Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Charlotte Mason's "Thoughts Think Themselves" by Karen Andreola

Charlotte Mason's "Thoughts Think Themselves"

My little girl was faced with a decision. "Why don't you sleep on it?" I said. My words sounded silly to her. She giggled. Apparently it was the first time she had heard the expression.

"Sleep on it?" she echoed. Perhaps my suggestion sounded like make-believe.

"Yes," I answered. "If you can't decide today which color you'd like me to make your doll's pillow, take the idea to bed with you. Tomorrow the answer may come," I said, and then went back to washing the supper dishes.
basting a doll quilt "Quaker Hand of Friendship" 
"Thoughts think themselves," says Miss Charlotte Mason - when they are nourished with an initial idea. In the mind that is curious thoughts will often run in due course without conscience effort. My little girl gave "sleep-on-it" a try.  In the morning she greeted me at breakfast with, "It worked, Mommy! I decided!"

Have you ever wondered about the great emphasis Charlotte Mason placed on ideas? She emphasized ideas on the pages of Philosophy of Education especially, but it pops up in all her books.

"What's an idea? Is it a concept? A plan? A judgement? Or does the word have a deeper meaning?" asked a conscientious home teacher in her letter to me.

Remove pins and it is ready for hand-quilting. 
An idea can be all these things, I replied. An idea is something to think about, to expound upon, to make applicable. It is more than a list of cold hard facts. But it does take facts into consideration. Cause and effect in a story will bring forth ideas - so do cause and effect in a science experiment. The verses of poetry can help make visible to us ideas contained within the invisible nouns of generosity, sorrow, joy, honesty or self-sacrifice, for instance.

One New Idea a Day 

Presenting the student with at least one new idea a day is a doable aim for the Charlotte-Mason-minded-teacher. Ideas are at her fingertips. At the risk of sounding repetitive to my long-term-readers: Living books are alive with ideas. Nature, music and art present us with ideas, too. We cannot know which ideas will be the most attractive to our children. Therefore we spread the table with a varied diet of ideas.

My grandchildren were here - over the river and through the woods . . . 
One Thought Leads to Another

Not only do living books sow the seeds of ideas, but given room, a child will bump into them - because one thought leads to another. In the life of a small child an idea might be as simple as, "Hey, Mom, I have two cheerios and if I give you one, now we both have one - we're equal - says the Kindergarten child (my grandson) with a twinkling countenance - as if it was he who made the original discovery of this mathematical concept.

Grandsons contribute to the table decoration.
Ideas Grow on Us

I used to tell my audience, whenever I was asked to speak on the Gentle Art of Learning, that an idea is like a watermelon pit. A father and son were sitting together at a picnic table eating some juicy watermelon. "What will happen to me Dad? I just swallowed a pit?

"A big watermelon is going to grow in your stomach." Dad says with a smile.We shouldn't underestimate the power of an idea because it is small. An idea often starts out as small as a seed. But like a seed it isn't stagnant. It will sprout and grow in the right circumstances.

Mornings are meeker. Our woods await winter. Birds' nests are exposed.
Ideas are Motivating

Ideas aren't stagnant because they are stimulating. They motivate us to question.

Even a little idea can have big consequences. It can motivate us to action. It can motivate us to virtue or (I'm sorry to say) to vice.

I like how the chapter "Inventions" in Boyhood and Beyond invites a boy to consider the outcome of ideas-acted-upon for good.

A Boyhood Curiosity - Not to be Squashed

     Questions, questions, questions. Thomas continually asked questions. What makes a hot air balloon fly? How does a chicken hatch an egg? How does hydrogen combine with oxygen to make water? When no one could answer his questions, he experimented to find the answers. . .
     Mrs. Edison, Thomas' mother, enrolled him in the local school when he was seven years old. His teacher did not like boys to ask questions and punished those who did. When Mrs. Edison learned that the teacher had labeled her son as an empty brain, she ended his school career and taught him herself.

Illustration is licensed  for use from Look and Learn Publishing Company

A Man Motivated by Ideas

     Mrs. Edison set out to take advantage of her son's boyhood curiosity and keep it alive. She gave him freedom to follow up an idea or a question. She allowed him room to let thoughts think themselves as Miss Mason says. Mrs. Edison called what she did with her son, Thomas,

      exploring the exciting world of knowledge. Soon he began to learn so fast that his mother could no longer teach him.
     . . . As his knowledge grew and his questions were answered he began to apply his understanding to the needs and situation of his life. Thomas Edison had become an inventor.

The author of Boyhood and Beyond, gives us other examples in this chapter and returns to Edison who "devoted himself to what he called, 'the desperate needs of the world.'"

Author, Bob Shultz writes:

     "God created you with the desire to invent. Songs, programs, products, methods, art, literature, and tools, are waiting to be invented by you. . . .

     What should your attitude be when your invention fails? While attempting to develop a storage battery, Edison attempted ten thousand experiments that failed. He was not discouraged. He now had ten thousand ways not to go. Don't give up if you fail. Learn from the mistake and try again.. .
     Become the inventor God created you to be. Meet the desperate needs of the world."

Home Learning - a Superb Setting

I finished my letter to the conscientious mother."I see, by the stack of books on your blog, that you needn't be so concerned about lessons absent of ideas."

Home learning is a superb setting because it is here where these important ideas-made-personal can flourish. It is here where curiosity can be kept alive, where thoughts think themselves through questioning, narration, conversation, through play, through quiet-time, through free time - perhaps while watering Mother's flowers in the back garden watching the bumble bees, during the same space of time perhaps - when other children in the neighborhood are confronted with a 45-minute bus trip, then an hour or more of dreary homework.

While scrolling through this mother's blog I also spotted handiwork the family completed over the summer months: a customized wooden bookshelf, bottles of pink fruit, a bright patchwork. "Beautiful," I commented on her blog.
"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." Thomas Edison

 "I have an idea," thought the young cellist privately. After hearing a sermon on sympathy the teen-age boy, while still seated in the pew, spoke with his parents. Then, although he was shy and self-conscious he was certain. He stepped up to the white-haired pastor of the little country church to ask if he could join him and the few other singers and young musicians who go to minister at the nursing home once-a-month. This young man went on to putting the daily hour of his cello practice to good ends. That Sunday seemed to mark the moment when he'd left the biggest part of his shyness behind him.

The sun sets "before" supper now.
Sweet Dreams

Fed by fear, dark thoughts think themselves - and can be haunting. Bad news at bedtime is alarming. Terrorists in the news and violent crime are a distressing enough reality in the daylight. I try to not view news film-clips on Facebook in our now-dark-evenings. But if I have done so, no matter how late it is, I pick up a book, after casting-cares in prayer, and turn my attention to a paragraph of something noble, or light and sweet, to-think-about. I'd rather "sleep on" that.

End Notes

The picture of young Thomas Edison is a book illustration by Angus McBride (1931-2007). It is not public-domain. The copyright is owned by the publisher Look and Learn of Great Britain. I arranged to license it (for a fee) for this one-time-use on my blog.

I recommend Boyhood and Beyond - Practical Wisdom for Becoming a Man  for boys ages 10-16. I am linking it to Amazon where you can read the costumer reviews.

I finished Eloise's cardigan.

My colored paragraph excerpts from Boyhood and Beyond are used with permission by the publisher Great Expectations. Pages 95, 96 and 99.

"Thoughts think themselves," is a phrase used by Charlotte Mason in her book, Parents & Children page 156. *For her take on "sleep-on-it" see also pages 88-89.

My anecdote of the teenage cellist is based on my knowledge of some young people who steered away from being all-too-commonly self-absorbed the more they chose to serve others. They will be anonymous this time round.

Knitting Lingo
Looking to use a stretchy bind-off for my cardigan's neck (rather than the conventional one) I checked YouTube and found just what I wanted: a "sewn" bind-off demonstrated by Interweave Press. I recommend this bind-off for children's pullovers especially, as they have Charlie Brown size heads.

I see that some are sharing my blog posts and Facebook posts. Thank-you.
Click any image to enlarge.

I enjoy our visits.

As always,
Karen Andreola


  1. I had a few moments to steal away from my little boys and was delighted, as always, to discover a new post from you to fill that rare time. Thank you!

  2. Ah yes! I love ideas, and thinking thoughts. I love to see it in my children too! Kyle especially learns by having things hanging on his walls. For a long time it was a US map, now it is astronomy posters that had been my Dads.

    I love your posts.


  3. What a lovely post Karen, thank you for sharing. I want to tell you that I always love the way you photograph books in front of an appropriate background, rather than just showing the cover. This makes the books seem like something really special.

    And too, Eloise's cardigan is a feast for the eyes! What wonderful, vibrant colours.

  4. It's nice to enjoy one of your posts after reading the news this morning. The encouragement and photography are a real balm.

    I like the look of the variegated yarn for baby cardigans. The pink hues are so pretty.

    Thank you.

  5. Very good post! Just the encouragement I needed to day as we edge toward the MIDDLE of our formal learning year! It's always nice to have some things to spur us on!

  6. My sweet niece just illustrated this beautifully. We were in Williamsburg for Thanksgiving. She found a ring at the jewelry shop, but it was going to cost 40 of the 50 dollars she had to spend. She decided to, "sleep on it," and knew the next morning that she wanted to spend her money that way.

    By the way, Karen, I though of you while wandering through the museum's collection of samplers and quilts!


  7. I like our chats.
    And I'm honored that you would place one of my posts within your spare moments.

    I took some photographs just today - when the afternoon sun was shinning were I waited for it to come and light up the room. I took books in a "setting." But for the books I've read on kindle I have to depend on Amazon's photos. And as the years go by I'm reading more and more books on kindle.

    Leaving something interesting up on a wall is a "gentle" way to introduce a subject to children or satisfy a curiosity.

    Oh, you thought of me? I'm smitten by antique samplers, quilts, and dolls. I've seen pictures of Colonial Williamsburg and read article by some people who work and "live" there in the Early American Life Magazine.

    Thank you for visiting me in the blog neighborhood.

  8. Karen,

    I appreciated reading your thoughts under the heading Sweet Dreams tonight. There is so much darkness I have been reading about and thinking about. I am encouraged to pick up a book for something noble or uplifting to read before going to sleep.

    Thank you,


  9. Many blessings this Advent season to you, Karen. Thank you for sharing from your Philippians 4:8 -worthy ideas. It is important to make an effort to uplift our thoughts right now. There is much to discourage and distress and these things will predominate if we aren't careful. I pray you are blessed with health and strength in the new year.
    Peace and good, Kristyn