Grow Readers and Writers: The Power of Ideas

Recently a kind Park Ranger gave my children some wonderful encouragement that I’d like to pass on to all of you. He said something like this: 

Keep reading good books. Learn to write well and influence the culture. We need good authors today. 

The Wayside House of Authors, Concord, MA

We were in Concord, MA and when we saw a group of tourists head next door to Orchard House where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women, we decided to make our first stop The Wayside (called Hillside by Bronson Alcott), the home of the Alcotts when Louisa was ages 13-16. It was later the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne (author of A Wonder Book, Tanglewood Tales) and then of Harriett Lothrop (pen name Margaret Sidney, author of The Five Little Peppers series). It proved to be a delightful choice since our family ended up being the only ones on the 11 am tour. The Park Ranger gave a wonderful presentation of the house and enthusiastically took more time and detail when he found out we had read from all three authors. He showed us where the Alcott girls put on their plays in both the barn and the dining room and played Pilgrim’s Progress on the hill behind the house. Nathaniel Hawthorne added a third floor tower for a tiny room where he hid from visitors and wrote standing up at a slant-top desk…and he was in his fifties! Our guide said that the Pepper books were coming back in print because they were so popular with homeschoolers and Christian schools due to the good values portrayed. He told us that Mrs. Lothrop’s husband was a publisher and that the couple was very interested in printing good history books for children as well as preserving the historic homes of authors, including Orchard House next door. 

It was fascinating to get a peep into the lives of authors whose ideas have inspired us. As Charlotte Mason said, “In truth, a nation or man becomes great upon one diet only, the diet of great ideas communicated to those already prepared to receive them by a higher Power than Nature herself.” (vol. 3, page 156) and “Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food…our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs…making such extracts from Scott or Dickens or Milton, as will certainly give him nourishment. It is a case of, — ‘In the morning sow thy seed and in the evening withhold not thine hand for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that.’ {Eccl. 11:6} ” (vol. 6, pages 109-110). The Holy Spirit cultivates the great ideas encountered in books. It is exciting to think that our children can go on to write noble stories that can help others know our precious Lord and, as the apostle Paul wrote, “think on these things.” 

Keep Sowing!
Beth S. 

“Life being very short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books.”
John Ruskin, 1865, from the preface of Sesame and Lilies. [In context, Ruskin is saying to choose worthy books.:-)]

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Written Narrations can’t be rushed

Just recently I asked our son to build an erector set model with wheels and gears and then write a report on how he did it.  Well as time drew on and the set was taking longer than I wanted it to, I asked him to pause and begin writing the paper.  Thirty minutes later he handed me something that I knew wasn’t his best or even what he wanted to say.   I told him it was okay and we would look at it again tomorrow.  The next evening however, he came leaping into the kitchen with the fully completed erector set, telling me all about it. I grabbed a pad and began writing what he said.  Full of dynamic verbs and descriptive adjectives, I knew his head was swarming with excitement and ideas.   For five minutes he narrated how to build his model and what it could do.  At the end he talked about how his model has many simple machines just as the human living cell must have always had 40 different cells to live and function.  He talked about how Darwinism belief could not be possible.  With his Christian worldview shining through I knew only the Holy Spirit could have done this type of idea connection to an erector set project.  And I also knew that taking time to allow idea connection is necessary for quality writing to take place.  Although this was an oral narration that I wrote down, I have seen many written narrations from this child and know when he has a connection with an experience or a story and when he doesn’t. 

I would recommend to anyone with a child just beginning to write their narrations that you write or type the first few for them.  Once they see how much they have to say and can write, they should build their confidence in their own writing ability and you can begin teaching them writing styles to apply.  In my experience, once the confidence level came up, I was able to teach and suggest changes for writing styles.  I do usually save the grammar lessons for source text, something other than then children’s written narrations.  Many students would rather mark up a copy of a poem from the public domain than to think rewrite on one of their original written masterpieces.  Institute for Excellence in Writing has many source texts in their spiral bound books they sell on a variety of subjects.  From our experience with our 11 year old son, we had a tough time putting strong verbs and adjectives into something we had no heart connection to or experience.  Our son was able to insert strong verbs and adjectives after reading a two page source text, however, the paragraphs he wrote were not near as interesting as some of his own narrations.  I am convinced that was because he was not able to make an idea connection with the source text.    The fuel was not there to empower his pen, or pencil in his case.  However, as most science and math minds work, the practice of inserting strong verbs and adjectives, and creating opening and closing sentences was something he could do with practice.  Coupled with continued oral and written narrations, he has been able to write well organized narrations.  Not every time, but we are excited to see that this can be a stepping stone in helping him to become a better communicator for Christ.