The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Characteristics of Childhood

by Robert Dunning, Master of Method, formerly Head Master of the Home and Colonial Schools.
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 449-451


1. The mind of a child is never idle. The mother's business is to see that it is properly employed.

2. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if the mind be not occupied with good it will be filled with evil.

3. Mistake not the desire of activity for the love of mischief.

Whoever holds an infant in his arms for a few minutes becomes aware of the stirring of this principle. Whoever watches the infant's progress from earliest to later childhood, must note the potent and constant influence it exerts. From the first the child throws its limbs about, is attracted by light, pleased with bright colours. From the first it listens to sound, and delights in cheerful, lively notes that set it in motion. A little later it imitates sounds, and takes intense interest in its own efforts to attain progressive movements, first by crawling, then by walking from one chair to another with help, till at last it achieves the triumphant success of running alone.

We sometimes awaken to a just admiration of the marks of design exhibited in the structure and arrangements of the material world; but the signs of wisdom and goodness presented to us in the world of mind are not less striking. In each, God manifests His ends and His methods of securing them. The love of activity implanted in children secures their development; the constant play of their senses on the material world is the appointed means of making them acquainted with it--of storing their minds with those ideas which form the basis of the reasoning powers, while the touch given meanwhile to the sensitive feelings of the child culminates in the development of the moral sentiment. It is impossible to doubt the Divine goodness in so forming children that seeing, hearing, speaking, and feeling should be to them at once sources of enjoyment and means of improvement. Moreover, the love of activity is the foundation of industry, "invented," Hesiod says, "by the gods, in order to make men virtuous." He might have added, "happy also." The first man and woman were put into the garden to dress it and to keep it.

To gain an ascendency over children we must study them, know them, and deal with them in conformity to the laws of their nature. The love of activity is one of their strongest propensities. We must not confound it with the love of mischief. We must follow the manifest intention of the all-wise Creator in providing continual food for it. Children are noisy and troublesome only when they have nothing to do, are mischievous because they must be doing something. As fairy tales teach us, "work must be made for them." Therefore, when they begin to learn to read, exercise the children by making finger letters in the air and letting them imitate; by forming letters and even words with laths before they copy them on slates. They should also make up words with movable letters. An exerise on the slate is a part of every lesson, so are the children's illustrations in drawing, an occupation delightful to the little folk.

In teaching number do not be in haste to exchange the use of balls and other objects for slate and mental exercises. Work with the balls for some time after beginning with slates. In making up their own multiplication tables by addition, and in drawing up the other tables from coins, weights, and measures laid before them, im committing such tables to memory the children make rapid and energetic progress.

Exercise the youngest children in threading beads and needles, tying knots, tearing paper for stuffing pillows, folding paper into various shapes, cutting paper, plaiting string, and ruling lines. Children should make, or help to make, their own playthings. It is said that

The children in Holland take pleasure in making
What the children in England take pleasure in breaking.

Drawing and writing cannot be practised without incessant manual activity.

Singing, marching, exercises, and games speak for themselves.

In lessons on objects, plants, and animals encourage the children to collect the specimens they are called on to examine.

In lessons on place, as introductory to geography, the children distinguish the different positions of objects, and fix them as directed in connection with the points of the compass. For the use of models in the next step, see Mrs. Marcet's "Land and Water." If the children construct their own models with the help of a wheel-barrow full of clay, or a sandpit, delightful work is accomplished. When this is impracticable a good deal may be done with a pair of scissors and cardboard, especially if the cardboard be of two colours: white for land, and blue for water. The elder children would take pleasure in acting a game in which each represents a country, and in answer to questions describe it.

But the kindergarten surpasses anything yet presented to schools for exercising the principle of activity. Pestalozzi taught the child to use his hands as well as his brain, but Froebel educated the hand by a number of various and interesting exercises such as Pestalozzi had not wrought out. This is the merit of Froebel's method. The mistake about it is to regard it as a complete system of infant education.

Morally, intellectually, and physically make use of the love of activity. Delegate power as fully as possible. Place the most active and exuberant spirits in posts of authority. Commit to them special duties, such as will employ their overflowing energies. Even as the skilful engineer converts the sweeping torrent and the wasting flame into the prime movers of his machinery, so the master-workman at the head of a school or family converts the activity that would run into turbulence and riot into a source of incalculable wealth.

Typed by Pamela Hicks, Feb 2013