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You’re loving your Morning Time with your kids. You have gathered a feast for their minds with living books, poetry, scripture, and Shakespeare, but something is missing. Where are all the deep meaningful conversations you had hoped to have with your children about the big ideas of life?

In this episode, Brandy Vencel joins us to talk about the marriage between facts and ideas, how to draw out big ideas from your living book read alouds using good questions. She encourages us to be patient as we introduce the ideas of virtue to our children. She also talks about more practical issues such as how to introduce virtues without moralizing, how and why to choose the best literature when introducing big ideas, and which ideas might be more accessible for different ages.

Join us as Brandy helps us tackle the idea of ideas in our Morning Time.

Pam: This is Your Morning Basket, where we help you bring truth, goodness and beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone, and welcome to episode 25 of the Your Morning Basket podcast. I am Pam Barnhill, your host, and I’m so happy you’re joining me here today. Well, today’s conversation has been a long time in coming. I’m getting to chat with Brandy Vencel, who, as many of you know is a really good friend of mine, and ever since Your Morning Basket, the podcast, was just a long list of topics we have had this topic on our list of things to do and I knew Brandy was the person I wanted to come and chat with me about it. The idea is teaching with ideas. Don’t you love that? The idea is ideas. And for a long time in my head this topic was facts versus ideas but Brandy has corrected me and said, “No, no. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Even though one of the hallmarks of the Charlotte Mason education, and a lot of what we do in Morning Time, is teaching with ideas it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing this and eschewing the facts. They actually work in combination but we’re focusing more on the ideas and that’s something we’re doing in our Morning Time reading, our Morning Time narrations, and our Morning Time conversations. So, I stand corrected. It’s not facts versus ideas but instead teaching with ideas. It was a fun and fascinating conversation and I think you’re really going to enjoy it.

Brandy Vencel blogs at Afterthoughts and she’s also the author of Start Here, a Journey through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles. She is a member of the AmblesideOnline Auxiliary and she has homeschooled her four children using the Charlotte Mason method for over 12 years. In season 1 of Your Morning Basket Brandy joined us to discuss reading aloud during Morning Time, and during the course of that interview she touched on the concept of facts versus ideas- how living books can help us spark our children’s interest and imagination by pairing factual information with these big ideas. And so she joins us today to continue that conversation. Brandy, welcome to the program.
Brandy: Well, thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Pam: I’m just really happy you’re here, it’s always so much fun to talk with you. Well, when we use the term idea in this content, in this whole facts and ideas thing, what do we mean? What is a living idea?
Brandy: So, you’re basically starting off with a question that philosophers can’t answer.
Pam: But I expect YOU to answer it!
Brandy: Naturally, when you told me the topic, I looked in Charlotte Mason’s volumes to try to figure out how she defined ideas because I felt if Plato has a hard time with this then I can’t cut it. In Volume 6 (A Philosophy of Education) she kind of talks about the idea by talking around it. So she says things like, “it inspires us” or “it seizes us.” We say, “I had an idea” and we think of the light bulb over the head and it starts to change the way we think about everything. So she doesn’t really define it she just talks about what it’s like. So then I looked in Volume 1 (Home Education) and in Volume 1 she actually had a pretty long passage. So I had it ready for today if you don’t mind me reading part of it.
Pam: Not at all.
Brandy: First, she starts with the dictionary definition. So the dictionary basically talks about it being the image or picture that the mind forms of anything outside of the mind, but then she goes on and she says, “An idea is more than an image or a picture. It is, so to speak, a spiritual germ endowed with vital force, with power that is to grow and to produce after its kind. It is the very nature of an idea to grow.” And, I’ll skip a little bit, then she says, “We know from our own experience that let our attention be forcibly drawn to some public character, some startling theory, and for days after we are continually hearing or reading matter which bears on this one subject just as if all the world were thinking about what occupies our thoughts. The fact being that the new idea we have received is in the act of growth and it is reaching out after its appropriate food. This process of feeding goes on with peculiar avidity in children, in childhood, and the growth of an idea in the child is proportionally rabid.” I like the rabid part at the end. So again, we have that idea — that it’s this thing and it captures our attention and it changes everything for us and so we don’t actually have a definition. How’s that?
Pam: So, it’s this thing that captures our attention, and what was that last part you said again? This is the blind leading the blind here.
Brandy: Really. It’s this thing that captures our attention and it causes us to grow, it motivates us. A bad analogy, which is the only one I have, would be almost that it’s like this cancer in the sense that it takes over. You know how cancer hijacks your body. So I feel like the way she’s describing it is like that, only this is a good thing not a bad thing. But it takes over your whole mind. I thought this was interesting where she’s saying that we hear an idea and then we feel like we see it everywhere and so we’re thinking, “Oh wow, everybody else is seeing this idea,” and she’s saying that’s always been there, it was just that when we finally got the idea our eyes were opened up and now we can see it.
Pam: So this just opens up a whole new can of worms because (don’t you just love my colloquialisms) you cannot force feed a child ideas.
Brandy: Right.
Pam: By this definition that you’re giving me, this non-definition that you’re giving me from Charlotte Mason, it’s not like you could sit down and you can say, “Well, I’m going to teach the kids about loyalty” or “I’m going to teach the kids about patriotism” or “I’m going to teach the kids …” because this is what I was thinking when I was thinking of ideas, and so, it’s almost like you can’t moralize about any of these things. You can’t push any of these things down their throat, you’ve just got to present this to them, and either they grab onto that idea or not, but by this definition it has to be something that they’re just extremely interested in and that it consumes their thoughts.
Brandy: Right. Which is why I think she has this idea throughout her books of education being the feast and so you’re setting the table but it’s sort of the whole bring a horse to water thing; you can bring them but you can’t make them drink. She has the same kind of thing where you set the table and so everybody gets exposed to the same food but you never know who’s really going to take what and who’s really going to digest what and who’s going to want more of what dish, it’s kind of like gambling. You can’t predict the outcome.
Pam: When you come into these conversations and you think you’ve got it all figured out and you know exactly what you’re going to talk about and then you realize you don’t.
Brandy: I didn’t realize how many bad analogies I had until we started talking.
Pam: Awesome. The phrase ‘facts versus ideas’ could imply that the two things are opposed to one another but that’s not necessarily what we’re talking about here.
Brandy: Right.
Pam: Talk about the relationship between facts and ideas.
Brandy: I think they complement each other and I wrote a post a couple of years ago, I think it was for the Scholè Sisters, back when it was a blog, but I feel like I gave people the impression that I was anti facts and it’s totally not true. I just think I’ve seen the danger of focusing too much on facts and so, in that particular post (I probably could find it for you), I was trying to offer a bit of correction to the pendulum, if that makes sense. But I think with facts we have the bare bones. Let’s say we’re reading a really great history story. Facts would be the bare bones of what happened, what is. So, it’s all true but if I just read you an encyclopedia version of “so-and-so did such-and-such on this date in this year and that’s the extent of it. Those are the facts and they are all true and they’re all important but they’re not really that compelling. Reading that isn’t really going to change my life, most likely. So I think facts don’t really touch the heart and so I was going to talk about the idea of courage or justice without any facts though, I would hardly make sense because it’s all too nebulous. It’s like trying to define an idea. I had to move to examples because it’s just totally nebulous that it’s hard to nail down what it even means. And I think all of these things that I think of as virtues are like that. If I just try to describe courage without any facts or any examples it’s not really going to make any sense. And that also wouldn’t be very compelling.
Pam: Well, you just fall into moralizing, honestly.
Brandy: True. That’s so true, which is probably anti-motivation for kids, I think. So, I think what a good story does, a history story, let’s say it’s a real story, so we have real facts here, but it is unifying the facts and the ideas together. So it’s communicating the most important thing which is the ideas. So that act of courage that’s a fact in history happened because of this underlying virtue, all these underlying ideas that compel the hero to do the amazing thing but it’s clothed in this story and it includes all the incidental facts that tether that story to the earth and that’s why a well-written biography can be so compelling; it’s got all the fact correct but it’s also compelling because the story incarnates all of these bigger ideas. So to me the ideal is always to have both.
Pam: I guess where you want to correct the pendulum is that when we rely so much on these facts and when we spend all of this time memorizing these facts or drilling these facts or testing on these facts at the detriment of the ideas then we’re just laying out the bland food we’re not spreading a feast at all.
Brandy: Right. I used to have this talk I gave on (I guess I still give it once in a while) memory work and I would have parents come up to me afterwards and say, “I don’t really have time for poetry and Scripture lest over because we have to learn these umpteen million timeline facts and geography facts and all of that,” and I just felt like let’s turn this on its head and do all the great things in context first; let’s do the Scripture and let’s do the poetry and let’s do the great speeches and then if we have time left over, let’s do … I always make sure I have time for math facts, those things are important, but let’s switch our priorities to make sure that most of what they’re memorizing are things that are in context and live in the mind.
Pam: And contain these ideas.
Brandy: Right.
Pam: So, let’s talk a little more about not what an idea is because you’ve told us that you can’t help us there…
Brandy: Unless you want more nonsense, I can find some.
Pam: … but let’s give some examples of what we might be talking about. We’ve touched on this a little bit already. We’ve said courage and justice and things of that nature, but let’s give a few more examples. I know that in our conversation before we were talking about geography books and Minn of the Mississippi, so could you pull out a few other examples of what are ideas that are not even necessarily virtues.
Brandy: I think it changes as kids are different ages. So I just finished planning 9th grade for my oldest child and I was trying to think about what are some of the ideas that are in this particular year of school that we planned and I would say there are things like where does law come from? Or money theory, actually, of all things, what is money? How does it work? What is economics and how does that work? It’s actually some really big more adult sort of ideas this year. We’ve had years where I’ve felt like the focus was on leadership. So, what is a good king or a good leader look like? What does it look like to lead well? And so that would involve courage but it would involve a lot of other things also. I remember (I want to say it was one of our first years) we had just been reading all of these stories of British kings and at the end of the year, for me, the big idea I took away that I’d never thought of before was that the distinguishing mark of all of these different kinds was basically, you could strip away almost all of their qualifications and even how brave or not brave they were, that ultimately it seemed like the good kings were the ones that truly loved their people and their country and the bad ones all loved something else more; usually themselves, sometimes money. I didn’t set up the curriculum myself and I didn’t even go into it looking for that but I know at the end of it that was definitely our conversation; I just realized at the end of the year, ‘Goodness, all of our conversations circled around this idea of a good king, his love extends outward to his people and his country,’ and it was just really fascinating. It’s hard to narrow it down and every book tends to have multiple ideas and we catch different things depending on who we are and what we’re right before, it just changes.
Pam: What about some little kid ideas? You gave me some good ones for big kids, but what about little kid ideas, what are some ideas that you see prevalent for younger elementary kids in the some of the literature that you’ve read in the past years?
Brandy: I think with really little kids, I almost try to think about this backwards, so with really small children, let’s say 6 and 7, so really small school-aged children what we read, maybe a lot of Aesop’s, we’ve got a lot of courage, hard work, preparing for the future, being honest, understanding that other people are sometimes dishonest I think is another thing that comes across in a lot of children’s books. What are fairy tales teaching us? They do teach us courage, they’ll teach us sacrifice. Or sometimes they’ll even teach us what a real princess is, and that’s always an interesting thing. Why is it so important to distinguish a real princess (and I have some theories but I won’t go into it because it’ll totally be a rabbit trail)? Or, like the Bible stories we’re telling; we’re really telling our children just the basic questions- who are you and why are you here? And we think of that as being a question for grownups because that’s what philosophy preoccupies itself with, but really, that’s why we’re telling them all of these Bible tales when they’re little. They have to understand that. They’re getting their basic basics down. And with the older elementary I think we start to flesh out virtues and also relationships. So, what’s a good friend? What’s a good parent? What’s a good husband or good wife? So we have the virtues of courage and justice and those kinds of things but I feel like there’s a lot of relational stuff that comes up in the types of books that I find myself reading to my elementary students and I’m not sure that’s an accident. As I listen to my children talk I feel that’s the age where they start to have their little play yard fights or their fights with the neighborhood kids and they have to find out what does it mean to be a good friend? What does it mean to “play fair” so I think their books are helping them work that out.
Pam: Oh yeah, that’s great. That’s really great. When you’re reading or previewing a book how do you discern what ideas are embedded within that book? We just talked about the fact that you’re not going to be able to hit your kids over the head with this, you can’t really sit down with a book and say, ‘OK, Johnny’s in 3rd grade this year and we’re going to read [this] book and so he’s going to learn from [this] book how to be a good friend.’ You’re going to hope he catches on to that idea, but you can’t guarantee that he is, and you can’t moralize it. Anyway, looking at the books themselves how do you discern what ideas are embedded within the book? Are there any questions you ask yourself or clues that you look for?
Brandy: I do think I’m naturally an ideas person. You sent me this question in advance and I was really trying to think so what am I actually doing? Because I feel like so much of that is subconscious, it’s not really a formal process, but I do think there are questions I’m asking myself. So, I remember when I had all small children, asking myself what the nature of the relationship was between the characters in the picture books, specifically between parents and children. We had a number of very modern picture books that were given to us where it just continually, the theme was the parents were dumb, the children knew more than the parents, and therefore the children had rights to be very disrespectful to their parents, and so I pretty much categorized those particular books as toxic and they disappeared one night.
Pam: The book fairy came and got them and took them away.
Brandy: They were seen no more. Not that relationships have to be perfect at all but I didn’t want it to be that I’m actually forming my child’s view of the world to be that “you’re actually smarter than mommy, you don’t really need her to help you navigate the world.” So I look at the relationships but I don’t think it’s just the relationships. I read this fairytale to my kids the other day and this prince has been tricked into marrying a troll wife and I wouldn’t get rid of that just because there’s this “bad relationship” so I think it’s also how that bad relationship is framed. Is it viewed as bad? Because if the prince marries the troll wife and this is considered a good thing then that’s a problem. And does good triumph over it and make it right? Somehow, especially with little children, oh goodness – what is that – was it Chesterton that said the thing about dragons where it’s fairytales…
Pam: You know that the dragons are bad because just deep within you, you know that dragons are bad.
Brandy: Right. And fairytales aren’t telling children that dragons exist, they’re telling them that they could be fought. So I look at the relationships but I also look at is that fought back against or is that made right or is it at least acknowledged that truly Good relationship are good and truly Bad relationships are bad – that kind of thing. With stories I also think it’s worth to ask the general question what’s the story really about? What messages is it sending? And that’s easier with picture books than the older the children get the more complicated it gets and sometimes the books aren’t about one thing. I think when they’re really small we actually can ask, “It’s about this character doing this thing.” But I also think what ideas are taken for granted? Because I think sometimes the ideas in the background are the more dangerous. One of the books I was talking about that I threw away, it was not because there was lying in the book but it was that it was acknowledged that lying was necessary in a normal part of human existence in a sort of ‘you could do this occasionally and that would be fine.’ So I felt like the book wasn’t about lying but it was this underlying acceptance that that was how maybe we might deal with some things in our life, and so, I ask the question: What things are assumed to be good, or at least OK? What things are assumed to be normal, because the things that are assumed to be normal those are the deep, embedded underlying ideas that frame this world that the story’s taking place in and so we have less of a guard up about those things than we do about what happens in the story. And so, thinking about what kind of a world is this story set in and is that really teaching my child true things about our world? I’m specifically talking about younger students. I’m not nearly so careful with my high schooler of course, but when we’re talking about early elementary and younger, I think those kinds of questions are really important.
Pam: Right. And as they get older and you’ve led them through this period where you’ve only presented them with those ideas then you can present them with something else that’s a little more shades of gray and they can figure out some of the questions to those questions themselves.
Brandy: Right.
Pam: With you along beside.
Brandy: I think it’s good that the books get a little more complicated and it’s a bit hard to articulate because that’s real life. And real life isn’t always so clear and black and white, even that is preparing that idea that it’s hard for me to sort this out, even that’s an idea that is good for them to have to handle as they’re getting older.
Pam: So this conversation has really taken a turn of discernment. Am I safe in saying that you never sit down and say, ‘OK, this year I’m going to teach these five ideas so now I’m going to go and seek out books, but you teach the books that you want to teach and then let the ideas speak for themselves?
Brandy: Yes, that’s actually true. I can probably count on one hand where I actually hunted down a book on a particular topic and the times I did that I didn’t feel like it was very successful. So, I’ve learned to take the opposite approach at least with my own children and so, I’m really picky about books and I try to present the “best possible books” especially during our formal lesson times. And then from there we just try to pull the ideas out. I think the best books the ideas come out on the their own; we don’t have to really force it. So I think by getting the books – there’s a reason why everybody loves certain books and so I think by doing that then everything else just happens organically. It happens naturally because when a human reads a really good book then things happen and it’s just like a completely normal part of being a person.
Pam: Do you ever want them to get something that they don’t get and so are you pulling or are you trying to hit over the head? Are you asking all these leading questions or do you just let it go?
Brandy: Definitely hitting, hitting over the head!
Pam: That was figurative, you know?
Brandy: So, a couple of things. First, I would say that I have learned that sometimes I feel like they’re not getting something because I went into Circle Time with an agenda regarding this book. So I maybe pre-read this story and I decided, which has happened multiple times, I decided that I knew what my children should get out of this book. And so then I felt like they were not getting this central idea that was so important to me and it turned out it was because they were getting some other idea. And so I’ve tried now to really back off and be careful about assuming failure just because the response isn’t what I expected, if that makes sense. But definitely there are times when I’m ‘this certain connection — it seems pretty important to me’ and so that is when I resort to questions and I don’t over question. I’m sure you’ve heard these questions, I may have even talked about this last time, but my two favorite questions that I use over and over (my first one Wendi Capehart taught to me years and years ago; she runs The Common Room blog, she’s a founding member of AmblesideOnline) her question is “Does this remind you of anything else?” and it’s very enlightening to hear the connection the child makes between [this] story that we just read and some other thing that’s lodged in their memory somewhere. And lots of times that gives me a clue as to what the idea is that they’re getting, and I think it forces them to move into idea mode if they were just not there yet, for whatever reason, because we all know that we have off mornings and that kind of thing. Then the other one is Andrew Kern’s famous question of, ‘Should X have done Y?’ so talking about more what has gone on. And I think sometimes those questions can get really close to the connection you’re wanting. If you choose the question, which I don’t think the question works for every book, but if you choose the question carefully …
Pam: Like “Should X have done Y?” The famous one he uses is “Should Edward have gone with the White Witch?”
Brandy: Right. So, if you have a kid that somehow it doesn’t seem to be connecting that Edward went with the White Witch and this was really bad then it seems like a question like that you can target it without starting the preaching of “Edward went with the White Witch and that was bad, children!”
Pam: He took candy from strangers.
Brandy: Exactly.
Pam: You should never do that.
Brandy: That’s hilarious.
Pam: OK, that’s one of the things, that’s a lovely thing about living books is that the whole family can listen to the same story and different family members can latch on to different ideas. So, do you have a couple of examples where maybe you’ve read something to everyone in your family and your kids or maybe you had one thing in mind and your child came up with something brilliant – that wasn’t what you had in mind? Because I know that these Vencel children are brilliant.
Brandy: Well, they are smarter than their mother sometimes, that’s for sure (that’s not hard to do though). Well, I was thinking something like that happened: so, I’m reading aloud a book that I don’t know I would recommend for every family (some people might be horrified that I’m reading this book aloud). I’m reading aloud, it’s David McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood which it’s written for adults and it’s a story of the famous Johnstown flood from the late 1800’s because I’m like “it’s the end of summer and we should read something uplifting like a natural disaster.” So anyway, I’ve had this book on my shelf forever and I finally decided that my youngest child was old enough to at least not completely die from me reading this and so I’m reading it aloud and it had crossed my mind that one of the characters in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous (which I read out loud to my children a few years ago) one of the sailors on the boat in that story he’s basically psychologically broken and he lost his entire family in that flood and that’s why he’s so broken. He leaves reality because he cannot handle reality, he can’t handle his wife and children are gone. And so, none of my children had acted like that part, he’s not completely main character in the story, and none of them had acted like they really even noticed him that much. I don’t remember anybody saying anything about it. So I start reading The Johnstown Flood and in the first chapter, and it hasn’t even got that interesting. At this point I’m questioning my wisdom in choosing this book and all of a sudden my 9 year old daughter, who was only 5 or 6 when I read Captains Courageous said, “Remember that book about the guys on the boat and that man lost all of his children. What is a flood like this?” It was this flood. This is the story of what happened to his family. And her eyes got so big. But what was interesting was she has two older siblings so they should be much more able to remember that part of the book and one of them didn’t even remember that after she explained it. And the other one he had to really think. And he was like, “Oh yeah, I do kind of remember that guy.” But what they had taken away from Captains Courageous was all sorts of other things about how life transforming hard work was; in that story it takes this spoiled rich kid and makes him a man and so it’s a coming of age, it’s a rite of passage, it’s all these things. They had taken all those kinds of things away from it but had completely missed this psychologically traumatized person but my 9 year old, that’s pretty much all she can tell you about the book. And so it’s really interesting. I would say she’s one of my more empathetic children and I think her heart went out to this guy and my insensitive older children didn’t care about him.
Pam: But they got the whole coming of age thing.
Brandy: Exactly. Which they are probably much more interested in this kid who’s closer to their own age. I was thinking that I read this book to everybody, and of course, my youngest child was just too young to even remember this book, but it was interesting with all three of them and how they start discussing the book, only one of them was even able to connect that book to this other book that I’m reading because she was the only one that remembered the incident. Books are a powerful thing.
Pam: They are. And it’s interesting how they speak to us so differently. Let’s talk about within a lifetime, this is a good segue into that because you have the younger empathetic child who feels for this psychologically broken character and then you have these other two who you said were probably relating more to the character near their own age. So do you find yourself re-reading old favorites and finding new ideas?
Brandy: Oh yes. In fact I found myself pondering can I just continually re-read Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and that would be OK? Can I just not read anything else to my children? I love reading The Chronicles of Narnia. I love reading Tolkien’s trilogy and The Hobbit. That’s a lot of pages but I’ve read them multiple times out loud to my children. And every time I feel like I notice something new. I feel like the first time I read through The Lord of the Rings what I caught was all the stuff that everybody quotes, that’s what I caught. And I remember thinking, ‘That’s why everybody quotes this. This is such a powerful moment in the story.’ The quote is powerful in itself but it’s so powerful in context. But then the other times I’ve read through it, goodness, it’s not a different book, but the re-visiting I see other things. I think it took me three readings to connect that the reason why the Shire was this peaceful safe place was because all these rangers had been protecting it for generations. They have been protected by a power bigger than themselves and so they think there’s nothing wrong with the world but it’s because someone else was taking care of them, and I didn’t get that the first reading. And I do the same thing, I re-read a lot of very specific educational books. I’ll read through parts of Charlotte Mason’s volumes or I’ve read Norms and Nobility a couple of times and again, it was the same kind of thing. Well, my first reading of Charlotte Mason’s Volume 1 I took away one idea – we should go outside. That’s pretty much all I got. She was way over my head. So then we went outside and I read the book again and then that time I got a different idea. And so it just keeps building and I felt like each time I could understand a little bit more. I don’t think every book is worth re-reading but I definitely think some of the more important books grow with you. As you grow as a person then you get all these new things out of the book again.
Pam: Right. I definitely think that that’s the case. I have a reverse example of that because I never read (we’re not going to talk about the worthiness of this book) Catcher in the Rye as a teen and I know that teenagers supposedly love this book so I read it first as a college-age student and I’ve always been a little older than what my age was. And I was just like, ‘I can’t believe people like this book. This kid needs to be spanked and sent to his room or something. He’s horrible.’ And teenagers love this book. So I think definitely as you age and as you grow and as you change and as you mature you’re going to approach books differently than you did when you read them when you were younger.
Brandy: That is true. I was just thinking about this. I remember loving Romeo and Juliet in high school and thinking it was so romantic.
Pam: Oh don’t get me started!
Brandy: I re-read it as an adult and it’s like watching The Titanic. You just met him! This is stupid. Then I’m mad at Shakespeare.
Pam: More people who need to be spanked and sent to their room.
Brandy: Exactly.
Pam: Shakespeare’s turning in his grave. I think you’re exactly right. I think that makes books totally worth re-reading; most books, like you said, not all of them.
You have a child and maybe they’re not saying a whole lot during Morning Time. You read, you narrate, but they’re not really discussing the book a lot. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had this problem where you have the reluctant-to-discuss child but that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t picking up some of the living ideas from a book that you’ve just read. So do you think that kids process or work through big ideas in different ways?
Brandy: Oh for sure. I was actually thinking about this. I read Cindy Rollins’ new book Mere Motherhood. I call it my mental vacation because I read it all in two days and I pretty much did nothing else and it was so refreshing.
Pam: Oh, that sounds awesome.
Brandy: It was so great. But she makes this passing comment in her book. She asks a question, and I think it was something about ‘I wonder how many ideas I processed on my walk home from school?’ and I was thinking about that that we’re often so in a hurry to get to the good discussion part and the good discussion gives us the sense of validation (“I just did this thing and I need feedback!”).
Pam: And I can mark it off the list now.
Brandy: Exactly.
Brandy: Discussed the book.
Brandy: And so we want these responses right away. And I mean sometimes we do get responses right away, but it’s taken me a long time to let go of that and be content that the narration is enough and we can wait for later for some of these other things. I do think if we’re reading the very best books and we’re narrating them then the idea is they haunt the mind. They’re sticking around for a long time. So I guess that processing often takes time, and so this means that we have to wait and the conversations are going to happen later and I do think there’s a couple of different ways that that comes out. And this is my new theory based on some things I’ve talked with Mystie about (and I’m not 100 percent I’m right) but I think there’s a big difference between the processing of introverts and extroverts. So, I had this friend with all these extroverted children and they were acting out all of their school books to the point where I started to feel like maybe I’m doing something wrong, how come my kids aren’t acting out all of their school books? Because I started to think in my mind, maybe this is the number one way to process ideas as a young child? But I realized with introverted children something like a walk is where this happens. So, if I take one child for a walk (which I seriously do not do often enough) but it’s half way through the walk they’ll start talking about something on their mind and sometimes it’s very related to things we’ve done in school. Sometimes it’s related to things we did in school a year ago (which is really weird!) but now that my extroverted children are older I see things are coming out in their play. And so that got my thinking. My first two children are introverts and my second two children are extroverts and when I was feeling really insecure about things not being in their play it was both introverted children I was thinking about. So that’s my new theory. I don’t know if I’m right.
Pam: That’s interesting because as an introvert I know that I process things by having conversations in my head. That’s what I’m doing and that’s why (true confession time — I know I’ve told some people this but not a lot of people) I find it difficult to listen to podcasts because the podcast is interrupting the conversation I’m having in my head, and so if I spend all of my time listening to podcasts I can’t process my day and break down things and come up with new podcasts idea for my podcast and things like that and so I’m a podcaster who doesn’t really listen. I listen to some but not nearly as much as some other people we know. So I can totally see and I can see my children in front of me and saying, OK, this particular child I know is going to need to sit and think about this and if I’m immediately jumping on and trying to have a discussion with them about it they’ve got to have time to process first.
Brandy: That’s been hard for me because even though I can be very introverted I have never been one to not want to engage in conversation right after I read something because I get so excited and so I really have had to learn to control myself and to give my children time to marinate and to be OK with picking the conversation back up a long time later. That was something I really had to learn (my poor oldest child).
Pam: And too, we have to learn to trust the educational process that we’ve set out. Because you’re right, it’s not like we’re going to mark a time on our calendar two weeks from now and say, “Go back and discuss Captains Courageous again, chapter 3, they’ve had time to marinate, so let’s go back and discuss it.” We’ve just got to trust the process that we’ve laid out and that it is happening in their head because we are laying out this feast of wonderful literature, it is happening in their heads, they are mulling over these ideas, they are making these connections and it may be something we never hear about.
Brandy: Right. And I do think as I’m thinking about this that maybe one key thing… Cindy Rollins’ has her walk on her way home from school. I do think making sure that there is time in the children’s schedule for that processing time. Like what you’re talking about with the podcasting and getting in the way of the processing. I do wonder if sometimes overscheduled children don’t get that chance to process and so then the conversations will be less likely to happen later on because the processing has never really had an opportunity to happen. I’m thinking maybe we need to protect that, for both introverts and extroverts, because the introvert might need time in the garden by herself but then the extrovert needs that time to have the imaginative play; both of them are doing their processing in their own way but for both of them the free time was what was really necessary for that to be able to happen.
Pam: But it’s never something we’re going to be able to check off in a neat and tidy box.
Brandy: No, never. So frustrating, huh?
Pam: Very much so. OK well we’ve kind of touched on this but you read aloud a book that contains some living ideas but then what? So we’re sitting there in Morning Time, we’ve read this book to the kids, obviously we know that the first step is narration back to us, and now we’re talking about well, no, you need to let them have time to marinate these ideas and so is that it? Or is there anything else we can do?
Brandy: I feel like I’m so disappointing, yeah that’s it.
Pam: Darn it.
Brandy: Pretty much, it really is. Like I said before with the questions, I do sometimes think, ‘OK I’m going to ask a few questions and see if I can get a discussion going here.’ And Plutarch is no longer part of our Morning Time but we have a separate Plutarch as a group set aside and I definitely ask some questions there. We use Anne White’s guides and so it is very natural and I think they’re used to it and so they’ve got to where they expect they have to interact right after. So I think there’s a place for that especially when kids get older I figure someday they might have a boss that wants them to verbally respond to whatever he just says so it might help… instead of just staring and thinking, ‘can’t you just give me to time to think for a week and come back?’ But really, I feel like for most of our Circle Time we just move on to the next thing so I might have a couple of readings after we’ve done our memory work and after we’ve done Bible and all those other things and I have got to where I do trust that it comes later. I started thinking of this as like a car and so I’m putting gas in the car. So I’m not taking the trip right now, I’m just putting gas in the car so that when they’re ready to take their trip there’s something in the car to go on. So that’s how I’ve started thinking about it and that’s been really helpful and I’ve realized that it’s their car and they get to drive it whenever they want (for the most part), and how they want to, and my job is just to make sure that their little tank is filled up so that there’s something to help them go when their little mind gets going and so that’s where the narration is. I think of it like they have leaky tanks; they’ve got this really stimulating environment and then there’s the next thing and the next thing and so I feel like narration is plugging the holes in the tank so we’re requiring the first remembrance of them. And so after that it’s like I’ve made sure it’s in the tank …
Pam: Right.
Brandy: … so then maybe they can access that later. It’s my insurance policy. So that’s how I’ve got to think about it. So I do questions sometimes but for the most part we do just move on and yet I feel like I’ve been doing it long enough now that I’m starting to see little bits of fruit and it’s really encouraging and I don’t know that I could have ever made that happen. It’s just really beautiful when you work with how God made the world and God made a child to function. We can trust they’re persons and their little minds will really will take ideas and process them and assimilate them in ways that we can’t even imagine.
Pam: And then as the mother, as the teacher, we’re just to get out of the way.
Brandy: Hard to do some times.
Pam: Oh wow. So that’s cool. Well you have given me so much to think about as always. So I will be not listening to podcasts and mulling over this for quite some time now.
Brandy: I’m destroying podcasts statistics or whatever. Sorry.
Pam: Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking to me.
Brandy: Thanks for having me on. It was fun.
Pam: I really do appreciate it.
And there you have it. Now, the Basket Bonus for today’s episode is really awesome. And I can say that because I had nothing to do with putting it together, it was all Brandy. So what it is, is an inventory for idea maximization. So this is a one page printable, you can print out and put in your Morning Time Binder and basically, it’s a series of questions for you to ask yourself about a lesson to make sure that you are maximizing teaching with ideas. And I think it’s great. I think it’s really going to help you cement some of the concepts that Brandy and I talked about today and put them into action or implement them in your Morning Time. Now, you can get the inventory for Idea Maximization and links to any of the resources that Brandy and I chatted about today on the Show Notes for this episode. You can find those at We’ll have everything for you there. Also on those Show Notes are directions for how you can leave a rating or review for the Your Morning Basket podcast on iTunes. The ratings and reviews that you leave on iTunes help us get word out about the podcast to new listeners and we really appreciate it if you’ve taken the time to do that. Well, you guys have an awesome week, we’ll be back again in another couple of weeks with another wonderful Your Morning Basket interview, and until then keep seeking Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in your homeschool day.

Links and Resources from Today’s Show

Start Here: A Journey Through Charlotte Mason's 20 PrinciplesStart Here: A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 PrinciplesThe Classic Treasury of Aesop's FablesPinThe Classic Treasury of Aesop’s FablesThe Johnstown FloodPinThe Johnstown FloodThe Chronicles of Narnia Boxed SetPinThe Chronicles of Narnia Boxed SetNorms and Nobility: A Treatise on EducationPinNorms and Nobility: A Treatise on EducationRomeo and Juliet (Folger Shakespeare Library)PinRomeo and Juliet (Folger Shakespeare Library)


Key Ideas about Discussing Ideas with Kids

  • Wrestling with ideas is part of the human experience. True education gives us opportunities to encounter living ideas and big questions, like “What is virtue?” and “What makes a good leader?” for example. These ideas simmer in our minds and shape us. Ideas influence how we view the world, treat others, and make decisions.
  • We spread a feast of ideas before our children by reading excellent books with them. When exposed to a great book, children (or adults) will latch onto the ideas they are ready for. We can trust the process of selecting, reading, and narrating from the best books; lectures and moralizing are unnecessary.
  • Different people process ideas in different ways. We need to let ideas marinate in our children’s minds. Some kids will want to discuss, and others will process ideas as they play. Chewing on a big idea can take time.

Find What you Want to Hear

  • 2:43 What is a living idea?
  • 8:10 how facts and ideas complement each other
  • 12:00 some examples of big ideas
  • 16:50 some questions to ask yourself about the ideas in books
  • 23:15 not having an agenda; letting kids latch onto the ideas they are ready for
  • 24:10 Brandy’s two favorite discussion questions to ask kids
  • 26:45 Captains Courageous example
  • 30:24 rereading old favorites and finding new ideas; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • example
  • 31:54 Charlotte Mason example
  • 36:00 how introverts and extroverts might process ideas in different ways
  • 39:30 giving kids ample free time so they have opportunities to process ideas
  • 42:09 Brandy’s car analogy