Tea should be taken in solitude…for eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably. Of course not all books are suitable for mealtime reading. It would be a kind of blasphemy to read poetry at table. What one wants is a gossipy, formless book which can be opened anywhere. The ones I learned to use so at Bookham were Boswell, and a translation of Herodotus, and Lang’s History of English Literature.
–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
With Granite’s last class day behind us, many Granite families are in full summer-mode. With that in mind, I want to take one last look at Lewis’s scholarly schedule to glean some guidance from him about what kinds of entertainment children should be pursuing. Of course, the proportions of entertainment that children will enjoy during summer days are probably much higher than during the school year, which only makes his advice all the more relevant now.
In this part of his scholarly schedule, Lewis gives us what may seem a rather lofty goal for the modern-day student: reading Herodotus for pleasure! But the main point here, I think, is that reading for pleasure should be a regular source of entertainment for the student. Whatever our modern-day perception of Herodotus, Lewis found him “gossipy and formless,” meaning casual and unstructured. Herodotus’s Histories covers the major events of the ancient Greek world, ambling from one episode to the next. (Something like The Story of the World might be the modern-day student’s equivalent.) Something easily read, not overly concerned with plot or artistry, and interesting. Lewis also names some popular novels of his day and says that they served a similar purpose. That purpose is to stimulate the mind and to bring enjoyment to the spirit.
When I was growing up, my brother and I used to read collections of “Calvin and Hobbes” comics together. The medium was a bit fluffy, but the content was entertaining, wholesome, and probably did more to expand my vocabulary than some of the academic books I read. I also read gobs of historical fiction. My brother was attracted to DK-style books with spreads full of interesting facts about the world. Each child is different, but there are enough resources out there to find something your child will pick up for fun. The point is to make reading a source of pleasure, one that your students can draw from even outside of “schoolwork.”
Get Off the Screens
The big takeaway here is that some forms of entertainment are good and aid the scholar, while others are not. Screen time, for instance, has been shown by a plethora of studies to have negative effects on developing brains, from disrupting cognitive and processing abilities to hurting a child’s emotional range and capabilities. Whenever possible, substitute reading for digital media use. Reading almost anything is better for your child’s brain development than screen time. Not only that, but as many classical educators have pointed out, you are much more likely to be forming your child’s loves and affections well with a book than an iPad. A Caldecott or Newberry award-winning children’s book gives your child access to wholesome, useful, thought-provoking content, and limits access to anything else (you can’t click away from a book page to watch videos on YouTube) while a tablet likely gives a child far more access to unwholesome, or at the very least frivolous content.
There are other forms of entertainment that can be useful. Strategy games like chess have been shown to hone important critical thinking and foresight skills. The tangible, academic benefits of such thinking skills are obvious, but they have spiritual significance, too. In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes that Satan is “like a good chess player”–“always trying to manoeuvre you into a position where you can save your castle only by losing your bishop.” Of course it’s just a metaphor, but it’s an apt one, because the strategic thinking skills your child picks up from such games (joined with a developed affection for truth, goodness, and beauty and a healthy reliance on the Holy Spirit) will help form him in to a person who has the foresight and wit necessary to develop self-regulating and temptation-avoiding strategies for his life. Those are not skills a child will develop from watching 6 episodes of “Adventure Time” in a row.
Another excellent entertainment option is physical activity. Different from rejuvenating outdoor activities, physical entertainment is interactive and often aerobic. Run around outside, play tag, catch frogs in a creek–send your kids outside and spend time as a family having fun outdoors this summer! Activity is not only physically healthy, but it teaches your children to enjoy and make good use of the bodies God has given them.
In Plato’s Republic, Socrates even goes so far as to say that “gymnastic,” that is, formal physical training, ought to be part of the academic curriculum (and not just entertainment) because it develops certain qualities in the soul, such as fortitude and firmness. Find structured activities for your children, too. When I was growing up, I spent literally thousands of hours in the ballet studio. My brother spent similar time at his fencing club (that’s fencing as in swords). The hours I spent developing the physical art of ballet developed my perseverance and determination, and honed a love of beauty and artistry in my soul; the hours I spent playing computer games did not. To whatever extent your kids are physically able, teach them to prioritize physical activity over sedentary entertainment.
Entertainment is Formative
In Plato’s discourses on education, the Socrates of The Republic asks, “Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up?” The question is designed to make us think about the consequences of entertainment and to help us realize that entertainment is formative. Socrates goes on to identify mothers and nurses as the main source of formation in children.
Homeschool moms, you are the primary educators of your children, even when “school” is not in session. Don’t allow yourself to be supplanted by a screen. Give your child entertainment options that reinforce the classical admiration of truth, goodness, and beauty, rather than entertainment options that undo these ends. As Socrates notes, the formation of character starts early, and entertainment choices affect character: “The beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken.”
In Surprised by Joy Lewis writes of the times of entertainment he most looked forward to as a school boy: “On a Saturday afternoon in winter, when nose and fingers might be pinched enough to give an added relish to the anticipation of tea and fireside, and the whole weekend’s reading lay ahead, I suppose I reached as much happiness as is ever to be reached on earth. And especially if there were some new, long-coveted book awaiting me.” May your children’s entertainment this summer be formative, so that when winter comes, they share Lewis’s desire for the fireside and a good book!
Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.