Smart Children Are Free to Imagine
When our home was trafficked with lively children I could stand in the kitchen, my back to whoever was coming down the oak staircase, and guess, by the sound of the gait, who it was. It might be a skippity trot; a tumbledown drum roll, or the gentle even tread of the daydreamer. A moment later, “Hi Ma . . .what’s for supper?” proved my guess correct.
Isn’t it funny how children of the same parents grow up with different personalities, different gaits, different temperaments, etc. We acquire our own set of idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes. Everyone in the family might have brown hair but under the hair is a brain and personality that has gone its separate way – without necessarily straying from family loyalty.
Children, brought up by good parents, are loved under an umbrella of authority. Obedience is one of the first lessons a young child learns. But we also recognize that the child is a person. There is uniqueness to his personality. We can even say that personality is a sacred, God-given thing of which we think little. British educator Miss Charlotte Mason respected personality and believed it “must not be encroach upon.”*1
Her principles of education preserve personality and nourish it along.
It may not be evident at first glance. But looking closer we can see how the method of using living books and narration engage personality. In a Charlotte Mason education a student becomes self-educated. Education is not something that is applied like sunscreen to the skin. It happens “within.” When a student is put directly in touch with books of literary vitality and is required to put what was just read into his own words, his personality is engaged. His narration is personally crafted. Rather than a fill-in-the-blank work page or a disjointed multiple choice, with narration his mind does the work for itself. Attending, remembering, sorting, comparing, sequencing, reasoning and, quite delightfully imagining, are invisible powers that come together in a student’s narration. As simple as his narration may be in the beginning years, it is his and has come from his own mind. Just as people have unique fingerprints and telltale gaits, siblings reading (or hearing) the same book will craft their narration with a different twist. In A Charlotte Mason Companion I point out, “Yet each can be correct, valid, and true. Isn’t it interesting how the Word of God includes four Gospels accounts, each narrated from a special point of view? All are true, all minister to us, yet each is unique.” *2
Something else is needed for personality to develop. Down-time.
Make Room for Boredom
We all (Moms, too) need down-time to let our minds wander and ruminate freely on what has been presented to it. We need time for imagining.
There is a place we go when bored. That place is on-line. It is a world not without peril. But it is also a world of the beautiful, the funny, the informative, all awaiting us literally at the touch of a fingertip. As we choose to go on-line we also need the will power to choose to be off-line. This could mean saying “No” to ourselves and our children more times than make us feel comfortable - and - at regular intervals.
Organized activities outside the home can also be limited.
When we are bored and unplugged this gives opportunity for imagining.
I took note of Cornelia Meigs’ insight into the life of Louisa May Alcott’s father in Invincible Louisa. In the early 1800s Bronson walked state to state peddling his teaching, stopping at plantations to talk. Any news and opinions were welcomed into the monotonous life of the country folk especially if the person were as good a talker as Bronson and had manners just as fine. If invited to stay he’d spend hours in the plantation libraries. Their shelves were often filled with “three generations of treasures.” He’d read history, philosophy, and poetry trying to absorb “all that was humanly possible before he shouldered his pack” to set off down the road again. “After this feast of learning, he had what is another priceless necessity - long quiet hours to think over and appraise what he had read.” During his lonesome tramping he reflected, he ruminated. He ate a bite of lunch under a tree, perhaps exchanging a few words with a passer by. The paragraph concludes, “Very few are the courses in education which allow time to think, but this education of Bronson’s was complete even to that final need.”*3
The muscles of imagination seem to like to work along with the muscles of the body.
“So close is the connection between the mind and the muscular action in children that their ideas, as soon as conceived, must by some uncontrollable impulse be expressed in action, and this is in the main the raison d’etre of children’s play.”4 Play is the outward expression of imagination even if it just be the sheer joy of movement. To children educated on “books and things” - and room for boredom - this is the sustenance for make-believe.
“There is a close relationship between the movements of children and development of their mind.” *5
If messes are allowed, if creative materials, building blocks, Lego, dress up clothes, dolls, art supplies, wheelbarrows and wagons are handy; children will create in their free time. This is where the term “recreation” arises. It is refreshing to re-create mind and body.
Just imagine . . . the story or parable begins. For those who can, the better he will be for it – because the more he will be able to bring to it. All through our lives, at every stage of maturity, the power of using our imagination comes in handy. It expands our minds. It softens our hearts. It enables us to put ourselves in the place of another by sympathizing, even if it is only the character of a story. Through the Bible and discussion over good books we build a moral imagination.
Independent thinkers are those who have learned how to use down-time. Bored stiff, one child asks another, “What-a you wanna do?”
“I dunno. What-a you wanna do?” is the lackadaisical reply. The independent thinker comes up with something. The imaginative person does not necessarily have his head in the clouds. On the contrary he creates, invents, discovers, and builds, because he is an observant person.
Observant people are those who have learned to appreciate their surroundings – preferably outdoors. In later years, in times of adversity our children may recall a peaceful scene of their youth. During a particularly stressful flight on a stuffy and turbulent airplane, I closed my eyes to recall how the seashore looks, feels, smells and sounds at low tide. In the cool of a summer evening its wavelets are edged in white froth like delicate silver-beaded lace glistening in the reflection of a setting sun. I was still anxious during the turbulence but I was a more calm anxious – if that makes sense.
"All who wander are not lost.”
J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien
One way a child’s personality develops is by unconsciously imitating grown-ups or older siblings. A little guy will slip his feet into his dad’s shoes and shuffle around the room. Children a bit older give a more sophisticated version of this a try. They walk in the shoes of the characters found on the pages of their books - those lovely books that influence their imagination.
I spied, out our picture window in Maine, one afternoon, two girls in ponytails galloping across the yard. It was Yolanda and her friend. They shared a love of horses. I found out later that they were actors in a play going through the motions of an elaborate situation. The lawn was their stage, the pine trees their backdrop, the birds in the sky their audience. Oh, those hours of healthy imagining off-line.
It seems some people never grow up. More accurately stated: They like using their imaginations. Adults enjoy getting-into-the-part, too. Look at a re-enactor (or interpreter) at an open-air history museum, or special event, with period costume, manners, handicraft skills, and even stylized conversation.
A visit to Landis Valley brought us to the goldenrod colored studio of a tinsmith. She is soft-spoken but not shy and permitted Dean to take her photograph while we chatted.
The tinsmith’s eyes widened. She had visited Tasha’s house in Vermont, she told me, and modeled her tin-kitchen after Tasha’s – a tin-kitchen, which she says is now, importantly, housed in Colonial Williamsburg.
She is someone with a keen interest. Imaginative people have interests. With her skilled hands she sets out to make what she observes and what she imagines. Admittedly her right hand shakes with signs of Parkinson’s. But with courage of heart she is thankful it hasn’t so far stopped her from soldering. My favorite cookie cutter of hers is the one you see here – a shape she derived from a picture of a vintage toy elephant. Brilliant.
For the Practical-minded Teacher
Imagination is a big boost to intelligence. It isn’t fluff or fiddle-dee-dee. A student will automatically call upon the powers of imagination in his schoolwork. When he answers a question set for geography for instance, “Describe a volcano” he, who has never stood on an active volcano, will call upon his knowledge of the facts, understood in part, by his imagination. Do you see, therefore, that a mediocre imagination would be less supportive than a vivid one - in the study of history, art, literature, science, and all the subjects across the board?
A magnet on my refrigerator holds up a drawing my 5-yr-old grandson did of his cat, which his grandma thinks is so cute. I look at it everyday until I can see him again and get a new picture, I hope. The drawing apparently reflects how he sees his cat sitting head on in his imagination. The magnet reads,
“Anyone who is successful dreamed something."
I know this post is a mouthful. It took a couple weeks to compose because as an admirer of Charlotte Mason's style of writing, I aim to arrange the practical with the inspiring. It takes a bit of doing.
As always, discussion is invited.
*1 Charlotte Mason, Preface to the Home Education Series
*2 Karen Andreola, A Charlotte Mason Companion, page 114
*3 Corneila Meigs, Invincible Louisa, pages 9 and 10
*4 H. Lloyd Parry, K. Andreola’s Parents’ Review - Summer ‘96, page 31