The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

Early Religious Teaching

by Mrs. Hart-Davis
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 654-658

Owing to the length of the discussion of Mr. Beeching's paper, Mrs. Hart-Davis had not time to make any remarks of her own. She has yielded to a pressing request, and put them on paper as follows:—

I have been asked to deal for a few moments with the religious teaching of very young children. All parents who think at all seriously feel the responsibility of the infant years, and especially now that so many children leave early for school. Most of the difficulties that one hears people speak of may be ranged under two heads: (1) distrust of themselves; (2) want of knowledge of the art of teaching, and of tact in seizing the golden opportunity. Under the first head come all the perplexities which especially beset those who have read and studied and have taken interest in Biblical criticism; those who call themselves "unsettled," who think they are not safe in teaching anything without a little manual to keep them from error, and those who are frightened at intelligent questions showing originality of thought in the little minds they deal with, who shrink from touching sacred subjects lest they should have to put down irreverence and be unable to cope with it. I once heard a mother say, "I would rather let nurse teach them, she believes it all." Would anything be gained by shirking this duty? Certainly, the childhood of Lord Shaftesbury shows that some children have learnt more from a pious nurse than from a careless mother, but every child in his heart demands to know, and does know at last, his parent's opinions on religion. Ignorance on this matter is impossible, and would become the greatest bar to friendship in later life. A parent who lets go the privilege of entering into the sanctuary of the simple faith of a child's young heart, cannot dare ever hope for the peace of a calm and settled mind. To look into a child's clear eyes and hear him say, "Oh! that I could see God," when he first realizes Him, is an experience equal to holding the hand of Elijah as he stood upon the rock in the great storm. These moments are few in a lifetime, but they do come in the quiet hours of Bible study. The great heroes of the Bible may become as friends to a child before any others, may inspire his whole life with enthusiasm for high and noble deeds, and he should learn by heart the real words each of them said, and ponder them well.

Pictures, of course, come to our hand and are the earliest influence we can bring to bear. The very best masters are now easily within our reach. Too many should not be given at once, but some kept in reserve. As a child learns to love a picture he may also have made for him a note-book with the words he is to learn by heart. The sense of possession is strong and may be made great use of in this way. Though he may be too young to read his note-book, yet, if it is his own, he will value it, and treasure it perhaps all his life. Later on he will do the same with his own Bible. Services in Church become more real if a well-chosen passage has been prepared, and is watched for as a particular possession. Again, the same passages can be placed out by tiny fingers from a special Sunday letter-box, or pricked on paper, or traced with coloured pencils. All the clever little plans which can be seen in any good infant school can be applied to the infant powers if it is felt that parents will be appreciative.

With regards to reverence, it can only come by contact with a reverent manner. If we let our own standard of a child's mind go down from the ideal taught us by Christ, and from "the heaven that lies about us in our infancy," to the wretched low level of those passages in the fiction of the present day, where a child's remarks are made capital of merely for the sale of a novel, if we ever permit for a moment the "show off" at bed-time of the sacredest moment in the day, what can we expect? I do not hesitate to say that if we fail to teach reverence we fail altogether. But we need not always notice every lapse—what we must do is to distinguish between the intentional and the apparent irreverence. Where there are children of different ages, much insight for ourselves may be gained by letting the elder ones express themselves for the younger ones to listen to, and we shall thus get some curious and interesting word pictures. Choose the brightest times for your teaching. Let no languor be in your own manner, nor fatigue in the children's feelings. Let the heights of the blue sky, the majestic size of a sacred building, the protecting strength of a Father's care, a Madonna's gentle love, be your emblems. Use the imagery of the book of Revelation freely, and Isaiah, and passages from the Prophets. Let each of the parables be well talked over, and all the hard words and the customs of the Eastern nations and Eastern life be explained—for which you will need many illustrations, and require to prepare from books like Stanley's, and Conybeare and Howson on the Acts, The Land and the Book, and others. Use all the best and most standard books and poems as illustrations. Take the best parts of the Divina Comedia, the Garden of Eden in Milton, the Little Lamb of W. Blake, and even Saul by Browning. Never think any great book too high for you to gain ideas from—if you can make them intelligible in your own way. Never be afraid that your teaching is too discursive if it deals with subjects that interest you yourself, and which you love; the child will seize your enthusiasm and follow your thought. Do not be troubled if he gets the order and chronology of the long ages of the word a bit troubled and twisted. Chronology and the scaffolding are for school days. Keep your early happy hours for the lives of men, and the great examples of the Bible. Deal with the real things that actually happened, and read the actual words whenever it is possible. The time is short, the little ones soon leave your hands for other teachers, the little open ingenuous remarks die away, and "custom lies upon us with a weight heavy as frost, and deep almost as life." Let your aim be to plant some real ideas so deep, and water them so well with your own influence, that in after life the thought of yourself shall be so bound up with God and the Bible that nothing can part them. Take one book, one gospel, or one great character at a time and patiently and steadily teach it and talk it over day by day, and "He that watereth shall be watered also himself." Your own religion will grow deeper and purer without your knowing it. Such is your certain reward. There is so much positive instruction to be given that we need not shrink from giving it for fear of doing harm. Difficulties will arise later, but in the very early days, we may do much to lay a foundation which shall make their approach less dangerous. While we are giving way to anxiety on the subject of dogma, we forget how great are the daily struggles a child has with himself to learn to rule his own nature and conquer his egotism. Sentimental Tommy [by J. M. Barrie] is intensely real when, after promising his mother, as he lay beside her, that he would never do the wrong things against which she warned him, he murmured to himself, as he fell asleep, "But I should fell like to."

It is here that that power of religion has to come in. "He pleased not himself." "He rose up a great while before day." "He continued all night in prayer to God." Let a child drink in the might and power here contained, and without much addition of your own the example will tell on daily life. Above all let the little ones express their thoughts freely, and encourage them to tell you their difficulties. A child once said to me, "When Christ was asked questions about what his disciples could not understand, he did not say to them 'be quiet.'" Set the highest value you can on the confidences of young children. They are yours now, and if you wish to keep them for a lifetime, your greatest power to do so will be through the recollection of the talks on sacred things, and the moments of inspiration passing from you to the child.

Only souls that keep their place
By their own light, and watch things roll,
And stand, have light for any soul.
(from Prelude, by Algernon Charles Swinburne)

At 3 p.m., a service was held at St. Mary Abbots, Kensington. An address was given by the Rev. Prebendary Ridgeway, but unfortunately there was no report.

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From 4-7 p.m., a Garden Party (by kind invitation of Mrs. Winkworth) was held at Holly Lodge, Campden Hill, W. The kindness of the gracious hostess and the lovely garden, one of the most famous in London, were greatly appreciated.

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The Natural History Exhibition was on view at the Portman Rooms, on Wednesday and Thursday, the 15th and 16th.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, Mar 2009