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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education, Mother's Education

    The Lifeblood of a Successful Education: 10 Tips for Brain Health

    July 16, 2018 by Si Vencel

    Charlotte Mason devotes numerous pages in her volumes to the idea of using “atmosphere” as a tool of education. You are no doubt familiar with the various elements of atmosphere — building/maintaining good relations, keeping a cheerful home, etc. We are quick to incorporate such features into our homes. They are, in a sense, the low-hanging fruit in a Charlotte Mason environment. But early in Volume 1, she addresses another “fruit” that, perhaps due to our general ignorance of physiology, we easily overlook: brain health in general and blood quality in particular.

    Physical blood — 9 to 11 pints of it — flows through 60,000 miles of our vessels every moment, bringing health, strength and vitality to our bodies and brains. At first, I found Ms. Mason’s focus on healthy juvenile blood unexpected, as I would not have instinctively named it as a building block of a successful educational environment. But the wise philosopher knew better. The reason is simple: learning requires a healthy brain, and a healthy brain requires healthy blood. Blood is as essential to the brain as ideas are to the intellect. Both supply the elements of nourishment necessary for growth and maintenance, like taxis carrying vitality through a network of tiny highways. A lack of quality blood negatively affects the physical organ just as a lack of quality ideas negatively affects the spiritual organ. In fact, Ms. Mason referred to this general point as something “definitely and positively that the mother owes to her child under the name of Education” (Home Education, p. 20)

    So, how does she suggest parents give the youthful brain the best opportunity for success? Here are several tips to consider, along with a few tidbits gleaned from my own nutritional training and clinical experience.

    10 Tips for Brain Health from Charlotte Mason

    1. Exercise

    Do not let the children pass a day without distinct efforts: intellectual, moral, volitional. (Home Education, p. 22)

    Encourage them to strive for knowledge, bear up under burden, and do rightly even if self suffers. A well-training mind is vanity without a well-trained soul.

    2. Rest

    Help your child to alternate work and rest. Because blood flows to the organ or appendage most in use, allow a little time for the redirection of blood to his brain (for learning) after playtimes and mealtimes.

    3. Nourishment: Mixed Diet

    Offering a full variety of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) supplies what the body and brain need for optimal operation; avoid repeating meals everyday. Of great import are Omega-3 fatty acids high in DHA, a critical component for successful brain development and anti-inflammatory activity. Dr. Nemechek has a terrific protocol for building and healing the brain, including help for autism and learning disabilities.

    4. Nourishment: Digestion

    Food is only useful to the body if it is digested (broken down into elemental nutrients) and absorbed. Promote both activities by encouraging your child to chew his food thoroughly. Also, drinking too much fluid at mealtimes can actually dilute your stomach’s HCl acid, which is required to break down food into nutrients, so limit water intake while eating. Children with frequent bellyaches may have stomachs with a too-high pH. An HCl tablet or teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar before meals can aid with digestion.

    5. Nourishment: Absorption

    Mason probably did not know much about the importance of intestinal absorption of nutrients, so she left this subject unaddressed. However, today we know that a healthy gut microbiome permits nutrients (vitamins and minerals) to uptake from intestinal cells into the bloodstream. This is the physiological goal of eating. Intestinal aids include multi-strain probiotics, aloe, raw (“wet”) foods, glutamine, and nutrient-specific enzymes (for underactive pancreases). Allergenic foods should be avoided, of course, as they can cause inflammation and then intestinal permeability (“leaky gut”).

    6. Happy Mealtimes

    No pains should be spared to make the hours of meeting round the family table to be the brightest of the day. (Home Education, p. 27)

    Mason believed a child’s cheerful frame of mind promoted digestion, so try to remove stresses and irritations at table time. Herein also lies wonderful moments to train him in manners and morals.

    7. Clean Air

    With every breath, the worn-out, oxygen-deprived blood in our veins is revitalized in the lungs. There, it picks up oxygen molecules, changes from purple to red, and pumps through the heart to give new life to every cell in the body. The brain, especially, requires oxygenated blood because that organ alone consumes 20% of the body’s oxygen and energy! Opening windows to welcome fresh, clean air into your home is a health-promoting act. So is sending children outdoors to play. If your city’s air is polluted, as is mine, you could invest in a portable air purifier. My family uses this one. Also, encourage your child to take a few giant, deep breaths of fresh air daily; it is calming and very health-promoting.

    8. Ventilation

    Ventilation. In Mason’s day, home ventilation was critical. Modern air conditioning units and indoor fans largely mitigate this problem, but don’t overlook the happy, healthy feel of a gentle breeze flowing through open windows. Cracked windows during a rainstorm can do wonders for a child’s natural curiosity of nature.

    9. Perspiration

    The blood transports cellular debris to be excreted via perspiration. Encourage your child to perspire daily, if not sweat outright. Physical movement promotes the flow of stagnant lymph fluids, the toning of muscle, the firing of neurological activity, the movement of the bowels, the relieving of stress and the elimination of cellular waste via the skin. Regular, perspiration-inducing physical exercise is good for the child’s mind and body.

    10. Bathing

    After sweating, it is important to scrub perspired debris from the skin. Sweat that collects on the skin can block pours, enclose bacteria, and impede the elimination of future bodily debris. (Now you can tell your dirty child that science demands he take a shower.)

    Moving Toward Brain Health

    Stepping back from the trees, let’s reconsider the forest of brain health. This wondrous organ is mysteriously tied to the mind and personality, such that a weakness in the physical arena can deleteriously impact the nonphysical arenas. Parents have the responsibility to give their children every opportunity at educational success, and a most basic starting point is to give their little brains all that is needed to develop, heal and flourish. Nearly all the tips above are free, but they may not come naturally to your child or family. Make a few small changes until they become habits, and build on those successes by adding more.

    There is much more to be said about brain health and the life-giving mystery of blood, but that can wait for another day. For now, I leave you with the wise words of Ms. Mason:

    For it is not too much to say that, in our present state of being, intellectual, moral, even spiritual life and progress depend greatly upon physical conditions. (Home Education, p. 37)

    I urge you to expand your view of “Education is an atmosphere” beyond what you can see around you to what is happening inside your child’s brilliantly designed head.

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    10 Comments

  • Reply Victoria July 19, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for this wonderful post! It looks like I need to get us back on the cod liver oil train since we only eat canned tuna occasionally due to a serious fish allergy. Do you have a favorite brand of CLO?

  • Reply Miriam July 18, 2018 at 11:24 am

    This was a good reminder for me. We live on a ranch and I can sometimes let the physical activity slide as we do regular chores but that doesn’t always amount to enough activity for the kids. I just have a couple questions. First, I am sure we (family of six) have food allergies but I feel very confused about the variety of tests to figure out what they are and I live in Canada so I’m not sure how that will translate service wise. However, is there one you would recommend as fairly reliable?
    Second, do you think you could be more specific about the variety of food point? Is there research about how wide a variety one needs or how often you could rotate through a given menu? I feel like as a busy home school mom it would be helpful to get a realistic picture of this so I am not over doing the food budget/ prep time or alternately beating myself up for “keeping it simple”…if you know what I mean.
    Thanks again!

    • Reply Si Vencel July 18, 2018 at 2:12 pm

      Many testing methods are available: online kits, muscle testing, blood testing, allergist pin pricks, etc. As a holistic guy, I prefer muscle testing using allergy vials (modified NAET). You could search for a practitioner who uses NAET in your area. Allergytest.co is an inexpensive, mail-order kit that checks for various intolerances but NOT allergies. Note: Some childhood allergies are outgrown with time and/or as gut health improves. Also, you could use an elimination diet to establish a baseline (i.e., no symptoms display), and then introduce one food/substance and watch for reactions for 48 hours before introducing another.

      CM suggested a different meal every fortnight to ensure nutrient intake. If you struggle to get 14 different dinners planned (and who wouldn’t?), start with a 7-day rotation and add a new meal into the mix on occasion. By “variety,” I mean a spectrum of macro-nutrients (proteins, fats, carbs) and micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals) throughout the 7-day meal cycle. So, avoid feeding your children the same meats, fruits and veggies everyday; there are lots of nutrient-dense options out there, so mix and match. Also, don’t be afraid of cooking and drizzling healthy fats for flavor. We consume a lot of Kerrygold butter, coconut oil and extra-virgin olive oil at our house. In short, the variety in nutrients should naturally coincide with your variety in meals.

      Lastly, do the best you can with the time, energy and budget at your disposal. You are a busy mom. Perfection is not needed … just a healthy direction and persistence!

  • Reply Dawn Duran July 18, 2018 at 4:08 am

    It’s so wonderful to hear from you in this space, Si! This was an excellent foundation for what I am sure will be many insightful posts to come.

  • Reply Mama Rachael July 16, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you! I appreciate greatly that you start with the fact (idea? unsure) that the mind is not merely the brain, but something separate.

    I think we gotta start with the “happy mealtime”. Meals can be a fight around here. We have picky eaters all around (the adopted one is the only one that isn’t showing distinct pickiness, but he is not quite 2). Of course, all this make the ‘varied diet’ difficult, too. Little Man, 7, tends to camp on one food for a while and that’s all he asks for. :::sigh::: I’m trying.

    I look forward to reading more of your stuff. And I think I need to read that book Brandy has talked about, the Happy Table or somesuch book. Blessings!

    • Reply Si Vencel July 18, 2018 at 2:29 pm

      We struggled with “happy mealtime” with our oldest son for years. Looking back, I would have not been so strict about food intake with him; I think it unnecessarily strained our relationship. It takes a lot of observation and wisdom to discern when our children are not eating due to defiance, tummy pain, disgust, etc. Each reason calls for a different response.

      For picky eaters, you could choose one new veggie and leave a piece of it on the child’s plate. It will go uneaten for a time; that’s okay. Eventually, curiosity might overcome the aversion. Celebrate attempts. Another suggestion is to find a fun way to eat a disliked food. That will vary by child, so be creative. You could even solicit suggestions from the picky eater. Finally, consider the possibility that your child might be deficient in zinc, which affects smell/taste.

    • Reply Victoria July 19, 2018 at 9:22 am

      Check out the Ellyn Satter method for feeding children. I have children and a husband all with different dietary needs, so feeding them all can be really stressful (not what I want at all!). Learning about her method took the stress out and the joy back in.

      https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/

      • Reply Amy July 21, 2018 at 2:46 pm

        We have used Ellen Satter’s methods with our kids, too, with success. She has a very balanced division of responsibility between kids and parents that makes a lot of sense. Loved this article, Si! Looking forward to future posts!

        • Reply Victoria Bako July 23, 2018 at 10:21 am

          Come to think of if, I am not sure if I would have adopted Charlotte Mason’s method so quickly if it hadn’t been for reading and living Ellyn Satter’s method.

  • Reply Valerie Henderson July 16, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Just wanted to say Hi from Texas, and it’s good to see you on here! I’m looking forward to reading all that you have to say.

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