The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Children Past and Present
by L. T. Meade
(Continued from Vol. vi, p. 887)
This is a brief resume of my own bringing up, and I am firmly convinced that many other girls of my own age, in the same part of the country, could testify to a like experience. According to our modern ideas it sounds almost appalling, but of course the system was not without its advantages. The child so reared could not but acquire a certain hardihood of character, which ought not to be despised. The child who has very few pleasures, can appreciate those few with a rapture which the blasé child of the present cannot even imagine. The child who has scarcely any toys, can love the few with a love which almost amounts to passion. There was a doll which belonged to my early days. Such a doll! It had real hair which could be combed out at night and put in curl papers. I was only allowed to play with Miss Emily on birthdays, but how I dreamt of her and worshipped her, and prayed every night most earnestly to God that she might suddenly come alive. Pygmalion was not more enamoured of Galatea than was I of Miss Emily. One day a terrible fate awaited her. She could open and shut her eyes by means of a mysterious wire, which all those who have possessed old-fashioned dolls must well remember. An inquisitive servant had pulled the wire too sharply, and the lovely melting blue eyes had disappeared into the head. I came upstairs and saw Miss Emily sitting in the darkness alone against the wall of the day-nursery. I uttered a yell which I can recall now. My mother could not comfort me. I went to bed broken-hearted. My dear father sat up for a couple of hours that night, trying to replace Miss Emily's eyes. He did replace them, but the job was not very skillfully done, and from that day my darling squinted terribly. I love her still, but her beauty had vanished like a dream. Poor Miss Emily! She never cam alive, and she never recovered from her squint. Peace to her memory.
Before I leave children Past, I must say something in all fairness with regard to the good of the system.
The undoubted good of the old system was a certain thoroughness-an absence of unhealthy excitement-a love of home and of household and domestic matters. I am speaking now, of course, only from the girl's point of view. The girl in the old days was educated at home-she was never supposed to be her brothers' equal; they were to go into the battle of life; she, unless she married, was to eke out her slender means in the midst of an existence ever narrowing to its final goal, the grave.
But in her early days, when the first rigorous training of early childhood was past, she had a fairly happy existence-she took considerable pains with her hand writing-she learnt to write a letter which was really worth reading-she was also a proficient and excellent needlewoman-she could make a shirt (often nearly blinding her eyes, it is true, over the process). She could do plain needlework of every description, and her fancy needlework-Berlin wool work as it was called in those days-was something really exquisite. She was also an excellent cook and housekeeper; admired a practical knowledge of cooking, pickling and preserving. In short, if the happy lot awaited her in the future of becoming the wife of a good man, she was fairly equipped by the old mode of education for her lot. The women who did not marry, on the other hand, were equally ill equipped for a future which meant as a rule, very small means and a narrow outlook.
I now turn to Children Present.
With all our faults, and we have many in the present day, we have certainly managed to acquire a vast amount of light on the all-important subject of education. Schools are not what they were; education is not what it was; the battlefield of like has opened its areana to young women and young men. In consequence, girls as well as boys must now be thoroughly and efficiently educated. The wisest and deepest
child who possesses it is often dubbed as stupid, when he is really only original. I will say frankly that I prefer the latter order of mind, and have always encouraged it in my children.
I do not believe in cramming the young mind with facts, but I believe in allowing kind mother Nature to unfold the complex and wonderful brain slowly in her own gentle way; I believe in allowing the child slowly but surely to absorb the glorious and beautiful things of Nature: the glorious and beautiful wonders of religion.
I think the mother's position towards the child ought, from the very first, to be that of a refuge-she ought not be so much of a disciplinarian--as a shadow from the storm, a great rock or shelter, to protect the little one, until it has acquired strength to walk alone, mentally as well as physically. The other morning my little girls knocked hurriedly at my bedroom door. I called to them to come in. They rushed in with eyes glowing with delight. One of them carried a wooden box, the other a bundle of loose straw. The straw became scattered on my carpet as the little one ran.
"What are you doing with that box and straw?" I exclaimed.
They told me they had just caught a live mouse, that it was in the box, and they wanted to keep it as a pet.
"But, why bring that dirty straw into my bedroom?" I asked.
"Oh, mother," was the answer, "you know perfectly well that we are safe here; every one else will be so angry, there is really no other place in the house where the poor mouse will be in safety."
I loathed the mouse, which eventually escaped, and took up its residence in my bedroom, but it was impossible to crush the trust in the childish voices. I was their refuge--they came to me. I felt that matters were as they should be.
From this point of view, I believe that a mother ought to punish her child as seldom as possible. I do not for a moment pretend that children do not need punishment. They must be made to feel that certain tasks, agreeable or otherwise, have got to be done. This amount of discipline is necessary for them. I only say that I think the mother, except on very rare occasions, ought not to exercise her undoubted authority over the child as a mean of chastisement. I have scarcely ever punished the children, and I have certainly found the system work very well, for they never quarrel, and are really, although I say it that shouldn't, extremely well behaved. If the mother punished very seldom, when she does exercise this authority, it is a tremendous lever.
A plan which I have found excellent in helping the children to overcome the difficulties which must arise with us all in fighting the battle of life, is to consult with them over their faults. In this way one can guide them to true religious feeling without any attempt at preaching. The doing day by day what is not pleasant to do is always an effort, but I find that the children now go to this daily effort with a certain strength and willingness, simply from the idea that by so doing, they are putting muscle into their souls. This thought has helped them in the most extraordinary way to deeds of daily self-denial, and to the accomplishment of distasteful tasks. The wish to possess a strong soul--a soul really equipped to do its part in life's battle-field, is an ambition in our home.
There is one more point which I should like to mention before I bring this little paper to a close. It is one which used to exercise my own mind much in my early days, and which I have thought over a good deal in connection with my children. The conscientious mother will try as far as possible to aim at perfection. She is an example, the eyes of the children are fixed on her, they watch her day by day, she aims at a lofty ideal for their sakes, and as a natural consequence, however, hard she aims, she fails. Do not let her imagine for a moment that the child does not notice that fall. The child sees the angry light in her eyes, he hears the impatient words on the lips, he is surprised, puzzled, grieved, his infant faith in the Infallible is shaken.
In the training of my own children I have explained to them distinctly, over and over, that I too fall very short of perfection, that I too stumble and fail in the battle. I have asked them many times to help me in my fight. I have begged of them to remember that they and I are side by side in the same battle of life; that we are all together struggling for the same goal. They understand, they sympathise--they help me, more than I help them.
Finally, with regard to religion, I believe that it springs up naturally in the beautiful heart of a little child. Fresh from heaven, it bears, as Wordsworth expressed it, "Trailing clouds of Glory from God, who is our home." The little child is naturally close to God. A word, a touch, a look, can keep up this holy atmosphere, and the soul which He created can expand in the mot beautiful way upward, higher and higher.
The child so directed, ought to develop into the more beautiful because the stronger and more capable, boy or girl, and so on into the noble man or woman--in short, into the stuff of which heroes are made.
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