Thomas Edison – Home Schooled by his Mother

All you technology/engineering teachers, educators and STEM facilitators…listen up!

Down through the years, the wisdom of Edison’s mother (Nancy Elliot Edison) still rings true to us today. Here are the simple truisms she urged young Tom to keep uppermost in his mind. She home-schooled him when the local one-room schoolhouse could not motivate him. Young Tom was certainly a different kind of learner.

Fortunately, Mrs. Edison was a formally education normal school teacher, but was not practicing at the time, busy with raising her family. Here are the four maxims she taught young Tom…so relevant to your classrooms today.

Samuel and Nancy Edison - Tom’s parents

Samuel and Nancy Edison – Tom’s parents

Do not be afraid to fail. Keep trying, learn from failure; and try again. This later gives birth to the old Edison adage …  “fail your way to success”. Empower young minds to look at the world as an intellectual challenge-often composed of iterative cycles that improve solutions or even the development of new products. Empower students to fail, not be ashamed or overwhelmed by it. That is why erasers are on the backs of pencils!

It is OK to work with your hands and your head. Not everything important comes from books. Experience the world and learn from it. There is a world beyond the classroom that is brimming with learning opportunities. Take advantage of all this information and knowledge-just as valid as what books my teach you. Bring experts from the world of work into class to show the relevancy of school work to life –on-the-job. Every company is a learning campus, filled with on-the-job experts and leaders who can inspire young employees to reach for the stars. Help your students learn early the value of head and hands learning. After all … isn’t this what STEM, technology education and maker spaces are all about?

Young Tom Edison

Young Tom Edison

Read across the entire span of literature, not just what you like. Reading and studying literature brings new ideas into your mind acting as a catalyst for mental stimulation. Throughout his life, Edison read and memorized poetry, prose and literature. This made him a great communicator, able to draw on the great lessons of written culture and history. One of his great historical heroes was Thomas Paine and his writings leading to the Revolutionary War.

Never stop learning, keep improving yourself. This can be seen in the great Edison library and office from which he ran his legendary West Orange Labs. Probably 10,000-20,000 volumes were there at his fingertips to support his enormous appetite for information and knowledge. He knew to lag behind in his constant quest to learn meant competitors would soon catch up. He may have been the first great corporate innovator to consider retaining a corporate library for himself and his staff to use. With the Internet at our fingertips, continuous learning is a snap. Promote this important life lesson.

The Edison home in Milan, Ohio

The Edison home in Milan, Ohio

Throughout his life, Edison credited his mother’s love and patience with giving him a firm footing in the world as a precursor to his great success.

Keep all this in mind when school once again resumes in September. Draw inspiration from the great inventor. Check out this website often, especially its webpage dedicated to free resources for the classroom teacher. Also, check out our sister website at

Thomas Edison said, “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent …”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.



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