The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

Volume 13, 1902, pg. 966-973

Invited by the Editor, on three papers in the November number:--
     II.--The Teaching of Music in Schools.
     III.--Parents from a Teacher's Point of View.

Dear Editor,

It is with mixed feelings that I have been reading lately several attacks on the Kindergarten system. Firstly, comes a feeling of sorrow--sorrow on two different accounts. One is that those who are trying to fairly weigh the system, and give it their deliberate consideration, should stop short at the poor imperfect manifestations of it in the hands of one or another exponent, and not go to the fountain-head, and read, mark, learn and inwardly digest what the founder of the system meant. I suppose that is just what we do with Christianity. We judge of it by the lives and deeds of the poor human exponents of it instead of imbibing at first hand its Founder's divine principles.

The second reason for sorrow is that we Kindergartners, some of us, who know so well what the system should be and do, should fail so often and make such mistakes as to lay us open to these very just criticisms on our work. For they are just, and perfectly conscientious criticisms on the part of thoughtful people who have been watching our work and its effects on certain children. But what I, and other Kindergartners who are "full of enthusiasm for a theory," claim, is that these are not true criticisms of the theory itself, only of imperfect practice of that theory. To quote an instance. A celebrated and clever oculist has been writing his protest against Kindergarten work destroying the eyesight. No doubt Froebel's drawing, used as it was in his day, is distinctly trying, and for this reason many Kindergartners are not now using it to the same extent. But Froebel would not have advocated keeping to that kind of drawing as a charm. He simply found that it was a much loved and much used occupation of the children in his time, and he also saw what intelligence it brought out in the weavers who used this method of designing their work. So he said of this, as of all other children's occupations which he saw used around him: "Look what the educational advantages of this occupation are and use them intelligently to bring out those advantages in the children. You will not have such dull, unintelligent children to deal with at the school age if you use the occupation and plays of childhood, as I see, and as the world's history proves, they are capable of being used." It had not been recognised then that this close drawing and the reading and writing of such close characters as the German alphabet are composed of had such bad consequences on the eyesight, or Froebel himself would have been the first to choose a different occupation which would develop the same faculties, e.g., brush drawing as now taught; for one of his principles is that care should be taken to develop naturally and carefully every muscle and nerve in the body, and that no undue strain should be placed on any one. [footnote: I wonder if this oculist has considered how much of this mischief may have been done before the Kindergarten age, by careless nurses and mothers leaving the children to lie blinking in the sunshine in their perambulators, letting them thread small beads in a dark corner of the nursery, etc., etc.]

Again, your correspondent, M. McCallum, saw that some little boys were "distinctly bored" with what they were engaged in. This would not have been had the Kindergartner in charge of them watched carefully what Froebel called "the budding points" for fresh energies. He is most emphatic that directly the craving arises for fresh unfolding of the powers, as soon as the energy cries out for fresh difficulties to be wrestled with and conquered, those difficulties and opportunities for unfolding should be supplied. He would warn us that the difficulties should be always proportioned to the child's powers, even as we should be careful in physical development not to give the child of five or seven dumbbells or bars which a youth of fifteen or seventeen could use with advantage. This is where he finds previous educators to have made mistakes: they have given the child intellectual gymnastics not a little, but a great deal too far in advance of its intellectual powers. And here lies the danger that we Kindergartners encounter, in trying to counteract this fault--the danger of going to the other extreme, and "peptonizing and semi-masculating" the mental food which the child at that age ought to be able to digest. Thoughtful doctors say we are doing the same with the child's natural bodily food, and so laying the foundation of future dyspepsia and stomach weakness. Those who read Froebel himself will see that he was very careful to warn child guardians against enervation of body and consequent enervation of mind. Let the child always have something on which to exercise his mind, is his earnest request.

And now a word as to the reason for us falling into these mistakes. Again I say that those who take the trouble to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Froebel's principles will see that they are merely the summing up of the world's wisdom in the matter of education, and that as to the details of the application they are often faulty, as he was the first to acknowledge. He said, "I am no poet, I am no musician, I am no artist, but I am trying to express to you what a poet, a musician, an artist, would be able to get out of these world-wide plays and occupations of children, and how intensely useful, educationally, they may become to the individual child, as in the world's history we see they have been to the race of mankind in general." He also foresaw that most of us would fall grievously below his ideal, because he said that if within three hundred years of his time one Kindergartner had seen what he saw could be accomplished, he should be satisfied. So I say it is because we will not study principles enough that we do so fall. We are so apt to think that the magic lies in the Gifts and Occupations themselves and not in our intelligent use of them. Students come to me and say, "In how short a time can you prepare me for the Kindergarten examination, as I must now be earning something?" Here is the secret of it--benefit to myself with the least amount of time and trouble to be spent on it. "Need I go into such a detailed study of Zoology?" says one, "I have looked up the animals the syllabus mentions as being required for the examination. Must I study Logic?--it is not one of the subjects in the examination. I only need to go so far as such a step in music, the examiner does not require more." Practically, "Squeeze me through the examination and let me earn my money." This is not the spirit for the educators of our children, not the spirit Froebel would have wished in his Kindergartners. I confidently hope that the time will come when the Froebel Society will abolish their elementary examination and force all students to study more thoroughly. Let us all try to think what the highest and the best is that we can wish for our children, especially now a new departure is imminent in our laws on education, and where we find that best being done, whether by parents or teachers, whether Kindergartners or not, whether B.A.'s with the highest qualifications, or humble-minded people who have never been able to pass an examination in their lives and yet have the secret of bringing out the best in their pupils, let us recognise it, cherish it, and seek it out to help us in the management of our schools and in the development of the higher life of our growing citizens. A short time ago, intellectual culture seemed to be the only thing aimed at in our schools. We have lately made a change in favour of bodily culture, and after our usual fashion we are working this to the death. Now it is time we gave a turn to the culture and development of the higher moral nature--that "child of God" which Froebel believed should develop from the "child of Humanity," or we shall be in danger, and a real danger I conceive it to be, of rearing a race of intellectual ruffians, demons with no delight in beauty of art, poetry, religion or "whatever things are pure, lovely, and of good report."

Finally, my feeling is one of thankfulness that these criticisms have been made so as to rouse us up to more earnest endeavour for the best and only the best, for, after all, we are but human and very likely to mistake our little best for the true best.

Truly yours,
Constance Barnard.


Dear Editor,

May I be allowed a small space in which to contest a few remarks made on "Child Training" in our last issue. The writer begins with a fling at Kindergartens, and gives as a set-off one example of failure. I would like to suggest that against that one failure one could easily mention a dozen or more schools where the system is carried on with success. And where it does prove itself a failure, it is surely the fault of the teacher more than of the system of teaching as desired by Froebel.

"Small, sturdy boys" may have been bored by the constant repetition of the songs and game; perhaps, in the first place, they were not musical, and, secondly, they lacked sufficient imagination to appreciate the game in question, but against that I do not doubt but that many little girls and some more aesthetic boys were enjoying themselves immensely, and surely this was a very practical way of teaching those "sturdy boys" unselfishness, self-control, consideration for others, and the desire for the greatest good of the greatest number, all of which qualities are most desirable in the building up of character.

Then Kindergarten training does not end with songs and games, and in all probability, had the writer seen the system through, she would have noted the keen pleasure of these same wee boys when called upon to model an apple or something equally within reach of their limited imagination.

I can quite understand that a child taken straight from a Kindergarten to an ordinary school class would prove very troublesome indeed; in child training we all know how very gradually changes must be made, and a Kindergarten worked on the proper grounds allows for this gradual change by providing transition classes, where the mental food is given rather less sugared, and when the child has passed through this period, he is ready to take his stand in a school class equal to digesting his own food minus sugar, but requiring the oil of encouragement.

Then to go on to speak of the child who has "an indifference to natural science," surely there is no need that this indifference should be developed into "an active dislike." I would not begin to teach a child definitely on natural science, but I would first try and make him see that the same "spirit" of life breathes through all nature, whether man, insect, or flower, and I think it would be a very unnatural child indeed who hated part of himself.

The P.N.E.U. can help us in the task, inasmuch as it sets before us high ideals, and gives opportunities for all interested in child training to discuss their special difficulties.

Finally, I ask the writer to give especial study to "The Divine Life of the Child" in Home Education, and there she will at least get light on the subject, and even, after all, she may come to regard the much despised Kindergarten as a means to an end.

Yours truly,
P.N.E.U. Member.


[Frobel's "gifts" are "are educational play materials for young children" (Wikipedia). Gift 1 is a soft ball for infants, gift 2 is a wooden sphere and cube for toddlers, gift 3 is a set of 8 wooden cubes for toddlers, gift 4 is a set of 8 wooden blocks with a plank, gifts 5 and 6 are more wooden blocks.]

Dear Editor,

As you invite discussion on the subject of children's training in Kindergartens, I am glad of the opportunity of protesting in the name of Froebel against the misrepresentations of those who think they know what a Kindergarten is, and who think they know how to conduct it, though their action and speech show they have not grasped the fundamental principles underlying the whole of Froebel's system of education.

To begin with, the Kindergarten is only a fractional part of Froebel's system, and, most unfortunately, has been almost completely detached. Consequently, what was intended to be only a link in a long unbroken chain of education and training is looked upon today as a stage in a child's career, having little or no relation to later periods, thus the plea for a continuous development so strongly urged by Froebel is constantly disregarded. The complaints urged by your correspondent in the November number are, I am afraid, in some instances just; because the letter and not the spirit of the Kindergarten has caught the popular fancy.

Playing games in Froebel's plan was to be the opportunity par excellence for the children to express themselves freely, and in no properly organized Kindergarten will you find "regulated make-believes"; but you will find the manner of the playing devised and arranged by the little players themselves. In the Froebelian school that I know best, the difficulty is to get the children to put away childish things, and when it is thought that at eight, nine, or even twelve, it is unsuitable for the children still to play Kindergarten games and regular drill is substituted, the greatest treat that can be given is to allow an old game or song to take the place of the more advanced physical exercise; and again and the remark is made--"We still play such and such a game at home."

The plaint that children from the Kindergarten have no power of concentration cannot possibly be urged where Froebel's principles have really been carried out, for it is one of his root principles that nothing is to be done for the child which he can do for himself; but he is to have the joy of the inventor and discoverer from the very first; and little problems that require a child's fixed attention are set by Froebel from his plays with ball (first gift), where the babies must throw, or roll, or toss in time and turn--to his arithmetical exercises with the box of cubes, containing fractional parts (fifth gift), where the child discovers for himself the need of a L. C. D.

The Kindergartens which give the children "semi-masticated knowledge" are false to the principles of their founder, for when he compared the child to a seed-corn, and his first teacher to a gardener, his intention evidently was to show that the child developed his powers by means of his own self-activity, and that his teacher's proper function was to provide the means for such development.

Truly yours,
Amy C. Pridham.



Dear Editor,

Miss Fagan's paper will meet with hearty response from all those who feel the inadequacy of music as it is taught at present. In spite of the opinion of musicians to whom the playing of an instrument is not music, children are still instructed in the old mechanical way, with much technique, a little theory, and, in most cases, no ear-training whatever. The remedy lies entirely with the teacher. Anyone who loves music well enough to go through the grind of a thorough training seldom cares to expend the result of so much time, talent and money upon beginners, and music in small schools is therefore usually relegated to teachers of other subjects who can play the piano, but who can, of course, teach no better than they know. There is scope for thoroughly trained teachers everywhere if it were only recognised that the ear-training and the theory of music ought to be taught side by side with piano, or whatever instrument the child is using. There is a splendid method now taught at the Conservatoire in Geneva, by its inventor, Mdlle. Chassevant, [Marie Chassevant, 1836-1914, developed the "Chassevant Method"] which allows no notes to be played by a beginner until the melody has first been listened to, sung, and written from dictation by the pupil. Solfege is taught from the earliest stage and every musical difficulty is made intelligible as it presents itself. I am told from those who have heard the classes that the lesson goes with great brightness and vigour and has marvellous results. Some of these are, no doubt, due to the personality of a most inspiring teacher, but the principle of ear with hand is the main idea. Without, however, going so far for our training and apparatus, we have a thoroughly good system in Mrs. Curwen's Child Pianist, and if this were more widely understood there would be little cause to say any more. The ear-training, however, seems to me inadequate, leaving, as it does, so much in the hands of the teacher. It is essential that the latter should be able to read from sight, to know the intervals herself, and to teach them.

Singing has been receiving attention for a long time, yet, as a rule, few children can sing from sight except those whom much practice for a choir has made familiar with the sounds. This is not because the teaching is poor, but because the lesson is only given once a week. If time could be made for fifteen or even ten minutes every day for the first year in the case of small children, there would then be a good foundation upon which the later and less frequent lesson might show real result. And if this ten or fifteen minutes could be tacked on to or taken from the piano time, what a revolution would be worked.

Tommy might not be able to thump the "Blue Bells of Scotland" with an uncertain bass and laborious treble, but after a term's work, he would be able to sing several tunes and write them, if you liked, and pick them out on the piano--all by himself. Truly yours,
F. Rankin.

Typed by Blossom Barden, April, 2022 Proofread by LNL, June, 2023