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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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The Home Training of Children

by the Hon. Mrs. E. L. Franklin,
Hon. Organizing Secretary of the Parents' National Educational Union.
Volume 19, 1908, pgs. 890-898


[Reprinted from Vol VI of "Special Reports on Educational Subjects," issued by the Board of Education. Reprints of this article can be had, price 3d., from the P.N.E.U. Office, 26, Victoria Street, S.W.]

A great change has come over modern thought with regard to the early training and teaching of children. The parent has become a recognised factor in the educational scheme, and Home Education a definite science. During the last twenty years, the educational pendulum has swung from the point where it was considered desirable that children should be taught the three R.'s, at about three, four, or five years of age, to the point where they were to learn nothing but what could be presented to them in the way of play, and "must" and "ought" were banished from the schoolroom. Nor is the former position quite obsolete. "The other day I met a governess, . . ." writes a correspondent, "who complained that her small pupil of five was getting dull over lessons, and on enquiry I found that this poor mite had been doing lessons ever since she was three, and reads now and does dictation!"

The exaggerated form of the first position is seen in the early teaching of John Stuart Mill, whose mental food was a pabulum of facts, and who himself deplored the absence of nourishment for his growing imagination and the consequent distaste for knowledge.

The extremists of the second school of thought, following Rousseau, would let the children run wild up to eight or nine, and simply pick up what they can during the process. Definite training of any kind is abandoned, and nature is to rule supreme. As is almost invariably the case, truth seems to lie between these two extremes.

The home has many functions to perform, and among others, indirectly, if not directly, it is the child's first school. Hence a definite purpose must underlie the training of the home, so that the child may be fitly prepared for the preparatory school and may be able to gain the greatest profit from its teaching. How can this result best be attained? The child is born with a certain disposition, with certain tendencies, some are common to all normal children, others are his by special inheritance. This disposition is to be moulded into a true and noble character. [See Home Education, by C. M. Mason, Chapters III. and IV.]

Right habits of mind are to be inculcated and living ideas are to be presented, on which the child's brain may grow, and become strengthened and nourished. I do not believe that one should set oneself to train each faculty of the child separately, but, looking on the mind as a whole, give it food and opportunity for exercise in every direction.

In the first year of a child's life, its environment will furnish it with ideas and brain nourishment, but even in these early days the work of education begins. We can secure for the child the best conditions for rest and growth, absolute quiet and darkness during sleeping hours, absence of fuss, noise, or excitement during waking hours. These prepare the soil for future work, and perhaps it is difficult to estimate how much pain and trouble and nervous disorder may be due to early mistakes in these directions. Moreover, definite training in habits of obedience and attention, those two absolute essentials in a child's mental outfit, must be commenced at the very beginning of things, and before it is two they may be gained for ever. This is not the place to dwell on those other nursery habits, which, as most mothers now recognise, have to be formed in these early months.

Probably the only direct means of adding to the "building of the child's mind house" is through the medium of the ear. Here I think the ordinary singing of nursery rhymes may with advantage be supplemented by allowing a child to hear daily compositions of recognised musical worth. If this be continued regularly and conscientiously, even the non-musical child may develop and appreciation of, and delight in, good music which will greatly increase his "enthusiasm for art." The musical child, on the other hand, will approach his first lessons on an instrument with joy gained from an intimate knowledge of some of the best this art will hold in store for him.

It is for the parent to see that, above everything, the child's natural disposition towards the acquiring of knowledge, and his innate curiosity to understand everything, be not in any way lost as the years go on. Without allowing a ceaseless and oft-times unthinking fire of "why"? and "wherefore"? the parent may by wise guidance make this curiosity the most powerful lever when school work begins. It is because we are apt to overlook this absolutely innate love of knowledge that we feel it necessary in the early days of lessons to wrap up the pill in the gilt of games and nonsense stories, and in later years, to have recourse to the stimulus of marks and prizes. If we can from the very first trust to interest in the subject itself as the stimulus to acquiring knowledge, and at the same time, form habits of industry, dutiful application, etc., as means towards that end, we shall probably find outward goads unnecessary.

In dealing with the mental training of children, it will be best to take the years from two up to six or seven together, as it is almost impossible to say when a child is ready for receiving any special ideas. Given the principles, it is not difficult to apply them to each case. Probably the most fundamental principle, and even in this age of child worship, the most neglected, is respect for the children. A respect which will forbid our neglecting their environment, or giving them anything but what is really good and true, both as regards the people and the things which surround them. We know that the little child does notice, does see and does hear, and we are careful that our respect for his powers in these directions shall act as a safe guard. We put the child in an atmosphere of love and refinement, and above all, see that as far as possible he is not cheated of his right to Nature as a nurse. A country field and hedge will give a child most of the mental food which his mind requires, and will afford opportunity for exercising his powers of observations, etc. A wise educationist will let the child find out for himself what nature has to show him, and will leave him free with this teacher, only occasionally throwing in an answer to his many questions, and directing a little, though it must be very little. Here we can form habits of accuracy, truthfulness and intellectual honesty, by making the child absolutely clear as to what he has found out for himself, what he has been told to look for, and what has been definitely imparted to him. This is the time to give the children a nodding acquaintance with all the flowers, trees and birds, and, when the desire for knowing the names is strong, to let natural objects become familiar friends, by telling their simple English names. The love of collecting is very great in childhood, and thus, with a little guidance here and there, will add zest and joy to many a country ramble. The habit of "sight seeing" (Home Education, Chap. II.) can be formed in the long days spent out of doors, and thus a power gained which will give the children a lasting pleasure through life.

Verbal accuracy and power of narration as well as the power of imagining may be much nourished in these early years. Story telling is always a delight to children, and I believe that we should, from the beginning, give them a knowledge of true literature. Long before a child can read he will know and love good poetry and good prose. We shall not neglect nursery rhymes and such familiar nursery Classics as Alice in Wonderland and Robinson Crusoe, but we shall let the little ones extend their range of favourites and learn to love Malory 's Morte d'Arthur and Tennyson's poems. I believe so strongly in the educational value of reading aloud to children, that I wish it were more generally recognised. The habit of attention is, perhaps, almost the very best equipment with which a child can start his schooldays, and probably no means of forming this is so generally successful as that of letting the children learn to be good listeners. If they are encouraged to relate what they have heard, their powers of narration will be strengthened, and gradually they will reconstruct the ideas received and will tell stories, the apparent originality and beautiful imagination of which will surprise the heavier adult mind.

Malory's Morte d'Arthur, portions of Froissart and other chronicles, passages from Chaucer and Spenser, the old favourite fairy tales—these are but examples of the literary treasures we may offer our children. Provided what we present is good, and full of action and "go," the children will delight in it. Such writings tell of the childhood of the world, and the child feels akin to the old world heroes, and rejoices in books which tell of them far more than in the books which treat of children whose lives are very much like his own. If we want to counteract slipshod style and bad taste in reading, writing, and speaking, we shall not lightly abandon this custom of reading aloud to children, even when they are grown boys and girls. We can also greatly strengthen the children's power of narration (and we know how great this is, both in the childhood of the race and of the man), by encouraging them to describe what they have seen in those hours when Nature has been their chief teacher.

Here I would suggest that the potent cause of the early loss of this graphic use of words is to be found in the fact that the child is too early made to write his own little stories, his letters, or his Nature diary. Hampered by his inability to write well and quickly, his flow of language and power of word painting leave him. I would advocate that even when schooldays have begun, he should be encouraged to narrate instead of write his compositions, the substance of his history lessons, etc. The habit of this viva voce reproduction would also help him in gaining the power of lucid expression which is becoming more and more necessary.

Early training in the exact use of words, and in giving an accurate answer to the question put, is one means by which the "unconscious preparation of a child's mind for Science" can be effected. He can from the first be made to do and say things in a scientifically accurate manner, and this we can counteract that tendency to exaggeration and untruth, all too prevalent in adult society. The slipshod expression of inaccurate thought, which is commonly taken for opinion, is due to general untidiness in one's way of thinking, and any early training which would result in more scientific habits of mind should be earnestly carried out.

We all believe now in early hand and eye training, we give the children paint-brushes and colour and chalk, and help them to express themselves in various directions. We teach them basket-making, chair-caning, sewing and knitting, clay modelling, and, later on, slojd (cardboard and wood), woodcarving and bent iron work. We do this because we believe in their educational value, but we ought not to hurry these occupations, and certainly not let them encroach on the children's leisure hours; much training in deftness of finger and hand can be gained incidentally in arranging specimens, and even in putting away toys and tidying drawers and cupboards. It has been wisely suggested that a foundation for science teaching may be laid by accustoming the children to handle pencil, ruler and compass, and in thus unconsciously evolving geometrical shapes. A word as to toys: most parents are alive to the futility of furnishing the children with so-called educational toys and games. Stones, paper, bricks and balls are within the reach of all children alike, and we shall find that the innate love for these will last when expensive toys are discarded and broken. A child will spend many happy hours at a sand trough, and if such a one can be contrived to be filled with water, on which mock fleets can be sailed, instead of sand from time to time, there will be very little demand for any other kind of toy. But while we deprecate what are termed "educational toys," we may with advantage make use of geometrical forms for bricks, etc., and thus unconsciously the child becomes familiar with what, when science lessons begin, are otherwise mere abstractions.

And now let us take our child of five and a half, or six, when he should first enter the home schoolroom and begin his real lessons. What does he know, and what can he do? He should, we believe, be an interesting, and interested little pupil. His will is trained to ready, cheerful obedience; he has the habits of attention, of quick bright observation, of accurate description, of neatness and promptitude. He is eager to learn, lessons have no terrors for him; he wants to know, and he is not afraid of work. He has an intimate and loving every-day acquaintance with the names and habits of the flowers, birds, and insects around him. His ear, hand, and eye have had definite training. In fact, the ground has been prepared for good teaching, and he has been put in the right attitude towards the good teacher. Can he read and write? Not always. I do not advocate definite instruction other than what has been sketched out before the child is six. Before that age, many children will have "taught themselves to read," i.e., picked it up almost without our knowing how.

Other children, with the ground well prepared, will learn reading very quickly, stimulated by the desire to read for themselves the many books they have learnt to love. Writing has possibly gone hand in hand with drawing, and in all probability dexterity has been reached in this also.

I should put as the first principle underlying all good teaching the belief in the child's desire to know and learn, and the conviction that the interest in the subject is so great, and the idea presented so vivifying, that hardly any other spur is necessary than that the child should be put face to face with knowledge. Let the lessons be short and brisk and bright. Let the teacher be fired with enthusiasm and be interested in them himself, let him be sure that each day a definite step is gained, that there is no going back, that a fresh idea is added to the old ones, and that the habits of good work are strengthened. Let the teacher be the interpreter of knowledge to the child, not the mediator between it and him. Above all, let the teacher make use of living books instead of trusting to oral teaching. From the first, the child should be a student and worker, not a mere recipient of the result of the teacher's work. This will foster a reverent attitude towards knowledge and counteract a tendency to priggishness and superficiality. [Some Suggestions for the School Curriculum of Girls and Boys (illegible) Fourteen. A most important pamphlet. See also Parents' Review (illegible)]

It is a truism to say that, in teaching, our chief attention should be given to methods rather than to subjects. Still I believe that if we made use of a wide curriculum, and let our children learn through books as well as through things, many of our educational mistakes would tend to disappear. Though specialization for boys destined for public schools must begin earlier than for girls, most modern efforts in postponing this have, I think, been marked by success. We want to give the children open doors through which they may afterwards wander into those realms of knowledge which appeal most fully to their own special needs. Moreover, too exclusive a mental diet does not tend towards mental development.

The following sketch of work for children from six and a half to ten is taken from the programme of work and time-tables, arranged by Miss Mason for the children working in their home schoolrooms in connection with the "Parents' Union School."

Class IA. Children averaging from six and a half to seven and a half.

Bible lessons taught as far as possible from the Bible direct, with explanatory description of the countries and people dealt with, gained in the teacher's own reading.

Recitations.—Poems from the Children's Garland of the Best Poets, Hymns and Psalms. Children to be encouraged to listen to the poems, etc., when read aloud.

Number [Arithmetic].—On the Sonnenschein and Nesbitt method. The apparently slow progress with "rules," etc., does not mean that the child will not be equal to his schoolfellows when he goes to a preparatory school. On the contrary, this method of teaching "pays in every way."

Singing.—French and English songs.

Drill [Exercise].—Swedish and Ball drill.

Writing.—Child to master one letter a day and not go back. Perfect execution and cleanliness to be aimed at.

Reading.—Child to be taught on a combination of the Look and Say and the Phonetic methods, and from an easy book straight away. "Readers" composed of words of one syllable are not interesting. The child can simultaneously with reading make up words with loose letters, and copy them so that spelling, dictation and reading can go hand in hand. Here again the progress is not apparently rapid, but the interest is maintained. A child, working with others, is taught from the very first how to "study," and as he finds his power of reading grows he begins to read for himself, and is not afraid of tackling a real book. This method is doubtless the one used unconsciously by a child, when he teaches himself to read.

Tales.—Fairy tales and heroic stories to be read to the children and retold by them.

Nature Lessons.—Lessons about insects, stories about animals, naming and mounting wild flowers or fruit. The child to keep a Nature note-book, painting flowers, etc., and relating little facts and scenes notices. Descriptions to be dictated.

French.—Oral teaching.

Geography.—Sand maps, talks about places, etc. We need not be afraid of teaching children correct terms. Pistil and stamen in botany; current, whirlpool, prairie in geography, are really not more difficult to the early student in nomenclature than "Elizabeth" or "Caroline," the names of their friends or relations. In the adoption of fancy terms, such as "officer" and "soldier" for pistil and stamen; in the relating of little make-believe stories in order to interest the child, we are guilty of want of respect for our pupils, and want of belief in the interest of the facts themselves, illuminated by the vivifying idea, which the good teacher will draw out. Every subject is capable of being degraded into a mere collection of dry facts, just as (if the teacher be a true master of his art) the ideas underlying every subject may be used as pegs on which to hang such facts. Though we deprecate teaching through games, when we see that the child finds in his lessons new ideas for his own games, that he will play at Christopher Columbus or Robinson Crusoe, and make rivers and islands and mountains with mud or sand, or even with his vegetables and gravy (oh, horrified nurse!) we may know that his lessons have been well "taken," and hence well "given." No lesson is valuable which does not promote self-activity by making the children think and do and work. So in later years I would not advocate lectures from teachers, but lessons where, as has already been said, the teacher is but the interpreter, not the mediator, and where he stands aside as much as possible, teaching the children to learn and study from books, and not merely to listen. In this way habits of self-study are formed, the necessity for out-of-school preparation disappears, and leisure and growing times are secured for the children.

Picture Talk.—Children, especially those who have not learnt to look long and well before schoolroom days began, will be much helped in their powers of description by ten minutes in the week being given to this subject. The child is encouraged to look steadily at some good picture, and then the picture having been removed, to describe what he saw. The power of visualizing is too valuable in after life to be neglected in the school days, and much training can be imparted through this lesson.

Arts and Handicrafts.—Brush-drawing, sewing and knitting, paper-folding, basket-work, clay-modelling, etc., a selection of these can be made for the little ones.

Music.—To be taught in such a manner that the child may learn its wonders and history from the first, and may learn to read by sight, write from ear, make his own scales and transpose simple tunes, before he attempts to play more than little duets, etc.

If it be urged against the following time-table that the lessons are very short (and the same objection may be raised all through the time-tables here quoted), I would answer that after a little practice, the teacher will welcome the spur against dawdling in himself and the child, and will find that the rapid change of lesson not only can be done, but when done is beneficial all round.

N.B.—The tales which are not mentioned in the time-table would probably be taken by the mother in the "Children's' Hour"

The Home Training of Children

by the Hon. Mrs. E. L. Franklin,
Hon. Organizing Secretary of the Parents' National Educational Union.
Volume 20, 1909, pgs. 20-24


[Reprinted from Vol. VI. Of "Special Reports on Educational Subjects," issued by the Board of Education. Reprints of this article can be had, price 3d., from the P.N.E.U. Office, 26, Victoria Street, S.W.]

(Continued from Vol. XIX., No. 12, page 899.)

Class IB.—Children averaging from seven and a half, to nine. Here the same time-table is used, but the reading lessons are less frequent, and are taken out of such books as Old Tales from British History, Tales from Westminster Abbey, Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, The Heroes of Asgard.

In the various other subjects, more difficult work is taken. In geography, the children are led up from the plan of the schoolroom and the immediate environs of the house to the use of a map. When the child can picture to himself the physical features of a country and the kind of life led in it, and when he knows how to use a map, he has pretty well mastered the knowledge of this subject, which will lead him to further study, and we need not quarrel with the Public Schools for not giving definite instruction in geography. The doors have been opened in the earlier days, and the habits of finding out, of learning, and of work formed, we can leave the rest to life. What about the practical, every-day knowledge of capes, bays, and ports, or exports and imports that we are supposed to need? I contend that if a child has learnt to use a map, and if his lessons up to thirteen and fourteen help him to picture the physical features of a country, he would make a better list of the necessary imports and exports, etc., than the child who had directly committed these to memory.

Class II.—Children averaging nine to eleven. (Probably at ten boys would be sent to an ordinary Preparatory School.)

Here the new subjects are Latin, English Grammar, French History, and Composition, whilst the other subjects naturally increase in difficulty.

As regards Latin, alterations in the time-table may be needed to suit individual cases. The boy who goes to a Preparatory School at ten may be required to know some Latin, but there is an increasing number of schoolmasters who prefer that no Latin shall be taught till the boys come to them at ten or even eleven. Even those who looked with apprehension on the "backward" boy, and feared that the few remaining years before he would have to enter a Public School would be insufficient to teach him what was required, have been induced to confess that their fears were unfounded. The intelligent, well-trained child, with good habits of work and keen interest therein, will learn quickly and thoroughly, and the preparatory schoolmaster, being freed from the onerous task of teaching how to learn, can look for steady and satisfactory progress.

English Grammar is taught with the sentence as a basis, and not by commencing with separate words.

Periods of French history contemporaneous with the period of English history form material for reading lessons. The time-table does not allow of definite instruction in universal history, but in this way and by the careful use of charts, children can gain an intelligent view of the history of the world and the interlacing of events. Such books as Southey's Life of Nelson, With Kitchener to Khartoum, The Monk of Fife, Etc. (according to the period), would be the kind of books recommended for outside reading to the children in this class. In the "Children's Hour" they might be introduced to Scott's, C. Kingsley 's, and Bulwer Lytton's novels, and Shakespeare's plays, judiciously chosen, which will add interest to their history lessons.

English History, Roman and Greek History. In the English History lessons, use is made of chronicles (Bede's Froissart, Freeman's Old English History), and the children are encouraged to use their books themselves. The lessons are taken as much as possible from a contemporary standpoint, the teacher choosing such passages as will leave with the children a true and just idea of the spirit of the times. "We want the children's imagination to be kindled by vivid pictures of the times; we want them to learn God's dealings with humanity, the sequence of cause and effect, and to train their moral judgment. Dates need not be omitted, and are welcomed as fixing the period dealt within the world's history. In Plutarch's Greek and Roman Lives we find a storehouse of ideas, and great examples of man's power for good or evil in moulding the world." Moreover, by making use of a good translation (North's for example), the children's literary sense is fostered.

In their Geography lessons the children in this class make memory maps and otherwise are taken further afield.

Dictation is now definitely commenced, though the ground has been previously prepared for it. Here the object aimed at is to let the child get a correct picture of the word, and the passages to be dictated (not words without their context) are therefore carefully prepared, so that no misspelt word shall leave its impress on the brain.

Composition also now appears in the time-table, but unless the child writes with very great facility, it should still take the form of narrating the substance of books read or lessons received, varied occasionally by an original story, so that the habit of imagining and expressing is not lost through want of exercise. No definite teaching of Composition is advocated in the School.

In Hand-work either cardboard slojd, wood slojd, or bent ironwork is taken. Where it is possible, they attend to their gardens with a certain amount of definite help and instruction. Gardening can be made a medium of much educational training, but the interest in it, except in special cases, is lost through the absence of a little judicious encouragement and supervision.

And now the boy will probably leave the home schoolroom for the Preparatory School, either day or boarding, and, as I am dealing with the early training of children, I will not follow the time-tables of the home schoolroom through Classes III. (eleven to fourteen or fifteen) and IV. (fourteen to sixteen or seventeen). Must the entrance to the Preparatory School mean the abandonment of many of these subjects, and the teaching on quite other lines? I do not believe that this is in any way necessary. I have not been dealing with any special system nor advocating any special fad. I have tried to lay down certain more or less accepted educational principles, and have tried to show how these should be carried out from infancy up to the home schoolroom, and thence up to the Preparatory School. These principles are briefly the furnishing of the mind with living ideas on which to grow and develop, instead of trusting to the memory to assimilate only a daily pabulum of facts; the offering of opportunity to the mind to exercise itself in various directions, the formation of good habits which will go towards the building up of character, and the belief in the intrinsic interest to furnish the necessary stimulus for learning.

Many Preparatory Schoolmasters are shortening the hours of work, and are including in their curriculum nature lore, handicrafts, art teaching, and better methods of language teaching. Some only are making use of the books recommended in the programmes of the Parents' Union School and enrolling themselves on the P.N.E.U School Register. [For particulars of the Parents' Union School apply to Miss Mason, House of Education, Ambleside.] That the reform is not more rapid, is, I believe, due to the fact that such methods of teaching are not calculated to inspire confidence in the parents, who may not have had the opportunity of studying educational problems. More showy and more direct results are often demanded, and hence the true educationalist is hampered.

We cannot, moreover, hope for satisfactory results in the four years, which the boys usually spend at their Preparatory School, unless the ground has been well prepared, and not in a slovenly, amateurish manner. Just as the best teachers are required in the bottom of the school, so parents must prepare themselves for the training of character, the formation of habits, and the inspiration of ideas, and must be willing to seek out and to pay adequately nurses and governesses who are trained to cope with the real needs of the children. We have almost forgotten the days when through ignorance of the laws of health the children's bodies were under-nourished and otherwise neglected. We may hope that the days are also rapidly passing away when "lessons at home with a governess" means mind and soul starvation. With reform in the foundation, we may hope for some reform and progress all the way up the educational ladder.

It has been pointed out by more than one schoolmaster that the continued setting of home lessons, to be done in the evening hours when the brain should be at rest, is, to a great extent, due to the parents. When parents realize the importance of giving the children leisure and growing time, when they assist the masters of day schools in the correlation of home and school, when they prove by their early training of the children that they know true educational principles, then a public opinion of parents will have been formed which will lead to true co-operation between school and home. There are no better friends to the cause of the Parents' Union and the Parents' Union School than the public schoolmasters, who are more and more appreciating the work done and are more and more asking for the intelligent co-operation of parents.

N.B.—For books and time-tables now in use in the Parents' Union School see current programmes of work and time-tables for the five classes.


Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July 2008