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."
Mr. Taylor's Home Education, Part 3

Volume 8, 1897, pgs. 154-155

Childhood is the period "during which the muscular, osseous and digestive organs expand, and nature demands a special care of the animal economy, and denies such excitements to be addressed to the mind as tend to disturb or retard its physical growth . . . As infancy is unconscious life, childhood is conscious life; and it is the season when the soul recognizes it individuality, and begins to inquire concerning its own well being . . . Reflex sentiments, springing from the experiences of good and ill, may be brought into play, so as to enhance the mind's own power, and to put it on the course of self-control."

First Period--In the chapter which Mr. Taylor devotes to the study of infancy, he speaks strongly against the over-pressure and the unsuitable training given in infant schools--at least, when they were first instituted. He allows that there may be an improvement, since the "paroxysm of educational philanthropy" has nearly subsided. But he bids us beware of comparing our home-educated pupils with those of the infant school, whose education is directed by quite different aims. "Not a syllable of book-learning need have been acquired, not a task learned, and yet the mind of a child in its fifth year may not be merely in a state of happiest moral activity, but may be intellectually alive, and actually enriched, too, by various information concerning the visible universe; and may have made acquaintance with whatever presents itself under a pleasurable aspect." Nature is an open book, full of delight and attraction, such as may supply suitable employment and information for the youngest.

The author calls our attention to the ill-consequences of being able to read at an early age. It brings, he says, to great a strain to eye and brain, which are, as it were, both striving to keep together. To read to a child is far better than allowing him to read too early. Learning by heart is good if the understanding be called into play; mere repetition from grammars and such-like stultifies the mind. Any attempts at "developing" a child's logical faculty by mental exercises at this age are directly harmful to him. But we must not forget that children are reasonable, though not yet able to reason; this reasonableness may be used, but not forced.

Games and sports, conversation rich with incidental information, music and drawing, are all that is needful to keep the mind quick during this early time. The intellectuality possessed by those around them will unconsciously radiate to the children, and this is far more useful than any attempts at quickening faculties and senses by task-work. "It is out of school, it is on the playground, abroad, and at table, that the vivifying communion of minds between parents and children will take place."

The next subject with which Mr. Taylor deals, is children's lesson-books. he speaks strongly against those "small compendiums" designed to give "comprehensive and elementary" knowledge, and introduce a child first to the bare skeleton of science. He deplores the number of such books, which was increasing so rapidly at the time when he wrote. "Elementary books," he says, "Or to speak more correctly first books, should consist entirely of dainty morsels, and of well-gathered flowers. But nothing should be seen in them that is comprehensive, there should be no synopses, no bird's-eye views, no generalization." Next come some excellent remarks on children's amusements. He notices how much incidental instruction will be received by the children from their elders whilst they are at play; but he wisely says, "let play be play and nothing else," in the shape of instructive games. "The real charm of a toy is derived from the power it possesses to excite the conceptive faculty; and hence it is that the more it leaves to be filled up by the imagination, the ruder it is, so much the keener and more lasting is the pleasure it affords."

"A child's happiness is the happiness of the soul more than of the body; and his joys instead of staying in the sense, go through and through him; and just as the babe of three months old smiles all over when it smiles at all, and kicks