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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    How to Have a Grand Conversation

    August 10, 2012 by Brandy Vencel
    Two questions I've learned to use in order to talk with my children about ideas.

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese days, it feels like I am constantly talking with other moms about educating our children, and there is one question that comes up a lot. It is always some variation of: How do I talk to my child about ideas? Charlotte Mason says that ideas are the food of the mind, and many of these women are quite good at conversation. But when they are attempting to talk to their children and the response is something along the lines of, Can I have a cup of milk?, they start to think they’re doing it wrong.

    I like to talk about ideas because I like to think other people’s thoughts after them. But I can’t say I’ve always been able to get my children on board. Lately, however, it’s been going a lot better, and I attribute that to two questions I’ve learned to use.

    My theory is that if I can get my children to have a habit of talking about ideas when they are little, it’ll come naturally to them when they are older.

    The first question was one I learned from the immortal Andrew Kern and it is: “Should x have done y?”

    The second one has really enhanced the conversation I was getting out of the first, and it is from the brilliant DHM over at The Common Room: “Does that remind you of anything else?”

    Allow me to give a recent example of this, a conversation with my child who is perhaps my most difficult to converse with on a deeper level.

    We’ve been reading slowly through John Ruskin’s The King of the Golden River, about one chapter each lunchtime. We were taking a drive, and I decided I’d try to talk with her about it.

    “Do you think that Gluck’s brothers should have taken his golden mug and melted it down like that?” I asked her. I told her in advance that I was going to talk to her about the book so that the question didn’t seem to come out of nowhere.

    “No!” she exclaimed.

    And said nothing more.

    Not deterred, I asked her why not, and she declared that it was mean and selfish and all sorts of awful things, but of course his brothers were always like that.

    “What do you think about how Gluck responds?” I asked her. {Because it’s not a formula. We really can ask questions other than the two I mentioned. I’m only saying this in case you are like me and sometimes Follow Rules Religiously.}

    “He’s always so nice and kind,” she said. “He never does means things back to them, no matter what they do.”

    I, of course, was thinking about Jesus at that point, but I was more interested in what she was thinking.

    “Does that remind you of anything else?” {Education being the science of relations and all…}

    “Cinderella,” she said, without skipping a beat.

    And then nothing more, of course.

    I decided to push a little more. “Why?”

    “Because her stepsisters are so mean to her and she is always kind back, too.”

    And that was it.

    But wasn’t it a good conversation? Now, if I had been at home, I would have been tempted to tell her that that reminded me of a verse, and then we could have talked about how Jesus responded to other people, or how Paul instructed us to never return evil for evil. But in and of itself, even without all of that, it was a truly good conversation.

    I feel like these questions have become the aces I keep in my sleeve. I can always pull them out when I need them, and they invariably lead my children and I into great conversations.

    Two questions I've learned to use in order to talk with my children about ideas.

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  • Reply Kristen @ Dem Golden Apples August 14, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    This is wonderful. I am very encouraged by this post, Brandy, and by the comments here. Thankfully these kind of conversations have come easily in our household because our oldest is a great talker. Now that the next in line is talking much more, I wonder how she will respond. I will be thinking of this intentionally. Thanks for posting!

  • Reply Courtney R. August 14, 2012 at 7:44 am

    I had a very similar experience this last year. I, too, started with Kern’s question. It taught me that kids don’t mind being asked questions, they just don’t like being “quizzed” on their readings. We had some amazing conversations.

    Another idea I got from Kern was trying to get the child to try to figure out the “moral” of each Aesop’s Fable, or, at the very least we would discuss why it was an accurate “moral” or why it wasn’t.

    Another great question, that I heard from Susan Wise Bauer at our local homeschool convention, is: “What does X want?” Then, “what does X really want?” For example, “What does Edmund want (in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)?” One answer might be: He wants turkish delight. “What does he really want?” Answer (and this is what I think he really does want, but I could be wrong): He wants acceptance and approval from his siblings. Bauer used Frodo as an example.
    The point is that most characters (and people) have an underlying motivation even if it’s not stated.

    Thanks for the post!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts August 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      I have done the moral discovering, too! Small world!

      I hadn’t thought about asking about motives. That is a good thought.

      I have been using a lot of “why” questions lately, and they are always specific to whatever we read. For instance, in The King of the Golden River, the evil brothers follow directions, getting holy water from the church and putting it into the river, but it doesn’t work. They reap the consequences of putting unholy water into the river. So “why didn’t it work?” has been the question up for debate, and it’s been wonderful. We have gotten a chance to talk about how holiness cannot be bought or stolen, and how holiness is a grace to us from God.

      It is funny to me because we read the Bible all the time, but it is interesting how alive the Bible becomes when we apply it to our readings instead of leaving it on the bookshelf when we’re done, you know?

    • Reply Courtney R. August 15, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      Yes, I totally know what you mean. It’s kind of like your “Does this remind you of anything else?” question, but applied to the Bible. It reminds me of Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy Stories”–how the story of Christ is the “archetype” of all fairy stories. I think it’s why we long for a happy ending or at the very least a well-resolved ending.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts August 13, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I happy this encouraged some of you!

    Amanda: You know where to find me if you forget them. Of course, if you forget that you forgot, I can’t help you there except to say take a B-complex and call me in the morning. 🙂

  • Reply Amanda August 13, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Love this! Why, Cinderella — of COURSE! 🙂 Hoping my postpartum brain can remember your great questions. (Even if I write them down, I have to remember where I did! 😉

  • Reply Anne August 13, 2012 at 1:04 am

    I love your questions and am one of those who Follows Rules Religiously. I need some good starters!! Thanks for sharing…

  • Reply Rebekah August 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I love the encouragement to be purposeful in our conversations with our children – great questions.

  • Reply Kansas Mom August 11, 2012 at 4:22 am

    Oh, good questions!

    I’m going to make a note of these right now.

  • Reply Anonymous August 11, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Thanks for this column. I have four adult children and really only a couple left at home, and I still don’t know how to talk about ideas with my kids. My husband is better at it, and some of my offspring are naturally more interested in ideas, but I just sit and don’t know what to say.

    I can definitely try this with my last ones.


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