AmblesideOnline AO Parents' Review Articles AmblesideOnline.org

The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
______________________________________
Froebel, A Guide to Parents.

by A. P.
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 657-665


"Sich selbst und ihre Welt zu schaffen, welche Gott erschaffen, ist die Aufgabe der Menschheit, wie des Einzelnen."

"Die Kindheit von Heute
Ist die Menschheit von Morgen."

"Kommt, lasst uns den kindern leben!"

"Glaube dass durch gutes was du denkst,
Vu zum guten fruh dein Kind schon Lenkst;
Dass was sich in deinem Herzen regt,
Auch des Kindes Seele mitbewegt.
Und nichts Bess'res kannst du ihm verleih'n,
Als im Einklang mit der Allheit sein."

It is to parents, and especially to mothers, that Froebel's most earnest words are addressed, while his principles embrace much that lies outside the limit of the three or four hours of school-life. His works, of which excellent translations now exist, notably his "Education of Man," although written, it must be confessed, in a style somewhat involved, will amply repay any study bestowed on them. To this genius, as perhaps to none other, has the power of insight into child-nature been given, and years of loving study of child-life qualify him to act as guide above all to those most intimately connected with the upbringing of the young.

With what a beautiful idea, Froebel starts the parents in the first instance. if, in his spirit, we turn to gaze on the little child, we are indeed treading on holy ground. We have before us a gift of God, a revelation of the divine in the human, a thought of God. As every thought differs from other thoughts, although produced by the same mind, so every child has its own special characteristics, its vocation is in some way peculiar to itself, to disclose the divine nature imparted to it. To what honour and dignity is the child thus raised, how important becomes his destiny, how sacred the obligation laid upon his parents to enable him to fulfil it! An entire human being, who is meant to be completed and perfected slumbers within him.

This deeply reverent view of the child's nature is one of Froebel's distinguishing characteristics, and it leads him to urge upon us, in the first instance, not so much to try to teach the child, as to seek to learn of him, by watching carefully the manifestation of his nature. "A genuine fatherly and motherly parental relation, thought and action, which honours, notices and acknowledges in the child the yet unrecognised and undeveloped divine, is such as was said of Mary: she pondered all these things in her heart." Froebel would have the education of the child spring from his thoughtful pondering of the nature revealed in him. Education must watchfully and protectively follow nature, not forcibly interfere with it. For the young human being, like a product of nature, wills what is best for himself, and what he feels within himself the power to represent. Even so, the duckling hastens to the pond, while the chicken scratches in the earth, and the swallow catches his food on the wing. "We give," he says, "time and space to young plants and young animals, knowing that they then beautifully unfold, and grow well in conformity with the laws which act in each individual; we let them rest, and strive to avoid powerfully interfering influences upon them, knowing that these influences disturb their pure unfolding and healthy development; but the young human being is to man a piece a wax, a lump of clay from which he can mould what he will." All dictatorial, invariable, forcibly interfering education must have a disturbing, checking effect. The gardener must prune the grape-vine, but its capacity for bearing fruit will be injured if he does not thoughtfully follow the nature of the plant. "Thus," says Froebel, "we very frequently take the right steps in our treatment of the objects of nature, while we go wrong in the management of human beings."

But while Froebel takes this high view of the child's nature, he gives us, with practical wisdom, advice regarding the details of life. The surroundings of the child are important. These should be pure and clear, nothing low, diseased, evil should be presented to him. "For, alas! man often scarcely overcomes through his whole life that which he has absorbed in his childhood, the impressions of his youth, just because his whole being was, like a great eye, opened to these impressions and abandoned to them."

Food should be carefully considered, for the child may be made lazy or active, dull or bright, weak or vigorous in life by his food. He lays down as a general rule, that "man in the future will be happier and stronger, more truly creative on every side, in proportion as the means of life and bodily needs among, in and with which man as a child grew up, were simple and moderate, suitable to the unpampered nature of man."

Clothing must be taken into account. It must be neither pressing nor binding, "for the same effect that it has on the body, it will also have on the mind and soul of the child."

Vacuity of mind is injurious even to the infant. To avoid the evil of leaving the child, after waking, on its bed, with nothing to occupy it, Froebel advises that a cage with a bird in it be hung in the line of his vision. This will attract the child, and afford nourishment to the activity of his senses and mind.

The care of the infant naturally devolves on the mother, and to her Froebel addresses himself as the rightful guardian of her child. To her he appeals, to lead him towards good, now, while the flood of his later life is still a tiny rill which the hand's gentle pressure can guide at pleasure in one direction or the other; later on, it will be a stream whose course no power can fix. And what are the means to be employed for this tender fostering of good? Nothing artificial. Observing Nature, we see that playful activity is the natural, healthy atmosphere of the young child's life. Games are therefore to be employed by the mother to quicken the moral sense, and those are to be chosen which have ever been chief favourites with children. "It is my firm conviction," writes Froebel, "that wherever you find anything that gives children lastingly, and ever freshly, a joy belonging to a true, pure life, a clear mind, a thoughtful heart, and a real soulanything where innocence and mirth predominateyou have found something which has at the bottom of it a higher and more important meaning for a child's life, and really leads up to all that is highest." Froebel allows that the natural mother, spontaneously and without any teaching, employs the right means for the early development of her child, but this is not enough; it is necessary that she should lead, with a certain conscious coherence, to the development of man. To aid her in thus acting he published the "Mutter und Koselieder," a collection of finger-games, accompanied by songs and pictures. By these songs and games the child is introduced to life. A miniature world is here brought near to him. Into this he enters, guided by the loving mother, who teaches him in play to think and act rightly in the surroundings which must later become real. Here, as in imagination he gazes at the birds in their nest, or tends the flowers, the love of Nature awakens in his mind; as he forms a flower-basket for his father's birthday, or lays his fingers to sleep as brothers and sisters, family affection is fostered; as he imitates the wheelwright or the joiner, respect for honest work is implanted; drawing with his finger in the sand, some feeling of creative power is stirred within him; mowing the grass or playing at pat-a-cake, he learns to think gratefully of those who have toiled to supply his wants; and here, as ever, there is the upward glance to the Father of all good who has made the sun to shine, the rain to fall; and this, says Froebel, "is no drawing down of the sacred into outer lifeno, this is the germ which gives the outside actions of life the inner meaning and higher consecration which life so much needs."

This book was not published by Froebel till nearly the close of his life. His study of child-life had led him to attach more and more importance to its earliest beginnings. Seeking the cause of the impurity of the stream, he was led nearer and nearer to its source; mourning the imperfection of the plant, he traced its origin to mistaken treatment of the germ. In the "Mutter und Koselieder" we find applied to the training of the infant the great influences which Froebel considered necessary for the moulding of the child's character at every stage. These great moulding influences may be briefly stated as follows:

The physical nature of the child must be developed.
The child must be brought into communion with nature.
He must be led to union with God.
The importance of family life must be recognised.
The impulse towards activity must be developed and strengthened.

Examination of these principles will explain the nature of the means advocated by Froebel for the training of the child.

The physical nature is to be developed, for "to develop, perfect and strengthen the body is to furnish the spirit with an efficient tool." The chief means for this development is play. "Play is the purest, the most spiritual product of man at this stage, and is at once the prefiguration and limitation of the entire human life." Of games of bodily movement in the open air at one time he writes: "The feeling of certain, sure strength, the feeling of heightening and increasing this strength in himself and his playmates, is what fills the boy with such all-pervading, jubilant pleasure in these plays. But it is by no means only the bodily strength which here receives such great and strengthening nourishment, but the spiritual, the moral strength appears to be heightened, increased, made definite and sure by all these plays, so that, when the question comes up which side the scale shall turn, whether on the bodily or spiritual side, the overweight will hardly be on the side of the body. Justice, moderation, self-command, veracity, honesty, brotherliness, and also strict impartiality will spring up like beautiful flowers of heart, mind, and firm will."

The child is from his earliest years to be led to communion with Nature. "Every contact with her elevates, strengthens, purifies. it is from this cause that Nature, like noble, great-souled men, wins us to her." Walks and excursions into the country are therefore considered by Froebel an essential means of education in the first school-time. Love of Nature is further to be cultivated by the tendance of plants and animals. Children should have gardens of their own to work in, or, if this is impossible, should own at least a couple of plants in boxes or flowerpots. "The child or boy who has tended or protected an outer life, even if of a very inferior degree, is more easily led to the tendance and care of his own life. . . . . A child that of its own accord, and of its own free will, seeks out flowers, care for them and protects them, so that in due time he can weave a garland or make a nosegay with them for his parent or his teacher, can never become a bad child, a wicked man. Such a child can easily be led towards love, towards thankfulness, towards recognition of the fatherliness of God, who gives him these gifts and permits them to grow, that he, as a cheerful giver in his turn, may gladden with them the hearts of his parents."

It is important also that children should have pets, and that the nature of animals should be explained to them. Froebel observes that really good-hearted boys often treat animals in such a way as to torment themnot with any intention of being cruel, but simply because they are striving to gain an insight into the inner life of the animal. But this impulse, if not guided aright, may later make such boys into hardened tormentors of animals.

This life of union with nature is to lead to a life of union with God. "From each point, each object of nature and of life, there goes a path towards God." Religion is classed by Froebel among the primitive and natural inclinations of man. "The striving after living a life a union with God is in the being of man as the bright, warm sparks in the stone, as life in the grain of seed, or the egg, but it must be nourished and tended. The nourishing and tending of the spiritual life is to be begun even in the earliest years. For this end Froebel relies on no teaching of creeds or dogmas, which are too often thrust on the child-nature while as yet it is incapable of understanding or assimilating them. With that respect for the inner realities of things so characteristic of him, he trusts rather to the influence of the spiritual life as manifested by the parents. Let but the parents feel and show their sense of union with God, and they will thereby provide for their children a true faith as their highest portion in life. "Religiousness, fervid living in God and with God, in all conditions and circumstances of life, which does not thus grow up from childhood with man, is later only with extreme difficulty raised to full vigorous life, as, on the contrary, a religious sense, thus germinated and fostered amid all the storms and dangers of life, will gain the victory."

The most powerful influence for the true understanding of religion, as well as for the cultivation of all that is good in man, is Family Life. "Pure, human, parental and childlike relations are the key to heavenly, godlike, fatherly and childlike relations and life. . . . . Only in the measure that we are thoroughly penetrated by the pure, spiritual, inward, human relations, and are faithful to them, even to the smallest detail in life, do we attain to the complete knowledge and perception of the divine human relation." Family Life he declares to be the sanctuary of humanity, the most holy thing there is in the care of all that is divine; more than school and church. In the feeling of community awakened in the young babe by its union with the other members of the family, Froebel sees the "extreme point of all genuine religiousness." This feeling of community cherished by the family is later on to extend to those without its range. Thus the way will be prepared for the conception of humanity as a whole, for the recognition of the obligation of each individual member to work for the benefit of the whole, and so for that spirit of absolute, unconditional surrender for the good of the whole, which Froebel declares to be life, while its contrast, absolute selfishness, is death.

Believing that God reveals Himself in the finite nature of man, Froebel says that man's nature cannot be in itself evil. Evil arises from the originally good qualities and efforts being regressed, misunderstood, and resisted. Therefore, he maintains that the surest way of abolishing evil is to exert oneself to find the original good fount of the human being, in the misguiding of which lies the cause of the incorrectness, and having found it, to nourish and rightly guide it. He believes that educators often make the child bad by attributing a wrong intention to such actions as take place only from want of knowledge and inconsiderateness.

"Punishment, especially punishment by word, very frequently first implants faults in the children, and even brings first to their knowledge faults which they do not at all possess."

Not less worthy of attention are the words of Froebel with regard to rewards. Such expressions as the common saying, "If you are good you will be happy," he considers dangerous, weakening the inner peace of the child, filling him with false expectations from life. Rather should the teacher demonstrate that the effort to lead a higher, purer life must be attended by outward care and pain; that every stage of development, however beautiful in its place, must pass away, if a higher stage is to appear; that the protecting warming scales must fall off, if the fragrant blossom is to unfold; the fragrant blossom must give place to a fruit, at first insignificant and sour; the delicious fruit must decay, so that the young plant may germinate in youthful freshness. The prominence given by religious teachers to rewards in another world is strongly condemned by Froebel. He declares that we degrade our human nature if we employ even the most spiritual outward incentive to call forth better life, and leave undeveloped the inner power of representing pure humanity, which dwells in each man. "Does the good child, in the instant when he has within himself the consciousness of having acted as a child worthy of his father, in the spirit and according to the will of his father, need and demand anything more than the joy of this consciousness? Does a simple, natural child, when acting rightly, think of any other reward which he might receive for his action than this consciousness, though that reward be only praise? Shall not man act as purely and excellently towards God as the earthly son towards his earthly father?"

The true was is to make the child observe the reflex action of his conduct, not on his outward more or less agreeable position, but on his satisfied or dissatisfied condition of mind and spirit. His attention will thus be directed to the inner realities of things. "A man's weal and woe within his own breast, his own spirit."

The inner nature is to find its outward expression in practical activity. Froebel gives it as his experience that many faults disappear in children, and more good comes when their impulse for activity is guided and cultivated. He would have every child, boy, and youth devote at least one or two hours daily to the production of some definite outside work. "The present home education, as well as the school education, leads the children to bodily inactivity and laziness in respect to work: an immense amount of human power remains thus undeveloped, and an immense amount is wholly lost." "Highly important as is early training for religion, the early training for actual work is equally important. . . . . Work and religion were created simultaneously by God." Union with God is attained by true work. "But, above all, whoever will early know the Creator, must early use his own creative power with conscious effort to represent what is good, for the doing of good is the bond between creature and Creator, and the conscious of doing of it the conscious bond, the true and living oneness of man and God, of the individual as well as of the race, and of humanity itself, and is therefore alike the starting-point and eternal goal of all education."

The spirit of Froebel's teaching was expressed by him in words written ere as yet his true vocation had dawned on him. "Let my aim be to give man himself." At these word, he tells us, he gazed with astonishment in later years, as at some prophetic thought, which was even then attaining its realisation. For this indeed had been the aim of his life, a life singularly free from all self-seeking and worldliness.

"To give man himself." Men, like plants neglected or foolishly treated, have received, as it were, only part of themselves. Imperfectly developed, blighted, stunted in their growth, they fail to exhibit that beauty which it lies in their nature to attain. In recognition of the divine character of that nature, in education based on the manifestation of its laws, lies the hope of the fair unfolding of the individual, of the moral elevation of the race.

As we think of these things, we are reminded of a greater Teacher than Froebel, of One who taught that the Kingdom of Heaven was not to be sought here or there, as something apart, estranged from the nature of man, but was to be found within him, and who name as the only path of entrance into that Kingdom, not the wandering away into some region of untried, mysterious being, but the return to the heavenly guilelessness, to the pure, bright spirit of the child. It is to the work of preserving the purity, of developing the beauty of this child-life Froebel calls us, while of it blighting, prophet-like, he warns us as of the destruction of the fairest promises, of the highest aspirations of mankind. "If you will not fulfil in yourselves and in your children all which man spiritually requires at the stage of childhood and boyhood, if you will not give this to yourselves and to your children, you shall not attain what has swelled and swells your hoping soul, in the happiest, most blessed times of your life; that for which your heart longed, with deep yearning sighs, in the noblest hours of your life; and which swells, and ever swelled, the souls of the noblest men, and filled, and now fills, their hearts."

To parents, as to teachers, comes the message of Froebel: with more faithful study of their nature and its demands; with more earnest, self-sacrificing effort; with a brighter, more animating hope: "Come, let us live for our children."

A. P.