Toy car

I still recall the time many years ago when we scraped the bottom of our newlywed bank account to buy a gift for a little boy. We got him a sturdy but simple toy car. No flashing lights, no screeching sounds, no remote control—it had no limits but imagination.

When our little friend opened the present, he got a puzzled look on his face. He turned the car over in his hands, looked at his dad, and asked, “What’s it do?”

You see, this child had been fed a steady diet of toys that required little or no imagination. Each one had entertained the boy’s senses for a while, but none had challenged him to cultivate that oh-so-satisfying work called “imagining.” Because he was used to the feeble, diluted, spoon-fed toys, he couldn’t appreciate the time-tested hearty ones and the satisfying challenge they offer.

Charlotte Mason said that it’s the same with books.

Twaddle Too Often

It’s easy to find books that appeal to the eyes—books with lots of pictures and short snippets of sentences; books with lots of action and little character; books that entertain but require no effort. In other words, twaddle.

Such material is not the stuff that will strengthen a child’s imagination.

“Imagination does not stir at the suggestion of the feeble, much-diluted stuff that is too often put into children’s hands” (Vol. 1, p. 294).

An imagination requires exercise to strengthen, and why should a child exercise his imagination when everything has been done for him? There is no need for chewing when fed baby food.

Charlotte found a better way to exercise the imagination. She pointed to the detailed illustrations that her students created from “the various images that present themselves to the minds of children during the reading of a great work; and a single such glimpse into a child’s mind convinces us of the importance of sustaining that mind upon strong meat” (Vol. 1, p. 294).

Do you want your child to have a good imagination? Train him up on time-tested, hearty living books. Such great works will exercise his imagination because they will paint pictures with their words, and he will put forth the effort to become strong in the art of seeing with his mind’s eye.

Some may ask, “Then is there ever a place for pictures?” Absolutely. Especially when the living book is about a time period with which the student is unfamiliar. In those instances, a few well-chosen artifacts or simple drawings can lead the imagination in the right direction.

But Charlotte was warning us to beware of thinking we must spoon-feed every scene of the story using as many illustrations as we can find. Such a visual overload will squelch the imagination, not strengthen it.

Too often we assume the child cannot understand or follow in his mind’s eye, and so we feed him feeble, much-diluted stuff.

“Imagination does not stir at the suggestion of the feeble, much-diluted stuff that is too often put into children’s hands” (Vol. 1, p. 294).

PS: After reading that statement, I was curious what else Charlotte had to say about “too often.” Watch for more of her “too often” statements sprinkled throughout the coming weeks’ posts. They’re quite interesting, and I hope you’ll find them both reassuring and challenging, as I did.


  1. I cannot help but notice that you quote Charlotte Mason, even to the Vol. and verse, as one would do with the bible. Beware.

    • Numbering pages, paragraphs, and lines of documents is a practice from academia for all kinds of literature. It provides an easy reference to a portion of text for discussion and does not imply any authority or importance. The same practice is used in scientific, business, and legal documents using a variety of numbering systems.

      In the case of Charlotte Mason, she wrote about education in many books and other publications. We’re simply citing our source by book and page number. It’s just like most of us have done in writing a school paper where we include footnotes or a bibliography to document our source of information.

      We at Simply Charlotte Mason believe the Bible is the Word of God, “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

      By the way, the verse and chapter numbers in the Bible are not part of the original text. Someone added those later for reference and they don’t imply any importance there either.

      Although we can learn much from what others have written, no mere human work, with numbered sections or not, can compare with or has the authority of the Word of God found in the Bible alone.

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