Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically


Volume 1, Home Education, pg 8-9

Without even thinking about it, everything your child does--eat, play, work--will be seen as a way to get closer to your goal. But those steps, that method, can become mindless steps that are no more than an empty system if the focus of the goal is lost. The Kindergarten Method, for example, was conceived by teachers who had a wonderful vision of enlarging the lives of little persons, but when practiced by those who don't understand that goal, it becomes nothing more than an artificial system of lessons and busywork.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 67

Young children crave knowledge about new things. But how do we satisfy their hunger? Preschools and kindergartens use object lessons, which are as meager as trying to feed a hungry horse on one bean a day.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 82

Kindergarten teachers teach little educational rhymes to children, but theirs are usually pointless and don't grab the children's attention and get passed down from one generation of children to the next in the same way that the old ones have, even though they've never been written down in books.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 170

Home is the Best Growing Ground for Young Children

Still, whatever advantages kindergarten or other preschools offer to children, learning at the home is what's ideal for them. It would be the best thing if the mother had time to devote herself to teaching them, but she's not usually able to do that. If she lives in town, she can send her children to school when they're six.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 178-199

II. The Kindergarten As A Place to Learn

The Mother is the best Kindergarten Teacher

We already know the benefits of the kindergarten school. Its success requires rare qualities in a teacher. She must be cultured, have some understanding of the psychology and art of education, be sympathetic with children, be tactful, have common sense, possess a lot of information about common things, have a cheerful disposition and be able to manage children well. The kindergarten method depends on these things as part of its contrived method to make children comfortable with a Superior Intelligent Being--their teacher. With the right teacher, a kindergarten is beautiful, like a taste of heaven. But with an ordinary, commonplace teacher, the charming songs and games and activities become very wooden. If the essence of kindergarten rests on one person who serves as sort of a spiritual enchantress to the children, then shouldn't a child's own mother be the ideal kindergarten teacher? Who else has as much tact, sympathy, common sense and culture?

Home Doesn't Need to be Converted into a Kindergarten

Although every mother is a kindergarten teacher in the sense that Froebel meant, that doesn't mean that every home should be run like a kindergarten classroom. The methods and activities planned for a kindergarten class are only a way to make sure that certain principles are carried out, and the mother can find out for herself what these principles are according to Froebel or she can even come up with her own. For instance, in the kindergarten class, the child's senses are carefully trained according to a specific progression: he looks, listens, and touches to learn. He learns about sizes, colors, shapes and numbers. He learns to copy and to tell back precisely. In this training of the senses, the kindergarten method duplicates the same method that a baby uses by himself as he studies a ball or rattle.

Field of Knowledge Too Confined

Even with this emphasis on training the child's senses, it's yet possible to undervalue the child's ability to learn by investigating things with his senses. The area in which he is allowed to gather his data is often artificially limited. During his first six or seven years, children should be becoming intimately acquainted with the properties of every natural object they can reach rather than confined to the space and schedule of a classroom. It's true that kindergarten affords him knowledge of exact ideas such as the difference between a parallelogram and a hexagon, or a primary and secondary color, and he learns to see carefully enough to duplicate a folded paper or woven yarn, but this is at the expense of a lot of the real knowledge of the outside world that should have been gained during his best window of opportunity. The nice, exact graduated way that kindergarten schedules learning is fine, but the mother has the advantage of being able to provide it casually by fitting it around the child's normal routine. A mother isn't going to let contrived lessons replace the natural, wider training of the senses that is the most important duty for her children.

A child in a kindergarten class is only given tasks that are within his ability to do, and then he is expected to do them perfectly, which is a good principle, as we have discussed. But I have seen a four-year-old child blush and look as ashamed as if he had been caught lying, just because he had folded his paper irregularly. But a mother or caregiver is able to see that children do their small tasks perfectly--and this is what's important--without the child experiencing any of the stress that children feel in trying to perform to please their beloved smiling goddess, their kindergarten teacher.

Training of an Eye for Detail and a Careful Hand

Kindergarten activities provide opportunities for training the eye and hand. But at home, a thousand opportunities present themselves naturally in trifling things like straightening a tablecloth or a picture, or wrapping a package. Every conscientious mother can think of a thousand ways to provide these kinds of opportunities naturally as she goes about her daily routine. Still, as a way of providing methodical teaching and having fun, it's fine to use some games, songs and kindergarten activities--so long as the mother doesn't put too much stock in them and depend on them for education. Everything the child does should be used to educate him.

'Sweetness and Light' in the Kindergarten

In the kindergarten classroom, a child is surrounded in an atmosphere of sweetness and light. A sturdy little five year old doesn't want to be a jumping frog with the rest of the class, so the kindergarten teacher comes along with calm, unruffled gentleness, takes his hand and leads him away from the circle. He is not reprimanded, but since he doesn't want to do what everyone else is doing, he is not allowed to stay in the circle. The next time, he is content to join in and be a frog. This is a good principle for disciplining children. Don't treat a child who doesn't want to go along with the program too seriously. Don't assume that he's being naughty. If he doesn't want to participate in harmony with everyone else, just leave him out. Avoid friction. Above all, don't let him disturb the gentle, serene atmosphere. Simply remove him from everyone else when he doesn't want to cooperate.

Kindergarten claims to acknowledge the joyful nature of children, to allow them full and free expression of the exuberance within them, without the mischief that tends to accompany children who are left to themselves to find outlets for their energy. This combination of gladness and gentleness is exactly what should be cultivated at home with children. The rough, noisy behavior sometimes seen in children isn't necessary, especially inside. But the children should be happy, and even a momentary absence of sunshine in her children's faces should be a cause of grave concern to the mother. In general, we can say that some of the principles used in kindergarten are just the ones that a mother should strive to have in bringing up her children at home. A kindergarten class is only one of several ways to carry out these principles, but is unnecessary and, in the wrong hands, kindergarten practices may even become wooden and artificial. But they can work nicely with a mother's overall scheme of education in her own family.

III. Further Consideration Of The Kindergarten

The Childhood of Tolstoy

No field of research has as little real study as the world of childhood. We see children every day, but no one has explored the inner workings of a child's mind. Thoughtful people suspect that our lack of knowledge causes us to make mistakes that injure children seriously. For example, all of our schemes of education presume that a child's mind and inner person starts out very small and grow as his physical body grows. But we don't know that that's the case. Children keep their thoughts to themselves for the most part, except for the charm and frank comments they sometimes share with us. But on those rare occasions when we do get a glimpse into a child's mind, we are startled that he has a keener intelligence, wiser thoughts and a larger soul than we adults. When a genius [such as Tolstoy] lifts the veil by writing about his own childhood, we are very grateful. When enough people, both geniuses and average people, have shared about their childhoods, there may be enough data to do a study from that. Then maybe we'll understand more about how a child thinks and realize what unfair things we've put children through in the name of education. In Leo Tolstoy's book Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, he writes about his childhood so personally that a mother will recognize her own child in the portrait he gives us.

'You're like my own dear mother,' wrote little Leo in a poem he wrote for his grandmother's birthday. Later he felt ashamed for it and sure that his father and grandmother would discover what a hypocrite he was. 'Why did I have to write that? She isn't even here, and I didn't have to write that. I do love grandma, and I respect her, but she's still not the same, and now I have lied.' This is the kind of thing children think about. We read it and recognize our own dim, childish memories from a time long ago when our own conscience was that exquisitely delicate. That memory should remind us to be careful of the tender consciences of children.

'The Story of a Child'

While I'm on this subject, I'd like to mention another book where a child reveals her inner world. This child was once called to give evidence long, long ago. This kind of study is very valuable because it forces us to remember our own childhood, to relive it and reproduce it with our imagination. This is the only way to understand children because children, in spite of their sincere openness and inclination to chatter, are not that easy to understand. They never say out loud the sort of things written in Margaret Deland's The Story of a Child. [Page images of some of this story are available from The Atlantic Monthly] Children don't explain these things to each other because they know that other children already know them. They don't tell grown-ups because they don't think grown-ups, not even their mothers, would understand. The family dog might, so children's secrets will be whispered in the dog's ear while the mother tries in vain to get her child to open up to her.

A poem says, Each person is alone in his own world of happiness or sadness. Our lonely spirits live and move about, separate from each other. We see things around us as happy or sad, depending on the mood of our heart.

And that's true even more for children than with ourselves. It's just a part of our nature that we can't change. The only way we'll ever be able to really be intimate with a child is to reach down deep and remember our own childhood. But we usually think of that memory as unimportant and let it slip away. So, Margaret Deland helps us to recover our own childhoods in her story about Ellen, although there's a difference. Our impulses seemed just as irrational, trivial, loving heroic and bothersome to grown-ups then, as Ellen's do to the adults in the story. We remember those days with tenderness, but also with discomfort. It does us no harm if the story makes us a little more humble, a little more careful, convinced that there's more going on in the child's mind than they're telling us. They need us to help and bless them. However, we disagree with one thing the author said. She thinks that it would be good for adults to understand children better, yet she says that the children aren't harmed too much by not being understood--after all, most of us grew up just fine in spite of not being understood and other difficulties. That may be true in one sense, but in another sense, one of the saddest things in the world is when magical, wonderful children mature into common, uninteresting adults who don't ruin the world, but don't exactly make the world a better place, either.

Tolstoy's childhood and little Ellen seem at first glance to be very different from what we've been talking about in kindergartens. But, as a matter of fact, seeing what children are really like from these two examples proves our point very well.

It wasn't long ago that the most important teacher at the University of Edinborough was Sir James Simpson, who discovered chloroform. Recently his nephew, Prof Simpson, who succeeded him, was asked by the University's librarian which science books in the library were not needed so she could get rid of them. He told her just to take all the textbooks more than ten years old and stick them in the cellar! Science is obsolete in ten years. Education is a science. What seemed true ten years ago, much less a hundred years ago, is known to be not the whole truth today.

'Concepts beyond their own understanding were given to those exalted visionaries.'

Depending on how urgent we feel our educational effort is, we'll feel more or less appreciation and inclination to implement the truths of pioneers who had prophetic insight, pioneers like Froebel. Unfortunately, although we humans would like to take the easy way out, there is no single educational guru. We have to think for ourselves and work out the best way to raise our children.

What We Owe to Froebel

We reverence Friedrich Froebel. We share many of his great thoughts. What he said wasn't new. Some of it, like the child's relations to the universe, has been around since the days of Plato. Others are common knowledge and experience, which proves that they are true. Froebel collected various thoughts and practices that were scattered and combined them into one system. But even more importantly, he inspired an enthusiasm for childhood that still continues. The classic Froebel kindergarten teacher is a true artist. She is inspired in her work, and most sincere teachers catch some of her enthusiasm, her sense of the beauty of childhood and her joy with her work.

What a Person Needs

Yet I have one reservation. Our first priority should be preserving the individuality and personality of the child. People do not grow in gardens, much less hothouses. It's no advantage to a person to have his entire environment artificially adapted to his needs. Precise sun and shade and pruning and fertilizing are fine for a plant grown merely to be of use and enjoyment to its owner. But people have bigger uses in the world. [Kindergarten, literally, means 'children's garden.'] A mother or teacher who considers her child a plant to be tended by herself as the gardener might have tragic results if human nature--both hers and the child's--didn't intervene.

Nature as a Teacher

The idea that says we need to add to Nature from the time a child is born is dangerous. Nature does require some guidance from us--some restraining, a lot of faithful watching. But other than that, the wisest things parents can do is give the child space, and leave as much as possible to Nature, and to God.

Danger of Undervaluing Children's Intelligence

After watching a seven-year-old do cartwheels down the length of an entire street, or a group of little girls dancing to a barrel organ, or small children playing house on their front steps, or a small girl running an errand to the store for four items and required to bring home the exact change, we are less convinced that children need formal kindergarten for physical, mental and moral development. In fact, I wonder if, by devising and depending upon a system, kindergarten doesn't greatly underestimate the intelligence of children. I know a three-year-old girl who was found alone in the living room by a visitor. It was spring, so the visitor thought he would entertain her by talking about 'the pretty baa-lambs.' But she looked at him solemnly with her big blue eyes and said, 'Isn't it dwefful howwid to see a pig killed!' We hope she didn't witness the killing of a pig, or even hear of it, but she made a very effective protest against twaddle, as good as any lady of society. What kinds of things do children play for weeks? The Boer War in the rocky hills of southern Africa, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, the battle between Persians and Greeks at Thermopylae, Ulysses and the suitors. Even preschoolers play along at these with their older siblings. And if children would talk to us about their feelings, we'd probably find out that they're bored by games where they frisk like lambs, flap their fins and twiddle their fingers like butterflies.

We All Like to be Humored

You might think that children seem happy to do these things in kindergarten. The strange thing about human nature is that we tend to like being managed by people who go to the trouble of playing on our good nature. Some people even allow their dogs to affect them as if they were real people. If even we adults have our weaknesses, why should it be any surprise that a child can be coaxed to do anything by a teacher who smiles and acts so charming? It's true that W.V., the child that the world is in love with, sang her little kindergarten songs as if she enjoyed them, but that was to amuse the grown-ups at bedtime. W.V. had better things to think about the rest of the time. ['W.V.' probably refers to the main character in children's books by William Canton, written about his daughter Winifred.. An article he wrote about 'W.V.'s Bedtime' is online.]

Teachers Mediate Too Much

There are probably still kindergartens where a lot of twaddle is read and sung, where the teacher is convinced that she should write the poems, compose the songs and draw the pictures for her students. The children probably feel like Wordsworth when he wrote 'the world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.' Their teacher is with them too much! Everything is planned, expected, suggested--by her. No other personality can reach the children. No book, no picture, no song, not even Nature itself can approach the children without her processing it first. There is no room left for the children's spontaneity or personal initiation.

The Danger of Charisma

Most of us are misled by the very qualities that are our virtues. The zeal and enthusiasm so prized in the kindergarten teacher may be her undoing. 'But the children seem so happy and good!' Yes, no home can be that cheerful and peaceful. Yet home is a better place for children to grow. I am delighted that a leading follower of Froebel is speaking against the element of charisma in the teacher, but the fact is, that charisma is a major element in a successful kindergarten. We all know how that sort of influence has a homogenizing effect on individuality. And, besides that, the artificially controlled atmosphere and environment of the kindergarten classroom isn't good for children.

'Kindergarten' is a False Analogy

The world suffered on the day when educational experts invented the word 'kindergarten.' Originally, the idea probably was a garden life spent outdoors for children. But this isn't the first time that a false analogy has killed a philosophy. The pleasant garden life became a rigidly-ordered hothouse where the children were the plants! That analogy appealed to the orderly, scientific minds of Germans, who don't approve of any spontaneous, irregular movement. Culture, prescribed stimulus, sweetness and light became elements of a formula for a great educational system. From potting shed to frame to flower bed, the little plant receives everything in carefully controlled amounts to maximize growth. The plants appears healthy, stays neatly in place in the flower bed, and soon brings forth its flower.

Thinking of people as analogies is always dangerously misleading. Man has no equivalent in nature. The plant analogy is very attractive, which makes it even more misleading. It's rare for a plant to show purpose, but it's normal for a person. The result of any way of thinking will be influenced by that thinking, and to base education on a garden/plant analogy either insults God [because it implies that people are no more than plants], or it results in artificially controlling and tampering with the natural, spontaneous development of God's creation, a real human child.

Formal Mother-Games are Too Much for an Infant

First of all, let's discuss scientifically devised mother games, which is a sweet idea because mothers implement these games with love. Yet, consider that a little baby is very much in tune to his mother's moods. His little face clouds with distress or beams with delight in response to her expressions. When left to themselves, the mother and baby play their own unique little games. He jumps and pulls and yells and giggles and crawls and kicks and gurgles with joy. In the midst of all this play, he is learning what he may and may not do. His hands and feet and arms and legs and fingers and toes are in continuous movement when he's awake. His mouth, eyes and ears are keen and eager. Everything in the natural play between mother and baby is done just for fun with no agenda on the part of either of them; even the mother is as happy to play as he is. Yet Nature is making sure that this play is utilized efficiently for the baby. All kinds of development is happening at a greater rate in the first two years than in any other time of life. But the amount is just right, not too much. When the baby has had enough, he sleeps. Then along comes a well-meaning educational specialist and offers to make this play more productive. The new scientifically proven games are so lovely and fascinating and the baby might as well be doing them as his 'meaningless' jumps and pats. What no one realizes is that the new games are adding more work to the baby's already full agenda in those first two years. His awareness of his mother is so keen that he picks up the subtle pressure in the new play in spite of her smiles and sweet words. He responds by trying even harder. His nerve center and brain power are worked more than Nature intended, and some of his innocent joy in living is taken from him. Although his little baby responses to his mother's extra attention are cute, he has less stored power to develop in his own unique areas of giftedness.

The Company of Same-Age Peers is too Stimulating for a Child

Now follow this baby as he grows to kindergarten age and has the stimulus of classmates his own age. It certainly is stimulating! Even for us grown-ups, no group is as stimulating as a number of people our own age and social position. That's one reason why college is so fun. Being with same-age peers is good fun for all young people for a limited time. But twenty-year-olds have some self control. They don't generally let over-stimulation make them act unacceptable, although even twenty year olds sometimes let the situation get the better of them and don't manage themselves well. So what can be expected of a preschooler? Just because a child looks calm and unemotional doesn't mean he is. The spark and excitement of being with our equals from time to time can stir us up in a healthy way. But for every day, being in a mixed group with different ages, like we get in family life, makes for the most rest and room for individual development. We have all seen children who are more sensible, reasonable, fun and resourceful at home than they are at school.

The Danger of Usurping Nature

The more completely organized and appealing kindergarten is, the more dangerous it is. It's possible to "help" Nature so much that we usurp her, and then our contrived activities deprive the child of the time and space to let Nature do its work. 'Go see what Thomas is doing and make him stop,' is not wise practice. Thomas needs to have the freedom to do whatever he wants to with his arms and legs, unless it's time to sit properly at the meal table. He should run and jump and bounce and tumble, lie on his tummy watching a worm, or lie on his back watching bees in a fruit tree. Nature will look after him and inspire him to want to know lots of things. There must be someone around to tell him what he wants to know. He will want to do all kinds of things, and he needs someone to show him how. He will want to try being many things, including some naughty things, and someone needs to be there to guide him.

Importance of Personal Initiative

Here is the real crux of the kindergarten issue. The busy mother doesn't have time to be always available to answer questions, give instruction and provide guidance. It's impossible to keep her child from developing bad habits. But there's more to training a child than habits. Education is a life as well as a discipline. Good health, strength, alertness, bright eyes and quick movement are gained from a free outdoors life. As far as habits, the most useful, powerful habit anyone can have is the habit of personal initiative. Resourcefulness will enable a family of children to invent their own games and things to do through a whole, long summer. That's worth a lot more than a lot of knowledge about cubes and hexagons. Learning to be resourceful doesn't come from continual intervention by the mother. It mostly comes from masterly inactivity.

Parents and Teachers Must Create Opportunities

Our biggest educational mistake is thinking we need to mediate too much. Nature is her own mediator. She herself finds work for the eyes, ears, taste and touch. She presents puzzles to challenge the mind and feelings to inspire the heart. The mother's (or teacher's) part in the early years (actually, all through life) is to provide opportunities, and then to get out of the way, staying in the background in case a guiding or restraining hand is badly needed. Mothers abdicate their duty and put their children into what they believe are better hands [kindergarten] because they don't understand that wise letting alone is the main thing they need to do. Every mother has a servant named Nature to arrange the appropriate work and rest for her child's mind and muscles and senses.

In one way, poor children are better off than rich ones. Poor children learn naturally from the routine of their home life. It's possible to get more mileage from home life with some ordering of the child's routine. Taking care of themselves and their own little things can be educational in itself. At age six or seven, more formal lessons can begin. These lessons don't need to be watered down or presented in a dumbed down version for the children's keen minds to learn from them.

'Only' Children

What about only children, or children with only a baby brother who's too young to play with? Isn't kindergarten a huge benefit for these lonely children? Maybe, although a neighbor child as a friend, or a lively young teen, might be better. Only children can teach themselves to paint, glue, cut paper, knit, weave, hammer and saw, model with clay and sand, and build castles with blocks. Some may even have taught themselves to read, write and count as well as collecting all kinds of knowledge and concepts about the world around them, by age six or seven. The important thing is, the child should only do these things because he chooses, so long as he is encouraged to do whatever little projects he attempts with a standard of excellence.

The Child Should Have Freedom To Order Some of his Own Life

The routine of family life will provide the peace of an ordered life. For the rest of his time, there should be more free time for growing than even the most charming school can afford. Just because lessons are disguised as games doesn't make them a good idea. Children want the freedom to play and the space to create their own rules and games and pretend roles. Most of us don't have much opportunity to order our own lives. It's nice to let children have that opportunity while they can, and experience the joyous experience of deciding what to do, and when and how, in their play.

Helen Keller

What I've said about natural development being better than a system that's too organized is supported with evidence that is uniquely valuable to the study of education. I'm talking about Helen Keller's autobiography.

At nineteen months old, Helen had meningitis and lost her sight and hearing and, as a result, couldn't speak. She never recovered her lost senses. Here was a soul totally shut off and sealed from the rest of the world. There was no way for any stimulus or information to approach except through the single sense of touch. Yet her book The Story of My Life, which she typed by herself with hardly any revision, is a classic for its pure, rich style alone, not to mention the fascination of the subject matter. How was this miracle accomplished? Helen says that a prison of darkness enveloped her childhood, except for a few impressions. There were roses, which she was able to smell. There was love, although she was not a loving child then. When she was seven, Anne Sullivan came to be her teacher. She had been blind herself for some years and had been at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, which was founded by Dr. Howe, the man who unlocked the mind of Laura Bridgeman. But Anne Sullivan was not just the result of an institution. She was a wonderfully sensible, decent person and trusted her own resourcefulness. She was aware from the beginning that her job was to liberate the personality of her student, not to impose her own. Helen Keller says that the arrival of her teacher was like Israel's coming up from Egypt. She heard what seemed like God's voice from Mt Sinai saying that 'Knowledge is love and light and vision.' Then she tells the amazing story of how it was all done, how the word 'water' was the key that unlocked the window of her mind, and the word 'love' unlocked her closed heart. After that, more words came every day, bringing new ideas. This imprisoned, desolate child entered a larger world of thought and knowledge and gladness and insight than most of the rest of us do who can see and hear. The tool in this great accomplishment was nothing more than the familiar alphabet in sign language, followed by books in Braille.

Anne Sullivan's Views on Systems of Education

Like all great discoveries, the unlocking of Helen's human soul was marked by simplicity in all its individual steps. Miss Sullivan had little use for psychologists and their methods. She would not submit Helen to experiments and refused to allow her to be treated as a phenomenon, but insisted that she be treated as a person. She said, 'I don't want any more kindergarten materials. I am getting suspicious of elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to suppose that every child is some kind of idiot who has to be taught how to think. But if a child is left to himself, he will think more and better, although he may take more time. Let him come and go when he wants, let him handle real things and draw his own conclusions by himself instead of sitting in a classroom at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow from strips of construction paper, or make straw trees glued to pots made of beads. Such teaching fills the mind with contrived associations that have to be unlearned before a child can develop his own ideas from real first-hand experiences.' It's a great thing to have a new kind of study of education, one in which we envision the human mind triumphing, not only over insurmountable natural obstacles, but over the dead wall of artificial systemized education. That can hinder a poor child more completely than blindness and deafness hindered Helen Keller.

Kindergarten in the United States

The question of whether kindergarten is the best way to educate young children is so important that I think the Board of Education's Special Reports should be read by all educators.

We can see the epitome of educational theory in action in the US. I say 'theory' rather than 'practice' because the American mind seems severely logical (like the French mind) and very impulsive. A new theory appears, they discuss it, and the next thing you know, they've put it to trial in some grand scheme for the betterment of their people's education. In other words, educational science in America seems to be more deductive (taking a general theory and assuming that specific systematic measures will work based on that) than inductive (seeing which specific practices seem to work and drawing a conclusion from that, and then using that to come up with a general theory). In America, theories are implemented with surprising zeal and sincerity doing all kinds of experimental practices [deductive]. The opposite, inductive, would arrive at a theory only after trying all kinds of experimental practices, each of which shed a little more light on the issue. Perhaps the American way of deducing is easier, and, really, they end up experimenting anyway, so maybe what they're doing is a little inductive after all. Kindergarten is a good example. Although the word is German, kindergartens really aren't that common in Germany. Froebel's ideas have been developed more in America. His idea about kindergarten has become so trendy there that it almost has cult popularity, and the teachers are like prophets. But even now, its popularity is waning.

Mr. Thistleton Mark Talks About Kindergarten

Mr. Thistleton Mark wrote a very useful paper called Moral Education in American Schools. He said that even hardcore Froeblians eventually come to need more than the unsupported dogma of great reform. The very word 'kindergarten' is no longer limited to the specific methodology that Froebel had in mind. It is now more of a generic term. American educationalists are moving towards the broader, more natural idea of education, one closer to the phrase, 'Education is a life.' But I wish they'd stop using the term 'kindergarten.' It strains the mind to use Froebel's word for his narrow concept as a label for the more generous and living practices that are actually in use today. Even improved kindergartens still struggle under the confines of Froebel's original system. Dr Stanley Hall says just that in our next section.

Dr Stanley Hall Talks About Kindergarten

Dr Hall said that the most important difference Americans had made in Froebel was mother-games, where the mother dispenses all of the knowledge in kindergarten. She uses simple doggerel, passionless music and mediocre pictures about mundane childhood events that specialists have decided children need to think about. I tried these materials with the best of intentions. I read the stories, strummed the songs and looked at the pictures. I gave lectures where I tried to infuse that system of education with whatever meaning I could. But now I believe that they encourage teachers to be unscientific and unphilosophical. Such lessons may not even be sound. It's time to replace outdated systems of education with the better ways that are available now.

Another problem with kindergarten is its emphasis on 'gifts and occupations.' Froebel was wise in coming up with this concept, but those who have implemented it haven't done it well enough to do the idea justice. He thought his system was a perfect curriculum to teach children to play and keep busy doing useful things, but he was wrong. His system may have been good for deprived children in rural areas, but for children who are used to the stimulation of the modern city, his system is artificial and dull. With Dr. Hall's comments, I must end this brief consideration of the very important question,--Is kindergarten the best place to train a child?

Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 30

Kindergarten is a Vital Concept

Reading about the meaning and work of education is fascinating, and it inspires a special enthusiasm and devotion from those 'gardeners' who see their children as plants. In fact, it may be that the concept of Kindergarten is the educational concept we've had up til now.

Volume 3, School Education Education, pg 56-58

The Theories of Pestalozzi and Froebel: The Advent of Kindergarten

It's refreshing to turn our minds to the school of German thought that gave us two great apostles, Pestalozzi and Froebel. From them we've gained an appreciation for childhood's enthusiasm, teachers who are loving and pleasant, and cheerful school days for children. It's unworthy to look a gift horse in the mouth, so it might seem ungrateful to criticize any weakness in a psychology that's brought so much good to education. But no stream can rise higher than its source, and I imagine that the concept that children are like cherished plants in a cultured garden has some kind of weakness. Maybe the children are tended a little too carefully. Maybe Nature is helped along too eagerly. Maybe the environment is too artificially perfect. It's possible that the rough-and-tumble routine of normal family life provides a better environment for acquiring the dignity and growth of personal character than the delightful contrived child garden [kindergarten literally means 'child's garden']. I think we've all noticed that children show keener intelligence and more independent thinking when they're playing at home and talking with family members than the angelic little creatures we see in kindergartens. In Fra Angelico's painting of 'The Last Judgment,' one of the scenes is of a circle of monks dancing around hand in hand with the angels on their way to Paradise. It's as if they've become as little children. They're obviously happy and very good--but, somehow, something seems to be missing. They seem to have lost the force of individual personality. They look incapable of making any kind of decision for themselves. And this may be a danger of kindergarten.

Lacking the Element of Personality

It's very true that 'if you make children happy, they'll be good.' But does that help them develop the kind of steadfast character that's the first condition of virtue? The other side of the coin is, 'Be good, and you'll be happy.' Kindergarten teachers are doing beautiful work, but too many of them are held back because they can't get away from the 'children are plants' metaphor. And that idea is totally lacking in the element of personality. Cherishing and developing a child's individual personality is a sacred and vital part of education. But the German philosophers thought of man as an impersonal part of the Cosmos. All that's needed according to them is to place things in their proper condition in order for them to develop according to their nature.

The Struggle for Existence is a Part of Life

The weakness of this way of looking at things is that man seems to be under the laws of two universes--the physical and the spiritual. Energizing, resisting, repelling is the law of his existence. It might not seem to be necessary of children--perhaps their struggle for existence can begin after a peaceful, happy childhood has been provided for them. But the transition from the artificially peaceful world of kindergarten to real life must violate the principles of unity and continuity that should rule education. Surely all thoughtful kindergarten teachers recognize where the weakness of their Founder lies and have made some modifications accordingly. After all, no man is perfect. One example of their progress towards more modern thinking is using free brush-drawing that allows children to have some initiative, instead of the cramped pencil drawing of the old days of kindergarten. Nevertheless, we all need to remember our origins so that we can recognize and avoid pitfalls.


Copyright © 2012-2021 Ambleside Online. All rights reserved.
Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.