurely afternoons by setting a timer, providing a list of choices, and by modeling the proper use of these hours. The use of a timer is a temporary scaffold between where we are and where we desire to be, by providing the children a good sense of how much time an afternoon offers, what can be done in that time, and how full their minds and hearts become when they use this time wisely. You can begin with any measure of time that you are requiring the use of a list of occupations, and steadily increase that time, and you will soon not need a timer at all.
4. Know Your Aim and How to Achieve It
The desired aim is to have children who venture outside after the morning’s lessons are through, and then who venture back in a few hours later to practice their instrument, pick up their handicraft, take a good book to the hammock, or make a plan to build something for their next adventure. This aim is achieved by laying the rails of expectation, and then by giving the freedom to meet those expectations. The expectation is that afternoon hours will be used in outdoor play and handicraft work. The rails laid are the list of choices, and the timer. The freedom provided is your masterly inactivity, and refusal to hover and dictate the minutes.
5. Provide an Example
A living example is gifted to the children when you go outside yourself after lessons are through to weed and water your garden or to watch the birds, when you pick up your own book, and when you pursue your own handicraft, entirely separate from theirs. This takes intentional scheduling and faithful follow-through when it comes to your own chores and work, but it is just as worthy an effort and just as possible an achievement as the afternoons desired for your children.
“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children….we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play!” ~Charlotte Mason
I offer the truth, once again, that these ideal days are beautifully simple, but they are not easy. The full life that we crave, and the wide room in which we so greatly desire to set our children’s feet will not simply happen by osmosis, and we can not wish it into existence. We must first choose to no longer sacrifice the time needed to digest ideas, make connections, and explore the world around us in the name of being involved in everything that there is available to us. We must then choose to sacrifice our own tendency to be less than faithful with our schedules. Susan Shaeffer Macaulay says that Mason’s interesting ideas will remain as words on a page unless we are willing to go against the grain of our current daily lives, and to do what we know is right. There are lovely, leisurely afternoons on the other side of our faithfulness, but between here and there is the sacrifice of our comfort zones and our bad habits. No good habit is formed without ridding ourselves of a bad one, and no lovely afternoon is created without first ridding ourselves of calendars breaking under the weight of our over scheduling.
Afternoons are created by diligently scheduling our mornings and courageously unscheduling our afternoons. Within the hours we lay before our children, connections will be made, God’s world will be explored, and the feast of ideas we are so laboriously providing will be digested and put to use within and through the born persons before us.
“Let us really and truly be courageous.
Much of what follows goes against the daily pattern of most lives.
It’s interesting to read about, but it will remain as so many words on a page
if we cannot do what we know is right.
One day we will stand before the Creator.
Were we willing to give, serve, and sacrifice “for the children’s sake.”.
~ Susan Shaeffer Macaulay