John Locke teaches Handwriting

If I were writing this post a decade ago, I would have been talking about a different John Locke. Today, though, I’m talking about the Lost character.

In one episode, Locke is teaching the boy, Walt, to throw a knife. Walt tries repeatedly but the knife fails to stick in the tree.

“I want you to see it in your mind’s eye,” Locke says. “You know what that is?”

“You mean like a picture in your head?” Walt asks.

“That’s it.”

Walt looks, throws again, and strikes the mark.

It’s not just TV nonsense or the mystery of the island. It’s simple brain science. The mind directs the hand. To visualize, clearly and carefully, is an essential precursor to actually doing. By careful thought we can work out the correct actions in our heads, and then translate them to our as-yet untaught limbs.

This is also something central to Charlotte Mason instruction, although it’s not often recognized as such. Reading and writing lessons center around learning to look carefully and recognize words at sight–then reproduce what is seen. Outdoor time and nature study are meant to develop powerful observation skills. Narration is meant to develop the ability to see the story in the mind’s eye–and then turn it back outwards again.

So with this reminder fresh in my mind, we tackled yesterday’s handwriting. D2 has the basic ideas of letter formation down, but still struggles with sizing his round letters accurately. He had chosen the word “Stormer” (his name for his new Lego robot) as the word to write, but was distressed by that capital S right at the beginning.

“You need to imagine it first,” I said, “Visualize where you want it to go.” I traced the spot on the board with my finger. He took up his pen and drew a flawless S. Then I reminded him of where to aim his humps, and his r’s and m’s came out the right height for the first time.

Later we were reading about tent caterpillars and they were starting to balk at narrating.

“Just draw a picture in your head,” I said, “Then tell me what you see in the picture in your head.”

Suddenly the task made perfect sense. “I see a tree all covered with white webs.” “I see a caterpillar trying to push his way right into the middle of the nest.”

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