The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Home Schoolroom

by Christine Scharr.
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 831-837

Education! What is it? What does it convey to our minds as we slowly repeat the word, syllable by syllable: Ed-u-ca-tion? It conveys a thought too overwhelming for words: years of our life swiftly flash across our mental vision and we sigh at the apparent impossibility of ever attaining the ideal we started out to seek. Can we explain all it means? Can we say that our education is limited to any one period of our life? Were it possible, it would be difficult to select the time. The questions would arise one after another as to when our education commenced and when it ceased? Froebel asks, "Do you know when, where and how your child's intellectual development begins? Where and when is the boundary of existence that has not begun, and of its actual beginning, and how this boundary manifests itself?" Surely those of us who have been brought into close communion with child life, will admit the answer to these questions is not to be found during those years which are spent within the bounds of nursery and school. Our own experience brings us to the only reasonable conclusion, that while life and reason are our common portion, so surely do we continue to harvest, glean, winnow and thrash out the facts that encompass us on all sides; separating those things which are neither of use or value to us, from those which we can usefully employ; and which go to augment our stores of knowledge—in fine to broaden our education. This is a thought full of serious import, over which we may well ponder at length.

For the time being, however, let us glance shortly at the second period of a child's existence. He has passed from babyhood into childhood, free and happy; and for a while things continue to remain as before; the child is content to play his little games repeatedly, finding each time a new delight in them. Thus far the child's doings find favour in the nurse's and alas! too frequently in the mother's eyes. Then begins a fresh development on his part, for which, possibly, the mother is not prepared. Question after question comes from the little seeker, who is suddenly launched, as it were, into a sea of why's and wherefore's, and is no more capable of remaining silent than is a dog chasing a cat. Like the dog, he worries and worries until he is satisfied, and the impatient mother who puts the child off, or does not answer for the present and future. For when a child's mind first becomes active, it should be stored with information suitable to his understanding, and sufficiently interesting to hold his attention for a few minutes.

But what teacher adapts herself to the needs of a little child, so bountifully, as the great mother of all teachers! Nature! She alone will hold him, aye, even the man, spell-bound, when all else fails. And although apparently little knowledge is gained by the small enquirer, the mother is dong great things for her child when she helps him to fix a few of the ceaseless, flitting thoughts, time after time she eventually makes such impressions on his brain as will prove to be the foundation of those habits of observation and attention, which are of such untold value, in all the undertakings of the boy, the student, and the man, busy with the affairs of life.

It is at this period, that a mother feels inadequate to cope with her child, and either looks about for a suitable school to which she may send him, or prefers to have him taught at home, so that she may be certain he is receiving all the knowledge she deems necessary for his age.

If the child is taught at home, the first thought is to select the schoolroom. A room bright with sunlight, pleasantly situated and cheerfully and interestingly decorated is a sine qua non. It is a curious feeling that creeps over the child the first time he enters the schoolroom.

He feels a new responsibility come into his life; a feeling of satisfaction settles upon his mind, that now he will be able to learn about everything; and that all those things will be made plain, which were beyond his comprehension before. How shall we fit our schoolroom that the child may not be disappointed in his work; that he may retain that eager desire for knowledge, with which by a short time ago he came, fresh and vigorous. Not only must we foster his desire to learn, but we should also give such point of further, deeper investigation, self-education, and self-development. His queries may be answered, his craving for knowledge supplied, and yet he is not satisfied, but is ever ready to plunge deeper and deeper into the mysteries of life until he lifts a corner of the veil which hides the beginnings, and sees, with childish innocent wonder, the grand schemes by which the universe is made, and realises the infinitude of its Maker. Oh, mothers! Show your children early, the great truths of God. Make their childhood one long day of happy healthful joy, which they may, in after years, look back upon as the happiest and most glorious springtide they could have wished for, and round which will be linked in loving memories, all that is sacred and beautiful in the word "home."

We have digressed somewhat from the point, and must turn our thoughts back to the eager little "fresher" in the schoolroom. Note how eagerly he gazes round; what joy he manifests when given his first book and pencil, and how frail the thread which links his thoughts together. He cannot spend more than two minutes at his book, but his eye wanders round the room where everything is fresh and new to him; the furniture, the pictures, even the chairs have a fascination for him. Do not thwart his interest, put aside book and pencil and take him for a tour of discovery round the room; and an hour or more of delicious dreaming on his part will pass, till he regards the schoolroom as a world of wonder, from which he will not easily raise the veil, nor need he ever do so, if the educator fulfils her high and noble calling. Let us take a brief glance at the schoolroom the little one so much admires. First there is the clean cork flooring with some pretty rugs, a good fireplace, artistically-tinted walls, cupboard, table, piano, chairs and a desk for each child. The latter should be used for school things only, and school things must not be carried to the nursery, for thus they are lost and trouble arises. Secondly, there is a blackboard and easel with plenty of white and coloured chalks and a clean duster. The blackboard is not merely to be used for writing; but beautiful pictures can be drawn in a very few minutes by teacher or child, which add a special charm to a lesson, and leave a lasting impression on the mind.

These are the general accessories of the schoolroom; let us now turn to the more particular. First and foremost among these should be the glass-fronted museum case, or cases, as occasion may require. In this should be gathered all the curios obtainable; labelled and classified by or with the children so that they may know what each thing is, and where it is kept. These should then be introduced into the lessons as frequently and under as many new aspects as possible. Each time a specimen is brought forth, the child will remember a whole chain of facts, and will, with pleasure, add another link to those he has already made. It must be borne in mind that the museum is the child's; therefore, he must consider it his duty to be always increasing it. In his rambles and walks there are many things he may collect, and he will soon feel dissatisfied if he goes out without bring home something new, whether it be a fresh specimen for the flint or granite collection, a flower for the botany collection, a new snail shell, water creature or water plant. There are things innumerable the child can find, of which he may learn the wonders. Thus, gradually, the schoolroom will become the best loved room in the house, because its beauty is of his own creating, a monument wrought by much patience, care and love.

Even his toys can be made instruments of education; during the nursery period, a child needs very few toys, but as he grows older and can appreciate beautiful things, so should they be given to his care. For instance, in the tall museum case he can have a menagerie of all the model animals he has had given him; and week by week, when the geography lesson comes round, think what delight there will be in making the desert of Africa on the sand tray, the boys' camels walking slowly across with the girl's dolls upon their backs, and a little linen round a few sticks for their camp; some of the doll's house pots and pans lying around to add to the completeness of the scene. The effect is one of breathless wonder, and childlike admiration frequently finds expression in the clapping of hands and walking round the model with exclamations of joy and satisfaction.

In another part of the room is a table, and by its side a sofa. On the table is that which rouses, perhaps, the keenest interest of all, the aquarium. Either salt or fresh water, or both, may be kept and maintained perfectly pure and wholesome, if proper care and attention be devoted to them. A child's interest is always roused by watching the varied scope, that hours and hours of keen naturalistic research watching the various interesting incidents in the aquarium. If a sofa be placed near the table in such a position that when resting, the child may watch the curious ways of the water creatures, there would not be the difficulty that now presents itself of keeping his mind occupied when it is necessary for him to rest some part of the day in order that he may keep his health. Silent though nature is, she is almost sure to teach him something of interest through that long weary hour, and he should be made to understand that time wasted has gone for ever, and can never be recalled.

To keep a salt water aquarium is no very difficult task. Gallon cans of sea water can be obtained, by payment of one shilling, from the Great Eastern Railway Company; and this placed with a pretty piece of rock in the aquarium, is all that is sufficient as a home for the beautiful pink, green, and purple anemone from the wild sea cave.

No seaweed must be put in, or it will foul the water, and the aquarium will be spoilt. Every morning the faces of the anemones must be carefully washed. Oh! what a happy idea for a child, a link so inseparable from his own life. During the day a slight film of dirt spreads over its surface, which in nature is washed off by the constant tossing of the sea, but in the aquarium our little anemones miss the process, so we substitute a clean paint brush, kept for that purpose.

It is not difficult to do, but every scrap of the film must be cleared from the water, and the water well aerated every day from a cup put into the bowl; or by means of air blown into the water from a pair of bellows. In the South Kensington aquarium the water is kept fresh for very long periods by air which is allowed to slowly bubble up through the water from a perforated pipe close to the bottom of the tanks, this is all the regular keeping a salt water aquarium needs. Once a week the anemones need a little food, and a single oyster will satisfy them all. This should be cut up into small pieces and with the paint brush a little piece placed over the mouth of each, and they will draw all the goodness from it and cast away the remains. It is curious to watch them wave their hundred arms and clasp them round the food when it is given to them; once in about three months a cup of fresh water must be added to allow for evaporation, which would otherwise render the water too salt for the anemone to live. In this way I have kept such an aquarium for two years and then it came to an untimely end by a fall. I have known one kept for seven years, and when last I heard of it, it was flourishing. Generation after generation of young are budded off so that sometimes it is necessary even to enlarge the aquarium.

There is no need to say much about the fresh water aquarium, that is so general, and can be found illustrated in every book dealing with pond life, and should one wish to know, it can easily be learnt. I would only add, feed the creatures and fish regularly and at a certain time, and the fish learn to know the time for their meal, as it comes around, and show some signs of excitement. They will swim up to the top to the water directly it is given them, and you may watch them at their dinner without having to exercise any great amount of patience. It is a mistake to think that water animals cannot be tamed as well as others, results prove that they can, and they become very fascinating to the child. A word more on the aquarium before I leave it; if it is impossible to keep it out of the sun, past a sheet of green paper on the outside of the glass nearest the light, and that will give the creatures all the shade they require.

In regard to the pictures of the schoolroom, there is much difference of opinion. Ruskin suggests that every schoolroom should have one good picture of each of the five great cities of the world upon the walls. These are very well for older children, but they would convey very little information to younger ones. Pictures should not be standard things at all, they should be altered from time to time to suit the development of the children and interchanged sometimes with those in other parts of the house. The first pictures should portray as many of the physical features, times and seasons, as possible; so that they may be used to illustrate the geography or nature lessons. Representations of beautiful scenery with a waterfall and brook, or a hay field, or eventide on the sea, can be bought very inexpensively. When these are done with, and the child's knowledge increases, Ruskin's idea of the great cities would make an admirable series, to which might be added one or two etchings of the gods and heroes of mythology. One picture is suitable and essential for every stage of development, and that is the beautiful engraving of Raphael's "Madonna and Child." There is such grace, such dignity and calm repose about it, that even a casual glance satisfies the restlessness of the child's nature, and a wave of calm, high thought sweeps over his mind. There are many other little things which can be introduced into our schoolroom, making it into world of ideals for the children. When the trees are lopped, decorate it and turn it into a wild Indian jungle. Tell them of the mighty trees, the wonderful flowers, the animals, and birds. Again, in winter change it into the Ice Queen's palace glittering with frost and snow, by means of cotton-wool and frost.

There must always be flowers in the schoolroom growing in pots, and cut flowers in vases kept watered and fresh by the child. Thus he will always have something to do, something that needs his special care and no longer will the mother find him fretful or lounging about unoccupied, but rather the cry will be, "Shall I ever get time enough to do all that I want to?"

Proofread by Stephanie H.