Friday, April 26, 2013

Simple Lessons Work

Harrison making a motorcycle out of a computer part.

Do you like to put together little lessons where everything matches a theme and then use them to teach your kids? As pinterest and copious blogs can attest, many moms and teachers do enjoy this, including myself. At least I enjoyed it at first. I put together these exciting lessons for my toddler/preschooler when I was dipping my toe into homeschooling, and as I wrote them up, I just knew my daughter would delight in them! But, alas, she did not appreciate or notice the theme that was presented. It haphazardly taught ideas and skills. And I did A LOT of tedious prep work that was unnecessary to her learning. Many times I would do most of the work on the art projects because she was not interested or capable. The songs I found were silly and she did not want to sing them. (I sang them by myself.) It wasn't all for waste ~ we spent time together, she loved any cooking projects, and the books I found at the library were worthy reading.  I simply came to realize that:

"Such a doctrine as the Herbartian, that the mind is a receptacle, lays the stress of education, the preparation of food in enticing morsels, duly ordered, upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching but little knowledge; the teacher's axiom being 'what a child learns matters less than how he learns it.'" ~ (CM Vol 6, page 112. emphasis mine.)

When we write lessons that make all the connections for the child, he does not have to do his own work of connecting. We throw the information and theme at him and it easily slides right out of his head. The theme can be entertaining, at least parts of it. But it's more like a meal that we've pre-chewed for the child and then give it back to him expecting him to swallow it without doing any of the work of chewing and ruminating himself. That analogy is a little gross (sorry!) and doesn't quite work because the child would at least be getting some nourishment even while not chewing his own food. If a child's mind does not have to work to gain knowledge, he will not easily remember or internalize the ideas.

The teacher was probably at her best in getting by sheer force much out of little: she was, in fact, acting a part and the children were entertained as at a show, cinema or other; but of one thing we may be sure, an utter distaste, a loathing, on the part of the children ever after, not only for 'Robinson Crusoe' but for every one of the subjects lugged in to illustrate his adventures. We read elsewhere of an apple affording a text for a hundred lessons, including the making of a ladder, (in paper), to gather the apples; but, alas, the eating of the worn-out apple is not suggested.  ~ (CM, Vol 6 page 116)

More learning can take place with less prep work from the teacher if we simply allow the apple to be tasted and appreciated. Exam it when needed ~ there is a place for in-depth study of a text or object ~ but always present the ideas themselves and let the child's mind do the actual work of assimilating. The teacher is there to provide worthy ideas, chiefly by way of good books, answer questions (or put the question back to the child and let him think of possible answers), and prompt discussion and further thought.


  1. An encouraging post - and gentle reminder to "stay out of the way". It is this very personal interaction with books and ideas that makes the re-teaching of the same material with younger children so wonderfully fresh for us all. The older children quickly remember those stirring parts, the younger child enjoys making it "her own". Each child connects and responds uniquely!

  2. Good thoughts, Lanaya. I'm always surprised at the connections my children have made. I'm not great at 'preparing lessons'etc & feel my own lack of education at times but in many ways it has been a strength - ideas & good books are available to all of us.

  3. I'd like to know where the idea of making theme packaged lessons came from? I'm not sure kids would have thought of it. I think teachers like the thought of it. It makes us feel like we're "doing something."