A Scholar’s Daily Schedule: Entertainment

Homeschool moms, you are the primary educators of your children. Give your child entertainment options that reinforce the classical admiration of truth, goodness, and beauty, rather than entertainment options that undo these ends.

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.

A Scholar’s Daily Schedule: Rejuvenation

For Lewis, the natural world provides a key component to the scholarly life: an opportunity for the rejuvenation of the mind and spirit.

“By two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the out-door world…The only friend to walk with is one…who so exactly shares your taste for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a nudge, is enough to assure us that the pleasure is shared. The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four.” –C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

In my last post, I noted that the foundation of Lewis’s proposed scholarly schedule is extended periods of contemplative, individual study.

But Lewis indicates that academic contemplation alone is not enough for the scholar. Lewis also insists that the daily routine involve a walk–and a very long one by today’s standards: two hours! He furthermore insists that this walk, in most cases, be a solitary one, because walking with another person turns the experience into a social affair, which upends the purpose of the walk. The daily walk, according to Lewis, is a time for reveling in the beauty of nature and for refreshing the mind with quiet stimulation, rather than with boisterous or forced conversation.

For Lewis, the natural world provides a key component to the scholarly life: an opportunity for the rejuvenation of the mind and spirit. Our brains of course need a break after long periods of learning and absorbing. But the physical body needs a change too–physical movement increases oxygen flow to the brain, which helps us think better, and our eyes tire after long periods of reading. Allowing the mind and eyes to relax, and getting the body moving at about mid-day will help make that afternoon study time much more productive.

I think it’s worth noting that Lewis finds the natural world particularly suited to this kind of refreshment. A break to watch cartoons or to play a game on a screen will not have the same effect because these activities are simply modern day replacements for the kind of bombardment that Lewis specifically wants to avoid. A walk taken while listening to music or to a podcast via earbuds also provides more bombardment than true mental rejuvenation. Even an activity like playing tag with the siblings outside doesn’t accomplish exactly the purpose of the solitary nature walk. Outdoor games certainly have their place in home education and family culture, but they aren’t what Lewis is talking about here because they don’t allow the mind to subconsciously digest what the student has been learning during study time against the quiet backdrop of the natural world.

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Addison’s Walk, at Magdalen College, Oxford. Lewis took many walks here when he taught at Magdalen.

Deep Work author Cal Newport is in agreement with Lewis about the usefulness of walking for the scholar. In his book, Newport recalls that the days on which he walked to work were his most productive, because he used that walking time to digest and think over the mathematical proofs he had been working on the day before. Because the student is outside, there is no burden to continue to absorb and learn new information, so the mind is free to mull over what it has already taken in. Paired with light physical activity, a period of quiet, solitary contemplation can provide real rejuvenation.

True rejuvenation from scholarly activity means giving the mind time to debrief, and letting the body move. Now that spring is here in full, Lewis’s suggestion to do this against the backdrop of nature is one that we stand a good chance of following, in one form or another! Of course, you might not be able to spare two full hours at a time, but even fifteen or twenty minutes climbing a tree, biking around the neighborhood, or walking the dog could have the desired effect, if that time is solitary rather than interactive. (In other words, look for opportunities to give your students these little rejuvenating moments to enjoy away from their siblings.)

This won’t be possible every day, but whenever weather permits, and whenever it’s logistically realistic to give your students (especially logic stage and older) time to themselves outdoors following a long period of study, take advantage of that opportunity for your student to be rejuvenated.

Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.

A Scholar’s Daily Schedule: Study

Overcoming the temptation of distraction requires discipline and perseverance. These are not easy skills to develop, but they are worthwhile.

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis shares what he believes to be the ideal schedule for the student. He derives this pattern from the “routine” which he was accustomed to at an in-home boarding school where he was, in essence, homeschooled, along with a handful of other boys. He says this daily routine “has ever since served in my mind as an archetype, so that what I still mean when I speak of a ‘normal’ day (and lament that normal days are so rare) is a day of [this] pattern.” Here’s the ideal scholarly schedule, according to Lewis:

I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better…At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road [for a walk]…The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude…for eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably…At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes time for talk, or, failing that, for lighter reading.

Other than meals, Lewis’s day consists of four basic activities, each of them distinct from the others: school work, walking (which he specifies must be done alone), reading for pleasure, and then finally conversation. Each of these four components represents a vital part of the scholarly life: study, rejuvenation, entertainment, and social interaction. In my next few posts, I’d like to cover each of these topics in turn, considering how Lewis’s habits can be helpful to the homeschooler.

The foundation of the school day, of course, must be study. What strikes me the most about this passage (other than the seemingly magical arrival of lunch and tea) is the extended periods of continuous study: reading or writing for five hours in the morning, and then another two-hour block of school work in the late afternoon.

Lewis was at about the logic stage when he first followed this schedule at his boarding school. It’s impressive to me that a student so young could work for such extended periods of time without taking a significant break. In many ways, I think modern day home educators have a much more difficult battle to fight for their students’ attention spans than Lewis’s teachers probably did. Extended periods of serious study are increasingly difficult to achieve for the modern-day student who is constantly bombarded by a fast-paced world that demands attention (and offers distractions) at every turn. Scholars like Cal Newport, author of Deep Work have written extensively about this problem. In his book, Newport notes that the average modern day brain is so unaccustomed to boredom that it does not know how to not be distracted:

If every moment of potential boredom in your life–say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives–is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where…it’s not ready for deep work–even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.

This means that extended periods of deep concentration will be difficult for the modern student, especially for older ones who have been pulled fully in to the technological culture.

But even in our fractured modern day, students can learn the habit of continuous, uninterrupted study. It grows easier with practice, as the brain re-learns the discipline of concentration. Set up a technology-free/Internet-free zone where your students must spend some amount of their study time. Set a timer and ask your student to read for the duration. Or, for an older student, set a reading goal (“Try to read the next canto of Dante’s Inferno without taking a break.”) Gently increase your student’s goals for extended periods of study over time.

Lewis’s schedule is also a one designed to put the learner in a place of contemplation whenever possible. Lewis’s approach to study seems to frame it as a primarily contemplative act. It is not primarily a social act, or a source of entertainment. There is a time and place for sociability (after dinner) and a time and place for entertainment (reading for pleasure during tea). The rest of the time, the student is to be studying in solitude. Depending on your student’s age, abilities, and learning styles, you may need to supervise and interact with your student during long blocks of study, but even so, Lewis’s perspective is helpful. We should strive to make contemplation the primary goal. Find places in your home for your students (especially your older students) to sequester themselves for deep contemplative work and build a routine in which they stay put for a set period of time, even if that time is relatively short to begin with.

Overcoming the temptation of distraction or the impulse to find distraction when we feel bored or tired of the same activity requires discipline and perseverance. These are not easy skills to develop, but they are worthwhile. If your young student can persevere through twenty pages in a chapter book now, she will have the fortitude necessary to persevere through Dante later. If your logic or rhetoric stage student can persevere through an extended writing or reading task now, he will be able to organize himself for the much more monumental task of his senior thesis later. A mind that can focus on a scholarly task for an extended length can accomplish far more than most in our modern day. Imagine what your child will be able to accomplish if, by adulthood, she has been practicing the discipline of contemplative study for all of her school age years.

Aubry Myers is the Director of Classical Education at Granite Classical Tutorials.