A Charlotte Mason Education, Books/Wide Reading, Homeschooling, Imagination, Living Books, Parenthood, Philosophy
Comments 6

The Imagination by Lori Lawing

Up into the cherry tree 

Who should climb but little me? 

I held the trunk with both my hands 

And looked abroad on foreign lands…


If I could find a higher tree 

Farther and farther I should see, 

To where the grown-up river slips          

Into the sea among the ships, 


To where the roads on either hand 

Lead onward into fairy land, 

Where all the children dine at five, 

And all the playthings come alive.



In “Foreign Lands” from A Child’s Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson paints a picture for us bigger people of just what is happening in the mind of the child who climbs that tree.  What’s he doing up there?

He’s looking.  He’s imagining.

My heart swells when I recall the early years with my children.  Stevenson is brilliant.  In his poetry he captures the beauty of childhood in verse:  the playfulness, the youthfulness, the imagination.  But he does more.  For the mother who reads it aloud, he instructs:   Listen, gentle Mother, this is how your little one thinks; this is how she plays.

Shhh.   She’s imagining.





I saw you toss the kites on high  

And blow the birds about the sky;  

And all around I heard you pass,  

Like ladies’ skirts across the grass—  

  O wind, a-blowing all day long,           

  O wind, that sings so loud a song!…


O you that are so strong and cold,  

O blower, are you young or old?  

Are you a beast of field and tree,   

Or just a stronger child than me?  

  O wind, a-blowing all day long,  

  O wind, that sings so loud a song.

Whether they “built a ship upon the stairs/All made of the back-bedroom chairs” from “A Good Play” or in the sick bed he is the “…giant great and still/ That sits upon the pillow-hill…” from the pleasant “Land of Counterpane,” children’s imaginations are wildly vivid.

Ted Jacobs has produced “A Child’s Garden of Songs: The Poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson in Song.”  Beautiful!  (See the following for a sampling of this CD: http://www.amazon.com/gp/recsradio/radio/B00000HZEB/ref=pd_krex_listen_dp_img?ie=UTF8&refTagSuffix=dp_img )


Years ago we played that tape every time we piled into the van.  These days I am not the only one controlling the music selections.  My teens in my van do.  So I assumed we were long past the song version of Stevenson’s poetry.  Recently they pulled out that old cassette, popped it in and said, “Mom you have to play this for the younger ones.  They’re missing out.  They’re not getting the education you gave us!”

Charlotte Mason, implores us to feed the child’s imaginations with a living education:  “The food of mind, a daily bread as necessary as that of body, is precisely those ‘mental pictures or ideas’ which imagination produces; and for this reason, children must have the mind-stuff which they can transmute into such pictures or ideas; nothing external serves the purpose.” (“The Imagination in Childhood” by Charlotte Mason, The Parents Review, Volume 27, no. 3, March 1916, pgs. 202-207. See  http://amblesideonline.org/PR/PR27p202ImaginationinChildhood.shtml)

That’s why Charlotte Mason puts forth an education in the way she does.  To her, feeding the imagination is imperative, life and death.  Mason continues: “I am not bold enough to say with Mr. Chesterton, ‘Hans Anderson or Hell,’ but I do venture to say that the mind which does not feed on poetry, history, fiction, travel, all the treasures that are bound up in books, on pictures, on the beauty of a sunset or a flower, such a mind may be acute and alert, but it does not dwell in heavenly places.”

Mason sees cultivating the imagination as “feeding a spiritual hunger”:  “The village school child who tells how ‘the heavens opened and out popped an angel’ had used that power to produce mental pictures which we call imagination or genius or original thought; and without such exercise of the power we possess, no religion, true or false, can exist. We must be able to see those things which are invisible, or how can we lift up our eyes to God? Imagination is, like faith, the evidence of things not seen; indeed, is not faith the supreme effort of imagination wherein she stretches her wings, compels her powers to produce mental pictures, or ideas, of the things eternal?

Mason has an advocate in Anthony Esolen, Professor of English at Providence College.  He bemoans the plight of childhood today in his new book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child:  



Writes Esolen: “In the old days, let’s say in a one-room school house, you could easily pick out which young lad or lass was blessed with a mischievous eye and a lively mind.  They were the ones hanging upside down from a couple of planks nailed up to a tree in the schoolyard, or sticking bubble gum on the radiator, or reading Ivanhoe.  So you got them a few more planks and a bucket of nails, or a paddle to the rear end, or Waverly.  They could be dealt with.  But the bigger the school, the more dangerous and upsetting a single act of imagination can be.”[i]

Fairy tales, children’s literature, poetry…delightful!  Are these a regular part of our children’s diet?  They are a feast for the imagination.  Unplug the T.V.  Put aside the electronic games.  Turn off the minivan’s DVD player and pop in an audio CD of A.A. Milne’s enchanting poetry, “Now We Are Six” or “When We Were Very Young.”

Esolen advises:  “If we love children, we would have a few.  If we had them, we would want them as children, and would love the wonder with which they behold the world, and would hope that some of it might open our own eyes a little.”   



My own imagination has been awakened and my hunger for the eternal increased through the poetry of Stevenson and Milne, the music of Jacobs, the mentoring of Mason, and the delightful, imaginative wonder of children!

Lori Lawing may be reached at lori.lawing@gmail.com

© Lori Lawing 2011


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. Megan Hoyt says

    Aw, Lori, how very special you are! This brought back such pleasant memories for me. I remember driving the kids somewhere — as usual in a hurry — and passing by a little park where a field of wildflowers had sprung up, before the lawn care crew had taken notice, I guess. Gorgeous red, purple, and yellow flowers danced in the spring breeze! I couldn’t NOT stop. We pulled in and I told my girls, then about 5 and 7, to run and play for a little bit. Off they went, giggling and dancing in the wildflowers. Later that day, as they were retelling the experience, they connected it to several different poems we had read together. I Wandered, Lonely as a Cloud by Wordsworth was one. Another was Daffy-Down-Dilly. Was that A. A. Milne? Then they began singing one of our favorite songs by Jars of Clay, Love Song for a Savior, which starts: “In open fields of wildflowers, she breathes the air and flies away. She thanks her Jesus for the daisies and the roses, in no simple language. One day she’ll understand the meaning of it all…” What a beautiful, glorious day that was! I get teary just typing it out here. And oh, how it might not have been so, had we not fed their imaginations, Mason style, with beauty, poetry, and song beforehand. I am so grateful for her wisdom. And that I stopped long enough to take her advice and let their imaginations run wild like the flowers in the field.

  2. Nancy says

    This is a delightful post, Lori! I am particularly interested in this topic, so it is timely for me, also. Chesterton said, “Human beings cannot be human without some field of fancy or imagination.” (Fiction as Food). Mason herself thought that imagination vital to every single subject, as your quotes above state.

    Thank you for sharing this with the Mason community. And by the way, we have listened to and enjoyed that cd for many years, too!

    Admiration, Hope and Love,


  3. Bobby Jo says

    Ooo how I love book/cd recommendations! I look forward to locating this to listen to with my little ones.

    I just read Hansel and Gretel to my 4 year old for the first time yesterday, and he immediately grabbed his wooden people and began acting it out as I was reading. After we finished he added a grandfather to the story and H & G’s adventure continued on with his own little twists to it.

    I love recognizing and being able to give to my child this “food of mind, a daily bread as necessary as that of body. ” What a delight this living education is!

  4. Bonnie Buckingham says

    Yes, thank you for the book recommendations. Made my heart sing!

  5. Kathy says

    Thank-you for your book recommendation. I have begun reading the book by Anthony Esolen. I was (surprised ! ) to see how many violations I had in my Charlotte Mason Home school (very subtle though they were). Much food for thought. To have all of our senses engaged in our everyday life and to derive much pleasure and satisfaction from our natural surroundings.

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