Thursday, May 5, 2016

Curiosity and the Boy-Builder - by Karen Andreola

Curiosity and the Boy-Builder 

Nigel harvesting lettuce from his garden in Maine.

One spring, while I was in a temperamental-cleaning-mood, I stood in the doorway of my son's bedroom. "If I push a snow shovel along the floor we could actually walk in here. Then I could vacuum," I said.

His bedroom floor was regularly strewn with Lego, Tinker-toys, paper airplanes, and other miscellaneous clutter-y-bits.

Nigel was either taking things apart or putting things together.

Indoors, when not reading or eating our son was a boy-builder.

Perhaps you can relate. Is there a boy-builder in your house, or a girl-builder?

Outdoors, in Maine, he dug the foundations for his vegetable garden.

In good weather he added to his "fort" in the woods with an ax (Mom hiding her true colors of squeamishness).
Nigel's fort in springtime was surrounded by ferns.

With a boy-builder's inclination to know how things are made, I guess this is why Nigel was happy I made David Macaulay's The New Way Things Work part of his six grade science curriculum.

 He narrated portions of it. He kept a notebook of written narration, too, shorter though they were than his oral narration.

And because Nigel was a doodler I recommended he carry this impulse further. "Doodle something worthwhile in your science notebook," I told him. I was wearing my teacher's hat. He knew this was more than jest.
In The New Way Things Work, Mr. Macaulay's cartoon woolly mammoth throws his bulk around - offering students a comical introduction to physics. The book is largely illustrated.

It begins with the simple principles behind levers, pulleys, wheels, springs, gears, and so on.

As chapters progress we learn about heat, electricity, magnetism, flight, color photography, telecommunications, how a computer mouse works, and more.

Nigel adds: "I was shown the insides of mechanical devises I'd been wondering about - a microphone, violin, camera, microwave oven, and a car engine."

Curiosity Isn't Cool
Hearing an interview with Mr. Macaulay got me thinking. When asked why the average adult doesn't care how things work, he said, "They're missing that invitation that comes from looking at stuff around them." I detected exasperation in his tone. The interviewer could have asked a better question. One I assumed would be obvious. That is, "Why do young children have the urge to take things apart and find out how they work?"

Charlotte Mason observed how curious young children are. Their curiosity is wonderfully wide awake. Tragically, long before he becomes a complacent adult, the average student is lulled to sleep. How? By boring schoolbooks. And a tedious never-ending-cycle of cram. Educators aren't surprised that, stuck in the middle of the typical textbook-workbook-grind, a child starts to drag his feet. It's the status quo. Low-interest is common. It's to be expected. "I found school boring so there's nothing unusual about my kid hating it," I overheard a parent say with a  nervous chuckle. I shuddered.

Furthermore, in many a government school classroom, peer-opinion rules. It creates an atmosphere. When peers decide curiosity isn't cool, the curious student becomes an odd-ball. Rather than be snubbed, made fun of - or worse - suffer torment by Facebook-gossip, an odd-ball learns to maintain a low-profile.

Visiting a large youth-group, our son and another young man (home taught), were the only ones to volunteer answers to the discussion questions. They hadn't a clue this wasn't cool. It wasn't the "in" thing - even in church to appear alert, interested, or engaged. Evidently, a similar atmosphere of peer-opinion has seeped into some church groups.

Delightfully Different
Many a Charlotte-Mason-minded home-teacher has a child who (delightfully) is an odd-ball. He's an older, curious student. How refreshingly peculiar. She wouldn't brag about it. But if the topic arose, in polite conversation, she would smile and confess that her family lives in a kind of "alternate reality" or "alternate universe" (to borrow from science-fiction). Her homeschool is a vibrant place of learning. Her children are talkative. Sometimes tiresomely so.

What takes place in this alternate universe? With anticipation - within a warm family relationship - her students
delve into living books,
take part in discussion,
develop a train-of-thought with narration,

 It is a principle of education that: suitably satisfied, curiosity stays awake. 

A home-taught student could be an odd-ball because he reads odd books, such as The New Way Things Work. Its 400 pages of scientific facts satisfy the curiosity of the boy-builder.

This year Mr. Macaulay made another update published as The Way Things Work Now. But I am without a copy of it in my hands as I write you.

The Scenic Route
Here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you can drive along highway 30 and honestly say you've driven through Amish Country. But what would you have really seen?

Slow down and take the meandering back roads, a few turns off the beaten path, and you will see much more.

Taking the scenic route was our approach to history - for both our son and daughters - who meandered off the beaten textbook path.

History is a string of wars. Wars have significance. But aside from war and its destruction, the scenic route gives a student picturesque tales of construction. David Macaulay's books of historical architecture offer us such a picturesque view.

Some of David Macaulay's books on the back kitchen steps.
The Films
The film versions are an off-shoot of Mr. Macaulay's architectural histories. I showed them (on video) during the upper elementary years - in case I needed to discuss any heathen dark spot depicted in them. Today the films are free on YouTube - where you may preview them. Please, as with anything on YouTube, cautiously take charge.
Mom building an Amish inspried doll quilt. Paper-piecing the rows.
Try Books on for Size
Charlotte Mason's says, "genius is that of taking pains". Mr. Macaulay's willingness to take pains in creating his books is symptomatic of a fascination for his subject. He is an odd-ball adult who never lost his curiosity. This seems pretty-cool to me.
Little guy on tip toe with money in his left hand from the sale of a melon.
I esteem his books as schoolbooks.We see no grade level stamped on the the covers. Good thing, too. This makes it easier for me to invite you to use them for a range of ages. Try them on for size. If they make a good fit - grade school or high school - feel no qualms about what age your children are.

Basting from the center out so the pins can be removed and hand-quilting begin.
Does Your Child Drag His Feet?
A student needn't be particularly fond of all his lessons. He can gain the power of self-discipline to complete a lesson that is hard or less interesting.

Stars quilted plainly, purple squares quilted fancy with black thread.
But, if Miss Mason had anything to say about it, there ought to also be something of interest in his diet of new knowledge. Is your child generally lacking in curiosity? This can be discouraging. I offer you my sympathy. May I make a recommendation? Don't be anxious to hurry down the highway. Go the scenic route. Homeschooling allows you freedom to explore. Keep looking until you find your student's something.

Do some of what you have to do,
With some of what you  like to do.
And you will do well.

Quilting, Etc.
The toddler quilt (in girly colors) and knitted vest (both not shown) are ready for upcoming birthdays. We've had a week of a clouds, rain, fog, and overcast days. When the parlor is bright again I hope to take out the camera to show you the the toddler quilt, next.
Pin-cushion filled with alfalfa seeds to hold her new basting pins.
A click on The New Way Things Work  will take you to the David Macaulay's page on Amazon where you can read about PyramidCathedral, City, and Castle, too. 
The Amish doll quilt in the shadows of the front hall and stairway.
Post Script: Our boy-builder is age 27. He now builds web-sites. 

Seeking to Minister and Stay in Touch,
Karen Andreola



  1. Nigel, 27? I know it must be true, but... Well, my eldest daughter turns 20 this year. Time does fly.

    Karen, I will think of you as my younger boys and I tackle their messy room on Saturday. Yes,a snow shovel is in order (because a plow will not fit!). Mine are all draw-ers/builders/takers-apart and putters-back-together. Otherwise known as mess-makers! :-) They love the How Things Work type books, and if I need them to sit quietly in a waiting room those are the books I grab.

    I like the way the blue in the quilt picks up the shade of the trim, very eye-catching.

  2. Hello,
    This is a lovely picture of boyhood you have painted here. I am inspired to look into those resources you mentioned. I knew of some but not all.
    My boys will be thrilled as they love tearing apart old electronics and building forts in the woods as well.
    Blessings to you and happy crafting!

  3. Karen thank you for this interesting blog. The quilt is lovely. We all love to read stories about the Amish. Nigel is a very intelligent and creative young man.
    Marion and Family

  4. What an enjoyable post. I love that castle book - I have had it since I was in my late teens and enjoyed sharing it with my own children. My 7 year old son is a builder boy. He is forever taking things apart and then using the parts to build other things. People are always giving him broken appliances and other random parts, so he stays busy. When not building, he reads books about how things work. His favorite section at the library is the DIY section. I look forward to seeing what he will be when he grows up! And I am so thankful for homeschooling and that he has so much time for building and learning.

  5. Hi Karen...I popped over after seeing the lovely Amish quilt on Facebook! My oldest daughter loves that book you spoke of first and we all enjoy his building books! The castle one was especially a hit! What a lovely idea to use it for science journal inspiration!!! I really enjoyed this post, so encouraging! We are moving soon, Lord-willing, locally to a heavy Amish area and that wash line photo is just so beautiful! :) Thanks for ministering us moms and staying touch. Your posts are always helpful and such a blessing!

  6. Dear Karen,
    I do believe I declared the same missive about the snow shovel when my Sam was young. Oh, all those rogue legos and army men and tanks! I admit to missing that time though:-) Sam and my husband would read Mr. M's book, the older version, and take things apart and figure how they went back together. Fun days for them, my son is now 21 and a mechanic, although going back to school for engineering. Yes, it is interesting what a single book can ignite in a young mind. Keep sharing, Karen. I so love to read your posts my friend.

  7. Karen,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. It really struck a cord with me. My oldest boy is 7 and is curiously odd, and a builder. I want to pull my hair out sometimes when I walk by his room, but you've given me hope.


  8. Dearest Karen,

    Thank you for another lovely blog post. From the comments I read above, there are many of us moms who need a snow plow. I am not sure how many Legos I have stepped on over the years, but it is comparable to the number of nuts, bolts, and screws from things taken apart and put back together at a later time. Yes, he is a boy-builder. When we had new ceiling fans installed, he disassembled the old ones and kept many spare parts for his "who knows when I might need this" collection. I have DM's book in my cart for next school term. I think it will be a favorite.

    Your Amish quilt is just lovely and it looks especially so in that space. I have an Amish quilt on my someday list. I really like your little pin cushion. I have never heard of using alfalfa seeds as a filler.

    When we visited the area around Lancaster in 2012, we took some back roads and found an Amish family selling homemade berry pies and root beer. We loved the pie, but the root beer was only a favorite with my husband. Yes, taking the scenic route is best for it is beautiful country and we would really like to return some day and stay a little longer.

    I love what you said about not worrying so much about a book’s “grade level.” We use books of many levels in our home and I do not worry about it being wrong because of it being too young or too old. If it seems appropriate to our study, we use it.

    I hope you are enjoying spring. We have had some beautiful spring days, but I see tomorrow has a predicted high of 91 degrees. So goes our Texas weather.

    Take care,

  9. Hi, Karen!

    My husband actually did snow-shovel his way through the living room one afternoon. My back was more than fussy, and we were doing well to eat and keep diapers changed that day. He laughed when he walked in the door from work, went back to the front door, retrieved the snow shovel that was propped against the door frame to be handy for its intended use, and began shoveling his way across the room.

    It's a happy, funny memory.


  10. The freedom to make a mess is a wonderful feeling (and invitation) to children. You've cheered me up with your comments and sense of humor, too. It is fun to hear about similar memories and circumstances. It helps to know - especially when a young mother is in the thick-of-it - that other mothers are experiencing similar messes, are faced with sorting through miscellaneous pieces - and/or have builders in the house who are intrigued to take things apart and put them back together - to see how things work. I am chuckling this morning as I read how a man-of-action took the initiative to use a snow shovel (not a hypothetical one) for the sake of safety in walking through a living room - and the sanity of his wife. Oh, all those pieces.

    I appreciate all your comments. Karen A.

  11. Is there a way to subscribe to your blog?

    1. Hi Lori,

      I'm glad you asked. The place to subscribe is in the side-bar of this blog - which - if you are using a cell-phone you will not be able to see. At the very bottom of the blog is a button to view the desktop-version layout. But it would probably be difficult to navigate this way. Viewing the blog on a large enough screen you will enable you to see the side-bar and a place to subscribe and also receive e-mail notification. Karen A.

  12. Ms. Karen, this is just lovely. It also inspired me to pull down my copy The Way Things Work. My older children have not been very interested in it, but my 6 year old boy-builder took it off my lap and ran off upstairs with it. I suspect his interest will pull his older brother in too. And as always, your photography is beautiful - always so peaceful.


  13. I think "The New Way Things Work" is a cool book.

  14. Dear Karen,

    I love your books and am happy to have found your blog as well. We ordered a copy of the original way things work and my children love it.This may seem a bit silly, but do you hapen to know the name of the color blue paint on your doorway in the doll quilt picture? Hope you don't mind the question. God bless

    1. Mrs. O. So glad you've come for a visit. No, it isn't silly to be curious about color. I remember the name: "Georgian Blue" - and am (only) guessing it is Benjamin Moore. The trim was painted six years ago. Being uncertain I went into the basement to look for old paint cans but didn't unearth any blue. In reality our trim is more gray "medium blue" than the photographs portray.

  15. Karen,
    It's been a while since I last read anything homeschool related as life has been full and busy this summer. Our garden did phenomenal this year and I've spent as much time canning as breathing! But I've been reading again through your posts and it's like sitting at mother's feet listening to her sweet voice and she talks about life. Your writing is so smoothe and peaceful and calming to my soul. From 1 homeschool mama to another you are truly a blessing! I've recently taken up quilting! I'm not brave enough to hand quilt but I've made 2 on my machine so far for's fun to work on when I have the time!