If you’ve been in Charlotte Mason homeschooling very long, you know the emphasis Charlotte put on doing things only once. She explained that we cultivate the habit of attention by reading the passage only once before requiring a narration. We encourage obedience by not repeating ourselves when giving a direction to a child. We dictate each phrase only once for a student who is writing her spelling passage.
So when I came across this next “too often” sentence in Charlotte’s writings, I sat up and took notice!
“It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically, for perhaps we err more in this respect than any other in bringing up children.”
You’re going to repeat something? Really? It must be of great importance!
We’ve looked at a couple of other “too often” statements already: Too often we give children twaddle and Too often habit is a frustrator of our good intentions. Today let’s look at a concept that Charlotte considered important enough to repeat often and emphatically.
The Mind Grows on Ideas
Here is the entire quote:
“The intellectual life, like every manner of spiritual life, has but one food whereby it lives and grows—the sustenance of living ideas. It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically, for perhaps we err more in this respect than any other in bringing up children” (Vol. 3, p. 121).
The mind lives and grows when fed living ideas, not just dry facts. We know this in words, but Charlotte wanted us to remember it in practice. Often.
The difference between living ideas and dry facts is the difference between memorizing the symptoms of autism in order to pass a test vs. spending time with an autistic person.
It’s the difference between selecting the correct multiple-choice answer to identify the years of the Civil War vs. reading first-hand accounts of what it was like to live during that war.
It’s the difference between drawing lines to match the animals with their respective habitats vs. spending time in nature and watching those animals in their habitats.
Choose just one of those situations described above, and take a moment to put yourself in the living-idea side of the scenario. You might be spending time with an autistic person, whether face to face or through a living book. You might be reading about someone’s experiences and thoughts during the Civil War. You might be sitting quietly, watching a beaver at work—whether in person or through a naturalist author’s eyes. Whatever the situation, picture yourself in it for a moment. What are you doing? And perhaps more importantly, what is happening in your mind?
If this living idea is touching your emotions and firing your imagination, as it should be, your mind will be making mental connections with other experiences you’ve had or read about. Oh, it might not happen immediately, but even after you move on to something else, a part of your mind will notice any other tidbit that is in any way related to that recent living idea. And that’s when learning becomes personal and real.
Mental Connections and Personal Relations
You’ve most likely experienced the effect of a living idea in a practical adult-world way. Let’s say your husband tells you that he will get you a new vacuum. What happens in your brain? You start wondering which kind is best and picturing the new one in the closet. Before you know it, you are noticing vacuum ads that you never saw or heard before. You suddenly discover that your friends have vacuums and opinions about them. When you lay your cheek against the floor and stick your hand under the couch to retrieve a toy, you realize that you’re thinking about how clean that carpet will be with your new vacuum. Everywhere you turn, your mind is making connections to that vacuum. It is a living idea.
Now, is it our job to make all those connections for our children? No. It is our job to feed their minds with a feast of living ideas, so that no matter which one takes hold, it will nourish them with all of the great nutrients connected to it. That’s why it’s our job to give the living ideas; they’re powerful!
So how is your home school diet? Are you providing living ideas on which your children’s minds can live and grow? “Perhaps we err more in this respect than any other in bringing up children.”
“The intellectual life, like every manner of spiritual life, has but one food whereby it lives and grows—the sustenance of living ideas. It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically” (Vol. 3, p. 121).