The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Dr. E. A. Abbott on "The Co-operation of Parents and Teachers." *
Professor Hales spoke of the great advances made of late years in the teaching profession. Not so long ago, any one thought he could teach; now, teachers are, for the most part, excellently prepared and fitted for their work. It may be questioned whether parents, as parents, have kept pace with the advances of teachers. Their leisure is apt to be absorbed by outside interest, and mothers, especially, are sadly taken up with ever-encroaching social claims. Perhaps, indeed, parents allow themselves to be the more lax just because the schools are so much better than they were. But that there is a growing sense of parental responsibility is evidenced by the fact that many parents begin to doubt the wisdom of making over this responsibility to the heads of boarding schools, and to recognise as a drawback to the boarding school system, however excellent the school, that it withdraws children from the personal care and supervision of their parents. On the other hand, it is easy to see how the reputation of such a teacher as Dr. Abbott, for example, should tempt parents to lay down their responsibilities with a comfortable sense that their children are in wiser and abler hands than theirs.
Dr. Abbott said, that it is too much the custom to look upon education as the business of the teacher only. The thing to be aimed at is co-operation between parents and teachers on the ground that both are engaged in the one work. For the object of education is to make a child capable of living his life to the full. He should be prepared to do his best in the state of life he may fill, and a wide range of the intelligent joys of life should be opened to him. This work of moulding the character, of cultivating, quickening, and directing the powers, is work for the home quite as much as for the school. Indeed, the school has a fair chance only when parents send their children prepared in some measure to take up its work. This, of preparing the children for school, is a form of co-operation very assisting to teachers, and the question is, How can the parents best prepare the young pupil for school?
First, in body. A well-grown, healthy child is the most able for work of all kinds. Nature is generally the best guide in dictating what exercises are good to develop the child. Leave him to himself, and he will choose plenty of play in the fresh-air, and nothing could be better for him. Froebel's system is useful for town children, who have less chance of open-air play. It may be believed in too much, but it is good, so far as it is "Nature systematised," and mothers and governesses can very usefully carry it out at home.
With regard to the mind, the most useful preparatory training that can be given to the child is training in the habit and power of attention. The wonderful doings of "performing" dogs and monkeys are the results of careful training in the habit of attention to the word of command. It is often possible to judge of a child's ability by his power of fixing his mind on one thing at a time with all his might. Parents and nurses might at least be careful not to destroy this power, as they too often do. They are not content to let the child examine and ponder over a plaything in his own rather vague way, but are always ready to distract his attention with new sounds and new sights. A child should be allowed to take in things in his own way, and should not be disturbed. Children should be left alone more than they are in the nursery, and, if possible, out of doors. Then the child should be encouraged to seek information. Teaching is of no good at all, unless as the child seeks it to supplement the information he picks up for himself by using his eyes and his fingers. Let children work on their own account; let them have spare time, and take up hobbies and ride them to death. Let them make their own discoveries, and have their own failures. If the children will not naturally work for themselves the parents should find means to induce them to do so. To get a visit from a child who has a hobby is a good way to propagate it.
For moral training, children should be taught, in the first place, to will instantaneous obedience, based on the reverence they feel for their parents. They must learn to obey instinctively as a dog does. To form this habit of obedience it is necessary that parents should be careful not to command too much, and commands should be given, not only with love, but with sympathy with the child's moods and interest. There is danger of pressing obedience too far--that is, of giving a command which the child cannot obey without a great struggle, and, perhaps, a sense of injury. Secure the child's confidence; then he will obey at once; but do not interfere with him without adequate cause. Constant interference secures only a sullen compliance, and thus real harm is done to the character, the perfecting of which is the object of all training. A second snare to parents and nurses is the temptation to get obedience by coaxing. The obedience so secure is quite worthless, and the child's conscience is tampered with. Servants often undo the most careful training in this matter of obedience. So that care should be taken, not only in choosing servants, but in making them understand the principles on which the parents act.
Develop helpfulness. Children like helping their parents, and this makes them thoughtful. Readiness, forethought, and punctuality can be developed through their wish to help, and that most useful habit formed, the habit of doing the thing you don't like first.
All this parental training is of the utmost importance. The Jesuits took their best teachers to train the young children, because they knew that the character is often made or marred between the ages of "nought" and seven.
As to mere information--if a boy is going to a public school, it is well to teach him French at home first. This applies in a lesser degree to girls also. Though philologically wrong, it is a good plan to teach French before Latin. It is of more interest to the child to learn a living language that can be spoken than one he can make no present use of. It is a good plan, too, to teach a child to write letters at home.
Again, children should be got into the way of learning by heart before they go to school; the memory is thus strengthened, and the later school-work made easier. It must be remembered that children are very imitative, and it is well not to do things before them unless you can do them pretty well.
Before a girl begins her school-life, take measures to ensure regular bodily exercise, else this will be crowded out by other things.
Do not lecture a child before she goes to school. Impress on her only one or two things. She will probably find her school-fellows rough, or sly, or disagreeable in some way. Teach her to believe the maxim that "You are as good as I am." And, also, that "All teachers are mortal"--that she may not be afraid to speak to them and ask them questions.
The first week read over the school rules at home. These rules should be rather ample, and should include advice for home work, and for conduct on the way to and from school. Try to make children see the reason of the rules. The habit of thoughtful, free obedience must be carried on into school-life. Parents will also do well to point out to their children that they cannot expect just the same careful justice they have been accustomed to at home. The teacher can do no more than administer justice of a rough and ready kind, having to strike an average of the class, and do what is fair to all. It would be a good plan to have a fixed amount of work for the whole class, and some extra work which is not marked, and does not pay, for the clever children. Parents should not sign the time-table as a mere form; they should really let the teachers know about the children's work: more particularly, they should let the class teachers know when the children are fretting over their work, or do not understand it.
Children at day-schools should have some spare time. The ideal at some public schools is to have all the time taken up in one way or another. But it should not be so at day-schools--the children should have time for interests of their own.
Sometimes, in the first few weeks a child is at school, the parents are alarmed at the complete extinction of all his intellectual tastes. Athletics and social interests quite take their place. Parents should allow for this, and wait. The child will return to his old tastes, having meanwhile probably learnt several things. In boarding schools the house-master stands in place of the parent. Where children attend day-schools the parent should take care to be in his own place. He should see to regular hours being kept, and not allow either over-work or over-play, or other dissipation of energy.
Parents might with advantage communicate more with the teachers about mental and moral deficiencies in the children. They should communicate with the class teacher, and it is best done by letter, stating facts, briefly and precisely. Some children are too ambitious, some morbidly introspective, or there may be more serious faults.
Then, parents would do well to sympathise more with teachers, especially with women assistant teachers. it is to the parents' advantage that they should not be careworn, for cheerfulness is a great point in a class. Children might be taught some consideration for their teachers, and, socially, something might be done for them. If in future a pension fund is started for teachers, parents should support the movement.
Miss Barnett moved the resolution: "That this meeting recognises the importance of the work to be done, and pledges itself to support the Parents' National Educational Union." She said that every one nowadays thinks that things can be improved, and would therefore be ready to support the Parents' Union.
There is some misunderstanding between parents and teachers. Parents say that when they complain they get no redress. Why are teachers so powerful? Why can they coerce parents? The Parents' Union does not wish to push the teacher aside, but to improve the parent into possessing the first place. Parents should find out how teachers work, and, with their larger opportunities, follow these methods. Teachers have a single aim, and they move straight towards it. Then, teachers are trained, and parents are untrained. Teachers hang together, and help one another, passing on the systematised knowledge they have acquired. Teachers have an exalted idea of themselves, and parents have not. People are apt to think anything a higher object in life than bringing up children. Parents must get an ideal, and walk towards it with patient steps/
Mrs. Ormiston Chant seconded the resolution, saying that, as a teacher, she had formerly often thought the ideals of home very low. Children should be allowed more individualism. More time should be given to the physical training of children, and to the physical exercise of teachers.
* Report of a meeting of the St. John's Wood Branch of the P.N.E.U., which is given at some length because the subjects discussed are of so great interest to parents.
Typed by happi, June 2017
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