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Review: Mastermind by Maria Konnikova


In the past few years I have repeatedly read about how our ‘objective’ decisions and opinions are often influenced by completely unexpected factors.  The mind is a fascinating thing.  For us homeschooling moms who spend our days trying to train our children’s minds, such research and conclusions can have practical implications.

Mastermind, an analysis of research explained in terms of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery stories, is full of practical applications for our homeschools.

Its goal is to teach us to “…be present and mindful and to treat each choice, each problem, each situation with the care it deserves.”

And this care is not only logical.  For example, we can be primed to behave in certain ways by subconscious messages that enter our senses without our knowledge.  Smells, word associations, memories, the weather, and so much more can be very influential in our decisions even though we do not realize it.  However, if we consciously become aware of such a potential influence, it disappears.

We can train our minds to be attentive.  This is very reminiscent of Charlotte Mason’s ideas about the habit of attention.  My children, who have been exposed to Charlotte Mason’s way of learning from an early age, are all able to absorb much information merely by listening.  I find it very difficult to pay attention to anything without taking notes.  If I wished, apparently I could still develop this habit even at my age, but currently I do not care to make that effort.

We can train our attention by learning to be selective, objective, inclusive, and engaged.  Being engaged is especially important, because without that learning is much more difficult.  For us homeschooling moms, that is merely a reminder that our kids will learn better if they are interested in the material and able to focus on it rather than multitasking.

We ourselves can train our minds to pay attention to what we need to by focusing on our goals.   When we have actively thought about our goals, our brain is able to select what we need and to ignore what is irrelevant to us.

Using checklists and formalized structures when making decisions is our best approach to minimizing unwanted influences on our decisions.

Imagination and creativity are crucial to being able to make wise decisions.  Contrary to what most people think, creativity can be taught and practiced.  Another point that I’d heard about earlier with respect to scientific creativity is that lack of fear of failure is the hallmark of the creative mind.  I don’t know how to eliminate fear of failure in my kids (or myself for that matter), but I know one factor is being so engaged with the subject matter that it is more important than what people think.

Various methods of distancing oneself from a problem, such as walking, music, nature, meditation, and art, promote creative solutions. So does play and curiosity.   Here, again, I am reminded of Charlotte Mason’s insights.

Although habits are essential, they can contribute to mindlessness, so we must focus on keeping on learning.  Did you know that our minds reward us chemically when we are learning successfully? Once the intense learning phase in any topic or skill is over, however, it takes a lot more will power to keep on learning.

Great people keep on learning and growing and embracing challenges well into old age…and this is evident in the physical structure of their brains.  In fact, if we are not actively strengthening our brain’s connections we are losing them.  This is even more important for children whose brains are still actively developing.

We can learn from our failures as well as our successes.  Not only is this true, but having this mindset makes it even more so at a neurological level.  Obviously, this is an important concept to reinforce in our children’s minds.

Because we have access to so much information, it is vital that we learn to select what information to focus on instead of allowing the flood to overwhelm us.

The way our brains act is extremely sensitive to the way we think about them.

Completely suitable for teens, Mastermind will appeal to any fan of Sherlock and of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.  It will inspire them to think about how they think, a most useful exercise, and it gives parents some ideas about thinking that can help them in their homeschool as well as personally.  I loved it.

This is yet another book in the in the 2014 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Works for Me Wednesdays, Booknificent Thursdays, Raising HomemakersFinishing Strong , and Trivium Tuesdays as well as the Carnival of Homeschooling and the Charlotte Mason Carnival.

Slowing Down

A hyacinth I did not take the time to smell this spring.

A hyacinth I did not take time to smell this spring.

This has been a year of thinking fast, working fast, and reading fast…and even of feeling fast and praying fast.  Although the first three can be positive, the last two most certainly are not.

Therefore, I’m slowing down this summer.  I’m not making a huge list of things for us to accomplish.  We’re having minimal summer lessons for the girls, applying that wonderful 80/20 rule.

And for myself?  Well, I’ll be reading a fair bit but more slowly, especially the Bible.  I have it on my phone, and it has been a wonderful way to read the Bible in snatches of waiting time while I’ve been rushing about, but it’s good to read for longer periods of time, too—like last week when the doctor was over an hour behind schedule.

I can also put Veritas Press’s Omnibus teacher’s manuals on my phone, so during our 50+ hours of cross-country driving this summer I’m going through some of the Bible sections Omnibus VI that Miss 16 is studying next year.  I also plan to prepare for her study of Pascal’s Pensees and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, also with Omnibus VI.  The actual ebooks are available from Gutenberg and my teens found me an app for that.

My summer ‘to read’ pile also has a few health books, some history of science titles, and some blogging websites and books.  I’m also still looking for an inspiring homeschool book or two.  Love the Journey sounds interesting, but I should probably just reread some of the books on my shelf.

Other than reading, I just want to focus on family, relatives, friends, health, and relaxation this summer.

Carol wrote a very inspiring post about really experiencing life as we go through it.  This winter I moved too fast to do that.  This summer, though, I want to take more time to thank God, go for walks with my husband, laugh with my kids, and make memories with the people I love.

May God bless your and our plans for summer!

Review: Child of Mine by David and Beverly Lewis

child of mine

Looking at the beautiful cover, Miss 16 thought Child of Mine would be too sentimental, but it turns out that both of us enjoyed it very much and recommend it.

You see, while there is plenty of sentiment in Child of Mine, it is a solid book, with real characters who grow and change, a convoluted plot that we did not anticipate, and deep struggles about truth, forgiveness, and trust.  It is so gripping that I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it, something that almost never happens.

Eight years ago, Kelly Maines’s baby was kidnapped and she has been looking for her ever since, developing quite a repertoire of skills to identify her but losing her own health, self-respect, and future in the process.  When she was almost ready to give up, her private investigator suggested a brown-haired girl living nearby, Natalie, might be her long-lost daughter.  To be certain, all she needed to do was sample some of Natalie’s DNA….

Just four years ago, pilot Jack Livingston had been called home at the death of his sister and her husband.  He had not been back for years and was understandably shocked to be named legal guardian of their adopted daughter.  However, within just a few hours little Natalie had won his heart and he adjusted his irresponsible lifestyle to care for her.  Together with Laura, the little girl’s Amish nanny, he made a stable home for her but now, at eight years old, Natalie was having nightmares and crying spells.

Some, including Jack’s bossy sister San who was Natalie’s favorite aunt, suggested that she really needed a mother.  For Natalie’s sake and with San’s practical help, Jack began to date.  Natalie, however, wanted him to marry her nanny Laura. 

And then Kelly started to take flying lessons from Jack….   

Easy-to-read but not fluffy, Christian but not preachy, and long enough to satisfy any book lover, Child of Mine is a wonderful story of growth and hope.  Its characters still live on in my mind, and I’ll be sure to read any future book written by David and Beverly Lewis.

This is yet another book in the in the 2014 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews and Booknificent Thursdays.

Disclosure: This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favorite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

A Sweet Beginning to Summer Holidays

cherries and cribbage board

Last Friday, when our school year ended, it was time to celebrate the beginning of summer holidays.

We had a special treat waiting in the fridge, our annual springtime cherry splurge, so I got that ready.

Then the kids said that holidays are about cribbage, so they got the cards and the cribbage board out.

And that’s how our summer began: with delicious cherries and a rousing game of cribbage.  I hope it will continue in the same vein, with good food and good fun.

May you also enjoy the simple joys of summer!

Review: The 40 Most Influential Christians by Daryl Aaron

The 40 most influential Christians

For over 20 centuries, Christian thinkers have been struggling to understand the meaning of the Bible and its relationship to life.  Yes, the message of the Bible is simple.  As Karl Barth, one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century summed up, the Christian faith is simply this:  “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

At the same time, however, Christianity is full of deep and subtle concepts that have been worked out through the ages in response to the thinking of the time.  We cannot just dismiss these thoughts; they were intensely relevant to practical life in the past and many of them still are relevant in ways most of us do not understand.

The 40 Most Influential Christians … Who Shaped What We Believe Today by Daryl Aaron introduces us to many brilliant men (and one woman) who have had a profound impact on Christianity.  That is not to say that others have not been influential (for a list of possible additions see Ben House’s Amazon review), but these have certainly changed the way Christians think.  From Bonhoeffer and Augustine to Calvin, Armenius, and Gutierrez (the founder of Liberation Theology), Aaron profiles people through the ages and relates them to each other in short biographical chapters.

Each mini-biography includes

  • the person’s context.  This section helps relate him to his times and to the people who came before him.
  • the person’s contribution to Christian thought.  In a few pages, Aaron presents the theologian’s thoughts clearly even if they are enormously complex.
  • Aaron’s conclusions about the person’s thought and theological impact.

Although I have been interested in church history most of my life and review church history books regularly, I learned an enormous amount from this book.  It not only gives biographical details but is also a history of theological ideas, and as such it is most suitable for older teens and adults.

The 40 Most Influential Christians is an excellent resource for any family that is interested in a thorough understanding of the ideas of church history.  It could be used as a high school reference book or textbook, and will certainly illuminate the many church history biographies available for young people.

Of course, it can also be read profitably by anyone who wants to understand Christian thought and guide young people through the morass of conflicting ideas about Christianity.

My two quibbles with this book are, first, that it is too short—I would love to read similar thoughtful mini-biographies of other important Christian thinkers—and, second, that it contains no index.  Perhaps the author could address the first problem by writing another book.

This is yet another book in the in the 2014 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge and is also linked to Saturday Reviews, Works for Me Wednesdays, Booknificent Thursdays, Trivium Tuesdays, Finishing Strong , and Raising Homemakers.

DisclosureThis book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and is available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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