Summer - A Time of Opportunity and Liberty

It is enough for the present if they have shown us in what manner children attach themselves to their proper affinities, given opportunity and liberty. Our part is to drop occasion freely in the way, whether in school or at home. Children should have relations with earth and water, should run and leap, ride and swim, should establish the relations of maker to material in as many kinds as my be; should have dear and intimate relations with persons, through present intercourse, through tale or poem, picture or statue; through flint arrow-head or modern motor-car: beast and bird, herb and tree, they must have familiar acquaintance with. Other peoples and their languages must not be strange to them. Above all they should find that most intimate and highest of Relationships, - the fulfillment of their being.

Charlotte, Mason, School Education, 209

The summer season seems different today than it was when I was a child. We still enjoy a change in routine, a break from school, and celebrate the long days with late sunsets. We look forward to seeing family in far off towns and getting away for a vacation. But some things are quite different. Today, even the children ask one another what they are “doing” over the summer. I recently heard a child tell of a summer that is filled with plans that have been thoughtfully choreographed. Very few days, much less weeks, are left unscheduled.

I used to look forward to having (almost) nothing to do all summer.

I spent many summer days running freely about with siblings and neighbor friends, building forts, riding bikes, catching fireflies. We spent time sitting around talking, doing nothing much at all. We liked to sit on the big hill at Ben Warner’s house and watch cars go by. Sometimes a person we knew drove by, and that was enough to keep us watching – for hours. We followed the paperboy around without him knowing it. We drank out of the hose and nobody thought twice about it. We loved the big maple tree in my neighbor’s yard - it was a ship and we played in it for days at a time. The bamboo forest was our “fort,” we took turns manning the lookouts. We arrived home worn out and filthy from a hard day of play.

The summer relations I enjoyed as a child took time to build – free, unhurried time. Very few children today can safely run about as we did. So how do we afford our children the time and opportunity to forge proper relations with earth and water, birds and sky? It takes mindfulness to naturally “drop occasion freely in the way.” At Ambleside schools, times of nature study, outdoor life, and picnic lunches (to name a few) afford students the opportunity to observe and enjoy the natural world. Sometimes we sit silently for a few minutes to listen.  A student might ask, “What are we listening for?” and the wise teacher replies, “Just listen.” Then we have an enjoyable time of sharing what was heard. Nothing too organized, nothing too orchestrated by the adult. Wordsworth called this “wise passiveness.” Charlotte Mason called it “masterly inactivity.”

Developing the practice of masterly inactivity requires awareness and tact.  As teachers and parents, we desire to share in the discovery, but we may rob the children of the joy of their own discoveries as we over-facilitate an outing. I had to practice masterly inactivity, to get out of the way of my children’s budding affinities. I practiced awareness and self-restraint – practiced - and I wasn’t always perfect.

The appreciation of nature is one of the affinities embraced by my own family. And these family affinities are catching – they are in the air. I caught my love of earth and sky from my own mother, who, to this day, loves to look at the sky and take pictures of the clouds. The ease of the summer schedule allows more time for reading and writing, tending a garden, hiking through creeks, cooking together, photography, and so on. Let’s be mindful during this season of opportunities and liberty to take time to nurture these affinities.