The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

by E. K. J.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 446-449

The problem of answering children's questions is one which is generally felt and on which it is difficult to get or give much assistance. Very early begins that search after truth which, in an intelligent and conscientious mind, only terminates with our early life.

As the seed, at the first impulse of spring, shoots up its green blade to taste the air and sunshine, so the dormant mind of the child, excited by outer influences, pushes its eager enquiries about both the abstract and material. This is without doubt one of the most important crises in education. The mental bias, the method of thought, the right or wrong attitude to truth is taken at this time, according to the way in which the child is answered. In this as in other things, evil may be wrought by want of thought and the busy mother may for all time rebuff the small enquirer or set it on a wrong track, by her hasty or careless answer. The most thoughtful of us, on the other hand, often feel sadly impotent when the far-reaching question is asked and we are at a loss for an answer. Here we may take comfort in the thought that the only deadly sin against our children in this matter is indifference; that is deadly; but if we are really anxious to guide the minds and souls reaching out for help, they will understand that we are meeting them sympathetically, though the answer or explanation we give may not entirely satisfy them, or even though we frankly acknowledge our own ignorance, as sometimes we are obliged to do.

Great harm will be done by not meeting the earnest enquiry in a due reciprocity of earnestness; either the child will morbidly withdraw into itself and reason in its mental twilight imperfectly and erroneously, or a levity of thought will be induced which is not only undesirable at the time, but may be fatal to a right mental view all through life. Of course we are not talking now of the thousand small trivialities of daily life about which we get an almost ceaseless flow of questions, though these require sympathy, patience and exactitude in their answering. Every mother will have noticed that the earliest intelligent questions of her children are asked about those matters which are most difficult to discuss and certainly almost impossible to explain,--life, death, the existence of evil and the unseen world. In discussing the best way of answering these questions it is of course to be borne in mind that widely different views are taken by different classes of thinkers, especially to-day when the old strata of thought are upheaved and many are frankly agnostic about the deepest things of time and eternity. Perhaps the fairest way is to consider the truth as a diamond with many facets. Each thoughtful and earnest mind gets a different surface view, but the truth is one fundamentally and its revelations open to all. We cannot believe that the mind which desires to arrive at a right conclusion, which in the darkness lays itself open to receive light and adopts a receptive attitude, can be entirely without the truth. Surely such will receive the "wisdom which is from above." Hard indeed it must be for the mother to whom the child turns for the satisfaction of its desire for knowledge and who feels that instead of bread she can only give it a stone.

To take one momentous question, that of death.

The child, brimful of life and energy, is brought suddenly, very often, into contact with the universal fact of death. It is the first check to the great joy of living; the first little chill of creeping fear rises in the soul and the natural sequence to the newly acquired knowledge is the question, "Shall I die too?" Indeed death is foreshadowed in the human intelligence and early the child knows the answer even while it asks the question, the one certain fact of life looms large in its dawning.

This is the crucial answering time, the decisive moment for the child's future attitude to life and death, and the first and only time when the parent can rightly formulate the child's conception of the true worth of life and the due place of what we call death in the plan of God for man. It is best here to consider this point from the Christian point of view, if only because the great religion of Love is the only one which can satisfy the child's soul.

This leads us to the thought that small children are in touch with infinity. Their souls are fresh from the boundless infinite, and while hedged in with the barriers of physical environment, they are blindly conscious of the stirring of soul life within. Because of this, it is a great mistake to suppose the small questioner with those pure, earnest eyes, forcing us to the truth to the best of our poor ability, cannot realise spiritual things.

That child is far more spiritual than you or I, my friend, with the travel dust of life's journey upon us and the fog of sin and worldliness to cloud our vision. Certainly the conception of heavenly things will be material and of spiritual matters concrete, but after all that may be true and anyway the child must reason from the known to the unknown.

It is easy and wise to lead up from the beginning to the great fact which must sooner or later burst upon the child's notice--easy, because in Nature we have constantly death with the promise and indeed the fact of resurrection and re-embodiment; wise, because by so doing we avoid the shock which so often accompanies the realization of death as it presents itself to sensitive children. At the same time it is as well to guard the very little ones from the knowledge of death. In too many homes they hear of and witness the destruction of mice, beetles, etc., in a way which must brutalize the mind to some extent. We cannot teach our children reverence for God's works and a due regard for all his creatures if they know of death being inflicted, as it appears to them, callously and in a wholesale fashion. Fortunately the whole fulfilling of the Law is Love, and Love, human and Divine, is the first lesson to teach and that which children find easiest to learn.

Most of our knowledge which is of use to us is founded on our mistakes and I shall never forget a certain day when my baby, just able to talk, was playing on the floor beside me. A somewhat uncouth maid, entering with a tray, burst out excitedly--"Oh, mistress! I've just killed such a great beetle!" Too late was my warning gesture; the baby looked up, dismay and reproach in her round, blue eyes. "God made dat beetle, dat was God's beetle you killed." The maid quickly retired in silence, while to me remained the difficult task of explaining to the defunct beetle's indignant partisan that God's beetles are little scavengers for dirty houses, and that Mr. Beetle, having strayed from his proper sphere, would not be able to find food on the kitchen floor and would wander into forbidden places. But when a person is not three years of age, explanation is difficult indeed and unsatisfactory.

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"Grown-ups" are credited with a knowledge both universal and indisputable and too often the child's earliest idea of death is gathered from the highly coloured and very realistic talk of servants. It is painful indeed when the child's first idea of its mortal end is that it will be put in a "box" and buried in the ground. There are robust, healthy-minded children who may soon shake off the painful impression, but there are nervous, imaginative little ones to whom such a thought is a constant terror.

A small nephew of mine startled his mother one day by asking, "Mother, I shall be put in a black box one day, shall I ever come out of it?" This was the first intimation that he knew anything of death, and a few nights after, his mother found him crying quietly in his cot, afraid of going to sleep, in case he should not wake again and he did not want to die!

The inevitable question has come to me from three rosy mouths, and three pairs of earnest eyes have been successively fixed on my face, undoubting of a satisfactory answer. Fortunately more than one brief sojourn in the Valley of the Shadow has prepared me more than any amount of thought could have done, and the children have been happily led on, from the death and resurrection of the plant life, from the falling of the leaf, leaving the bud of promise, to the laying aside of the worn body, placed carefully and reverently in the earth as "God's bulb," and the continuance of the soul life. From this has evolved naturally the idea of the present life as a training for the future, the great ideal of the value of daily work well done, till the soul and mental powers cast off the restraints of flesh and enter upon higher service in the enjoyment of "the full-grown energies of Heaven." Now there is the satisfaction of knowing that three happy, healthy girls have no personal dread of death, rather looking upon it as the necessary passage to a higher and fuller existence, a glad home-going.

Typed by LovieWie, August, 2023; Proofread by LNL, August, 2023