Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summertime: Pace or Space?

Though summer weather has been upon us for awhile, the official calendar summer begins tomorrow. I pause today on summer’s eve to reflect about summer.

Growing up in a place where winter meant harsh weather, the prospect of the coming summer was a glorious promise - sunshine, warmth, beaches, freedom from school, leisure. Do you remember the bliss of “school’s out!” and going to bed each night knowing that a delicious day of pursuing any number of possible pleasures on your own lay before you without the demanding constraints of schedule and school year activities? Perhaps you might gather friends in the neighborhood and build a fort, play baseball, invent adventures; or, perhaps you might run through the sprinkler, go on a bike ride, or just laze a whole afternoon away in the hammock with an exciting new book. Oh yes, I must get to the library tomorrow and dig around for a whole new supply of books. The prospects were endless. Just the idea that you didn’t know what you would do tomorrow was a refreshing and restful pleasure.

As the traditional school year draws to a close, activity usually intensifies. The past few weeks this year for us have meant several trips out of town to homeschool conventions and conferences along with graduations, recitals, weddings, end-of-year picnics and ceremonies, anniversary and birthday celebbrations. The families coming into our library are on tight schedules too and ready for the relief of vacation. They check in their books and leave with vague comments about being back to check out new books some time. Usually this  means I will see them when school begins again. Our shelves groan under the weight and we despair of places to put the books.

Can you relate to the idea that summer will be half over before you can catch your breath and decide how to enjoy it? More often than not, school schedule is replaced by other busy activities: errands preparing for “vacation;” Shakespeare or art or church camp; vacation Bible school; golf lessons, swimming lessons,  horseback riding lessons, tennis lessons. So the summer round begins. Often we come to the end of this frantic pace feeling unprepared for the coming year, feeling robbed of the rest and relaxation we had anticipated. The lazy visits with friends we had promised one another never materialized, the books we meant to read were never opened. The cycle repeats itself. The weary round begins again.

This morning I woke feeling unbearably tired as the pace of the last week has been intense. I couldn’t linger in bed, but had to get the family up and out the door to our summer farm work. I was dragging. Numbly I knelt in the dirt and began pulling weeds. My focus shifted from responsibilities to weeds. They are so persistent. I mused about the weeds I need to pull in my own soul, the cultivation of my growing children…I began to sense the relief of this open field, this wide space, the warmth of the sunshine on my body, and to rejoice at the singing and calls of the birds, the coolness of the fresh breeze kissing my cheek. It hit me all over again: the refreshment of space. Charlotte Mason recalled Psalm 31:8 “Thou hast set my feet in a wide room.” She believed children needed huge, open hours for leisure and freedom from lessons. We could learn from her wisdom.

“Organized games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make. They must be content to know that they do not understand, and, what is more, that they carry with them a chill breath of reality which sweeps away illusions. Think what it must mean to a general in command of his forces to be told by some intruder into the play-world to tie his shoe-strings! There is an idea afloat that children require to be taught to play––to play at being little fishes and lambs and butterflies. No doubt they enjoy these games which are made for them, but there is a serious danger. In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk; he who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself; and so he misses that education which comes to him when allowed to go his own way…” (School education, pg 37)

Or from her like-minded friends, as in this excerpt from a Parents Review article:

Real knowledge is digested knowledge, digested knowledge means leisure. Yes, if in the school-day of every boy and girl, and the reading-day of every student, there were sufficient leisure to digest newly-acquired knowledge, there could be no over-pressure. This mental digestion is not a rapid process; gradually fresh facts sink into the mind, associating themselves to facts already there, pictured in the imagination, weighed and accepted by reason, brooded over and developed; slowly new ideas take root, finding through many channels a resting-place in the intelligence, and mysteriously cherished till the day comes when they shall bear fruit. This operation cannot be hurried; every child, every youth and maiden will digest their knowledge in their own way and at their own pace; all that is wanted is leisure and rest. Knowledge acquired in any other way is absolutely worthless and temporary. (Emily Miall, Volume 3, 1892-93, pgs. 263-264)

When families leave off their books, we wonder, does no one read in the summertime? Emily treasures  memories of climbing to her favorite notch in the huge backyard maple tree to roost with a new book. I remember loving the rainy camping day when you had to stay in the tent and get lost in a new book. The saddest thing for us to hear in the fall when we ask, “So what did you read this summer?” is, “Oh, nothing, we were so busy.”

In recent months I have unintentionally stumbled upon information on several occasions and in several  contexts that is verifying my vague worries about what is happening to our children. I have to concur from my own experience that we have become a non-reading culture. Reading is not valued, not pursued, not made room for. This is not only deplorable, it is dangerous. Non-readers become non-thinkers and are doomed to be enslaved by those who rule over them. Children need to be encouraged in the habit of reading. Parents need to train themselves in this old and wonderfully rejuvenating activity. Two important books I commend to you are The Last Child in the Woods, and, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child.

Can we put time on the summer calendar this year? Can we give children some space to be children? Can we make time to read and travel and play and live in another place for a few hours? Reading is not “doing nothing,” but it requires making time for doing nothing else. Summer is the space in which to open a book.
For the joy of reading,

Liz

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