Monday, September 7, 2015

Work and Play

For most of us, Labor Day, a holiday for workers, marks a shift from summer's leisurely pace back to the routine of the school year. Though we love the fun and freedom of summer, somewhere deep inside, we also relish getting back to work.

Work is a gift. After all, if we were always at play, the world would quickly turn to hopeless chaos. For children, however, the defining line between work and play is indistinct. This is perhaps where we feel the disparity between Jesus' command to "become as a little child," and our attitude toward work, for no one works harder at play than a child. My children have come in hot, dirty, and exhausted from their "play" on their forts or after hours of hard games with friends. They expend an incredible amount of effort and energy--work--at "playing." The result is tired contentment, not the weariness of drudgery at all.

Charlotte Mason astutely discerned in children a constant readiness to know, a boundless curiosity about anything new. Unless trained to view schoolwork as drudgery and play as freedom from responsibility, as we adults too often model for them, children naturally approach every moment of the day alike with zest and vigor. An insect on a twig, a puzzling math problem, or a new chore each holds mystery, challenge, and delight for them. Boredom is the plague of the unfed mind.

Ideas are the food of the mind, its spiritual sustenance, according to Mason. Our part, as their teachers, is to supply the active and growing mind of the child (not to mention our own) with abundant stores of nutrition. Both God's outdoor book of the world and the world of words within printed books are our warehouse from which to pull an endless stock of material to feed their growing and expanding minds.

Just this past week, I received many inquiries about books for children. Parents want the best titles I can recommend. Their inquiries are couched with worries that their child is not enjoying reading and the responsible parent is anxiously waiting for the child to "take off" and sail along on the ocean of literature. This is a laudable aspiration.

In attempting to give counsel, I consider many possibilities. Is the child really struggling or the parent simply nervous? In other words, is the parent's concern legitimate or the child just working through a normal stage of development? Next, I wonder whether the problem is with the books they have been given, or the way in which they have been presented?

The banner quote of this website is so familiar it is perhaps forgotten, but books bring hundreds of thousands of ideas expressed by the idea-packed minds of thousands of thinkers straight to the hungry and thirsty minds of their readers. Good choices in literature are essential, but since every living person is made for language and thrives on story, the mind instinctively takes to literary form and, therefore, good books should naturally be enticing.

If our children do not eagerly embrace books, could it be that we tackle "reading" as a chore, as work, and have forgotten the element of play, have failed to capitalize on the child's inborn, insatiable curiosity? Our attitude is key. If we consider reading to be the best part of a day, it's inevitable that our children will do the same. If, on the other hand, our desire for them to read is only to ensure that they have that necessary skill, they will sense the difference.

For reading is not a chore to be checked off. It is not just a skill to be acquired. It should not be an item on a checklist. Instead, the act of reading should be an endless source of delight, a pleasure, a reward. For this to happen, we need to ask ourselves honestly if reading is work divorced from play. We need to guard against the resentment of work and enjoy it as much as we do play. Reading is work when learning how to do it, but that process can be thrilling. Learning to read never comes to an end; there are always new reading frontiers to conquer for all of us, and, that is the fun of it for the well-nourished and ever-hungry mind.
"Conduct and character, alike, are the outcome of the habits we allow; knowing, too, that an inspiring idea initiates a new habit of thought, and hence, a new habit of life; we perceive that the great work of education is to inspire children with vitalising ideas as to every relation of life, every department of knowledge, every subject of thought; and to give deliberate care to the formation of those habits of the good life which are the outcome of vitalising ideas. In this great work we seek and assuredly find the co-operation of the Divine Spirit, whom we recognise, in a sense rather new to modern thought, as the supreme Educator of mankind in things that have been called secular, fully as much as in those that have been called sacred." (School Education, p. 163)
Yes, indeed, Ms. Mason, we parents and teachers must labor, but we can do it with joy and love when we remember we have a Divine Teacher who tirelessly works to feed us in school and in church, in things and in books. Let us then work with the enthusiasm of children at their play.

For the joy of reading,



  1. Liz, I'm not sure how I missed this post. But I'm so glad I looped back and found it! There are some gems in here: "Boredom is the plague of the unfed mind." "Learning to read never comes to an end." (Hallelujah!) And that Mason quote! Such a good reminder that the weight we carry we do not carry alone, that Jesus gives us His easy yoke, and that He shoulders the heavy burden, freeing and empowering us to do the work He has called us to...and to do it with Joy. I forget that a lot (as in, every day), so I'm always grateful to be reminded. Your words here triggered a re-set. Here's to teaching with Joy!

  2. Amen. We always forget on a regular basis and need the "reset."