The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
An Appreciation of the Work of Eleanor Breckels

for the PNEU on her retirement in July 1973

Volume 8, no. 3 new series, May 1974, pgs. 117-119

There is no need to comment on her ideas of Nursery School administration and teaching. Many of us read a chapter from 'Life in a PNEU Nursery School' in each issue of 'The Journal' from 1970 to 1973 and now have the series in our possession. It will please her most if we revive interest, and concern, by giving thought to the reasons that led her to give a good deal of her life to this field of work.

While insisting that programmed, teaching Nursery Schools are the prime educational need of our times, she has proved through a long, practical experiment, that the teaching of 2 1/2- to 3-year-olds should not be allowed unless it is based on first class education, insight and sensitivity.

She thinks it would be good if a teacher training course for this work were founded on the PNEU Study Course supplemented by that fine documentation of whole-growth phases, 'The First Five Years of Life,' by Arnold Gesell. A mastery of the thought of Charlotte Mason and that of Arnold Gesell, would, Miss Breckels believes, ensure that the teaching play devised could be trusted to protect the vulnerable minds of pre-school children and also allow for the physical statement necessary for each successive growth phase.

Nursery School teaching under the guidance of those two great educationists would never harm mind or body development, but it would expose, in time for correction, the genetic inclinations and the accidental harm that are a threat to intelligence. These are costly to remedy; often irreparable, if not dealt with during the first five years.

'Such teaching Nursery Schools would be preventative courses, and prevention is infinitely more compassionate, and a great deal less costly than cure,' says Eleanor Breckels.

Then she stresses the fact that the subject matter on the Nursery School teaching programmes would be given through the sympathetic, intimate relationship between teachers and children necessary for this age group. This would encourage a happy and lasting interest in each subject taught. Ideas implanted in that way usually thrive.

In her opinion, the cost of promoting such schooling need not be a trouble. While many protest against the immense cost to the nation of teaching Nursery Schools for all, an increasing number of educationists realise that results would repay the original outlay in one generation.

Eleanor Breckels began thinking along these lines so far back as the Second World War. Then she added a Nursery Class to her PNEU Preparatory School at the request of mothers who wished to do part-time war work. Being war-time, there was a shortage of teachers and it had been necessary for the Nursery children and those of Form 1B to share one. This arrangement had been revealing. The Nursery children incidentally absorbed a great deal from Form 1B programme. It was obvious that the PNEU Method could be adapted to the requirements of programmed, teaching Nursery Schools. Those first PNEU Nursery School children had also acquired the Habit of Attention and the Habit of Outward Bound Thinking to a degree usually attributed only to older children. What was more, they had come by all that easily and delightedly.

'. . . the educability of (pre-school) children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed and is but little dependent on heredity and environment . . .' (so long as their minds are not harmed during the first five years). We are all beginning to realise that if Charlotte Mason were alive today she would also make those amendments to her famous comment.

Briefly, Eleanor Breckels has tried to make as many people as possible understand that PNEU Nursery Schools would give Habits of Attention and Habits of Thinking that would endure to simplify and beautify the load of learning required by the intensely competitive educational scramble that haunts our children and destroys not a few. The PNEU approach to the mind succeeds with most children, no matter what their heredity and environment.

The great need for such Nursery Schools has arisen out of our social and living conditions. They are overwhelmingly sophisticated. Life today hustles little children into large, bewildered, often frightened groups. It distorts virgin minds with a pell-mell of alien and unassociated incidents and sights and with incessant noise. The result is searing stimulation.

Eleanor Breckels sees this way of life as a grave threat to emotional stability, and therefore to the intelligence of countless pre-school children no matter what their circumstances, although she is, of course, most concerned for the children of over-crowded cities and industrialised areas.

For many years she has worked in the hope of ensuring that such children are thoughtfully and gradually related to our artificialities while being associated with many healing aspects of reality through protective and preventative teaching play.

The teaching play she advocates opens the gate to all suitable general knowledge but gives most time to the rudiments of the several aspects of literacy. This is designed to check the present disturbing increase in illiteracy that our over-population and sophistication have brought about. This check can be accomplished gradually and peacefully, in time to heal any mind bruising. Nursery Schools give three extra years of learning through teaching that is a fine arta prayer.

She points out that if we replace the countless cases of illiteracy we incidentally check gang and class warfare and vandalism, mental illnesses such as manic depression and suicidal inclination, alcoholism, drug addiction and so on and on ... If we simplify and beautify education we extend literacy and thus greatly raise the level of the nation's intelligence and morale, its achievement, citizenship and general social worth.

Think of the money saved, advises Eleanor Breckels. Savings on remedials and reformatories, on security, crime detection and prison upkeep and social welfare for the inadequate ... The cost of providing teaching Nursery Schools for all would be repaid tenfold within one generation. She has held on to the belief in the possibility of Nursery Schools for all in the face of heavy odds. Now it is less remote.

During the last fourteen years she has tried to implement her ideas by running a programmed, teaching Nursery School. Throughout this experiment she, her deputy and their pupils have demonstrated at the request of any parent and professionally interested person or group.

No child was accepted for attendance until both its parents had been given a private interview. At this meeting Miss Breckels explained Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education and teaching principles and how the School's teaching play followed these without deviation.

She encouraged parents to get involved in the life of the School during arrival cloaks and the simultaneous Free Play period. She invited them to occasionally spend entire mornings watching the teaching play. Parents and professionals became increasingly interested.

Eleanor Breckels is the first to thread the rudiments of literacy, and much appropriate general knowledge through play that protects whole growth while teaching. She has been the first to write a book giving detailed graphic descriptions of each teaching activity in practice [we have not yet found this book].

The PNEU has broadcast 'Life in a PNEU Nursery School' through bi-monthly instalments in the Journal. Its ideas have flown round and about the British Isles and to ninety countries overseas.

The children of the first intake to the School are now sixteen and seventeen years old and for almost all of those and for later intakes, Junior, Senior and Higher Education have been happily successful.

We can be encouraged by these results and confirmed in our belief to continue with the early training of children which is set out in such detail in the series 'Life in the PNEU Nursery School.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio