Last summer, we went on a nature walk at a nearby garden. The flowers were blooming, the robins were skipping around, and the beautiful sound of flowing water was heard around every corner. Suddenly we had been there for an hour and a half, and it was time to get home so Baby E could take a rest and we could eat lunch. I love those moments. Spending time outside, so lost in nature that time surprisingly slips away is what Charlotte Mason had in mind for little ones when she recommended 4-6 hours of outdoor play every single day.
Best for the Children
“And long hours they should be; not two, but four, five, six hours the should have on every tolerable fine day, from April to October. ‘Impossible!’ says an overwrought mother who sees her way to no more for her children than a daily hour or so on the pavements of the neighboring London squares. Let me repeat, that I venture to suggest, not what is practicable in any household, but what seems to me absolutely best for the children, and that, in the faith that mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them. A journey of twenty minutes by rail or omnibus, and a luncheon basket, will make a day in the country possible to most town-dwellers; and if one day, why not many, even every suitable day?” Charlotte Mason, Home Education, pages 43-44
In the winter, she recommended two or three hours outside each day: an hour outdoors in the morning, coming in to warm up and eat lunch, and then heading back out in the afternoon. We are still trying to figure out what this looks like in Colorado because some days it is just too cold to take little ones outside.
Times have changed. Charlotte Mason wrote her volumes before suburbs were even a thing. We don’t have “nursemaids” and live-in help to do the laundry or run errands for us. 4-6 hours a day seems like a lot, doesn’t it?
So what’s a modern mama to do?
Follow this simple rule:
“Never be within doors when you can rightly be out. ” Charlotte Mason, Home Education, page 42
This frees me from the guilt of not getting outside when it’s cold, or the baby needs to sleep, or we have errands to run. I have to find a maintainable balance. If I know that being outside is the absolute best for my children, I’ll try to be out there every chance I get; but I also have duties in order to keep everyone fed and healthy.
What should this outdoor time look like?
Tips for Outside Play in the Early Years
The mother is not the entertainer
They’re outside! They don’t need to be told stories, played with, or entertained in other ways. There is so much for them to do and observe!
“In the first place, it is not her business to entertain the little people: there should be no story-books, no telling of tales, as little talk as possible, and that to some purpose.” Home Education, page 45
Ask the child to go observe a tree, flower, or other interesting feature. Have them come back to report what they have seen. This helps increase their vocabulary, ability to remember, and ability to recount without exaggeration (which is necessary for the habit of truthfulness). Don’t tolerate a lazy description!
“…she sends them off on an exploring expedition–Who can see the most, and tell the most, about yonder hillock or brook, hedge, or copse. This is an exercise that delights children…” Home Education, page 45
Mental Picture painting
Ask your children to describe to you a landscape that they have seen. This is a tiring task, but it can be enjoyable when presented as a game. I think that this could be extended by actually painting a picture of a flower or another thing seen in nature. This would be fun and meaningful for a young child.
“The children will delight in this game on ‘picture-painting’ all the more if the mother introduce it by describing some great picture-gallery she has seen– pictures of mountains, of moors, of stormy seas, of ploughed field, of little children at play, of an old woman knitting,– and goes on to say, that though she does not paint her pictures on canvas and have them put in frames, she carries about with her just such a picture-gallery; for whenever she see anything lovely or interest, she looks at it until she has the picture in her ‘minds eye’; and then she carries it away with her, her own for ever, a picture ‘on view’ just when she wants it.” Home Education, pages 49-50
Object lessons encourage a child to use their five senses while viewing things in nature, or objects around the house. I wrote more about these lessons here.
An Hour or Two of Vigorous Play
We love playing at the park, riding bikes, or playing tag outside. Charlotte Mason recommended 1-2 hours of vigorous exercise each day for children.
Do Not Send Them, Take Them
“In the first place, do not send them; if it is anyway possible, take them; for, although the children should be left much to themselves, there is a great deal to be done and a great deal to be prevented during these long hours in the open air.”
I love that Charlotte Mason said this, because sometimes I think people want to create the 1980’s childhood where children played outside by themselves for hours without a grownup around. This ideal doesn’t fit in well with life today. However, there is a difference between supervising and hovering!
These things make our outdoor play more intentional and meaningful! Tell me about your dream day spent outside in the comments below. Make sure to sign up for my newsletter for more about our adventures in the early years.