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Children Feed off Ideas


There are two words that are the very legs upon which our homeschool stands. They are HABITS and IDEAS. If children have not learned good hab­its, they won’t have the will power to do the digging needed to acquire knowledge from books. So, the instillation of good habits is foundational. Likewise, if children are fed with a steady diet of facts rather than IDEAS, their interest will wane, and school will become drudgery for all involved.

Ideas: The True Source of Knowledge

For many years, schools have mistakenly equated knowledge with information or the getting of facts. Since this is how many parents today were educated, we naturally tend to do the same with our own children. Quite quickly, however, we realize that the impartation of facts is not enough to hold children’s interest and is insufficient to arouse their aspirations to be heroic. This is where IDEAS come in.

The mind feeds on IDEAS. We all know that books contain an incredible storehouse of IDEAS from a great variety of individuals throughout history. Gilbert Highet stated it well when he said, “These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.” If children are given the opportunity to become intimately acquainted with the people they meet in their school books, they will thrive intellectually and spiritually. Worthy ideas are not only found in history and biography, but in poetry and literature and fairy tales. The narrower our book choices are, the fewer ideas we are giving our children.

However, NOT ALL books house IDEAS. Some books merely house facts. But facts are not what move people, because they are lifeless. IDEAS change people; or better yet, IDEAS make people; nations, too, for that matter.

“The intellectual life, like every manner of spiritual life, has but one food whereby it lives and grows––the sustenance of living IDEAS. It is not possible to repeat this too often or too emphatically, for perhaps we err more in this respect than any other in bringing up children. We feed them upon the white ashes out of which the last spark of the fire of original thought has long since died. We give them second-rate story books, with stale phrases, stale situations, shreds of other people’s thoughts, stalest of stale sentiments.” -Charlotte Mason

The Balance of Disciplines and Ideas

Many classical educators today are quick to embrace the notion that the “Grammar Stage” is a time to fill children with facts since they retain them so well. Charlotte Mason was a classical educator, but stated that just because young children’s abilities to reason may not be as sophisticated as older students does not mean they should be fed mainly upon a diet of facts. She said, “The question is not, how much does the youth know when he has finished his education but how much does he care?” Clothe those facts with the thoughts, the ideas of men and women, and you will be assured of a child who loves knowledge.

She called those areas of education that did not house IDEAS, the “Disciplines.” Grammar and Math are good examples of the disciplines which work out one’s “intellectual muscles.” They are just as necessary for one’s education as bread is necessary for physical nourishment. But IDEAS should be the main course. If our curriculum consists mainly of the Disciplines with a few IDEAS scattered here and there, then our children will begin to starve.

A practical way of testing the amount of nourishment our children are receiving would be to look at our daily schedule of lessons. Count the fact fillers, count the disciplines, and then count the IDEA givers. Let’s compare two hypothetical meal plans:

Bread and Water Rations

30 min Recite memory verses, Bible review quiz
30 min Phonics workbook
60 min Math textbook – do one lesson
30 min Grammar workbook
45 min Science textbook – do next lesson, take quiz
20 min Spelling workbook
20 min Logic workbook or Vocabulary building exercises
30 min Composition workbook – do next lesson
40 min Mom reads aloud from History text to all the children,
answer questions
30 min Art – make paper castles
30 min Read your assigned literature selection for the day
(begin at 8:30am, take 30 min break, and 30 min lunch break, finish by 3pm)

Rich Stew with a Slab of Thick Bread

20 min Bible – Read next Old Tes­tament passage “The Fiery Furnace” and narrate aloud
5 min Poetry – Read aloud one poem from the poet you are study­ing
30 min History – Read next chapter from Child’s History of the World by Hillyer and narrate aloud, add figure to timeline
20 min Read 4 pages from Peter the Great by Stanley
20 min Math workbook, game, or living book (if you dare)
20 min Geography- Read Paddle to the Sea by Holling; continue to trace his route on your map of North America
15 min Handwriting – copy a few lines perfectly from a poem of your choice (from the poet you are studying)
20 min Science – Take a field guide outside and identify six new flowers
30 min Drawing – Draw one flower in your nature journal and paint with water colors
30 min Dictation – Mom chooses a passage from Pyle’s Robin Hood, notice difficult words for spelling practice
10 min Go over your memory work (folksong and psalm)
(begin at 8:30, includes 30 min break outside, finish before lunch at 12:30pm)
Choose any book from your literature list to read during quiet time.

Now, go out on a limb and let your children pick which schedule they prefer. Then consider which schedule will feed their minds with many and varied worthy IDEAS.

Linda Johnson is a former public school teacher who has spent the last 14 years homeschooling her four children whose ages range from 8 to 18. She and her family served as missionaries for twelve years in the Middle East. Linda has a passion for encouraging other parents to homeschool with passion. She maintains that homeschooling can and should be a journey of joy-filled days both for the mother and her children and she has dedicated her life to sharing ways to accomplish this by thinking outside of the cultural norms. Her goal is to raise children who are passionately in love with God and who are able to relate the gospel of the Kingdom to the many, rather than the few. She currently resides in Northeast Texas and is learning the ins and outs of gardening, taking care of cows, goats, chickens and avoiding copperheads. You can find more of her writings at where she shares practical ways to implement Charlotte Mason's educational methods in the home and school.

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