Monday, September 29, 2008


"It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things." ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

From the category of famous people, the young man I am tutoring chose to compile a notebook on Leonardo Da Vinci . Good choice! We've studied him before, but can you ever stop studying Leonardo? I had never heard of Leonardo's horse ordeal until recent weeks. How did I miss that before? The Creative Thinker of All Time boasts of amazing accomplishments. He was an artist, architect, sculptor, inventor, engineer, and scientist. He was also an entertainer, musician, production designer and manager, writer, naturalist, scholar and philosopher. Has his understanding of the world opened doors of knowledge for us? From his exemplary life, we can see that Leonardo surely went out and happened to things!

Curiosita - An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning, is the first of the seven Da Vincian Principles expounded upon in the book How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb. As a mother, I can visualize the natural curiosity and desires of my little boys to explore, taste and experience the fascinating world around them, and as a homeschooling mom, I'd never want to see this innate lust for learning end.

I have been researching Leonardo in my own curiosity quest. I've always liked to draw and I admire beautiful paintings and the artistic talents of others. I am a fan of museums and have seen many famous paintings in my lifetime. I'd like to think like Leonardo, and learn seven steps to genius every day as the title suggests (I'd like to try writing backwards, though I'll leave out dissecting bodies, thank you).

Mr. Gelb believes that our learning power can improve with age (I'd like to believe that). Couldn't I use this knowledge to pattern our own education? I wonder how far we are from Leonardo's methods? The Curiosita Self-Assessment checklist the book provides claims that your answers tell how well you are already using it and where to improve. Here's the list:
  • I keep a journal or notebook to record my insights and questions.
  • I take adequate time for contemplation and reflection.
  • I am always learning something new.
  • When I am faced with and important decision, I actively seek out different perspectives.
  • I am a voracious reader.
  • I learn from little children.
  • I am skilled at identifying and solving problems.
  • My friends would describe me as open-minded and curious.
  • When I hear or read a new word or phrase, I look it up and make a note of it.
  • I know a lot about other cultures and am always learning more.
  • I know or am involved in learning a language other than my native one.
  • I solicit feedback from my friends, relations, and colleagues.
  • I love learning.
I can check yes by a number of these, but also would need much discipline in others. In light of the above and what I know about Leonardo, I see a correlation with Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy. Ms. Mason wrote "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life," and the CM school motto is "I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will." She also said: "We trust much to good books - Once more, we know that there is a storehouse of thought wherein we may find all the great ideas that have moved the world." She encouraged keeping journals from an early age and the study of languages. Children were to be free in their play, letting them use their imaginations and providing time for their many self motivated projects, but parents were always present guiding lights. History (chronologically) and nature study were emphasized. Both Charlotte and Leonardo were advocates of virtue, including truth and beauty. Relating more specifically to children and curiosita Charlotte shares this:

"The idea that vivifies teaching. . . is that 'Education is a Science of Relations; by which phrase we mean that children come into the world with a natural [appetite] for, and affinity with, all the material of knowledge; for interest in the heroic past and in the age of myths; for a desire to know about everything that moves and lives; about strange places and strange peoples; for a wish to handle material and to make; a desire to run and ride and row and do whatever the law of gravitation permits. Therefore. . . we endeavor that he shall have relations of pleasure and intimacy established with as many possible of the interests proper to him; not learning a slight or incomplete smattering about this or that subject, but plunging into vital knowledge, with a great field before him which in all his life he will not be able to explore. In this conception we get that 'touch of emotion' which vivifies knowledge, for it is probably that we feel only as we are brought into our proper vital relations." ~ Charlotte Mason

Wow! Doesn't that sum it up? Curiosita is just the first of the Da Vincian Principles and is demonstrated by a continuous quest for learning . In that chapter the author lists a number of exercises one can do to improve your skills and apply this concept. He asks the question "What would you learn if you could learn anything at all?" Most of the people he asks answer with things that express an ideal or dream hobby, something they always wanted to do but never did, and I'm thinking to myself, I have a lot of those. Some I have touched on in the past but just failed to continue to make time for them. Mr. Gelb finds that people who pursue those hobbies passionately live richer, more fulfilling lives. And Charlotte Mason would agree. There are many hobby-like activities I'd love to pursue further, and I'd like for the boys to find new ways to enjoy life too. As a people, we have all kinds of excuses for not doing those things (I'm guilty), but as Leonardo would answer, "You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself." It's never too late!

Some other insights I found in these interesting exercises included the free writing technique that we have been employing at home (I've mentioned this in an earlier post). He calls it stream of consciousness writing but it's the same thing, where you write continuously, always keeping your pen moving, paying no attention to grammar or spelling etc. I liked this metaphor of the poet's motto: "Write drunk, revise sober." I'll have to remember it.

Leonardo kept a notebook with him wherever he went. I bought a nice leather journal for that purpose in the last few years, and though I did that for several months, I didn't continue to lug it around, but wrote in it at home. He used his notebooks (seven thousand pages still exist but authorities estimate it was twice as many) without organization, mixing all kinds of thoughts, letters, doodles and drawings, new vocabulary, plans, scientific treatises, questions and even copy work!

The Great Problem Solver was a man who asked many questions. He felt this was much more important than giving right answers. Quite the opposite of today's educational institutions. Finding and asking the right questions will lead you to the solutions. I think I need to re-emphasize this approach to our learning at home.

Leonardo taught himself Latin at age 42. Babies learn languages easily, but at any age this is a fun hobby and you can actually learn faster than a baby. We've dabbled in German in past years when one son had an interest and recently Jeremiah developed an interest in French. I picked up a freebie - a set of learning cassettes that we still have to delve into. I love language; the etymology of our own English leaves much to discover. Leonardo defined over nine thousand words in his journals.

Charlotte Mason had much to say about developing good habits. Leonardo was keen on observational and emotional intelligence, studying people and their habits, much as he also studied nature and animals. He majored in getting along with others! A required book for graduating in our homeschool is the favorite classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

I'm only in the beginning chapters of How to Think Like Leonardo but let me share briefly, the remaining seven principles:
Dimostrazione - A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. Sensazione - The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience. Sfumato - A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty. Arte/Scienza - The devepment of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination. "Whole-brain" thinking. Corporalita - The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise. Connessione - A recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. Systems thinking.
I'm looking forward to learning more from Master Da Vinci in these next chapters and modeling the Da Vinci lifestyle and information I am learning to my boys, applying more to our home schooling. To start, I have a nature watercolor painting and colored pencil drawing I could complete and possibly submit to the Boone County Fair this week. I'm also going to get out those French tapes. Having had Charlotte Mason as a mentor gently leads the way. Au revoir, or as Leonardo would say buona notte.

Featured Drawings: Leonardo's Christ Figure 1490 and Study of a Womb 1489 from his journals

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