“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.“
Charlotte Mason wrote this over 100 years ago, though her words feel ahead of her time; which one of us hasn’t felt this “extraordinary pressure” she writes of? I know that as a home educating parent I feel them daily! Mason believed that the very best thing that mothers of young children could do, despite these pressures, was to take their children outside and have them spend hours each day in nature (“…four, five, or six hours they should have on every tolerably fine day”). This is another way in which she was ahead of her time, as we now know from solid research that time spent outdoors is one of the best gifts that parents can give to their children (the best book on this is still Last Child in the Woods).
Four to six hours outdoors a day though. When I fist read this I felt discouraged – how was that possible to sustain day in, day out? Was it even a good idea? What about all of the other things we “had” to get done each day, the chores, the time set aside for painting or building with blocks or listening to classical music or for reading?
But now that Spring is here, bringing mild, sunny days, we’ve found ourselves effortlessly increasing our time outside once more, and my goodness I am grateful for it. Suddenly four hours or more outside feels not just desirable, but actually achievable. We spend a couple of hours in the garden in the morning followed by a few hours in a park in the afternoon, or a day trip exploring somewhere magical, and suddenly we’ve spent five hours outdoors without even trying.
It’s not just the shift in the weather though. Frida is older, which gives us more flexibility and freedom. A bag with a bottle of water, a couple of books, and a few coins for snacks is enough now to keep us outdoors rambling around London’s beautiful green corners for the whole day.
Let’s be clear – in Winter, this magical four to six hours? It rarely happens. In the high days of Summer when we’re both overly hot and tired, ditto. And this is great! It means that over the course of the year, we have balance. We read more books, bake more, and have more time for playdough and crafts in Winter. We go swimming more and listen to more audiobooks in Summer, when our days turn treacle slow and long.
But Spring, Spring is the time for long days outside, for trudging home bone tired with dirty faces and muddy shoes, for soil under fingernails and closing our eyes to listen to the birds singing, for books read on station platforms.
For quietly growing, in all of the ways, alongside the new shoots and old trees that we spend our days with.
And I am so, so grateful for it.
(PS. I want to check my privilege here, as I know that going outside is not as easy as it is sometimes made out to be. Access to safe green spaces, time to spend taking your children outside, feeling like you and your family will be safe and welcome in the spaces you wish to visit, money and / or a vehicle for transport, money for memberships and entrance fees, being well enough to leave the home, safe climate and weather, having your own outside space – all of these have a huge part to play in how achievable spending large chunks of the day outside, as well as how old your children are, if they still need to nap, and so on.)