The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Study of a Child of Two.

Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 624



DEAR AUNT--I will do my best to fulfil your request and send you a description of my two-year old Nellie that may help you to realise her present "knowledge and powers." To begin with, she weighs thirty and a-quarter pounds, and measures 2 ft. 9 in., so she is not a big child, though very plump and round. She has the same very fair pink and white pearly complexion that the others had at the same age. If I give you some account of her birthday last week, it will perhaps enable you to picture her better than any mere straightforward description of her. She quite understood that she was queen of the day, and was full of importance and the sweetest, merriest joy. When I went into the nursery the first thing that morning, the little fairy was dancing, just with a gleeful consciousness that somehow she was of even more importance than usual. "Look, I dance," she said. The dance being over, she was led to the window, where a most dainty cradle was standing, fully equipped; the beloved doll Daisy lying therein with a very clean face and staring blue eyes. This was received in speechless rapture, but not an instant was lost in taking off and examining the bedclothes one by one; and she would have continued to make and unmake the bed for an hour in peaceful enjoyment, had not the other children coaxed her away in their impatience to present their gifts. A large india-rubber ball brightly coloured was next displayed, and gave great delight; she carried it off to her father, and pointed to each different colour, calling it by its right name, which surprised me; for though she has for some time been able to match the coloured cards in the kindergarten box, very quickly and correctly, I had no idea she knew their names. When she came down after breakfast she made the discovery of your box of tea-things. If she has one supreme interest, it is cups and saucers, jugs and teapots; and the small blue china tea service that stands in the drawing-room is in perpetual temptation to the small fingers. Fortunately for the the china, her conscience is equal to the demand upon it, and she never touches it without leave. So to find herself the possessor of a whole set of tea-things was the height of birthday bliss; and immediately the the doll's table was fetched, the four low chairs placed round it, and for more than an hour the four little fair heads and laughing faces had an imaginary tea-party. I wish you could have heard the funny remarks and merry laughter that went on. I did not attempt to write or read, but gave myself up to enjoy it as I sat sewing in the window.

"I am so hungry" said one. "I am so thirsty, said another. "I are so gweedy!" put in Nellie, which sally was received with shouts of applause and laughter, as she helped herself to some crumbs of chocolate, which were doing service for bread and butter. The aptness of her repartee is as striking as its readiness. We often can hardly believe her speeches come from such very new little lips. When I thought the excitement of the tea-party had lasted long enough, I sent the two elder children away, and Robin, Nellie, and I "washed up" in the dolls' bath; "Daisy" and the black velvet endospore were put to bed in the new cradle, and finally the little birthday girl laid her head on my knee saying, "I are wevvy tired," and then retired with "Topsy" and Robin to bed for her morning sleep. She and Robin are inseparable, and quite devoted to each other. When he pathetically suggested that some of her presents ought to be for him, she promptly replied "I will lend them to you Wobin, and then you lend 'em back to me."

When father came home he opened the door upon a pretty scene. We were all established in the front hall, the birthday cake on your small table with its two little candles, and the the wreath of ivy and cowslips round it. The small owner, crowned with a wreath of daisies, lilies of the valley, and forget-me-nots (the work of her sister's clever little hands), was standing beside it, to cut and distribute it.

Robin had been greatly afflicted during a drive in the afternoon by discovering, in the course of conversation on the box, that the coachman never had biscuits for tea. He was consoled by Nellie's quick suggestion that he should have some cake, so off the two trotted, carrying a slice to the stable-yard; and on their return she insisted, without anything further to suggest it, on having a piece cut for each of the servants, including the charwoman, and the kitchenmaid, who is gone away for her holiday! Off she went to the kitchen, stretching out her hand to each in turn, saying, "Here's my birfday cake for 'oo." Then followed some rides up and down the drive on "Gipsy," and at last the happy, eager, busy, little spirit subsided into sleep. She will never have a happier birthday; but there is something about her which will always, I think, make her a focus of happiness wherever she is. All the children go to her when they are hurt, bodily or mentally, to be "made better," and she always says something funny, suggestive, or sympathetic, to turn their thoughts or console them. The other day she was crying about some little thwarting, and Robin joined her, and both were "fussing," when Nellie suddenly stopped, peeped at Robin through the bars of the nursery chair, and said, "What silly babies we are!" Instantly equanimity was restored. She and Robin do their "lessons" with me every day. She is very handy, but cannot keep her attention fixed on any occupation so long as the others did at her age; but she is extremely quick in her perceptions, and rarely makes a mistake in matching either the colours or "forms," which is a very favourite lesson. She can say by heart any number of nursery rhymes, and will often prompt Robin in his poetry, and she can herself say quite long pieces, such as the "Turtle Doves" and the "Raindrops," with only an occasional reminder. I have often heard her count up to twenty, generally missing seventeen; but she has no understanding of the value of numbers above two. If she wishes to convey the idea of more than two she counts up to twenty. Of course, I have not taught her anything; "she learns," as her sister says. She chooses to do her lessons with Robin, and I give her the kindergarten box to play with, but she learns entirely by "private discovery." She knows the names of a great many flowers. I counted at least twelve that she speaks of habitually by their name, and was surprised to discover that she didn't confuse a celandine and a buttercup, which I thought very observant in so young a child.

Like many children, she is afraid of a sudden or very loud noise. About a month ago we had a thunderstorm. The two little ones were at tea in the nursery, when a flash of lightning came right across the table, and, immediately after, a great peal of thunder. Both children burst into tears, jumped off their chairs, and clung to nurse, who had to finish her tea with a child on each knee. Robin asked all manner of questions about it, and begged nurse "to go out-a-doors and say don't do it again." When Nellie perceived that Robin was as frightened as herself, she tried to comfort him. "Never mind, Wobin; it was Kunder's litile joke. Me tell Kunder not to make annover litile joke." When nurse had exhausted all her resources in trying to reassure Robin, he suggested, pathetically, that he had better ask father about it, which he did; and the two little things, with the tears still on their faces, came into the drawing-room, and sitting, one on his knee, the other on mine, listened with great interest while he spoke to them very simply about the thunderclouds. Whereupon Nellie, impersonating it at once (in a very human manner), expatiated in her baby-language upon the way in which the clouds spread out their hands over the sky, and made a great bang, bringing her little hands together and stamping to emphasise her performance. She has such facility in expressing her ideas (which seem to me to flow very readily through her mind for so young a child) that she makes Robin seem backward. I think Nellie is unusually quick and forward; but she is so well-developed all round that one cannot consider her unduly precocious--a tendency which is always distressing to me. She is, moreover, so invariably happy, so completely free from any approach to fretfulness, that I am sure her development, if it is unusually forward, is the result of health, not of over mental activity, as I once it feared it might be; for she is equally robust in her body, running, and climbing, and riding the pony in the most fearless and independent manner. She is not yet at the age for wilfulness or self-assertion, of which I hardly ever expect to see signs before the end of the third year. But it will be well for us, and for her, as the years go by, if she remains the sunny presence amongst us that she is now--a centre of unselfish love from the other children, and a restraining influence in all their little troubles and disputes. I hope I have not tired you with my long story.

"Honour Bright."

Typed by Kati Renee McCrone, April 2016