The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
P.N.E.U. Children

by The Editor.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 284-290

[This appears in Home Education, Volume 1 of Charlotte Mason's series, around pg 186.]

The admirable article which appears in the last and the current number of the Parents Review, under the title of "The Briton of the Future: How Shall we Train Him," while it enlists our warmest sympathy, yet raises in our minds a serious question. "I unhesitatingly say that the Kindergarten (as its founder Froebel meant it to be) is the only rational method of training our infants, forming their character, and preparing them for future life," says the author; and, as by publishing this statement we would seem to endorse it, it becomes necessary to enter our caveat. We, too, reverence Froebel. Many of his great thoughts we share; we cannot say borrow, because some, like the child's relations to the universe, are at least as old as Plato; others belong in universal practice and experience, and this, as the writer in question properly observes, shows their psychological rightness. Froebel gathered diffused thoughts and practice into a system, but he did a greater thing than this. He raised an altar to the enthusiasm of childhood upon which the flame has never since gone out.

The true Kindergartnerin is the artist amongst teachers; she is filled with the inspiration of her work, and probably most sincere teachers have caught something from her fervour, some sense of the beauty of childhood, and of the enthralling delight of truly educational work.

And yet we enter a caveat. The first care of the P.N.E.U. is to preserve the individuality, give play to the personality of children. Now, persons do not grow in a garden, much less in a greenhouse. It is a doubtful boon to a person to have conditions too carefully adapted to his needs. The exactly due sunshine and shade, pruning and training, are good for a plant whose uses are subordinate, so to say, to the needs and pleasures of its owner. But a person has other uses in the world, and we believe that mother or teacher, who regards him as a plant, and herself as the gardener, will only be saved from grave mistakes by the force of human nature in herself and in her child. We think that the notion of supplementing Nature from the cradle is a dangerous one. A little guiding, a little restraining, much reverent watching, Nature asks of us; but beyond that, we believe it is the wisdom of parents to leave children as much as may be to Nature, and "to a higher Power than Nature itself."

Those of us who have watched an urchin of seven making Catherine wheels [cartwheels] down the length of a street, or a group of little girls dancing to a barrel organ, or small boys and girls on a door-step giving what Dickens calls "dry nourishment" to their babies, or a small girl sent by her mother to make four careful purchases out of sixpence and bring home the change--are not ready to believe that physical, mental and moral development waits, so to speak, upon Kindergarten teaching. Indeed we are inclined to question whether, in the interest of carrying out a system, the charming Kindergartnerin is not in danger sometimes of greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children. We know a person of three who happened to be found by a caller alone in the drawing room. It was spring, and the caller thought to make himself entertaining with talk about the pretty baa-lambs, but a pair of big blue eyes were fixed upon him and a solemn person made this solemn remark,'' Isn't it a dwefful howid thing to see a pig killed!" We hope she had never seen or even heard of the killing of a pig, but she made as effective a protest against twaddle as would any woman of Society. Boers and kopjes, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, the fight of Thermopylae, Ulysses and the Suitors--these are the sorts of things that children play at by the month together; even the toddlers of three and four will hold their own manfully with their brothers and sisters. And, if the little people were in the habit of telling how they feel, we should learn perhaps that they are a good deal bored by the nice little games in which they frisk like lambs, flap their fins, and twiddle their fingers like butterflies.

"But," says the reader, "children do all these things so pleasantly and happily in the Kindergarten!" It is a curious thing about human nature that we all like to be managed by persons who take the pains to play on our amiabilities. Even a dog can be made foolishly sentimental; and, if we who are older have our foibles in this kind, it is little wonder that children can be wooed to do anything by persons whose approaches to them are always charming. It is true that "W.V.," the child whom the world has been taught to love, sang her Kindergarten songs with the little hands waving in the "air so blue"! but that was for the delectation and delusion of the elders when bedtime came. "W.V." had greater thoughts at other times. There are still, we believe, Kindergartens where a great deal of twaddle is talked in song and story, where the teacher conceives that to make poems for the children herself and to compose tunes for their singing and to draw pictures for their admiration, is to fulfil her function to the uttermost. The children might echo Wordsworth's complaint of "the world," and say, the teacher is too much with them, late and soon. Everything is directed, expected, suggested. No other personality out of book, picture, or song, no not even that of Nature herself, can get at the children without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part.

Most of us are misled by our virtues, and the entire zeal and enthusiasm of the Kindergartnerin is perhaps her stone of stumbling. "But the children are so happy and good!" Precisely; the home-nursery is by no means such a scene of peace, but we venture to think it a better growing place. We are delighted to see that an eminent Frobelian protests against the element of personal magnetism in the teacher; there is, or has been, a great deal of this element in the successful Kindergartner, and we all know how we lose vigour and individuality under this sort of influence; but, even apart from this element of charm, we doubt if the self-adjustingness of life in the Kindergarten is good for children.

We believe that the world suffered that morning when the happy name of "Kindergarten" suggested itself to the greatest among the educational "Fathers." No doubt it was simple and fit in its first intention as meaning an out-of-door garden life for the children; but a false analogy has hampered, or killed, more than one philosophic system:--the child became a plant in the well ordered garden. The analogy appealed to the orderly, scientific, German mind which does not much approve of irregular, spontaneous movement in any sort. Culture, due stimulus, sweetness and light became the chief features of a great educational code. From the potting-shed to the frame and thence to the flower-bed, the little plant gets in due proportion what is good for him. He grows in a seemly way, in ordered ranks; and in due season puts forth his flower.

Now, to figure a person by any analogy whatsoever is dangerous and misleading, because there's nothing in nature commensurable with a person. Because the analogy of the garden plan is very attractive, it is the more misleading; manifestations of purpose in a plant are wonderful and delightful, but in a person such manifestations are simply normal. The outcome of any thought is necessarily moulded by that thought, and to have a cultivated garden as the ground plan of our educational thought, either means nothing at all, which it would be wronging the Master to suppose, or it means undue interference with the spontaneous development of a human being.

To begin with the "Mother-games," a sweet conception, most lovingly worked out. But, let us consider; the infant is exquisitely aware of every mood of his mother, the little face clouds with grief or beams with joy in response to the expression of hers. The two left to themselves have rare games. He jumps and pulls, crows and chuckles, crawls and kicks and gurgles with joy; and, amid all the play, is taught what he may not do. Hands and feet, legs and arms, fingers and toes, are continually going while he is awake, mouth, eyes and ears are agog. All is play without intention, and mother plays with baby as glad as he; and nature sits quietly by and sees to it that all the play is really work, and development of every sort is going on at a greater rate during the first two years of life than at any like period of after life--enough development and not too much, for baby is an inordinate sleeper. Then comes in the educator and offers a little more. The new games are so pretty and taking that baby might as well be doing these as his own meaningless and clumsy jumpings and pattings. But a real labour is being put upon the child in addition to the heaviest two-years' work that his life will know. His sympathy with his mother is so acute that he perceives something strenuous in the new play, notwithstanding all the smiles and pretty talk; he answers by endeavour great in proportion as he is small. His nerve centres and brain power have been unduly taxed, some of the joy of living has been taken from him, and, though his baby response to direct education is very charming, he has less latent power left for the future calls of life.

Let us follow the little person to the Kindergarten, where he has the stimulus of class-mates of his own age. It certainly is stimulating. For ourselves, no society is so stimulating as that of a number of persons of our own age and standing; this is the great joy of college life; a wholesome joy for all young people for a limited time. But persons of twenty have, or should have, some command over their inhibitory centres. They should not permit the dissipation of nerve power caused by too much social stimulus; even persons of twenty are not always equal to the task of self-management in exciting circumstances. What is to be expected of persons of two, three, four, five? That the little persons looks rather stolid than otherwise is no guarantee against excitement within. The clash and sparkle of our equals is stimulating for us now and then, but for everyday life the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals, which we get in a family, gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. Most of us have wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun, and resourcefulness shewn by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life. Danger lurks in the Kindergarten, we believe, just in proportion to the completeness and beauty of its organisation. It is possible to supplement Nature so skilfully that we run some risk of supplanting her, deriving her of space and time to do her own work in her own way. "Go and see what Tommy is doing and tell him he must not," is not sound doctrine. Tommy should be free to do what he likes with his limbs and his mind through all the hours of the day when he is not sitting up nicely at meals. He should run and jump, leap and tumble, lie on his face watching a worm, or on his back watching the bees in a lime tree. nature will look after him and give him promptings of desire to know many things, and somebody must tell as he wants to know; and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the way; and to be many things, naughty and good, and somebody should give direction. Here we come to the real crux of the Kindergarten question. The busy mother says she has no leisure to be that somebody, the child will run wild and get into bad habits; but we must not make a fetish of habit; education is a life as well as a discipline. Health, strength, and agility, bright eyes and alert movements come of a free life out of doors if it may be; and as for habits, there is no habit or power so useful to man or woman as that of personal initiative. The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer's day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention on the mother's part, but of much masterly inactivity. The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators. Now, nature is her own mediator, undertakes herself to find work for eyes and ears, taste and touch; she will prick the brain with problems and the heart with feelings, and the part of mother or teacher in the early years (indeed all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted. Mothers shirk their work and put it, as they would say, into better hands than their own, because they do not recognise that wise letting alone is the most that is asked of them; seeing that every mother has in nature an all-sufficient handmaid, who sees to due work and due rest of mind, muscles and senses.

In one way the children of the poor have better chances than those of the rich. Poor children get education out of household ways; but there is a great deal of good teaching to be got out of a wisely-ordered nursery, and their own small persons and possessions should afford much "Kindergarten" training to the little family at home. At six or seven definite lessons should begin, and these need not be watered down or served with jam, for the acute intelligences that will in this way be brought to bear on them. But what of only children, or the child too old to play with her baby brother? Surely the Kindergarten is a great boon for these! Perhaps so, but a cottage-child as a companion, or a lively young nursemaid might be better. A child will have taught himself to paint, paste, cut paper, knit, weave, hammer and saw, make lovely things in clay and sand, build castles with his bricks; most likely, too, will have taught himself to read, write and do sums, besides acquiring no end of knowledge and notions about the world he lives in, by the time he is six or seven. What we contend for is that he shall do these things because he chooses, when he chooses, and how he chooses (provided that the standard of perfection in his small works be kept before him). The details of family living will give him the repose of an ordered life, but, for the rest, he should have more free-growing time than is possible in the most charming school. The fact that lessons look like play is no recommendation; they just want the freedom of play and the sense of his own ordering that belongs to play. Most of us have little enough experience in the ordering of our lives, so it is well to make much of the years that can be given to children to gain this joyous experience.

Typed by happi, Mar 2020; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020