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Every weekday evening that I am home, I watch an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with my youngest daughter. (Thank goodness for Amazon Prime!) From the time my girls were little, Mister Rogers has been a staple around our house. It is the one show that I could enjoy along with them; and it seems that no matter how many times I’ve watched those episodes, I can always learn something new or take away another thought for life.
Then the other day it hit me: I think the reason I like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood so much is because it is full of living ideas! Those of you who grew up with Mister Rogers will probably understand best when I say that the difference between living ideas and facts is like the difference between Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and Sesame Street.
Allow me to illustrate.
Facts vs. Living Ideas
Usually an episode of Sesame Street focuses on a letter or two and a number. The emphasis is on teaching the child to recognize that this symbol, “B,” is the letter B and says b, or this symbol, “2,” is the number 2 and stands for two of any object. All the cute little scenarios and songs are designed to teach those facts in a fun way.
Contrast that approach with the episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that my daughter and I watched last night. It began with Mr. Rogers blowing bubbles and having fun trying to catch some of them. Then he showed us a larger wand that would create huge bubbles. Watching him play with those big bubbles, I found myself thinking it might be fun to try that sometime. An idea!
When he had finished playing with the bubbles his hands were sticky, so he went to the kitchen sink to wash them. But when he turned on the faucet, no water came out. He calmly looked around and tried various things, including the bathroom faucets, then called a plumber and found another way to clean his hands. More ideas.
One of the characters in Make-Believe forgot her lines during a play they were presenting. She was quite embarrassed, but her friends reassured her that they love her even when she makes mistakes. Oh, so many ideas here!
Next we visited a Philippino grandmother in her kitchen, and she showed Mister Rogers how to make spinach egg rolls. She had the original raw vegetables sitting on the table as well as their chopped and ground counterparts for the recipe. And when it was time to leave, she insisted on giving some fresh egg rolls to Mister Rogers to share with his family. Such ideas about culture and nutrition and helping in the kitchen and courtesy and kindness and sharing and cooking!
Back at his place, Mister Rogers took a minute to sing, “There Are Many Ways to Say ‘I Love You.’ ” A simple yet profound idea that relates to much of what we had just witnessed and more.
At that point the plumber arrived, explained that the problem had been outside the house, and assured Mister Rogers that it was fixed now. Then she checked the faucet and left with her customer’s smile and genuine thanks. Both practical and interpersonal ideas.
Do you see the difference in the emphasis? Now, keep in mind that there were facts included in the Mister Rogers episode too: plumbers fix water problems; what raw ginger looks like; what a mortar and pestle looks like and how it is used to grind ginger and other roots; etc. But the facts were couched in living ideas, and it was the living ideas that made the facts stick.
Books Teeming with Ideas
So am I saying you must watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood? No. Am I saying that I agree with every idea Mister Rogers shared in his programs? No. As with any human being sharing ideas, we must practice discretion. I’m merely trying to offer you yet another example of the difference between facts and ideas to help you identify living books as Charlotte Mason described them, books that will feed your child’s mind and heart.
Beware of books that place the focus on facts, even if they try to dress up those facts in clever dialogue or cute scenarios. Look, instead, for books that teem with living ideas. The facts will be included naturally, but the emphasis must be on the ideas.
We give him miserable little text-books, mere compendiums of facts, which he is to learn off and say and produce at an examination; or we give him various knowledge in the form of warm diluents, prepared by his teacher with perhaps some grains of living thought to the gallon. And all the time we have books, books teeming with ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce children (Vol. 3, p. 171).