The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Ministering Children's League

by the Countess of Meath.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 791-793

On a still autumn morning, I had to make an early start in order to cross the Irish Channel. As I lay awake about dawn, the dismal, oft-reiterated sound of the fog-horn caught my ear, reminding me of Atlantic voyage experiences, during which this dreary noise is all too frequently heard, even breaking into the silence of night. It seems to me that this warning note is in some ways not dissimilar to that of the voice of elders saying over and over again, "Don't do this," where the admonition falls into the ears of restless, high-spirited children, longing to give vent to superfluous energy. The warning, perhaps, remains all unheeded, until at length its neglect leads on to punishment and disgrace on the one side, and worry and anxiety on the other, parent or teacher being conscious of failure in the effort to make the offending child behave rightly. There are many cases, no doubt, when it would be wiser to leave the young folks to their own devices rather than to cause painful friction through too frequent interference. On the other hand, the system of merely letting things go is full of danger. A child may be intent on positive mischief, likely to do him injury or to cause suffering to others, and then restraint becomes a necessity. On such occasions, a burst of passion or the sad display of an openly rebellious spirit might not seldom be happily avoided, if instead of words "Don't do that," those of "Come and do this" could be substituted, and some pleasant occupation devised to employ fidgety hands.

Children can scarcely be too early taught to know the satisfaction derived from useful employment, and as I write this, a vision rises up before me of a sweet little girl of very few summers who would sit for over an hour tearing up bits of paper for the purpose of stuffing a pillow for some needy person, proving that even very small people will gladly do that which some would regard as most unattractive work for an infant. The success of the Kindergarten teaching and the joyful faces of the very youthful scholars also go far to prove that children can be extremely happy when employed, and if this occupation can take the form of some little service rendered to others, it is indeed fortunate. Far too many boys and girls on whose education vast sums are lavished grow up without their ever having learnt that most important lesson, that we are placed in the world to render service to others, and that if we fail to do our duty, not only do others suffer, but we do ourselves great injury. Too many teachers and parents, alas, lose sight of this fact, and boys and girls grow up to lead a selfish life in their maturer age, not only because selfishness is rooted in the human heart, but because the higher and nobler part of their nature has never been properly developed.

A society has been at work since the year 1885 which, when introduced into any town or district by earnest zealous workers, is pre-eminently calculated to prevent such unhappy results. Few, if any, societies started within the limits of the British Empire in comparatively recent years can point to much happier results than can the "Ministering Children's League," unless it be the Parents' Educational Union and the Mothers' Union, and, curiously enough, these associations serve in some ways as if they were made to work together. The object of the former society is to help young folks to become loving and unselfish, and is not this the very desire which is uppermost in the hearts of thousands of fond parents belonging to the Parents' Educational Union? Many a heavy sigh is heaved by parents because a child is willfully disposed and exhortations to be good fall on unheeding ears, and a young offender, after being finally prevented from bullying a younger brother or sister, will proceed to worry the cat or tease the dog, thereby making its life a burden to it. Children should be taught to know the happiness of being kind; in this respect the League is most helpful, and they are also shown that work and prayer should go together. It is wished that every true member of the League should daily kneel down and ask the "Loving Father" to make him "loving, kind and useful to others." After he has done this, it is hoped that the little one will rise up so do at least one kind action, and more if possible, not in the dim future, but on that very same day. If the habit which such a rule is calculated to form be acquired in early youth, are the supporters of the association to be considered too sanguine if they have the highest hopes of its effects on the boy's or girl's after life? No; for is not the power of love which lies at the root of kindness almost infinite?

Hitherto I have spoken of the merits of the Ministering Children's League only as an excellent aid to the formation of character, but the help the Society gives to the needy must not be forgotten. The mere enumeration of the institutions that owe their origin to the League points to the fact of its usefulness and also to the wide-spread range of its operations. Three Homes for Destitute Children in Surrey, a Convalescent Home at Exmouth, and a Coffee-house in Richmond, are most helpful establishments for the poor in England; two institutions, one a Hospital and the other a Convalescent Home, exist in Australia; a Children's Hospital and a Chapel for the Red Indians must be sought for in Transatlantic lands; whilst as teaching of industries for the blind is being started in Alexandria, in Egypt, it is not impossible that a basket shop in this far-off country may be established within a reasonable space of time. As for the number of garments made for the poor, it would have been next to an impossibility to keep count of them; nor indeed has there even been a list preserved of all the charitable institutions--except those originated by the League--which have been materially helped by the association: but as every branch when started is expected, as far as possible, to work for some definite charitable object, it will be readily imagined that there is no lack of benevolent undertakings which have been greatly aided by the Ministering Children's League. However, as I am anxious to interest the readers of this magazine in the Ministering Children's League, I can, perhaps, best effect my purpose by telling them that the Society has been truthfully said to be making "homes happier," and therefore I can cordially invite mothers to join with their children in this happy, joyful task. I must only add that the office of the Ministering Children's League is at 83, Lancaster Gate, London (where the Society's papers, etc, can be obtained), the house in which the first League meeting was held.

Proofread July 2011, LNL