The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
By the Way
I have been reading with the greatest interest Miss Shireff's book on the "Kindergarten at Home," so warmly recommended in the magazine for November, and it occurs to me that it may be worth while to note down various things that have struck me in the perusal, especially of the first four chapters. I am the mother of three little girls, aged four years, three years, and nine months, and I feel most strongly the force and value of all Miss Shireff says of Froebel's system, and especially of its continuity from the very earliest period of life onwards. At the same time, I think that to a very large extent the system is followed instinctively by mothers, who exercise what may be called an intellectual care for their children, in addition to the purely physical one. But before entering into the subject of Froebel's gifts, which is what I especially wish to do, I must say that while agreeing in the main with the ideas in the chapter on "Infant education," one suggestion I think unwise. It is the gentle exercise of the baby fingers by the mother's hand, in order to give suppleness and so forth. In the first place, surely such exercise would tend to develop unduly the size of any growing hand so treated methodically; and secondly, nature provides that the baby itself should constantly exercise both hands and feet. Who does not know the ceaseless opening and shutting of fingers and toes in infants, even from birth, and the charming way in which babies of a few months old have extend their arms when sitting up or being carried about, as if to give themselves balance -- the fingers usually half unclosed and spread? And as regards the accuracy and precision of touch aimed at by Froebel in this suggestion, I often think that in firmness and delicacy of touch, as shown in piling safely more and more bricks on to an already tottering edifice, children far surpass their elders.
In the first few months, habit and regularity in all that concerns physical life seems to me all that is possible, and a great thing too in itself; then with the awakening intelligence the ordinary longing of mothers to arouse response of feeling and expression provides abundance of stimulus to the little brain. My baby, not yet nine months old, knows ma-ma, dada, and the two little sisters, each by name, looking at each with a beaming smile when the name is mentioned; she knows the word bottle, as we see from the excitement when it is mentioned about feeding time; when asked what a doggie says, she always makes the same sound (intended for bow), and smiles when it is suggested that she should "pat a cake." Presently she will wave her hand for "ta-ta" on leaving the room, stroke the poor face that she has unwittingly struck, and so on -- a constantly widening area of intelligence. I speak always of my own children, as it is from observation of them that my ideas come; but it seems to me that the treatment of all infants is practically the same, both physical and mental; and that admirable and suggestive as are the ideas put forth by Miss Shireff, there is little that does not occur naturally to a sympathetic mother or nurse.
Now with regard to the two first gifts and their use by a mother in exactly the way laid down by Froebel, five is said to be beyond the right age for beginning, and two and a-half not too young; but at this age, the greatest amount of outdoor exercise that the weather will possibly permit, and a good rest before early dinner, are so important that the time for the use of these gifts at a special table is very limited, and I think that the same ideas may be taught, and the same mental exercise given, without any of the usual kindergarten method or apparatus.
My little girls come down to me as soon as possible after breakfast, to stay until time for their walk. They are brimming over with interest in whatever is going on, and never at a loss for a moment for occupation.
Now supposing I produced the first gift: they both know perfectly the shape and consequent behaviour of balls. They have possessed many of all shapes and colours since their infancy, and know each one individually, describing them as the "red one," the "green one," the "one mother gave me," and so forth, as well as all facts about their rolling more quickly down hill. Relative hardness and softness of things they also know, as I have found from numerous chance remarks. I have taught them to distinguish colours by pointing out and naming the colours of pictures, plants, &c., and calling attention to the same colour in objects about the room. They take a thorough interest in it, and the subject can be still further dwelt on when they are threading beads -- a very favourite occupation -- by suggesting which colour should be taken next. "Now a green one," now a terra-cotta one," and so forth. They seldom make a mistake, and indulge in various fancies of their own with great zest. The directions of motion -- forwards, backwards, right, left -- that are suggested with the use of the first gift can be easily taught, and I think are taught and learnt unconsciously.
The second gift, with its ball, cube, and cylinder, also seems to me superfluous. The properties of balls the children already know, and the cube and cylinder are familiar to them from Richter's delightful boxes of stone bricks, in which are building materials of all shapes and colours, moulded with such accuracy that their use for building is of real educational value. From these, I think every lesson connected with the second gift as described by Miss Shireff could with perfect ease be given, and the more so as these bricks are very favourite toys. At the children's early dinner, with my luncheon, endless opportunities arise in questions as to what they have seen in their walks, or if wet, what games they have been playing at in the nursery, for fostering the habit of observation and recollection of detail of all kinds. After tea, they come to me again until bed time, this time with baby sister; and as she is too small to join in the others' games, patience has to be exercised in waiting for the longed-for game of Lotto, or singing at the piano; amusing baby instead until she goes. Then there is a rush for the Lotto-box, and I think the discipline of making each play properly in turn and be ready to answer quickly as the names on the cards are called out, is excellent, though the children are all unconscious that it is more than play. The Picture Lotto, which is as yet all that my children have attained to, is good in increasing their knowledge of names of things both familiar and unfamiliar, and they show great interest, and wish to hear all about the various objects which the pictures represent. Then at the end there are the counters to be counted, and this is a fresh pleasure. Indeed I find great interest shown continually in counting, which has been excited by frequent introduction of the subject: "How many kittens are there in that picture?" or "How many buttons on your long new boot?" for instance; and I hope gradually by combination of visible units to teach the rudiments of arithmetic.
I am most anxious that these notes should not in any way give the impression that I do not appreciate the value of Miss Shireff's book, or of Froebel's method, or think them trivial. On the contrary, I have read the earlier chapters with the greatest interest, and think them full of most valuable suggestions; but I also think that, in the early stage at all events, education can be carried on on Froebel's lines but without his special apparatus; the advantage being that it can the more easily be interwoven with the chosen pursuits of each child, and adapted also to the different capabilities and temperament of each, without interfering at all with the equally important daily physical routine.
I think the admirable sketch called "Theology in a Nursery" in the December magazine should be emphasized with some remarks on the folly of reading the Bible to children without selection.
The following incidents may be more effective than discussion.
The first was the direct result of the Bible story of Jael and Sisera, and was within an ace of being fatal.
A friend of mine looked into the nursery one day, and there was her five-year-old kneeling above the recumbent baby, and holding a nail to the baby's temple, and a hammer in the other uplifted hand, saying, as she entered, "Lie still, Neville! Lis still, Neville!" In another instant the hammer would have descended, and the happiness of that family would forever have departed. The poor mother was almost too paralyzed with horror to do anything, but, fortunately, by a great effort, put sufficient control on her nerves to enable her to rush forward and snatch the hammer out of the child's hand.
She was careful after that what stories she told the children, and did not any longer think that being a Bible story was enough guarantee of its suitability.
The other is less tragic, or at least is not dramatic, for perhaps rightly considered it is more tragic.
A most intimate friend has described to me the effect on him of the story of Elisha and the bears. He says he is convinced that it gave him an immensely strong distrust of Divine justice, and a feeling that "good men" were cruel and arrogant. Of course as a child he never put these ideas even to himself into form. Probably also he never uttered the most distant hint of what crude thoughts he had, for although his parents were not harsh, the doctrine of the wickedness of "saying things" was implicitly believed and filled the air. But notwithstanding this, the story bred a bias in his small mind, all the stronger very likely for want of expression, and he is convinced it tinged his reflections and even judgments long after he reached years of thought.
This and many other stories are stories of dark ages. Viewed historically, they have a value, but a child translates every story of any age (as our own remembrances surely tell us) into the present, and imagines it happening yesterday within a circuit of a few miles from his home, and the agents become to him types by which he judges of the sentiments of the otherwise incomprehensible grown-ups around him.
Remembering this, would any one tell such a tale as relating to the vicar of his own parish and the children of his own village? If not, do not tell it, for that is how it will sound to the child.
Some of our readers may like to know that the article on the "Aesthetic Emotions in a Child" is from Prof. Ferri's "Osservazioni sopra una Bambina" (La Filosofia della Schole Italianna).
Typed by kristen, June 2017
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