In Parallel: Masterly Inactivity in a World of Supervision

My children pooled their pocket money and bought a set of walkie talkies this week. They have mostly used them to talk to each other as they sit in the same room (go figure), but they are looking forward to getting them out and about. These walkie talkies represent freedom – the ability to go out of sight, to run on ahead, to test the waters of independence.

I want my kids to enjoy these things: spontaneity, a sense of adventure, camaraderie with their brothers and their friends. Yet it’s hard to really let them go. Sure, they are off to a two acre woodland up the road from our house that we have visited countless times. But part of me wants to keep them close, whether it’s concern for their safety or concern about what the neighbors might think.

In a recent newsletter, I shared:  “(Charlotte Mason’s thoughts) can be summarized in two ideas: don’t fake atmosphere and you can’t fake atmosphere. On one hand, we need to let our children experience increasing amounts of independence as they grow up and allow them to face challenges and their natural consequences. On the other hand, we aren’t going to fool our children if we are anxious and fussy about this. We generate a significant part of the atmosphere of our home. If we reluctantly and nervously send our children to post a letter in the box down the road, they will start to wonder whether they ought to be reluctant and nervous about it, too.” 

This week I am sharing two posts that are connected to atmosphere by way of masterly inactivity: what do our children gain and lose when they are constantly supervised and their relationships with one another mediated by adults?

To Read in Parallel:

“Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows and Amazons” and the Power of Natural Consequences” Anna K. Reynolds offers reflections on one of my favorite books.

Freedom is also a necessary component of maturation. It’s not just a nice option but an essential feature of growth and development. Without it, children suffer.

“Why Adult Directed Sports are No Substitute for Kid Directed Play” Peter Gray (h/t Alan Jacobs)

When I was a child, decades ago, you could walk through almost any neighborhood, if it was daytime and school wasn’t in session, and see children playing, no adults around. Now if you walk through those same neighborhoods—even ones that are as safe or safer than ever—you usually see no kids outdoors. Or, if you see any, they are likely wearing uniforms and following the instructions of an adult coach. Worse yet, their parents are likely to be there, watching and cheering them on (and maybe harassing the umpire or referee).

How have you fostered increasing independence in your children? What sort of fruit have you seen from practicing masterly inactivity?

A letter from me to you, every week.

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  1. This is making me thing about how to promote independence in my nearly 7 year old- and how to navigate when my 5 year old doesn’t have the maturity yet. I️ don’t want to hold Mr. 6.5 back.

    I’ve started giving jobs that require being unsupervised in the driveway (trash bin, mailbox, getting something from the car, etc). But I️ sure have to suppress some fear of something happening out of my sight!

    1. It was a big day when I let my oldest take a letter to the letter box on his own, which involved crossing (our not very busy) street and walking just ever so slightly out of sight from our window! And then the next time, both of his siblings wanted to go as well!

      I think that fear is real, although for me it’s more of a fear that I’ll be labelled as a bad mother if something happens out of my sight. I do recognize that as irrational. Most people will agree that kids will get into scrapes (sometimes, literally, get a scrape), but hovering over your kids seems to be such a norm that it can be challenging to push past it.

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