Thoreau on Entertainment

Dear Reader,

My oldest has ben studying various American short story writers and poets this year. This month’s selection is Henry David Thoreau. To go along with this, I have also been reading some books about him with my other children. If you don’t know the picture book series about him by D.B. Johnson, it is definitely worth checking out. We also stumbled upon the book Thoreau at Walden which takes selections from Walden and puts them in a cartoon-style book. It is low on words overall, but it is very well done.

In that book, we ran across a quote which I am going to mangle a bit because I no longer have it before me but which struck me as fitting in very well with Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. It said, in essence, my neighbors need entertainments like the theater because they are not themselves very interesting. Of course, in our day there is so much more available to people than just the theater. There is TV and movies and iPods and video games and the internet. In fact, it is very hard to escape being entertained. I am even entertained when I pump my gas, go to the dentist, or wait in line at the supermarket.

The effect of this works in both directions. Because I am always being entertained by outside sources, I no longer need to find ways to interest or amuse myself and over time I lose that ability. And as I become more and more uninteresting and uninterested in anything but all those easy sources of entertainment, I increasingly seek them out.

This is true of us adults, but it is also true of our children. It is so easy to give in and get a DVD player for the car or a hand-held gaming device that is just going to be for those really trying times like waiting in a  doctor’s office. But the more we give into such things, the more they consume us. I hear often from  parents who say that their kids just aren’t interested in anything — they have no real hobbies (other than video games) and they take no interest in their schoolwork or in much of anythign else. But we unknowingly feed into this. We do not leave them on their own, unentertained, enough to give them time to not only find interests but to become interesting people themselves. Charlotte Mason spoke of the need for unscheduled time as masterly inactivity. Neither she nor Thoreau could have imagined to what extent things would go, how many sources of mindless entertainment here would be surrounding us on all sides.

It is hard, especially if your children are older and have gotten into poor habits, but if you want to foster interests in them, if you want them to engage with their schoolwork or with anything that is not electronic, you need to start cutting cords. We do not have a screen-free house-old though we have largely avoided the portable hand-held devices; I am not an advocate of getting rid of all screens, but we must put more conscious thought into where to draw the lines, both for ourselves and our children, or they threaten to overtake and consume us (funny that we should be called consumers when it seems we are really the consumees — always beign devoured by our possessions). I don’t know about you, but I expect to have many holidays and family dinners with my kids and I would rather they grow up to be interesting people.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Hannah VW on December 9, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Interesting thoughts.
    I often think what an experiment my kids are living. I always think it is cute but scary the first time they figure out how to unlock and use a touch screen device…around 18 months old for my first 2 kids.

    We limit screen time, but we have tons of devices (my husband is a computer programmer and does need them to test his stuff) including computers, laptop computers, phones, several tablets. And we have some carefully chosen apps and things they are allowed to do on them. I try to choose things that require a little creativity or thought: we like Monster Physics and Casey’s Contraptions. It’s hard not to rely on them if I’m tired, sick, just need to get the baby asleep, at the dentist, on the phone…and before I know it I’m giving extra screen time all over the place. The limits are mostly helpful for me so I don’t say “sure, one more game” to the kids.


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