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The Well Trained Mind: Thoughts from Chapter 4

This is a series of posts I am writing about The Well Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. Although the WTM has a decidedly homeschooling bent, it is an excellent reference book for any parent who is interested in taking an active role in their child’s education.

Over the next few weeks I am reading the WTM again for the second time, and blogging about my thoughts chapter by chapter. I want to be conscientious about not violating any copyrights, so I will not be including quotes from the book on my blog. I will however, be referencing specific page numbers from the third edition. I invite you to read along with me, and chime in your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Chapter 4

Page 27: Fabulous!  Fabulous!  Fabulous!  This was such an excellent description of how to teach language to babies and toddlers.  I followed all of these ideas myself (before I read the WTM) and my children were speaking 8-9 words by one years old, and complete sentences by 18 or 19 months.  The only idea that the authors don’t include however is Baby Signs.  I wonder why the exclusion?  We used Baby Signs a lot with my kids and they knew about 20 signs by one year old.

Page 28: Regarding fine motor skills and writing… There has been a lot of research about working with play-dough and other traditional preschool activities building up the fine motor skills children need to learn to write.  I wonder what the authors did not include this?

Page 29: I love how explicit the authors are when they talk about five year olds really not being ready for a lot of desk work and worksheets.  It is interesting to me that a lot of parents on the Well Trained Mind message boards are so focused on worksheet type activities with their small children.

Page 31: I’ve got to say as a former Kindergarten teacher, I really took offense at this part.  I taught my students so much more than just how to line up!  I taught them phonics, writing, basic math skills, science….  Agh!  I could go on.  Are there bad Kindergartens out there?  Yes.  Are there fabulous ones?  Yes!

Page 33: Regarding letter magnets… My friend Claire turned me on to this one.  My daughter’s new favorite toy is the Word Whammer.

Also on Page 34:  I love how they include Bob Books.  Here are my ideas for games to play with Bob Books: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/2011/03/02/bob-books-boring-but-brilliant/

Page 34: I would like to specifically point out that the authors are not against teaching sight words, but in fact encourage it.  I have seen lots of posts on the Well Trained Mind message board from parents who think that teaching children sight words is anti-phonics, and an example of poor teaching practices in public schools.

Pages 36-37: There is a contradiction here in my view.  On page 37 the authors say they are against “child-led” education, and yet their example on page 36 of teaching a four year old to read because she asked you, is exactly an example of child led education!  I for the record am a proponent of child-directed education, but with the caveat that the teacher or parent is in charge of the general outline, scope and sequence of the education.

Page 38: Regarding handwriting… The last school I taught at used Handwriting Without Tears.  I liked this program very much. 

Page 39: The description of teaching math to young children ties in very closely to a Constructivist approach, even though the authors do not appear to embrace this philosophy.  But I’ll save my thoughts for that for chapter 6!


  1. Jean says:

    I figure they’re skimming over preschool and K. That’s not the focus of the book, so they just hit the high points and move on. Any parent reading WTM has probably already read 14 books on early childhood development anyway. 🙂

    I think their point is that if your kid asks for a reading lesson, great! But you don’t have to wait for him to ask all the time–start when you think he’s ready and do it even if he wiggles. I left it until K, myself–no need to rush.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      I think that’s their point too, but I think that’s also how most public school teachers would define child-directed education.

      • Claire H. says:

        I think what the authors are referring to is a practice that also goes by the name of “unschooling”. The general gist is that it’s okay to let your child study only the topics in which he/she has an interest, and if he/she never chooses to do a particular subject like math, that’s okay. TWTM is at the opposite end of the spectrum as it’s very teacher-directed.

      • jenbrdsly says:

        Yeah, this is what Jean said too. This was a big “aha” moment for me, because I am reading the WTM as a public school teacher. So when they talk about not being impressed by child directed learning I immediately take offense, because that is a big deal in public schools. But that is totally my own bias, because now I understand that the authors were really referring to unschoolers, (like the ones I saw on Good Morning America once).

  2. Jean says:

    Aha. You will find that the homeschooling definition of “child-led education” is rather different, and it can be quite extreme. In that section, the authors are reassuring mothers that sitting their reading-ready child down for 5 minutes or so at a time every day–even if the child doesn’t particularly want to on that day, even if he has never asked for a reading lesson–is perfectly OK. Many mothers in their audience have been told that such a thing amounts to child abuse, and that they should not try to teach a child to read who does not specifically ask for a lesson every time.

    • jenbrdsly says:

      Wow! Thanks for clarifying. That makes sense to me now though, if you consider the “unschooling” movement, right?

      • Jean says:

        Yep! It’s important to remember that the writers’ audience is more likely to speak Homeschool than Teacher, and that unschooling is a big part of the homeschooling world. All of us probably do more child-led learning than a PS could ever manage, so our definition of it is different.

      • Claire H. says:

        I should really scroll down to the bottom of the comments section before adding my $0.02, LOL!

      • jenbrdsly says:

        🙂 No worries!

  3. Claire H. says:

    Here’s an except from an old blog post I did on the subject of “child-led” learning 4 years ago:

    “As parents, we do not allow our children free reign in choosing their diet. Few (if any) children would choose tofu and broccoli over french fries and ice cream. Instead, we ensure that their diet meets their basic nutritional needs. Most of us do take our children’s preferences into consideration when planning meals and allow a certain amount of choice. However, we set the general parameters and limit the choices to approved options.

    This philosophy of taking the child’s preferences into consideration while setting the general parameters to ensure basic needs are met applies to education as well as nutrition. There needs to be a balance between ‘child-led’ and teacher-guided activities.”

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