Monday, March 2, 2015

Finding Time to Read

Have you ever noticed that life runs at a gallop more than at a stroll? Time truly flies. Our children are growing up too swiftly. Do you ever panic at the things you haven’t managed to accomplish with them yet, or, like me, do you ever feel like that clock is your enemy?

Time. It is marking our days like a tyrannical master. There are so many things to do and places to go. We just can’t squeeze more things into a day or a life, and often find ourselves longing for more space in which to do them, or just to breathe, or find ourselves wistfully (or guiltily) saying, “I wish I could find the time to do nature study, to read that book, to teach my son – you fill in the blank.”

So when a mom recently asked me that familiar question, “How can I get my son to read?” I shrank
inwardly, afraid to offer the unpopular solution. He knows how to read, and enjoys it. Their family values books and offers excellent ones to their children. Her concern was that he never chooses to spend his free time reading and she is anxious because he is not developing the habit of reading independently either for pleasure or personal pursuit. This boy’s problem is not lack of desire, I’m afraid, but lack of time.

And, “There’s the rub,” as Hamlet said, for reading cannot be jammed into activity-packed days,
squeezed into strained schedules. Reading requires room – hours of freedom and quiet.

Charlotte Mason educating parents fervently reject the notion that children are containers to be filled.
We believe that a quest for knowledge is natural to the child, that the use of living literature to foster
imagination, learning, strong character, and wisdom is essential. Yet, along with those short lessons and the grand feast we spread for them, we fill all that space Mason built into the day of a child superintending activities, more experiences, and much, much running.

Let’s be honest, we want our children to play the piano, learn grace through ballet, get exercise through sports, have social opportunities through play groups and co-ops. In an effort to enrich their experience and enhance their skills, we fill up the calendar and the gas tank and haul them to riding lessons and golf lessons, Scouts and Awana, art instruction and creative writing classes, violin rehearsals and choir practices – all for their benefit. Perhaps the result will be teaching them the fine art of juggling a schedule, balancing a hundred spinning balls, and how to be driven adults, but I think we embraced this education for very different reasons than these.

Then we read someone like me exalting the blessings of reading, insisting on the necessity for it, and we want to add that in. But the long hours for traveling to Mushroom Planet or getting to know Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm are never found. The road to deep connections with literature isn’t traveled between soccer and theater, nor by hitting the play button of the CD player on the way. Over-busy children never find the time to love a book, or even to open a book and find out if they might.

This crisis, surprisingly, is not unique to our time. Conscientious parents have always faced this battle
with time and its best use. If you are skeptical, read this advice from a Parents Review article written
over 100 years ago:

“For the right use of the programmes two things are necessary -- solitude and independence. Children must have these. Nursery children come off fairly well in these respects; they get time when they can wander and dream alone in the garden. But this happy state often ends where school-room life begins. Lessons, walk, and lessons again, always in company, and always something that must be done now. Miss Mason devises time-tables which cover such reasonable hours as to leave time over for this solitude, but parents are often very culpable in thinking that Tango or some other new thing must be
learned as well, and the much needed time for solitude is used for plans which necessitate hurried journeys, always in the company of a responsible person, who feels it her duty to talk in an instructive way, and the thinking time, the growing time, the time in which the mind is to find food is diminished, and the child becomes restless, tiresome, irritable, disobedient -- everything that a child who is reputed to be difficult can be. The parents marvel and say, "But we are giving him the best education that can be procured, we are neglecting no opportunities." Kind, generous parents! You are giving your child every opportunity but one, and that is self-development; by your generous care, you are safeguarding him from ever using his own mind, ever relying upon himself in any way. The child who at first found interference irksome, later depends on it so much that he is unable to work without constant prodding from his mentor. I believe that this is the prime reason of the oft repeated lament of teachers and professors, "Little ones so eager, older children are less keen, adults are dull and lethargic."
- "Imagination as a Powerful Factor in a Well-balanced Mind" by E. A. Parish (Vol. 25, No. 5, 1914)
Mason knew it took time to learn. She made lessons short, not so we could pack in more, but so they
would have space to process. We always fear we’re not doing enough for our children, but maybe we’re doing too much. Overcrowded plants do not thrive.

Busyness itself is not our problem. A life well-lived is full to the brim and overflowing, spilling over
everywhere, and that abundance is good and right. What I think we need to consider, however, is
whether our kids can swallow at the rate we’re pouring it in. Are they drowning in the flood of activity, or, worse yet, never even acquiring a thirst to want a drink?

The truth is tough to accept, tougher to apply. It takes courage to make radically unpopular choices for our children. You can’t possibly imagine how much I sympathize with this struggle, having many children grown and gone and some still growing up. I have learned it’s worth the risk.

We do have the time. It’s up to us to make the room more spacious in which we spend it.

For the joy of reading,



  1. This is excellent. I love what you said about swallowing at the rate we are pouring in. Then there is also the question : do children play outside nowadays?Are they drowning swimming upstream and find a waterfall they go over?

    1. I have two boys who have been outside all afternoon, but, though the
      neighborhood is teeming with children, there are no others out there. We know CM insisted on hours and hours in the out of doors - and not on the organized sports field only.