Friday, January 25, 2008

Heart of the Matter Meme

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - William Butler Yeats

"Mama? Can we get a butterfly and put it in this jar? Ooh-ooh, can we find a cocoon and put it in the jar and wait to see the caterpillar come out as a butterfly? Mama, do we have to wait until spring to find a cocoon? How would we cut the cocoon down, Mama?"

This run-on string of questions occurred during morning snack time today, and my heart leapt to hear the enthusiasm in my four-year-old daughter's voice. My mind raced ahead to all the learning possibilities that stemmed from such excitement: planting a butterfly garden, researching different types of butterflies, writing poems about butterflies, creating a lap book on the life cycle of a caterpillar.

Although I planned, I also stopped to reflect. How was it that this little girl could come up with such an experiment? How did she know about cocoons, caterpillars, and butterflies? How could she already be trying to solve the problem of getting the cocoon out of the tree?

I recalled countless readings of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, with its counting, days of the week, and beautiful butterfly on the last pages. I remembered, too, my daughter running, trying to catch a butterfly, and when it landed just out of reach, her father explaining what kind of butterfly it was. Memories of her uncle bug-hunting with her in the backyard and her grandfather pointing out different birds at the feeder also flooded my mind.

All of these incidents and many more, as well as a general attitude that celebrates learning, have accumulated to create my daughter's enthusiasm for finding out more about nature. As a former English teacher, I hate to disagree with Yeats (his poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" is one of my favorites), but I have to say that education is both the filling of a pail and the lighting of a fire.

No, we don't stockpile knowledge simply for the sake of knowledge or to win trivia contests. Each piece of information that we learn, though, can become kindling that produces sparks to light fires of learning. Susan Wise Bauer expresses this same idea through the analogy of a sponge:
"Young children are described as sponges because they soak up knowledge. But there's another side to the metaphor. Squeeze a dry sponge, and nothing comes out. First the sponge has to be filled."

As we educate our children, we provide them with the kindling that fills their pail, kindling that will later be used to produce a roaring bonfire of intellectual curiosity.


rural momma said...

Great insightful post!! :0) I love how you said education was both the filling of a bucket and the lighting of a fire. I can definatly see that!! :0) Keep up the good work! :0)

Betsy said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. If you look on my sidebar, you will find tons of resources for a Charlotte Mason education. Some may say CM...
The best online place is It is actually a free curriculum with book lists and schedules. Plan to spend much time there! I would start with CM's original series. It is now online and rewritten in a more modern translation. There is a link to that on my sidebar as well.

Happy homeschooling to you and your family!

EEEEMommy said...

Great insights! There definitely needs to be fuel for the fire: a spark will die without something to burn, and if you remove the oxygen, the fire will go out...
Thanks for visiting my blog and your comments! :)

Anonymous said...

I love your use of words. Poetry!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog today! I love your post and the dry sponge analogy! I wish you the best planning for HS next year!


Karly said...

This was very insightful. I liked the sponge analogy too.

Looks like you and I are walking a similar path. I am beginning hs with my 4 year old daughter and I have a 2 year old son who wants to join in, too. And, I was a teacher in my former life, although my students were shorter than yours- 2nd grade. Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

Hope said...

I do whole-heartedly agree with you. As educators, we are responsible for the filling of the pail. As we do, sparks should fly!! It has become "virtually" impossible to learn everything this BIG, BIG world. Of course the basics need to be learned. But, I love the fact that I can give my children many experiences and see which one ingites their minds!

Thanks for visiting me!
Your SC Pal!

PS- I am a public school teacher turned homeschooler, too!

lori said...

Hey there,
I see you are a South Carolina gal...CLEMSON here!!! go tigers...

I LOVED your words..."No, we don't stockpile knowledge simply for the sake of knowledge or to win trivia contests. Each piece of information that we learn, though, can become kindling that produces sparks to light fires of learning."

If we could teach that to our children then we truly give them a gift....
wonderful post!!
and in my best southern niiiiice to meetcha!

Anonymous said...

Well said! Perhaps the quote should have read, "Education is not just the filling of a pail, but also the lighting of a fire." I agree we need both in education.