Healthy Eating and Digestion

The children are shocking spendthrifts; their endless goings and comings, their restlessness, their energy, the very wagging of their tongues, all mean expenditure of substance: the loss is not appreciable, but they lose something by every sudden sally, out of doors or within. No doubt the gain of power which results from exercise is more than compensation for the loss of substance; but, all the same, this loss must be promptly made good. And not only is the body of the child more active, proportionately, than that of the man: the child’s brain as compared with the man’s is in a perpetual flutter of endeavor. It is calculated that though the brain of a man weighs no more than a fortieth part of his body, yet a fifth or a sixth of his whole complement of blood goes to nourish this delicate and intensely active organ; but, in the child’s case, a considerably larger proportion of the blood that is in him is spent on the sustenance of his brain. And all the time, with these excessive demands upon him , the child has to grow! not merely to make up for waste, but to produce new substance in brain and body.

Our language reveals the truth. We say to our children, “You are wearing me out.” Or, “If only I could bottle that energy …”. We tell them to calm down, to quit, to stop, to settle down, to go in or go out — not in and out. We say, “Please don’t jump on Mama” or “Walk please” or “Don’t wrestle near where your father is sleeping.” All the while they ask questions, “Why is the moon not round tonight?” and “What do you mean you could strangle Daddy, Mommy? That’s mean!” And if they are not asking questions, they talk, they sing, they prattle, they make nonsense noises, popping in during conversations not meant for them, absorbing the general tensions or happiness around them like filter feeders.  Children are prodigals of energy. They spend all they have on nothings. They do not conserve. They do not play it safe. They do not pace themselves or look ahead. If they have energy, they spend it immediately.

And all of this is commanded from the brain — the physical activity, the language, concepts, emotions, everything zips through the gray matter at light speed. They do all this oblivious to any need for food, ignorant of the laws of health.

What is the obvious conclusion? That we feed the child well. Charlotte Mason recommends regular meals at usual, unbroken intervals. We should avoid feeding children fried or overly spicy foods. They shouldn’t drink until after eating. Fresh fruit at breakfast is invaluable, as well as oatmeal and bacon. Animal food at least once a day for the brain. Jams in which the leathery coat of the fruit is preserved and without high fruit corn syrup is important and enjoyable. Also, drink water first thing in the morning and last thing at night to keep everything regular. With all this, however, remember:

It is not the food eaten as it is the food digested that nourishes the body and brain.

All this will be wasted if the child’s body does not thoroughly digest what is eaten. Charlotte Mason says:

… people are apt to forget how far mental and moral conditions affect the processes of digestion. The fact is, that the gastric juices which act as solvents to the viands are only secreted freely when the mind is in a cheerful and contented frame. If the child dislike his dinner, he swallows it, but the digestion of that distasteful meal is a laborious, much-impeded process: if the meal be eaten in silence, unrelieved by pleasant chat, the child loses much of the ‘good’ of his dinner. Hence it is not a matter of pampering them at all, but a matter of health, of due nutrition, that the children should enjoy their food, and that their meals should be eaten in gladness;

Of course, Charlotte could not have foreseen the attack upon our food and the many poor choices which would become the norm of the American table. She assumed people knew how to eat right. Today, we have to educate and discipline ourselves to eat right.

Parents often fall too near two extremes. One is to offer too little guidance in the matter of eating — giving him whatever he asks for and not restraining many of his impulses. Sodas are for the taking, as well as chips and cookies and all kinds of junk food. “Just as long as he is eating,” says the worried mother about her thin, underfed son.

This does nothing for the training of his tastes and his habits, which we should remember as the chief end of his education. Sitting at the table to complete meals, where only delicious, healthy things are offered does more than just give food for him. He learns the habits of table and the pleasant conversations during this time increases his language and conversation skills. He learns to chew slowly and sees good eating modeled.

But another disturbing trend has emerged where parents make too much of their children’s food — where “healthy” food becomes an “unhealthy” obsession. The child’s meals are extremely controlled. She is tested often for allergies. She becomes extremely delicate and unable to meet new situations without extreme preparations. These obsessions or controlling behaviors interfere with digestion and wellness, inculcating a fear of the outside or creating suspicions of all things out of personal control.

If we spend much time and energy fretting about the “right” food, this can interfere with digestion as well as a fight at the dinner table can. Parents should make broad, simple decisions about how they eat, they should make eating around the table a regular event, and they should remove as many stresses and promote as many happinesses as possible during meals.



The Brain

… the brain, or some portion of the brain, becomes exhausted when any given function has been exercised too long. The child has been doing sums for some time, and is getting unaccountably stupid: take away his slate and let him read history, and you find his wits fresh again. Imagination, which has had no part in the sums, is called into play by the history lesson, and the child brings a lively unexhausted power to his new work.

Charlotte says we often make schedules which give the child’s brain a variety of work, but …

the secret of the weariness children often show in the home schoolroom is, that no such judicious change of lessons is contrived.

Again, I like to view school work in terms of receiving and producing. We need both for an education and alternating the two activities is the key to making the school day move at a pleasant pace rather than a grueling one. Once a child masters reading, reading becomes a “receiving” activity along with listening to a presentation or observing a demonstration — something to place between “producing” activities such as math or writing. Really, these are the only three subjects that truly exist, like the primary colors on the color wheel. From these three skills (reading, writing, and math) students learn all the other “subjects”.  By writing, I include other “producing” activities such as diagrams, oral presentations, poster, and the like. In other words, the child is synthesizing or analyzing information and producing some new and personal way of expressing it.

The teacher should move away from “subjects” and instead use the various subjects as a vehicle for the working of these three skills: reading, writing and math. As soon as the student starts to lag, refresh the brain with a change — she doesn’t have to stop her school work, she just needs to stop producing and move into a receiving mode for a while. Alternating like this helps to keep learning pleasurable and not a hateful task.


Work, Rest, and Play

Study of Study


Charlotte Mason says it is just as important to give the brain periods of rest as well as good, hard work for it to do. She tells of how blood rushes to the organ(s) being used. While exercising or playing, the blood flows to the extremities. After eating, the blood flows to the digestive system. While the brain is actively at work, the blood flows there.


So, we do not want to feed a child dinner and then send her out for a long walk. The blood that is needed for digestion leaves its work and floods to the extremities, leaving the meal half digested. If this happens on a daily basis (such as the practice of public schools to feed children lunch and then send them out to their longest recess), we are setting them up for chronic stomach problems. Moreover, we shouldn’t feed them a large meal, send them out to play for an hour, and bring them in to do math. The brain will have very little blood to work with. The child will have difficulty concentrating on a subject requiring so much focus.


It follows that the hours for lessons should be carefully chosen, after periods of mental rest–sleep or play, for instance–and when there is no excessive activity in any other part of the system. Thus, the morning, after breakfast (the digestion of which lighter meal is not a severe tax), is much the best time for lessons and every sort of mental work; if the whole afternoon cannot be spared for out-of-door recreation, that is the time for mechanical tasks such as needle-work, drawing, practicing; the children’s wits are bright enough in the evening, but the drawback to evening work is, that the brain, once excited, is inclined to carry on its labors beyond bedtime, and dreams, wakefulness, and uneasy sleep attend the poor child who has been at work until the last minute. If the elder children must work in the evening, they should have at least one or two pleasant social hours before they go to bed;


English: London children playing with go-carts...


We should do our best to set up our days for success, alternating carefully between activities so the children efficiently gain as much as they can from each activity. I, personally, have set up our schedule in this manner:


Mornings: While each girl is getting ready in the morning (breakfast, bed made, room straightened, dressed, hair and teeth brushed), I call each one to the table individually, from youngest to oldest, to work on math. I do this because math requires a great deal of concentration and personal assistance. This, along with writing, is the most taxing subject of the day. After breakfast has been cleaned up, I do writing together because it is good to get all the intense production out of the way and it is sure not to be skipped. After this, I have the girls read assigned reading while I get some chores done.


Afternoons: After lunch, I read aloud because it is a “receiving” activity. I read history, missionary stories, science books, biographies, the Bible, poetry, myths, fables, fairy tales and modern day stories — not all at once, of course, but in the course of a year. Then, we usually go to sports. Because my girls are athletic and they enjoy it, we’ve chosen this route for physical health. If we aren’t involved in sports, we hike, go for bike rides, rock-climb, birdwatch – something outside, if at all possible.


I do not worry about “subjects” other than math, writing and reading. Reading aloud is something I do for all their lives. I did my master’s thesis on reading aloud for older students and I believe it is important to continue building their vocabulary, increase their enjoyment of reading, and increase their learning by hearing the written word as well as reading it. If I don’t have time, we rent books on CD from the library. We usually read history-based books and we sometimes delve into scientific subjects and other literature. All other subjects apart from math require the skills of reading and writing. I figure if we become very proficient at these, they can accomplish any academic subject. I have two high school students who have proven this simple method works.


Perhaps the biggest gift gained from educating in this gentle manner is my children enjoy learning. They are interested individuals. They are curious and open to receiving from life what it has to teach.


I have often tried to do all “subjects” with multiple kids. What usually happens is burnout — either my own or the kids. I’ve had to realize I am not giving my children a packaged education but an organic one. The dividing up of subjects is unnecessary because they are all mastered similarly. The dividing up of children into mass classes of same-aged classmates is a modern invention built upon the factory assembly line which has produced dubious results. On the other hand, this smaller home classroom is farm more natural and efficient as far as personal growth is concerned. What do students really need to know? The answer is how to learn. With mastery of reading, writing and math, they can learn anything academically. Reducing learning down to these simple skills makes it possible to teach in the gentle way Charlotte Mason recommends.


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Conditions of Healthy Brain Activity

Nowhere does Charlotte Mason show her love and respect for children more than in her careful and studious instructions on how to create conditions for healthy brain activity. She begins with exercise, comparing brain inactivity with physical inactivity.

…the brain which should have been invigorated by daily exercise has become flabby and feeble as a healthy arm would be after being carried for years in a sling.

She blames eccentricity on someone not having enough to do — pointing out that the large active brain is not content with entire idleness. Instead, it finds paths for itself and then pounds down them, healthy or not. Generally, we understand the ways to physical health, whether we follow them is another matter. The body needs fuel, and the food which is the fuel should be a variety of healthy, wholesome meals. We know the body needs exercise. All of us, but children especially, need to run, shout, jump, play and exert ourselves in fun, physical activities.

So it is with the brain. It works on the same fuel and needs its own mental exercise to grow strong. The outcome of all this is:

Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts, intellectual, moral, volitional; let them brace themselves to understand; let them compel themselves to do and to bear; and let them do right at the sacrifice of ease and pleasure; and this for many higher reasons, but, in the first and lowest place, that the mere physical organ of mind will grow vigorous with work.

Some of us believe we are born “smart” or “dumb”. Certainly, we are given limits to our potential. However, the “dumb” label can most certainly be obliterated with enough mental work and effort.

One of the most common errors parents make is to think their children’s brain exercise happens at school.

Not so.

With the difficulties teachers face, they often must and do resort to efficient ways of teaching which will most certainly lessen the work your student’s brain will do. Lectures, where the student passively receives information, groups, where the student shares the work, and assignments which can easily be graded by teachers all cut the work done by your student’s brain.

Another error parents make is to believe that to increase mental effort means to increase school work. Again, this is a grave mistake. Students’ time is already over-packed with school-related activities. I firmly believe homework is not the best help for  learning or to encourage the growth of students‘ brains.

By this time, you’re wondering what the solution is.

Ahh, where should I start? The brain activity available to you and your children is all around you. Puzzles, word finds, riddles, jokes, discussions about the ethics of something, explanations (given by your child), the re-telling of stories heard, movies watched, interactions between friends or siblings, the re-enactment of anything, the careful observation of something, memorizing something, games, drawing, nature study, questions, questions, questions, and listening, listening, listening. The key is your child needs to form something, create something, argue something, reason something, do something.

Think in terms of receiving (consuming) and producing. We need to do both. A child in our consumerist culture will certainly find multiple ways to receive or consume in our society. They are trained into it by television, commercials, school, radio, and video games. Even reading, which is a better way to receive, is still receiving. So, anytime you can find ways to get your child to produce something, you’re giving him the exercise so desperately needed for his brain. Be it a thoughtful response to an open-ended question or a playful skit given for the family, finding ways for your child to produce is the key.

Build me a bridge with your legos that can hold all these quarters. Run to the end of the path, see all the details you can, and report back to me what you see. Teach your sister how to practice for setting a volleyball. Let’s make a … birdhouse, birdfeeder, hat, cake, story, play, etc. Let’s organize a … dance, birthday party, picnic, shopping list, chore list, the laundry room, etc. Let’s write a story, paint a picture, draw my feet, create a collage, write a thank-you, play a song, fix a car, plant a garden, build a chicken coop. Let’s … Let’s … Let’s …

Surely, there is something a child should naturally “take to”, helping to build an interest which may stay with him all his life. Certainly, she will learn the habit of “being interested”, which is a key to happiness.

Hindering the Children

Charlotte Mason says the most fatal way someone can despise a child is to overlook and make light of his natural relationship with the Almighty God.


Suffer the little children to come unto Me,


says Jesus.


Coming to Christ is the natural thing for children to do, if their elders don’t stop them.


Mother and Child watching each other


And perhaps it is not too beautiful a thing to believe in this redeemed world, that, as the babe turns to his mother though he has no power to say her name, as the flowers turn to the sun, so the hearts of the children turn to their Saviour and God with unconscious delight and trust.


I’ve found this to be true. The young depend upon God with such easy grace we wonder at it.


But here is how such faith is lost: adults, though often well-meaning, imply or explicitly state conditions to God’s love. We know better than to return to “God will send you to hell if you do such things!” But do we return in other ways? Do we insinuate conditions into the mind of a child about His love for them? In order to bring about obedience, compliance, agreement or to save ourselves from embarrassment, do we give to understand God will withhold His love (or the child will step outside of it) if he or she continues?


Wouldn’t it be better to enjoy relationship with God and include the children in communion with Him? Give them gentle remembrances of how He cherishes them, how He loves them, and how He longs to fill their days with delight. How much greater is obedience motivated by love than fear!


Add to this, listless perfunctory prayers, idle discussions of Divine things in their presence, light use of holy words, few signs whereby the child can read that the things of God are more to his parents than any things of the world, and the child is hindered, tacitly forbidden to “come unto Me,” –and this, often, by parents who in the depths of their hearts desire nothing in comparison with God. The mischief lies in that same foolish undervaluing of the children, in the notion that the child can have no spiritual life until it please his elders to kindle the flame.


Perhaps the most important witness for your children is your own personal relationship with Christ. Do you trust Him? Or try to please Him? Do you love Him? Or follow a list of rules out of fear? Is He present always? Or just casually mentioned during rituals?


If your own relationship with Christ is vibrant and exciting, it seems only natural your children would want to know such a One as this. And if we assume they’d want to know Him and include them in all our doings with Him, friendship is a natural outcome and their own personal interactions will follow. We cannot force relationship. We must remember our children are persons with their own inviolate ability to choose. Christ would never wish to be forced upon anyone, especially a child. The invitation is there, given by Christ himself.


English: Jesus Christ with children


Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.


To add any strength to Christ’s invitation is to interfere or hinder the children from coming to Him.



Despising the Children

Despise: to have a low opinion of, to undervalue

However much we may delight in children, we grown-ups have far too low of an opinion of children.

If the mother did not undervalue her child, would she leave him to the society of an ignorant nursemaid during the early years when his whole nature is, like the photographer’s sensitive plate, receiving momently indelible impressions?

Today, we have daycares — some better than others. But still, we must know when the child will gain the majority of his learning (during the first five years), it may take place with a person who is “doing a job” and the time is divided among many competing needs. All those moments that could be used for the learning of language, loving touches, pleasurable kisses and caresses, the smell of mama, the careful consumption of food with loving interactions, the nuzzling, the laughing, the games, the peek-a-boo, the cooing, the blowing in faces, and the smiling replaces, at best, a general routine where the growing person is just one among many.

It is not what happens at daycares that is so terrible. It is what it replaces. 

Mothers don’t have to be at the constant beck and call of their little ones — but, if we are not to despise them, we should give them the best of us. If we are tired and harried and exhausted and that is the only part of their mothers that they see, shame on us.

One of many ways in which parents show a low opinion of their children is in the matter of their faults. A child reveals an ugly trait — he is greedy, she is vindictive, he tells a lie …

and the mother puts off the evil day of reckoning, hoping that he will know better by-an-by.

What happy days for herself and her children would the mother secure if she would keep watch at the place of the letting out of waters!

The child should never do wrong without being aware of it. He is never too young to be corrected or prevented. Deal with a child on the first offense and on every one afterwards. If a habit of wrong-doing is formed by overlooking or ignoring, the cure is slow to come and perhaps may not come at all.

Sometimes parents ignore one child’s misbehavior to focus on another child’s misbehavior. For instance, in telling. We can see the manipulative desire to get a sibling into trouble with a tattle-tale. Tattling can be dealt with. Speak to the motive. Are you moved to get your sibling into trouble or because of general concern for his or someones else’s welfare?

But then, and this is where parents make a grave mistake, they ignore the original offender. The child tattled on must be dealt with as well. Never should their offense be overlooked because of the way it arrived.

Offend Not

Charlotte Mason pointed out to us that Christ gave us a code of education. It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children:

Take heed that ye OFFEND not–DESPISE not– HINDER not–one of these little ones.

God has granted within the child a desire to please, a desire to learn, a desire to be praised, a desire to imitate, a longing for love and affection, therefore, if we are careful to not offend, despise, or hinder him, his achievement of a good character should be readily grasped.

Offending We offend our children when we do to them what we shouldn’t and when we don’t do what we should. An offense is literally a stumbling a block, something that causes someone to fall. When babies are beginning to walk, we clear the floor so his unsteady little steps will not be hindered by any object. Why do we not continue to “clear the floor” so when he takes his first steps into the world, his unsteady little steps won’t be hindered by his own defects of character?

Charlotte Mason asserts that children are born law-abiding. Scold a baby and watch the infant soul rise visibly before your eyes. This display of feeling, of conscience, before any human teaching can have reached him, points to a child’s readiness to live according to the law. He has a sense of may and must not, of right and wrong. But through parents winking and ignoring misbehavior, a child’s senses of right and wrong become deadened. And, this being so, we see tweens and teens who have unlearned

what must means, who are not moved by ought, whose hearts feel no stir at the solemn name of Duty, who know no higher rule of life than ‘I want,’ and ‘I don’t want,’ ‘I like,’ and ‘I don’t like.’

What pain that child will cause his employer or employees, his wife or her husband, and their children! What pain that child will experience. Life is a hard task-master. Wouldn’t it have been kinder for the parents to have taught him limits and boundaries sooner?

How does this happen? Here is how — the little hand sneaks into the cookie jar. “No,” the mother says. The little eyes seek hers, mischievous, furtive, and the mother laughs. She can’t help it. She is so cute. The trespass is allowed.

The great divide has begun. When she finds that her little angel has been dealing drugs or stealing to get drugs, she’ll wonder, “How did this happen?” Or when he sneaks out at night or flouts her rules, she’ll wonder where she went wrong. She’d have to look a long way back. The stumbling block was tossed into his path when she overlooked his small sins.

The child learns that he does not have to overcome the Great and Unchanging Law. He only has to overcome his mother. The Law has been intercepted by her interference.

Children must perceive that their parents are law-compelled. They must use the weighty force of the law behind their authority to back their choices. Both “yes” and “no” should not be said according to personal moods, but have the weight of absolute RIGHT and WRONG behind them.

Parents begin with no sense of duty. They think themselves free to allow and disallow, to say and unsay, at pleasure, as if the child were theirs to do whatever they like with. The child is wise enough to perceive whether a parent’s decision is backed by must and must not. He recognizes that his mother or father are operating from their own weak wills and not by a greater power. A spoiled child doesn’t know that she must not break her sister’s toys, gorge herself with cake, or spoil the pleasure of other people because it is WRONG.

Let the child perceive that his parents are law-compelled as well as he, that they simply cannot allow him to do forbidden things, and he submits with sweet meekness. Often, fits and tantrums are caused by this very desire to find the boundary. How far are you willing to let him go? Can he do this? What about this? What about that? If parents would set the boundary quickly and firmly, the child would feel safe and the tantrum would subside.

To give reasons to a child is out of place and a sacrifice of parental dignity. If one feels compelled, then do it quickly and be done with it. Don’t prattle on incessantly about the reasons behind your decision. Children are quick to discern which adults are backed by the power of a greater authority. Parents will find their children doing their duties for others without argument and their parents wonder at it, never recognizing that the fault lies within their own shoes.

Parents may also offend their children by disregarding the laws of health — by giving her unwholesome food, by giving her too much food, letting him sleep in unventilated rooms, and allowing his time to be spent in activities that do not give him exercise for his mind or body.

Parents may also offend the intellectual life of their children by providing or putting him in a place where the day is dreary, the lessons dawdling, in which the joy of learning is killed. By the tweens and teens age, their wits are gone, their vocabulary severely limited, their love of learning disappeared.

Parents may also offend the moral life of their children, especially with unequal affections. Favoritism is out of vogue, now, thankfully, but in Charlotte Mason’s lifetime, it often played foul with a child’s heart. One person’s testimony:

My childhood was made miserable … by my mother’s doting fondness for my little brother; there was not a day when she did not make me wretched by coming into the nursery to fondle and play with him, and all the time she had not a word nor a look nor a smile for me, any more than if I had not been in the room. I have never got over it; she is very kind to me now, but I never feel quite natural with her.