The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Place and Value of the Kindergarten in a Complete Scheme of Education

by A. H. Schepel.
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 586-593

The early training and development of the little child is of the greatest importance to every one of us who is interested in education.

I, a stranger in this country, am not acquainted with its educational history as I should like to be; but education is of universal interest; the human being is everywhere the human being.

Details of working must alter in earthly conditions; but we shall agree that the ideal is the universal part, that which cannot be lowered, that which is urging us always to harmonize our practical work with the highest conception we have. Only in returning to that ideal, and renewing it in us, do we find lasting inspiration, and power which is pure, because it is disinterested. It is with the consciousness of a common ideal that I feel somewhat justified to speak here; and it is my ardent wish to feel one with you, in whose country I am happy to be living and working.

The title of my given subject acknowledges the place of a Kindergarten in a "complete scheme of education," and the question now is: What is that place, and what is its value? Education is an organic whole. A whole in which each stage has its own special work, which can only be accomplished when the former stage has been satisfactorily filled, and which must necessarily prepare for the stage following. Everyone will know Froebel's words: "The vigorous and complete unfolding of each succeeding stage of life depends on the development of every preceding stage. The boy is not a boy, or the youth a youth, simply because he has attained the age of a boy and youth, but by virtue of having lived through, first childhood, then boyhood, faithful to the claims of each. Man becomes a man, not simply by reaching the average years of manhood, but by fulfilling the duties of all the preceding stages of life." And later he says:—"The development of man is a whole, steadily advancing, rising unbroken from step to step."

As, then, we are all so dependent on each other's work, and as the young human beings whom we try to lead and help are so much the result of our guidance, should we not do our utmost to work conscientiously in our allotted part, and agree about the character of our task, and the limits we have to consider? Education, that organic process, which allows no sudden changes, demands that the Kindergarten should bear in itself elements of the nursery as well as elements of the school. The Kindergartnerin must have knowledge of the early home education as well as of the beginnings of school life, that she may lead the child happily, and without strain, from one stage of its growth to the next.

What then are the home characteristics on which a Kindergartnerin ought to be able to depend? Long after the child ceases to be an infant, it continues to share the mother's room, the dwelling room, where the family unites. Here it begins to express its own inner self, in speech and in play, and enters into connection with things around it. Froebel urges the parents to surround the child at this stage with what he calls "nature and her bright calm objects"; to let the child "follow father and mother in household occupations" and to let it share their work. He pleads for simplicity in food, in clothing and in all its surroundings, so as to stimulate creative activity, which is so easily weakened and suppressed by overfeeding, overdressing and luxury. Food and clothing should never be an end in themselves, only a means for developing body and mind. Froebel gives a picture of this early stage in his wonderful book, Mother Song and Play. There, in the Family plays, he shows that the child is made happy—not only by being loved and cared for, but by being trained to serve and consider others, and by accustoming itself to habits of contentment and simplicity. In the Nature plays of this same book, Froebel shows how the child can be led to realize its duties of fostering plant and animal life, and, on the other hand, how it can utilize the forces and products of nature. Lastly, in the Labour plays, Froebel shows the intense interest the child takes in the work of artisans, and he implores mothers to encourage this tendency because of its character-forming value, quickening the desire to serve.

In all these groups of plays we see the child putting into practice that great life principle which will always be associated with Froebel's name, namely, "the reconciliation and harmonizing of opposites," a principle too often applied only to an intellectual handling of the occupations, but which, in reality, involves all that we mean by the discipline of life. So much for the child in the early stage of Home education.

Now as regards the School which follows the Kindergarten and begins with the sixth or seventh year. "In the school," Froebel says, "the chief thing is apprehension of a subject through thinking, it is the inner conception, the unclothing of the bodily and the concrete; it is abstraction in the real sense of the word." This demands of the child voluntary concentration of all its inner powers, and a ready and receptive mind, which attitude we call attention. Here then we have the two regions which bound the Kindergarten stage; that of the Family life in which the child is specially developed through the affectional powers; and that of the School which is primarily the field of the intellect. In the Kindergarten stage both these fields must be represented.

It is about the third year of a child's life, and this is specially true of an only child, that the time has come to extend its boundaries, and to bring it into new connections for a short time of the day. Other companions of both sexes, and more methodical occupation must be provided; material which will satisfy its growing needs, stimulate its powers and direct it energies. From what living source can the Kindergarten draw this ever fresh material? It must be nature and man's connection with nature which is the basis of everything here, which provides new experiences for the child; which gives a thousand opportunities for work, and suggestions for representation; which prompts his fostering care, filling his heart with wonder, and stimulating his intellect to healthy eager thought.

To the Kindergarten belongs, as the name itself declares, a garden; a piece of ground to play in, and to be cultivated by the little ones. This piece of ground should be such that flowers and vegetables, and even some fruit trees may flourish there. Froebel says in his too little known essay on "The Children's Gardens in the Kindergarten," "the child's intimate acquaintance with nature is of the greatest importance." I will give you Froebel's own words: "The Kindergarten, the completely formed idea, the clearly demonstrated conception of a Kindergarten, necessarily requires a garden; and in this, necessarily, gardens for the children. The necessity of the requirement to connect a garden of the children with the Kindergarten, proceeds from reasons of social and citizen collective life. The child, as a part of humanity, must not only be recognized and treated as individual and single, and as a member of a greater collective life, but, must recognise itself as such, and prove itself to be such by its action. But this reciprocal activity between one and a few, a part and a whole, is nowhere more beautifully expressed than in the associated cultivation of plants, the common care of a so-called house garden, in which each child has its own place in its own little garden." Here then he comes into personal contact with plants by being made responsible for their welfare. Here he learns to prepare the ground, to bank up and bind together, according to the special needs of special plants. With gifts from these plants, which he may indeed call his own, the child can give natural expression to his love for father and mother.

But Froebel, who wishes to introduce the children into the full realities of nature, wants them also to take the share in the cultivation of the general garden, where, before beauty, the necessities of life are considered, where the crop is of special interest because of its direct use. The gathering of beans, the digging up of many potatoes where only one was planted; the storing of apples, are happy and satisfying moments. From March to October the garden is full of interest for the child, from the stocking of the garden in spring, to the gathering of seeds, the burning of rubbish, the tidying of the tool house in autumn. In winter, window boxes need special care. Bulbs must be planted, chestnuts, acorns and dates put into moss, and their germination duly observed.

Happy the Kindergarten, where nature is also represented by domestic animals, creatures which have a claim on the children's love, and which open quite other sides of life to their understanding. The dependence of animals is even more appealing than that of plants. The big dog, who is brushed and fed, becomes the child's dear companion. Then there are the pigeons, the fish, the chickens to be regularly fed and kept clean. By their instrumentality, the eyes and ears and heart of the child become open to those wild creatures which play so great a part in the economy of the world in which we find ourselves, and which, though living independently of us, add so much to our lives.

To those who have at all realized Froebel's ideal of the training of a child, and who remember his words about "self-culture through earliest employment in domestic duties," it must seem natural that the children's energies in the Kindergarten should be also prompted in this direction. We should encourage the young human being to enjoy making order, where traces of his work are left. He should learn the use of domestic utensils, and make himself independent and practical, and so prove himself an integral member of the community in which he lives. Dusters and brushes, wash leather and sponges should be at hand; a dust bin for the use of the Kindergarten; a low shelf with food for the pets; a big box for straw and hay—all these the children can keep in order, and so complete the life of the place.

This domestic work and the work with plants and pets can only be performed by a few children together. Regular little classes are going on at the same time in the Kindergarten room, and here we find the Froebel gifts and occupations in their true place. The simple material, so thoughtfully and systematically planned by Froebel, comes here to its full appreciation. The children's minds are stored with experiences which they wish to represent. With bricks and sand they build the garden wall and the gate; not only imaginary gates and walls. From clay, simple flowers, potatoes and carrots are modelled. Folding paper is transformed into the dog's kennel, the roof or window of the tool house, the spade and the flower basket. The coloured strips of the mats are woven in the colours of the prism hanging in the window, and casting its broad rainbow on the wall; and throughout, connected games and songs and stories are interwoven with the children's work, week by week, and month by month. Thus the children's experiences are lived through again, the sense of form and colour, number and comparison are strengthened, and hand and eye developed.

I hear someone say: "Yes, all this is very well for the babies of three years old, but a child of four and five should begin learning to read and write, and to 'do his sums!'" I believe that this outcry is less a result of real conviction than of convention. Children of one's friends knew their letters at four, and could read fluently at five, and why should not our children do the same? I believe there is ignorance in this reiterated cry, ignorance of the growth of a child's mind, ignorance about its real needs.

"The child itself wants to learn," one hears. Such cases may be; and it is easy enough for parents who have no understanding for a child's happy discoveries in real things; no faith in the development of its creative activities through contact with life—it is easy enough for parents and teachers to put the child to mechanical and meaningless exercises and tasks of memory; but a Kindergarten in the real sense cannot and ought not to undertake this task, subverting its whole method, namely this, first to create a wealth of experiences, and secondly to guide the wish to give those experiences lasting shape. Only to fill this latter need, in its own time, does the desire for writing really come about; and out of the hunger for knowledge beyond one's own limits, comes reading, eager reading!

During the six or seven first years of its young life the human being is absorbed by real things, and it will never again have such opportunity. About it still, is "the glory and the freshness of a dream." These real experiences prepare for later years, for systematic knowledge, and develop its body and mind with surprising rapidity.

To continue then; a true Kindergarten prepares not only for life in general, but for school life in particular, formally and materially. For writing we find preparation in the free use of the pencil. For a ready and accurate conception of number, the systematic handling of bricks and the weaving of patterns is a perfect introduction. In forming a taste for beauty and dignity of language, the children's carefully chosen poems and stories are of inestimable value, also the exercise they have in giving out their experiences in good clear sentences. First-hand knowledge of nature is the primary step in scientific training. Careful observation of their own room and garden is the beginning of geography. Familiarity with the different forms and dimensions of matter in the various gifts lays the foundation of physics and geometry, and these are also valuable as symbols of the evolution of organic life.

Boys and girls, who in the Kindergarten have made starch from their own potatoes (and used it); butter and cheese from the cow's milk; bread and cake from the wheat they grew in their own gardens; who have visited the dairy, the milking shed, the baker, the blacksmith and so on, have a groundwork for their later knowledge, and an insight into life, which books cannot give. Surely, this is to proceed on the true inductive method which we associate with Bacon's name.

People who ask to see results of work in the Kindergarten should be pointed to the active, healthy, helpful child. There is no result to be seen but this. Sheets of neat and ornamental plaiting and folding may mean nothing at all; and conversely, where at the first glance, there seems sometimes to be struggle, effort and a want of order, the greatest life-power in manifesting itself.

But how can all this be realized, I shall be asked? Villages and country towns are certainly more favourable for Kindergartens than big cities: but city children have the greater need. Much can be done with even a small garden; and when the home of the Kindergartnerin herself is not on the spot (and its presence has inestimable advantages), the life of the caretaker and his family will supply the domestic links, so necessary in the living organization here described: he will see, too, to the garden and pets during holidays. This is no fiction; it is being done in London; and where there's a will, there's a way!

And now as to the personality of the Kindergartnerin herself: so much seems to be required of her! I cannot do better than quote from a published essay of Frau Henriette Schrader's. She, who has given us so much of her direct inheritance from Froebel, says:—

"The art of guiding children's early activity is an art which must be studied as consciously as the art of teaching. It implies arduous preparation. Only a person of cultivated mind, and formed character can exercise it fully. A Kindergartnerin must be one who has made the laws of physical and mental growth in children her serious study, in order that she may give them the right environment. She must have real knowledge of some branches of natural science; she must be acquainted with the historical development of economic products, and of the arts, and she must have practical knowledge of the elements of domestic and political economy. She does not study these in order that she may answer the children's questions more easily: but that she may look upon life from a broader standpoint, and understand the relations in which things stand to each other. Above everything else she must aspire to proficiency in all household matters. Let her value her skill in cherishing and sustaining life, whether it be that of plants and animals, or that of human beings! But what would all her knowledge and all her skill be worth, were her heart not glowing with a sense of the nobility of her calling; were she not inspired by a glimpse of the divine in human nature, and were she incapable of being uplifted by the vision of the beautiful?" . . .

The work of the educator of little children is indeed a great one, because it deals with beginnings. There is somehow a fatal tendency of the human mind to consider little things as of small importance: we are impressed at once by size and large effects; whereas, in our reasonable moments, we know that it is the small beginnings which are of the utmost gravity, that they affect the future most inevitably, and need from us the greatest possible guidance and care.

The Kindergarten and its work comes sometimes to be pushed into a secondary place, as of less importance than the school; it is looked upon as trivial and without law; when in reality, within its boundaries lies the whole plan of the child's future life, and his attitude to the world into which he is born. All children, rich and poor alike, have at this stage the same common human powers and needs; and upon the harmonious development and organizing of these needs and powers depends the place, honoured or otherwise, our children will afterwards take as citizens of the community.

[We are glad to have this simple statement of the place and value of the Kindergarten, and to notice that Miss Schepel, than whom perhaps there is no better judge, considers that the simple avocations of home and garden are the true Kindergarten work, and that the school work, beginning at the sixth or seventh year, has a different intention. Our chief contention is that the little incidents of home, nursery and outdoor life should themselves be made to yield the training of the Kindergarten. We have much sympathy with Froebel's doctrine of "self-culture through earliest employment in domestic duties," though what are known as Kindergarten Games and Occupations do not appeal to us.—Ed.]

Proofread by Stephanie H. 2008