October 29, 2012

The Well Nourished Mind

There is an aspect of Charlotte Mason's method which resonated with me several years ago when I was first looking into it a way to go about our home education. It was the idea that we nourish the minds of our children on a banquet of ideas. I could understand feeding their minds because I was already very accustomed to feeding their bodies and to translate that skill towards education made perfect sense.
"Our chief concern for the mind or for the body is to supply a well-ordered table abundant, appetizing, nourishing and very varied food, which children deal with in their own way and for themselves. This food must be served au natural, without the predigestion which deprives it of stimulating and nourishing properties and no sort of forcible feeding or spoon feeding may be practiced." (Vol. 6  ch. 4)

A well ordered table implies that we don't skip around feeding them a bit of Egyptian history one day and some Renaissance history another, but that we have a sense of order to our presentation of ideas. Ideally they should build on, or rather link one to another. Line upon line precept upon precept may not be necessary for each subject but it implies the right idea, the presentation of ideas should flow easily from one idea to the next so the mind can follow a path to new ideas.

This idea of having a well ordered table also implies that the lesson we plan have a sense of rhythm or routine to it. I heard it once said that routine in a day is like a string on which to hang the beads of the events of our daily life. I can just imagine a beautiful string of beads all jumbled up and wanting desperately to arrange them so that they look lovely hanging there next to each other. It may be the arrangement is done via the colors, but perhaps also the shapes can be put in to order in such a way as to convey balance. CM suggests putting subjects in order in such a way as to give the brain rest on one task while engaging in a totally new task but is different from the last. Such as listening to a portion of history and narrating after doing mathematics. Each task engages the mind but in different ways thus not taxing but nourishing the child's mind.

Abundant suggests to me that copious amounts of ideas in literary form should be presented. It is up to the child to take from the abundance of ideas which surround him on a daily basis and make them into food for his hungering mind. He does the chewing, and the digesting. We as educators take the risk that he will feed himself and get the nourishment his mind needs to grow and develop into the person he/she was created to be.

This year I have begun to take this to heart and let go of many of our hands on lesson for living lessons based upon "living books". I read more aloud to them from literary sources and I commentate very little. They narrate and tell me what they have learned, and I stay out of their way. I can see such a change in them. The eagerness to come to be fed is tangible. No need any more for twisting of arms or treats to motivate them. They come because they are hungry to know. I have made it a goal to feed them more and have them put out work less.

Appetizing, what a beautiful word to describe lessons which are appropriate for the child at his age and level of knowledge acquisition. It paints such a fun picture of tasty, beautiful, rich, well cooked ideas that entices the child to want it. Lessons which are short, full of literary ideas, filled with pictures for the mind to engage with. Lessons which link together and build. Lesson that use beautiful language.

I can recall reading a picture book to my boys a few years back. It was a picture book of King of the Golden River. The pictures were beautifully drawn and complex. The literary value was beyond what I could read easily but the words painted a picture for the mind to dwell on. I read a few pages and began to get a little worried I had picked a book that was beyond them but they surprised me in asking the read the book and then again and again. When I grew tired of reading it to them they asked others to read it to them. The beautifully written words were appetizing to their minds and they longed for more.

A child's mind is fed upon ideas, says CM. Thus nourishing the mind would involve lessons which are full of ideas. Ideas that convey a picture to the mind seem to work best. Ideas not books full of facts or factoids but ideas found inside of a story/narrative. Ideas built line upon line. Even at my adult age I notice my mind still thrives best and learns most readily from a story. I recently read The Harbinger and was delighted to realize how the author had utilized this idea of a narrative to convey his idea to the reader. Luckily, there are many 'living books' in all topics which can be used for nourishing the mind.

Lastly CM suggests we give them very varied foods. Literary lessons from all subjects. From history, literature, music, art, geography, all branches of the sciences, language arts, foreign languages, and even in math we are enjoying learning about the lives of famous mathematicians from the Mathematicians are people too Vol. 1 and 2. The method that Charlotte developed educates a person towards feeding the mind and not filling a bucket. This implies that some information will be selected for use and other bits left behind. But the varied education allows a child to touch upon all areas of  life and find his place in it. As well it allows him to interact knowledgeably with others increasing his social ability.

This abundant feast is to be served au natural. No need for handouts with comprehension questions, or hands on activities to draw out a certain part of the info from the literary meal served. There is no need for commentary or questionings from the teacher. The literary meal is rich with ideas the child's mind will work on long after the lesson is complete. The digestion takes place during the free hours of play that the CM education provides.  He is full, well fed from the morning of well prepared lessons. His mind now receives during the afternoon of play and digests from the meal what his mind needs.

Last summer I read Children of the Summer with my boys just before bed. We only read it for fun and did not narrate it. It is a lovely "living book" which excites any reader to love the dear little insects Fabre spent his life learning about. It was simply a small bedtime snack for the mind. I did not know if they were or were not getting anything from the book, but I decided to trust CM and simply feed them. Later that summer several weeks after we had finished reading the book I left my kids to play outside with some other kids for the afternoon while I did some errands. When I returned the mom told me how amazed she was at how much my children knew about insects. She proceeded to tell me all they had said and I recognized their knowledge had come from Fabre's delightful book. They had received something from those bedtime snacks....sometimes it takes more than a day to digest it or find another soul to retell it to.

I still do too much spoon feeding and other kinds of lesson other than those that feed the mind. But this year I understand more fully that my children's minds need to be fed and I am praying about how to change my old habits for new ones. It is still and small this sweet voice of comfort I hear speaking to me in the stiller moments of the day. It keeps saying.....simply feed them Sarah That is enough.

UPDATE July 2013: There is a wonderful post by Dr. Carroll Smith HERE that talks in more detail about laying a feast of living books that you may enjoy reading.


  1. Was there ever a time in which you read them such a book and they were not interested in it? If so, did you make them hear it anyway or did you stop reading it?

    1. Yes, and I stopped reading it. Usually I can figure out why they don't like it by asking them, or just through motherly observations. Sometimes, a book is just on a topic they care little about, or one likes but the others don't. Then we take a vote or take turn picking a book. It is a good thing to learn to be polite and enjoy what someone else deems interesting. It may just become interesting to you one day. Sometimes it is a book with vocabulary way over their heads. But usually even if the vocabulary is difficult they will still enjoy enough of the story and stay with it. That is how we read Captain Courageous and All Sail set last year.
      One thing I am sure helps is that we do not own a TV. We watch videos once a week and we do not play video games. Much of acquiring good taste is not giving them junk. I even remove the books from our shelves that I deem twaddle. But I gained courage from CM and drop books if they are not interested.
      Thus far these are books I read aloud to them, so we will see what happens when they have to work to get the story for themselves.

    2. Phyllis I thought pf a few more reasons we would drop a living book" but before i list those I recommend reading Linda Faye's post if you have not already on Hard books and uninterested children over at Higher up and Further In and also Brandy's post at After thoughts about Entertainment in Education Both bring up very good issue of the why we use living books and why hard books should not be dropped. However interest may wain for other reasons that being too hard. The book may be too easy. I dropped A Child's History of the World because I could see they were bored with it de to it having short snippets of history when they were accustomed to longer more intricate stories. Recently I stopped reading The golden Key and other short stories by George Mcdonald because requested to. They said it was too dark and I had to agree. I never read them Just So Stories though it is a wonderfully written book the stories within we decided were too demonic and very accurate to what we knew the demonic to do and we did not want our kids reading it in the light Kipling portrays it as somewhat innocuous. Also and lastly I have dropped narrating a book because I realized that I as a teacher had given them a book too hard for them to narrate int the beginning when they were first learning to do it. I have a tendency to skip steps in the learn process and since we don't follow a reading list I can make mistakes and get too far ahead of them causing frustration for us all.
      Hope that is helpful.

  2. Some good thoughts to contemplate on about nourishment, Sarah. If I lived in your part of the world I'd be inviting myself for a cup of tea at one of your delectable tables.....

    1. The table is set, drop on by...(smile)

  3. Lovely post! If I hadn't just eaten, it might have made me hungry! This took me deeper into the full meaning of what CM was talking about when she compared feeding the body to feeding the mind with ideas. Thank you for sharing this post!