There is much to be said about the mother's role in outdoor life. From the first few sections of the chapter "Out-Of-Door Life for the Children," I've noted several things that have stood out to me about the mother's presence.
To begin, mothers should not be content only to send their children outside. When at all possible, they should take them.
"In the first place, do not send them;
if it is anyway possible, take them. . ." (p. 43)*
The Mother's Presence Is Purposeful
Once outside, the mother plays a key role in the child's experience of nature. Her presence is necessary, but it must not get in the way of the children forming their own relations with the natural world.
"They must be let alone, left to themselves a good deal, to take in what they can of the beauty of earth and heavens; for of the evils of modern education few are worse than this - that the perpetual cackle of his elders leaves the poor child not a moment of time, nor an inch of space, wherein to wonder - and grow. At the same time, here is the mother's opportunity to train the seeing eye, the hearing ear, and to drop seeds of truth into the open soul of the child, which shall germinate, blossom, and bear fruit, without further help or knowledge of hers." (p. 44)
There is a delicate balance to be struck here, and I suspect it is rather an art to be developed.
On the one hand, leave them alone. On the other hand, take the opportunity to train and "drop seeds of truth." Part of the mother's role is to discern "the right moment" for these things (p. 47). She should not overpower the children with "perpetual cackle!" Neither should she ignore them. Her presence must be purposeful.
One way I think about the relationship between mother, child, and nature, is that the mother is the one making the introduction between the child and nature. Nature is not in her power. Neither is the child. She helps facilitate the connection, and then steps back and lets the living world do its work with the child. Note how much of this happens "without further help or knowledge of hers."
We are not present to control. We are present to connect.
The Mother's Presence is Encouraging
Another aspect of the mother's role is to encourage an interest and love of the natural world, stemming from her own pleasure in it.
Charlotte Mason writes that, "every child has a natural interest in the living things about him which it is the business of his parents to encourage" (p. 58).
The parents' influence, one way or the other, is vital. She goes on to say, "few children are equal to holding their own in the face of public opinion; and if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter of the book of Nature is closed to them" (p. 58).
Our enthusiasm for the natural world is catching! So is our indifference. Joy and wonder in the marvels of creation are part of the atmosphere of education, and the tone is set by us. Are we curious? Do we have a reverence for life? Do we take joy in the wide world around us? Do we prioritize our day to spend time outside?
Too often we moms have allowed the distractions and duties of life to sever our own connection with nature. We suffer because of this, but so do our children. If we don't make it a priority in our adult lives, our children may view it as something to be discarded as they get older. It is well worth it to rekindle this connection in our lives, for our sakes and theirs.
The Mother's Presence is Enlightening
Charlotte believed that mothers and teachers should know about nature!
"The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may be able to read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observation. And not only the mother, but any woman, who is likely ever to spend an hour or two in the society of children should make herself mistress of this sort of information; the children will adore her for knowing what they want to know, and who knows but she may give its bent for life to some young mind destined to do great things for the world" (p. 65).
Not only is our enthusiasm for the natural world important, so is our knowledge of it. It doesn't mean we have to be experts, but it does mean we should be expanding our knowledge of the natural world.
The purpose of this knowledge is not so we can endlessly lecture our children about every bug, rock, and tree they encounter, but so that when they ask, or when the moment is right, we have those seeds of truth we can drop into their minds. We have names for things. We have a framework for understanding the world around us. We have a basic nature vocabulary we can begin to share with our children.
One thing I would like to do is develop my own booklist of nature reading. Besides reading to know about the topics the children will be studying, I want to read for my own interest and delight. Perhaps one book a term for me?
The Plan in Action:
~ Go out more with the children. The end goal would be to go with them "every tolerably fine day from April to October." (It's still March! Wet and windy weather prevails. But it will get better...) I'm not sure it's realistic to expect this of myself every day. I would have to work on rearranging our lives a bit more for that to happen. After all, sending them out is better than them not going at all. But I'd like to make a steady improvement in this area. And as the weather improves, I hope my track record will as well!
~ Go out and generally enjoy myself. I think if they see me delighting in our backyard wonders, that's an "atmosphere" that will catch on.
~ Make a booklist of nature books for me to read. Plan to start one at the beginning of April (when our next term begins).
* All quotes taken from Volume 1: Home Education of The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason, The Charlotte Mason Research & Supply edition.