In a few short days our summer break is over. Three months of exploration, adventure, travel, and days full of masterly inactivity are coming to a close. For the first time in our homeschooling history we have taken a complete summer break. There have been no daily math lessons, no required piano practicing, no extra copywork assignments, and no assigned free reading books. We have experienced a full break.
In a Parent’s Review article entitled “Holiday Tasks” written by J. S. Mills in 1893, the author firmly stated, “I am distinctly against all compulsory holiday lessons.” Instead, children were encouraged to use their holiday time in service to others, practicing handicrafts, building their physical stamina through physical games, studying nature through the keeping of nature notebooks and outdoor activities, and the reading of quality literature. The work of the child was to continue to think and to act, but they were given the freedom to do so in their own way. E. A. Parish’s, who spent two summers “living under Miss Mason’s roof”, concluded her 1903 Parent’s Review article entitled “Suggestions for Holiday Amusements” “that children should have suitable ideas given to keep them happily busy, always allowing a large margin for entire freedom, when they may do “just exactly what they like.”
When I first came upon this idea this past Spring I wasn’t so sure this would be a wise idea. I was fearful of how we would fill our schedule without maintaining some form of our school routine. I was fearful of the children regressing in their studies. I was fearful of re-entry into our lessons in the fall (To be honest, I am still a bit nervous about that transition). As with most things, fear is a poor motivator. So, I decided to trust Ms. Mason and her methods, as I have with the rest of our home education, and give this idea of a full summer break a try. It should be no surprise, that yet again, Ms Mason’s methods are full of wisdom and life. Through first hand experience, I have come to see the many benefits of giving ourselves an extended “Sabbath” rest this summer.
- I have seen my children’s creativity blossom. Charlotte Mason believed that children need time to think on their lessons subjects, to allow the thoughts to ruminate in their minds, and to allow the science of relations take its effect. It has been a pure joy to watch my children incorporate the lessons of the previous year into their play and explorations. Things we studied months ago were observed and asked about on nature hikes. Characters and plot lines from books often found their way into my children’s imaginary worlds. Today cardboard boxes were voluntarily turned into rocket ships, castles, cars, and canoes. In the car I frequently heard them playing games that involve imaginary scenarios that often include dragons, dump trucks, or canoes.
- My children have learned new skills. We picked up some gardening skills as we planted a tiny garden and learned how not to grow carrots and how to harvest zucchini. We gained new cooking skills as several children helped with some of the cooking, even taking complete ownership over preparing several meals. One child learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. Another learned new crochet stitches. One child even began to read for leisure (which has never happened before!) I even took up watercolors and was able to teach a few new watercolor techniques to my children.
- We spent numerous hours out of doors. We are blessed to have access to 6 acres of wooded waterfront property in the Adirondack mountains. We spent almost 4 weeks there this summer spending most of our waking hours out of doors. We hiked up several mountains, explored non-trailed lands, paddled canoes, caught fish, collected wild blueberries, observed tens of mushrooms and wildflowers, spotted bald eagles and belted kingfishers, and became well acquainted with the many forms of pesky insects (aka, mosquitoes and black flies). Locally, we enjoyed numerous hikes and enjoyed the bounty of New England local farms while picking strawberries, blueberries, sunflowers, and peaches.
- We built and established new habits. (Or at least attempted to) At the beginning of the summer break each child was assigned new home chore responsibilities. These are still being learned and the habit of remembering to complete them without reminders is still being developed, but progress is being made. In theory, these new chores will be established before our full lessons begin again.
- The children were given greater freedom and flexibility to choose how to spend their days. At the beginning of the summer the children were continually hovering around me not sure of how to fill their time. Now, I am sitting our dining room table typing without nearly as many interruptions as there would have been several months ago. They have been learning how to use their free time to play, read, create, or help others. This frees me up to work uninterrupted.
- Our observational skills were increased. We found bird nests in our trees and watched the babies grow up and leave the nest. We raised a cecropia silk moth caterpillar, learning how identify its host plant, the wild cherry tree. We saw a partial solar eclipse through pinhole cereal box viewers. To our delight, we found milkweed, goldenrod, and jack-in-the-pulipt in our own yard. We noticed three different kinds of ferns living within one foot of each other. We saw a cotton tail rabbit and learned why Peter Rabbit was able to escape from danger so quickly. We were treated experience of watching a squirrel eat a pine cone like an ear of corn.
- Opportunities for personal growth and character growth abounded. With a slower days, we had more time to focus more than usual on interpersonal relationships. Having less hours consumed with facilitating our lessons freed me up to more intentionally and purposefully (in a time intensive way) help my children work through some areas of character growth. I was also gifted with “extra” time to read through Mason’s first volume, research her principles of teaching mathematics, and even read some “mother culture” books. Our lighter schedule enabled me to spend more time in the Bible and prayer and find sweet refreshment and encouragement to my soul.
- Our family is more closely knit and bonded together. We have built up 3 months of fun memories and shared experiences that we can continue to build upon in the coming months. There has been more laughter, more freedom, and more exploration. The children are playing together more joyfully and with less bickering. It has been the summer of “yes.” “Yes” to more ice cream cones. “Yes” to the massive cardboard project in the basement. “Yes” to additional hikes, field trips, and play dates. “Yes” to staying up later, reading another chapter, and playing another round of that game.
- This momma feels more rested, refreshed, encouraged and equipped to face this coming year. Being able to say “yes” more often was fun and freeing. (As was sleeping in a little bit extra!) I found myself more relaxed around my children and more fully about to enjoy them and all their personalities and quirks. Laughter and smiles flowed more freely from my heart. I read encouraging and inspiring books, found new creative outlets, and picked up new techniques and principles I look forward to implementing into our home school.
Our summer was far from perfect as it also came with some unique stresses and challenges for our family. Unfortunately, the year ahead promises to contain some really hard moments. We knew this prior to the beginning of summer and perhaps for that reason Miss Mason’s call for a pause in lessons was especially appealing this year. I am thankful I heeded her call. This time of “sabbath rest” has been good for everyone of us.
How did you use your summer break? Did you incorporate Miss Mason’s ideas into your summer plans? If so, what benefits did your family gain from them? Comment below.
Post Script: In researching for this post, I came upon the most delightful article entitled “Children’s Holidays” by Leila Payne published in a Parent’s Review Volume in 1932. I encourage you to take the time to read it. In many ways, this was the way my children spent their summer, with lots of outdoor play, simple toys, watercolors, good books, and periods of rest.