Friday, October 4, 2013

Smart Children Are Free to Imagine

Smart Children Are Free to Imagine

fall pin cushion
     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.

pumpkin colored pin cushion
I made a pumpkin colored pin cushion this month.

     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

apple butter pot hanging in the fireplace
Dried Flowers in an Apple Butter Pot

     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

     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

     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. 

wooly bear caterpillar
A Grandson with a Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Observant People

     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

     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. 

Dyeing Yarn at Landis Valley

     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.

     “Ooo, I like the tiny tin-kitchen,” I told her. “It’s a work of art and so cute.” Dean grimaced behind the camera at that word again. “I recognize it because I have seen an illustration in The Tasha Tudor Cookbook,” I explained. I had also seen, on video, Tasha’s doll size replica of the full size family heirloom (reflector oven) she used to roast poultry up against a blazing fire. 

tin-kitchen doll size

     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.    

elephant cookie cutter

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.

Karen Andreola
End Notes
*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
*5 Ibid


  1. What a lovely post.I did not home school ,but I would today if I could do it again.I love this gentle art of learning that is captured here. I must pass this posting on to dear daughter,and daughter in law.They are educating the next generation,and what a blessing "twould be" if they should choose this way.Thank-you for all that you invest in us readers,your blog is such an encouragement.Your pin cushion is sweet,but dear grandson sweeter still. Blessings Karen,Dawn E. Brown

  2. This post is meant for parents as well as their children. I have to work at not being enthralled with the pretties online and focus on developing my imagination that was almost beat out of me during school years. :)

    As a fellow admirer of Tasha Tudor, the lady's tin kitchen is so lovely. Her spirit of determination in completing her task with Parkinson's is also admirable.

    I hope you're having a lovely week.

  3. Karen - I know I have thanked you before, but I am so greatful I came across your book The Charlotte Mason Companion at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. I'm now coming to the end of our homeschooling journey and the hard work is paying off. Our 17 year old taught himself to make steel guitars (I'll blog about it tomorrow)and has sold one internationally, has another in a local shop for sale. Limiting xbox, tv and computer and being allowed to just be inspires the child to think and create.
    THANK YOU!!!
    Much love Leanne

  4. My grown children live 5 doors down the sidewalk from each other in an apartment complex. The other day my daughter laughingly told me that she knows when her brother is the one walking down the sidewalk because she recognizes his gait! Our family fondly calls it galumphing.

    I like your fall flowers, Karen. Fall arrived at our house on September 30th. I usually sternly make myself wait for October, but I was in a rather foul mood, and the thought of lovely fall lifted my spirits.

    My husband and I were chatting this afternoon about our ever-expanding roads and highways. Our theory is that they have to be bigger and bigger to accommodate the volume of traffic because we are so rarely at home. My usual response to a child who claims to be bored is, "Hmmm, boring people complain of boredom." After reading your post, I'll also be thinking, "It's good for you!"

    I've enjoyed the visit,

  5. We don't have tv (so glad!) but I agree that the computer can easily take up too much time.

    I was just thinking yesterday that sometimes I mindlessly when I have a spare minute, go online to check email...that you for the "iron sharpening of iron" reminder. I'm not too old to remember when we had no computer when my oldest were little and during a rare quiet moment, I'd doodle or pull out an old cookbook, which is quiet different than following endless rabbit trails on pinterest :(
    The computer has it's place, yes, and can be a valuable tool (especially for the refreshment I find here at your place), but can be a harsh master.

  6. I'm a new mom, and this topic has come up quite a bit for me recently. The internet is a real, actual addiction for my generation and our children are expected as babies to have access to screen time and be able to manipulate apps. I catch myself worrying that my 18 month old isn't keeping pace and learning in the hurried fashion that is currently expected. But when I come here and read your words, and this especially lovely post, I am quieted and encouraged. It's like having a wise mom sitting on my couch and giving advice. Thank you.

  7. I love watching my kids using their imaginations, making maps, writing stories.

    I saw Tasha Tudor's dollhouse and mini tin kitchen in Williamsburg! I love it!

    Love your grandsons drawing on the fridge.


  8. Thank you for taking the time to write this! I truly enjoyed every word of your "mouthful". We have "quiet" time every afternoon where children are allowed to do something quietly by themselves for an hour. Little ones sleep. Our daughter reads or draws. Our son, energetic and very social, finds it hard to be a l o n e for an hour each day, but I think it's a very needed skill in our lives. In quietness and yes, even in boredom, great ideas are born!
    Often when children say 'I'm bored', I will find some work for them :) They quickly realize that just thought of something to do instead.
    I would love to learn new skills...Loved that cookie cutter and now I'm wondering what is needed for tin work :) Thank you again!!!

  9. I have no more children in my home..just myself these days, but I do have my four year old grandson, Jaxon, for half a day most mornings into the afternoon. I am trying to implement some of your ideas and those of Charlotte Mason's on giving him a little headstart on his education...which will begin in a public school. So I like coming here to read up on what you share. Your home is beautiful too,and I also like getting a peek inside for time to time :) Blessings friend

  10. The perfect way to finish my morning cup is to find a new post here in this space and be inspired once again. Thank you, Karen. Praying you where not too severely impacted by the recent storms. ~Lisa

  11. We have been working hard at 'detoxing' our kids from TV everyday, and encouraging imaginative play. It has been such a blessing to see their minds take off and their play become so much more fun. Thank you for confirming for me that we are moving in the right direction.

  12. I grinned at the conversation between the two children. I must have one independent thinker in my house and one on the brink of boredom all the time. But never far behind the bored child who does in fact ask the independent thinker:
    "whatcha want to do?", an idea is sparked and off they go.

    Funny. I never realized this until now.

    Ahh, how true that we need to allow more time to think. To be bored. Less outside activity. Less online time and more time in living books and well, yes. Just more time to think.

    In preparing for my upcoming book study, I was reading chapter nine. The Happiness of Habit. And I think you've hit a good spot here as far as children being free to imagine. And that is, that according to chapter nine..this must start with the mama. Forming habits is me. Keeping distractions to a minimum. And clutching tight to the goodness that a good idea is the motivating power of life!
    And a good idea will go a long way to let them be free to imagine.

    Great post full to the brim of this method of learning.

    Did you mention the word "cute" again?! Mr. A is sure to enjoy this:-)

  13. So, so good.
    I love what you said about the four Gospels.
    Thank you for taking the time to write, it is so encouraging.

  14. This is one of your most interesting and beautiful articles, so full of wisdom and important reminders. I need to think about it a while - think about how I can incorporate it in my teaching. Thank you!