In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother's first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air.The biggest change in our lives when we discovered Charlotte Mason was her challenge to spend the majority of each day outside:
Charlotte Mason Home Education p 43
I make a point, says a judicious mother, of sending my children out, weather permitting, for an hour in the winter, and two hours a day in the summer months. That is well; but it is not enough. In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air. And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day, from April till October. Impossible! Says an overwrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children than a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighbouring London squares. Let me repeat, that 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. A journey of twenty minutes by rail or omnibus, and a luncheon basket, will make a day in the country possible to most town dwellers; and if one day, why not many, even every suitable day?
Charlotte Mason, Home Education p 43-44
Well, we failed in that lofty ideal miserably, I'm afraid. Jemimah did not spend an average of 5 hours out of doors during the equivalent warm Aussie months of October-April during her first six years. Far from it.
We did, as a consequence of reading these lines, however, make a considerable improvement - simple things that we thought we could stick to.
1. We eat the majority of our meals out of doors:
On fine days when it is warm enough to sit out with wraps, why should not tea and breakfast, everything but a hot dinner, be served out of doors? For we are an overwrought generation, running to nerves as a cabbage runs to seed; and every hour spent in the open is a clear gain, tending to the increase of brain power and bodily vigour, and to the lengthening of life itself. They who know what it is to have fevered skin and throbbing brain deliciously soothed by the cool touch of the air are inclined to make a new rule of life, Never be within doors when you can rightly be without.
Besides, the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco are usually joyous, and there is nothing like gladness for converting meat and drink into healthy blood and tissue. All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children's laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.
Charlotte Mason Home Education p 42
2. We have several scheduled breaks during the school day for outside play - this is mostly spent in the sand pit, in our home - or climbing trees (I'm sure Miss Mason would prefer the latter, although she would be rather impressed with the imaginative play that occurs in our garden, I'm sure). In summer you'll often find her in the pool;
3. We participate in some organised sport, allowing Jemimah time outside as well as time with her peers - she swims, plays tennis, and participates in the local Little Athletics programme in Summer, and plays football with Auskick in Winter;
4. We have a full afternoon of 4 or 5 hours outside each week engaging in official nature study as part of our school time; and
5. We attempt to spend a full day out of doors as a family each weekend. This is the secret, I feel, in getting anywhere near the required number of hours up for the week...in our home, certainly. Sometimes we go somewhere special. The Picnic at Hanging Rock that we had on Good Friday is an example of this. Other times we do something close to home.
On Saturday, for example, we climbed a mountain. Yes, truly. A Mountain.
Jemimah relaxing...well okay...posing at the summit - see the summit marker in the background
Okay, then, I'll come clean. On Saturday we climbed ... wait for it - the ...smallest ... registered ... mountain ... in ... the ... world!
It's called Mt Wycheproof.
The view from the summit
You'll find it mentioned on this list of interesting geography facts as the lowest mountain in the world. Its summit is 43 metres (140 feet) above the surrounding plains.
The grain silos - Wycheproof survives on broad acre wheat and barley farming.
Miss Mason speaks earlier of storing up happy memories for our children. I am sure that in later years many of Jemimah's stored memories will consist of days like this.
Do give spending time outside a go - if we can do it anyone can!!