The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Kindergarten Nurses.

By Félicité Anne Debonnaire
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 301

Why, asks a great educational writer, do we pay less attention to the nature of a child than we do to the seed of some rare exotic, from which we hope to raise a plant as yet unknown to us, but on the glories of which some chance explorer has expatiated? Is there not in every child an embryo, whose full development is hidden from our eyes, but which may--nay, if nature be allowed free play, must be capable of symmetrical development, like the rose--

          That blows in all the silence of its leaves,
          Content in blowing to fulfil its life?

If we foster the young plant, averting whatever may hinder or disturb the gradual development we call growth, why do we pay less attention to the child; why do we neglect to guard it from the influences which will blight its future as surely as a cutting wind or blazing sun might mar the bloom we look for?

Too often we are content to let the influences of after life check the evils which our neglect has caused. The school is in many instances regarded as a house of correction for the delinquent of the nursery; and what is called "the discipline of life" is expected to modify the faults engendered by the injudicious or defective discipline of the school.

Infancy passes so quickly into childhood, and childhood into boyhood, and boyhood into manhood, that all the energy of the child in each successive age is required for the full and perfect development of the faculties of that age. Nay, more; each age is not in itself a section, cut off from the rest of the child's life; is not in itself a section, cut off from the rest of the child's life; but is the gradual outcome of what has passed and the preparation for that which is to follow. After-treatment cannot remove the effects of carelessness or neglect at an earlier age; and when parents talk of bad habits to be cured, they forget that they are requiring of children and teachers an effort beyond and outside that of natural development and education, properly so called. The bad habits must, of course, be cured; but how did they originate? "Oh, they are so easily caught up in the nursery." Yes, alas! In the nursery too often are sown those little beginnings of evils which mar a man's life.

It indeed says a great deal for the effect of association that servants do become valuable and trustworthy by living in the houses of cultivated and refined families. But it does not say much for the wisdom of parents that they permit girls whose only experience of discipline is the rough and ready shake or cuff, the angry and rude word learnt in their cottage homes, to have the care of their children in early childhood, when every word falls on impressionable ears, and every action calls forth a responsive imitation from the child.

One cannot wonder that a mother in a cottage home, whose temper is roughened by worry, and who of necessity lives in the present, adopts the readiest methods of securing peace and quiet in the cottage. Nor does one blame the nursery maid for following her mother's example. She will probably tone down as her experience grows, and be a quiet, respectable nurse according to her lights. But her experience is learnt at the expense of the families through which she passes, and the light which she gains is often a very poor substitute for that enlightenment which ought to be the qualification of every children's nurse.

How can she draw forth the child's love of movement, the activity of its senses, if her one idea of discipline centres, as it too often does, in the effort to keep the children quiet? How can she satisfy the eager demand for knowledge if her own scanty information prompts her to say, "Don't ask questions"? Her pride in the early attainments of the child often inclines a nurse to make him walk, or repeat little verses by rote, long, long before the limbs or the mind are by nature capable of sustained action. Her very love for the child leads her in her ignorance to endanger its health and prosperity; and parents think little of such dangers, and probably fancy that it matters very little, if only in after life the child's limbs "come straight," or the overwrought brain "rights itself," that they had not a better guardian for the infant's early years. But the strength, the energy, which ought to have been absorbed in the gradual development of the child's body and mind, has been taxed to remedy the mischief which never would have occurred had the nurse been as enlightened as she was proud and affectionate.

How to educate nurses, so that they shall add to the excellent qualities of devotion and industry the knowledge requisite for the proper management of children, is a difficult question; and, unless we can solve it, we must go on sowing the wind. As the race for life gets more and more severe, and as the prize is more than ever for the swift, all parents must be anxious that their children should be properly equipped for that race, and nut burdened by the impedimenta of bad habits, or enfeebled through ignorance and neglect.

More than one great educator, anxious to reform the evils of his age, has gone back to the earliest stages of a child's life, and found there the springs of the evil and the possibilities of redress. Bacon, in his famous saying that education is after all but early custom, Plato, in the regulations for his "Republic," Rousseau, in his writings--all turn to this, the starting point of life, for the index, the very horoscope of the future career of the individual.

We, in these days of struggle and competition, have arrived at the same conclusion, and realise that if the children of the present generation are to make or hold their position in life, they must be trained to it from the very cradle.

Early in this century two wise men arrived at this important truth--Pestalozzi, the philanthropist, and Froebel, the great pedagogue. Pestalozzi first, through his enlightened philanthropy, wrought out the truth and became the Father of Elementary Education; Froebel, the great educational reformer, became, through his reforms, the great philanthropist of his age. Both united in this one thought, that in the gradual and systematic development of the child from very infancy lay the secret of all true education. Each wrote a book for mothers, and while Pestalozzi broke the ground and strove (in spite of poverty, hunger, and disappointment) after the fulfilment of his ideal, Froebel wrought the philosophy of the elder reformer into his own deep, if somewhat mystical, teachings, and organised for the use of future generations the first system of infant education, under the name of Kindergarten.

One of the objects he kept in view was, that all who have the charge of young children should be trained for the fulfilment of their duties. Could such training be adopted, parents would soon become aware of the advantage of having a properly trained kindergarten nurse or mother's help rather than an untrained and comparatively unskilled servant.

The popular idea of the kindergarten system generally means the knowledge of a few games, a few methods of keeping children amused and busy. Yet, even so, how good for a child to have a bright, cheery friend who will let it play pretty games, teaching it to use its limbs and to move every muscle of its little body--leading it to join in the song, in the motion and the spirit of the game, instead of checking its love of action with a hasty "Sit down and be quiet." If the child loves to build, to make something with his busy little fingers, well, her can have bricks or even sand to play with--and out of doors, instead of a dull toddle by the nurse's side, he will run to find something for the teacher, who has a story for every stone, a song for every flower; who, for the older children, will open treasure houses of delight in every hedgerow, and will find many interests even in the duller walks of a London park or street. Jack Frost with his starry flowers that bloom on every stalk, vanish at a breath, and glitter and shine on the broad reaches of grass, is a fairy the children soon learn to look for, and they would far rather run out with their teacher and pay him a visit than cower over the nursery fire.

They find out, too, from their friend at home that endospore is not just a lump of fur to be pulled about and teased till she bites and scratches. She is a constant subject of conversation, and the children learn about the larger creatures marked like her who live in the forest among bright insects and flowers and wild creatures they have never seen. No cruel stories are told to frighten them, and make night horrible with dreams of lions and tigers that are coming to eat them up. No, the teacher teaches them the wonders of Nature, but not as horrors to excite the worst passions of their nature--fierceness, cruel thoughts of cruelty and revenge. The child learns that nature is one, and that the cat in the nursery is the tiger of the forest, and that the wolf in the forest and the dog in the yard have more in common than there mere name of "Wolf."

Even if the kindergarten teacher knew no more than the merest A B C of her methods, she would have some advantages over an ordinary nurse; how much more, if she were fully trained (as Froebel designed), would she prove an invaluable help in the nursery, whether among a family of hearty children, or where disease or delicacy clouds the life of some sickly child.

A thoroughly trained kindergarten nurse has this in her favour, that even should she not be a lady born, the training, discipline, and experience necessary for her vocation must exercise a refining influence. It is impossible, for example, to adopt either Froebel's principles or his methods in a sincere and intelligent manner, without exercising great self-control and self-discipline. The temper of the student must be trained and controlled--the thoughts, the words, the actions brought into harmony with the highest principles of morality and religion.

If it happen to be a lady by birth who takes the position of a nurse, she will have to fit herself for her work by a good deal of what some people might call menial work, but which will be to her what the sweeping of a floor was to George Herbert's chastened thought. The spirit will make the action fine. The teacher will realise that every loving service which she renders to a child has in it a practical value apart from the moral fact that no service is in itself menial. The firm but gentle hand, the consciousness on the part of the nurse that the physical and mental treatment of a child should be regulated by the laws of nature according to which the child must develop as a whole--this outward skill and this higher knowledge will give the child the advantages of a refined and consistent education even in his infant days. A kindergarten nurse will have studied hygiene--not merely the Latin names of infant diseases and the proper remedies, but the signs of approaching disorder, the best way to avoid it, or the readiest method of relieving it; all thru kindergarten training is practical.

To fit herself thoroughly for her work the kindergarten nurse should add to the direct teaching she receives in the kindergarten, a good useful knowledge of needlework and some handiness in cooking. She should know how to prepare children's food and such articles of invalid's diet as are likely to be required.

With all this skilled, practical knowledge she will have received instruction which, if you call it psychology or knowledge of child-nature, is still part and parcel of her training. She studies the child as a whole, she sees the working of the mind on the body, of the body on the mind. She sees the moral faculties underlying the physical and mental peculiarities in each child; she knows what special influence will be required to counterbalance any undue development of a single characteristic. As she would watch against physical deformity, so even in the infant will she guard against any pronounced tendency likely to injure the symmetrical development of its powers. But, if she be a true kindergarten teacher, she will not deal with any threatened evil by outward force. She will not if she can avoid it in infancy impose an external or forcible restraint upon the child. Instead of ruling by means of a raised hand and angry voice, she will work upon the child's own powers of self-restraint and thus lead him while yet an infant to the secret of all true development, by the discipline which is self-discipline, the control which is self-control, giving the child a consciousness of power, not defiance but self-reliance--not of self-assumption but of obedience to the inner conscience.

The desire to do right is often very feeble in a child, because it is acting on the defensive, its combative faculties having been developed by the outward and vigorous attacks on its little frame. No amount of shaking ever made a naughty child good, but it has made many a good child naughty by rousing the spirit of self-defence. A trained kindergarten nurse will avoid bringing into prominence those words, "good" and "naughty." They are comparative terms, and are more generally the indication of a teacher's temper than of an infant's moral qualities. The child must be trained in obedience, in truthfulness, in neatness, in gentleness, in all virtue. This is positive training, and is not a matter of never-ending "Don't's." Virtue is many sided, but it is indivisible, and in the act of training a child's moral and physical nature, you train it in each of the separate qualities which are supposed to make up a good child.

Typed by Niki McAlister, Sept 2015