AmblesideOnline AO Parents' Review Articles

The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Herford's Students' Frobel.

by T. G. Rooper, Esq., M.A., H.M.I.
Volume 4, 1893/94, pgs. 270-278

A long journey, a hot summer day and a crowded railway carriage--are these conditions under which children are likely to pass four or five hours happily? My traveling companions include two little girls of about the same age, namely, five years, each accompanied by their mothers. As the train steams out of the station, both children manifest the usual signs of juvenile excitement which a journey, and especially a railway journey, tends to produce. At the commencement of the journey there was really no perceptible difference between the state of the two little ones, both were suffering from a fit of high spirits. I was, however, much impressed by the difference between the way in which the mothers dealt with the attack, and the corresponding contrast between the results of their respective treatment. The one mother, highly amused at the antics of her child, encouraged them as much as possible. The little girl was never for a moment still; now she stood on the seat and played with the parcels in the hat rail, then she stretched her head so far out of the window that I thought the whole child must follow, and all the while she was chattering and laughing in a most engaging way.

As the sun climbed higher and higher, the carriage grew hotter and hotter. The little girl's restless activity produced first weariness and the ill temper. The mother, too, feels the heat of the carriage and becomes irritable, and the tricks of her little one, which at first had been amusing, become very irritating. As a remedy she gives the child apples to eat. This ruse answers for a time, and during the period of the consumption of the fruit the child is "good." But the period of peace is short lived. The little girl soon has another fit o f the fidgets and begins again to run up and down the carriage, to play with parcels and to climb on the seats. By this time the mother's patience is exhausted , and a smart slap is administered which leads to vocal music. Reconciliation is effected by the mediation of biscuits and chocolate. Alas, the remedy soon proved worse than the disease, for after a little, the heat of the carriage , the swaying of the train, and the excess of food, produce their natural results . "Mamma," says the pallid infant, "I feel sick." Fortunately the end of the journey was at hand, and this catastrophe was averted; but in what a state the child was in. Her face and hands were black, and her cheeks were smeared with tears. Her smart dress and pink ribbons were tumbled and dirty, and the seeds for a bilious attack were properly sown, and sure to produce a good crop on the morrow.

Now the other mother proceeded on a different plan from the beginning of the journey. Her policy was to moderate her child's ecstasy by a dexterous diversion of the attention. She adopted a simple way of fixing the restless and wandering thoughts of her child. "Look out of the window," she said, "and do you count all the horses you see in the fields joining the railway, while I count the cows, and we will see who counts the most." Similar occupation s succeeded, and after a comparatively short time, the girl was not too excited to be amused with a favorite picture book. After that she folded fifty paper lighters, by which she earned a penny. The result of this management was that the child arrived at the journey's end travel-stained and tired, of course, but without having been unhappy for a moment, and without having injured her dress or her temper or her digestion.

My object in narrating this little history is to meet the objection of those who plausibly maintain that mothers have no need of a philosopher to aid them in the early training of their children. "The divine instinct of maternity will be a safer guide for mothers than the speculations of the most well-meaning philosophers." If the maternal instinct is an infallible guide, how are we to account for its breaking down in the case which I have described? It may b e said "Common sense ought to have shown the mother of the restless little girl that she was acting foolishly in encouraging the restless behaviour." My answer is that common sense is not the ordinary judgment which every one possesses, but the rare judgment of which every one approves. Hence, there is no true philosophy which does not issue in common sense judgment. The philosophy of Frobel is based on a careful study of the way in which he saw the most intelligent mothers dealing with their children, and his originality consisted even more in explaining the principle of their success than in originating novel methods of his own. It was not Frobel's idea to substitute philosophy for maternal instincts, but rather to show that in the treatment of their children by successful mothers a principle was involved which might b e understood and applied by all who have to train young children, whether nurses or teachers, or even mothers like the one I have described, whose natural instincts failed to supply her with the art of managing her child.

It was Frobel's object to enable all, not excepting the most successful of mothers, to do consciously what many of them had up till his time done unconsciously. A mother who has a good method of managing her children, and yet does not understand the principle of it, cannot impart to others the secret of her success, and hence her skill dies with her. I have noticed grandmothers who managed their own children skillfully enough quite fail to manage their grand-children. In contrasting the policy of the two mothers whom I have described, my contention is that one, the successful one, carried out Frobel's principles without knowing it, while the unsuccessful one contravened them in many particulars, and I mean to say that if the latter had studied Frobel she would not have made the mistakes which she did make, in spite of the supposed possession of infallible maternal instincts.

Although much has been written and talked about the Kindergarten, it must be admitted that hitherto the English reader who desired to study Frobel's Theory of Education had no easy task before him. Frobel's thoughts are the reverse of superficial, and his language is obscure. It must be remembered that he spent about four years in Berlin (from 1812 to 1816), and that while there he took advantage of the Berlin High School which had been recently founded by William von Humbolt. Thus at the age of thirty he was surrounded by a group of thinkers hardly to be matched even in a "nation of thinkers." There was Nieburh the Roman historian, Schleiermacher the theologian, Savigny the jurist, Fichte the philosopher, and Weiss the mineralogist, all of whom, and especially the last named, seemed to have exercised a direct or indirect influence on him. It was natural that in such a school as that a wealth of philosophical terms should arise and pass into daily use which, while it rendered the interchange of ideas easy in the group of thinkers actually composing the school, could not but prove a source of perplexity to those who live in another country and in another age. The translator of Frobel's works labours under a great difficulty. If he translates Frobel's philosophic terminology into simple English, he is apt to import certain ideas of his own in the process. In other words he interprets the author rather than translates him. If on the other hand he reproduces Frobel's terms, the style appears clumsy and difficult.

Mr. Herford's "Students' Frobel" seems to be the most successful attempt ye t made to cope with this dilemma. In the space of about a hundred well print ed pages he has given in intelligible English the leading principles of Frobel 's chief work, the "Erziehun der Menscheit," and while in his translation he adheres as closely as possible to Frobel's own words with a view to elucidating the meaning of the text, he has accompanied it with an excellent marginal commentary or analysis, which renders the thoughts in the original easily intelligible.

Whoever takes the trouble to study this translation will see how impossible it is to follow Frobel's practice in the Kindergarten without a knowledge of h is principles.

One of the commonest notions about the Kindergarten is that it is an infant school, where little children play with balls, make paper patterns, hear stories, and sing little songs, instead of learning to read and write. There is no place it is thought, for the elements of reading, writing, or arithmetic. Yet Frobel writes "Through the act of reading and writing, which must be preceded by a certain extent of living knowledge of the language, man rises above every other known living creature. Man first becomes a person by the practice of this art. Writing gives man the possibility of reaching the highest earthly perfection." What Frobel deprecates is the teaching of reading and writing as mere mechanical exercises, and before awakening in the child's mind any sense of the need for these accomplishments. Education, again, without a thorough knowledge of number, Frobel regards as "no better than unsubstantial patch and rag work. The knowledge of number is the point of rest and safe guide in all the variety of nature."

Holding these views about the place in education of reading, writing, and arithmetic, Frobel was the last man in the world to depreciate the three "r 's." His aim was to improve the methods of teaching these important subjects.

In a proper Kindergarten considerable knowledge of language will be imparted, including skill in reading and writing, and the foundation of a knowledge of number will be securely laid. But the life which is led in the Kindergarten will not be such as if the whole of a little child's time in school could be profitably occupied in the attainment of a mechanical acquirement of the instruments of learning.

A schoolroom, where the course of studies consists of successive half hours of reading, writing, and arithmetic, is not according to Frobel a place of education, although it may be a second rate workshop. Frobel's varied programme is more or less as follows:--
(1) To awaken, nourish, and strengthen the religious sentiment.
(2) To get by heart religious sayings on nature and man, and their relations to God, to be used in prayer.
(3) Care of the body, as bearer of the mind. (Drills and varied rhythmical movements.)
(4) Observation of nature, starting from what is close at hand. The knowledge of number is dealt with in connection with observation of the outer world, and this study is not separated in Frobel's system from all other studies of objects as has commonly been the case in this country, until recently.
(5) To get by heart short poems representing nature and life, pieces which give life to objects near at hand and to events of home life. Singing and the elements of music are introduced in this connection.
(6) Exercises in language and speech, starting from observation of nature near at hand, passing on to the study of man's inner world, always keeping in view language as audible means of representation. Reading and writing are a part of such exercises.
(7) Exercises in material representation by law and rule, proceeding always from the simple to the complex. This includes constructive handwork in materials, such as paper, cardboard and wood, and modeling in clay.
(8) Drawing on square ruled slates.
(9) Perception of colours. Representation of them in given spaces.
(10) Play, that is voluntary exercises and representations of all sorts.
(11) Narrating histories, legends, fairy tales.
(12) Walks and short journeys.

Mr. Herford has succeeded in setting forth both clearly and succinctly the principles which determined Frobel in selecting and arranging this plan of studies and occupations.

Frobel was the first educational reformer to look on human life from the cradle to the grave as one whole. No one has insisted, as he has done, on the fact that, although life may be subdivided into stages, as infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, and age, yet life is a whole, and each separate stage which may be distinguished from the preceding and following stages admits of a perfection peculiar to itself independently of the other stages. The adult easily forgets the stages which he has outlived, just as we easily forget what it is to be hungry as soon as hunger is satisfied. The perfect life is one in which each stage of development has been as perfect as possible in itself. "The boy is not a boy nor the youth a youth merely because he has attained the age usually assigned to boyhood and youth, but by virtue of having lived through first childhood and then youth, faithful to the claims of his soul, his mind, and his body. No stage can be omitted, and defects or omissions in one stage will mar the full development of the succeeding stage." "Do not suppose," Frobel would say, "that it is any justification for days spent miserably in childhood to insist that the after life will be happy and useful. The end of the child's occupation ought not to be thus placed wholly outside itself. Each day of a child's life has an importance of its own, independently of the days which are to follow." The education of the child is not summed up in mechanical perfection of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

"There is not," says Frobel, "an object of manhood's thought or feeling which has not its root in childhood; not a subject of future instruction and learning but there plants its germs. Speech and nature lie open to it; the properties of number, form, size; the knowledge of space, the nature of force, the effect s of different substances are beginning to be open to it. Rhythm, tone, shape appear to it in their germs as specially noticeable, the natural and artificial worlds begin to be clearly discriminated."

The second great principle which Frobel elaborated far more completely than any of his predecessors, is the doctrine of the need of manual work in any and every course of studies which may be devised for the training of the child. "God," says Frobel, "created man in his own image; therefore man ought to create and work like God. Our industry makes us like God, if our work is accompanied by an idea or thought. Manual work should not be only practiced for the purpose of supplying the body with sustenance. The main object of manual work should be to enable the worker to set before him, and outside of him, ideas which are within him--in Frobel's judgment the spiritual or the divine dwelling within him. Frobel's view of the value of manual work in the training of children led him to an opinion about the place of art in education which is peculiarly his own. The object of all human endeavour is, he says, threefold. (1) The striving after rest, that is the inner harmony of the thoughts within a man and the circumstances in which he is placed. (2) The striving after knowledge of the world which is outside and around him. (3) The striving to present himself and others the conceptions and ideas which he has within him. The first of these strivings Frobel calls Religion, the second he calls Science, and the third he calls Art. Art may be a presentment of the inner by sound, as in music, especially song, a presentment for the sight by colour, as in painting, or a presentment in space, as in modeling. "The feeling for art," says Frobel, "is a general quality and gift of man, and ought to be cherished from the first. The particular child, even though he may have no gifts to become an artist, will be by reason of his art training, better able to appreciate the value and meaning of works of art. Art must be treated as a serious school matter, and not be left to chance or caprice." Frobel was much in advance of his age when he insisted on it that no education was complete, even in its early stages, unless it helped the child to a recognition of the many-sided activities of man, and to perceive and estimate the productions of genuine art.

But it may be asked, after all how would a knowledge of Frobel's Kindergarten have aided the ignorant mother, whose want of skill in dealing with children I described at the outset. Instructed by Frobel the mother would have known that a child, though naturally desirous of activity and movement soon tires itself if its activity is not directed to some definite object, however simple, and she would have taken care to find some plan of thus saving her child from itself and the consequences of its inexperience, just as the other mother did. Frobel would say, "Do not check a child's tendency to play, but do not, on the other hand, leave the child to the results of its own unguided caprices. You must watch and guide the children's activities, following nature's lead, and carefully abstaining from taking it out of nature's hand , and substituting an artificial one of your own." This is the principle on which the successful mother acted, and though it is very simple and easy, both to comprehend and follow, when you know it, there is by no means the same ease in finding out the principle, and great is the trouble and infantile dolour that arises from ignorance of it. A study of Frobel then would, first of all, have taught the mother the principle of utilizing activity in her child, and secondly, a little experience in the use of his "Gifts" would have suggested ways of directing the child's movements to some agreeable occupation. "After all," it may be said, "the student of Frobel will only do what some mothers will do by the light of nature." The reply is that were it otherwise Frobel would have been the first to condemn his whole system.

The other principle of Frobel which was violated on the journey was this. "Let food when it is given to a child be for the purpose of maintaining the body and mind in good health and not for any other purpose such as to amuse or please or divert its attention." Frobel was not so much thinking of the possibility of spoiling the child's digestion, a thing fortunately not so easy to do, as of the moral effect. Violation of this rule makes it harder for children to maintain control over themselves as they grow older, and leads them to resort to eating as the readiest way of amusing themselves when they have nothing better to do.

Mr. Herford's "Students' Frobel" [The Students' Frobel, by William H. Herford. Labister & Co.] may be cordially recommended to all those who may desire to understand the secret of Frobel's extraordinary influence in all lands, and the undeniable success of his system when properly understood and applied. The book is worth pondering over, for it contains not merely a few practical hints which most people will find useful, but such a conception of what education should be, as, in spite of checks and failures, most enlightened parents are beginning to desire for their children.