One of my most humbling revelations occurred when I realized it was my responsibility to teach my children to think. I remember thinking, “How could I possibly teach them a skill I need to develop in myself?” As a child, school work wasn’t very difficult for me. I excelled even through college, but only because memorizing facts to pass a test was fairly easy for me. I had never considered myself very intelligent or creative, though I ranked high academically. I saw that I knew when and often even what to think, but not necessarily how to think. I wanted to be a thinker, so that my children would not be limited by my lack of ability. I also wanted to know what it meant to love God with all my mind. (Mark 12:30)
I began to pray, asking God to show me where to get the information necessary to teach myself and my children to think. God answered my prayer, but it was only years later that I realized how He did it.
Learning how to think is incremental.
Following Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education as nearly as I could understand it, led me to several habits of mind. I worked to develop these habits in my children and in myself. It was definitely a progression, little by little, step by step. I didn’t see the mental growth for a long time, partly due to my frantic efforts to apply what I was learning from Miss Mason’s work, and partly because of my own short-sightedness. The goal was for me to become a thinker and to raise children who could think, but I still didn’t know how I would actually accomplish these goals.
It wasn’t until my youngest three children were high-school age that I began to see fruit resulting from having taken little steps, developing habits over time. My children were thinking: asking pertinent questions, reaching logical conclusions, and exploring the realm of reason. It was then I realized the value of habits of mind. I was also excited when I became aware that I had been applying some of the habits in my personal study, and I determined I would incorporate these habits into my lifestyle.
Am I a great thinker now? No, but I am a thinker, and I will continue to learn how to be a thinker. I pray that I will learn more and more how to love the Lord with all my mind as well as my heart, soul, and strength. I want to honor Him with the best of my thoughts, learning to think as He thinks. In answer to my request years ago, God has worked slowly, gently, diligently, and faithfully to change me and my children. And that is how we learned to think.
Learning how to think has purpose.
What is the purpose of learning to think? Is it just to be able to contemplate noble ideas or analyze and understand difficult concepts? No, learning how to think should lead to action. After you have thought, you do. If thinking doesn’t lead to action, it has fallen short of its purpose.
Loving God with all your mind means using your mind to the best of your ability. It means feeding your mind with worthy ideas and practicing habits that will help you grow in your ability to use your mind. Let it be a lifelong pursuit.
You can learn how to think.
Ask questions: Formulating relevant questions will guide your thoughts. Sometimes the questions will be for yourself, for the purpose of directing research or prioritizing action steps. Other questions might be directed to a trusted friend or mentor. Ask, ask, ask. Experience will enhance your ability to ask key questions. Don’t be afraid to ask.
Questions will come more easily if you will foster, again, the sense of awe you had as a child. Observe the nature around you. Notice people and their uniqueness. Watch for details as you read.
Narrate: Narration is foundational to Charlotte Mason educational philosophy and a habit that has profoundly changed the way I learn and think. When you require your children to narrate what they have heard or read, you may realize, as I did, that you should develop the same habit for yourself.
- Narration is telling back, in oral, written, or visual form, what you have heard or read. Some moms in our support group have found it helpful to illustrate their narrations. A few of these moms have sketched retellings that are artistic, but many are similar to the type I produce with stick figures and primitive drawings. These are visual forms of narrating what you have heard or read. Practice all three forms of narration.
- Narration is an act of knowing. To secure or assimilate anything into your mind, you must act upon the knowledge, do something with what you have learned, apply it in some way. The application is an act of knowing.
- After reading a passage of scripture, stop and rehearse to yourself the truth you just read. Knowing you are going to narrate will affect the way you read. You will find yourself reading in order to know. You will pay close attention, actively engaging your mind as you read.
- After hearing a sermon or class lesson in church, discuss the main points with your husband or with a friend. Do this even if you are the teacher!
- Think before you read anything: “I will be narrating this.” I found that narrating silently to myself is one of the hardest mental tasks to accomplish. This skill demands focused attention and takes time to develop.
Don’t be surprised if narrating is challenging. Mental focus is required, and sometimes your mental or physical fatigue will make it even more difficult. When that happens, narrate after reading a shorter passage.
Read: Sometimes I struggled just to keep ahead in what my children were reading. Reading for personal pleasure, instruction, or continuing education was an ideal I dreamed about reaching. A friend challenged me to always be reading three books at a time. I remember rolling my eyes when she initially brought up the idea. She was offering wise advice, though. All three books had to be worthy, no trendy novels or Christian romances. She explained that each book had a different purpose.
- One book had to be an easy read. It could be fiction or non-fiction, and its content should be encouraging and uplifting, but not deep or difficult in language and concept. I was to read small portions of this book when I was fatigued, mentally or physically. Ten minutes was often all the time I could give to this type of material, but a brief narration to myself helped me to retain the encouragement.
- The second book was to be a medium read. This book could offer some challenge, but not such that it required extended focused attention. I didn’t read the medium book as often as the easier one, especially when I was reading to keep up with five children’s assignments. But now that those days are past, I wish I had read more for my own growth then. My children needed to see me learning for myself, not just for their benefit.
- The third book was to be a difficult read. More advanced literature or more challenging non-fiction fit into this category. Some of these books took a long time for me to read. I had to be mentally alert to actively read and then narrate a difficult book.
Learning how to think is a lifelong pursuit!
I am still reading three books at a time. Audio books have made this habit even easier, as I can listen when doing routine housekeeping or when I’m exercising. And honestly, I don’t narrate every single book I read. If I discern that the book is worthy, though, I make a point to narrate it in some way—sometimes paragraph by paragraph, at other times page by page, and with some books, chapter by chapter. It depends on which level of book I’m narrating. A friend will often discuss a book with me, and we narrate it to each other. A book club, support group, or mastermind group also provides opportunities for oral narration. Stick-figure sketches or mind maps are reserved for a few personal narrations. And narrating silently to myself is a mental challenge I am learning to enjoy.
Learning to think can become a lifelong pursuit for you. Start by asking questions and narrating. Additional habits of mind will be mastered as you work on these two habits. Perhaps you will recognize them as you grow in your ability to narrate.