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Equipping home educated students with S.T.E.M. tools to launch them into their future careers.

What to do with an Edison?

In my previous blog post, ‘Do you have an Edison in the house?‘, I looked at the characteristics of an Edison kid. If you could relate to the post, then you may be asking, “What do I do now?”.

Yes, you love their spirit but if your child unscrews the bedroom door from the hinges again to see what will happen you might scream. (To answer your question, yes that did happen and I have the video to prove it.)

There is hope!

We can start by taking a look at how an ‘addled’ little boy, that was not welcomed at school, became one of the greatest inventors and innovators to ever live.

The key to Edison’s success was Nancy Edison, his mother. He famously said of her, “My mother was the making of me. She understood me; she let me follow my bent [interests]”. Mrs. Edison is a great example of how to cultivate the mind of an Edison. We need to adopt the same mindset, that she developed towards her son, that allowed him to excel.

Edison Muckers described the four simple principles, that Nancy Edison taught her son to live his life by:

  • Never get discouraged if you fail. Learn from it. Keep trying.
  • Learn with both your head and hands.
  • Not everything of value in life comes from books – experience the world.
  • Never stop learning. Read the entire panorama of literature.

I have adapted Nancy’s approach to create the Four STEM Training Principals. This is the core of everything we do and believe education show be.

  2. Hands-On Learning
  3. Experience the world!


I tell my boys all the time “A MISTAKE IS ONLY A MISTAKE IF YOU DON’T LEARN FROM IT!” I love the attitude that Nancy instilled in her son, to not let failure discourage you. His famous quote is,

Without an attitude like this, we would never have seen the incandescent light bulb in our homes. Persistence is a lost art.

It’s very easy, as parents, to try to ‘soften the blow’ with our kids. We don’t want them to struggle, we don’t want them to fail and we don’t want them to be disappointed. We want everyone to have a trophy and feel special and valued. Sadly, we have sacrificed the development of the character qualities that learning from our mistakes instills in us.

Allowing our kids time to experiment and FAIL, yes I said that horrible 4 letter word, are important. So give them opportunities to do it. Turn them loose with the robotics kit or the science experiment. Step back from the kitchen table and watch. Failure IS an option, as long as we can get back up and try again!

We need to develop PERSEVERANCE in our kids. It’s okay to set a standard a little higher than they can achieve sometimes and then encourage them to keep going if they don’t achieve it. Don’t just aim for the stars, but to aim for the entire universe. That way if you don’t reach your goal, you’ll catch a star on the way down.

Hands-On Learning!

Nancy Edison was a pioneer and ahead of her time when it came to her hands-on learning approach.

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

Ben Franklin

Oh, the words of Mr. Franklin are so true. I recently met a college graduate and she told me that as a Chemistry major, she had only personally conducted 3 experiments in her whole educational career. All the learning that culminated in that diploma was theoretical. We have taken such an emphasis away from hands-on learning in favor of lectures. Sit still and listen to me tell you about this subject or that subject. Abstract should be left to the art world, not applied to learning and education.

When we involve children in a holistic manner they will grasp the concepts. Nancy Edison gave Thomas a science book, then she turned him loose to experiment. Edison kids need to be hands-on, it’s how their brains process information.  This means we need to give them the stuff and step back. Yes, it’s going to be messy, and that is okay. Yes, it’s going to go wrong, and that is okay. That’s how they learn to problem-solve and yes FAIL.

Books are wonderful, don’t get wrong, I am a book lover. When Nancy gave Thomas,  A School Compendium of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, she would have done him a great injustice if she hadn’t also let him conduct the experiments within the book. Edison spent hours locked in his bedroom experimenting.

Don’t misread this, Nancy was not the Patron Saint of Home Education Mess, there was only so many times she could handle the acid and chemical burns on the rugs in his room. She banished his home education lab to the basement and prayed that he would not blow the house up.

Edison, himself, had big plans for the use of his motion pictures in the education system. He wanted to start a revolution by replacing textbooks with short motion pictures on every subject. He believed that textbooks taught in abstract and that if students could see the whole process, from start to finish, they would be able to understand the world around them.

“The child who takes this course is going to know processes. And we’ll show all the pictures so the subject will impress itself on the child’s mind. When he goes out to walk, I can tell you, he’ll see a million things in the grass and streets, and earth and sky and air, that he never dreamed of before.”

T. Edison November 30th, 1921

I do believe this needs to progress further, to hands-on learning. The visual demonstration of processes from the very start to the end product is definitely a way to open up the mind of a child like never before.

Experience the World!

It isn’t always going to be practical to ‘experience the world’. However, I do believe that wherever possible, we need to make the opportunity of experience available. I switched my middle son to a Lego math program to help him SEE the math as he was having some trouble understanding some of the concepts. All of a sudden it brought the world of mathematics alive to him. I know sometimes when I do mental arithmetic I visualize the numbers in my head.

One key thing that Nancy Edison didn’t do was replicate the school environment at home. It’s so tempting as a home educator to make our home look like school. We set up a classroom in our house and we set a schedule similar to the school day. We work our school days around the school district’s calendar. I know a few Mamas that have even got a little bell to ring.

Mrs. Edison didn’t do this and I would encourage you to resist that desire to replicate school. Home Education is a learning lifestyle. We don’t restrict ourselves to learning within the school calendar or timetable, we learn year round, taking the last week of the month off. School schedules are set up with educating the masses in mind. Following the school, template limits our freedom as home educators.

When I got my first shiny box curriculum, the thing that hit me first was the schedule. We were following the 5-day schedule and there was no room for flexibility. We added a co-op that I hadn’t planned when I ordered the curriculum and quickly learned that after a day of co-op trying to do school work at home was too much. Then if we had a field trip as well, now I’m trying to squeeze a 5-day schedule into 3. I know families that will do school at the weekend to keep up and to be blunt, stop this doesn’t work.

Research is showing that playtime is so important during those first 7 or 8 years of life. Sending kids outside to play unlocks something in their brain that leads to greater creativity later in life. If we have their schedules so tightly controlled, where is the room for imaginary play? A kid will learn more from spending the afternoon watching an ant colony they unearthed as they were digging a hole in the yard, than if you sit and read a book to them about ants.

Finland has one of the best education systems in the world and they don’t start formal education of any kind until 7 years old. It’s a topic I’ll discuss at another time, but we have to take a look at why our system isn’t working and theirs is.

Never Stop Learning!

I think the saddest thing in the world is that we think once a person receives a piece of paper then their learning journey is over. Maybe that’s the real paradigm shift that is needed in education. If we view learning as a life long activity we wouldn’t be in such a rush to cram all our learning into the first 2 decades of our lives. Yes, our brains are ‘optimized’ to learn during those years, but we should never stop learning.

This is actually a motto for our family and my personal favorite of the Principals.

Reading is the foundation block of learning. Reading aloud to our kids, no matter their age is a way to instill more knowledge. There are some wonderful resources out there to utilize and honestly, this is how our family add history and geography to our home education. Living history books and biographies bring to life history. A well-written book can achieve the same outcome that Edison hoped for by adding the motion pictures. Reading the biography of Thomas Edison brought his life and the world he lived in alive to us. It’s one thing to explain what the Telegraph form of communication was for but it’s another when you hear about how it affected the lives of the people at the time. To me, history can only be successfully taught through living history and not a textbook of timelines and facts.

Nancy Edison had one arrangement with Thomas, when he took a job on the train to Detroit, that he spend the six-hour layover in Detroit reading books in the library. Edison complied and quickly read his way through the library, although he did ask if he could forgo the books that were on less exciting topics.

When he, eventually, ran out of books to read, he set up a lab on the train so he would spend the 6 hours conducting experiments. This went well until he split some acids and burnt a hole in the floor of the Conductor’s carriage. Did I mention Edisons are messy kids?

Nancy’s approach to education laid a foundation that not only created a love for learning in Thomas but lit the fire inside him that spurred him on to become an innovator and inventor.

I wonder where our kids would go if we stepped away from traditional education and took a more child-centered, hands-on approach?

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