Monday, 28 March 2016

What legacy will a childhood leave?

In our home, we read many biographies. These days, there are some excellent resources for children of all ages (as discussed in this post on 'living books') The children love to hear of how men and women who started life as children who loved to play, grew up and did great things for the Lord. It inspires them. I'm also enjoying the autobiography of Nelson Mandela at the moment, and know that one day in the future, the boys will be challenged and inspired by much of his life (and will be able to reflect on the less praiseworthy elements, especially of his young adult life!)

One thing which has struck me is how many biographers start of describing their childhood, their memories of the first home, of their parents, of the prevailing culture and worldview within their home. Many, particularly those from previous generations, often describe a very free childhood, with hours spent playing out of doors with their friends, of exploring, imagining, creating and enjoying the simple pleasures of what was often a simple life. Many also describe discipline - of misdemeanours which were punished, and of the values and priorities of their families; in some situations the discipline may have been overly harsh, whereas in others it seemed appropriate and the evidence would suggest it achieved its end.

This has made me wonder about our current generation. This week in a prominent British newspaper was the report that many British children spend less time out of doors than the recommended minimum for prisoners. Whilst shocking, I was not surprised to read this. We lived in the UK for several years recently, and one of the most striking things was how few children we saw out of doors. We often had the parks to ourselves, and I was particularly taken aback one snowy Saturday morning when we walked several miles across two beautiful parks and saw no other children at all. I (in slight irony) posed the question on Facebook of whether children played in the snow these days, and received many replies suggesting that it was too cold for children to play outside. (Too cold? In the UK, where it rarely goes much below zero!) Similarly, discipline seems to be disapproved of; much has been written about 'positive parenting', and I am not going to discuss exactly what I think about some of that here and now, but what I would observe is the least disciplined generation of British children there has ever been. Parents feel unable to take their children into shops, or places to eat due to the risk of tantrums and poor behaviour. Schools have strict rules prohibiting discipline, and in any event, should a teacher attempt to discipline a child, it is most likely that their parent will lodge a complaint. The child is often elevated to the position of being one who controls a household!

But in seriousness, childhood has dramatically changed for the current generation of youngsters. Many are shuttled around from nursery to after school activities, and when at home, are occupied by televisions or i-pads. There is an increased emphasis on educational activities - and indeed many will justify the screen time in this respect. But the time for relationship, for imaginative play, for fresh air and appreciation of the beauty of nature seems to be ever diminishing. Many previous generations were characterised by a strong oral tradition of local and family legend, or folklore or of wisdom handed down from older to younger. Today, respect for elders is reduced and I do not know of many families where such time for listening and storytelling continues. Mealtimes were once the place where even a busy family would convene and share the events of their day; however many homes these days do not even contain a dining table, and microwave meals eaten in front of the television may be preferred.

I wonder what a child raised in such conditions would write in a biography many years hence? How would they recall their childhood? I also find myself wondering whether the plastic, superficial entertainment and endless activity without clear goals will produce a generation of clear-minded, motivated leaders who substantially impact upon society.

I could spend much time ranting about what I think may be wrong with today's society, with specific reference to the rearing of children. But others have written far more, and more eloquently on this topic. I would personalise the question and put it this way: What legacy am I providing for my children? What foundation in life? What will they remember when they are teaching their children? Are we providing the foundation and worldview required to make a difference in their generation?

What are we putting in place to give our children a strong and formative childhood? I wonder if part of the problem these days is that traditions have been lost, and few people are taking the time to consider what is really required. Rather, there is a tendency to drift, to follow the crowd and not to question, as opposed to intentional parenting.

For us, these questions partly motivate our choice to home educate. We wish to provide a diverse and rich curriculum where the children can explore and interact with history, geography, and world cultures, whilst also being equipped in the necessary language arts and mathematical skills they require. For us, Sonlight is ideal as it is structured with living books, not avoiding controversial or challenging topics, and provides the basis for much further discussion. We don't limit ourselves to the Sonlight resources - for example, my husband and I will both talk about things we have read in the evenings, of items in the news or events from our days, making these appropriate for the age of our children. By that, I don't mean we avoid discussing terrorism, war, famine or disaster, but rather we try to avoid detail or things which might be confusing for them (for example, what the motivation of a suicide bomber might be!) We want our children to be prepared to live in this world, and to understand that it is a broken and fallen place, and to be able to correctly apply Scripture into these most challenging of situations rather than living in some kind of spiritual bubble.

Secondly, we endeavour to provide the time for the children to play, and to be children. Not to always 'pounce' seeking to explain a concept, but rather taking a step back from time to time and allowing their childish imaginations to take them on adventures.

Thirdly, we prayerfully consider the use of our time - aiming for a few group activities and meet ups, but not so many that we don't have down time as a family, to read, to chat, to cook together and to sing together. Some people refer to this as 'margin' - having the space for the children to ask questions, to reflect, to spend longer on tasks rather than rushing through simply to tick off an item from a list.

My question for you today is similar: What kind of childhood would you wish your children to recall in years hence, and how do you aim to achieve this?

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