Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Mind Feeds on Ideas

"The mind is restricted to pabulum of one kind: it is nourished upon ideas and absorbs facts only as these are connected with the living ideas upon which they hang."

                             Charlotte Mason: Towards A Philosophy Of Education.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

What Education Is All About

What Education Is All About and How Learning Really Happens

 As an educational psychologist my main interest has always been in neuroscience and cognition and how learning really happens. What makes it exciting and how does information actually stick? Naturally, that interest is tied to the history of education as well.
The most rewarding insights to me have always come from an educator who exhibited an astonishing understanding of the intricate workings of the mind long before the modern scientific study of cognitive psychology and neuroscience actually existed. This educator was Charlotte Mason, who lived in Great Britain from 1842 to 1923. In the course of her long life and career, she developed a sound philosophy of education and established a network of PNEU (Parents' National Educational Union) schools that implemented her ideas.
The main essence of her philosophy is best described in her own words: “The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.”
(School Education, by Charlotte Mason, Preface)

Well, this sounds wonderful and refreshing to begin with, but how does the mind feed on ideas?
I will not bore you here with an excursion into the make-up of the millions of nerve cells within our brain and how they communicate with each other by “firing off” electrical impulses. But it is fascinating to learn that the world inside our brain begins to work harder when we come across a piece of information that excites us, sending impulses from neuron to neuron, making and reinforcing connections, busily building and furnishing its network so effectively that long after we have turned to other tasks, a part of the brain is still teeming with life. Full of the latest discoveries we have made. Full of the ideas that have sent off the important first spark.
This is how it works. It is how it learns.
The more excited we get about an idea (and this first applies to our hearts!), the more delightful long-term connections will be made in our minds. Sometimes we even get happily carried away with an idea, a project, a book and we forget the boundaries of time and place. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called this “the flow”, the psychology of optimal experience.
Now, this does not happen so easily with the artificially constructed world of pre-digested textbooks, workbooks and compact computerized courses.
These are not the kinds of tools that work well with our brains.
But it is an education that works well for the efficient organization of the masses.
The education of the masses first needed to be organized in the 16th century, just after the world had been enlightened with many new discoveries, with lands of yet unexplored riches, when more and more people in Europe began to see a rise in their wealth and demanded better schooling for their children. This the ruling upper class viewed with a suspicious eye and they soon made sure, through various means, that it was their children who received the best education possible while the masses were just enough mentally furnished to stay capable at their various trades.

The education of the masses needed to be organized in colonial times, when the first British colonists were still struggling to establish themselves on the North American shores and after a while felt that they needed to set up at least a simple school system for their children, so that these young people would develop productive skills which were necessary to a long-term survival in this new environment. Here, again, the most well-off and important families were consistently employing the better learned teachers for their own children. Leonard Everett Fisher describes this so well in his book The Schoolmasters, and concludes with the insight that: “It was the same Old World idea all over again: those who governed received more education; those who were governed received less.” (p.20)
And the education of the masses needed to be organized in the 19th century when Charlotte Mason was establishing her PNEU schools. It was the onset of the Industrial Revolution and masses of workers were needed that were just enough mentally furnished to stay capable at their various trades.
A contemporary of Charlotte Mason's, none other than prolific author Charles Dickens, bitingly pinpointed these concerns in his novel Hard Times:

          "Now, what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to facts, sir!"

       The education of the masses still needs to be organized even today and the “facts upon facts” attitude is still the same. It is found in today’s textbook and workbook culture: It is all about efficiency. It is all about a billion dollar industry promoting these materials to us. It is all about raising workers and consumers (not thinkers!). It is just not about how children really learn.

A steady diet of textbooks is numbing to a child’s mind. It stifles creativity and genius. It hinders children in the unfolding of their potential and in their right to develop a true love for learning.
Though, admittedly, it is as efficient as a checklist.

Charlotte Mason, the Victorian educator, was far ahead of her time when she proposed a true and different approach which naturally could only lead to success as she strove to employ only the very best resources, the very best books for the children in her schools.
It was her heart’s desire to give every child a most generous and wonderful education. Her vision also included underprivileged children:
“She delighted in the awakening of these previously dimmed minds. Children became fluent speakers and lovers of literature and art. Her vision was that these good wholesome aspects of life would bring joy, stability and richness to every child.”   
(For the Children’s Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, p.7)
While there is nothing wrong with using a textbook as a reference or spine (and we do have some in our library) or filling in an occasional workbook page, be aware of the fact that it is constantly suggested to us that they should be our main diet – and that there are other interests involved.
When Charlotte Mason suggested a different route, a mind-friendly approach, she fervently advocated living ideas and a generous curriculum in every subject her schools taught. Exciting ideas found in books where her children met various original minds and felt inspired: in literature, Shakespeare, Bible, poetry, science and nature study, history and geography, art and picture study, music and composer study, grammar and composition, mathematics, and foreign languages.

    Let us be as boldly rebellious and apply the same high standards that she so successfully envisioned – let us be content with nothing but the best.

When a Future Is Built Upon Reading

When a Future Is Built Upon Reading

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A Platter of Charming Poetry

A Platter of Charming Poetry

Poems about ...

... reading ~ Good Books, Good Times! By Lee Bennett Hopkins

... limericks ~ Pigericks, by Arnold Lobel

... a famous midnight ride ~ Paul Revere's Ride; by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

... children growing up in a big city ~ Bronzeville Boys and Girls, by Gwendolyn Brooks

... Victorian children, beautifully illustrated, by Victorian poet ~ Marigold Garden, by Kate Greenaway

... the weather ~ I Like Weather, by Aileen Fisher

... nature ~ In the Woods, In the Meadows, In the Sky, by Aileen Fisher

... the moon ~ Moon's the North Winds Cooky, by Susan Russo

... the wonderful story of a young boy finding a rabbit ~ Listen, Rabbit, by Aileen Fisher

... the well-known old tale of a ratcatcher ~ Pied Piper of Hamelin, by Robert Browning

... various stories and people in the Bible (favourites in our library!) ~ Pillars of Pepper & Don't Mess with Moses!

... which words go well together ~ Some Things Go Together, by Charlotte Zolotow

Poems by the author of Winnie the Pooh ( a delightful collection) ~ When We Were Very Young, by A. A. Milne

... by a beloved illustrator ~ First Poems of Childhood, by Tasha Tudor

A story of a little girl that meets poet Emily Dickinson (not a poem, but fabulous) ~ Emily, by Michael Bedard

A poem set in the World War I era ~ Long Ago in Oregon, Claudia Lewis

A poem written by a young pilot in WWII (John Magee)  ~ High Flight, by Linda Granfield

How to write poems yourself  (inspiring) ~ Poetry Pointers, by Rod & Staff

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Real Book about Benjamin Franklin, by Sam and Beryl Epstein

We just finished this book as part of our electricity study -  it was an awesome read!

Not only was it a lesson in perseverance, it also well described the times in which Benjamin Franklin lived, including the various professions he held, his perspective on the Revolutionary War and his mission to France.
It also showed in great detail his experiments with electricity, a subject new to the world in those days. Thus the book introduced us to the Leyden jar (an apparatus for storing that mysterious power) which Franklin eagerly explored, but especially intriguing was the fact that it was he who first used words like 'battery', 'electrify', 'charge', and more -  because he didn't have any scientific names to work with for the things he was busily inventing!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Young Math Books Series

Young Math Book Series

This series was first published in the 1970s and 1980s and all of the books are now out of print - for a reason that eludes me, since all these books are an excellent introduction to various aspects of mathematics!

They are so fun and engaging and thus sure to arouse an interest in the subject!

They are also highly sought after and increasingly hard to find!

Out of the over 40 books in this series, the small selection pictured here includes:

~ How Little and How Much: A Book About Scales; Franklyn M. Branley
~ Exploring Triangles: Paper-Folding Geometry; Jo Phillips
~ Probability; Charles F. Linn
~ 666 Jellybeans! All That? An Introduction to Algebra; Malcolm E. Weiss
~ Shadow Geometry; Daphne Harwood Trivett
~ Number Ideas Through Pictures; Mannis Charosh
~ Fractions Are Part of Things; J. Richard Dennis
~ Building Tables on Tables: A Book About Multiplication; John V. Trivett
~ Bigger and Smaller; Robert Froman
~ Less Than Nothing is Really Something; Robert Froman
~ Yes, No, Stop, Go: Some Patterns in Mathematical Logic; Judith L. Gersting

More books of this series in our library:

~ 3D, 2D, 1D; David Adler
~ Base Five; David Adler
~ Roman Numerals; David Adler
~ Ellipse; Mannis Charosh
~ Straight Lines, Parallel Lines, Perpendicular Lines, Mannis Charosh
~ Angles Are Easy As Pie; Robert Froman
~ Game of Functions; Robert Froman
~ Greatest Guessing Game: A Book about Dividing; Robert Froman
~ Rubber Bands, Baseballs and Doughnuts: A book About Topology; Robert Froman
~ Maps, Tracks, and the Bridges of Konigsberg: A Book About Networks; Michael Holt
~ Estimation; Charles F. Linn
~ Right Angles: Paper-Folding Geometry; Jo Phillips
~ Circles; Mindel & Harry Sitomer
~ Lines, Segments, Polygons; Mindel & Harry Sitomer
~ What Is Symmetry? Mindel & Harry Sitomer
~ Area; Jane Srivastava
~ Averages; Jane Srivastava
~ Solomon Grundy, Born On One Day: A Finite Arithmetic Puzzle; Malcolm Weiss

Sunday, 12 January 2014

A Lovely Recent Find

A lovely recent find.

Now on to the cataloguing, cleaning, repairing, and shelving. Meanwhile, books will disappear and reappear as our children are exploring these gems on their own!

I am especially excited about the discovery of three books in the unmatched Landmark History series- Marie Antoinette, Alexander the Great, and The First Overland Mail. These are wonderfully readable for children in grades 4 through 10!

From Marie Antoinette, by Bernardine Kielty, published in 1955:

" Marie Antoinette was one of the most captivating princesses of all time. With her high-combed blonde headdress and her lightly billowing costume of frothy blue, she was like a china figure of exquisite workmanship - a creature light-hearted and gay, out of a faraway golden age."

From Alexander the Great, by John Gunther, published in 1953:

" The boy stood out there in the hot sun. He was of medium height, with ruddy blond hair, a straight nose, blue eyes, and a handsome figure. He had great physical courage and energy, and his mind was packed with dreams - such dreams as few people have ever had. His name was Alexander, and he was the son of Philip, King of Macedon."

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Happy Hollisters Series

The Happy Hollisters is a series of beloved vintage mystery/detective stories.

The five Hollister children, the protagonists and amateur sleuths in these stories, were actually modeled on the author's own children and he often based these books on events that had happened in his own family.

Apart from the wholesome fun these stories offer, they are also educational - which was intended by the author, Andrew Svenson (pseudonym, Jerry West). He always wove enlightening details into them and it was this combination of thrilling background information, of mystery and intrigue that made the series very appealing to young readers:

The Happy Hollisters ...

... and the Ice Carnival Mystery (a trip up North for the five Hollister children, to the Winter Carnival in Quebec).

... and the Punch and Judy Mystery (a visit "to the beautiful land of Italy").

... and the Mystery of the Little Mermaid (exciting happenings around the famous statue that overlooks the harbour in Copenhagen, Denmark).

... and the Castle Rock Mystery (it all starts when "a package of instruments from a weather balloon is parachuted onto their front lawn"...).

... and the Mystery in Skyscraper City (a tour of New York... and an old book of early New York tunnels...).

and many more!

Some select volumes have been reissued in paperback and eBook formats. Most of them, though, can only be found in the original hardcover versions (which I personally much prefer).