The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Froebel's Principles Applied.

By Elinor A. Welldon.
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 26

Every earnest student of Froebel must be struck with his deep religiousness; to him all creation spoke of God the Father, and awoke in him feelings of awe and reverential love; each created thing was to him a voice giving utterance to its Maker's praise and telling of the wonder, and beauty, and order which exists in God's universe. From a child Froebel loved to trace out the harmony which exists in nature, and to ponder the laws which govern all things. Man seemed to him the one discordant note in earth's harmony; and yet, was not man God's noblest creation? It was the deep conviction that man's destiny was to fulfil, and not to mar, the universal harmony which led Froebel to attach such importance to the education of little children, and to devote the labour of a lifetime to propounding principles and promulgating a system of infants' education. To Froebel, as to Martin Luther, every child was "a gift of God," "the sacred bond of the marriage tie," "a Divine thought," a being made in God's image whose destiny it was to show forth the Divine likeness more and more perfectly; and to women was entrusted the sacred responsibility of caring for and educating the children of promise. These are thoughts to ennoble and sanctify motherhood, to call forth in women all that is noblest and truest, and to make women eager to fit themselves for their sacred responsibilities as possible future mothers of the race.

Froebel would have us bear in mind how complex a thing a little child is, and that from the moment of birth its threefold life begins--its physical, mental, and moral faculties begin to develop. This is a fact far too often overlooked, or rather so little pondered that it does not influence practically our daily treatment of infants.

Nature was ever Froebel's teacher, and from her he learnt many lessons which helped him to formulate his principles of infants' education.

He saw that the perfection of plant and vegetable life depends primarily on the healthfulness of the root from which it springs, and just so is it with child-life. The mother's own state of health both before and after its birth has a powerful influence on the child's well being; her own physical, mental, and moral health determine to a very large extent that of her offspring; what she is herself--the way she feels, speaks, and acts--are the most powerful agencies in educating her child during the earliest period of its life.

Froebel was struck by the individuality of every plant, and of each part of every plant. No two are just alike, each lives out its own life, grows, develops, and is perfected according to its own nature, dependent though each is on the soil in which its roots are planted and the surroundings in which its life is passed. Yet man is permitted, if I may so express myself, to be a fellow-worker with God; to him is granted the high privilege of helping God's creatures to perfect their own lives to develop fully and perfectly according to the Divine intention. The same truth holds good in child life, and this is just what Froebel would have us remember. Each child has its individual life to live, its own special destiny in life to fulfil, and it can only be true to its high calling when from the first it is placed in a position to live as God meant it should. Home and family surroundings exercise a very important influence on the child, but they are to a large extent irresponsible agents; while on parents, and on mothers especially, rests the solemn responsibility of shaping the child's future; their duty is to mould the child's character, to call forth its powers, and to place it in a position to live out its life fully and freely.

Froebel would have mothers use their mother-love as a God-given gift to help them in the task of educating their little ones, but he would have them remember that mother-love alone is insufficient for the task; it must be accompanied by that wisdom which comes from a thoughtful study of child-nature and is the result of prayerful self-sanctification and a spirit of daily humble dependence on God's strength and power.

Froebel has shown what the characteristics of child nature are, and has bidden us use our knowledge to assist us in the education of each child.

The most prominent characteristic of little children is their love of movement, their ceaseless restlessness showing itself in constant action of the tiny limbs and in cries and smiles. Now these "utterances," as Froebel calls them, of the infants are too often taken as mere indications of physical life and well being; they are also signs of awakening mental and moral life, and when rightly understood, they are means whereby the mother may educate her child, call into life its whole nature, and develop the powers with which God has endowed it. In his "Mother's Songs and Games,"* Froebel tells us how we may interpret these "utterances" of infants aright, and make them not only of use to ourselves, but also means of awakening in the little ones that sense of restful happiness which accompanies the discovery of new powers.

These of us who have watched little children closely must have been struck by their "power of mimicry;" everything they see done they are eager to try and do themselves; it is this desire to imitate which leads baby to make the effort to walk and talk; all day long the child is trying to reproduce what it sees others do. God has given this imitative power to the child as a means for self-development, for the strengthening of will-power and faculty generally, and for the calling forth of the moral side of child-nature; but here, as elsewhere in nature, evil and good are closely allied; the child not only imitates the good it observes, but the evil also. Froebel saw this, and urged on mothers, and others upon whom the care of young children devolves, ever to remember that, what they are themselves, that, more or less, the children under their care will become. Life is one long process of drinking in influences and giving them forth again in words and acts, and from birth the infant, as Froebel expresses it, "is making what is external internal, and what is internal external"--hence the importance of first impressions. They are never wholly effaced. Did mothers but realise this fact, they would be far more careful about their own behaviour before their little ones, especially during the apparently unconscious period of infancy; and what pains they would take in the choice of a nurse or other attendant for their children; how zealous they would be that order and cleanliness, brightness, cheerfulness, and even temper should reign in their nurseries! Thus they would ensure for their offspring, so far as in them lies, happy and contented lives in the future.

As the child grows its desire to imitate is replaced to some extent by a longing to invent and originate; the little one is no longer content to follow blindly what others do; no, it wants, in its turn, to do, that others may follow.

This form of self-activity, when left untrained, leads to much childish mischief and naughtiness, or, when unduly checked, to listlessness and apathy, and often to real ill-health. Parents dimly recognise this truth and seek to supply the craving by a lavish bestowal of toys; they wonder how it is that these are often but little appreciated, and only afford a passing gratification, forgetting that the ordinary toys are finished material, complete in themselves, and the child wants material out of which it can construct, which it can make subserve its own fancy, on which it can leave the impress of its own originality. Froebel saw this, and so he invented his gifts and occupations, which supply the material the child needs.

I do not say that only these toys should be given to our children, but that we should be careful to give them good toys--toys which will call forth their inventive powers, and a not too lavish supply of these. And more, we must teach our children games in which scope is given for the display of original thought, for inventive self-activity. This is what kindergarten games do, and this is why they are so deservedly popular with little children.

Another characteristic of child nature is love of stories. It is almost impossible to conceive a child who does not love stories, particularly fairy tales and tales of animal life. That this is so is due to the active imagination all children possess; their minds are never idle, and unless proper food is supplied to the child in the shape of good stories, told or read, and an interest awakened in it in nature generally, the child will satisfy its imagination wrongly, and a foundation for much moral trouble may be laid.

Froebel looked upon the cultivation of this side of child nature as a most important part of education. To him, a rightly trained imagination meant capability to grasp religious truth, and to realise what moral rectitude means. He was right; it is during the early years that religious impressions are first made; now it is that the heart is open and ready to turn to God and to drink in lessons of truth and righteous dealing, of purity and love; and stories are a most important means for helping forward this part of education.

Love of companionship is another marked feature of child-life. "It is not good for man to be alone" was decreed by God from the first, and nothing is more unwelcome to children than solitude. The companionship of children of his own age gives the child just the opportunity he needs for putting into practice the lessons he has learnt from stories and chats with his mother or nurse. It is well-nigh impossible to make the solitary child unselfish, contented, true, and pure, but give him companions, and the child sees the effect of his actions on his playmates, and learns to do right for their sakes. The atmosphere of love and joy which playing with others induces makes him happy, and a happy child is generally a good child. When children are happy and good then it is that virtues grow, and that right habits are established.

Again, it is as natural to children to sing as it is to birds to warble and to young lambs to gambol. Froebel saw this, and he urged on mothers the importance of singing with their little ones. Song conduces to contentment, and the joyous song of the children is one way of praising their creator. "All Thy works praise Thee, O God!" and so do the children in their songs and play, when these are the natural outbursts of the child's life.

Such was Froebel's ideal in education--to train the whole nature of the child; by toys and work, games, songs, and stories, to call into activity all his powers. What children are, the habits they are trained in, the simple, free, natural lives they live during the early years of life, are the things which build up their characters and make them worthy children of the Father in Heaven, and, in future, capable and worthy citizens. His ideal is a high one, but it is not an impossible one; it needs on the part of mothers an earnest, thinking, mother-love, and hearty co-operation with those who share with them the care and responsibility of bringing up little children; it needs on the part of all women a sense of the responsibility that attaches to those whose mission in life it is to educate the children.

Elinor A. Welldon.

*Translated by Miss Francis and Emily Lord

Typed by Serena, August 2015