The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
By The Way
We are constantly reminded of the great importance of habit in early education, and that its sway extends quite as much to actions of the mind as to those of the body. In a striking letter in the "Life of Charles Kingsley" we come upon the following pregnant sentence:--"One must acquire tones of mind by habit, in cases in which intellectual, not moral obliquity, or constitutional ill-health is the cause of failure" (Vol. I., p. 62). This reflection has been specially borne on my mind with reference to what one often notices in young people--a tendency to melancholy, despondency, and the inclination to dwell on the disagreeables and darker side of life rather than on what is bright. Of course this is nearly always associated with some measure of ill-health; the robust and vigorous are not apt to show such a tendency at any time of life--least of all in early youth, unless indeed as the effect of having been pampered into unreasonable expectations of what life can bring of mere pleasure, and having therefore become blaśe. But, much as we may desire it, we cannot always secure robust health for our children, and must try to fortify them against the natural depression of weakness by all the means in our power. And it seems to me that one of the very best cures for morbidity of mind is to be found in the old-fashioned grace of thankfulness. And also that what we mothers do not sufficiently realise is, that in a large measure it is a thing which can be taught, like Truth, Honesty, or Purity. How? By habit. Referring to the same letter which I have already quoted we find the following definition of Habits:--
"Remember that habits are a series of individual voluntary actions, continued till they become involuntary." We teach our little ones to say "Thank you" for a gift as a piece of good manners, and to repeat grace after meals as a religious duty; but to be thankful means more than this. Can we, in any degree, teach it as a habit?
My own experience, as a mother, is that it can largely be so taught, and that by constantly drawing children's attention to the things they enjoy, especially what are called "common" and "little" pleasures (for these are what most make up a child's experience or enjoyment). At prayer-time, as well as during a pleasant walk, or in the garden--deliberately helping their thought to dwell for a moment on the beauty of a flower, the sunshine, or the song of a bird, or on the fun of a game just played, or a new toy, and then helping them to rise up to the thought of the human, and above it the Divine love from which their pleasures spring--teaching them to put into short simple words a thanksgiving to the Father in Heaven "who giveth us all things richly to enjoy," by doing this one can do much to form a cheerful and grateful tone of mind.
To one of my little ones it has become natural and habitual to stop often before saying her prayers, and looking up with serious eyes while gathering her thoughts into stammering words, to ask, "Shall we thank God for giving us such a nice holiday, or new doll?" or whatever her little pleasure may have been.
This child is a delicate little creature, and showed during the first two years of her life a tendency to constant and ready fretfulness--the result of a weakly constitution. She is now a bright, merry little maid of four and a half, and of course her improved health has much to do with the changed temperament, but I feel that the habit of noticing and giving thanks to God and man for little pleasures has helped towards the brighter tone of mind.
The "O, thank you!" which bursts from her when given the merest trifle, or promised any little treat, such as a walk in a favourite field, shows that her mind welcomes these things as gifts which come from love, and is not this the essence of thankfulness? We are not thankful to the summer breeze for fanning our foreheads when hot and tired, however much we may enjoy its touch, but we are thankful to the loving mother or kind nurse who lays her cool hand upon them to relieve a burning headache, and this feeling brings with it a joy such as mere sense of added comfort cannot bring.
I think we can do much to give a bright habit of mind to our children by taking a little more pains to teach them thankfulness for the varied blessings in their lives--the blessings they realise and actually feel rather than those higher ones which are, as yet, ideas above their grasp, for while very young these first are, of course, the real ones to them, and are the first steps of the ladder by which they may mount up to the knowledge of "the length and breadth, and depth and height--of the love which passeth knowledge."
1. Mrs. Dallas Yorke's Prize of One Guinea for a list of twelve French novels, "excellent in style and pure in tone," is awarded to Miss Charlotte Reese.
2. Judge Gates, Q.C., awards his Prize of One Guinea for the best essay on the early stanzas of Wordsworth's "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality" to M.R. (the third Essay).
3. A Prize of One Guinea for the best set of "Twelve Rules for the Nursery." The rules should be short, plain, easy of execution, and should cover the chief duties of both nurses and children. To be sent to the Editor care of Publisher, by the last day of May.
Typed by S. Keillor, March 2013