Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Masterly Inactivity, or Not Becoming a Helicopter Parent

Relaxed Homeschooling

Masterly Inactivity.  It is a common phrase related to the Charlotte Mason philosophy, but it was one I never fully researched or embraced, until recently.  Yesterday, I shared about our Relaxed Homeschooling mindset, and as as part of that mindset, I want to allow my children the opportunity to do things on their own, to set their own goals, to solve their own problems. Part of that includes being an active participant in defining their education.

What is Masterly Inactivity?

In modern terms, in might be something akin to helicopter parenting.

“We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, ‘late and soon.’ We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 3, p. 27).

Masterly is defined as "suitable to or resembling that of a master" and I know that I do have authority over my children.  As a loving and caring parent, I can express this authority in our relationship when necessary.

Inactivity simply means not being involved.  In regards to my children, it is like being present, but passive.  That sounds bad at first, like a parent who is there in body, but not in mind or spirit.

However, when you combine these two things together, you can have a beautiful thing.  Masterly Inactivity.

What Does Masterly Inactivity Look Like?
  • Finding the delicate balance between being involved and being overbearing
  • Being available and attentive, without being pushy
  • Giving advice without controlling the situation
  • Trusting that God has given me the tools I need
  • Trusting myself as a parent
  • Trusting my child
  • Trusting the process
  • Encouraging independence, decision making, problem solving and confidence

Masterly Inactivity lends itself easily to a relaxed atmosphere.  Part of our Relaxed Homeschooling means that my children have more free time than many other children.  We don't start formal lessons until around age 6, which seems blasphemous to early childhood educators, I'm sure.  We keep lessons very short, so even in 1st grade my son is barely doing an hour of parent-directed school each day.  We are selective with our extracurricular activities so that we are not always busy running around.  Outside of school, age-appropriate chores and meals, my kids are basically given free time the rest of the day.  I know they will sometimes choose video games, and I have that masterly authority to step in and say "enough" when I believe they will become overstimulated.  I also know that even with video games as an option, they will more often than not choose LEGO, or look at books about Spiders, or ask me to read to them, or get out a magnetic science kit, or build towers for their baby sister to knock over, or build a fort on their bunk beds, or ask to go outside or . . .

You get the point.  Given the right tools (freedom under authority, strewing, guidance) they will find something to do.  Much of it may seem like play, but we know what play is to children:

“Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.” Friedrich Froebel

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.” ~ Fred Rogers

You will notice in my "day in the life" posts, that I refer to free time frequently, and during that time, I have to trust Masterly Inactivity.  I trust that in all their free time, in all their play, as I sit back and observe, that they are learning.  I don't have to choose their activities, or direct their play or point out patterns or connections.  They will form their own connections, in their own time.

To learn more about Masterly Inactivity (or Helicopter Parenting)
Masterly Inactivity Charlotte Mason's writings
Masterly Inactivity:  Free Charlotte Mason E-Book from Simply Charlotte Mason
31 Days of Charlotte Mason:  Masterly Inactivity {great examples of stepping back}
What is Helicopter Parenting? from Parents
"Helicopter Parents" Stir up Anxiety, Depression Indiana University

Day 1:  What is Relaxed Homeschooling?
Day 2:  Masterly Inactivity, or Not Becoming a Helicopter Parent
Day 3:  Relaxed Homeschooling, A Day in the Life
Day 4:  Relaxed Homeschooling, Just Another Day
Day 5:  Relaxed Homeschooling on the Go

Before you check out the main post with all of the fantastic topics this week, remember to check out these bloggers and see what they shared today!

Lisa @ A Rup Life ~ Our Favorite Books
Melissa @ Life Off the Paved Road ~ Fit From Home
Michelle @ Faith, Family, and Fridays ~ Clearing Out the Clutter
Jennifer @ Chestnut Grove Academy ~ Educational Apps
Jenni @ Conversaving ~ Homeschool Cooperatives
Lisa @ Home to 4 Kiddos ~ Celebrating Lent
Tawnee @ Adventures in Homeschooling ~ Spring Schooling
Crystal @ Crystal Starr Blog ~ Christ Centered Character Training

Then head back over to the main hop to find even more interesting topics! 


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  1. It is interesting I became more of a helicopter parent with my youngest who is into everything. I struggle with balance for this area with him.

    1. It is interesting, and I do think each child requires different amounts of attention and guidance.

  2. I want our homeschool to become more of this relaxed, self-directed style, but I'm afraid that my daughter is the "motivated" one of the bunch. The teen boys (and pre-teen) boy not so much, lol. :-)

    1. Well I'm sure my approach might change some as my children get older. I was a self-directed teenager, but I can see how some might need a bit more *masterly* motivation! :)

  3. "involved and overbearing" Yes, finding the fine line is the hardest for me! This has given me a lot to think about! I am one of those who battles being afraid if my kids have too much free time they will spend it on junk. You are right though- they usually do make good choices!

    1. Well, to help the children in this process, we have started weeding out the "junk" in our house. If there's living books, wholesome DVDs and quality toys or handicrafts to choose from, I don't worry as much. I have one kid who usually turns to LEGO and one who usually turns to drawing. I don't mind either of those!

  4. This is great! Thanks for the awesome reminders!

  5. Like I said in my comment yesterday, I tend to go through seasons. I am just coming off of a very hands off season. Now I'm being more directive. I'm sure we'll swing the other way in a few months. There is so much goodness that happens when I am more hands off.

    1. So much "goodness" is a perfect way to look at it! It's amazing what they can do when left to their own devices, isn't it?

  6. I have NEVER heard of masterly inactivity before! How is that possible?! :) I'm definitely going to have to read up on this further!

    1. I've read enough of your blog, I think it will fit well with your style. :)

  7. This is an interesting idea. A little hard for type A mommas, but I know my kids need more free time to explore and learn. Good food for thought.

    1. You know, I think "strewing" is a good activity to ease into more free time/relaxed nature, because there's still a good bit of direction from mom involved. Have you tried much strewing yet? I started there before I started consciously practicing masterly inactivity.