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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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To Parents: Notes of an Address to Parents delivered to Cheltenham College

Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 805-810


We spoke last time of the general principles. To-day I want to show you how we trust you will work in harmony with us in the development of the bodily life--bearing in mind, what we said, that God would have His children perfect--that He has given them to you, to us, that we might help and guide them in that development to realise God's thought for them. Now, there is a sentence I often hear, and to which, in the sense in which it is usually uttered, I cannot assent: "Health is the first thing."

If we had a comparative, instead of a superlative word, I should have no objection. Health is of more importance than a great many things that are preferred to it; more important than winning a boat-race, or passing an examination, or growing rich; more important than having a small waist, or enjoying a late dance, or getting a reputation for cleverness. This is another way of saying, "the life is more than meat, and the body of raiment." To destroy one's health by means of that very food which was intended to sustain it, is on par with the folly of those who grasp at more knowledge than they have time to receive or leisure to assimilate, is to destroy their intellectual, and therefore to injure their bodily life.

But none of us can possibly say that health is more than the eternal things--charity, duty, a good conscience; to say it is the first thing is a detestable doctrine. Should the doctor leave the fever-stricken, the minister fly from the small-pox, the mother refuse to sit up with her sick child? There is an article by Miss Cobbe, in her "Peak of Darien," called "Hygeiolatry," in which she rightly stigmatises as disgraceful, a doctrine that makes health the summum bonum.

"The man who sacrifices his health in the performance of his duty as physician, clergyman, or soldier, or in endeavouring to save a fellow-creature from flood or fire, or who gives up life itself rather than forswear himself, or renounce his religious faith, or commit a base action, is not only exonerated from any guilt, but is in the highest degree virtuous. On these lines Christian civilisation may be said to have been built up."

"From the crucifixion of Christ to the silent self-immolation of the poor consumptive girl who works half-blinded through the winter's night to support her aged mother--the holiest and the sweetest things this earth has witnessed have been actions of those who counted not their lives dear to them, so long as they could obey the law of truth, of righteousness, and of love."

"Bodily health may not be lawfully sacrificed to our desire of pleasure or fear of pain. It may, and ought to be, sacrificed to the health of our souls, to the service of our fellow-men, or to fidelity to God."

Those who wander aimlessly through life, seeking health and neglecting duty, seldom gain it, and often in seeking their life lose it. It is sad to see the dread some have of infection. We know that duty is before health, and before life, yet with the reservation, unless some higher claim comes in, we are bound to preserve in health this body which is the instrument of thought, and the means by which we work. But we should keep before our children the principle that not for its own sake, but for higher ends, is the body to be cared for. I do not say that one should preach details of home life. We should never let them neglect a duty for pleasure, nor sacrifice what is life indeed for prolonging that which will pass away. Can we read without abhorrence that story of Boccaccio and the selfish aristocrats. Let us take care that the simplest duties are done conscientiously. Never, e.g., ask an extra day after holidays, never let them sit up hours which you cannot approve, never prolong games beyond the time that they are recreative.

Habits of obedience we should help them to form, until the voice heard through conscience is found to be that of a friend, not a hard taskmaster--but it must be our object to educate our children to something higher than obedience. I mean to freedom. How does God educate us? And here let me remind you, we should try to see how God educates us, as this will be our true guide as to the way in which we are to educate our children.

First, He gives us laws and inflicts penalties immediate if we disobey. Then He educates us to see that those laws are made for our good. There are two opposite errors into which parents run. (1) Some are so anxious for sympathy and love that they scruple to claim obedience; it is right to give to the ignorant child a simple command and require obedience. (2) Some, knowing the importance of obedience to law, even when that law is not embraced, take little pains to win the sympathy of their children, and show them that the law was right--when they are able to see it.

Now, I am sure children like strictness; they feel, as Wordsworth has said, that it is a support to their weakness, and they are grateful, as the little child is, for the guiding hand; but, unless their conscience can be educated to decide and choose, they will remain children all their lives, dependent on others.

"I don't see why I should have porridge if I don't like."

"No, my child, I don't expect you to see, but to obey," Yet, as the child grows older, you would but refuse him on sentiment, and also show why, and thus educate the child into sympathy; it is of such enormous importance that the child should understand and love father and mother, that to check sympathy by harshness is most sad.

1. We want to educate children in habits of cheerful obedience. Well, we all know they learn by example, more than by precept. Can we teach them obedience thus, and so draw them into sympathy with us? Yes, we can, by getting into their life that fundamental conception that they are God's children, whom He has sent into the world to grow good themselves, and to do some service; and for this they have to grow strong, to take some trouble. I don't mean that we should often talk about it, but it should now and then be said, and then it would grow into what I call a sub-consciousness; and religion would be harmonised with life, and work would be something to be thankful for, even when distasteful, and health would be taken care of, as it is not now.

Let me illustrate. Children are self-indulgent in many ways. What if we led them to a sort of getting-up drill, taught them to start out of bed at a given call? I knew a girl who got an alarum, and prided herself on never having heard it finish, except on the floor. Laziness about getting up entails many evils. Do mothers take any care to see that children do rise? Then there is often laziness about washing, when children get out nurses' hands. They are old enough to be taught a little about the structure of the skin. Erasmus Wilson "On the Skin and Hair" is a very interesting book. Are any measures taken to strengthen girls' resolutions, and to make the morning bath a rule? We do find some of our boarders need training in this respect, and, I suspect, the day-girls. Again, more ill-health results from carelessness about teeth in early years than many are aware of.

2. Then as regards clothing. I will not suppose that you would sanction any fashion injurious to health, but I want you to get your children to co-operate with you. Several times I have sent girls home from college, because I found they had discarded the regulation woolen next the skin. You would have an opportunity of showing them they are to put up with discomfort, if it is right. Those who have worn it from babyhood do not feel this. Girls will, in hot weather, leave off flannel petticoats and other garments--they should understand the special danger of this, also of any pinching or distortion. They want to be not only taught this, but looked after, to see they carry it out; and I do earnestly wish that every mother would see that pointed toes and high heels were abolished. I have seen daughters of medical men appear in shoes which their fathers could not have approved. We want to change wrong public opinion, and in such little things, we can train children in the great moral virtue of doing what they ought in little things, as a matter of course, and turning a deaf ear to Mrs. Grundy, when she urges what is wrong--in matters indifferent she may be obeyed. It is our duty, too, to train the taste of girls in the matter of dress, and, therefore, to let them choose somewhat. We can show them the vulgarity of overdress, or anything merely designed to make oneself conspicuous; and at the same time show them that it is right to care for beauty, for becomingness, for neatness--a duty to others and to ourselves. These are things which we must leave a good deal to home, though school opinion goes a long way; appropriateness of dress to time and place is at once recognised--the jewellery suitable in the home circle is unsuitable for working-hours, and you will easily see that ornaments, except of the simplest kind, are not the fashion with us, and that very simple dresses are worn by nearly all.

3. As regards diet. I think we ought to make a child ashamed of having bilious attacks--these can nearly always be avoided. We should study their digestions, as well as teach them to notice--but not allow them to be fastidious. Thus I think the fact that Nature tells us children dislike fat meat, and are fond of sugar, teaches us to avoid giving them much of the one and to provide them at meals with a sufficiency of the other. The habit of eating between meals, and spending money on sweets, ought to be checked--elder children should be induced to give it up altogether--by giving them a sufficiency of sweets at meals, and by making them ashamed of greediness. It is considered, in our houses, bad form to have cakes, &c., sent, and they are not eaten at odd times. Some years ago, one of our Houses had an abnormal number of headaches. I found the mistress let the girls have boxes from home, and get slices of cake when they liked. In well-regulated homes, I fancy this germandising is not common, but I do think children should be taught to regard it as a virtue to keep the body well and vigorous for work, whilst we watch carefully to see they make no mistakes, and provide out of our superior knowledge such food as is both tempting and wholesome. Porridge is especially desirable for those who can take it. Monotony is to be avoided, so it could be given alternate days, and now with one addition, now with another. We have experimented with diet, and at one time we gave meat three times a day; we found the health less good than when we gave it twice. We give now three substantial meals, the chief being breakfast about 8; dinner about 1:30. Most have at 11 a glass of milk, some a cup of soup; and if the last meal is early, some little thing, as a bun or bit of cake the last thing, if it is late, then something of afternoon tea.

When we have decided on what is best, regularity is very important--though, of course, one ought not to be a slave to dinner-hours. Could not sensible mothers set their faces against the late hours and absurd supper of juvenile parties? I know a father who wrote that his child had a previous engagement to go to bed at 8 o'clock.

Finally, is pains taken to make the daily dinner or breakfast party a pleasant meal--bright and happy conversation, pleasant faces? These have much to do with digestion. Let us take trouble to entertain our children during those precious years which will never return--let them feel the kindly sympathy and learn to exercise it to others, to contribute their share towards making all happy--be ready to tell things interesting. 4. As regards exercise. I need not say much about calisthenic exercise, but I do wish children were encouraged to practise a little of what they learn with us, when they get up and go to bed, and are therefore quite free from the pressure of waistbands. Games are excellent, but here there is great danger of excess. I do not think, either, that games should take the place of walks into country fields and lanes. My own opinion is that the walk to and from college, with an hour's country walk, or one and a half-hour's garden-game, in addition to calisthenics, is enough for most, and I am certain much harm is done to delicate girls by letting them play many hours at games which require skill and much practice. Many I know go to garden tennis-parties nearly every day in the summer afternoons, and spend much of the morning in practice.

Then could not most mothers take a walk once or twice a week at least with their growing girls? What an invaluable time for cultivating sympathy and companionship. How many little way would there be found of dropping a word here and there, of learning what is passing in the child's mind, or pointing out to her the beauty and joy God has spread around. There are a few other things which come, perhaps, rather under other heads, as from reading unwholesome novels, or not having enough healthy work, which leads to castle-building, irritations of temper, wrong ambitions; all these produce ill-health, but I shall speak of these in a subsequent lecture.

Do I make undue demands? Ah, but great will be your reward, if you live for your children. Those who have wisely trained the elder ones will be able, as they grow up, to delegate something of the maternal office to them; and as they learn to care for the younger ones, they will be drawn into closer sympathy with her who has borne with their feebleness and fretfulness.