The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A PNEU Nursery School

By Hilda Eleanor Breckels
Volume 4, no. 1, new series, PNEU, January 1969, pgs. 21-23

I am going to tell you how I apply the principles of the Parents' National Educational Union to the routines of our nursery school.

The most significant aspect of our work is our close daily co-operation between parents, children and teachers.

Charlotte Mason was one of the first to realize fully education's need of a close relationship with the parents of its pupils. I am sure she would agree that this union is of even greater importance when our under-fives attend nursery schools.

This is because the most influential learning phase is between birth and the fifth year, as is also the time when the intimate ties between mother and child are most necessary to general development and adjustment to life.

Therefore, we give priority to the fostering of a close association between parent, child and education. There are many other child-developing associations that we are bound to safeguard and enrich, but when the trinity thrives, all other associations stand a better chance.

The first five being the most influential learning years of a child's life, it follows that it must be during this phase that parents most need help towards the understanding of the truth about the behaviour of the mind and the PNEU principles of teaching.

Then again, it is also during a child's first five years that parents look for signs of the intelligence that will bring success at school and in the harsh world of competition. Fear and nagging anxieties often prompt them to compare one child with another and to force the pace of learning. Doubts, tensions and antagonisms come between parents and child.

This conflict does not arise when parents understand the truth about the behaviour of the mind, because they then realize that the educability of their child is enormously greater than they had hitherto supposed.

We help our parents to this understanding by having the first forty minutes of each morning open to them.

This is our free play period, when we advise parents to get associated with all the disciplines of behaviour, the physical adventurings on apparatus and the many sorts of creative play. This gives parents insight into our philosophy and aims, besides helping their own children to associate this crowded new life with home and mother and father.

This is when we explain, discuss and demonstrate our methods, when we draw attention to those reactions and responses of the children that imply progress in social skills, creative ability, resourcefulness, articulation and so on.

Also, during free play, we co-operate with parents in the solving of problems of adjustment. Most mornings bring us one or two. We deal with them at once. The adjustment problems of under-fives cannot wait.

The open free play time is enough for helping most parents to understand our methods. There are a few, however, who need even more in the way of demonstrations giving perceptible results. We arrange for these to stay right through one morning session. This usually succeeds.

Another reference to free play: as soon as this is over and everything is put away, with the help of the children, they voluntarily separate into their age groups and run pell-mell to their group places, glad to have seen the last of free play for that morning.

Free play has wearied them by the end. Each child has been left to its own devices. It has had to make up its own mind about everything; whom to play with, or which sharing group to join, what play equipment to choose, or whether to dare a big adventure on the apparatus, or dare to knock on the door of the playhouse to see what's going on inside it.

At last all are tired of being creatively busy, and of being left to manage all alone. The children are also tired of each other, in need of a comforting grown-up with a kind voice for telling all about things to do.

The need is for quiet and a spell of uplift, through close companionship with adults. This is especially so with regard to speech. This needs frequent uplift in the early years and the under-fives cannot get this when with contemporaries.

For speech uplift, under-fives need to be often with grown-ups who are light-hearted and good at making conversation with the very young. I shall have more to say about this in a minute.

I must now tell you about our quiet time, because it follows all that noisy play. Some mornings we sing a hymn and say prayers. Others, we associate God with human relationships, or with the seasons and other aspects of nature. We also tell stories of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and Old Testament babes and boys and girls. We learn to be hushed. Reverent.

Thus are they quietened. They are now eager for group activities when they will be in the close care of grown-ups who tell them what to do and how to do it. While carefully and expressively telling the listening children what to do, the group teachers are giving that important uplift to speech.

Besides being training time for skills in speech, these activities in small groups give carefully graded steps in the preliminaries to reading, word-building and number.

That is all done through play. The knowledge is threaded, as it were, through a game, by means of the appropriate teaching aids. If the children are ready, they will learn the little lesson. If they are not, they just enjoy the game. They usually do both.

Being a PNEU Nursery School, we do no more than help the children to play the game. We leave all else to the children's powers of attention, imagination, reflection, judgment and so on.

We ask no questions, give no praise or blame, make no comparisons. The children have no idea which of them is above average, which a bit of a slow coach. We are a classless society. We learn with ease and radiance.

Besides the daily routines I have mentioned so far, we have a daily dose of music. We have singing, music and movement and glorious percussion. I dare not start talking about our appreciation of music. I'd never stop!

But this I must say: our music lessons so stimulate that they give speech lots of uplift. The after-chatter!

The same applies to free picture-making. A group of children busy picture-making with paints or Chubbies' non-toxic crayons, never, never stops babbling! The same at milk-and-biscuits time. In each case, the grown-ups in charge join in and add more words and more general knowledge to the stores of these under-fives.

In time, say between four-and-a-half and the fifth year, and during story reading periods, all this training in speech skill, skips quite naturally into narration.

There is more to tell, of course, but I hope I have told enough to convince you that a nursery school working on PNEU philosophy and principles is just about first class!

Proofread by Stephanie H. 2008