Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Swallows and Amazons

I haven't written about any books recently, so I thought I would mention the book we are reading to the grade schoolers at bedtime. Have you ever read Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome? This is our (J.'s and my) second or third time through it, and I like it just as much each time. It is the first of a series which chronicles the adventures of a set of siblings in the Lake District in England. In the first book, the family moves into a house on a lake where the children discover a sailboat and receive permission to sail the boat to a small island in the lake and camp there for the summer. Without adults. The oldest is ~14 years old and the youngest is ~7.

Each time I read it there are two things which strike me. The first is how imaginative and well-read all of the children in the story are. Their play is based on the literature that they have read and they take great joy in playing out the stories they've read. There were no screens for them to prefer and they knew how to play. Even the 14 year old boy in the story entered into the play with the same enthusiasm as his younger siblings.

The second thing which strikes me is the freedom these children are given. Can you imagine it today? Four children? A sailboat? On an island unsupervised for days on end? Clearly something has significantly changed in our thinking about raising children. You could make the argument that the world is a less safe place than it was in the 30's, but I'm not entirely sure that's really true. Thanks to the media we are just far more aware of the horrible things which happen across our country and around our world. Plus, I really don't think that water was less easy to drown in 80 years ago.

I can only think that the priorities of parents have changed over the past 100 years. In the past, I think it was far more important to the adults of society that the children around them become adults. In order to do this, children need to practice. They need practice having ideas, trying them out, making mistakes, failing, and trying again. It is how one develops competency. And sometimes that involves possible danger. The value of having the freedom to play and to develop self-direction seems to have outweighed the dangers.

Today, it seems that safety has become the number one priority of adults. "Keeping the children safe" has been used to sell a myriad products, theories, and laws. Parents are so concerned over safety that children no longer have the freedom to explore on their own and learn the skills which that exploration brings. And it doesn't seem to stop at physical safety. Emotional safety seems to be as high a priority and parents are generally unwilling to let their child suffer any negative emotions. Allowing a child to miss a meal because they forgot it or fail a class because they didn't do the work isn't even an option. Without real adventure and imagination, is it any wonder that these children turn to the virtual world to experience what they don't know they crave?

I will admit that I struggle with this as well. I don't want anything to happen to my children, but I also remember how much I enjoyed riding for hours by myself. Sometimes things didn't go as planned, but that was part of the fun and I learned I could figure things out if I needed to. I find it a fine line between giving them the freedom I know the want and need and being a responsible parent.

That's why I find reading older literature so interesting. It opens another way of parenting that was at one time common, but now seems to be lost. And it makes me wonder if we are raising an entirely different species sometimes. One quick look through something like, The American Boys' Handy Book, shows major projects which it was expected that boys could build. It seems a shame.

But, if you haven't read Swallows and Amazons, I highly recommend it. At the very least your vocabulary of sailing terms will grow by leaps and bounds.

Don't forget little Chad. He is 9 years old and has always lived in an institution. An institution with severe neglect. No one has ever even asked to look at his file. Pray that God will not let this little one become invisible. Pray that his parents will find him and show him what it means to be loved.

He looks like a sweetheart with his curly hair. Pray, pray, pray that his family finds him. You can see his information on Reece's Rainbow.


Robyn said...

Oh my! We only last month finished a FOUR MONTH Swallows and Amazons read-aloud (we read 11 of them, skipping only Peter Duck)! My 6 year old was totally captivated by the stories -- it was like he lived in them for the entire fall. Our house is adorned by drawings of pirate ships labeled "Amazon", a stuffed parrot named Polly, and imaginary packages arriving in the mail from Captain Nancy.

I was struck by how slow moving, detail oriented, and gentle the stories are. Not much happens in them, and what does is described exhaustively. You want to know how to survey, or pan for gold, or step a sail? Read Ransome. And the kids live in this benign universe of off-stage but helpful adults, mild danger, and excitement about little things. They're very sweet books (but certainly not for everyone -- my sister has a 6 year old son too, and after reading a chapter or so to my son was certain there's no way hers would be interested in the story).

The 6 year old and I are re-reading Swallows and Amazons together now. It's a reach for his reading level, but he's really motivated! He reads a page or more at a time, then gets a break while I read a half page or so.

Thanks for blogging about a book series that has greatly influenced us recently!

Sarah said...

Just hopping over from the Pioneer Woman's site to say thanks so much for responding to my question about picture books featuring African American kids. Your suggestions were wonderful, and it was a nice surprise to see that you're an adoptive parent as well. I loved the Swallows and Amazons books as a kid, and look forward to sharing them with our kids when they get a little bigger. I was homeschooled from 1st Grade through highschool graduation before headng on to college/work/marriage and now babies, so it's always fun to run across the blog of a homeschooling family!

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