Charlotte Mason’s approach is so liberating! She listed some Rights of Children and said, “Children should be free in their play.” So what does this freedom to play look like?
Most parents these days feel that store-bought toys and screen games are the answer, but the real freedom comes from open-ended, child-led activities.
I like to think of this recipe = Present some natural elements, add a sprinkle of inspiration, mix well for a few minutes and bake with fun = freedom!
She advised that parents don’t crowd out their free time. She ensured that daily lessons were kept short so that the children would remain attentive. She gave them full afternoon time with freedom to play and explore outdoors.
I have watched my younger girls play with creativity and vigor and enthusiasm whenever they have free time. They often use the subject we are reading in their games. They love to re-enact our core stories, or our family favorites DVDs such as Jane Austen’s “Emma” or “Little Women”.
They love dress up clothes and I make an outfit for them each season. They have endless games wearing a bonnet and pinafore, or an American Indian squaw dress, or a corset and long skirt. Boys love capes, a bow and quiver with arrows, a cowboy hat and chaps, or belts with swords.
Young children need to play outside. They love to play with sand and water. Offer plastic animals and encourage them to create their own farms or zoos or parks. They will add stones, twigs and shells to their sand boxes, creating mini-worlds. Encourage collections. Let them collect insects, flowers, leaves, shells, pebbles etc. and store these in boxes or baskets on a shelf at their height. They love to play with these elements! A large sheet or blanket can provide wonderful opportunities for forts, tents or make-believe homes. A big box can provide hours of fun as a space rocket, or car or ship! Such simple things that provide wonderful opportunities.
We give our children such a precious gift when we let them play without too many rules, expectations, or parental pressure for performance. This doesn’t mean that they are left unsupervised, but rather that they understand safety and safe-play boundaries and play within those rules (such as staying in the yard/ not going near the swimming pool/or into the street, or not throwing … at others). Mom should stay nearby, keeping her eye on their play, smile and nod, but try not interfere with their games and interactions.
Most children withdraw when they know they are being watched while playing fantasy games. Let them be free to create, imitate and act out their game without feeling self-conscious. Don’t feel the need to instruct or praise your children while they play. If they want your involvement, rather ask questions and make specific observational comments like, “I see you have all your animals … in groups,” or “Wow, look at all those different colored flowers …,” or “I wonder what will happen if you put …. in the water?” “I see that you and your sister have made such a big ….(describing their fort/ block castle etc.) “What can you do with this ….?” (and offer a new/ another item).
Enjoy your children’s natural love to play. Their childhood and innocence is a precious gift. Thank you Charlotte Mason for instructing us in such a precious balanced approach!