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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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A Wide Curriculum for Young Children

by Miss Kathleen Warren
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 920-925


Miss Kathleen Warren's paper on A Wide Curriculum for Young Children was then read.

A closely walled-in paddock, a daily circuit of limited space and unvarying monotony—or the wide spread of breezy moorland, shifting scenes and countless surprises? Which shall we elect as the "course" on which to train those we wish to educate?

What advantages are to be reaped from the use of a wide curriculum for young children? Now, in considering the merits of any system we must first find out what it hopes to accomplish, ascertain the means to be used, and, as "the end crowns all," consider how far it has been successful. As the Parents' Review School is pledged to the use of a "wide curriculum," may I in this connection glance briefly at some of its aims, aids and claims? These are definitely and clearly stated in a leaflet, which, a short time ago, was sent fom the House of Education to those who have the privilege of being connected with it;—"The object of the Parents' Review School is not merely to raise the standard of work in the home schoolroom—our chief wish is that the pupils should find knowledge delightful in itself and for its own sake, without thought of marks, place, prize, or other reward, that they should develop an intelligent curiosity about whatever is on the earth or in the heavens, about the past and the present." Surely such aims must appeal to every teacher, and perhaps, even more specially, to those who have the enormous responsibility of laying the foundation of future education.

We feel there is something distinctly wrong about any system which works by repression instead of expansion. We want our children to feel that each fresh lesson gives them an "open sesame" to a fairy palace full of treasures worth the seeking; that they are the inheritors of all the heaped-up gains of past ages, not slaves doomed to a treadmill of weary monotony. We do not want their experience to be that of some "grown-ups" who can tell us of a happy early childhood, when the world seemed all alive with interest, and Nature was teaching them many things, until there came an ever-to-be-remembered dark time when they had to begin to "do lessons"; lessons which unfortunately failed to excite any interest and only became a big, palpable barrier, shutting off the old gracious freedom of the days when they learnt without learning. Is there not something pathetic in the sight of a small closely-printed last century task book, neatly covered in drab calico, and, on the flyleaf, inscribed in a childish hand, to find the no doubt heartfelt verdict of the little student, "This is a very hard book"?

Must learning always be associated with the "whining school boy—with his satchel and shining morning face—creeping, like snail, unwillingly to school"? [From Shakespeare's As You Like It] Does the remark of a modern mother contain an inevitable truth, "It is natural for children to hate lessons"? Or may we venture to think that sometimes children are expected to love unnatural lessons?

"Knowledge delightful in itself" is the inspiriting ideal the Parents' Review School sets before us, and we eagerly turn to glance at the aids which it affords for the attainment of such an ideal. To quote again from our leaflet, "certain means are adopted to secure this delight in knowledge. Firstly, for every term there is a quite fresh programme, up-to-date as regards matters of public interest and the best books. Secondly, the children use a little library of lesson books of literary value and lasting interest."

Anyone who has seen a boy of eight retiring to a quiet corner with a pile of books to trace out the course of the coming term's work, could bear an unhesitating testimony to the value of the "fresh programme." Lecturers upon education enforce upon us the benefit of teaching by contrast; and, in spite of the old adage, "comparisons are odious," we may best learn the value of the books supplied by the Parents' Review School, by comparing them with the lesson books of a past generation. Looking at the old-fashioned primers and textbooks, compilations and catechisms one is inclined to wonder, did the children fifty years ago come into the world with a full grasp of the English language? The average present-day children certainly do not, they have to learn it, and anyone who has tried to teach knows how quickly they lose their bearings amidst unfamiliar words, and what absurd misconstructions, what hopeless mental entanglements are often the result of some wrongly interpreted phrase.

For ourselves we frankly acknowledge the impossibility of doing two things well at the same time, and surely it is inhuman to expect a small mind to grope after some difficult definition, of abstract thought, through a fog of unintelligible language.

The Parents' Review School fully realizes and meets this difficulty, and the generous supply of tales, prescribed for the younger children, makes reading a delight, creates a desire to understand language, and equips the children with an ever-extending vocabulary, and, by so doing, increases their power of expression when they are called upon to describe what they have read.

Again, the old-world lesson books completely ignored a child's love of detail, the Parents' Review School books recognise it fully. In a word, we have condensation as opposed to expansion, culture versus cram—the history of the world, suggesting a nutritive but awfully uninteresting tabloid, or the history of the same world, made as attractive as a feast spread with fruit and dainties. In A Summary of Ancient and Modern History, abridged from the elements of General History, a book consisting of 162 small pages, we find the subjects treated range from B.C. 4004 to A.D. 1820. In the author's Introduction "It is hoped that this short but comprehensive outline will continue to experience a favourable reception, and will serve for an introduction to more extensive historical readings. The pupil, indeed, who is well acquainted with it will be prepared to read the works of Robertson, Hume, and others with greater pleasure and profit, and having a general outline impressed upon his memory, will be able to refer each work to its proper place in the system." One would imagine that this expectation would be doomed to disappointment, and that the unhappy student would most probably register a vow against ever, by his own free will and consent, unclosing the pages of any historical work.

In such an epitome, Alexander the Great and all his achievements are necessarily disposed of in three or four lines, whereas the Parents' Review School prescribes Plutarch's Life of Alexander, and allows two terms for its study!

Again, instead of the heaven-sent gift of imagination being scouted as a foe to learning, it is welcomed as a useful ally. One has only to read Tanglewood Tales with an intelligent child to see the contrast between one method of gaining knowledge of mythological characters, and that of my childhood's horror—Mangnall's questions. Fresh from Hawthorne's graphic description of Mercury, a statue in a museum with the familiar accompaniments is recognised as an old friend. To see "Minerva" inscribed upon the ribbon of a companion's sailor hat means raising a host of interesting associations.

Once more, the books we use encourage and develop powers of observation. A child of six without the faintest leaning towards abstract learning can rejoice in being sent to the garden to fetch in, identify, and describe six leaves. Perhaps (after a pause and mental grope for the more accurate language which was not forthcoming) to individualize a poppy leaf as "very in and outy" sounds absurdly inadequate and certainly lacking in scientific precision. And yet the poppy had received very special attention, and may not the mental grope have stimulated, albeit unconsciously, a desire for fuller powers of expression? Would the committing to memory a list of technical terms from a botanical primer have had a like result? The claim put forth by the Parents' Review School is a confident assertion that the aids it affords have made its aims attainable. "The children respond and take to their lessons with keen pleasure."

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," as applied to education, surely embodies a popular fallacy. The Parents' Review School, in its workings, clearly demonstrates that, instead of work and play being diametrically opposed, they may supplement and stimulate each other, and that work can yield such healthy interest that its results may be seen in an added zest to play. And may we not believe that a lesson which has been translated into play is a lesson assimilated?

When the story of the Dauntless Three [from the poem Horatius at the Bridge by Lord Macauley] has been rehearsed upon a narrow railway bridge; when the story of the "Caudine Forks" [Roman battle in the Samnite Wars]has been chosen by a small convalescent as a drama capable of illustration with a few toy soldiers and carefully arranged bed clothes; when one is shown a tableau representing in miniature the discovery of the relics of Sir John Franklin's fated expedition, may we not cheerfully endorse the claim made by the Parent's Review School? When we find a boy of eight listening with appreciative interest to Tennyson's Defence of Lucknow, or Mrs. Browning's Cry of the Children, may we not hope that the seed have been sown of that healthy interest in literature and knowledge which will bring forth abundant fruit in after days?

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The Defense of Lucknow isn't online in text form, although Google Books has books with the poem; it's probably a long, narrative poem that no one has bothered to scan/type. So, I wasn't able to provide a link; however, here's enough of a quote to give a general idea of what the poem is about.

Banner of England, not for a season,
  O Banner of Britain, hast thou
    Floated in conquering battle or flapt to the battle-cry!
      Never with mightier glory than when we had rear'd thee on high,
        Flying at top of the roofs in the ghastly siege of Lucknow—
          Shot thro' the staff or the halyard, but we ever we raised thee anew,
            And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew.
        - Lord Alfred Tennyson,
        from The Defence of Lucknow

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, August 2008