Part I. Some Preliminary Considerations . . . pg. 1-41
I. A Method of Education
II The Child's Estate
III. Offending the Children
IV. Despising the Children
V. Hindering the Children
VI. Conditions of Healthy Brain-Activity
VII 'The Reign of Law' in Education
Part II. Out-Of-Door Life For The Children. . . pg 42-95
I. A Growing Time
IV. Flowers and Trees
V. Living Creatures
VI. Field-Lore and Naturalists' Books
VII. The Child Gets Knowledge By Means Of His Senses
VIII. The Child Should Be Made Familiar With Natural Objects
IX. Out-Of-Door Geography
X. The Child And Mother-Nature
XI. Out-Of-Door Games, etc.
XII. Walks In Bad Weather
XIII. 'Red Indian' Life
XIV. Children Need Country Air
Part III. 'Habit Is Ten Natures' . . . pg 96-134
I. Education Based Upon Natural Law
II. Children Have No Power to Compel Themselves
III. What Is 'Nature'?
IV. Habit Can Replace 'Nature'
V. Laying Down Of Lines Of Habit
VI. The Physiological Aspect Of Habit
VII. The Forming Of A Habit: 'Shut The Door After You'
VIII. Infant Habits
IX. Physical Exercises
Part IV. Some Habits Of Mind - Some Moral Habits . . . pg. 135-168
I. The Habit of Attention
II. The Habits of Application, Etc.
III. The Habit of Thinking
IV. The Habit of Imagining
V. The Habit of Remembering
VI. The Habit of Perfect Work
VII. Some Moral Habits--Obedience
Part V. Lessons As Instruments Of Education pg 169-237
I. The Matter and Method of Lessons
II. The Kindergarten As A Place to Learn
III. Further Consideration Of The Kindergarten
V. The First Reading Lesson
VI. Reading By Sight And Sound
VIII. Reading for Older Children
IX. The Art of Narrating
XII. Spelling and Dictation
XIV. Bible Lessons
XVI. Natural Science
XXI. Pictorial Art
Part VI. The Will--The Conscience--The Divine Life In The Child . . pg 317-352
I. The Will
II. The Conscience
III. The Divine Life In The Child
vol 1 paraphrase preface
The future of education looks rather bleak both at home [in England] and overseas. Experts say that, in order to make education more effective, we should focus on science. Foreign language and math need major reform. Nature and vocational skills should be used as ways of training the eye and hands. Literature and history should be used to teach students how to do their own writing. Experts say that education should be more technical, and should be a means of preparing students for the workplace. But there is no one unifying goal, no specific aim, no real philosophy of education. A river can't rise any higher than the source it comes from. In the same way, education can't rise any higher than the foundational thought behind it. This may be the reason why our educational system is such an utter failure.
Those of us who have spent years studying the vague, elusive vision of Education see that there is a law behind education, but that we haven't yet fully grasped that law. We sense the vague outlines of that law, but that's it. We know that it touches every part of a child's life at home and at school, and, like an illuminating light, that law has a way of showing what the value system is behind our educational systems and plans. Besides being like a light, that law is also like a yardstick, setting the standard by which our educational efforts must be measured. The law is not strict, it admits whatever things are true and good without limit, except where too much would be harmful. The law seems to lay a path out before us that goes on like a continuous and progressive road through life, with no set lines marking where childhood stops and adulthood begins except that the student begins to walk the path independently when his training makes him more mature. When we look into this law, we find that the Germans Kant, Herbart, Lotze and Froebel were right when they said that knowing God is the most important thing a child should learn. There is something else we'll recognize when we finally see this law of educational freedom clearly for what it is--it is so true and wise that it will pass every test we can think of to give it in every area of life.
Since as yet we don't have a clear print-out of this law to read, we'll have to rely on Froebel or Herbart, or, if we subscribe to another theory of education, on Locke or Spencer. But we still aren't fully satisfied. We are discontented with our system of education. It could be that our discontent is from God, but it is there and any workable solution would be hailed as a great deliverance from our confusion. But before a great solution is found, we will probably encounter many attempts that focus on part of the problem and seem like an educational philosophy, having a central idea with programs putting that idea into effect.
Such an attempt would necessarily need to go along with the worldview of the age. It would also have to relate to every facet of life, not segmented off from real life, but as much a part of the cycle as birth, marriage and career. And it must result in the student being attached to the world at many different points of contact by having interests in many things. It's true that educationalists are determined to cement students' interests in their own pet areas, but there is no one line of thought to make it applicable to all of life.
The naive sometimes rush in with their own solution, unconscious of the complexity of the problem. Many suggestions have been offered that have gotten us closer to a full understanding of the nature of education, and that gives me courage to offer my own suggestion. The central idea on which my suggestion is based is this: that children are as fully and completely persons as we are, with all the possibilities and potential for what they might become already in them. Some of the educational notions and practices that stem from this idea have been used in other educational methods, and have their roots in plain common sense. One resulting notion that might be new is that 'education is the science of relations.' This idea, that everything is connected, seems to solve the question of a curriculum since it means that children need to be in touch with as many things as possible in nature and in thought. If you add a key or two to a child's knowledge of his own human condition, the educated student will go forth in the world with an idea of how to control himself, some practical skills and many life-enriching interests. I have two reasons for offering my own educational suggestion, however humble and fleeting that suggestion may be. First of all, I have worked ceaselessly for 30-40 years to establish a working, philosophical theory of education. And, second, every practice that I have tried as a result of my educational theory has come from a step-by-step process of inductive reasoning and has had success that has been verified with various tests. I humbly offer my suggestion because I know that many others more qualified than I have worked hard and still not arrived at any solutions, so why should I feel that I have a solution of my own?
I am including a short summary of my theory, which is detailed more fully in the six volumes of the Home Education Series.
My educational method is not a system of rigid steps, but just a bit here and there. This seems more useful to parents and teachers. The essays included in my books were written over the years for the National Parents Education Union in hopes of presenting a coherent body of thought to members.
'As soon as the soul spots truth, the soul recognizes it as her first
and oldest friend.'
'The repercussions of truth are great. Therefore we must not neglect to correctly judge what's true, and what's not.'
-- Benjamin Whichcote
Whichcote meant that the end result of truth is so great, that we must be careful to make sure that what we live by is, indeed, the truth.
1. Children are born persons--they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons. They already are persons.
2. Although children are born with a sin nature, they are neither all bad, nor all good. Children from all walks of life and backgrounds may make choices for good or evil.
3. The concepts of authority and obedience are true for all people whether they accept it or not. Submission to authority is necessary for any society or group or family to run smoothly.
4. Authority is not a license to abuse children, or to play upon their emotions or other desires, and adults are not free to limit a child's education or use fear, love, power of suggestion, or their own influence over a child to make a child learn.
5. The only three means a teacher may use to educate children are the child's natural environment, the training of good habits and exposure to living ideas and concepts. This is what CM's motto 'Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life' means.
6. 'Education is an atmosphere' doesn't mean that we should create an artificial environment for children, but that we use the opportunities in the environment he already lives in to educate him. Children learn from real things in the real world.
7. 'Education is a discipline' means that we train a child to have good habits and self-control, both in actions and in thought.
8. 'Education is a life' means that education should apply to body, soul and spirit. The mind needs ideas of all kinds, so the child's curriculum should be varied and generous with many subjects included.
9. The child's mind is not a bucket to be filled with facts that bunch up into thought-groups, as Herbart said.
10. The child's mind is also not a bag for holding knowledge. It is a living thing and needs knowledge to grow. As the stomach was designed to digest food, the mind is designed to digest knowledge and needs no special training or exercises to make it ready to learn.
11. This is not just splitting hairs; Herbart's philosophy that the mind is like an empty stage waiting for bits of information to be inserted puts too much responsibility on the teacher to prepare detailed lessons. Students taught this way have lots of knowledge taught at them, without getting much out of it.
12. Instead, we believe that children's minds are capable of digesting real knowledge, so we provide a rich, generous curriculum that exposes children to many interesting, living ideas and concepts. From this principle, we can deduce that--
13. 'Education is the science of relations,' which means that children have minds capable of making their own connections with knowledge and experiences, so we make sure the child learns about nature, science and art, knows how to make things, reads many living books and that they are physically fit. Our job isn't to teach everything about everything, but to inspire interests that will help children make connections with the world around them.
14. Children have two guides to help them in their moral and intellectual growth--'the way of the will,' and 'the way of reason.'
15. Children must learn the difference between 'I want' and 'I will.' They must learn to distract their thoughts when tempted to do what they may want but know is not right, and think of something else, or do something else, interesting enough to occupy their mind. After a short diversion, their mind will be refreshed and able to will with renewed strength.
16. Children must learn not to lean too heavily on their own reasoning. Reasoning is good for logically demonstrating mathematical truth, but unreliable when judging ideas because our reasoning will justify all kinds of erroneous ideas if we really want to believe them.
17. Knowing that reason is not to be trusted as the final authority in forming opinions, children must learn that their greatest responsibility is choosing which ideas to accept or reject. Good habits of behavior and lots of knowledge will provide the discipline and experience to help them do this.
Principles 15, 16 and 17 should save children from the sort of careless thinking that causes people to exist at a lower level of life than they need to.
18. We teach children that all truths are God's truths, and that secular subjects are just as divine as religious ones. Children don't go back and forth between two worlds when they focus on God and then their school subjects; there is unity among both because both are of God and, whatever children study or do, God is always with them.
End of Preface
In this volume, I hope to suggest a method of education whose foundation is Natural Law, and, with this in mind, to discuss a mother's duties in regard to her children. In speaking to mothers, I defer to their own final judgment, since God Himself has given mothers insight into their own children's characters, their strengths and weaknesses. It is her insight that mysteriously works to make education more effective than all the rules and regulations ever devised. But even with her God-given insight, I think all mothers will agree that there is a need to know certain general principles that apply to children as a whole. This scientific side of education does not come naturally, since God does not usually bestow as a gift that which we can get by ourselves.
I hope that teachers of young children will also find this book useful. Between the ages of 6 and 9 are the best time to lay the foundation for a generous, varied education and to develop the habit of reading. In these early years, children should enter the world of learning by being exposed to many subjects, but in a relaxed, orderly way rather than with the stress of lectures. I hope that teachers will find this new approach interesting and stimulating. I hope this fresh perspective will be helpful and give teachers inspiration to find their own ways of implementing it.
This particular volume will focus on the effects of developing good habits upon education--why certain physical, moral and intellectual habits are valuable and how to develop them. I am indebted to Dr. Carpenter's book Mental Physiology for the information I used in the two or three chapters about habits. And I would like to thank again my medical friends who helped revise the parts of this book that deal with physiological matters.
Much of this book was given as 'Lectures to Ladies' in 1885, and published in a book of that name in 1886.
Lectures VII and VIII and the original appendix have been transferred to other volumes in this series. The whole series has been carefully revised and new material has been added, especially in Part V, 'Lessons as Instruments of Education.' That section is now a nearly complete introduction to methods of teaching children ages 6-9.
The remaining sections of this volume deal with education from birth to 9 years.
Scale How, Ambleside, 1905
End of Preface
vol 1 paraphrase pg 1
One sign that women have gained more status in the world is the desire to use their education by going to work. [Remember that Charlotte was writing around the turn of the century, before the women's rights/equality movement.] The world needs the contributions of women who are educated, and, as education becomes more common among all classes of people, more and more women will be entering the work force, having regular hours and getting wages. Even those women who don't work out of financial need will find pleasure in doing something useful.
The work that is the most important in society is raising and teaching children. That makes school teachers important, but, even more, those who care for and teach children at home are important, because it is the influence of home life that has the greatest impact on a child's character and future. Being a parent is the most important job and the greatest honor a person can have. Even those raising just one child don't know whether their cherished pride and joy may be the one person who finds the cure for cancer. But being trusted with such an important task
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means that parents are not free to raise their children however they want. Really, their children are not their personal property, but sort of a public trust, and parents must raise them in such a way that they are a blessing to society. And this important job isn't divided equally between both parents; it falls mostly to the mother because she is usually the one at home with the children in their earliest, most impressionable years. That's why great men often credit their mothers for their success, for taking their responsibility seriously and not giving the job of raising their children to others, such as daycare workers and nannies.
Pestalozzi said that mothers were qualified by God Himself to be the greatest influence in their children's early lives. The mother owes it to her child, and to God who entrusted her, to have a 'thinking love.' God gave children the same kind of hands, heart and mind as ours, and mothers must ask themselves, 'How shall I train my child to use those gifts? For whose benefits shall those gifts be used?' The answers to those questions may determine the future of her beloved child, whether his life is one of misery or happiness. A loving mother is the most important part of what a child will become.
As mothers become more educated and read more, they will understand the importance of their task and feel like such a grand mission can't be left to anyone but themselves. And mothers will take up their duty seriously,
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with the same care for detail and commitment they would give an outside, paying job.
In order to understand more about her role in raising her children, mothers should have more than popular notions about educational theory and the underlying understanding of the nature of children that those theories rest on.
Herbert Spencer, in his book 'Education,' said that the way children are brought up is terribly lacking physically, morally and intellectually. Mostly, that's due to parents not having the knowledge they need to do the job correctly. What can you expect when those who are entrusted with the most important job of raising the next generation have barely considered the foundational principles upon which child-rearing techniques are based? To make shoes or manage a ship, one must go to school. A child, a living person, is so much more complex than shoes or ships, so why shouldn't parents undergo some kind of training? Since the process of teaching and raising a human being is more complicated, it's crazy not to prepare oneself for the job. It would be better to sacrifice the satisfaction of being accomplished at one's career to get this training. Parents need to understand the basics of child psychology to understand how to bring up children. Childhood development follows specific laws, and unless those laws
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are followed at least a little, the child will die. ['Babies need to eat regularly' might be the most basic law.] If the laws aren't followed to a great degree, the child's development will be stunted [for example, neglecting to show affection will cause emotional problems]. Only when the laws are followed completely will the child mature fully. So you can see how important it is for parents to know what those laws are.
Parents generally begin by thinking of their newborn as a blank slate and resolve to make grand designs about what to write on those slates [in-utero classical music, phonics flashcards, politeness in role models, exposure to a second language...] But then the child begins to show his own individuality, and his little displays of personality are a delight to his parents. His joy at greeting Daddy and his sympathy when Mommy is sad are rightfully wonderful for us to see. But parents soon begin to take their child's individuality for granted and are not so astounded when their child later shows a preference for books or sports and has his own tastes and desires. Parents naturally stop doing every little thing for their child as they see that he can feed and dress himself, and they encourage him to do more for himself as he is able. The parents are delighted to watch their child's personality develop, but the more a child begins to do for himself, the less the parents feel the need to do for him beyond feeding him, clothing him, and showing affection.
vol 1 paraphrase pg 5
With these things the parents only need to provide them. The child can eat and dress himself; the parent's main concern is that what they provide should be nourishing and wholesome, whether it's books, school lessons, the influence of friends, nutrition, or discipline. This is how most parents understand education--focusing more on nutrition, discipline, culture, depending on their own understanding. For the most part, they let their children develop in their own way according to their own environment and hereditary traits.
This leaving alone, or what Charlotte Mason calls 'Masterly Inactivity', is a good thing for the most part. Children should be allowed to develop according to their own nature, and as long as parents don't allow the child to become spoiled, this masterly inactivity can be fine. But this philosophy of letting children be covers only a part of raising children. It does not cover the most serious task of the parents, which includes the continual guidance and guarding of influences according to their understanding of the laws of child psychology so that their child grows up to be the best he can be.
Nothing that concerns a child is trivial. Even his offhand words have underlying meaning if we listen. Children don't always express themselves accurately, and it's up to parents to try to understand what children are thinking behind what they communicate. Being able to interpret our own children's personalities [and learning styles] by working to understand them will help us to know how best to educate them.
A great teacher in Charlotte Mason's day always said, 'the family is the unit of the nation.' It's not about the individual but the family. An individual is no greater than the family that he is part of, and, in this same way,
vol 1 paraphrase pg 6
the child's actions will contribute to society, for better or worse. It's the parents' responsibility to raise their children to be a blessing to their society; they must not raise them any way they want. Legally, parents have a lot of leeway in choosing how to raise their own children, but they must remember that children are a national trust. Raising children should concern everyone, even those who are single or childless.
Now more than ever, parents need to consider education and all it includes. In the past, parents simply did what had always been done, raising their children the same way their parents and grandparents did. Tradition tends to form the basis of child training for most people.
But science is causing a revolution in the way we understand education. The old ways have been proven less effective. We don't yet fully understand what is the very best way scientifically, so, for now, parents must read and learn and find the best method for themselves.
For example, a mother might have done as her own mother did and occasionally used her slipper to discipline her child with success. But current opinion, which may or may not be correct, holds that the child is sacred
vol 1 paraphrase pg 7
and hitting or spanking is abusive.
Another example is that parents used to think that plain food was best and hunger was all that was needed to make a child eat. But now, parents are expected to provide a variety of foods prepared in temping dishes and, within reason, the child's own preference and cravings are allowed to dictate his diet. In previous times, children were expected to repress their personal food desires.
It used to be that children were taught to endure discomfort. One little boy, watching a torchlight procession in wet, freezing weather, turned down an offer to watch from a warmer shed. He said he'd never be a good sailor if he couldn't endure wind and rain. But these days, parents take diligent care so that their children stay warm and don't get over-tired.
In the past, children were expected to quietly obey, study their lessons dutifully, and play only when there was no work to be done. Now, parents are more concerned about whether their children are happy than how much work they do.
Before, children had no rights. They were seen and not heard. Today, adults bend over backwards to provide just the right environment for their children.
English parents rarely go so far as to arrive late for a dinner party as one couple in a magazine did because their three-year-old didn't want them to go, so they had to pretend to undress and go to bed and then sneak out after she was asleep. But that extreme is where parents are headed. Whether our new theories of child psychology are wise
vol 1 paraphrase pg 8
and kind, whether science proves them true, and whether they cause child-worship rather than sound practice, are questions that should be taken seriously.
At any rate, a parent who does not consider carefully the goal of his child's education and the necessary steps to get to that goal will fail to fully fulfill his obligation to raise his child properly.
A method has two parts: a goal and a way to get there. The method is the steps you take to get to the end. To follow a method implies that you have some set goal, or end, in sight. What is the goal you have for your child's education? Once you see the end clearly, you will find unexpected ways to naturally use those things around you to accomplish your goal. This will happen almost effortlessly because, with the end in sight, everything becomes a tool to be used in attaining that goal almost without you even realizing it. Without even thinking about it, everything your child does--eat, play, work--will be seen as a way to get closer to your goal. But those steps, that method, can become mindless steps that are no more than an empty system if the focus of the goal is lost. The Kindergarten
vol 1 paraphrase pg 9
Method, for example, was conceived by teachers who had a wonderful vision of enlarging the lives of little persons, but when practiced by those who don't understand that goal, it becomes nothing more than an artificial system of lessons and busywork.
A 'system' sounds impressive. A system of education with all its steps and rules may sound more scientific than a method because each step has measurable results that can be used to calculate progress. It can be tested. Systems can be used successfully to learn skills such as dancing, shorthand, or accounting.
A system that uses separate steps to achieve a goal is so good at getting measurable results that it's tempting to confine all of education to a scientific system.
If people were machines, systems would be fine for educating them. The teacher could simply set a system in place, follow the steps, and the result would be predictable and successful.
But people are not machines. The teacher has to deal with a real, unpredictable child with an individual personality and his job is to minimize the bad tendencies in that child, make the most of every good tendency, and prepare that small person to be the best he can be before he takes his place in the world.
A system may be very useful as one tool in education,
vol 1 paraphrase pg 10
but as the entire basis of education, it merely produces outward behaviors rather than real growth in a person.
It is important to understand the difference between a system and a method, because parents all too often become enamored of a system that promises development in one area--but which misses the overall growth of the entire person. A system is easier because you just follow the prescribed steps, like a recipe. But a method requires constant watchfulness over the whole being of the child, it demands more of the teacher. Who is qualified for such a mammoth task? Even the most loving, committed parent isn't physically able to be on the alert to make the most of every educable moment 24 hours a day. But education may not require a 24-hour effort; the child is learning all the time and a few basic principles put into effect will cover the whole of the child's education. Once the parent understands these principles, he will find it natural and easy to let circumstances fall into place to fit these principles. In the next chapters, I [Charlotte Mason is speaking] will explain these principles, but first, let's consider a couple of questions.
vol 1 paraphrase pg 11
First, let's think about the child who is entrusted to his parents. Is he a blank slate to be written on? A twig to be bent, or wax to be molded? Maybe, but he is so much more. He is a living, breathing person in a higher place than we adults, like a prince entrusted to mere peasants. Wordsworth wrote a poem [Intimations of Immortality from Reflections of Early Childhood] about the child's estate that says we were in heaven before we were born, and our birth is like forgetting that wonderful place. But a newborn still has some of that heavenly aroma around him. His body may be small and unimpressive, but inside is a soul newly arrived from heaven with some heavenly atmosphere still hanging around him. Wordsworth's poem shows almost as much insight into
vol 1 paraphrase pg 12
the special innocence and wonder of children as the Bible does. Jesus also had a special place in His heart for children: 'Of such is the kingdom of heaven.' 'Except ye become as little children ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.' 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' 'And He called a little child, and set him in the midst.' Such is God's opinion of children. Parents should consider every scripture in the gospels that talks about children. Jesus was not talking primarily about adults who became as innocent as children, He was talking about literal children. Exactly what Jesus meant is too complex to discuss here, but He meant more than even Wordsworth did when he talked about children 'trailing clouds of glory. . . from God, who is our home.'
Parents may be surprised that Jesus laid down a code of education in the gospels. It can be summed up in three commands telling adults what not to do to harm children: Be careful that you don't offend, despise or hinder even one little child.
These three educational laws, taken separately, cover everything we adults should do and should not do in the training of our children. We can first consider what these commands
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tell us not to do in order to start our educational considerations with a clean, blank slate. Once we understand what not to do, we can then see more clearly what we can do, and what we must do. Although, actually, what we can do is included in these laws about what we can't do because we are obligated to actively do what we can to avoid hurting children.
The first two commandments seem to cover what we do to children, and what we don't do for children. We offend them by doing what we shouldn't, and we despise them by not doing what we should for them. An offense is literally a stumbling block. Mothers know to clear the floor of obstacles that may make a toddler fall. A piece of furniture, or a toy mislaid on the floor makes a newly-walking infant fall and cry and we kick ourselves for not removing it from the baby's path. But a young child going out into the world is like a newly toddling baby going in all directions. There are obstacles out in the big world that are not as easy to move out of the way as a footstool, but must be moved to keep the child from stumbling.
When a mother chides her baby with, 'Bad boy!', the baby looks sad and guilty. Some people
vol 1 paraphrase pg 14
think it's cute or funny and will tease and say 'Bad boy!' when the child isn't doing anything wrong, just for the amusement of seeing the baby look guilty and viewing the pure soul of the child. What does the child's display of guilt show us? Even before he is old enough to have been taught right from wrong from his parents, he displays a conscience. This proves that a sense of right and wrong is born into the child. That is why Jesus warned us not to offend children. We all know older children who have not yet learned that there are duties they are obligated to do; the only rule they know is 'I want' or 'I like.' Pity the parent and child who are like that!
How can a baby who was born with a sense of right and wrong before it can even speak come to have a lawless heart that only knows the rules of 'I want' and 'I like'? It happens little by little, as all good or bad character happens gradually. The mother says, 'No, no!' when her two-year-old is caught red-handed taking a cookie from the cookie jar. His little eyes search her face to see how far his mother will let him go. When the mother is taken in by how cute he is and laughs and lets the child off, she has unwittingly taught her child a lesson. She has put a stumbling block in the child's path, an offense: he has learned that something he knows is wrong may be done
vol 1 paraphrase pg 15
without punishment, and he builds onto this knowledge. And thus begins the process whereby a mother's 'No!' is disregarded and her rules challenged until she yields. The child learns that everything is as allowable as his mother lets him get away with. And if every act is merely up to the mother to decide on, then why shouldn't she be worked on to decide in the child's favor? And if Mother can decide what's okay to do based on her own whims or her child's persuasion, then why shouldn't he be able to decide what's okay to do, too, so long as he can get away with it? And from then on, the child's life is a struggle to get his own way; in this struggle, the mother is sure to lose because she has lots of responsibilities to think about, but her child has time to be persistent in wearing her down to get what he wants.
Where does this break-down have its source? It begins because the mother lacks a sense of duty--she thinks she is free to choose for herself what her child can and can't do, as if the child were hers alone to do with as she likes. The child never comes to realize that his mother is bound to a higher law than her own whims--he never learns that she can't let him break his sister's toys, or stuff himself with cake, or make everyone around him miserable, because it isn't right. The child needs to see that his parents are bound by the same codes of right and wrong that he is. Their 'no' isn't to please their own whims but because they cannot allow him to do wrong. When children understand that, they generally comply willingly. To have to reason with a child to win his compliance is usually a bad idea and compromises
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the parent's dignity. If a child understands from his mother's tone and facial expression that she cannot allow a thing as a matter of principle of right/wrong, he will sense that her mind can't be changed and he won't try to challenge or persuade her.
Allowing a child to get away with doing wrong is only one way that loving mothers offend their children. When a mother doesn't know any better, or, worse, doesn't care, she may do her child the disservice of compromising his health by feeding him a diet of junk food, letting him sleep and live in poorly ventilated rooms, and disregarding other simple rules of healthy living. Really, in an age when science is making all kinds of discoveries and information is readily available, ignorance is no excuse for letting a child's health go.
Almost as bad is the way children's minds are allowed to develop a distaste for learning with dry, tedious school lessons where real learning isn't expected. Many girls [in Charlotte Mason's day, girls didn't have the educational equality that they do now] learn nothing more from their school lessons than that learning is boring, and mental challenges are to be avoided. So a girl grows up and reads nothing more than trashy novels and chatters incessantly about clothes.
What about the affections of the child? Most parents raise their children to love and be loyal to family, but what about outsiders?
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Is popular thought allowed to discourage our children from reaching out to strangers? Even worse is when a child is less favored in her own family because she isn't pretty, or as smart as her sister. She is ignored while her parents lavish affection on the other children. Who can blame her for feeling no love for her siblings who got the share of the affection she was entitled to? And who can blame her for resenting her parents? So many children suffer hurt from this kind of neglect, and many lives become bitter as a result. One woman talked about how her childhood was made unbearable because her mother doted on her little brother, but ignored her. She could never get over her feelings of rejection. Although her mother was kinder to her after she had grown, she never could feel natural with her mother. And it affected her relationship with her brother, with whom she might have been close if not for her hurt feelings.
How is it possible that a mother can despise her own child? Despise means to undervalue. As much as adults may delight in children, we do tend to have a low opinion of them. How else is it possible for a mother to leave
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her precious children in the care of unconscientious care-givers during their most crucial years? Every act a child sees, or word he hears, leaves an impression in his mind in the same way that light leaves a permanent image on a roll of film. It isn't that a nurse [or daycare or babysitter?] is totally bad for a child; it is not always good for educated people to have their children around constantly. That might be too stimulating for the child, and the mother is more refreshed if she can enjoy time with other people, discussing things unrelated to children from time to time. But children should have their mother's best; her freshest, most alert time of day. The mother should also choose care-givers carefully, train them herself, and be vigilant about knowing what goes on while her children are in the care of someone else.
A harsh, rude caregiver causes permanent damage to sensitive children. Many children in the care of others lose their sharp moral sense of right and wrong and pick up a feeling of distance from God that they never get over. Children are born with a keen sense of justice and pick up the slightest hint of unfairness or deception. If his caregiver says, 'Be a good boy and I won't tell,' then the child learns that his mother, with whom he should be completely honest and keep no secrets, is someone he can deceive. The child may not even feel guilty about such compromises. Since he assumes that grown-ups know better, he accepts the deception as normal and shapes his own character accordingly. Because of his own sin nature, it will be more natural for him to pick up bad habits than to resist them. If his caregiver is rude, cruel and dishonest, even the youngest child will pick up those traits.
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Another way parents despise children is by not taking their faults seriously. A little child may show greed in eating his sister's treats, or vindictiveness in biting a friend who angers him, or lying to get out of trouble. The mother knows the trait is ugly and sinful, but hopes he'll grow out of it. If he doesn't, she figures she can deal with it later when he's a bit older. But life would be easier for herself and her child if she would nip it in the bud in the first place. The child is fully aware that he has done something wrong and, by letting it go, the child is learning that sin is okay. Even a grieved look can be enough the first time to show the child that his little sin is not acceptable, but if the offense passes unchecked, it will become a habit that has to be replaced later with more effort. To make light of little offenses because the child is so little will cause trouble later.
The worst way to despise children is to overlook their relationship with God. Jesus said, 'Suffer the little children to come
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unto Me.' It's the normal, natural thing for children to come to God--unless they are somehow hindered by grown-ups. In the same beautiful way that babies who can't even say 'mama' know enough to turn to her, and that flowers turn to the sun--children naturally turn to God with delight and trust, even though they don't yet understand the doctrinal implications of what they're doing.
But this is what children hear all too often: 'Bad boy, how can God love you now?' or 'God will send you to hell with the demons if you keep acting like that!' For some children, this is all they ever hear about God. They never hear how God loves them and delights to bless them. If you add long prayers in dry King James English, debates about doctrine in their presence, casual use of holy, reverent terms, and few obvious visual signs that God means more to his parents than their worldly concerns, then it's no wonder that children hesitate to 'Come unto Me!' Yet, some of these same children have parents who are committed Christians and deeply value their spirituality. This is what happens when parents assume that children are too young to understand spiritual things and withhold proper discussion about God until they think the child is ready.
Now that we know what not to do, what does the mother need to do to educate her child?
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The parts of the child that we educate--his intelligence, his will, his moral feelings--are controlled in the brain. In the same way that the eye is what sees, the brain is what thinks, wills, loves and worships. Nobody is quite sure what part of the brain does what [at least, not in Charlotte Mason's day!] but we do know that actual physical activity takes place in the gray matter of the brain when a person does anything. Brain activity isn't just a concern for research scientists, because the brain needs certain conditions to operate properly. The brain needs exercise, rest and nutrition, just like any other part of the body.
We all know of silly or bizarre people who make us wonder if some people were born with less brains than most people. Everybody is probably born with the same amount of brain power, but without daily mental challenges, the brain gets no exercise. Children need to get into the habit of daily thinking activities and sustained acts of the will, otherwise the brain grows as lazy and flabby as an arm carried in a sling for years. A brain cannot stay inactive; without regular work, it creates work on its own, reaching out its own lines of thought. That makes the person eccentric because the brain can't work sporadically in a haphazard way. It needs to work under
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some order. It has been suggested that poet William Cowper, who had attacks of derangement and depression, may have been the cause of his own suffering because his brain needed more to do than writing poems.
So, don't let children spend a day without some kind of real mental effort, whether it be intellectual, moral or an act of the will. They need to stop and figure things out in their minds, they need to make themselves do what they don't feel like doing, they need to determine to do something that costs them sacrifice in pleasure or comfort, and, most of all, they need to exercise their brains with regular mental activity.
Rest is just as important as exercise. Just like the rest of the body, when the brain is working, blood is diverted to send energy there. The body has a limited supply of blood and should only have to support one strenuous activity at a time--first the arms and legs, then the digestive tract, then the brain, one at a time. The body sends all the blood it can spare to the part of the body that is working the hardest.
After the child has eaten dinner, the heaviest meal of the day [in CM's day, this would have been the midday meal],
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his blood is diverted to his digestion for 2 or 3 hours. If the child goes for a walk right after dinner, his blood is diverted to his legs and half his food is left undigested. If this becomes a regular habit, the child will be plagued with digestion problems. Sending a child to do his homework right after dinner is just as bad: all the blood that should have gone to digesting his meal will go to his brain.
So it makes sense that lessons should be scheduled carefully after periods of mental rest, such as after sleeping or playing, when the blood is not engaged in working on some major activity. Since breakfast is usually a light meal and requires less energy to digest, the time after breakfast is a good time to plan lessons. If the whole afternoon can't be spared for play, then constructive light tasks can be done, such as sewing, drawing or practicing music. A child's mind is fresh enough to do mental work in the evening, but that can interfere with sleep if his mind gets too alert and excited from his work, and it can cause him to have restless dreams and a fitful night's sleep. If there is no way to avoid homework at night, then there should be an hour or two right before bedtime for pleasant socializing. Best of all is not to have any homework at all in the evenings.
Huxley said that there was no clear proof that
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certain parts of the brain were responsible for specific activities--no part of the brain specifically for exercising caution, or for playing music [remember, CM wrote this back in the 1800's before x-rays and MRI scans!]. But anyone knows that, if you work too hard at some mental task, your brain becomes tired. If a child does very challenging math, his mind will get fatigued and he will start to have trouble and make silly mistakes. But if you switch activities and let him read some history, his mind is fine for that task. Using his imagination to picture history apparently uses a different part of the brain than doing math and, since it was dormant during the math, it is well-rested and ready to work for history. Schools often schedule lessons to mix up types of brain activities during the day, but parents often don't know that it's important to do this.
The brain can't do its work without nourishment. Someone once calculated how many ounces of brain activity it took to do a certain activity, such as writing Paradise Lost, or writing music. We don't need to know the exact calculations to know that any kind of thinking uses up some energy in the brain tissue. The blood works to bring energy to that area for nourishment. The blood must be healthy and well-fed if it's going to provide energy effectively to the brain. The brain is only going to be as well-nourished as the quantity and quality of the blood.
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There are three or four things that can affect the quality of the blood. Food that is healthy and easy to digest will make the blood more vital and life-giving. The diet should be varied so that all the various micro-nutrients are included. Children are never still and all their comings and goings and even their chattering expends energy little by little. It's healthy for them to move and exercise, but it means they lose energy that must be made up for by eating. Children are more active than grown-ups, and their minds are all a-flutter and busy all the time. The human brain takes up only a fortieth of the weight of the body, but it expends a fourth or fifth part of the blood's energy to function. And not only does the child use energy moving and thinking, but his young body is also growing and needs building material for this growth.
Therefore, children must be well-fed. Half the people who complain of low energy were not adequately fed during their childhood, and that was usually
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because their parents didn't understand what their child's nutritional needs were rather than because of poverty. Regular meals at regular intervals is a good, common-sense practice. A midday dinner should be no more than five hours after breakfast, and animal protein should be served once a day or twice if one of them is a light form. It isn't how much food is eaten, but how much gets digested that counts as far as nourishing the body and brain. There are so many aspects of digestion; we'll just name a couple of the most obvious. Everybody knows [at least, they did in CM's day!] that children should not eat pastry, pork, fried meat, cheese, rich food, highly flavored food, sauces and spices such as pepper, mustard, vinegar, new bread, rich cake, and jam that still has leathery skins. Milk that is not too warm and which may be mixed with water, or cocoa, is the best drink for children. They should learn not to drink during meals, but only after meals. A good breakfast might be fresh fruit, oatmeal with molasses, and the fat of toasted bacon [but not the bacon itself??]. A glass of water first thing in the morning and last thing at night helps promote regularity [but might not be the best idea if you have a bed-wetter!]
It isn't just rules of nutrition that affect how much of the meal is actually digested. Emotional
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considerations must also be taken into account. Digestive juices are only secreted freely when the mind is content and unstressed. If a child dislikes his meal, he may swallow it, but it won't digest very well. If the meal is strained with uncomfortable silence, the meal likewise won't digest very well. So, providing meals in pleasant surroundings isn't a matter of pampering and spoiling, but a matter of health. And too much excitement is also bad for the digestion. Every effort should be made to make mealtimes around the family table the happiest times of the day. If possible, children should sit at the table with their parents [in CM's day, children sometimes ate in the nursery or in the kitchen] unless the parents are having a late supper. Mealtime is an excellent opportunity to teach children proper manners and morals, to have family bonding, and to teach healthy eating habits such as thorough chewing.
Pleasant environment and high quality food isn't enough; children's food should be plain, but it should also be varied. Mutton served as leftovers all week won't adequately nourish the child if
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he gets so tired of mutton that he loses his appetite. The mother should plan a meal rotation so that no dinner is repeated more than once every two weeks. Fish as the main dish is an excellent change of pace because it is rich in phosphorus, which is good for the brain. Puddings can be a good choice because they don't often like fatty foods, but they will eat sweet, starchy puddings. But even their puddings shouldn't always be the same kind--think variety. A wise mother should never say, 'I always give my children such and such for tea.' There should be no 'always' when it comes to children's meals, every meal should have something different. But won't this make children overly concerned about what they eat and drink? No. It isn't well-fed children who are greedy, but underfed children who can't be trusted with special treats.
The quality of the blood depends on good, fresh air as well as good, varied food. Every two or three minutes, all of the blood circulates entirely around its circuit in the body, returning to the heart to be re-oxygenated by the lungs. The change that oxygen makes in the short time it's in contact with the lungs is so drastic that even the blood's color undergoes a dramatic change. It enters the lungs spoiled and unable to sustain life, but leaves as life-giving fluid. But blood is only fully oxygenated when the air
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contains plenty of oxygen. In a room, every living being and flame takes some oxygen from the air, depleting it. So it's very important that children spend time every day out in the fresh air exercising their limbs and lungs in fresh, pure, fully oxygenated air.
A mother brags that her children are outside for a walk at least one hour a day. Perhaps that's better than nothing. A little girl uses her lunch money to buy aniseed candy drops; we might say that's better than nothing, too. But children can't thrive on candy and they can't thrive on just an hour outside every day. The human animal wasn't meant to survive in an artificial environment of walls any more than plants were designed to live in glass houses. Countries such as France, Germany, Italy have an advantage in that their people practically live out-of-doors and are happier, simpler and healthier for it. Charles II said England had the best climate for being outside. Man can't live on food and drink alone. It's true that you can't
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live on air, but if we had to choose between air, food or drink, air would sustain us longer. You can survive days or weeks without food and water, but only a few minutes without air. We are so used to that knowledge that it no longer holds our interest. Every schoolboy knows how the blood circulates and is brought to the lungs for oxygen.
We're so familiar with our knowledge of oxygen that we don't even think about it anymore, but even the miracles oxygen can do are limited. It can only work where it is--if the air has been depleted by fire and candle and others breathing in the room, how vital can it be? Air should be 23 parts oxygen per hundred parts, but with all those things taking oxygen out of the air,
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and the air in a room not vented or circulating, the air gets stagnate and has little life-giving oxygen left. And then imagine how many fires and candles and pets and people are in a city, taking oxygen from the air, and what do you think is the result? People only feel fully alive when their blood is well-oxygenated by breathing fully oxygenated air. Those who live cooped up in poorly ventilated houses can't possibly be as alive as those who live mostly outside in the open air. In cities where the air is depleted, people subsist at low levels of health and energy, their growth is stunted, and they get respiratory diseases that kill them before their time. Yes, we need shelter from the weather and a place to sleep at night, but we lose when we make our homes so comfortable that we never want to leave them to go outside.
Pale city children who spend too much of their days cooped up inside are not as healthy in one way as street children who scavenge for food in the garbage--at least they get lots of the most essential element: fresh air. Even a city street in the slums has better air than a closed-up home. But even city air
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isn't the best. What's even better is delicious country air. It's even more important for children than adults to breath country air because they move and play and breath more air, and they are also growing and developing new tissue. The body needs high-quality blood to keep up with all of this activity. A child's brain, too, is growing and needs the best material it can have to make new tissue.
A parent might go out of the way to research the healthiest diet and spare no expense or effort to provide it for their dear child, but if the child spends most of the day cooped up in the house, they may still be starving for oxygen. The nutritionally superior food isn't being converted into energy as well as it should be because the body isn't working as efficiently as it should and has inferior blood to work with.
And if the child's body is listless and pale as a result of being in the house, imagine how the alert, curious mind of the child must be stifled without real things from nature to handle. Children can't fully grasp the words--mere symbols of things--until they have something real in their mind to relate it to; therefore, mere lessons without the experience of being out in the real world with real things will be largely wasted.
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The Wordsworth poem 'Three Years She Grew' is quoted in which a girl grows up close to nature and nature herself smiles on the girl and blesses her with the 'silence and the calm of mute, insensate things.' The girl finds peace among the beauties of nature and the peace of nature adds its own beauty to her face.
Out-door airings will be discussed later, but indoor airings are just as important. The damage of hours spent inside with depleted air can't be undone by spending a couple hours outside. With a couple of people, a fire and other things using air in a room, it becomes de-oxygenated pretty quickly unless the room is well-vented. We've all experienced the stuffiness of entering a closed room after being outside, but after a few minutes, we don't even notice the stuffiness anymore. Thus, we can't depend on our senses to tell us when a room needs ventilation.
Therefore, we need to have a plan to keep the room ventilated regardless of
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whether anyone in the room thinks the room needs it or not. Windows must be kept open at least one inch at the top day and night. That will allow enough air to circulate because light, depleted air rises and will escape out the top of the open window, while fresh air can seep in from cracks around doors, windows and floors. An open chimney is not enough ventilation, but stopping up the chimney in a bedroom is suicidal. Children should get used to sleeping with the window open an inch or two all year, and even more than that in summer.
Some people think night air is unhealthy, but it actually contains as much oxygen as day air. In fact, since there are less things going on to use up oxygen (fires are put out at night), night air is actually healthier. When children are away from their room is a great opportunity to throw open the doors and windows and give it a thorough airing.
It isn't just fresh, clean air that makes healthy blood. Healthy blood has a high number of red blood cells which are produced in the blood itself. People who spend a lot of time in the sun have ruddy faces
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because they have so many red blood cells, but people who live in dark cellars and alleys have pale, paper-white faces. It follows that light and sunshine are necessary for making red blood cells; therefore, children's rooms should be on the sunny side of the house, on the south, if possible. The whole house should be kept bright by removing trees and outbuildings that obstruct light from coming in the windows, especially in the children's room.
There's one more thing needed to make sure that the blood that nourishes the brain is the best quality. One of the functions of the blood is to carry waste from the various parts of the body and get rid of it. One of the most important ways the body expels waste is through the millions of pores in the skin in the form of perspiration.
When there is lots of waste expelled through the pores, we notice perspiration on our skin. But even when it's too light for our notice, our body is constantly getting rid of waste through perspiration. If anything hinders the body's discharge of waste through the pores, perhaps by coating a large part of the skin so that no moisture can get through, death will be the result. That's why people can die when large parts of their skin gets burned even though no vital organ is injured--many pores through which waste should be carried away
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are gone and the remaining skin's pores and the waste organs [kidney, liver] have to pick up the slack, but may not be able to keep up, causing a pooling of fluid that can't get out of the body. If the blood is going to nourish the brain, the pores all over the skin must be unrestricted to allow wastes to be carried away.
Two factors affect the pores. First, daily bathing and vigorous skin rubbing. Just as important are clothes that breathe. Perhaps delicate women who felt faint at church had their fashionable sealskin coats to blame. And that may be why people who sleep under thick bedding wake up unrefreshed--all that covering restricts their perspiration so their blood can't expel impurities. We might be surprised by how many people go through life fatigued simply because of their choice in clothing. The best clothing for children is breathable wool, flannel and serge [serge is cloth made from twilled wool, or silk twilled to be like wool], heavier weight for winter, thinner for summer. Wool is more porous and therefore better than cotton and linen. Wool also holds in heat in the winter and absorbs perspiration so the skin doesn't feel clammy
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like it sometimes does after sweating. We'd all be better off if we slept in light wool sheets instead of cotton or linen.
There is much more that might be said about the various aspects of nourishing the brain, but it is enough if the awareness of one or two rules of health are made so plain and clear that one can't help implementing them.
These may seem like the least interesting details of education, but the foundation of good nutrition and health is the ground on which everything else rests. Every part of our being--our thinking, our mood, even our spiritual life--is affected by our physical condition, by how healthy and alert we are. This doesn't mean that a person with a toned body is necessarily brilliant and good, but a brilliant and good person has necessarily invested years of reasonably sound health practices to enable him the health to develop his wisdom and morality. If you doubt whether physical health affects your mind, ask yourself, is it easier to be friendly, kind and outgoing with or without a headache or acute, painful nerve spasms?
Even though all these physical considerations are just the groundwork, the same principles can be applied
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to all of education--the principles of orderly, regular progress under a specified law. The reason that education has so much less effect on the person than it should is because 90 percent of parents rely on their own 'common sense' and good intentions. But common sense must be well-informed, and good intentions must be according to actual laws of nature, which are divine laws that are found more often in life than in the scriptures.
It is really pitiful that many people who pride themselves on not knowing God live purer lives with less character flaws and selfishness than many professing Christians! Our children won't be able to escape notice of that fact and we will need to be prepared with some explanation of that phenomena. If the secular person they see should happen to be a beloved, respected person in their lives, it will speak more to them than years of doctrinal teaching. The biggest threat to religion isn't all the wickedness around us, but good that comes from a source refusing to acknowledge God.
That is the reason why I say the little I do about religion, because I sense the danger and I know that educated parents need to be aware, since they are
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the best and most competent persons to deal with it.
So, what do we make of the morality of non-believers? The world of the mind, just like the world of matter and nature, is governed by unwritten laws. A child blowing bubbles or reflecting on flitting little thoughts in his mind cannot do so outside of that Law. All safety and success happens because of obedience to these Laws [for instance, we stay safe while walking along a cliff's edge because we heed the law of gravity.] There are natural laws of thought, morality, the physical world and spiritual life. Anyone who recognizes, respects and heeds those laws will reap the reward of obeying those laws, whether he attributes those laws to God or not. Anyone who obeys God's laws will experience the blessing of that obedience even if he doesn't know the Author of those laws, just as anyone who steps into the sunshine will be warmed whether he acknowledges the sun as the source of the warmth or not. Even if he closes his eyes and refuses to see the sun, it warms him nevertheless. On the other hand, those who don't bother to learn what those laws are can't experience the blessings of heeding them even if they are Christians who will inherit the eternal gift of salvation and heaven.
Sometimes the gift of eternal life is so wonderful that a Christian doesn't seek for anything else. He breathes in deeply, enjoying the freshness of his new spiritual life--but he breathes in the spiritual laws only, completely missing the laws of nature and almost treating them with contempt, or resisting them as belonging to the secular world [an example might be Christians who scoff at laws of conservation and environmental responsibility, relegating them to 'new age thinking.']
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Such a person might care nothing for the wonderful way in which he was created, or how the brain works, or the subtle ways that the mind develops in accordance with natural laws. They think that these earthly matters are worthy only of the attention of nonbelievers, as if it somehow dishonors God to focus on the way He displays His character in the laws of this world. They refuse to have anything to do with any laws except the blatantly religious ones. Meanwhile, the secular person seeking to discover how the world operates most efficiently finds that things work better when he adheres to certain natural laws--physically, mentally, morally; in fact, all of the various facets of God's interests except the spiritual one. Don't forget that, although Esau gave away his spiritual birthright, the inheritance he did receive was also a blessing of God. When secular people heed God's natural laws and Christians don't, is it any wonder that the children of Christians ask, 'Why does it seem like non-believers are better off than we are?'
Christians parents shouldn't set up their children to have to face this difficulty. They have no right to pray that their children would be honest and have integrity while neglecting the principles and scientific details that go into teaching and training children to be honest and have integrity. These principles and scientific details are just as divine as God's spiritual Laws. The principles and laws of the natural world won't help us enter into a true knowledge of God Himself, which takes priority over anything else and makes life worth living. But these natural and scientific laws play a part in the
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education of all persons, and parents may not neglect them without paying the price. In these volumes, I will attempt to roughly lay out a method of education that adheres to divine natural laws and thus will result in divine blessings and success. Anything I can offer in this short guide will be imperfect and incomplete, but I hope it will be enough to get thoughtful parents focused on the proper lines of thinking in regards to the education of their children.
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Country dwellers already know what wonders fresh air can do for a person. Their children practically live outside when they aren't eating or sleeping. But even country people don't make the most of their opportunity--when the weather is warm, why not eat breakfast and lunch outside? We are so stressed from our hectic lives, but time spent in the open air is great for the mind and body and could even prolong our lives. Those who have been sick with fever and headache and felt soothed by the deliciousness of fresh, cool air often make it a rule never to be indoors when they can be out.
Besides the benefit of an added hour or two of fresh air, meals eaten outside are often delightful, and there's nothing like happiness to convert food and drink
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into healthy blood and bodies. And, meanwhile, children are storing lots of glad memories of a happy childhood. In their old age, the memories of the shadows playing on the white tablecloth, the sunshine, laughter, hum of insects, smells of flowers are being filed away in their minds to gladden their thoughts later.
But not everyone is lucky enough to live in the country where they can eat outside. So, what about those of us who live in the city or suburbs? How much time should we dedicate to making our children stay outside? And how can we pull it off? With all the pressure to give our children a good education and adequate socialization, it's good to remember that a mother's first duty should be to provide a secure, quiet early childhood. For the first six years, children should have low-key schedules so they can just be and grow, and they should spend most of their waking hours outside enjoying the fresh air. This is not just good for their bodies; their heart, soul and mind are nourished with exactly what they need when we leave them alone in a stress-free environment among happy influences that give them no reason to rebel and misbehave.
A mother may brag, 'I make sure to send my children outside, weather permitting, for an hour every day in the winter and two hours in the summer.' That's a good start, but it's not enough. First of all, the mother shouldn't send them, she should take them. If at all possible, she should take them outside, because, although they need to be left to themselves much of the time, there are still things that she needs to make sure get done, and things she needs to prevent during their long days in the open air. And they should be long days spent outside--
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not two, but four or even six hours on every tolerable day from April til October. But a stressed, overworked mother may see no way to give her children more than an hour on the neighborhood sidewalks. Well, long hours in fresh air is the ideal for children. It may not be practical for every family, but when mothers understand the good that a measure can do, they will often work miracles to provide it. A twenty minute trip with a picnic lunch can make a day in the country accessible to almost anyone, but why do it just one day? Why not do it lots of days? Or even every nice day?
But suppose we have those long days in the open air, what is to be done with them so that they are pleasant days? There must be a plan, or else it will be all work and no fun for the mother, and the children will be bored. There is a lot to get accomplished in this large block of time. The children must be kept in a good temper if they are to get the most out of the refreshing, strengthening atmosphere of the great outdoors. They must be left to themselves for a good part of the day to take in their own impressions of nature's beauty. There's nothing worse than children being deprived of every moment to wonder and dream within their own minds because teachers and adults are constantly talking at them, not leaving them a moment's peace. Yet, the mother must not miss this opportunity of being outdoors to train the children to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and seeds of truth deposited into their minds to grow and blossom on their own in the secret chambers of their imaginations.
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In addition to increasing their powers of observation, children should spend an hour or two in free, active playing, and a lesson or two should be done.
Once the mother and children have arrived in a pleasant, breezy area, it is not the mother's duty to entertain the children. No reading aloud or storytelling--in fact, there should be as little talking from her as possible, and what little there is should have a definite purpose. After all, who worries about entertaining children with story books during a puppet show, or at the circus?? And the great outdoors has lots more to offer than either of those. A wise mother, upon arriving at their spot, first sends the children off to run wild and play and make as much noise as they want. No difference needs to be made between big and little kids. In fact, the little ones tend to copy the older kids in lessons, playing, and picking up anyway. As for the baby, when he is put down, he will kick and crawl and grab at the grass, loving every minute of his freedom as he takes in nature in his own way. He should be dressed in something comfortable that can handle a bit of dirt and play.
Soon the children return to their mother, and, while they are still fresh and alert, she sends them on an exploring expedition to see who can spot the most, and tell the most, about a farther hill or
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brook or thicket. This game delights children and endless variations can be used. It's a fun way to teach exactness and attention to detail.
The mother looks herself at what she's sent them to look at while they're gone. When the children come back, they will excitedly tell what they saw: 'There's a beehive.' 'Lots of bees were going in it.' 'There's a long garden.' 'It had sunflowers.' 'And daisies and pansies.' 'There were lots of pretty blue flowers with rough leaves; what do think those were, Mom?' 'Probably borage, it's an herb that attracts bees.' 'Oh, and there were apple trees and pear trees on one side, and a path in the middle.' 'Which side were the trees on?' 'The right. No, the left, wait, which hand do I write with? Yes, the right.' 'The apple tree had a million apples on it!' 'A million??' 'Well, maybe not a million, but a whole lot!' And so on, so that the mother gets the complete details little by little.
This is just a game to the children, but the mother is actually doing some very valuable teaching, training the children's powers of observation
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and their ability to articulate precise details. She is increasing their vocabulary by giving them the name of the thing they need at the right moment, when they ask, 'What was that?' She is also training them to be accurately truthful by seeing that they tell exactly what they saw without leaving out any details or exaggerating. A child who gives lots of details in his description such as, 'A tall tree ending in a point with roundish leaves; it wouldn't be good for shade because all the branches go up,' deserves to be told the name of the tree and any facts about it that the mother knows. But a careless observer who doesn't even know whether the tree was an elm or beech shouldn't get any reward. The mother shouldn't move an inch to even look at it or allow herself to be drawn into talking about it until the child becomes discouraged and goes off to inspect and report more accurate detail, such as whether the bark is rough or smooth and how the leaves are shaped. Then the mother can show more interest and allow the child to lead her to see it.
Little by little, the children are learning to pick out important details about every feature of the landscape around them. Imagine what a treasure they will find when, years later, they're able to pull out memories etched in full detail of the beautiful scenery from their childhood home! The sad thing about most peoples' childhood memories is that they are too vague and blurry to bring much enjoyment. Why? Not because they were forgotten, but because the details of the scene were never thoroughly seen. Even at the time, the memory was only a hazy impression that certain main objects were there. So, naturally, after
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decades, not much can be recalled because the child wasn't paying enough attention to record the memory well at the time.
The ability to take a mental picture of the beauties of nature is so fulfilling that it is well worth teaching our children how to do it. Keep in mind that children tend to focus on what's right in front of them and have to be coaxed to notice what's more distant. Have children look thoroughly at some landscape, then ask them to close their eyes and bring up the image in their minds. If any part of their image isn't clear, then they should take another look at the actual landscape to fill in details, and then try again. When their mental image is complete, have them describe it, like this: 'I see a pond, it's shallow on the side closest to me but deeper on the other side. There are trees along the water on the deep side and you can see a reflection of the green leaves and branches so clearly that it looks like there's a woods under the water. Almost touching the trees in the water is some blue sky with a soft white cloud. When you look up, you can see the same white cloud but there's more sky because there are no trees up there. There are also beautiful water lilies in the far edge of the pond and two or three of the leaves are turned up so that they look like sails. Near where I am, three cows have come to get a drink. One is already in the water nearly up to her neck,' etc.
Mental picture painting is a game that children enjoy, although it takes a good bit of
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concentrated attention and is therefore tiring. It should only be done once in a while. Still, it's good to have children memorize some scenic landscape images because, while making the memory requires effort, the habit of looking more closely at detail is learned as an unconscious by-product when children are asked to make detailed mental images every now and then.
In the beginning, children will need help to get them started. So the mother might show how it's done by saying, 'Look at the trees reflected in the water. What do the leaves standing up remind you of?' until children notice the main details. She should memorize a couple of mental images and impress her children by closing her eyes and describing it from memory. Children are such little mimics that they will copy her example, even using variations of her own minute details in their own versions.
Children will enjoy this game even more if the mother introduces it by describing 'a wonderful gallery I've seen,' and then she goes on to describe individual pictures of different landscapes, children playing, an old lady sewing--and then she explains that these pictures don't have frames and aren't painted on canvas. This gallery goes with her everywhere inside her mind, and, every time she sees a pretty picture, she studies it until she can make a mental image to add to her collection. So now,
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these pictures are hers forever, wherever she goes, to look at anytime she wants.
The habit of storing mental images can't be overrated. It can comfort us and refresh us. Even in our busiest times, we can stop and take a mini-vacation in our own piece of nature to be refreshed and gladdened by 'the silence and calm of things that can't speak or feel.'
This kind of break is available to everyone, but not everyone is able to carry away an impression strong enough to last. Only some can revisit scenes from memory that have enough detail to stir the blood, feel in the heart and bring peace. Yet this isn't the gift of a few special poets; anyone who tries hard to really see can have it, and parents can train their children to do this.
However, mothers must be careful not to spoil the child's innocent delight in making mental pictures by showing him off in front of the neighbors or Dad and making him perform from memory. She would be better
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not to say anything to anyone, even if the child has a poetic knack for it, at least not when the child can hear.
While doing the mental image exercises, opportunities will come up to make children familiar with rural tools and jobs. If there are farms around, they should learn about meadows, pastures and crops like alfalfa, potatoes and corn, in every stage from plowing the field to harvesting the crops.
Myrtle, jewelweed, black-eyed Susan, every wildflower that grows in the neighborhood should be well-known to children. They should be able to describe the shape, size and placements of their leaves and whether the flowers have a single blossom or a head of them. When they know the flower so well that they could recognze it anywhere, they should take a look at the area it grew in so that they'll know what kind of terrain to look for it again in the future. 'We should be able to find wild thyme here!' 'This is just the kind of place marigolds grow in; we must come back here in spring to see if there are any!' If the mother lacks a knowledge of plants, a good field guide will be indispensable, especially if she can find one that includes little facts and fun things about the plants. To
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collect flowers, press them and glue them to cardboard with the name in English, what kind of habitat it grows in, and when it was found. This is fun and educational. Even better is to have children make careful watercolor paintings of their favorite flowers, or of the whole plant.
Children should also become familiar with trees at an early age. They should pick about six in the winter when the leaves are gone, perhaps an elm, a maple, a beech, etc, and watch them during the year. In the winter they will see the color of the bark, the way the branches grow and the thickness of its build. They don't need to learn the name of each tree yet, that can wait until leaves appear. They may notice that the branches get stiffer and more alive-looking as spring approaches and life stirs in the leaf buds. They can watch as the leaves unfold, revealing many waterproof layers. Each species has its own unique way of wrapping its leaves. The lime tree's buds are reddish, the ash bud resembles a deer's foot and is not green but black. Tennyson's poem, The Gardener's Daughter, refers to eyes 'more black than ashbuds at the beginning of March.'
So many wonders appear in spring that it's hard to keep up. There are dangling flowers, and red-centered flowers on the hazel--both clusters of flowers on the same tree! There are the festive
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leaves bursting out on all the trees, learning the shapes of the leaves, the names of each tree, and learning to recognize them by observing differences in them. And then come the flowers, each enclosed in a pretty little bed of a bud, wrapped as intricately as the leaves but less carefully guarded since they wait to come out until the ground is warmer and the sun is out to welcome them.
Leigh Hunt said to imagine: What if we had never seen flowers, and they were sent to us as a reward for our goodness? Imagine how carefully we'd watch the growth of the stem and every unfolding of each leaf in wonder. And then imagine our astonishment when a bud appeared, and began to unfold in all its delicate, colorful beauty. Well, we have been seeing flowers for years--but our children haven't. Flowers are still new and wonderful to them., and it's the fault of grown-ups if every new flower they see ceases to delight them.
And what about those six trees that the children were watching since winter? Now children will
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see that they also flower, although those flowers may be as green as the leaves. Some trees don't get their leaves until the flowers have blossomed and fallen off. Soon there is fruit, and children witness first-hand that every plant bears 'fruit and seed after his kind.' This is old news to grown-ups, but a good teacher will present all knowledge as new and exciting by imagining himself in the place of the child and being amazed with him. Every small miracle that ceases to amaze us is like a new discovery to our children, as exciting as the discovery of gravity to Newton.
It's a great idea to have children keep a calendar to record when and where they saw the first oak leaf, the first tadpole, the first primrose, the first ripe blackberries. Then next year they can pull out the calendar and know when to anticipate seeing these things again, and they can note new discoveries. Imagine how this will add enthusiasm for daily walks and nature hikes! A day won't go by when something isn't seen to excite them.
As soon as a child is old enough, he should keep his own nature notebook for his enjoyment. Every day's walk will give something interesting to add--three squirrels playing in a tree, a bluejay flying across a field, a caterpillar crawling up a bush, a snail eating a cabbage leaf, a spider suddenly dropping from a thread to the ground, where he found ivy and how it was growing and what plants were growing with it, and how ivy manages to climb.
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An intelligent child will think of millions of little things to record in his nature notebook. At age 5 or 6, he can illustrate his notes with watercolors. At first he may need a little help with knowing how to work the medium in general terms, but he should be left to figure out the rest in whatever way he wants. If he asks how to make purple, we can tell him to use red and blue, but he should be allowed to mix it in the proportions he wants to get the right shade. The skill of drawing may be addressed in some other way, but not in his nature notebook, that should be for him to fill as he sees fit. A six year old will add pictures of dandelions, poppies and irises with enthusiasm and accuracy for no other reason than because he wants to record what he sees.
An exercise book with a stiff cover can be used as a nature notebook, but the paper inside should be suitable for both watercolor and drawing.
One little girl said, 'I can't stop thinking, I can't make my mind sit down!' She speaks for many children. And we adults have very little imagination; we think that a child's mind will rest when we send him out to the yard to play after his lessons. But a child's mind is constantly busy with ideas coming in and out, like a millstone turning and turning that, if it has nothing to grind, will begin to gring up itself.
A child should be given work to do to provide something for his mind to grind, but he should be given
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things rather than abstract symbols, real things from nature in their true habitat--in the meadows and woods and shorelines.
Live animals are always interesting to children. Pets become beloved friends even to children who live too far from the country to see squirrels and wild rabbits. And usually one can find a pond nearby, even if it takes a car drive to get to, where children can catch tadpoles, carry them home and watch them change as their fins disappear, their tails get shorter and disappear, and the tadpole is suddenly a frog. Turning over any rock can reveal ants. Everyone knows how wise it is to consider the ways of ants. If you need more persuasion, read ant specialist Lord Avebury's account of a twelve-year-old ant. Bees are also interesting. One teacher was giving a lesson based on the poem that begins, 'How doth the busy little bee,' but the children weren't interested because none of them had ever seen a bee! A child who has never known a bee or birds or flowers is missing a lot, but
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children living in slums may be so unfamiliar with nature that they wouldn't know a wasp from a honey bee!
Children should be encouraged to quietly and patiently watch the bee, spider, ant, caterpillar or other wildlife that crosses their path. If this seems dull to them, they just need to watch more closely, because their alert eyes can catch the smallest ways of insects in ways that grown-ups can't without magnifiers. Ants can be watched at home by making [or buying] an ant farm. Take twelve ants from an ant-hill (not red ants, they may bite!), some eggs and a queen. The queen is easy to spot because she's bigger than the other ants. Take some dirt from the ant hill and put it into the ant farm with the ants. Leave a hole in a top corner plugged but accessible. The ants may be restless for a couple of days, but will then begin to resettle and start arranging the dirt. Once a week, remove the stopper
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and put 2 or 3 drops of honey on it. Every 3 weeks, add 10 drops of water. In the winter, the ants hibernate and won't need food or water. An ant farm can last for years.
If children are terrified of bugs, it's usually because they caught the fear of adults around them. Charles Kingsley's children ran after him carrying creatures such as 'a lovely toad' or 'sweet beetle' in their bare hands. Yet even Kingsley was horrified by spiders. A child who spends an hour watching a grub won't be scared of it. Everything he learns should be added to his nature notebook by him or, if he's too little to write, his mother. He can include where he saw it, what it was doing, its color, how many legs, etc. Someday he will hear its scientific name and it will seem like an old friend.
Some children are born naturalists, but even those who weren't were born with natural curiosity about the world should be encouraged to observe nature. Most children are influenced by the opinions of those around them and if their parents don't care about nature, or are disgusted by little creatures, they will pick up that attitude and all the wonders of nature will pass them by. The book The Natural History of
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Selborne would not exist if Gilbert White's father had not taken him on daily discovery walks in Selborne. John Audubon said that as soon as he began walking and talking, his father constantly pointed out objects in nature. His father would bring him birds and flowers and show him details such as the birds' elegant movement, or the softness of the feathers, or how they showed fear or pleasure, or their perfect form. He would talk about their seasonal migrations, where they lived and how they would change. It was this early influence that excited Audubon and inspired him to make birds his life's work and think about the God who created them.
Children who live in town can watch sparrows by leaving them breadcrumbs. There are lots of fun things to be done with sparrows. A man in the garden of Tuileries tamed them to eat from his hands and come when he called a
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specific individual bird, even though most people couldn't tell them apart.
A child who can't tell the difference between a thrush, a swallow, a blackbird or a skylark is as sad as those children who had never seen a bee. A nice first acquaintance with a critter is to find a furry caterpillar shuffling along looking for a quiet place to rest. He can be put in a box covered with netting that can be seen through. He won't need food because he'll soon spin a cocoon, split his skin, and enter the cocoon, where he'll stay for months. At last, he will break out of the cocoon as a butterfly. Most six-year-olds have done this type of science project. It isn't just fun, it's more educational than a whole science book, or lessons in geography
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or Latin. It's no good when children get their knowledge of science from books. They get so used to reading about marvels of nature and never seeing it for themselves that nothing interests them. The way to cure this is to let them alone for awhile and then start something totally different. It's not the children's fault that nature bores them; they are naturally curious and eager to explore the world and everything in it. There's a poem that says that the person who can best appreciate God is the one who is familiar with the natural world He made.
Adults should realize that the most valuable thing children can learn is what they discover themselves about the world they live in. Once they experience first-hand the wonder of nature, they will want to make nature observation a life-long habit. All people are supposed to be observers of nature and there's no excuse for living in a world so full of amazing plants and animals and not be interested in them.
Besides appreciating the world, observing nature develops other mental powers--ability to focus, to tell things apart, to patiently seek answers. These things are useful in every facet of life. And, for the person who observes nature, life is so
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interesting that there's no time to develop mischievous characteristics that come from being bored. How can a person be irritable or sullen or stubborn when he's always preoccupied with nature?
Nature study is even more important for girls because girls are more apt to fall into ugly moods because they have so much time on their hands. Girls have less mental challenges and therefore need an absorbing passion to keep their minds on. Their weaker bodies need the strengthening of the great outdoors. Also, girls and women tend to be self-centered and spend all their time thinking about petty matters and worthless admirations, and nature study can lift their thoughts onto bigger things. It's good to get girls thinking of something outside of themselves since they're the ones who will be raising and teaching the next generation.
Should children study biology, botany and zoology by dissecting and taking things apart? Not usually; a child younger than 6 or 8 years old shouldn't be pulling flowers apart to study them at a time when they should be learning to revere and protect life rather than destroy it (mosquitoes and other pests excepted!) An awe for
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the precious gift of a life that can be destroyed by a cruel child, but can never be brought back, is an important lesson for children. A poem says that we should grow in knowledge, but it's more important to grow in reverence.
The child who sees his mother reverently and softly kiss a snowdrop flower is learning something that no book can teach him. When they are older, they will understand that all science is merely a study of God's creation and that sometimes sacrifices must be made in the name of knowledge for the good of others. Then, all the things they have seen, and all the facts they have collected will form a great foundation for studying science. Until then, let them 'consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.'
Children should know the correct name for parts of things, such as petals, sepals, etc, to help them describe what they see. They should be encouraged to group things together by leaf shape, or leaf vein pattern, or number of flower petals, or whether they keep their leaves all year, or animals that have a backbone, or animals that eat grass or eat meat, etc. Collecting and sorting plant specimens is fun and good practice
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in noticing similarities and differences in things. Any beginning book of botany should be helpful in classifying leaves and flowers.
The ability to group things together by type and find differences is one of the higher orders of intellect, and every opportunity to use it first-hand should be encouraged. Learning classifications from a book takes no mental power, except maybe rote memory. If the skill of rote memory is deemed necessary, then the child might just as well memorize some phrases in a foreign language to satisfy that requirement!
If children don't need to learn Latin names of things, then does that mean they don't need books about nature? No, but their nature books should be the kind that reveal the wonder of nature and inspire in children a wish to make their own nature discoveries. Some examples of these are books by Arabella Buckley, Thomas Seton and William J Long. Although some of them are written by highly educated scientists, they are fun to read and can be understood by laypeople.
A mother should read these kinds of books herself, not just to collect little bits of knowledge to pass on to her children as they come across things she's read about, but so that she can learn enough to answer their questions and help the children with their observations. Not only mothers, but anyone who spends
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time with children should learn about nature. Children will love a person who knows the things they want to find out about and such a person may influence a young mind to have a passion for nature that will be retained for life, and might even make a discovery that will benefit the whole world.
A child watching something totally new to him, such as a farm plow at work, is as intently focused as a nursing baby. In fact, he is taking in nourishment--the kind of mind food that his brain needs. A young child uses all of his senses to find out every facet of knowledge he can about everything new that comes his way. Everyone has seen how a baby, given a spoon to keep him quiet, will look at it, feel it, put it in his mouth, and finally bang it to see what kind of noise it will make. This is like school for him, and he learns at a surprisingly fast rate when you consider how much there is just in the act of seeing alone to a baby who still doesn't know the difference between a flat object and a round one. Everything is new to him and some concepts, such as flat and round, can only be learned by experience.
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At first, a tiny baby will grasp at the air until it makes contact with an object. That's how he learns where things are, since direction means nothing to him yet. And the moon looks close enough to grab. He has no idea that a horse or a housefly aren't toys--far and near are foreign concepts to him, and it takes trial and error to understand the relationship between what he sees and where things are. But he learns naturally at his own pace, never tiring, and slowly learning just what he needs to know about the world around him.
And this is exactly what a child should be doing for the first few years. He should be getting familiar with the real things in his own environment. Some day he will read about things he can't see; how will he conceive of them without the knowledge of common objects in his experience to relate them to? Some day he will reflect, contemplate, reason. What will he have to think about without a file of knowledge collected and stored in his memory? A child who has witnessed the sun high in the sky on a summer's day at noon, and how much lower it is at noon in the winter, will understand why a vertical sun makes the tropics hot, and how the latitude of the horizon effects climate.
Many people worry about putting young children under pressure and stress with too many lessons. It is true that formal lessons may be too much for a very young child because
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that's not what his mind is ready to handle yet. It would be like expecting a toddler to bench press a hundred pounds. But his mind is alert and active and has no problem handling what Nature intended. Children never get tired of finding out, in their own way, about new things. This is just the kind of thing they hunger for because that's what their minds need to grow on.
Young children crave knowledge about new things. But how do we satisfy their hunger? Preschools and kindergartens use object lessons, which are as meager as trying to feed a hungry horse on one bean a day. A child going about his daily routine at home comes across lots of new things, although with less formality than a school might schedule. Yet neither schools nor most homes make a point of exposing the child to the kind of feast his eyes crave.
Grown-ups are more mature and have been educated at school to get most knowledge from words--either conversation or reading. But when we try to make a child learn that way, he is slow to catch on because he doesn't have enough life experiences to attach real meanings to very many words. Most words are like the vocabulary of a foreign language, known only by hearsay. But put a real object in front of a child, and he knows more about it than most grown-ups. His mind is made to absorb that kind of knowledge. As his experience with real things grows, his knowledge of words grows because language is mankind's attempt to express what we know. This is why
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children ask endless questions. They aren't trying to learn about objects; they are trying to learn the words with which to express what they already know. How sad that any child, with such a drive to learn, should be confined within the walls of a house or humdrum streets of his neighborhood. Even a child allowed to run free in the country won't learn as much as he might if he just gets random observations with no plan or direction. All that potential is wasted.
Children can learn an unlimited amount of things that they'll never forget before even beginning school. A child is ten times better off if he knows where to find the prettiest birch trees, or the four best ash trees in his neighborhood, than a boy who doesn't even know the difference between an elm and an oak. He is not only likely to be more successful, but happier, too, because the beauty of nature affects our feelings. Dr. Carpenter said that, when our minds have contact with nature, our sense of sublime beauty and order is touched. Dr. Morrell said that people who have learned to appreciate form and beauty credit exposure to beauty in their infancy, before they could even talk.
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Mary Ann Evans (pen name George Eliot) owes her father for letting her go on long business drives through the country with him. She would stand between his knees, quietly observing everything. She used her memories of those beautiful rural scenes when she wrote Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss. Wordsworth grew up on the mountains and wrote poems about nature. Tennyson used imagery from his childhood. Dickens, speaking philosophically in David Copperfield, said that he was a very observant child. Before children can even speak, they're able to form images from their surrounding. The ability to remember details comes naturally to children; a few retain that skill as adults and keep a sense of freshness and contentedness as well.
What good is it to be observant if
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nobody bothers to make sure there are things around to observe? And here is the difference between town streets and the rich atmosphere of the country. Towns have lots of things to see, and children who live in town get street-smart, to be sure. But the kind of knowledge one gets of the streets are bits and pieces that don't relate to anything else in the wide world and are a dead end of information. Knowing one's way around town might be convenient, but a person isn't really larger-minded for knowing which side of the street Walmart is on, and how to get to the grocery store.
But take any object from nature, and it relates to others like it, variations in a species or group. Whatever you learn about it can be applied to the science of all the others like it. If you break off a twig in the spring, you'll see a ring of wood around the pithy center, and you have witnessed right there one of the distinguishing characteristics of many plants. Or, pick up a pebble and note that it's smooth and rounded from being worn by the weather and water--and you have witnessed the concept of erosion, which is responsible for most beautiful landscapes--valleys, canyons, and hills. A child who spends time with nature doesn't need to have erosion or dicotyledonous [two-leafed plants] described to him; he sees it for himself. Difficult abstract ideas that he might not have come face to face with will be easily illustrated to him by their effects on very familiar objects.
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Mothers are obligated to make sure their children spend time with nature and to help them develop the love of investigation. Charles Kingsley said that those who understood science would rule the world because nature would have taught them their own true ignorance in light of the vastness of the universe. And familiarity with the laws of nature would be knowledge that would help them act wisely.
But preparing them for a place in society is only one benefit of early nature study. A child who loves nature will have an interest that will enrich his life forever and keep him healthy. Kingsley also said that he knew of some uncontrollably wild and reckless people whose thirst for adventure was channeled into constructive pursuits such as hunting for wild birds' eggs. A girl can escape the vanity of silly, trivial luxury by keeping her mind occupied on collecting shells,
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fossils and flowers. Thus, her mind and soul are protected from worldliness by 'considering the lilies of the field, how they grow.'
We detoured from our topic to impress on mothers how important it is to inspire a love of nature in their children. A passion for natural objects can be like a wellspring of refreshment to a dry heart. Meanwhile, what about that mother from a few chapters back, who has been outdoors with her children? What is she to do next? She mustn't neglect teaching topography in her attempt to get children outside, as one teacher did, who when asked how she had time to fit it all in, said, 'Oh, I leave out subjects of no educational value; I do not teach geography, for instance.'
But a mother knows better. She will find lots of ways to sneak in geography lessons. A duck pond can illustrate a big lake. A small brook can be like the Nile River. A little hill can be the Swiss Alps. A copse of trees can be the Amazon rainforest. A reedy swamp might be the rice fields of China. A meadow could be like the western prairies. A field of purple flowers might be the cotton fields of the south. Every kind of geographical type can be illustrated casually this way. The concept of maps can be taught in later years.
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Children should also learn to tell the time by the sun's position in the sky. They will undoubtedly ask if the sun ever gets tired, and then the mother can talk about the relative sizes of the sun and earth and about the orbits of bodies in the heavens.
Clouds, rain, snow, hail, wind and fog are all wonders of God that mothers will be asked to explain to their children in simple terms. If children are to understand any concepts of maps and geography at all, they will have to begin by learning about what's right in their own environment.
Distance is something that children must first learn at home, and it's fun for them to learn it. A child's pace [one step] can be measured and compared to the paces of his siblings. Then he can count how many steps it takes to walk to a certain point and multiply to get the distance--so many steps equals so many yards distance. Various walks around the home can be measured in this way. The time it takes to walk one hundred steps can be calculated and used as a reference to estimate other distances walked. If it takes two minutes for him to walk one hundred yards, he can calculate
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how far he's gone after walking for 30 minutes or 35 minutes, and he can figure out how long he has to walk to go one mile. The longer the legs of a person, the bigger their pace. That's why most grown-ups can walk a mile in just twenty minutes.
After the child is comfortable with calculating distance, the concept of direction can be introduced. The first step is making him aware of the progress of the sun. If he observes where the sun rises and sets in the sky during the year, he will have already learned something. He should be made aware of how the sun's light reflects in different windows in morning and evening, the differences in shadows at various times of day, how shadows are made by playing with a figure between a screen and a flashlight [or perhaps by making hand shadows!] He should be made aware of the heat when the sun is at its highest in the sky, and how the sun being lower in the sky results in cooler temperatures. He can be reminded how he feels warmer in a room while standing close to the source of the heat rather than in a far-off corner. When he is familiar with all of these observations related to the sun, he will be ready for the concept of direction, since that depends entirely on the sun.
The first ideas to learn are that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Just by knowing this he'll be able to tell in which direction nearby streets and buildings are from his house or the town
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where he lives. Have him stand so that east is towards his right where the sun rises and west is towards his left, where the sun sets. Everything straight in front of him is north, everything behind him is south. If he is in a certain place and wants to know in which direction a certain road goes but he has never seen the sun rise or set there, he can observe where his shadow falls at noon. At noon, all shadows fall a little north. Then he just has to face north so that east is on his right side and west is on his left side to tell which direction the road goes.
Here's a way to learn something about the names of England's great railways. With a little practice, telling direction by the sun will get easier. Let him practice by looking out windows at home or school to observe which direction they face, or which direction rows of houses or church walls face. Soon he'll be able to tell the direction of the wind by observing smoke blowing from a chimney or branches or fields blowing in the breeze. If the wind blows in from the north, it means colder weather and perhaps some snow. If it's a west wind (from the west), it may mean rain. Children should understand that a wind is named for where it came from, not where it's
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blowing to. In the same way, he is English because he's from England. He doesn't become French because he's going to France. Now the concepts of distance and direction can be combined. A certain building might be judged to be 200 yards east of the gate, or a town might be two miles to the west. The child will soon find that not everything is exactly north or south or east or west. Let him figure out his own way of solving that difficulty: 'It's more east than west,' or 'It's sort of east but not quite,' or 'It's halfway between east and west.' He will appreciate the value of exact expression when he comes across a need for it on his own.
Later he can have a compass and observe how it marks all four directions. The compass will display the in-between names for all those difficult-to-pin-down directions he came across before.
Then he can do compass exercises like this: Have him stand so that the compass points north. Then have him turn towards the east and observe how the needle moves in a different direction. However he turns, the needle follows with a movement of its own. How does the compass know when he moves? Have him walk straight in any direction and note that the needle isn't perfectly still, because, no matter how hard he tries, he
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can't help walking a little to the right or to the left. Have him move in a complete circle very slowly and watch the needle also make a complete circle in the opposite direction as it tries to stay pointed towards the north.
Once children understand the concept of direction, the concept of boundaries comes easily. A certain field, for example, is bounded by a road on the south, by a fenced field on the south-east, a hedge on the north-east, etc. By this, children come to understand that boundaries are no more than a space marked out by whatever touches it. A field may touch another without having any visible line between them, but it's still a boundary. Children should have a clear understanding of this because, later, they will come across countries in their geography lessons that are 'bounded by such and such.' Whether a space is a village, town, pond or field, children should be made to observe what kinds of crops grow in their area and why the land was used for those crops, or pasturing sheep, and what kinds of rocks are in the ground, and how many different kinds of trees grow there. For every field or space they examine, they should sketch it out in the dirt, drawing a rough outline of the shape and lettering N, S, E and W.
Once they have drawn a few of these rough plans of outdoor spaces, they can sometimes pace the length of a field and draw a kind of map to scale, allowing one inch for every five or ten yards. Then they can sketch the lay-out of the garden or barn or house.
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A child's own area may provide opportunities to learn what a hill is, or a dale, pool, brook, watershed, current, bed, bank, tributary, and the relative position of nearby towns. He should be able to sketch this roughly with chalk or a rock or even a stick in the dirt, estimating the distances of all those things.
Does such an ambitious plan sound overwhelming for the mother? Does she imagine herself having to talk for 6 hours and still not able to get through all that's expected of her? On the contrary, the less talking she does, the better. As for the amount of work to be done, remember the fable of the pendulum. Yes, there are countless tocks to be ticked, but there will always be a second of time to tick in, and no more than one tick is expected in any one second.
Children are quick. In 15 minutes, they will have finished with their sight-seeing exercise or imaginary picture painting. Other than that, an occasional discovery that the mother shows them with a name and maybe a dozen words about it at just the right time are all that's needed; the children will have formed an interest in something they can continue on their own. Just one
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or two of these discoveries should happen in any given day.
And the day still has lots of time to play. The hardest part for the mother will be to keep from filling the time with her talking, and keeping the children from spending their day listening to her instead of going off on their own. Children love pleasant times chatting with their mother, but communing with their greater Mother (earth) is more important, and they should be left to themselves to do it. It should be a peaceful time--the mother can read her book or write a letter, resisting the impulse to chatter; the child stares up at a tree or down at a flower, doing nothing in particular and thinking nothing in particular. Or else the child pretends to be a bird in a tree, or just runs in joyful abandon, as children like to do. And all the time, Nature is doing its part to influence the child, vowing to do what Wordsworth's poem says--to take the child as its own and make him a child of Nature.
There is one thing the mother is allowed to do to come between Nature and her children, but only once a week or once a month. And even then, it isn't with lots of lecturing talk, but with a look and comment of delight as she notices and draws the child's attention to some especially beautiful color in the landscape or cloud formation. There is one other thing she may do, but only rarely and with tender reverence. She might do this as a prayer, since that
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is a softer and less direct way for the child to hear something. She might point out some beautiful flower or especially grand tree as something that isn't just a thing of beauty, but a beautiful thought of God that He delights in and loves to see us enjoy. This kind of sympathetic comment touches a child more than many sermons about divinity.
The day's obligations aren't over yet. There still needs to be an hour or two of games in the afternoon and at least one lesson completed. Just thinking about lessons may seem dull, but it only has to be a short lesson, maybe ten minutes long. In fact, shorter is better, and the little break and focused attention will give renewed zest to the playtime after that.
The lesson to be squeezed in during the ten minute break is French. Children should learn French orally, by hearing and repeating French phrases. They should begin when they're young enough that the difference in accent doesn't sound so striking and unfamiliar, when they're young and uninhibited enough not to be embarrassed to try saying the words. They should learn a few new French words every day, maybe 2-6 words. Words they've already learned should be kept in use so they don't forget them. It is important to keep their tongues and
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ears accustomed to French words, so the lessons should be done every day without fail. It might be easier to fit it in with whatever is happening on that day's excursions--the new French words might be leaves, branches, or trunk of a tree. Or they might be the colors of flowers, ways a bird gets around, clouds, animals, children. In fact, the new words should be just one more way for the child to express the things that are in his mind.
Afternoon games after lunch are important for older children, although the younger ones will probably be worn out by then from the activity of the morning, which is so good for their muscles. They can take a nap in the open air and wake up refreshed. Meanwhile, the older children can play. The more active they are, the better for their health. This is one reason why the places they go should be a bit secluded--they can yell as loud as they want and not bother anyone. People rarely think of the muscles of the internal organs, but the yelling and shouting that children love so much, is nature's way of exercising their internal organs so that they grow and develop properly. People complain about weak lungs or weak chest, and it never occurs to anyone that strong lungs and a strong chest come like everything else--by exercise and hard work. Still,
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children's yelling can be made to sound more pleasant by encouraging them to make musical and rhythmic noise, like the French children who dance and sing in their play. These kinds of games were probably played at weddings and funerals, like the games children played in Jerusalem long ago.
Before the Puritans made people more serious, people of all ages used to dance out little dramas on the village green while they sang little rhymes like the ones French children still sing. Some of them still exist and can be heard when children play--There came three dukes a-riding, Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clemons, Here we come gathering nuts in May, etc. There are lots of these little sing-songy rhymes that get the feet to tapping. And with topics like dukes, oranges, nuts--who can resist?
Kindergarten teachers teach little educational rhymes to children, but theirs are usually pointless and don't grab the children's attention and get passed down from one generation of children to the next in the same way that the old ones have, even though they've never been written down in books.
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Baseball, tennis, and soccer are great games when children are old enough for them. They help develop the muscles and teach children the discipline of playing by the rules. But our mother with her small group of children under nine won't be up for such organized games. They will more likely be playing tag, follow the leader, racing, chasing and all kinds of fun games that they'll make up. Even better is a hoop, a ball, a racquet, or a jump rope. The best kind of jump rope is a single skipping rope. Jumping backwards through it is even healthier than forward because the chest expands more. Badminton is a good game, providing an opportunity to excel. It is worth noting that Jane Austen was so good at shuttlecock (a game like badminton) that she impressed her nieces and nephews. In badminton, practicing in order to get good exercises many muscles and develops grace. It can be played indoors or out. The best practice is to keep the birdie in the air with a racquet in each hand to develop both arm muscles. But for me to arbitrarily assign one game over another is pointless since games tend to change in fashionable popularity as much as clothing styles.
Mothers don't like their children to climb very much. Ripped clothes, scraped knees,
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and toes making holes in shoes (and even worse accidents!) make it a risky amusement. Yet it really is great exercise. Few skills use so many muscle groups and yet develop grace. And the bravery and resourcefulness it demands are so beneficial that even girls should be encouraged to try it. Children learn to heed caution, too, which makes them less prone to take foolish dares. Remember not to panic if a child looks precarious--don't startle the child by yelling out 'Get down from there!' or 'You'll break your neck!' because that could actually make the child fall. Town children can also go boating or swimming by taking a trip to the sea or the lake on a vacation. Or, they can use swimming pools in town. Most children should learn to swim at age seven, not just because it could keep them safe in the water, but because it's a fun way to use their muscles.
Children should be dressed appropriately for their outings, preferably in wool, serge or flannel. Wool is better than cotton and
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linen because it helps retain some body heat but doesn't attract the sun's heat. So a child wearing wool who is hot from playing won't get a sudden chill from losing heat too quickly like a child wearing linen. And he stays cooler in the sun and warmer in the shade.
So far, everything here has been for summer weather, but it's not summer in our part of the world all year. But how to get fresh air and exercise in wet or cold weather is more important since most people don't need any encouragement to be outside when the weather is nice. The best thing is for children to be outside in the winter for 2 or 3 hours a day, maybe broken up so that they're out for a while in the morning and then again in the afternoon.
When there's frost or snow on the ground, children have fun sliding, throwing snowballs and building from snow. But even when the snow is slushy and dirty, or the sky is gray, they should have interesting things to do outside so that their hearts are cheerful even when the day is cold and dreary.
Everything that's already been mentioned about looking for sights, and painting imaginary landscapes in the mind, and French lessons and discoveries to be noted in
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the nature notebook can be done in the winter as well as summer, and there is plenty to see then. A tree bare of leaves may be guessed to be an oak by its trunk shape. That can be recorded in the nature notebook, and then, when spring comes, the children can look at the leaves and see if their guess was right. Birds driven to search for food are abundant in the winter.
Various poems talk about observations that can be made in winter. Cattle are still out, behind fences. The sun still rises and sets. Long shadows can be seen from plants and trees. Sparrows come out of their shelters. Robins [robins in England are not the same as the American robin] sing and flit from twig to twig, shaking snow from tree branches.
There is enough to see outside in winter to satisfy any poet. In fact, winter may be even better because there aren't so many things going on in nature that they crowd each other out. It's easier to notice what's there.
Winter walks, whether in town or in the country, afford many opportunities to develop the child's habit of paying attention. The French magician Robert Houdin said that he and his son used to play a game where they would pass by a shop only long enough to get one good look at the shop window. Then they'd go a few steps away and pull out paper and pencil and start listing to see who could remember more
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items from the shop window. Houdin was surprised at his son's quick memory. His son could often remember 40 objects, while Houdin could only remember 30. When they went back to check their lists, his son was rarely wrong. This is one idea you might try on your own winter walks.
But what about rainy weather? Rain, unless it's really heavy, doesn't harm children if they're dressed properly. They shouldn't wear waterproof clothes because, although the rain will stay out, the skin won't be able to breathe and being able to get rid of waste through the dampness of the skin is a good way to ward off disease.
Children should wear coarse woolen clothes that they can change as soon as they get home so they don't catch a cold. This should be common sense. Wet cloths are put on the forehead of someone with a fever to evaporate heat from his body. But removing heat by evaporation is not what you want to do when coming in from the rain. Being wet is no more risky than taking a bath if the wet clothes aren't allowed to stay on as they dry, because the drying process takes body heat with it as it evaporates. It's the loss of body heat, not the wetness itself, that causes colds.
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If a child is active and having fun, then a little rain won't hurt him. But if the child already has a cold, then activity might increase any inflammation, so the child should stay in.
Richter [presumably Jean Paul Richter, the poet who wrote Hesperus] said that spring rain was like an electric bath and very healthy. Whether that's true or not, rain does clear the air, which is healthy for the air of dirty cities. And, in any case, rain won't hurt anyone. Lots of exercise in the open air is so healthy that rain shouldn't stop children from going outside unless they're sick. A wet walk tramping through rain is fun. Even the rain beating down feels good. Jogging and running in the rain is excellent as long children don't overtire themselves.
Although being out in the rain is fine, children shouldn't sit around in wet clothes. If they're going on a visit or to school or church where they won't have a chance to change, they should use waterproof wraps to keep their clothes dry.
Baden Powell's book Scouting inspired hundreds of families to take to the great outdoors on scouting expeditions.
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One of the exercises that can be fun is for four people to decide on a place to ambush. The other team sends out a scout who must find the ambush and then alert his comrades without being detected. Every family should have a copy of Scouting to help recapture the kind of Indian skills that we've lost by our civilized modern lives. It's good to know how to be alert and able in the wild.
Stalking birds for the purpose of watching them in their native environment is much more challenging and exciting than stalking nests to collect the eggs. It's also more humane. Being a good scout is useful in stalking birds because it enables you to creep as silently as a shadow behind the bushes on hands and knees without disturbing even a twig or pebble, until you're almost face to face with a pair of sandpipers and you can watch them run daintily, and hear their call. If children practice familiarizing themselves with local bird calls in the winter, when birds are fewer in number, it will be easier to recognize specific calls in summer. There are so many bird calls in June that it can be bewildering trying to isolate them. But if one song that is recognizable from the winter can be singled out, and then another, it will be easier. The key to recognizing birds is knowing their call, and the only way to learn new ones is to single out and listen to one that's new
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to you. There is a joy that is remembered forever from tracking a bird call to its source and finally locating the bird itself.
But there are rules for bird-stalking. Not only must you be quiet so the birds aren't scared away, but you can't even think the thoughts you can't say. If you let yourself start thinking about anything else, then you will be distracted and miss the birds. You might not even catch their calls.
Here are two experiences from one bird lover:
'We heard a note something like a copper finch, only slower. We looked up into the branches of an ash tree to see if we could track the bird by following the movement of twigs. We went up to a higher path where we were almost level to the tree tops and then we saw it--a shy little willow warbler looking for food. A bubbling bird call drew us to the next tree, where we spotted a wood wren and watched him sing.'
'A joyful burst of song came from a nearby bush. We crept on and found a blackcap warbler turning excitedly around and around, singing. We watched, and then followed him to his next station by watching the branches move lightly. A hoarse screech from another tree told us that a green-finch was nearby. We chased him for a long time before catching a glimpse of him. He came to a twig where we could see him, and then he started to sing. I would never have matched him to his song if I hadn't seen him myself. Then we heard a squeaky call along another tree, and found a brown wren running up and around an ash while uttering his single note.
'Another day we hid behind a wall
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watching a field by a lake. We saw a green plover, with his dashing crest, running and pecking. We even caught sight of the red under his tail. Plovers camouflage themselves so well that they seem to disappear, but we watched, hoping for another look. But someone coughed and a dozen of them flew up with a cry that seemed to say, 'Why don't you leave us alone?' Their flight roused other birds. We saw a snipe fly upwards from the edge of the marsh in a zigzag pattern, make a circle in the sky, and land again near where it had been before. Then two sandpipers flew up along the water's edge, whistling the whole time. By a little ditch we watched a field wagtail. When he turned just right in the sun, we saw by his yellow breast that he was a yellow wagtail. We heard a loud, 'tiss-sick' from near the wall and spotted a black and white pied dishwasher with food in his beak for his babies. He was waiting for us to leave before giving away his nest. So we crept out of view behind a tree and, after a few minutes, we saw him go into his hole. An angry chatter that sounded like a broom on Venetian blinds directed our eyes to a little brown wren. In a minute, he disappeared over the side.'
From another bird lover:
'Now the children are more interested in seeing the birds than collecting eggs. Now, instead of asking what the eggs are like, they want to know what the bird is like. We've been using a field guide to identify birds and learn a few things about them.
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'But now, about the birds we've seen. There are lots of stonechats [a thrush whose call resembles the sound of falling pebbles] who live on the moor. I got prickles all over my lower legs from standing in a patch of thorny shrub the first time I saw a stonechat. As I watched, I was rewarded by seeing at least four pairs at the same time! Do you know which birds I'm talking about? The males are so pretty, with a black head and face, white neck, reddish breast and dark back. They have a sweet little song, longer than a copper finch's, and they make a chit-chat cry when you disturb them. They don't make long flights, but can hover in the air like a flycatcher. There are also sand martins that make holes in the cliffs. We tried to see how deep they burrowed to make their nests. I put my arm in all the way up to my elbow in some deserted holes and still didn't reach the end! I think my favorites are the reed warblers. I know of at least four pairs, and when I could get both children to stop talking for a few minutes, we could see them hopping up and down the reeds and singing right in full view.'
These are the kinds of treasures that bird-stalkers find. How sad for children who never learn the gentle art of bird-stalking, which satisfies the eyes, discourages the greed of collecting, kills no living thing, and yet gives a wonderful possession to enjoy forever.
Everyone knows that breathing air that has plenty of oxygen is the key to a strong life and healthy body.
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Also, anything that produces heat--living bodies, fireplace, candle, gas lamp--uses up some oxygen in the air. Think of the atmosphere as a savings bank and everything that breathes or burns air is drawing some oxygen out of the account. Where there are a lot of people and animals breathing, and fire burning, there may be such a drain on the oxygen that there's not enough to support life, and death occurs. Where the drain is less urgent, animals may be fine, but people survive in a weak state of health.
Also, everything that breathes or burns expels a harmful gas called carbonic acid. [I'm guessing that Charlotte Mason was thinking of carbon dioxide; carbonic acid is a weak acid formed when you dissolve carbon dioxide in water.] Even the purest air has a little bit of carbon dioxide, and that tiny bit is healthy. But if you increase it with furnaces, fires, and living beings, the air becomes unhealthy. The more carbon dioxide in the room, the worse the air is. If there's an unusually high amount of carbon dioxide, as there may be when too many people huddle together in an unventilated room, they may all quickly die of suffocation.
That's why you can't enjoy fullness of life living in the city. For grown-ups, the stimulation and excitement of city life may compensate for the impure air in the same way that country people may trade off the advantages of a slow rural life for a lack of stimulation and mental sluggishness if they allow it. But for children who aren't just breathing but growing, and therefore require more oxygen
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than adults to keep their internal organs running, it is cruel to keep them from getting lots and lots of fresh, pure air every day, or at least, very frequently. This kind of air isn't found in town.
This is only one reason why it's so important for children to spend long days in the country. Another reason is that they need sunshine. Country people have a healthy, rosy color. But miners who spend all day underground have a sickly yellow complexion. So do people who live in cellars and dark valleys. The reason is that the ruddiness of health comes from lots of red blood cells developing in the blood and that happens mostly in the abundance of sunlight. Scientists are also beginning to suspect that not only the visible rays of the sun by which we see colors, but also invisible heat rays and chemical rays [ultraviolet?] have some necessary effect on our health that we still don't understand.
There was a cute picture in a recent Punch magazine of two little boys trying out their French on their mother's new maid. The boys were straight and tall, lean, bright-eyed, alert, their bodies energetic and full of bounce even while they were still. It was a delightful picture, even if only to illustrate what a healthy child should look like. Of course, children inherit many physical traits from their parents, but this shows what
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the proper bringing-up can do, with some limitations. Children are born with certain inherited tendencies and, depending on how the child is brought up, each tendency may become a weakness of character, or a strength and blessing. Even in regards to health, it's worthwhile to have an ideal to aim for. For example, it's a myth that a fat child is a healthy child. It's easy to get a child fat. But the bright eyes, open nature, bounce in the step, clear voice, coordinated, graceful movements that characterize a healthy child aren't just the result of feeding or even just physical health. They are the result of a sound, well mind and soul as well. They signify a child who has been trained to have a quick, alert mind and a morality that is accustomed to being happy and self controlled.
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What I would like to present to readers is a method of education that's based on natural laws. We have already discussed how to keep the physical brain healthy. Only when the brain is properly nourished and active can real education have any effect.
We already discussed the role of outdoor life in a good education. A child's main purpose for his first 6 or 7 years is to find out everything he can about everything he sees, hears, feels. He is never tired of learning about whatever comes his way. Therefore, the parents' first priority should be putting as much of nature as possible within the child's notice. A young child's academic education should be totally comprised of the freedom to observe things. The early stages of mental development are made up of
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extreme brain activity as the child observes and discovers things in his world. Wise educators will acknowledge God's design in the way individuals evolve and grow, and will make their efforts conform to that design.
The next topic we need to consider is dry and technical, dealing with mental/physical matters, but very necessary in any reasonable method of education.
A well-trained habit can overcome many inherited natures. If only I could express how much this means to anyone who wants to teach children! If only every mother understood how habit, in her knowing hand, is as useful a tool as the wheel to a potter, or the knife to a carver. With this instrument--habit--she can conceive of what she wants her child to be like, and then she can help him to become that! Note that the raw material is already there. Even a wheel won't help a potter create a porcelain vase if all he has to start with is backyard dirt. Yet, without his potter's wheel, he couldn't turn even the finest clay into anything nice. I don't like to talk much about myself, but if you, the reader, don't mind, I'd like to explain my discovery. These are the steps that led to my 'aha!' moment and helped me to understand that, with the tool of habit, a parent can make his child become almost whatever he wants. However, what is one person's 'aha!' moment will mean nothing to someone else unless it is explained using the baby steps he took to arrive at that revelation. So, I'll explain how I came to this remarkable knowledge. There are three possible perspectives from which to arrive at this conclusion, but for me, it was this: That forming good habits is what an education is made of. Education is merely forming the right habits.
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A few years ago I used to hear sermons every month that said that a well-trained habit can overcome many inherited natures. I was a young, idealistic teacher just starting out. I thought it was a wonderful thing to be a teacher, because a teacher leaves a permanent influence on her impressionable pupils. If the children didn't turn out right, it was the teacher's fault. In my zeal, I felt that the teacher's part in what the child became was immense. But even with all my enthusiasm, the results were disappointing. Nothing extraordinary happened. My students were generally good children who had been brought up by conscientious parents. But they tended to act in accordance with their inborn traits. Whatever faults they had didn't get any better. Whatever shining virtues were in them naturally tended to be exercised sporadically at best. The well-behaved, gentle girl still told lies. The intelligent, giving child was hopelessly lazy. It was the same with their lessons. The child who tended to dawdle kept on dawdling. The slow child made no progress. It was utterly disappointing. The children did passably, but each of these children had in them the makings of an excellent character, or a brilliant mind. Where was the key that could unlock the potential in each of these children, who were as a world unto themselves? There has to be a key. The monotony of geography maps and French vocabulary and history books and math worksheets was just playing at education. After all, who ever really remembers the trivial bits of facts that he struggled to memorize in school?
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And couldn't those facts be just as easily learned in a few hours, rather than spending a whole year with the drudgery of school? If education is going to help the individual and the human race to progress, then it must have more relevance to life than plodding along at small, trivial tasks that amount to nothing more than busywork.
I wanted answers, so I looked through some texts about education. I found various bits of helpful information in different books, but no one book seemed to offer any real answer of how to unlock the possibilities within a child, and how to make education apply towards that effort. I saw that religious teaching gave children a motive and the ability to try their best, and it raised them up so that they chose higher priorities. Knowing Biblical laws helped keep them from doing the wrong things. Having God's love within helped them want to do good. But even with these things and divine help, I still felt like I was laboring in the dark. In morality, the children's progress seemed to be 'one step forward and two steps back.' As children advanced from one grade to the next, they didn't seem to have made any progress beyond being able to calculate harder math problems and read harder books.
When I thought about it, it was clear why they failed. Each child had enough spark of goodness to be capable of doing good, but they were unable to be consistent because they had no will power strong enough to make themselves do what they knew was right. And here is where the teacher should be helping. The teacher should
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be able to make children do what they don't have the will power to make themselves do. But that's only the beginning. Children can't remain dependent on their teacher to make them choose right. It is the job of education to find a way to supplement their will power, which is not weak only in children, but in most of us grown-ups, too.
Preachers have rightly said that the most exhausting effort in life is making decisions. Even we adults have a hard time deciding about trivial matters such as, 'Should I go or not?' and 'Which one should I buy?' It's not fair to make children endure the work and stress of making every decision between right and wrong if they don't have to.
'One habit is as good as TEN natures,' kept being repeated to me until, finally, the light bulb came on and I had an 'Aha!' moment as I realized that this might be the key I had been looking for to unlock children's potential. So I asked myself, what exactly is nature? And what is habit?
It really is amazing when we stop to consider all that a child is, just because he was made that way, no matter what his race, what country he was born in, or who his family is.
Anyone will admit that all people have the same instincts and desires. But it's not so easy to see that we all have the same principles of action, and that the same desires are inherent in the most uneducated native of the poorest third world country as well as in a refined Harvard scholar. The desire for knowledge that we see in every child's curiosity about everything in the world around him
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and his looking wide-eyed at all he sees is born into all children. The desire for the company of others is witnessed any time you put two babies together and see their joy and excitement at seeing a baby like themselves. That desire for society is what makes primitive natives dwell in village communities, and it's what makes educated men organize philosophical discussion groups. All people want to be appreciated. This desire for esteem can be a mighty tool in the hands of a teacher whose every word of praise or reprimand motivates more than any reward or threat of punishment.
People don't just have the same desires, they also have the same affections and longings, and these act the same in all people when roused. Joy, grief, love, resentment, compassion, sympathy, fear and many other emotions are common to all of us. We also all have a conscience and a sense of duty.
David Livingstone, missionary to Zambezi tribes in Africa, wrote how similar their law was to England's, although they didn't always follow their own laws. When he was asked to make up a moral code for them, he only needed to add to their own code that their men should only have one wife. They already knew that evil speaking, lying, hatred, disobeying or neglecting parents, were wrong, even though neither Christianity nor even any civilized teaching had never reached them. A sense of duty is common to all people, and so is a consciousness that there is a God, although that consciousness may be vague. All of these things are elemental to human nature and an inherent part of the human condition.
To all these traits of human-ness are added inherited tendencies, and this is where those ten natures enter in. A child can inherit a tendency to be resentful or stubborn or reck-
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less--it's just born in him, passed along from his mother or grandfather. Everyone has seen the certain way a son squints his eyes that's just like his father, or a quirky movement of the hand that gets passed down from father to son. Or, handwriting may pass down the family line, as it did with a Miss Power Cobbe, whose handwriting was said to have been passed on from five generations. An artistic temperament, or a taste for music can run in families. Inherited traits are a twist added to human nature, and seemingly immune to any attempt to change or modify it.
Physical health also affects people. A small, sickly child and a sturdy street child who is never sick will have varying strengths in their desires and emotions.
Between desires, affections and emotions that are common to the human race, inherited traits and physical constitution, we might assume that so much is out of our control that all we can do is step back and leave every child to grow unhindered, as free and natural as the wind, according to his unique disposition.
And that's exactly what half of all parents, and even more teachers, do. And what is the result? The world is advancing with new discoveries, but real progress is mostly happening among the few parents who take education seriously. The rest of the world will end up just staying where they
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are, no better than what Nature made them, and they will drag the world down. They won't simply stay as they are, that would be bad enough. But everyone knows that a child who isn't being raised to a higher standard is sinking lower and lower. So a parent is just as obligated to train his child's intelligence and moral strength and purpose as he is to feed and clothe him. And he must do this in spite of his inborn nature. It may be true that there are exceptions--we've all heard of cases where a young man overcame neglect and raised himself up by his bootstraps and made a good life for himself against all odds because circumstances made it necessary for him to do so, but this is a bolt of unusual luck. Teachers can't count on this kind of thing to save children from their own neglect.
I was beginning to understand, but there was still the psychological problem that blocked any real progress in education. At least now I could put my finger on the problem:
A child's will is weak. In children of weak parents, it is weaker, in children of strong parents, it is stronger. But hardly ever does a child have enough will to count on its effectiveness in education.
All that a child is born with--his human nature, his inherited tendencies, his physical constitution, are incredibly difficult to overcome.
The teacher's problem is how to enable the child to gain control over his own nature, to not be enslaved by even his better traits. Many people have ruined their lives from overdoing the very traits
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that they considered assets, such as generosity.
In seeking a solution to this dilemma, I am not overlooking Divine grace, far from it. But we sometimes forget that grace can be the added benefit of educated effort. For example, the parent who takes the time to understand education deserves and gets support from God. Rebecca in the Bible had no right to neglect raising her son Jacob correctly in the hopes that God's grace would fill in the gaps and pull him through. He was a religious man raised by committed parents, so he did pull through okay in spite of her failure. Yet it made his journey through life harder; even he complained that the days of his life were 'few and evil.'
Yet too many Christian parents expect grace to do their work for them. They think they can let their children grow as wild and unruly as a bramble bush, not bothering to curb any bad tendencies. They put their faith in a working of God to prune and dig and prop up as He sees fit in His own good time. That may work out just fine; God often does save a man from himself. But at what cost to the poor man who has to learn the hard way? His parents could have spared him some pain by training early habits that would have resulted in building character.
The force of nature is strong, but not impossible to overcome. Nature should not be given free reign to raise a child according to his own whims. Some firm yet gentle guidance, like a bit and bridle to a pony, at an early age will have the best results. But if Nature is left to herself, no spur or whip will tame her.
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'Habit is ten natures.' Is that true? If it is, then it means that habit is very strong--not just as strong, but ten times as strong as the nature a child is born with. Here we have something stronger that can overcome even the strength of Nature!
But we find that habit is also influenced and limited by a child's nature. A cowardly child has a habit of lying to stay out of trouble. An affectionate child has loving habits. A generous child has a habit of giving. A selfish child has a habit of hoarding. So, habit, if allowed to go along unguided, will just enhance a child's inborn nature. Habits become a manifestation of the child's natural tendencies, confirmed and strengthened by constantly repeating various habits that he gets used to doing.
If habit is going to be a tool to lift the child's character to a higher standard, then habits will have to go against the child's natural inclination.
So we must first of all see if this is possible by trying to find examples of children whose habits are overcoming their natural tendencies. We can think of children who are trained to be careful not to dirty their clothes. There are children who have been trained to have enough restraint not to divulge family secrets by giving discreet answers to prying questions. Some children have courteous habits so that they graciously make way for their elders and give up their seat on the bus to a poor woman with lots of bags. But some children have been allowed to have grudging habits so that they never give up anything for anyone else.
Are these good and bad habits natural for children? No, they were brought up to have them. Actually, a mother can train her child to have any habit. Most
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mothers have a couple of things that their children never violate, whether they be quirky, insignificant things, or matters of principle. A mother who has some knowledge of how education works won't be able to help the influence of her knowledge infiltrating the kinds of habits she builds up in her children. But a mother whose primary concern is, 'What will people think?' will train her children to have habits of outer behavior rather instead of habits of being persons of integrity on the inside. Her children will be content to look neat, mannerly and nice, but they probably won't work at seeking beauty, living a disciplined life and being kind to others.
We don't really need any illustrations about how powerful a force habit is, we've all seen it in the daredevil who rides two barebacked ponies with a foot on the back of each, or gymnasts leaping high in the air, or a clown as flexible as rubber. Some can even do mental feats. Anything can be done with the right training, by developing the right habits. The power of habit doesn't just work for humans. Cats look for their food in the same place every day if their owner feeds them in the same spot. In fact, cats are such creatures of place habit that they will die of starvation rather than leave the house they're used to. Dogs are also creatures of habit. If you scatter
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crumbs for the sparrows at nine o'clock every morning, then they will start showing up every morning at nine o'clock, even if there are no crumbs. Darwin suggested that animals' fear of man was a transmitted habit passed down from animal to animal. He landed on a Pacific island where the birds had never seen humans before and they flew around him and landed on him with no fear. Alcoholics sadly illustrate the power of habit in their inability to stop drinking in spite of their own reason, their conscience, or religion.
This is nothing new, everyone knows that people are just a bundle of habits, and that habit is a powerful force. That's not what was the revelation for me, it was the application that was new. Finding out how habits actually work in the brain and body was also a new idea to me. I hope that what I learned is useful to parents and teachers. It was a new idea for me to understand that it's up to parents and teachers to lay down tracks of habit in children that will allow their lives to run along smoothly without jolting or jumping the track, and will set them in the right direction.
Mary Poppins said, 'Well begun is half done' and that's true of mental and moral habits. If you begin it, it will be completed, although not always the way you intended. Habits can develop on the lines typical for that type of habit. Through our own involuntary
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reasoning, any seed of thought or feeling planted in the mind develops and grows and propagates more of its own kind within the mind, like a living thing. It's a wonderful thing to behold when the idea is a noble one, developing in your mind of its own accord so that you find yourself typing lines that seem to be writing themselves. You find yourself pleased with what you wrote, yet you realize that you had no conscious part in coming up with it. When an experienced author writes a long section in this way, he already knows that he won't need to do much revising because the work is basically correct as is. It is this phenomenon that's responsible for the false idea of infallible reason, an idea that still prevails. Philosophers enjoy the mere process itself of thinking and seeing ideas develop in their own minds. But they forget that it isn't only great thoughts that mature and procreate in the mind. Bad thoughts that defile a person also grow and multiply of their own accord.
What does this have to do with educating children? Just this: that we go on thinking in the same way we're used to thinking. Ideas come and go as if our mind was Grand Central Station, and they travel along the ruts we've created for them in the nerve substance of our brain tissue. You may not even deliberately set out to think these thoughts. You may not even want to think them, and thinking how you wish to stop thinking them means you have two trains of thought at the same time! You may put up a 'No Through Traffic' sign, and try hard not to think those thoughts, but to think about something else. But who is able
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to do that? Surely not children, who have immature wills, weak moral powers and no training in spiritual warfare. Children depend on their parents to initiate the thoughts and desires that fill their minds. Parents initiate these thoughts, but that's all. Once a thought is begun in a child's mind, it takes hold and develops itself, resulting in habits that become his character into adulthood.
Railroad tracks on which a train runs is a good analogy of the relationship of habit to our lives. It's easier for a train to stay in the grooves of the track than to leap up and over the tracks to disaster. In the same way, if tracks of good habits are laid down carefully within the child, it will be easier for him to go along those tracks than to run off and endanger himself. The laying down of these tracks is serious business and directly impacts the child's future. The parent should think about which tracks will be most beneficial for the child and lay those down so that the child can go along through life with the least friction. If the tracks are smooth and easy, the child will glide along at a nice pace and never even stop to consider whether he might rather choose another path.
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Doing a specific action over and over again forms a habit. Following a habit faithfully will make that action become second nature and difficult to shake off. Keep it up for ten years, and that habit has as much strength as ten natures, and can't be broken without major unsettling of the person. But, knowing all of this, and knowing that it's possible to form habits in a child that make him feel and do specific things, is this such a good thing? Doesn't this take away the child's free will and turn him into a machine?
Whether habits are planned and created conscientously, or allowed to be haphazardly filled in by chance, they are habits all the same. Habit rules 99 percent of everything we do. Parents aren't turning children into creatures of habit, they already are creatures of habit, it's part of our human nature. We think our usual thoughts, make our usual small talk, go through our usual routine without even thinking about it. Imagine if that wasn't the case. If we had to think through each step and make a decision about each and every one, imagine how long it would take to eat a meal or take a shower. Life wouldn't even be worth living. The constant stress of having to think through each step would be so tedious that we'd be exhausted. Thankfully, life isn't that difficult because, for most of what we do, we don't have to consider what to do next. We made a choice once in the beginning and now we just do it by habit. The matters that come up and need to be thought through and decided upon will happen in children's lives as
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often as they do in our own lives. We can't prevent those from occurring, and we shouldn't try. What we can do is to make sure that they have habits that keep their routines orderly, proper and honorable instead of leaving the wheel of their train of life to make random ruts in dark places.
With the proper habits in place, even when those times come up where the child will have to stop and consider what to do next, he will still have the familiarity of habit to guide him. The boy who is used to learning and enjoying books will be less prone to allow himself to slip into couch-potato behavior along with his peers. The girl who has been carefully trained to accurately tell details is not going to even think of the option of lying when she's in a difficult spot, no matter how timid she is.
But isn't training habits just a way of addressing outward behavioral symptoms? How can doing an act or thinking something a hundred times in a row affect the internal nature of the child? Should we accept it on faith? Maybe not. If we can discover what makes habit such a powerful force, we will be convinced to seek out and lay down the best tracks of habit.
The book Mental Physiology by Dr. Carpenter gave me the first clue I was looking for. It's a very interesting book.
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He explains the analogy between thinking and physical action and shows how the one's effect is a result of the other's cause.
Dr. Carpenter is part of the school that believes that human tissue is constantly wearing out and repairing itself by building new tissue. Even physical functions that we take for granted, like walking and standing up straight, are really the result of meticulous training. The things we learn, such as writing or dancing, are also learned with effort, but they become so automatic that we can do them naturally and easily. Why? Because the law of living, growing tissue is that it grows to accommodate whatever action is required of it. When the brain is constantly cuing the muscles to do a specific action, that action will become so automatic in the muscles that even a slight cue from outside will prompt them to respond without the brain having to consciously intervene. A child's joints and muscles grow to accommodate holding and using a pencil. It isn't that the child concentrates and wills with his mind to make the hand write with a pencil in spite of his muscles. It's his newly grown muscles that form themselves to adapt to operating a pencil. And, in this same way, people can be trained to do all kinds of feats and tricks that look impossible to everyone else. Those things are impossible to everyone else, because their muscles haven't been trained to do those
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amazing things with early training.
So, no activity is merely physical. The brain is affected, too. And this is why children should learn dancing, horseback riding, swimming, gymnastics, every kind of activity that trains the muscles when they're young. Muscles and joints don't just grow new tissue in places that accommodate new activity. They grow in new patterns. The body is much more efficient at growing and adapting when it's young. A man whose muscles are used to sports can learn any new sport fairly easily. But it's very difficult for a farmer who has done mostly plowing to learn to write. His muscles, which are adapted to his work, have a difficult time growing to accommodate an unrelated task. This is why it's so important to be diligent about children's habits in speaking clearly, standing up straight, etc. Children's muscles are forming themselves to accommodate their habits every hour. Shuffling, hunching the shoulders, mumbling are not just quirks to be outgrown when the child is ready. Every day that he continues these habits, they are becoming part of him, making their mark in the very physical substance of his spinal cord. His mind has already pre-set its instructions to the muscles, and reversing it means re-growing all those muscles to a new pattern. For example, correcting a bad habit of speech will no longer be a matter of trying to speak plainly. The child's muscles are grown to do something else and it will take some effort to get them to do what they aren't developed to do. It won't feel natural until some
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new muscles have grown to a new pattern in his speaking muscles as he uses them properly.
Everyone knows that the body will grow to accommodate whatever we make it do. A child who habitually stands on one foot will be prone to having a curved spine. A child who lets his shoulders droop instead of letting his chest expand to breathe deeply will be more susceptible to lung disease. We see evidence of bad habits affecting the body so often that we can't deny the cause and effect relationship. But we don't realize that the habits we can't see, like being flippant, or truthful, or neat, make a physical mark just as much. They influence the way tissue develops in the brain. Habits of mind become physical reality on brain tissue and that's why habit is so powerful. It isn't all in the mind, it's physical, too. The brain is a delicate organ, so it shouldn't be any surprise that what we think leaves its mark in a physical way. Every thought or line of reasoning we entertain a lot makes a well-worn rut in our brain. These ruts make tracks for the train of our lives to glide along, and our trains can only get out of these tracks with extreme effort of our will.
That's why a housewife, when she has a few minutes to let her mind wander, tends to think about household matters. She thinks about the day's dinner, or winter clothes. Her thoughts naturally run into the rut
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she has worn for them by constant repetition of the same thoughts. Mothers tend to think about their children, painters think about pictures, poets think about poems, fathers fret about finances until stressful circumstances drive his anxieties deeper and deeper into those ruts and he goes crazy with being unable to get his mind off his worries. In fact, all of us are susceptible to driving ourselves crazy by continuing to dwell on one thought and wearing out the rut. Any line of thought that takes control of the mind will endanger a person's sanity--pride, resentment, jealousy, something created with much effort, an opinion thought up.
If even non-active thinking and feeling expends brain energy and causes tissues to be replaced, how much more strain on the brain must it take to do physical movement, like walking or writing! Yet such is the case. To repair brain tissue, the brain needs a lot of nourishment. In fact, a fifth or sixth of the body's blood is dedicated to feeding and replacing brain tissue. New brain tissue is growing at a tremendous rate. One wonders how long it takes before the entire brain has been totally replaced, and at what age a child no longer has any of the original tissue of the brain he had at birth!
The new brain tissue is not an exact replica of the old. Just like any muscles that are grown to accommodate the kind of activity they'll be required to do, the brain
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also grows its new tissue to accommodate the activity required of it, whether it be telling the body how to work or just non-active thinking that the person has been doing. One physiologist said that the brain grows to accommodate the kind of thinking that it has gotten used to. Dr. Carpenter said that any sequence of brain activity that has been done again and again tends to continue in the same way until it becomes automatic. That's why we tend to think or do what we've done before without ever having made a conscious decision to do it that way. The brain is not an exception to the rules that govern the rest of the body. Just like muscles that grow to best perform what has been required of them, the brain also regenerates new tissue to accommodate what has been required of it. In other words, even the act of thinking, if it's done habitually, makes a real impression in the physical substance of the brain [what was abstract becomes tangible.] Once that physical impression is there, any suggestion or stimulus later will rouse it.
Huxley said that the brain develops many acquired reflex actions. The first time we respond to something, it takes our full concentration at each step. The second time, it's a little easier. After a few times, we can do it without much thought. If we do it often enough, we can practically do it in our sleep. We do it without even thinking about it.
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It takes a soldier a long time to learn instant response, such as snapping to attention the instant the command is given. But after he learns, just hearing the word will cause his body to snap to attention without his even thinking about it. There's a story about a practical joker who saw a discharged soldier carrying his dinner home. The joker called out, 'Attention!' and the poor soldier automatically snapped to attention with his hands at his sides--and dropped his burger and fries all over the sidewalk. The soldier's training had been so thorough that its effects were embedded in the man's mind and muscles.
Military drill is only one kind of education. All education is based on the ability of the body to process actions so that they become reflex or semi-automatic. If any two actions are habitually done one after another, the connection will be made until eventually the first action will automatically cause the second action, whether we like it or not.
[Think of Pavlov's dog: following a bell with food eventually caused dogs to salivate from just hearing the bell alone; the first action--the bell--caused the second--salivating--without the dogs even trying.]
The purpose of academic education is to create these kinds of associations with the outside world. The purpose of a moral education is to create automatic associations so that the idea of doing evil is associated with pain, shame and blame while doing the right thing is associated with joy, satisfaction and honor. [End of Huxley's comment]
But it's the concept of mind and matter coming together so that abstract becomes physical tissue that's important to the teacher. We have described this process rather unscientifically as the brain making
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a rut. Habitual thoughts produce a rut in the brain tissue. A new thought, when it encounters this rut, will find it to be the path of least resistance. As thoughts travel along this rut, making a well-worn path, it becomes a busy highway for successive habits and thoughts.
What does this mean? It means that the ruts that make up the paths that a child's thoughts will travel on depend on his parents to lay down. Whatever habits they encourage or allow will become the child's character. Once certain mental habits are established, they are inclined to continue forever--unless a new habit displaces them. This should end the idea that 'It doesn't matter,' or 'Oh, leave him alone, he'll grow out of it,' or 'He's so little, what do you expect?' Every hour, every day, parents are either passively allowing, or actively encouraging, the habits that will determine the future character and behavior of their children.
And now we must consider the influence of others. We adults often do something a certain way because we saw someone else do it--we do it a few times and it becomes our habit. If it's this easy for us grown-ups to adopt a new habit, it's ten times easier for children. This is the trouble of training good habits. The mother must always be on the alert, watching her children for any bad habits they may be picking up from caregivers or other children, and she must nip them in the bud.
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If you don't do it now, you'll be in the same state
Tomorrow, the next day, you will still hesitate.
Trying to decide causes more delays
And some day you'll weep over all the lost days.
is a paraphrase of a poem by Marlowe who, like many of us, knew the misery of wasted days because his laziness prevented him from simply doing the next thing. All matters concerning the raising of children are important, and dealing with procrastination is very important. We have already mentioned that the stress of making decisions is the greatest effort we face in life. It isn't doing a thing that's hard, but making up our minds which thing to do first. Often, indecision causes a person to be shiftless, which grows into a habit of dawdling. How is a procrastinating child cured? By hoping she'll grow out of it with time? No, 'tomorrow, the next day, you will still hesitate,' will be the story of her life, with the exception of short bursts. Can it be cured with punishment? No, a procrastinator is often passively resigned to her fate, and will endure punishment without ever trying to change. Can a reward tempt her to change? No, because getting so close to attaining the reward and then watching it slip through her fingers will seem like a punishment, which she will endure stoically. What can be done if rewards and punishments are ineffective? How about the educator's remedy--Replace one habit with another one! Chronic dawdling is a bad habit that can only be cured
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by replacing it with the opposite habit. The mother should plan to spend a few weeks working on the cure as steadily and consistently as she would tend her child if she was sick. She should point out as briefly as possible how a life can suffer because of dawdling, and that the child has a duty to overcome it. The less talking about it, the better. Once the child agrees that changing this habit is the right thing to do, the mother simply makes sure that the child doesn't dawdle. The child might be dressing to go for a walk. Her mind wanders as she ties her sneakers; her hand is motionless over the laces, but she remembers her commitment and she suddenly looks up. She sees her mother watching her, hopeful and expectant [rather than exasperated and impatient]. She goes back to her shoelaces. Then, while tying the other shoe, there's another pause, but shorter this time. She looks up again, sees her mother, and resumes her tying. The pauses becomes less and less frequent, she manages to stay on task more and more often. Her young will is getting stronger, and prompt doing becomes her habit. After the initial talk, the mother shouldn't say another word on the subject. Her look (expectant, not scolding) and, when needed, a light reminding touch, are the only tools that will help. After a while, the mother might say, 'Do you think you can get ready in five minutes by yourself today?' 'Oh, yes, Mom.' 'Don't say yes unless you're absolutely sure.' 'I'll try.' And she does try, and she succeeds! At this point, it's very tempting to relax a little and overlook a little bit of dawdling since the poor girl has been trying so hard. But this is absolutely fatal. The truth is that the habit of dawdling has made very real and physical impressions in the brain--ruts. During the weeks that the child has been learning the new habit, brain tissue
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has been growing and replacing the old tissue, wiping out the rut, and a new rut for the new habit is being laid down with new tissue. To let the girl revert back to her old ways even once ruins everything. It takes a few weeks of work to build a new habit. Once the habit is in place, it must be guarded diligently to prevent a reversion to the old ways, but keeping watch is not stressful or difficult once the new habit is secure. One more thing--prompt action from the child deserves to be rewarded with leisure time to do whatever she pleases. This shouldn't be granted as a favor. She earned it and has a right to it. But the mother shouldn't use this as an opportunity to lecture.
Acquiring a habit takes some effort, but once the habit is in place, it is rewarding because a habit is pleasant in and of itself. It's easy to do something on auto-pilot, something that doesn't take a lot of thought or will power. This is what mothers often forget. They forget that habits, even the good ones, are a pleasure. When the child has formed a habit, the mother thinks that continuing to act out of habit is as tedious as it was at first when the child was having to make a conscious effort to form the habit. So she admires his effort and starts to think that he deserves some relaxation from doing the habit, a sort of reward. So she lets him break the habit every now and then to give him a rest, and then he can continue on keeping the habit. What she doesn't realize is that, after a break, he isn't continuing on, he has to start all over, only now it's harder because he has both habits and must make a decision each time about which one to follow. The little relaxation she thought would be a treat turns out to form a new bad habit that now has to be broken.
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In fact, the mother's misguided sympathy is the one thing that makes it so hard to train children in good habits. It is children's nature to take to habits as naturally as a baby takes to his mother's milk.
Let's illustrate with an example. We'll use a habit that isn't of any major concern except as a courtesy to others--the habit of shutting the door when leaving or entering a room. The mother must arm herself with tact, watchfulness and persistence. With only these tools, she'll be surprised how readily her child picks up a new habit.
says the mother in a cheerful voice, 'I have something I'd like you to
do. I'd like you to remember that every time you go in or out of a room
that someone else is sitting in, to close the door.'
'But, what if I forget?'
'I'll try to remind you.'
'But what if I'm in a hurry?'
'Even if you're in a hurry, I'd like you to stop and close the door.'
'Because it's polite to make others comfortable.'
'What if I come into the room just to get something?
'Then you can shut the door when you come in, and then shut it on the way out. Do you think you can remember?'
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'Okay. I'll watch to see how many times you forget.'
Johnny remembers the first couple of times, but then he's in a hurry. Halfway downstairs, his mother calls him back. She doesn't yell, 'Johnny, get back here and shut that door!' because she knows that summoning in that manner would be exasperating to anyone. Instead, she goes to the door and calls pleasantly, 'Johnny!' Johnny has made it outside by now and forgotten all about the door. He wonders what his mother wants. Stirred by curiosity, he comes back and finds her sitting in the room as if nothing happened. She looks up, glances at the door and says, 'Remember, I said I'd try to remind you.' 'Oh, I forgot,' says Johnny, a little sheepishly. He shuts the door, and he remembers a few more times.
But Johnny is rather young and forgets frequently. His mother will have to come up with a few means of reminding him, but she will be sure of two things: that Johnny never slips off without shutting the door, and that this matter is never a source of friction between them. Instead, she takes on the role of friendly ally, helping him to remember since his memory isn't always reliable. After twenty times of shutting the door without one slip-up, the habit begins to form. Johnny begins to close the door as a matter of course. His mother watches with delight as Johnny comes into the room, shuts the door, takes something from the table, and leaves, shutting the door behind him.
Now that Johnny always remembers to shut the door, his mother's satisfaction and sense of victory start to mingle with unreasonable pity. 'Poor Johnny,' she thinks. 'It's so good of him to take such
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trouble over such a little thing just because I asked him to.' She thinks that Johnny has been making an effort all this time for her sake. She forgets that now it's a habit and comes easily and naturally. Johnny doesn't even think about closing the door anymore, he just does it automatically. Now comes the critical moment. One day, Johnny is so preoccupied with some new treasure that his habit, which is not yet fully formed, lapses and he forgets. He's halfway down the stairs before he even thinks about the door. When he does think of it, he has a little prick of conscience, but not enough to make him go back and close the door. He pauses for a moment to see whether his mother will call him back. Meanwhile, she has noticed, but she's thinking, 'Poor thing, he's been so good about it for so long, I'll let it go this once.' Since he doesn't get called back, he thinks, 'Oh, it doesn't really matter,' and goes off to play. And the whole thing is undone.
The next time, he leaves the door open, but not because he forgot. His mother calls him back, but there's no conviction in her voice. Johnny hears the feebleness in her tone and doesn't even bother to turn around. He cries, 'Oh, Mom, I'm in such a hurry!' She says no more and closes the door for him. He runs off again, leaving the door wide open. 'Johnny,' she says, in a warning voice. 'I'm just coming in to get something,' he says. After ten minutes of rummaging for something, he goes back out--and forgets to close the door. His mother's ill-timed easing of the habit undoes all she gained from her efforts.
All habits, both physical and moral, that make everyday life run smoothly and properly,
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are accepted passively by the child as a matter of course. He doesn't put forth any attempt to form these habits, but he sees everyone around him doing things a certain way and his mind forms impressions that this is the way things are done. These first impressions become his strongest and most enduring habits.
Even infants are educated. The branches of their education are cleanliness, order, regularity and punctuality. If these things are all a normal part of his life, then he will absorb those concepts as naturally as he breathes in air, and they will be what he learns. Mothers don't need to be taught about cleanliness. They already bathe their babies and keep their little clothes clean. But for babies who spend most of their time with a caregiver, their cleanliness depends on the caregiver. There shouldn't be the faintest odor on the infant or on anything that belongs to him. His room should have fresh, ventilated air with no foul smells. Unfortunately, there are some who have an aversion to open windows. And some don't know the significance of odors. They assume that, since you can't see a smell, there's no physical matter there. But a smell is really microscopic particles and the child ingests them with every breath.
It is very important to teach a child to have a sensitive nose. A child should be able to sniff out even a little stuffiness in a room, or the faintest smell on furniture or clothes. Our sense of smell isn't just for our pleasure. It's also a warning signal to
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alert us to presence of harmful materials in the air. Yet many people seem to have no sense of smell at all. But evidence proves that a sense of smell can be developed with training and habit. The habit is easy to form. Encourage children to pay attention and note whether a room they enter smells fresh when they come in from outside. Have them try to smell the difference between city air and the fresh air of the country during an outing. Train children to notice the faintest trace of harmless odors and good smells.
It would be good if caregivers understood how babies notice everything. Babies not only hear everything and see everything, but they retain the impression of every sight and sound in their memories all their lives. A poem says, if there's a hole in your coat, patch it because a child among you is watching and will store that image in his long term memory--and the child will base his future behavior on the pattern of what he's already seen. If caregivers kept that thought in mind, they might be more careful to keep more than their uniforms neat and clean, they'd try to keep everything the child is exposed to clean. But two things they shouldn't do: make the child's bed first thing in the morning, and fold their play clothes when they go to bed. It would be better to stretch a clothesline across the room at night so they can hang up the clothes to be aired. This gets rid of the imperceptible perspiration from the day's wear. For the same reason, their sheets and blankets should be turned down to air out for a couple hours before making the beds.
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The table where the children eat [in Charlotte's day, many children ate in the nursery, but our own children may eat at the counter or breakfast nook] should be as clean and attractive as the fancy dining room table. A child who sits down to a wrinkled or stained tablecloth, or uses a bent-up spoon, is degraded. Children should be encouraged to keep themselves clean and attractive. We have all seen a baby hold out his chubby little hand to be washed because it's sticky and he doesn't like it. If only they'd be as particular when they're old enough to wash their own hands! Not that children should always stay clean and tidy--they love to play in dirt and should have big aprons [or play clothes?] just for the occasion. They are like a little French prince who turned up his nose at his lavish birthday presents and begged instead to be allowed to make mud-pies with the little street urchin down the road. Let children make mud-pies as much as they want, but when they're done, they should be anxious to want every trace of mud cleaned off of them, and they should do it themselves. Young children should be able to clip their own fingernails and clean the corners of their eyes and wash behind their ears. No child should be allowed to sit at the table with dirty hands and messy hair. Children should have their own washing things and they should enjoy bathing and be able to care for themselves. There is no need for a five year old to endure soap in the eyes and hard scrubbing and being pulled and poked to get him clean. He should be able to get thoroughly clean by himself. A child doesn't form the habit of daily baths until he is doing it himself, and this habit needs to be established before the careless time of school life begins. [Perhaps Charlotte was thinking of children who went to boarding schools and were expected to take care of these things themselves?]
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Bath time is an opportunity for the mother to teach habits of decency and a sense of modesty. It may be tempting to allow children to grow in an Eden-like atmosphere of innocence and simplicity. But we don't live in the Garden of Eden. The child should get used to the customs of the place he lives in from the beginning. Adam and Eve had something in the Garden that was forbidden, and even the youngest child can learn that he has something that is forbidden. When he's young enough to obey unquestioningly, let him know that God does not allow him to speak of, think of, display or handle all of his body unless it's for the purpose of cleaning. The mother can illustrate by explaining that God gave us lungs, heart, etc. that we may not see or touch, but these things have been sealed up inside our skin so we can't get to them. What is left open to us is like the forbidden fruit, given as a test of obedience. Disobedience results in certain loss and ruin, as Adam and Eve found out. [Remember as you read that Charlotte naturally reflects the Victorian culture she lived in.]
Giving children a sense that some things are prohibited and that disobedience is sin will be a good way to keep some knowledge of evil from them. Even better is to give them a sense of honor, a duty. That was the motive the apostle Paul gave for his command on this subject. The mother might remind the child of this solemnly every year, perhaps on the eve of his birthday. She should give the child a sense that his obedience in this matter is his opportunity to 'glorify God in his body' [1 Cor. 6:20]. Encourage children to be on guard against every approach of evil. Mothers should pray every day that each of her children
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would remain pure. Ignoring the possibility of this kind of sin because the subject is awkward, exposes children to scary risks. But remember, too, that too much talk about this, even for the purpose of discouraging, may plant ideas and be a cause of sin. An active, busy child with lots of interests and things to do won't have time for secret vice.
Everything already said about cleanliness also goes for order. There should be order in the nursery and orderly habits should be adhered to. First of all, the nursery shouldn't be the receptacle for all the broken or worn-out furniture from the rest of the home. Cracked cups, chipped plates, worn-out furnishings have no place in the children's room. Children should be brought up to consider stained, broken things as ruined and to be replaced. It seems like wasteful paradox, but children who learn that damaged things won't do will be more careful to take care of the things they have. And it isn't good for impressionable children to grow up always seeing imperfect, ugly junk.
Grown-ups who love to wait on children do them a disservice by not allowing them to learn to be orderly. Children are constantly leaving a trail of clutter everywhere they go. It's tempting to be sentimental about the toys they scatter and little flowers they pick and leave about, but the habit of cluttering should not be allowed. Shame on the mother whose families keep their drawers messy and whose
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things are always laying out. It is up to the mother to teach her children better habits. Disorder destroys the comfort of a family, and sometimes even their happiness. The mother probably was allowed to become disorderly as a child, and it's her own fault if she doesn't cure herself of it.
Even a two-year-old can learn to get his own toys and put them away. Start young. Let it be a game to open his closet and put the doll or horse back in its place. If he always puts his own things away as a matter of course, it will become a habit faster than you think. Then the child will think it's nice to put his toys away, but unsettling to see things in the wrong place. A child who is tidy with his room will be an adult who is careful with his things. If parents would only understand the value of order, they would make it a priority to cultivate the habit. Training a habit of tidiness is no more of a bother than remembering to wind a clock. If someone remembers to wind it regularly, the clock ticks away on its own the rest of the time.
Neatness is similar to order, but it implies more than everything being put in its proper place. It also means things must look nice, and requires a sense of good taste. A little girl must not just put her flowers in any old jug of water, but she must arrange them nicely in a pretty vase with a delicate form
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and a harmonious color, even if it's just a cheap thing. In the same way, everything in the nursery should look nice. Children should be encouraged to arrange things in their rooms to look pleasing. Nothing clumsy or unworthy, whether it's a book or picture or toy, should be allowed in the room. It might spoil his discernment or encourage a taste for common, ugly things. But one or two carefully selected works of art might elevate and refine his taste, even if it's only an inexpensive reproduction.
[Note that Charlotte is reflecting baby care practices of the Victorian era, which are no longer recommended by childcare experts. Read more here.]
The need to have Baby on a schedule is becoming widely accepted. A young mother knows she must put her baby to bed at a proper time, even if he cries. She may have to let him cry two or three times before he learns to resign himself to go to sleep alone in his dark room without protest. There is much speculation about why a baby cries. Supposedly he wants his mother, or his milk, or the light on, and knows that if he cries, he will get what he wants. [Outdated; read article from Harvard University about why babies cry here, and the stress of babies whose cries are unheeded here.]
But the real reason babies cry is because they've formed a habit of waking or eating at a certain time and don't like having their routine disturbed any more than a cat who dislikes changing homes. When the baby submits quietly to staying asleep, it is because a new habit is formed and he is content. Dr. Carpenter said that regular schedules for feeding and rest should begin in infancy. Habits
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formed in the body help shape mental habits later. But feeding a baby any time he wants, or letting the baby stay up when he should be sleeping just because he cries will spoil the baby. [Current research says that babies can't be spoiled. Read article by Dr. Spock here.] Like a puppy or a horse, a baby's behavior can be trained to be in harmony. The habit of regular schedules is also good for older children. On days that the regular school schedule isn't followed, children are more apt to misbehave.
The subject of training the eye and muscles was already discussed in the earlier section on Outdoor Life [starting on page 42]. I just want to add one more thing. The child should know the joy of managing his body with light, easy motion, like a good rider does on a horse. So every day should include some sort of physical exercise--dancing, calisthenics, or other exercise. Swedish drill [military calisthenics that were popular at the time, see a photo of title="http://www.gmcro.co.uk/Photography/Galleries/school/Images/30-1.JPG">soldiers/children/boys/girls doing their drill] is especially valuable, and can be done with the youngest children. Alertness and quickness in exercise can carry over to focused eye contact, prompt response and intelligent replies, but often children who are otherwise obedient don't have these qualities because they haven't had enough physical training.
Children can do little drills to practice their manners. This can be done in the form of skits. Megan can pretend to be a lady asking the way to the grocery store, Harrison can be the boy who directs her there, etc.
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They should be as exact as possible, even to the position of their head, keeping hands from fidgeting, making eye contact. Children can make up hundreds of situations to play at, and figure out the proper way to act in each. They will enjoy a few helpful tips from their teacher. This is best done when children are young, before they become typically self-conscious. Encourage them to value light springing movements and to want to move that way, rather than with a heavy gait and clumsy manner.
Training the ear and voice is an important part of culture. Practice drills where children make pure vowel sounds, crisply enunciated consonants, and defined ending consonants. Don't let them get into habits of low-bred dialects, such as 'walkin' and 'talkin.' Let them practice saying hard words: imperturbability, anticlericalism, imperviousness. They can try saying them perfectly after hearing them once. They can try saying just the vowels of the word, and then just the consonants. Teaching French orally [by speaking and listening] is very valuable for training the ear and voice.
It's hard to know how many musically talented people were born that way, and how many grew into it by growing up hearing music and trying to reproduce it. In other words, music developed because it was made a habit as a result of living with a musical family. A Mr. Hullah insisted that the ability to sing was a trained skill that every child should be taught to have. Even that may have some inborn talent involved. It's too bad that most children's musical training is random. Few are trained with graduated ear and
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voice exercises to make notes and distinguish between musical tones.
One last word about habit--the point of training children to have good habits is so that they'll do things without being nagged or scolded. Then the mother isn't constantly chasing them down with a barrage of commands and reminders. She can leave them alone to thrive in their own way once habit has secured a boundary for them to grow in. Gardeners dig and prune and train their peach trees, but that only occupies a small fraction of the tree's existence. Most of the time, the gardener lets the fresh air, sunshine and rain do its work. The result is juicy peaches. But if the gardener doesn't do his small part, his peaches will be more like hard, bitter sloes.
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I'll say it again: I presume to write about home education, but I yield more authority to mothers because they know the individuality of their own children. They know their children and have a rapport with them that a stranger never can. Yet there is a science to education that is separate from a mother's intuition. Understanding this natural law, which comes from God, can allow anyone to raise a child successfully, with or without maternal instincts. Obeying God's laws, including the natural laws involving education, will bring reward.
One of these natural laws is the force of habit. Scientific evidence showing that new brain tissue is grown according to what has been needed proves what people already knew from experience. It's good to know that one is never too old to learn a new habit, although it may take longer for older people. It's also helpful to realize how easily any of us can slip into bad habits. But the nicest thing
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about habit is that it enables us to have what everyone wants: an easier life. We don't mind a little extra work now if we know that it will make our lives easier later. And habit promises to make our lives easier. The mother who takes the time to teach her children good habits makes her days smoother and easier, but the mother who allows bad habits to develop in her children has a tiresome life with constant conflicts and stress with her children. All day she has to nag at her children to 'do this!' or 'don't do that!' and her children do the exact opposite of what she asks. 'But,' you ask, 'if habit is so helpful, there are tons of habits to be taught. It's exhausting just to think of all the habits the poor mother will have to teach! When will she have time to just enjoy her children?'
Once again, we are reminded of the clock who was overwhelmed anticipating how many 'ticks' were to be ticked in his future. But only the next tick needs to be thought about, and he will always be given one second long enough to tick that tick. In the same way, the mother only needs to concern herself with the one habit she's working on. She will also need to keep an alert guard over the habits already corrected, but that's easy and no trouble at all. If the thought of all those habits that still lay ahead are too much to think about, she should make a list of just a few habits to work on, maybe twenty. A child who grows up with twenty good habits is already starting life on the right foot. The mother who knows herself well enough to doubt whether she can persist in habit training can take courage in knowing that even the act of training habits can become a habit! She should also remember that the most enduring
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habits are the ones she hasn't worked to instill--the ones her children absorb unconsciously just by observing how life is at home in words, actions, feelings and opinions.
We have already discussed some physical habits that children pick up without anyone deliberately instilling them--order, routine, neatness. But there are habits of atmosphere that the child also picks up from his home life. These are gentleness, courtesy to others, sincere directness, respect for others. They are taught by example.
For now, let's focus on habits that need some direct training.
We'll start with the habit of focusing the attention, since the child's intelligence is a direct result of how well he can do this. To help understand why this habit is so important, consider a couple of rules about how the thought process works. First, think about how a trained professional works, such as a doctor or lawyer or teacher. He can listen to a long story, sift through the unnecessary stuff to find the bare facts, see the significance of each important aspect and he knows exactly what to ask to fill in any missing information. Now compare this to an uneducated person--his eye wanders and his replies don't address the heart of the matter. It's easy to see that a person's ability to pay attention is a good assessment of their competence.
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Let's consider the nature of attention and what it does. The mind is never idle unless the person is in a coma. Ideas are constantly flitting in and out of the brain, all day, all evening, while walking around, even in dreams during sleep, and even during periods of madness. But we make a mistake if we assume that we are the authors of our own thoughts, or that we can even control what we think about. The best we can do is, when we're conscious of it, to latch onto our thoughts and give them some direction. If we think about the way dreams flit from one impression to the next, we can get an idea of how ideas follow ideas. We see the same dance of thoughts in the mutterings of a delirious person, or the fanciful rambling of an insane person, or the trivial chatter of a little child, or the wandering babble of old men. That's how thoughts flitter through the mind when they're left to themselves. Let's say you want to explain to a child how glass is made and what it's used for, so you try to provoke his curiosity about glass. But the child has his own ideas. He wonders about Cinderella's glass slipper, then he tells you about his godmother, who gave him a boat for a present, then about his Uncle Harold who took a cruise, then he wonders why you don't wear bifocals, leaving you to presume that Uncle Harold must wear them himself. This may seem like a nonsense trail of ideas, but they aren't as illogical as they seem. They follow a logical pattern of association. One idea recalls some other related idea (however distantly related it may be!) So the child's mind goes from glass to slipper to Cinderella to godmother to gift to boat to Uncle Harold to bifocals. This kind of sequence of association can be a useful servant, but a bad master. It can be used to help remember things that happened in the past or facts
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in the present, as people do when they use memory tricks to remember names. But to be at the mercy of those associations, to have no power to choose to turn it off and think what we want when we want, but only to be able to think about whatever thought pops into our head, makes us totally useless.
By putting forth some concerted effort, we should be able to focus our thoughts. However, self-compelling effort is achieved with maturity. Children don't have maturity, they only have the nature they were born with. How, then, is the child supposed to keep his mind on geography when it wants to wander to his spinning top, or how is he supposed to keep his mind on French verbs when it wants to think about doll furniture? And this is the reason lessons are so tedious: children are always thinking of something other than their lessons. They are at the mercy of a thousand fancies that flit through their brains, every one with some association to the one before it. One little girl said to her governess, 'Oh, Miss Smith, there are so many more interesting things to think about than lessons!'
What's so bad about that? For one, it wastes the children's time. Also, it forms in them a drifting manner of thinking, which becomes a careless mind habit that lessens their ability to keep their attention where they want it.
It isn't the child's will that's the problem. It's that he hasn't learned the proper habit. This habit should be cultivated when the child is an infant. A baby has wonderful powers of observation, but no ability to focus his attention. He wants a toy, but a minute after he has it, it drops listlessly from his hand when his wandering eye spots some new item of interest. But even at this stage, it's not too early to begin encouraging the habit of attention. The discarded toy should be picked up and the mother should say, 'Pretty!' and show interest to get the baby's attention.
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By this, she can keep his eyes fixed on one object for a few minutes. This is the baby's first lesson in paying attention. Older toddlers are eager to see and touch everything. But if you watch, you'll notice that they dart from one thing to another, having less purpose than a butterfly flitting amongst the flowers. They don't stick with any one thing long enough to get a really good impression of it. It's the mother's job to make sure her child doesn't flit from this to that, but that he looks long enough at a thing to really get acquainted with it.
One minute little Margaret is intently staring at a daisy she has picked. A second later, a pebble or buttercup has caught her attention and she's ready to discard the daisy. But her mother steps in. She shows Margaret that the daisy looks like a bright yellow eye with white eyelashes around it. She tells her that all day long, the daisy lies in the grass and looks up at the bright sun, never blinking as Margaret would do. It's called a daisy because it's like a 'day's eye,' always looking at the sun, which makes the day. And she asks Margaret what she thinks the daisy does at night when the sun is not out. It does just what boys and girls do--it shuts up its one eye with its white lashes tipped with pink and goes to sleep until the sun comes back out in the morning. Now the daisy has reclaimed Margaret's interest. She stares at it with big eyes while her mother speaks. Then she cuddles it to her breast and gives it a soft little kiss. So, mothers will come up with all kinds of ways to add interest to every object in their children's world.
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But the real conflict begins with school lessons. Even a child who has been trained to hold his attention on things has a hard time holding his attention on words. This is a turning point in a child's life, and his mother needs tact and vigilance. First of all, never allow a child to dawdle over his copywork or math. Before his mind starts to wander, put his schoolwork away. Let him do another lesson that's totally different from the other one. Go back to the first lesson later, when his mind is fresh. If his mother or teacher has been careless enough that his attention has been allowed to drift during lesson time, she must follow through. Using her wits to make the lesson bright and pleasant, she must draw the child's mind back so that he finishes the lesson. [Note that the child is not to be reprimanded or punished.]
The child's teacher should understand the principles of education. She should know which subjects are suited for each age group, and how to make those subjects enjoyable. She should know how to vary the lessons so that the child's mind can rest after each kind of mental activity by doing something totally different. She should encourage him by making use of the child's desire for praise, for doing well, for making progress, for wanting to know about things, his love for his parents, his sense of duty--but she must not over-use any of these in such a way that the child's character is compromised. Especially, she must be careful that nothing takes priority over the child's desire to know--that, and nothing else, should be the child's motivation to do lessons. Children naturally want to know, and that's enough to make them want to learn.
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Opportunities to discuss this will come up in other chapters later. For now, let's see what a homeschool based on sound principles might look like. First of all, there's a schedule written in enough detail that the child has a good idea what he needs to do, and how long each lesson will last. Teaching him that each subject needs to be done in a specific block of time teaches him that it does matter, and one time isn't as good as another. If he doesn't get his work done the first time in the time allotted, there is no time set aside to do it again. This compels the child to pay attention and get his work done the first time. Each lesson is short, usually twenty minutes or less for a child younger than eight. Knowing that his lesson won't drag on forever but has a twenty minute limit helps children stay focused. A child's mind can only take in so much at once. By allotting only the amount of time that takes and no more, no time is wasted. If lessons are carefully alternated, perhaps doing math first while the child is fresh and then switching to writing or reading, then he will easily go from one lesson to the next without getting bored. Lessons should be alternated so that a mental challenge is followed by one in which he has to do some physical skill carefully. The schedule should be a little different every day to prevent boredom.
Even with short, varied lessons, children may still need help from time to time keeping focused. His desire for praise may make him want some kind of reward, something more than a word of approval. If [when?] rewards are used,
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they should relate to the task. The reward should be a natural consequence of his good conduct.
What would be the natural consequence of completing work quickly and accurately? Wouldn't it be time for leisure? If a boy is given twenty minutes to do math and he finishes in ten, then he is entitled to the remaining ten minutes to go outside or do whatever he wants. But if his task was to write six perfect m's and he writes six lines of m's but only one is acceptable, then he doesn't get time to re-do. The paper and pencil are put away and the lesson is over. But if he writes six perfect m's right off on the top line, then he gets to spend the rest of the lesson time drawing boats or trains or whatever he wants. For homeschool students, this compensates for not getting the praise in front of a class that usually motivates students.
Rivalry can be an effective means to interest children's attention. But some might object that a desire to win and do better than everyone else implies that a person is unloving, and that kind of attitude should be discouraged. Some criticize grades as a way encouraging competition between students. But it's a fact of life that, in the real world, people are rewarded with prizes or praise, depending on the activity--football, tennis, art, writing
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poetry. There is envy and grudging among many who come in second place in the real world and there always will be. Some think that children headed for the real cut-throat world should get used to it by experiencing competitiveness at school. But a mother teaching at home can do better than that. She can teach her child not to be conceited when he wins, and not to be resentful when he loses. She can bring up her children with so much love and acceptance that one sibling can have enough joy in his brother's success to offset disappointment at his own loss. And sadness when his brother loses removes any egotism when he wins. Also, if grades are used to stimulate attention and effort, they should be based on conduct and effort rather than natural talent. Marks should be given in areas that every child has a fair shot at, such as promptness, order, paying attention, carefulness, obedience, and gentleness. Grades in these things can be given without any danger of causing a peevish sense of injustice to the child who doesn't do well. But rivalry is disastrous when it's used to motivate children to learn, because it sometimes replaces the love of learning in education. In fact, even grades for conduct encourage children to do right for the wrong reason--for reward rather than for its on sake. Learning is interesting enough that rewards shouldn't be necessary to encourage attention, promptness and carefulness.
It's fine for a child to want to do well and work hard to please the parents who do so much for him. It's okay to use this as a motive sometimes, but not often. If the child's affection is called on too often to do something to please his father or so as not to upset his father,
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then he may begin to feel uncomfortable with that. What should have been the real motivation for doing something is hidden under sentiment that the child may begin to resent. But, since he doesn't want to seem unloving, he may be forced to work to honor a feeling he no longer feels, and he will be untrue to himself.
The most obvious motivator to hold a child's attention is knowledge itself. Knowledge is fascinating and children are naturally hungry for it. But bad teachers cure children of that pretty quickly, and proof of that is evident in many classrooms. More on that later.
It's clear that attention is not a faculty of the mind. In fact, the various operations of the mind aren't accurately described as faculties. Attention isn't really an operation of the mind. it just means applying all of oneself to the matter at hand, and it can be developed so that it becomes a habit. [Attention isn't a muscle in the brain to be exercised. It's something you do rather than something you have.] A parent teaches this habit by using some motive to attract and hold the young child's attention. [Note that the child isn't cajoled and reprimanded into it; it's up to the parent to make the environment conducive so that the child is interested.]
As children get older, the responsibility shifts to them to use the volition of their own will to make themselves focus, even when things try to distract their attention. Children should be taught to feel a sense of triumph at being able to compel themselves to focus. Let them know how thoughts are always flitting in and out of the mind, and they will drift from one thought to another. The struggle and victory is to be able to fix their thoughts on
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the task at hand. A child who succeeds deserves a reward of a sympathetic look from his mother and her words of praise: 'You have done well, you've done the right thing.' But keep in mind that a person can only pay attention if he has the intellectual capability to grasp the subject.
The importance of attention can't be emphasized too much. It is within everyone's reach and should be the mental discipline most coveted. No matter how clever a child is, he can only make use of his intelligence in the proportion that he's able to focus his attention when and where he wants.
Mothers should avoid constantly hassling with their children over doing their lessons. For one thing, it's stressful for the mother! It is worth her while to make sure that her children never do a lesson that they don't put their whole heart into. This isn't as impossible as it seems. The key is to be on guard from the very beginning that children never develop the habit of not paying attention. Overpressure has been discussed a lot recently and we have already touched on a couple of causes of overpressure. But, honestly, one of the main reasons that brains are overworked is because of not paying attention. We all know that it isn't the things we accomplish that wear us down with a sense of urgent rushing, but the mental burden of the things we leave undone. And the only real reason that a student might be stressed is because their attention wandered so that they didn't fully grasp the lesson when it was given.
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That lesson becomes like a thorn in the side, there's always a vague sense of something missing that they can't fill in. That burden stresses a student more than attentively learning a dozen lessons!
Parents can still be involved in their children's education even after their children start going off to school. They can be involved with homework, although not by helping to complete it. Students should be able to do the work by themselves. But suppose a mother says, 'Poor Amy has so much homework, that she never finishes until 9:30!' or, 'Poor Thomas is studying til ten o'clock; we rarely see the children in the evenings anymore.' But the parents, by letting this continue, may be allowing their children to develop habits that will ruin their bodily health and thinking ability.
This habit isn't usually the fault of the homework itself. It's usually the children--they daydream over their books. A little healthy treatment should cure them of that ailment. Give them no more than 1 1/2 hours to do their homework. Without reprimanding them, treat them as if they had failed if they don't reappear at the end of their allotted time. Don't let them weasel sympathy out of you with excuses. At the moment their time is up, begin some fun time downstairs, perhaps a family read-aloud, or a game. They will soon find that they can get their homework done in time to have some family fun, and their schoolwork will benefit because they'll be putting all of their attention into it. It must be said here that children under fourteen years of age shouldn't have homework anyway. It sacrifices their home life.
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A thorough education should be possible by skillfully planning the morning hours.
In our discussion of how to get children to pay attention, we've mentioned discipline--rewards and punishments. Every novice caregiver or teacher thinks they can handle discipline. But even discipline has its scientific principle. There is a natural law for managing rewards and punishments: they should be natural consequences related to the circumstances. They should give the child a taste for the consequences he might experience from the same kind of behavior in the real world, although in childhood, parents are around to prevent permanent injury to the child. This concept is illustrated in the story of Rosamond and the Purple Jar, although it's not totally realistic--little girls don't usually long for purple flower jars in drug store windows. But living with the consequences of our impulses to buy what we don't really need is a life lesson that we all need to learn. So it's a good lesson to allow our children to experience.
[Note: The concept of 'natural consequences' as Charlotte Mason is describing it, how to use it, how not to use it, is a main tenet of Jane Nelsen's Positive Discipline materials, which you can read more about on her website.]
Administering rewards and punishments this way takes some careful consideration and consistent judgment from the mother. She must consider where the fault lies, where the character weakness stems from, and aim the consequence to deal with that. She must brace herself to witness her child suffer the consequences of his actions in the short term, for his long-term good. If children are brought up conscientiously, not many of these incidents will be necessary to learn about life. The child who has done something right
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gains some natural reward (such as ten minutes to play after getting his lesson done early) and the child who doesn't get his work done on time misses out. The mother will have to brace herself and her child to endure the consequence. If she treats both children the same, she injures the child--not the one who did well, but the one who didn't finish his work early. She is teaching him to continue dawdling over work. In submitting her child to the discipline of natural consequences, the mother must use courtesy, understanding and discernment. There are times when the natural consequence is exactly what she wants to avoid, so she must find some logical consequence that will have a related educational value. For instance, the natural consequence of a child neglecting schoolwork is that he stays ignorant, but no mother can allow that to happen!
The methods of training mental activity and application are the same ones used to train the habit of attention. A child who plods through his work diligently can be trained to think more nimbly. The teacher must be alert herself. She must expect immediate answers, quick thinking and prompt work. Just as a tortoise will never be as fast as a hare, children have limits. But even a tortoise can be trained to be just a trifle quicker every day. That is done by aiming for quick apprehension and work.
The same goes for applying himself. Children must be prevented from getting into a mood
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where they say, 'I'm so tired of math,' or 'of history.' His interest must be stimulated. There must always be something pleasant for him to learn about. At the same time, the teacher should commend the applying of oneself to work as honorable, but disapprove of restless attention and haphazard work.
The actual working effort of the mind goes by different terms to psychologists, and they divide the brain's work into different operations. That's accurate as it relates to education. For our purposes, thinking will include conscious efforts of thinking, but not the random fancies that flit through the mind by themselves. We'll quote Archbishop Thompson's book Laws of Thought, which is so good that I'll quote it more than once. He says that Captain Head was traveling across the grassy plains of South America. Suddenly his guide halted, pointed at the sky and cried, 'A lion!' This surprised Captain Head. He looked up and, after straining his eyes, he could barely make out some condors circling high in the air in a particular spot. Apparently, on the ground under this spot, out of sight of either Captain Head or the guide, must be the carcass of some large animal, and a lion must be feeding on it. The condors were watching enviously as they circled, but they didn't dare land. Seeing the birds was as much confirmation to the guide as the actual sight of a lion would have been to anyone else. He knew there was a lion ahead.
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This line of reasoning took no extra effort for the guide. It was easy for him, as he looked up, to draw his logic. Unlike Captain Head, he was used to condors and their behavior, so the thought process that might have taken Captain Head many steps came instantaneously to the guide. Seeing the condors convinced him that a carcass lay ahead. But why did the condors keep circling? Why didn't they land? Another animal must have beat them there. But what? A dog? A jackal? No, condors wouldn't be intimidated by them, they'd just drive them away or share the feast with them. It must be a very large beast. Since this was an area where lions lived, he concluded that that's what was up ahead. And this entire thought process was articulated in two words: 'A lion.'
Children should go through this kind of thought process in every lesson. They should trace a resulting effect back to its cause, or trace the cause to its final effect. They should compare things to find out ways they're alike and how they differ. Then they should postulate why.
All their school lessons will provide varying opportunities for children to exercise their thinking skills. Their lessons should be carefully alternated so that a mechanical skill is scheduled right after (or before) an intellectual lesson, and a fun use of imagination comes before or after use of logical reason. As an aside, it's too bad when a taste for ludicrous nonsense is cultivated with ridiculous children's books at the expense of teaching them better things. Alice in Wonderland is 'a delicious feast of absurdities,' and children and grown-ups can't
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afford to miss it. But the child who reads it doesn't create the same wonderful, rich pictures in his mind, the imaging of the unknown, that he does when he reads Swiss Family Robinson.
This issue is worth thinking about when considering what kinds of books to get children as Christmas gifts for their free reading. Silly nonsense books only cultivate a sense of the comical. Although a sense of humor makes life more amusing, cultivating too much of it makes a child flippant. A book like Diogenes and the Naughty Boys of Troy may be tempting, but it isn't the sort of book that children will re-live over and over in their play, like they do with Robinson Crusoe and his finding of the footprint. Children should have some humorous books, but they shouldn't have too large a place in their literary diet.
Stories about Christmas holidays, or John and Emily, or the fun times, peculiarities and upright morality of children just like themselves, living in circumstances just like their own, leave nothing to the imagination. Children are so familiar with that kind of thing that it rarely occurs to them to play at the situations in any of those stories. They wouldn't even read it a second time. But they love tales of the imagination, people from other lands and other times, heroic adventures, death-defying escapes, wonderful fairy tales in which they can suspend reality and believe the impossible. Even when they know the story is impossible, they can surrender themselves to it and believe.
Imaginary tales have more use than just amusing children. It would be tragic if future generations had no creative imagination. They would be less likely to conceive of great ideas and do heroic
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deeds. It is only when we can let a person or cause fill us so much that even our own self-interest is pushed aside that we're able to make great sacrifices and do great things for that person or cause. Our novelists claim that there's nothing left to imagine, and that's why they just write about real things. But imagination is creative. It should see not only what's there, but what is possible and what is artistically suitable in a given circumstance.
Imagination doesn't come down from above fully developed, and plant itself into a mature mind like a man moving into an empty house. Like any other function of the mind, it starts as the merest seed of a power. It grows according to what nourishment it gets. Childhood, the age of wonder and faith, is its window of opportunity to grow. Children should know the delight of living in faraway lands, of being someone else living in a different time, a wonderful double life. They can experience this through books. Children's history and geography books should also cultivate their ability to imagine. If children don't imagine what it was like to live in the times they read about in history, or feel familiar with the places described in geography, then their lessons aren't doing their job. But even if their lessons serve their purpose, then the picture gallery of the child's mind will still be sparse if the child hasn't been introduced to imaginary worlds of fancy.
We'll think about how to plan lessons to induce habits of thinking later. For now, just know that thinking, like writing or skating, takes practice. A child who has never had to think won't think, and probably never will. Aren't
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there enough people already going through the world without any deliberate attempt at thinking or use of their wits? Children must be made to think every day of their lives. They should have to get at the 'why' of things for themselves. Children and parents should take turns asking 'why' questions and then trying to answer them. If a child asks 'why?' then many parents are proud of this evidence of intelligence in their child and they tell him the answer. Asking 'why' does indeed show some intelligence, but only at a superficial level. But let the parent be the one to ask 'why' and the child have to think of the answer! After the child has gone over it in his mind, it's fine to give him the answer. He'll never forget it [and he's already gone through the mental process of trying to work it out.] Every walk should suggest some kind of puzzle for the child to have to figure out--'Why does that leaf float on the water, while this pebble sinks?' and so on.
Memory is like a giant storehouse for all the knowledge we have. Our intelligence is in proportion to our storage. Children learn so they can remember. We can't recall all of what we learn and experience as children, yet it forms the groundwork of our knowledge. Our later notions and opinions are grown out of [and may be a reaction to] what we learned and knew in our childhood. That is the basis of what we enjoy and have interests in, although we may never be able to bring it clearly to mind as adults. As in a bank account, much of what we have learned and experienced is not only stored
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in our memory, but it's our available funds that we can draw out whenever we want. The memory that is available to draw out is our most valuable asset.
There is a third kind of memory, but it's not dependable. We have facts and ideas that float through the brain but never latch on and stay. That's the kind of memory a lawyer uses when he collects facts for a case but forgets to use them in his case, or a student who crams for a test by writing down everything he learned but doesn't commit it to long-term memory. John Ruskin said that students cram to pass tests rather than to really learn the material. So they do pass their tests, but they end up not knowing what they studied. It's no great loss for a lawyer or doctor to forget the case they've finished with, or for a publisher to forget a book he read but rejected. The art of forgetting has its uses. But what about a student who has no more to show for a year's work than a high ranking in his class's roster?
To thoroughly explain the subject of memory would be impossible here, but we can answer a couple of questions. How do we remember anything at all? How do we get the ability to make use of stored memory--in other words, how do we recall memory? Under what conditions do we acquire short term memories that don't lodge in the brain, can't be recalled, but are only in the brain for a little while and then discarded easily? We are currently  interested in a wonderful invention that can record spoken words and
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repeat, maybe a hundred years from now, a speech or lecture in the very same words and voice of the original speaker. Well, that's what the part of the brain called memory can do! It receives impressions and records them mechanically. At least that's the current theory according to physiologists. In other words, the mind understands certain facts, and the nerve substance of the brain records that understanding.
The next logical question is, what conditions are necessary for an imprint of a fact or experience to be made? Is the imprint permanent? Does the brain have a limit on how many imprints it can store? So far, from common experience and from many examples given by psychologists, it seems that any fact or experience that is focused on with attention makes enough of an impression to fix it in the memory. In other words, if you give an instant of undivided attention to any one thing, that thing will be remembered. Even the way we describe this phenomenon is accurate. We say, 'Such and such a sight or sound made a strong impression on me.' And that's exactly what has happened. If we hold the attention on any fact or experience, we'll remember it. It will be impressed on the surface of the brain tissue. Clearly, then, if you want a child to remember something, then fix his whole attention so that his mind gazes fully upon it. Then he will have it. By some sort of photographic process, his minds takes an image of that fact or experience and imprints it on the brain tissue. Perhaps when he's
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an old man, the memory will flash across his mind.
But having a memory flash randomly across the mind is not good enough. We need to be able to call up the memory when we want to. To do this, we need more than isolated incidents of focusing to create mental impressions on the brain tissue. If you use your adept teaching skills to get a child to focus on the French verb avoir, he will remember it. But memorizing one verb is not enough to make a child fluent in French. To teach French, you need to fix the child's mind on the single isolated lesson, but you must also link today's lesson to the previous lesson so that each lesson is linked [like a chain] in his memory. When he remembers one, he'll remember the rest of them, too. Physically, it appears that this works so that, as new brain tissue is laid down, the links are laid side by side so that you end up with what amounts to a track of French. This is a good way to make practical use of the concept of associations. A lot of good lessons are forgotten because the memories of them aren't linked together. Too often, the teacher is content just to create a single isolated impression that is forgotten until some random suggestion brings it to mind. Instead, the teacher should link those memories together so that the memory of one pulls the others into mind, too. A Dr. Edward Pick developed a system of 'mnemonics' that used attention and association to aid the memory. Although not everyone would like the way he applied it, the principles behind it do work.
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Every lesson should grasp the child's whole attention, and every new lesson should be so intertwined with the previous one that they are remembered as a string of connected lessons.
The kind of easy come, easy go rote memory doesn't follow the rules of association. The child learns his list by heart, rattles it off like a parrot, and then forgets it. There is no record of it on his brain at all. To create a record of a memory, there has to be enough time to focus the attention, and to allow brain tissue to grow to the new impression. Under these conditions, it appears that the brain has no limit to how many impressions it can record. However, sometimes a girl who has learned enough French to speak it will forget it by the time she's a grandmother. What has happened is that she hasn't used it by speaking, hearing or reading French all along. So the path in her mind to those memories isn't kept clear and open and she can't go back to retrieve them.
To go through the trouble of learning something and then allowing it to grow rusty in some neglected corner of the brain is a waste. If no links of association are created to connect to the memory, then it's like trying to get water from an empty well. How are these links formed? As each subject is studied, a way will present itself. A child may have a lesson one day about Switzerland and Holland the next day. One lesson is linked to
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the other by pointing out how different the two countries are. What one country has, the other doesn't. 'The association is one of similarity, and not of contrast.' [?] In our personal experience, colors and sounds and smells recall familiar people or events. But experiential sensations can't be used in education. So the teacher will have to find links in the nature of the things themselves.
'Do it right the first time' is good advice for bringing up any family. England, as a nation, tends to think too much about the individual and not enough about things and work and performance. Children are allowed to write or sew stitches or assemble doll clothes or make small carpentry projects any old way, with the idea that they'll do better later. Other countries, like France and Germany, take a philosophical perspective. They know that if children get into the habit of turning out careless work, then they'll grow into men and women who don't think it's important to do their best. I was impressed with children's work from a class of about forty students, aged six and seven, in an elementary school in Heidelberg. They were doing a writing lesson and the teacher was doing a lot of talking as he wrote each word on the blackboard. When their slates were shown, I didn't see even one defective or irregular letter on any of the forty slates! I saw the same principle of perfection in France at a display of
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children's schoolwork. No imperfect composition was displayed and justified because it was 'only the work of children.'
A child should not be assigned work that he isn't capable of doing perfectly, and perfect work should be expected as a matter of course. For example, if he is supposed to write a series of strokes and is allowed to turn in a page of sloppy stroke-marks unevenly spaced and sloping irregularly, then his moral integrity is compromised from getting by on less than his best. Instead, just assign him six strokes to copy instead of a full page. Require that they be six perfect strokes, evenly spaced and with uniform slant. If one isn't right, have him show you what's wrong with it and let him re-do it. If he can't do six perfect ones today, let him try again tomorrow, and again the next day. When he finally writes six perfect strokes, celebrate the occasion! Let him feel a sense of triumph. The same with other little tasks that he wants to do--painting, drawing, making things. Let everything that he does be done well. If he builds a house of cards, he should be ashamed if it's rickety and uneven. Along the same lines, he should finish whatever he begins. He should rarely be allowed to start on a new project until the last one is finished.
With so much to cover, there's only time to barely mention in passing some moral habits that are very important for the mother to teach. Just remember that everything we've already said about cultivating habits applies just as much here.
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First and most important is the habit of obedience. In fact, obedience is the whole duty of a child. The reason is that, if a child obeys his parents, every other duty will be taken care of. Not only that, but mankind is obligated to be obedient. Even we adults have to obey our conscience, the laws of the world around us, and God's guidance.
Someone has said that when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, each of three temptations wasn't a suggestion to commit outright sin, but to be willful and choose his own way, which is the opposite of obedience. Willfulness is where all the foolishness that's bound in the heart of a child comes from. [Prov 22:15]
Parents must understand that obedience is not just a casual issue between them and their child. The parent is the chosen representative to ultimately teach the child that real obedience is having enough self control to choose to obey laws because it's the right thing to do. The parent has no right to neglect teaching his child obedience. Every time the child willfully disobeys, he is directly challenging the parent. Parents should also understand that children shouldn't be obeying just because their parents told them to, but because the Bible says 'Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.' [Eph 6:1]
The habit of obedience is only really formed when the child's will is involved and he obeys because he wants to do the right thing even when he's tempted to disobey. He must obey willingly, not because he feels compelled. Only then will he be able to use the strength of his own will to
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resist temptation when his inclinations prompt him to do the wrong thing. They say that children who have the strictest parents in demanding instant obedience often turn out badly, and children brought up with strict authoritarian discipline rebel as soon as they get their first chance. It's true--because these children haven't been trained over the years to have a habit of real obedience. Their will hasn't been wooed to the side of willing service and voluntary yielding to the highest law. Instead, these poor children have been bullied into complying to the will (or, more accurately, the stubbornness) of someone stronger. They've given in, not because it's right, but in order to avoid punishment.
The most sacred duty a mother has is to train her infant to instant obedience. It's not difficult to teach, since, as Wordsworth said, the infant is still 'trailing clouds of glory' [and is therefore receptive to things of God.] The concept of obedience is already in him and hasn't been marred. It's just waiting to be called into use. The mother doesn't have to criticize, threaten or spank. She has been entrusted with authority and the child instinctively recognizes it. All she needs to do is to say, 'Do this,' in a quiet voice that conveys that she's in charge, and expect it to be done. The mother often loses her hold over children because they can tell by the tone of her voice that she doesn't really expect that they'll obey. She isn't convinced of her position and doesn't have enough confidence in her own authority. The mother's best advantage is a habit of obedience. If she begins by always demanding that the children obey her, they just will, as a matter of course. But if they even once get a wedge in that suggests the possibility that they have an option to disobey, then a tragic struggle
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begins. That struggle often ends with children doing what's right in their own eyes.
Here is just the kind of thing that is fatal: The children are in the formal living room and the doorbell rings. 'Go upstairs and play in your room.' 'But, please, Mom, can't we just stay in the corner by the window? We promise to be quiet.' The mother is proud of the polite way her children ask, so she lets them stay. And, of course, they aren't quiet, but that's not the worst thing. The worst thing is that they have been successful in doing what they wanted instead of what they were told. Once their necks are out of the yoke of obedience, it's very hard to get them back in again. It's in small seemingly trivial matters that the mother is defeated. 'Bedtime, William.' 'Oh, Mom, please, just let me finish this.' And she yields, forgetting that the current situation isn't the point. What matters is that the child should be confirming and perpetuating a habit of obeying by having an unbroken chain of incidents where he obeys. Children are amazing in their ability to find ways around the spirit of the law, but to still hold on to the legalistic letter of the law. 'Mary, time to come in.' 'Okay, Mom.' but her mother has to call her four times before Mary actually comes. 'Put away your blocks,' and the child puts them away, but slowly and reluctantly. 'Always wash your hands when you hear the first bell.' And the child does it that one time, but not again.
In order to avoid the child's display of disobedience, the mother needs to start from infancy insisting that the child obeys right away, cheerfully, and that he does this all this time, except occasionally when he forgets. Slow, reluctant, unwilling obedience some of the time is hardly worth having. It's easier to teach a child the habit of perfect obedience by never letting him know anything else, than it is to compel an outward show of obedience by
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constantly wielding heavy-handed authority. Later, when the child is old enough, take him into confidence. Let him know that it's a noble thing to be able to make yourself do in a minute the thing that you don't feel like doing. To train a habit of obedience, the mother must be very careful never to give a command that she doesn't intend to enforce. At the same time, she must not burden her children with the tedious weight of one command after another.
Children who have a habit of consistent, perfect obedience can be trusted with a lot of liberty. They are given a very few rules that they know they have to obey, but, for the most part, they can be left to direct their own actions, even though they might make a few mistakes. They don't have to be barraged with a perpetual fire of, 'Do this,' and 'Don't do that!'
I don't need to convince parents about the importance of truthfulness. But how to train a child to be honest and accurate is another matter. It requires painstaking effort and tactical vigilance from the mother.
The bad habit of lying stems from three causes: being careless about making sure that something is true, being careless about stating the truth, and deliberately trying to deceive. It's plain to see that all three reasons are damaging because a man's character can be ruined by nothing more than a careless mis-statement said about him, or someone repeating a damaging remark without taking
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the trouble to see if it's true, or someone telling what he has seen or heard without relaying facts accurately, effectually making his words nothing but lies.
Of the three kinds of lying, only the third kind [deliberate deceit] is cause for guilt in a child. The first and second kinds are simply his immaturity. He might say that he saw lots of spotted dogs in town, when he really saw two. Or, all the boys are collecting the latest trading cards when he knows of three. Or everybody says that John is sneaky, when he's only heard Bobby say so. These detours from accuracy are so trivial that mothers may tend to overlook them as childish prattle. But, actually, even a trivial lapse damages a child's sense of truth, which is like a sharp blade that easily loses its razor-sharp edge.
Training a child to be meticulous about making accurate statements, no matter how trivial the subject, will fortify him against temptations to make gross exaggerations. He'll be less prone to revise a story to make his part in it sound better, or withhold facts, or avoid a question if his binding habit has been to state the plain, simple facts and if he hasn't been allowed to get into the habit of being too casual and loose about what he says.
Two forms of evading the truth will be very tempting to the child. His mother will need to use great vigilance to prevent him from exaggerating or embellishing a story with ludicrous additions. No matter how much funnier a story may be with such enhancements, the ruthless mother must train him to strip all but the factual truth from his story. A reputation
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for being amusing is not worth the price of the dignity of character that goes along with the habit of strict truth-telling. Fortunately, it is possible to be funny without sacrificing truth.
As far as reverence, consideration for others, respect for persons and property, it is important to be zealous about forming these moral qualities until they become a daily habit. They are the distinctive marks of a fine, gracious character. In our times, a self-assertive, aggressive, self-seeking temper is all too common.
I am eager to say something about cultivating the habit of a good-natured disposition. We tend to think that our temperament is something we're born with and that we can't do anything about it. 'Oh, she's such a sweet spirited little thing; nothing bothers her!' 'He has his father's temper, the littlest thing sets him off in a rage,' are the kinds of comments we hear all the time.
It is certainly true that children inherit a tendency to anger easily, to be anxious, discontent, irritable, sullen, complaining or impatient; or cheerful, trustful, good-humored, patient and humble. Whether a person is happy or wretched, and whether those who live with him are content or miserable will depend on which of these qualities dominates. We all know someone who has integrity and many excellent virtues, but who is unbearable
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to be around. The tragedy isn't that this person was born sullen or petty or jealous. That could have been cured. The tragedy is that he was allowed to grow up with this fault. Here, more than anywhere else, the power of habit is most helpful. It's up to parents to correct the bent quirks of their child's personality, especially if the tendency came from their side of the family. Parents should send their child to face the world with an even, cheerful temper, inclined to make the best of things, to look on the bright side, to assume the best and kindest of the motives of others, and not to feel he has a right to special treatment. These things are what commonly upset people. But parents can teach their children better because inborn traits are no more than tendencies that can be changed.
Force of habit turns a tendency into a temperament. It's up to the mother to discourage the formation of ill tempers and promote good tempers. It isn't difficult to do when the mother knows the child's expressions and moods well, and can read the thoughts of his heart before he is even aware of them himself. Remember that every jealous, complaining, discontented thought leaves a physical track in the child's brain tissue for more of those kinds of ugly thoughts to settle into and continue to run on. This track, or rut, gets wider and deeper with every ugly thought. The mother can nip it in the bud by watching her child and catching the first sign of a bad mood before it manifests itself. That is the best time to act.
The mother should change her child's thoughts before the bad temper has even had the chance to register in his consciousness, before he
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acts on it. Take the child outside, send him to get you something, tell him or show him something interesting. In other words, give him something else to think about, but in a natural, casual way so the child never suspects that you're doing it. Since every incidence of sullenness makes a track for future sullen incidences, then every incident that the mother can avoid prevents one track for sullen thoughts to settle in. At the same time, she is laying down new tracks for happier thoughts that will obliterate the old tracks.
My suggestions aren't for a course of academic and ethical training. These are for forming certain habits that will be displayed in a child's character. With this limited program, there are issues just as important that I haven't even had time to mention. With so many possibilities, I've had to be selective. So I've chosen to focus on those aspects that aren't of specialized interest only to educated parents, but rather those that every thoughtful person recognizes as important.
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We seem to live in an age of teaching. Those of us involved with education tend to take on too much of the responsibility, and parents are too willing to abdicate not only academics, but guidance of their children to teachers. And that's not what's best for the children.
When parents aren't the ones teaching their own children, they tend to leave the choice of subjects taught as well as how to teach them in the hands of teachers or caregivers. Teachers, more than anyone else, are the ones who have dedicated themselves to this consideration, but parents should be giving thought to it, too. They should have their own carefully formed opinions about what subjects should be taught and the way they should be taught, not just for the sake of the teacher, but also for the sake of
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their children. Nothing gives more life and purpose to a teacher's work than knowing that his students and their parents are on his team.
Even when children go to schools where the teachers are well-qualified, parents still need to have insight into their children's education. They can help teachers stay accountable and not get into habits of professional educators such as placing too much value on proficiency [and tests] or favoring one subject over another for its own sake rather than for the benefit of the students. For the youngest children who are not yet old enough for school, it isn't good to let an unqualified caregiver plan the children's schedules. That will waste the children's time, but that's not the worst result. Even more serious is that children will be allowed to form intellectual habits that will hinder them later. Then when they do start school, the lessons will be over their heads, their work won't be done well and they will frustrate their teachers with passive resistance to her teaching.
Still, whatever advantages kindergarten or other preschools offer to children, learning at the home is what's ideal for them. It would be the best thing if the mother had time to devote herself to teaching them, but she's not usually able to do that. If she lives in town, she can send her children to school when they're six. If she lives in the country, she should have a governess [who can also act as a tutor]. The difficulty is finding a governess who is not only acquainted with the subjects she needs to teach, but also has some understanding of the nature of children and the art and purpose of education, someone capable of bringing out the best in children without any wasted effort or
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wasted time. Such a rare treasure doesn't just show up on the doorstep in answer to every classified ad. If such a perfect governess isn't to be found, then the mother will have to train a caregiver herself to do the job. In other words, she can use what she knows of education to set out the caregiver's duties. 'I'd like the children to learn to read in this way because . . ' or, 'I want the children to learn history in such a way that the lessons will have such and such effect.' Spending a half hour explaining instructions to a sensible caregiver should be all that's needed to secure a month of lessons for the children. If the lessons are planned well, a lot can be accomplished in a very little time so that the children have as much time as possible to play and exercise in the fresh air.
If the mother is supposed to explain to the caregiver what she expects of learning writing, French, geography, then she must have definite opinions herself. She must ask herself seriously, Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? How should they learn it? If she takes the time to give serious consideration to these questions, she will then be in a position to direct her children's education. At the same time, she will be surprised to find that three quarters of the time her children have been spending on their lessons has been a waste of time and energy.
Why must children learn? Well, why do we eat? Isn't it so that our bodies can live and grow and be able to do what they need to do? In the same way, the mind needs to be fed and developed with its own kind of food. Our minds need the mental sustenance of collected knowledge. But our bodies need more than food, they also need the exercise that's appropriate to
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each part of the body. A young mother told me the other day that she had such skinny arms that she never liked to show them, but carrying a five-month-old baby had cured that. She could now toss and lift him easily, and her arms were shapely enough that she was no longer embarrassed by them. Just as our limbs grow with exercise, so does mental effort in specific portions of the brain make those parts stronger. People tend to overlook the fact that the mind must have its food. We tend to think we should learn to know, rather than learning so we can grow [as persons]. Parrot-like repeating of lessons and cramming insufficiently-learned facts to pass a test are inferior ways of taking in information because our minds don't really assimilate knowledge that's gained that way.
On the other hand, specialists are apt to attach too much importance on separate mental 'faculties.' We see books about education that include elaborately planned programs where individual lessons are supposed to develop perspective, or imagination, or judgment. This idea of 'faculties' comes from a false analogy that likens the mind to the body. This concept of the mind as a collection of separate entities is about to become as obsolete as the idea of phrenology, where reading bumps on the head is supposed to provide information about the person. It appears now that the mind is one unified entity that can't be divided, although it can do different things. This kind of contriving to artificially sort and separate knowledge so the child can digest it is unnecessary. A healthy child's mind can direct itself and apply itself to do whatever it needs to in order to assimilate whatever knowledge is presented. Almost any subject that our common sense tells us is good for children will exercise various powers of the mind at the same time, if it's presented the right way.
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The second reason children learn is so that fruitful ideas are sown in the fertile ground of their minds. The dictionary describes an idea as the image that the mind forms of anything outside itself, whether tangible or abstract. If the business of education is to provide the child with ideas, then any teaching that doesn't leave the child with a new mental image in his mind has failed. Think of the listless way that children often slog through reading and long lists and geography and math, and you'll see that it's rare for any part of a lesson to flash upon the children with enough vividness to leave a mental picture. It's not too far-fetched to say that a school day in which a child receives no new idea is a wasted day, no matter how diligently he has completed his lessons.
The dictionary isn't quite accurate in its definition of an idea. An idea is more than a mental image. It is more like a spiritual seed with living energy--it has power to grow and produce after its own kind. It is the very nature of ideas to grow and propogate. It has the same mysterious properties of plant seeds. If an idea is planted in a child's mind, it will secrete its own food, grow, and bear the fruit of many more similar ideas. Our own experience confirms this. If we become interested in some public person, or revolutionary new theory, it seems like, for days afterwards, we are constantly hearing or reading something about it. It seems as if the whole world is thinking about that very thing that's on our mind. The fact is, the new idea that we've
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received is in the act of growing, and in the process, it's reaching out to get the food it needs. This feeding process happens with intense keenness during childhood. Ideas grow faster in the minds of children than in adults.
Scott got a whole group of ideas from the tales, ballads and folklore of the Scottish Border countryside where he grew up. His boyhood was enriched with these ideas, they flourished and made more ideas, and the Waverley novels were the fruit they produced. George Stephenson, as a boy, made little clay engines with his friend, Thomas Tholoway. Later, when he was working as an engineman, he was always observing his engine, cleaning and studying it. An engine was his dominant idea and its fruit was the invention of the locomotive.
But what does this theory of dominant ideas have to do with education? This: give a child one single valuable idea, and you've done more for his education than if you tried to stuff a barrel full of information into his mind. Any child who grows up with a few dominant ideas in his mind has his own self-education taken care of and his career marked out.
In order to be receptive to an idea, the mind needs to have an attitude of eager attention. We've already mentioned how to manage that elsewhere. One more thing--a single idea may be so fruitful that the child becomes fixated on it. For that reason, parents can't allow the child's selection to be left to random chance. His school lessons should provide plenty of ideas that will go on educating him.
It isn't just to help intellectual growth and
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provide ideas that the child learns. The common notion that children learn so they can get knowledge is also true. It's so true, in fact, that the knowledge received in childhood makes more of an impression than anything he will ever learn and sets the foundation for everything else learned later in life. Yet at the same time, the child can only learn so much. His mind is like a bottle with a narrow neck, and it makes sense to be selective and pour in only the best knowledge.
But the poor children are so often let down by those who should have their best interests at heart. Adults who aren't mothers tend to talk and think even more childishly than the child himself in their attempts to attract his interest. If children talk twaddle, it's because grown-ups have talked twaddle to him. If left to himself, a child's remarks are wise and sensible, considering the experience his age has afforded him. Mothers seldom talk down to their children. They know them too well and, therefore, have more respect for them. But professional educators, whether they write the curriculum or do the teaching, are apt to present a tiny grain of real knowledge diluted in a whole gallon of talk, leaving it up to the child to do the work of figuring out which part is the knowledge and separating it from the flood of worthless twaddle.
Generally, children who grow up with adults and never have juvenile books are better able to glean from the literature of adults. It is said of Dr. Arnold that when he
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was three years old, he was given a gift from his father, Smollett's book The History of England as a reward for correctly identifying pictures and portraits and telling about their historical relevance. That game probably laid the foundation for his love of history, which made him famous. When he worked at Oxford, he was able to quote from Dr Priestly's Lectures on History from memory accurately--although he hadn't seen the book since he was eight years old! Of course, he was an exception. My point is, if he had been reading the typical twaddle that is forced on most children, he would never have been able to remember entire passages even a week later, much less forty years after reading the book.
The kind of weak literature we see today both in their stories and lessons is a reaction against the old days when little children were expected to memorize reams of data by rote that they didn't even understand. Dates, numbers, rules, catechisms, densely packed pamphlets of information were thought to be the best material to educate children. We have gone to the other extreme and given children school books with pretty pictures and sweet texts, almost as interesting as story books. What we don't realize is that this merely gives children the same tedious facts, but in a weak, diluted form--and plenty of it. Teachers and parents are meticulous about the diet that nourishes their children's bodies, but yet they're
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careless about the mental diet they provide for the child's mind. I am anxious to discuss this issue about the quality of lessons and literature for children.
We see that children's lessons should (a) provide mental nourishment for mind growth, (b) provide several things for the mind to do for exercise, (c) provide fruitful ideas and (d) provide knowledge that is accurate, valuable in its own right, and interesting enough to remember with profit and pleasure even in adulthood. Before we apply these four tests to the different subjects that children are usually taught, I would like to review a few points from previous pages.
1. The knowledge that is most valuable to a child is what he gets in the open air (with some guidance) by seeing with his own eyes, hearing with his own ears and feeling with his own fingers.
2. School time has no right to steal the time that the child is entitled to have for long hours of daily exercise and discovery.
3. The child should be taken every day, if at all possible, to some scenic place where he can find new things to examine and add to his collection of knowledge. His attention should be drawn to a certain flower or boulder or bird or tree. He should be encouraged to investigate common things in his environment because that will be the foundation of his scientific knowledge.
4. Active, healthy playing is just as important as school lessons for both physical health and mental brain growth. Children need time for both play and lessons.
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5. The child should be left to himself a lot, although with supervision. This way he can go off and use the information he has received in his own way, and be more open to the influence of nature.
6. The child's happiness depends on his progress. He should enjoy his lessons, and there should never be friction over schoolwork.
With so much expected of his lessons, let's next consider what he should learn and how it should be taught.
We already know the benefits of the kindergarten school. Its success requires rare qualities in a teacher. She must be cultured, have some understanding of the psychology and art of education, be sympathetic with children, be tactful, have common sense, possess a lot of information about common things, have a cheerful disposition and be able to manage children well. The kindergarten method depends on these things as part of its contrived method to make children comfortable with a Superior Intelligent Being--their teacher. With the right teacher, a kindergarten is beautiful, like a taste of heaven. But with an ordinary, commonplace teacher, the charming songs and games and activities become very wooden. If the essence of kindergarten rests on one person who serves as sort of a spiritual enchantress to the children, then shouldn't a child's own mother be the ideal kindergarten teacher? Who else has as much tact, sympathy, common sense and culture?
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Although every mother is a kindergarten teacher in the sense that Froebel meant, that doesn't mean that every home should be run like a kindergarten classroom. The methods and activities planned for a kindergarten class are only a way to make sure that certain principles are carried out, and the mother can find out for herself what these principles are according to Froebel or she can even come up with her own. For instance, in the kindergarten class, the child's senses are carefully trained according to a specific progression: he looks, listens, and touches to learn. He learns about sizes, colors, shapes and numbers. He learns to copy and to tell back precisely. In this training of the senses, the kindergarten method duplicates the same method that a baby uses by himself as he studies a ball or rattle.
Even with this emphasis on training the child's senses, it's yet possible to undervalue the child's ability to learn by investigating things with his senses. The area in which he is allowed to gather his data is often artificially limited. During his first six or seven years, children should be becoming intimately acquainted with the properties of every natural object they can reach rather than confined to the space and schedule of a classroom. It's true that kindergarten affords him knowledge of exact ideas such as the difference between a parallelogram and a hexagon, or a primary and secondary color, and he learns to see carefully enough to duplicate a folded paper or woven yarn, but this is at the expense of a lot of the real knowledge of the outside world that should have been gained during his best window of opportunity. The nice, exact graduated way that kindergarten schedules learning is fine, but the mother has the advantage of being able to provide it casually by fitting it around the child's normal routine. A mother isn't going to
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let contrived lessons replace the natural, wider training of the senses that is the most important duty for her children.
A child in a kindergarten class is only given tasks that are within his ability to do, and then he is expected to do them perfectly, which is a good principle, as we have discussed. But I have seen a four-year-old child blush and look as ashamed as if he had been caught lying, just because he had folded his paper irregularly. But a mother or caregiver is able to see that children do their small tasks perfectly--and this is what's important--without the child experiencing any of the stress that children feel in trying to perform to please their beloved smiling goddess, their kindergarten teacher.
Kindergarten activities provide opportunities for training the eye and hand. But at home, a thousand opportunities present themselves naturally in trifling things like straightening a tablecloth or a picture, or wrapping a package. Every conscientious mother can think of a thousand ways to provide these kinds of opportunities naturally as she goes about her daily routine. Still, as a way of providing methodical teaching and having fun, it's fine to use some games, songs and kindergarten activities--so long as the mother doesn't put too much stock in them and depend on them for education. Everything the child does should be used to educate him.
In the kindergarten classroom, a child is surrounded in an atmosphere of sweetness and light. A sturdy little five year old doesn't want to be a jumping frog with the rest of the class, so the kindergarten teacher comes along with
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calm, unruffled gentleness, takes his hand and leads him away from the circle. He is not reprimanded, but since he doesn't want to do what everyone else is doing, he is not allowed to stay in the circle. The next time, he is content to join in and be a frog. This is a good principle for disciplining children. Don't treat a child who doesn't want to go along with the program too seriously. Don't assume that he's being naughty. If he doesn't want to participate in harmony with everyone else, just leave him out. Avoid friction. Above all, don't let him disturb the gentle, serene atmosphere. Simply remove him from everyone else when he doesn't want to cooperate.
Kindergarten claims to acknowledge the joyful nature of children, to allow them full and free expression of the exuberance within them, without the mischief that tends to accompany children who are left to themselves to find outlets for their energy. This combination of gladness and gentleness is exactly what should be cultivated at home with children. The rough, noisy behavior sometimes seen in children isn't necessary, especially inside. But the children should be happy, and even a momentary absence of sunshine in her children's faces should be a cause of grave concern to the mother. In general, we can say that some of the principles used in kindergarten are just the ones that a mother should strive to have in bringing up her children at home. A kindergarten class is only one of several ways to carry out these principles, but is unnecessary and, in the wrong hands, kindergarten practices may even become wooden and artificial. But they can work nicely with a mother's overall scheme of education in her own family.
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No field of research has as little real study as the world of childhood. We see children every day, but no one has explored the inner workings of a child's mind. Thoughtful people suspect that our lack of knowledge causes us to make mistakes that injure children seriously. For example, all of our schemes of education presume that a child's mind and inner person starts out very small and grow as his physical body grows. But we don't know that that's the case. Children keep their thoughts to themselves for the most part, except for the charm and frank comments they sometimes share with us. But on those rare occasions when we do get a glimpse into a child's mind, we are startled that he has a keener intelligence, wiser thoughts and a larger soul than we adults. When a genius [such as Tolstoy] lifts the veil by writing about his own childhood, we are very grateful. When enough people, both geniuses and average people, have shared about their childhoods, there may be enough data to do a study from that. Then maybe we'll understand more about how a child thinks and realize what unfair things we've put children through in the name of education. In Leo Tolstoy's book Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, he writes about his childhood so personally that a mother will recognize her own child in the portrait he gives us.
'You're like my own dear mother,'
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wrote little Leo in a poem he wrote for his grandmother's birthday. Later he felt ashamed for it and sure that his father and grandmother would discover what a hypocrite he was. 'Why did I have to write that? She isn't even here, and I didn't have to write that. I do love grandma, and I respect her, but she's still not the same, and now I have lied.' This is the kind of thing children think about. We read it and recognize our own dim, childish memories from a time long ago when our own conscience was that exquisitely delicate. That memory should remind us to be careful of the tender consciences of children.
While I'm on this subject, I'd like to mention another book where a child reveals her inner world. This child was once called to give evidence long, long ago. This kind of study is very valuable because it forces us to remember our own childhood, to relive it and reproduce it with our imagination. This is the only way to understand children because children, in spite of their sincere openness and inclination to chatter, are not that easy to understand. They never say out loud the sort of things written in Margaret Deland's The Story of a Child. Children don't explain these things to each other because they know that other children already know them. They don't tell grown-ups because they don't think grown-ups, not even their mothers, would understand. The family dog might, so children's secrets will be whispered in the dog's ear while the mother tries in vain to get her child to open up to her.
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A poem says, Each person is alone in his own world of happiness or sadness. Our lonely spirits live and move about, separate from each other. We see things around us as happy or sad, depending on the mood of our heart.
And that's true even more for children than with ourselves. It's just a part of our nature that we can't change. The only way we'll ever be able to really be intimate with a child is to reach down deep and remember our own childhood. But we usually think of that memory as unimportant and let it slip away. So, Margaret Deland helps us to recover our own childhoods in her story about Ellen, although there's a difference. Our impulses seemed just as irrational, trivial, loving heroic and bothersome to grown-ups then, as Ellen's do to the adults in the story. We remember those days with tenderness, but also with discomfort. It does us no harm if the story makes us a little more humble, a little more careful, convinced that there's more going on in the child's mind than they're telling us. They need us to help and bless them. However, we disagree with one thing the author said. She thinks that it would be good for adults to understand children better, yet she says that the children aren't harmed too much by not being understood--after all, most of us grew up just fine in spite of not being understood and other difficulties. That may be true in one sense, but in another sense, one of the saddest things in the world is when magical, wonderful children mature into common, uninteresting adults who don't ruin the world, but don't exactly make the world a better place, either.
Tolstoy's childhood and little Ellen seem at first glance to be very different from what we've been talking about in kindergartens. But, as a matter of fact, seeing what children are really like from these two examples proves our point very well.
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It wasn't long ago that the most important teacher at the University of Edinborough was Sir James Simpson, who discovered chloroform. Recently his nephew, Prof Simpson, who succeeded him, was asked by the University's librarian which science books in the library were not needed so she could get rid of them. He told her just to take all the textbooks more than ten years old and stick them in the cellar! Science is obsolete in ten years. Education is a science. What seemed true ten years ago, much less a hundred years ago, is known to be not the whole truth today.
'Concepts beyond their own understanding were given to those exalted visionaries.'
Depending on how urgent we feel our educational effort is, we'll feel more or less appreciation and inclination to implement the truths of pioneers who had prophetic insight, pioneers like Froebel. Unfortunately, although we humans would like to take the easy way out, there is no single educational guru. We have to think for ourselves and work out the best way to raise our children.
We reverence Friedrich Froebel. We share many of his great thoughts. What he said wasn't new. Some of it, like the child's relations to the universe, has been around since the days of Plato. Others are common knowledge and experience, which proves that they are true. Froebel collected various thoughts and practices that were scattered and combined them into one system. But even more importantly, he inspired an enthusiasm for childhood that still continues. The
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classic Froebel kindergarten teacher is a true artist. She is inspired in her work, and most sincere teachers catch some of her enthusiasm, her sense of the beauty of childhood and her joy with her work.
Yet I have one reservation. Our first priority should be preserving the individuality and personality of the child. People do not grow in gardens, much less hothouses. It's no advantage to a person to have his entire environment artificially adapted to his needs. Precise sun and shade and pruning and fertilizing are fine for a plant grown merely to be of use and enjoyment to its owner. But people have bigger uses in the world. [Kindergarten, literally, means 'children's garden.'] A mother or teacher who considers her child a plant to be tended by herself as the gardener might have tragic results if human nature--both hers and the child's--didn't intervene.
The idea that says we need to add to Nature from the time a child is born is dangerous. Nature does require some guidance from us--some restraining, a lot of faithful watching. But other than that, the wisest things parents can do is give the child space, and leave as much as possible to Nature, and to God.
After watching a seven-year-old do cartwheels down the length of an entire street, or a group of little girls dancing to a barrel organ, or small children playing house on their front steps, or a small girl running an errand to the store for four
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items and required to bring home the exact change, we are less convinced that children need formal kindergarten for physical, mental and moral development. In fact, I wonder if, by devising and depending upon a system, kindergarten doesn't greatly underestimate the intelligence of children. I know a three-year-old girl who was found alone in the living room by a visitor. It was spring, so the visitor thought he would entertain her by talking about 'the pretty baa-lambs.' But she looked at him solemnly with her big blue eyes and said, 'Isn't it dwefful howwid to see a pig killed!' We hope she didn't witness the killing of a pig, or even hear of it, but she made a very effective protest against twaddle, as good as any lady of society. What kinds of things do children play for weeks? The Boer War in the rocky hills of southern Africa, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, the battle between Persians and Greeks at Thermopylae, Ulysses and the suitors. Even preschoolers play along at these with their older siblings. And if children would talk to us about their feelings, we'd probably find out that they're bored by games where they frisk like lambs, flap their fins and twiddle their fingers like butterflies.
You might think that children seem happy to do these things in kindergarten. The strange thing about human nature is that we tend to like being managed by people who go to the trouble of playing on our good nature. Some people even allow their dogs to affect them as if they were
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real people. If even we adults have our weaknesses, why should it be any surprise that a child can be coaxed to do anything by a teacher who smiles and acts so charming? It's true that W. V., the child that the world is in love with, sang her little kindergarten songs as if she enjoyed them, but that was to amuse the grown-ups at bedtime. W. V. had better things to think about the rest of the time. [refers to 'The Invisible Playmate,' by William Canton, written about his daughter Winifred Vida.]
There are probably still kindergartens where a lot of twaddle is read and sung, where the teacher is convinced that she should write the poems, compose the songs and draw the pictures for her students. The children probably feel like Wordsworth when he wrote 'the world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.' Their teacher is with them too much! Everything is planned, expected, suggested--by her. No other personality can reach the children. No book, no picture, no song, not even Nature itself can approach the children without her processing it first. There is no room left for the children's spontaneity or personal initiation.
Most of us are misled by the very qualities that are our virtues. The zeal and enthusiasm so prized in the kindergarten teacher may be her undoing. 'But the children seem so happy and good!' Yes, no home can be that cheerful and peaceful. Yet home is a better place for children to grow. I am delighted that a leading follower of Froebel is speaking against the element of charisma in the teacher, but
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the fact is, that charisma is a major element in a successful kindergarten. We all know how that sort of influence has a homogenizing effect on individuality. And, besides that, the artificially controlled atmosphere and environment of the kindergarten classroom isn't good for children.
The world suffered on the day when educational experts invented the word 'kindergarten.' Originally, the idea probably was a garden life spent outdoors for children. But this isn't the first time that a false analogy has killed a philosophy. The pleasant garden life became a rigidly-ordered hothouse where the children were the plants! That analogy appealed to the orderly, scientific minds of Germans, who don't approve of any spontaneous, irregular movement. Culture, prescribed stimulus, sweetness and light became elements of a formula for a great educational system. From potting shed to frame to flower bed, the little plant receives everything in carefully controlled amounts to maximize growth. The plants appears healthy, stays neatly in place in the flower bed, and soon brings forth its flower.
Thinking of people as analogies is always dangerously misleading. Man has no equivalent in nature. The plant analogy is very attractive, which makes it even more misleading. It's rare for a plant to show purpose, but it's normal for a person. The result of any way of thinking will be influenced by that thinking, and to base education on a garden/plant analogy either
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insults God [because it implies that people are no more than plants], or it results in artificially controlling and tampering with the natural, spontaneous development of God's creation, a real human child.
First of all, let's discuss scientifically devised mother games, which is a sweet idea because mothers implement these games with love. Yet, consider that a little baby is very much in tune to his mother's moods. His little face clouds with distress or beams with delight in response to her expressions. When left to themselves, the mother and baby play their own unique little games. He jumps and pulls and yells and giggles and crawls and kicks and gurgles with joy. In the midst of all this play, he is learning what he may and may not do. His hands and feet and arms and legs and fingers and toes are in continuous movement when he's awake. His mouth, eyes and ears are keen and eager. Everything in the natural play between mother and baby is done just for fun with no agenda on the part of either of them; even the mother is as happy to play as he is. Yet Nature is making sure that this play is utilized efficiently for the baby. All kinds of development is happening at a greater rate in the first two years than in any other time of life. But the amount is just right, not too much. When the baby has had enough, he sleeps. Then along comes a well-meaning educational specialist and offers to make this play more productive. The new scientifically proven games are so lovely and fascinating and the baby might as well be doing them as his 'meaningless' jumps and pats. What no one realizes is that the new games are adding more work to the baby's already full agenda in those first two years. His awareness of his mother is so keen that he picks up the subtle pressure in the new play in spite of her smiles and sweet words. He responds by trying even harder. His nerve center and brain power are worked more than Nature intended, and some of his innocent joy in living is taken from him. Although his
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little baby responses to his mother's extra attention are cute, he has less stored power to develop in his own unique areas of giftedness.
Now follow this baby as he grows to kindergarten age and has the stimulus of classmates his own age. It certainly is stimulating! Even for us grown-ups, no group is as stimulating as a number of people our own age and social position. That's one reason why college is so fun. Being with same-age peers is good fun for all young people for a limited time. But twenty-year-olds have some self control. They don't generally let over-stimulation make them act unacceptable, although even twenty year olds sometimes let the situation get the better of them and don't manage themselves well. So what can be expected of a preschooler? Just because a child looks calm and unemotional doesn't mean he is. The spark and excitement of being with our equals from time to time can stir us up in a healthy way. But for every day, being in a mixed group with different ages, like we get in family life, makes for the most rest and room for individual development. We have all seen children who are more sensible, reasonable, fun and resourceful at home than they are at school.
The more completely organized and appealing kindergarten is, the more dangerous it is. It's possible to "help" Nature so much that we usurp her, and then our contrived activities deprive the child of the time and space to let Nature do its work. 'Go see what Thomas is doing and make him stop,'
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is not wise practice. Thomas needs to have the freedom to do whatever he wants to with his arms and legs, unless it's time to sit properly at the meal table. He should run and jump and bounce and tumble, lie on his tummy watching a worm, or lie on his back watching bees in a fruit tree. Nature will look after him and inspire him to want to know lots of things. There must be someone around to tell him what he wants to know. He will want to do all kinds of things, and he needs someone to show him how. He will want to try being many things, including some naughty things, and someone needs to be there to guide him.
Here is the real crux of the kindergarten issue. The busy mother doesn't have time to be always available to answer questions, give instruction and provide guidance. It's impossible to keep her child from developing bad habits. But there's more to training a child than habits. Education is a life as well as a discipline. Good health, strength, alertness, bright eyes and quick movement are gained from a free outdoors life. As far as habits, the most useful, powerful habit anyone can have is the habit of personal initiative. Resourcefulness will enable a family of children to invent their own games and things to do through a whole, long summer. That's worth a lot more than a lot of knowledge about cubes and hexagons. Learning to be resourceful doesn't come from continual intervention by the mother. It mostly comes from masterly inactivity.
Our biggest educational mistake is thinking we need to mediate too much. Nature is her own mediator. She herself finds work for the eyes, ears, taste and touch. She presents puzzles to challenge the mind and feelings to inspire the heart. The
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mother's (or teacher's) part in the early years (actually, all through life) is to provide opportunities, and then to get out of the way, staying in the background in case a guiding or restraining hand is badly needed. Mothers abdicate their duty and put their children into what they believe are better hands [kindergarten] because they don't understand that wise letting alone is the main thing they need to do. Every mother has a servant named Nature to arrange the appropriate work and rest for her child's mind and muscles and senses.
In one way, poor children are better off than rich ones. Poor children learn naturally from the routine of their home life. It's possible to get more mileage from home life with some ordering of the child's routine. Taking care of themselves and their own little things can be educational in itself. At age six or seven, more formal lessons can begin. These lessons don't need to be watered down or presented in a dumbed down version for the children's keen minds to learn from them.
What about only children, or children with only a baby brother who's too young to play with? Isn't kindergarten a huge benefit for these lonely children? Maybe, although a neighbor child as a friend, or a lively young teen, might be better. Only children can teach themselves to paint, glue, cut paper, knit, weave, hammer and saw, model with clay and sand, and build castles with blocks. Some may even have taught themselves to read, write and count as well as collecting all kinds of knowledge and concepts about the world around them, by age six or seven. The important thing is, the child should only do these things because he chooses, so long as
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he is encouraged to do whatever little projects he attempts with a standard of excellence.
The routine of family life will provide the peace of an ordered life. For the rest of his time, there should be more free time for growing than even the most charming school can afford. Just because lessons are disguised as games doesn't make them a good idea. Children want the freedom to play and the space to create their own rules and games and pretend roles. Most of us don't have much opportunity to order our own lives. It's nice to let children have that opportunity while they can, and experience the joyous experience of deciding what to do, and when and how, in their play.
What I've said about natural development being better than a system that's too organized is supported with evidence that is uniquely valuable to the study of education. I'm talking about Helen Keller's autobiography.
At nineteen months old, Helen had meningitis and lost her sight and hearing and, as a result, couldn't speak. She never recovered her lost senses. Here was a soul totally shut off and sealed from the rest of the world. There was no way for any stimulus or information to approach except through the single sense of touch. Yet her book The Story of My Life, which she typed by herself with hardly any revision, is a classic for its pure, rich style alone, not to mention the fascination of the subject matter. How was this miracle accomplished? Helen says that a prison of darkness enveloped her childhood, except for a few impressions. There were roses, which she was able to smell. There was love, although she was not a loving child then. When
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she was seven, Anne Sullivan came to be her teacher. She had been blind herself for some years and had been at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, which was founded by Dr. Howe, the man who unlocked the mind of Laura Bridgeman. But Anne Sullivan was not just the result of an institution. She was a wonderfully sensible, decent person and trusted her own resourcefulness. She was aware from the beginning that her job was to liberate the personality of her student, not to impose her own. Helen Keller says that the arrival of her teacher was like Israel's coming up from Egypt. She heard what seemed like God's voice from Mt Sinai saying that 'Knowledge is love and light and vision.' Then she tells the amazing story of how it was all done, how the word 'water' was the key that unlocked the window of her mind, and the word 'love' unlocked her closed heart. After that, more words came every day, bringing new ideas. This imprisoned, desolate child entered a larger world of thought and knowledge and gladness and insight than most of the rest of us do who can see and hear. The tool in this great accomplishment was nothing more than the familiar alphabet in sign language, followed by books in Braille.
Like all great discoveries, the unlocking of Helen's human soul was marked by simplicity in all its individual steps. Miss Sullivan had little use for psychologists and their methods. She would not submit Helen to experiments and refused to allow her to be treated as a phenomenon, but insisted that she be treated as a person. She said, 'I don't want any more kindergarten materials. I am getting suspicious of elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to
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suppose that every child is some kind of idiot who has to be taught how to think. But if a child is left to himself, he will think more and better, although he may take more time. Let him come and go when he wants, let him handle real things and draw his own conclusions by himself instead of sitting in a classroom at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow from strips of construction paper, or make straw trees glued to pots made of beads. Such teaching fills the mind with contrived associations that have to be unlearned before a child can develop his own ideas from real first-hand experiences.' It's a great thing to have a new kind of study of education, one in which we envision the human mind triumphing, not only over insurmountable natural obstacles, but over the dead wall of artificial systemized education. That can hinder a poor child more completely than blindness and deafness hindered Helen Keller.
The question of whether kindergarten is the best way to educate young children is so important that I think the Board of Education's Special Reports should be read by all educators.
We can see the epitome of educational theory in action in the US. I say 'theory' rather than 'practice' because the American mind seems severely logical (like the French mind) and very impulsive. A new theory appears, they discuss it, and the next thing you know, they've put it to trial in some grand scheme for the betterment of their people's education. In other words, educational science in America seems to be more deductive (taking a general theory and assuming that specific systematic measures will work based on that)
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than inductive (seeing which specific practices seem to work and drawing a conclusion from that, and then using that to come up with a general theory). In America, theories are implemented with surprising zeal and sincerity doing all kinds of experimental practices [deductive]. The opposite, inductive, would arrive at a theory only after trying all kinds of experimental practices, each of which shed a little more light on the issue. Perhaps the American way of deducing is easier, and, really, they end up experimenting anyway, so maybe what they're doing is a little inductive after all. Kindergarten is a good example. Although the word is German, kindergartens really aren't that common in Germany. Froebel's ideas have been developed more in America. His idea about kindergarten has become so trendy there that it almost has cult popularity, and the teachers are like prophets. But even now, its popularity is waning.
Mr. Thistleton Mark wrote a very useful paper called Moral Education in American Schools. He said that even hardcore Froeblians eventually come to need more than the unsupported dogma of great reform. The very word 'kindergarten' is no longer limited to the specific methodology that Froebel had in mind. It is now more of a generic term. American educationalists are moving towards the broader, more natural idea of education, one closer to the phrase, 'Education is a life.' But I wish they'd stop using the term 'kindergarten.' It strains the mind to use Froebel's word for his narrow concept as a label for the more generous and living practices that are actually in use today. Even improved
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kindergartens still struggle under the confines of Froebel's original system. Dr Stanley Hall says just that in our next section.
Dr Hall said that the most important difference Americans had made in Froebel was mother-games, where the mother dispenses all of the knowledge in kindergarten. She uses simple doggerel, passionless music and mediocre pictures about mundane childhood events that specialists have decided children need to think about. I tried these materials with the best of intentions. I read the stories, strummed the songs and looked at the pictures. I gave lectures where I tried to infuse that system of education with whatever meaning I could. But now I believe that they encourage teachers to be unscientific and unphilosophical. Such lessons may not even be sound. It's time to replace outdated systems of education with the better ways that are available now.
Another problem with kindergarten is its emphasis on 'gifts and occupations.' Froebel was wise in coming up with this concept, but those who have implemented it haven't done it well enough to do the idea justice. He thought his system was a perfect curriculum to teach children to play and keep busy doing useful things, but he was wrong. His system may have been good for deprived children in rural areas, but for children who are used to the stimulation of the modern city, his system is artificial and dull. With Dr. Hall's comments, I must end this brief
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consideration of the very important question,--Is kindergarten the best place to train a child?
Reading is the first of our instruments of education. But, should a child absorb the ability to read unconsciously, starting from the time he's a baby, or should all attempts to give reading lessons wait until the child is 6 or 7 years old and is more ready? In a helpful letter that Susanna Wesley sent to her son John, we read her description of how she taught her children to read:
She says, 'None of them was taught to read until they were five years old, except Kezzy. I was pressured to teach her earlier, and it took her years to learn to read what the other children learned in a few months. Here is how I taught reading: The day before a child's first reading lesson was to begin, the house was cleaned and set in order. Every child was given a list of tasks and chores to do and instructed not to come into the teaching room between 9-noon, and between 2-5, because we'd be doing reading lessons in there. The first day, the child was expected to learn all the letters. All of the children learned it in a day except for Molly and Nancy. It took them a day and a half to learn them perfectly, and I thought they were less intelligent because of it. After all, the other children learned it so quickly. Samuel, who was the first child I taught, learned the alphabet in just a few hours. In February (1695), the day after he turned five we started his
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reading lessons. As soon as he knew the letters, we began with the first chapter of Genesis. I taught him to spell the first verse, and then to read it again and again until he could read it smoothly without hesitating. Then we did the same with the second verse. Soon he could learn ten verses at a time. Between Easter (Apr 3) and Whitsuntide/Pentecost, May 22, 50 days after Easter), he had made so much progress that he could read an entire chapter. He was always reading and had such a good memory that I never had to tell him the same word twice. Even stranger, whenever he learned one word from his lesson, he could recognize it wherever he saw it, whether in his Bible or any other book. By this means, he learned to read English very well.' (from The Life of Wesley by Robert Southey, 1820)
Conscientious mothers should keep track of the methods they try on their children and make a note of which ones work.
Many people think that learning to read is complicated because of the peculiarities of English, and that we shouldn't impose such a challenge on a child at too young an age. But, the truth is, most of us can't even remember how or when we learned to read. For all we know, it could have come by nature, like learning to run. Even mothers of the educated class don't usually know how their children learned to read. 'Oh, he taught himself,' is usually the only answer a mother can think of about her little Richard's ability to read. Thus, it's clear that the idea that it's hard to learn how to read is a notion assumed by grown-ups, not children. Books like Reading Without Tears wouldn't exist if tears weren't sometimes shed over reading
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lessons, but those tears are the fault of the teacher.
Children usually learn their letters on their own. A child has a box of magnetic letters and picks out p for pumpkin, b for bird, h for horse, and knows both the big and little letters. But learning the alphabet should also be an opportunity to enhance the child's observation. He should be encouraged to really see what he's looking at. Make a big B in the air and have him say which letter it is. Let him make a round O and a squiggly S, and the first letter of his name, while you guess them. Making the small letters from memory is harder and takes more observation. A tray of sand is helpful. The child can draw his finger boldly through the sand to make a D, his first straight line and curve combination. There are lots of ways to make learning the letters fun. There is no need to rush. Let him learn them one at a time, and so well that he can pick out the letter d, both big and little, every time it appears on a page of large print. Let him say d for duck, dog, doll by drawing out the sound of the d at the beginning. Then find words that end with a d to practice saying, making sure to end with a crisp, individual 'd' sound rather than a 'dee' or 'duh.'
A child left alone will learn the alphabet himself, but most mothers can't resist the fun of teaching it. And there's no harm in teaching it, since this kind of learning is merely a game to the child, and if the alphabet is carefully taught to the child, he will learn to appreciate both the form
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and sound of words. So, when should he begin? Whenever his box of letters interests him. Even two-year-olds sometimes can name a few letters. That's fine as long as finding and naming letters is a fun game for him. But he must never be coaxed or required to show off or prodded to find letters when he'd rather play something else.
The first word-making activities will also seem fun to the child. Treating them as a game while still teaching what letters can do is the best way to start before actually making sentences. Pick up two of his letters, the a and the t, and make the word 'at.' Tell the child that we use the word when we say 'at home' or 'at school.' Then add a letter to turn it into bat, cat, fat, hat, mat, sat, rat, and so on. They should all be real words [no fair using dat, jat, yat!] See if the child can guess what the word is with the new consonant. Put all the words in a row and see if he can read them. Then do the same with other short-vowel words [-in, -un, -ar, -ad, etc.] Soon the child will be able to read dozens of short words, and will learn to figure out others. He might even start playing the game by himself, trying to figure out how many words he can make that end with -en or -od. Let him take his time.
When the game becomes so easy that it's no longer fun, do long vowel words in the same way. Use the same syllables as before, only add a silent 'e,' so that -at words become -ate
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words such as late, date, rate, etc. The child can be told that the 'a' in rate is a long a, and the 'a' in rat is a short a. His experience with short vowel words will make long vowel words easier.
Then can come words ending with -ang, -ing, -ong, and -ung, such as ring, fang, long, sung. Then do words beginning with 'th,' such as that and then. Then do words ending with 'th,' such as with, math, both, bath, moth. As you go, more words will suggest themselves. This is not yet reading, but is preparing the foundation for reading by making words familiar things that won't be so intimidating when the child sees them in real books. Make sure that when the child says the words that he does it distinctly and confidently so that he can hear each letter's sound.
Teach the child from the beginning to close his eyes and try to spell the word he has made. Reading isn't the same as spelling, and you don't have to spell well to be able to read well, but it's still important to be able to visualize the way a word is spelled. A child who can see quick enough to take in the letters of words while reading them will be a good speller. The child should start developing this habit from the start. Get him used to seeing the letters that make up words, and it will become second nature to him.
If words always followed the same rules in English, using the same spelling patterns, then reading would be easy. The child could simply learn the rules and be able to read anything. But many words in English are a rule unto themselves. The child has no choice but to learn those irregular words by sight. He must memorize and recognize words like 'which' as familiarly as he knows the letter B. And he learns this by
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looking at the word intently so that the image of the word is stamped into his mind. This process should happen simultaneously while learning letters. The more variety there is in his reading lessons, the more he'll enjoy them. Making words will encourage his interest in words, but learning to recognize words by sight will help him to be a good reader.
The teacher must be patient enough to go very slowly, making sure that the child's footing is secure in each lesson before moving on. The first lesson might be
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are,"
Read just those two lines to the child. Read it very slowly, sweetly, and dramatically enough to make it interesting. Point to each word as you read. Then to point to 'twinkle,' 'wonder,' 'star,' 'what,' and ask him to say each word as you randomly point to it. After he can recognize each separate word out of context, and not before, let him read those two lines carefully and with expression. Insist right from the start that he read with clear, beautiful enunciation and feeling. Don't let him even begin a habit of reading in a dry, dull monotone that bores both him and whoever is listening. By this time, he will naturally have no trouble reading the first two lines precisely [instilling a feeling of success and competence, rather than defeat and tears]. He will learn the rest of the poem in subsequent lessons.
At this stage, his lessons progress slowly and there's no reason not to let his reading lessons, both poems and prose, double as
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recitation exercises. There are lots of little poems that can be used; it's easy to find suitable ones. But prose might be even better because it uses more words found in everyday speech, as well as words of Saxon (old German) origin, and irregular spelling. Short fables, or graceful, simple prose such as Parables from Nature, or, better yet, prose poems such as those by Anna Letitia Barbauld [probably Hymns in Prose for Children] make good recitation material.
But the Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star reading lesson isn't over yet. The child should hunt through a couple of pages of clear, large print for each of the words he has learned: little, star, you, are, until each word becomes as familiar as an old friend when he sees it on a page of text. To prevent discouragement, the teacher can clue him as to which paragraph or line contains one of the words. By the end of the lesson, the child has learned 8-10 words well enough to recognize them anywhere, and all in probably ten minutes.
The next sight reading lesson should begin with a hunt for familiar words [as a review] and then the next lines of the poem:
"Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky,"
should be learned the same way. Good spelling is no more than proper seeing by observing the letters in a word in the same way one might see the features of someone's face. To encourage this, ask the child, "Can you spell sky?" or any of the other short words. The first time may catch him unaware, but he will rise to the challenge and be sure to get it right the
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next time you ask. Don't let him spell the word, or even say the letters out loud while the word is in front of him.
Comprehension is no problem. The child will have lots of bright, intelligent comments and questions and will take care of the comprehension part of the lesson himself. It is more likely that the teacher will have to be careful not to let his questions draw her away from the reading lesson.
Most children need help in pronouncing their words properly. They need to learn to say 'high,' sky,' 'like,' 'world,' with careful preciseness. They will tend to hurry through words like 'diamond' and 'history' so that they sound like 'd'mond' and 'his'try.' Another reason to strive for slow, steady progress is to make sure the child says every word with full attention so that he develops the habit of careful enunciation. Every day he learns to recognize a few more words by sight. The more words he knows, the longer his lesson will have to be to fit in 10-12 more new words.
'But what an excruciatingly slow pace!' you might say. It isn't as slow as it seems. Doing it this way, a child will learn 2000-3000 words over a year's time without much effort, which amounts to reading, since mastering that number of words will enable him to read most of the books he will be faced with fairly easily.
Compare the steady progress and bright interest of this method with the tediously wearisome lessons of the ordinary method. The poor child blunders through one or two pages in a dreary monotone--no expression, no clear enunciation. When he comes to a word he doesn't
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know, he tries spelling it, but that doesn't help. He is told what the word is and he says it, but no mental effort is made to remember it. So, the next time he stumbles on that word, he has to go through the whole process all over again. When the day's lesson is over, the child is miserably bored--and hasn't even learned one new word. Eventually he learns to read, somehow, as a result of constant repetition. But think of the abuse to his intelligence by using a system of teaching that forces him to expend effort every day with little or no result. This gives him a distaste for books before he has even learned to use them.
It is so important that children should be taught to read in a reasonable way that I am including two articles that I wrote for The Parents Review in the hopes that they will clarify and familiarize readers with the suggested method.
Two mothers are talking.
'Do you mean that you would start a child with two or three syllable words before he even knows his letters?'
'Yes, it's possible to read words without knowing the alphabet in the same way that you might recognize a face without being able to single out its individual features. And we do learn the alphabet before reading words--not just the names of the letters, but the sounds each letter makes.'
'Our children learn their letters without us even teaching them. We keep a shoebox handy with a half inch of sand at the bottom. Before they're even two years old, the toddlers make round
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O's and crooked S's and a T for Thomas, and so on, with their chubby, clumsy fingers. The older ones teach them by making it a game.'
'The sand is wonderful! We have various gimmicks, but the sand is the best one. Children love to be active. The cute, shaky lines they make with their own little fingers are ten times more interesting to them than just looking at the shape of the letter in a book.'
'But the reading! I can't believe you teach three syllable words in the first lesson! It's like teaching a toddler how to waltz!'
'It seems that way because you forget that a group of letters is just a representative symbol of a word, and a word is only a representative symbol of a thing or an action. Here's how a child learns: First, he understands the concept of a table. Then he sees several different tables and realizes that they all have legs that he can climb, and sometimes cloth covers that he can pull at, and lots of interesting things on top to try and reach. Sometimes he can pull things off the table and make them fall off with a crash, which is fun. The grown-ups call this pleasant thing with its interesting aspects a 'table.' Soon, he can say 'table,' too. In his mind, the word 'table' comes to mean all of these things in a vague way. 'Around the table' and 'on the table' expand his concept of 'table.' In the same way, he chimes in when his mother sings, and she says, 'Baby sing.' Soon he realizes what sing, kiss and love are.'
'Yes, they're so cute! It's amazing how many words a child can understand before he can say them. 'Kitty,' 'doll,' 'stroller,' soon come to mean interesting ideas to him.'
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'That's just it; once a child becomes interested in something, he learns what the abstract sound-symbol for it sounds like--I mean, he learns the name of it. I say that, when he's older, he should use the same principle to learn to read, by learning the visible symbol for it on a printed page. It's actually easier for a child to read 'pumpkin-pie' than 'to,' because 'pumpkin pie' conveys a much more interesting idea.'
'Maybe that works with long three-syllable words. But how do you teach simpler, one-syllable words, or words with only two letters?
'I wouldn't go out of my way to teach him one-syllable words at all. The bigger the word, the more interesting it looks. And that makes it easier to read--provided the word conveys something interesting to the child. It's pitiful to see a bright child struggling over a reading lesson that insults his intelligence--ath, eth, ith, oth, uth, or something a little better--the cat sat on the mat. How would we adults like it if we had to learn German by slogging through every conceivable combination of letters, arranged solely by how similar they sound? Or, even worse, what if what we read had to be graduated by the number of letters in each word? We'd be hopelessly lost in a fog of words if we were faced with a page full of three-letter words all drearily alike, with nothing distinctive to capture our attention. Why should children be any different? Do we think it's good for them to grind in this mill just because they're children? And this is just one way children are needlessly and cruelly oppressed.'
'You're taking high moral ground! Still,
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I don't think I'm convinced. It's much easier for a child to spell cat than potato chips.'
'But spelling and reading are two different things. You need to learn to spell so you can write things, not so you can read them. A child might be droning over a reading lesson. She stumbles over the word, 'cough' and spells it out. You tell her the word is cough. She repeats it, and, by repetition, she begins to associate that arrangement of letters with the sound of the word cough. She recognizes and reads it, and you think she's figured out that c-o-u-g-h spells cough. But she hasn't. She may still spell it c-o-f.'
'Yes, but cough is a difficult word. It has a silent u and the gh sounds like f. But if there were no silent letters and if all the letters sounded like they look, reading would be easy. In that respect, the phonetic enthusiasts have a point.'
'I suppose you would agree that plough should be spelled plow, through thru, enough enuf, ought ot, and so on. But this idea assumes that, when we read, we look at each letter individually, consider each of their sounds, blend them, and form the word. But that's not how we read. Instead, we recognize the collective letters as the symbol of the word we're used to reading. Only when we come to a word we don't know do we resort to sounding it out by the letters, but we are very aware that this way only guesses, so we're careful not to say the word out loud until we hear someone else pronounce it.'
'But children are different.'
'No. children are just the same, maybe even more so. We adults,
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if we wanted to, could break up words into syllables or sounds to figure out individual pieces, or we could put the combinations we know together to help us figure out the rest of the word. But children can't do that yet. They have to learn to recognize a word by the way it looks. The more unusual it looks, the easier it is to recognize, as long as the word is one they've heard and whose meaning they know.'
'I'm not sure I quite get it. Can you tell me, step by step, how you would give your first reading lesson? An illustration would be really helpful.'
'Okay. Michael had his first lesson yesterday, on his sixth birthday. The lesson was part of the celebration. By the way, I think it's a good idea to begin a new study with a child on his birthday or some other significant day. That way, he starts by thinking of the new study as a special privilege.'
'That makes sense. But go on, did Michael already know his letters?'
'Yes, he had picked them up, but I had been careful that he didn't do any little readings. You know how Susanna Wesley used to spend hours in her room with the child who was having his first reading lesson, and the child would come out able to read a good part of Genesis 1? Well, Michael's first reading lesson was a solemn occasion, too. We took a week or two preparing for it. First, I printed up six copies of Old Mother Hubbard with bold, large type.
Then we had a fun pasting day when we glued the sheets to card stock.
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Then we cut up the first three lines of all six copies, line by line, word by word. We put the words into a box and we were done, our preparations were complete.
Then for the lesson. Michael and I shut ourselves up in the school room. I have a blackboard in there that I use for school. I printed clearly the word,
Michael watches with more interest because he knows his letters. I point to the words and say, 'Mother,' and he repeats it.
Then we scatter the words in the box out on the table, and he easily finds a half dozen 'Mother's.'
We do the same thing with the words cupboard, to, old, bone and so on until all the words in the first three lines are learned. The list of words on the blackboard grows into a long column, and Michael reads the list backwards, forwards, every way except in the order they appear in the verse.
Then Michael arranges the loose cut-out words into columns like those on the blackboard. Then he arranges them into his own columns and reads them.
Last, to his delight (the whole lesson has been fun!), he finds the words in order as I dictate:
Old Mother Hubbard;
Went to the cupboard,
To give her poor dog a bone;
He arranges his words in the order they appear in the poem.
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Then I pulled out a copy of the poem that hadn't been cut up, and Michael read those first three lines with pleasure, both forwards and backwards. As long as he lives, he will know those thirteen words!'
'I'm sure it was a pleasant enough lesson, but think of all that cutting and gluing!'
'Yes, it was time-consuming. I wish some publisher would sell what we need--nursery rhymes in good, bold type with a box of loose words to match, a box for each rhyme so the child wouldn't be confused by having too many words to hunt through. The trick is, the child needs to look at and really see each new word many times to impress its image in his mind.'
'I see. But with this method, he's only able to read Old Mother Hubbard. He doesn't learn the general skill of reading.'
'Yes he does, he'll be able to read those thirteen words no matter where he sees them. If he learns maybe ten new words a day, he'll know over 600 words in six months. Then he'll know how to read a little.'
'That's impressive, if your children actually remember everything they learn. My children wouldn't. They might still remember Mother Hubbard by the end of the week, but they'd forget the rest.'
'Not if you review what's been learned. When we master the next three lines, Michael goes through the beginning of the poem. As I point to individual words randomly, he tells me what they are. It takes less than a minute, but it secures what he's already learned.'
'That first lesson must have been long!'
'I have to admit--it lasted a half hour. Michael's interest tempted me to do more than I should have.'
'It sounds appealing, like a game. But
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I'm not convinced that a child should learn to read without knowing the phonetic sounds of the letters. You've seen how children read by spelling a word over and then pronouncing it, especially if they've been taught the sounds the letters make rather than just their names.'
'Naturally. Although many English words can only be learned by sight because of their irregularity, some words are a key to a whole group of words. Adding m to other gives us mother, add a br to get brother. We switch off days, we'll do reading one day and phonetic word-building the next day as a way to vary our lessons. That keeps them interesting, which guarantees success.'
In all of education, there is probably no more difficult and more unpalatable task than the one presented to every child--the challenge of learning to read. We realize how hard it is when we hear of the heroic labor some adults go through to become literate, but we forget that it goes against the nature of a child to busy himself with dreary mysterious black squiggles on a page that all look the same, when the outside world is beckoning with all kinds of interesting things that he wants to know about. But that doesn't mean we should excuse active little Thomas from learning to read. It wouldn't be in his best interest. He needs the skill of knowing how to read, and the discipline of the task itself is good for him. All the same, we should recognize that learning to read is hard work for many children. Let's do what we can to make the task easy and inviting.
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First of all, keep in mind that reading is neither a science nor an art. Even if it were, the teacher would still need to put the child's interests first. But it's not. Learning to read is nothing more than figuring out, however we can, the arbitrary symbols for objects and ideas. There is no one 'right way,' and no necessary sequence of steps. There is no beginning, middle and end. The arbitrary symbols we must know so we can read aren't letters. They're words. To illustrate, consider how the letter 'o' sounds different in various words just in the previous sentence: for, symbols, know, order, to, not, words. Memorizing each variation is a quaint (yet useless!) study for a philologist, but it's dreary work and inappropriate for a child. We must admit that the letters that compose English words are an interesting study for language experts, and their study may result in new understanding and future improvements in the way we educate. But for now, letters don't always sound like they look, so teaching to read only by sounding out letters will mean a lot of extra work for the child, and lots of confusion because of the irregularities of spelling. It would be a challenge to try to get every letter to follow the rules.
What is our suggestion in teaching a child to read? (a) He should know maybe a thousand words by sight. (b) He will be able to build on the words he knows and recognize more words. By learning ten new words a day, he'll be reading to some extent in twenty weeks, and he won't be limited by
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the size of the word. The second and less important of our task is teaching the child the sounds of the letters and helping him blend letter combinations.
The child needs some kind of a bridge between the things that interest him, and the arbitrary symbols (sight words) that he needs to know.
A child is interested in things, not words. His mind doesn't yet analyze, but he is a quick observer. Nothing is too small for his notice. He can spy out the eye of a fly. Nothing is too intricate for him, and he loves puzzles. But what interests him is whatever he can find out about by looking. And this fact is a key to reading. No meaningless combination of letters, like cla, cle, cli, clo, clu should be presented to him. He should be given real words that mean something interesting to him from the very beginning. It's easy to read 'robin redbreast' or 'buttercups and daisies.' The number of letters in a word doesn't matter because the words themselves convey such interesting ideas that it's easy for the child to fix his attention and make the association to the thing. Once the child has made the association between the printed word and the idea that it conveys, it will be easier for him to use what he knows about the sounds of the letters to make other similar words by building on that word. For example, once he knows butter, it's easy for him to change the b to an m to make the word mutter.
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But example is better than theory and more convincing than the most logical reasoning. This is the kind of reading lesson we have in mind: Thomas knows the alphabet, and the sound each letter makes, but no more than that. Today he will jump right into reading without taking any steps at all. Remember, reading is neither an art nor a science and probably has no distinct beginning. Today Thomas is going to learn to read--
"I have a little shadow
That goes in and out with me"
And he will know those twelve words so well that he'll be able to read them wherever he sees them from now on.
'Yes,' a reader might say, 'Just like in the Mother Hubbard lesson. Perhaps the principle is sound, though some might debate it. Even if it is, who has the time to go through all that cutting and pasting to prepare for the first lesson? Perhaps learning from books is an inferior way to learn, but it will have to do for me. I don't have time to make my own word cut-outs.'
I admit, cutting and gluing all those words was tedious, but the lesson served its purpose. It induced my friend Miss Miller to prepare a nice little box with the loose words in big type for us, with two lines in each bag. Anyone who learns to read Old Mother Hubbard this way will already have learned at least a hundred words. That's not bad for a beginner, and the words are useful ones that occur every day. There is one foreseeable objection, though.
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Contractions, such as I'll are ugly to work with. Hopefully poems can be chosen that don't use contractions.
And now we begin. Materials Needed: Thomas's box of loose letters (perhaps magnetic ones), the baggie of word cut-outs from the first two lines of My Shadow, and pencil and paper (or, even better, chalk and chalkboard). We write in large, clear letters, the word Shadow. Thomas watches with interest. He knows the letters and may even say them out loud as we write. After all, he is probably excited about this great event, the day he's learning to read. But we don't ask him anything about what he may or may not already know. We simply tell him that the word is 'shadow.' He is interested at once. He knows what a shadow is, and seeing the word in print is pleasing because he associates it with the idea of shadows that he already has in his mind. He is told to look at the word 'shadow' until he's sure he would recognize it if he saw it again. Then, from memory, he makes the word 'shadow' with his own loose letters. Then his baggie of words is emptied and he finds the word 'shadow.' Last of all, the sheet with the poem on it is shown to him and he locates the word 'shadow,' but he's not yet allowed to find out which poem it is. The words it, out, goes, me, little, and, have, I, a, in are taught in the same way, in less time than it would take to describe it. As each new word is learned, Thomas makes a column of the words he's already learned and reads the column up, down, and criss-cross from the blackboard.
Thomas knows some words now, but he can't yet read sentences. Now comes the delight of real reading. We read off some words to him to find: 'shadow--goes--in' and he places them in that order, and then reads off
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the resulting sentence. He is as excited as if he'd discovered a new planet! Then other arrangements are made. 'shadow goes with me,' 'that little shadow goes out,' 'I have a shadow,' 'a little shadow goes with me,' and so on through numerous combinations. If the identity of the poem can be kept a mystery, that's even better. Making verses up with his loose words will give Thomas a delicious sense that knowledge is power like few other occasions will give him. And from here on out, the idea of reading will be so delightful to him that it will take some very bad teaching to make him ever develop a distaste for it.
Thomas looks forward to another fun reading lesson the next day, but he has a spelling lesson instead. It's conducted like this:
He makes the word 'that' with his letters, from memory if he can. If not, he can copy the cut-out word. Say 'that' slowly, give the sound of 'th.' 'Take away the th, what do we have left?' With a little help, he'll get 'at.' How would you make bat? (Say the word very slowly so he hears the b). He knows the sounds of the letters and says b-at readily. Next, ask if he can make flat, which uses two added sounds. See if he can figure that out. Try cat, he will find the c, and that's a word he'll be glad to know. Vat, he easily decides on the sound v, and you can explain what a vat is. The other words are familiar enough to him to need no explanation. Thomas may offer gnat. Explain that the word is spelled with other letters, but he doesn't need to know which ones yet. Thus he finds out casually and gradually that different letters can make the same sounds. But we don't expect him to
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sort it all out yet. We just let him know that nat doesn't spell the symbol that we express with the letters gnat. Slat--he'll be able to give the sound of the first letter, and slat may call for another explanation, and he's learned another interesting word. He's made a group of words with his letters and they're all in a column on the blackboard like this:
He reads the list up and down and criss-cross. Every word means something to him and carries an idea. Then all the loose words he already knows are dumped out and we dictate new sentences, which he arranges: 'I have a cat.' 'That vat goes with me.' 'I have a little bat,' and so on, making the new words with the loose letters.
Now for something new. We dictate 'The cat is fat.' Thomas is bewildered. He doesn't know 'the' or 'is.' 'Put blanks for the words you don't know. They might be in one of our next lessons.' Now Thomas has a desire and a need--he has an appetite for learning.
We handle the rest of the words in the same way. Little gives brittle, tittle, skittle. Shadow, I, a, with give no new words. Goes gives does, foes, hoes, toes, woes. Me gives be, he, she. From have we get cave, gave, pave, rave, shave, slave, wave. We pronounce have to rhyme with gave, but Thomas notices that such a pronunciation is wrong and improper. He sees
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that all of these words rhyme with gave, but not one of them rhymes with have. In other words, he sees that the same group of letters don't always have the same sound. But we don't ask him to make any note of this fact. We just let it grow on him gradually after many experiences.
By now he has over a dozen new words on the blackboard from which to make sentences with the word cut-outs from the Shadow poem. 'I gave a little,' A cat goes out,' 'That rat is little,' and so on. We make sure that the sentences make sense. 'Her wave goes skittle,' is silly and not to be used. Thomas writes his new words in a notebook so that he has his very own collection of words he knows.
The next day, the following two lines of the poem are learned in the same way. If these lines don't offer much in the way of spelling lessons, we just move on to the next two lines. Our collection of words continues to grow, and, as we go on, we're able to make almost unlimited sentences. In the rare event that a blank has to be used, it only whets the appetite to learn more. By the time Thomas has finished learning My Shadow, he has an impressive collection of words. He is more able to attack new words that have familiar letter combinations. More important, he has achieved some success and has the confidence to approach all kinds of learning with the sense that positive results are within his ability. He learns to read in a way that builds good habits. There is no dawdling or resisting. Instead, there is bright attention and perfect achievement. He enjoys his reading lesson. But he doesn't get the privilege of having a lesson if he shows up
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in a lazy, dawdling mood. Pronouncing each word precisely and clearly is insisted on. When he gets to his favorite part of the lesson, where he arranges the poem with his word cut-outs and reads it, his reading must be a perfect and finished recitation. (Lively nursery rhymes are the best texts for reading lessons.) I think this is a practical, realistic way to teach reading in English. German children may have to work their way through tedious lists of letter combinations because, before children can really enjoy reading, they need to know the combinations. They always follow the same rules. But since English is so irregular and has so many exceptions, the child is fortunate enough to be able to skip that step. (Thomas should not begin his reading lessons until he is ready for the challenge of these kinds of lessons. Some children may need each lesson broken up into two, or even six, smaller lessons, depending on their readiness.)
The best suggestion I have for recitation is Arthur Burrell's book 'Recitation.' [There is a Parents Review article, Vol 1, 1891, pg 92, 'Recitation,' by Arthur Burrell. The article is not yet online.] It suggests that teachers use it in elementary schools, and I think it would be good if teachers followed that suggestion. In fact, I think that even families could benefit from this book, although many of the specific lessons don't apply to educated homes. Recitation is among the most
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useful and advancing tools for education. Arthur Burrell has called it 'the children's art.' It is born in children to recite, like a buried jewel waiting to be discovered, or like an imprisoned spirit just waiting to be freed. Burrell's logical and organized book gives us material to bring forth children's abilities. If used faithfully, even ordinary children get beyond their stiffness and recite artistically and dramatically. Even the great Sir Walter Scott was moved by 8 year-old Scottish wonder child 'Pet Marjorie' Fleming's recitation of a poem about being a widowed woman, sick, oppressed and scared. Marjorie was a prodigy, but Burrell's book gives gradual steps that can teach even ordinary children the fine art of beautiful and perfect speaking. Yet that is only the first step in being able to recite. A child should speak beautiful thoughts so beautifully and with such precise rendering of every shade of meaning that he interprets the author's work to his listener. It takes appreciation for a work to be able to do that, as well as sensitivity and expressiveness. That's why reciting is a learning experience on its own, or, like Richard Steele said about loving his wife, 'a liberal education' in itself. Some may assume that expressive children are merely parroting the way they've heard something said rather than understanding and expressing it themselves. But that's not the case. In Burrell's book, children are taught to
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find the meaning for themselves. The teacher isn't supposed to set a pattern for the child to mimic. The texts he uses are limited to what the child can understand, and the child adds in the expressiveness himself. A clever teacher can entice him by harnessing his naughty attitudes: the child may enjoy coming up with different ways of saying, "I won't!" and from there, the teacher cunningly brings him along by steps until he starts expressing himself in other ways, and even the child is surprised and delighted. The texts suggested are fun for children. Wynken, Blynken and Nod, Miss Lilywhite's Party (by George Cooper) or The Two Kittens should make any child want to recite. Try a poem using the technique suggestions in Burrell's book and you'll see that the result is as unlike ordinary reading aloud as music is when played with or without the composer's expression marks. I hope everyone reading this book will train their children to recite. In the future, it will become more and more necessary for educated people to speak effectively in public, and reciting teaches children to do that.
Reciting and memorizing are two different things. It is good to store a lot of poetry in a child's memory, and it doesn't have to take any work to learn it. A few years ago I visited a lady who was raising her niece using her own educational approach. She handed me an oversized sheet of writing paper with the names of poems. Some were long, difficult poems, such as Tintern Abbey. She said that her niece could repeat any of them that I wanted, yet she had never consciously attempted to learn a single
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verse by heart. The girl did repeat several of the poems on the list, quite beautifully and without stumbling. Then the lady told me her secret. She thought she had stumbled on an amazing discovery, and I agreed. Here's what she would do. She would read a poem all the way through to the girl. The next day, while the girl was sewing a doll's dress or something, she would read it again. She might read it the next day while brushing the girl's hair. She would get in maybe six days of this, depending on the length of the poem, reading the poem at various times, once during each day. And after a few days, the girl could say the poem that she 'had not learned.'
I've tried this often since then, and it does work. The child must not make a conscious effort to say the verses over to himself. Instead, the important thing is to have a mind open to freely receive an interesting impression. Six times of hearing a poem should be enough to have possession of it. Poems such as 'Dolly and Dick,' 'Do you ask what the birds say?' 'Little lamb, who made thee?' are perfect for this. The benefit of learning this way is that the child doesn't start to dislike a poem because of he's tired of it. Also, the habit of forming mental images is developed without the child even being aware of it.
I once discussed this with author Anna Sedgewick while we were talking about Browning. She said that a lady, her niece, had been recovering from a long illness and wasn't allowed to do anything but rest. So, for something to occupy her time, she read Lycidas all the way through. She was surprised the next day to find herself repeating long passages to herself from memory. So she tried the whole poem and found that she was able to recite the whole thing, after
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a single reading. She hadn't learned it before her illness. She had never even read it with particular attention. She was thrilled with her new talent, and decided to test herself. She read Paradise Lost, a book at a time, and had the same result--she could repeat it all after a single reading! She enriched herself by reading many other works while she recovered. But as she got stronger and started doing more things, her mind had more to think about and she lost her amazing ability. Perhaps a child's mind has less preoccupations and is freer to absorb and retain lovely images clothed in beautiful words, like the lady recovering from her illness. But don't forget, even unconscious brain activity puts wear and tear on the brain tissue, so don't over-do it. Don't start until age six; until then, let the child's mind lay fallow. Then, when you do start, attempt only a little. The poems learned should be simple and within his interest and understanding. Don't overwhelm the child, but don't waste the opportunity, either. There is so much noble poetry that a child can grasp, don't waste his time filling his mind with twaddle.
[Volume 1 was written with children aged 6-9 in mind; 'older children' would have been 8 or 9 years old.]
In teaching to read, as in other things, the beginning is most important because it lays the foundation for everything else. If a child is taught to read with care and thought, until he has mastered the basic words, he will usually take care of the rest for himself. After that, the teacher has two duties: to make sure that the child develops the habit of being a reader, and that he doesn't get into bad reading habits.
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The worst, yet most common flaw in education these days is that children aren't acquiring the habit of reading. Knowledge is given to them with lessons and lectures, but students aren't learning how to study books and how to be interested and enjoy them for themselves. This habit needs to start early. As soon as the child is able to read, he should start reading some of his books on his own. He can read history, legends, fairy tales and other appropriate books. He should be trained right from the start to expect one single reading to be sufficient in order to narrate from it. That will motivate him to develop the habit of slow, careful reading to absorb information even when he reads silently, because he will read every phrase deliberately to understand its meaning.
Children should also get some practice in reading aloud, mostly from their school books. Poetry should be included because that will get him used to the subtle nuances of meaning and open his awareness to the intrinsic beauty of words in and of themselves. Words should be a source of pleasure. They are worth our respect, and beautiful words deserve to be spoken beautifully, with clear tones and precise pronunciation. Very young children will pick up on this by example, by hearing well-written works read aloud sometimes.
In role modeling, the teacher must be careful not to present an example that the child will duplicate. Children are natural mimics and will copy the exact shade of a phrase and emphasis of certain words. That may be amusing to see, but it's only a trick, like a monkey imitating intelligence. Instead, the child should be finding the author's meaning on his own, and that
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doesn't come from parroting someone else's interpretation, it only comes from knowing how to read and understand for himself.
Adults enjoy reading to children, but reading aloud should be an extra-curricular past-time, perhaps a fun thing to do before bedtime. Children's minds are naturally inclined to be lazy. If a child gets used to having everything read to him, then he will tend to shirk the challenge of reading for himself. Even we adults like our mental food to be spoon-fed to us; we're more likely to attend lectures rather than read and think for ourselves.
While a child is reading, he shouldn't be badgered with questions about the significance of what he's just read, or the meanings of certain words. That's as annoying to children as it is to adults. Besides, it's not important that he understand the definition of every single word. A large working vocabulary is achieved little by little as a natural side effect of wide reading. A child unconsciously gets the meanings of unfamiliar words from context. If he doesn't get it the first time he sees it, then he'll get it the second or third time. If it isn't obvious to him, then he'll find out what certain expressions mean because he'll want to know. Asking direct questions to drill a child on comprehension is always a mistake. Instead, let him narrate and tell you what he has read it, or at least a part of it. Children enjoy remembering things in order, but they don't like questions that seem like riddles. If there must be riddles, then let him be the one to ask them, and let the teacher be the one to answer them. It's fine to ask questions that lead to a side issue
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or personal opinion because children are interested in those, such as 'what would you have done if you were him?'
A child hasn't truly begun his education until he has developed the habit of reading books that are at his intellectual level, and is reading them himself with interest and pleasure. I'm referring to his school books. Too often, school texts are written in a style of insufferable twaddle. That's because the people who wrote them probably never met a real child. People who know children, know that they don't talk twaddle, and they don't like it. They prefer talk that appeals to their understanding. Children's school books should have real substance for them to read, whether they're listening or reading to themselves. Therefore, they should be written with polished, literary skill. What about content? Remember that children are able to grasp ideas and principles as clearly as we grown-ups can, maybe even better, but long, detailed explanations of technical processes, lists of facts and boiled down summaries dull the edges of children's keen minds. Therefore, the selection of their first school texts is a serious, important consideration. A child's first school books must give the impression that knowledge is interesting and reading is enjoyable. Once the child is used to reading his lesson books with pleasure, his education is guaranteed, even though it's only just begun. He will continue to learn on his own in spite of the obstacles that school usually throws in his path.
I've already discussed how important it is that the child narrate after just one reading. If he can't, don't let him get the impression that he may, or
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must, re-read the passage. A look of slight regret over the gap in his knowledge because of the missed reading will be enough to convict him. The ability to read with focused total attention isn't learned if children are allowed to daydream during lessons. For this reason, reading lessons must be short. 10-15 minutes of fixed attention to one lesson is enough for children aged 9 and under. A lesson this long should be long enough to cover 2 or 3 pages in his book. The same time limit applies to children who aren't reading yet, and are listening as their lesson is read to them.
When reading aloud, children should make proper use of their vocal organs. Therefore, reading lessons should begin with two or three simple breathing exercises, such as taking a long, deep breath through the nose and slowly exhaling through the mouth. A child who reads through his nose should see a doctor. He may need his adenoids removed. It's a minor operation and, if it needs to be done, it should be done when the child is young. Unrefined local pronunciation and slipshod enunciation must be guarded against. If children have these defects, they can be cured with practice saying pure vowel sounds and developing a respect for words that doesn't allow them to be hastily slurred over. Very young children often enunciate beautifully because a big word is a novelty that they love and make the most of. Our goal is to get older children to respect words and give them due honor.
The habit of paying attention to punctuation comes naturally if children read with understanding. If a child understands what he's reading, he will have no problem knowing how to read the punctuation.
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Narrating, like writing poetry or painting, is an art that's inherent in the mind of every child. It's just waiting to be uncovered. The child doesn't need to go through an educational process to develop it because it's already there. The child only needs a reason to narrate and he does--easily, generously, with events in the right order, using appropriate illustrative details, with the right choice of words, without flowery wordiness or redundant phrases, as soon as he's able to speak easily. This amazing ability lies within every child, yet it is rarely tapped into to serve his education. Robert will come home with an exciting story of a fight between Duke and a stray dog down the street. It's wonderful! He saw it all and tells everything with great eagerness in a style that might rival any epic movie. But our scorn for children is so ingrained that we don't appreciate it. All we see is how childish Robert is being. But if we could only see it and use it, his recounting could be the very foundation of his education.
Until he is six, let Robert narrate only when he wants to. He must never be asked to tell anything. Talking of their own initiative may be the reason why toddlers and preschoolers will have long, strange conversations among themselves. Perhaps they narrate before they can really speak clearly, and the other child, who can't speak any better, takes it all in. Then they try to tell us, their poor dear elders, and we reply, 'Yes,' 'Really!' 'Is that what you thought?' in response to the chatter whose meaning we don't understand. The truth is, we can't be sure what goes on in the dim region of the mind of a child less than two. But once the little boy can use words, he will 'tell' without end to
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anyone who will listen to his story, although he prefers telling his little friends.
Let's take advantage of what nature gives us. When the child is six, not before, let him narrate as he hears stories--perhaps the fairy tale we've read him, an episode at a time, after hearing it just once. Or a Bible story read to him straight from the Bible itself, or a well-written animal story, or a book about other lands, such as The World at Home. A seven year old will be starting to read for himself, but will still be getting most of his intellectual diet by listening to good books read aloud to him. Geography, tales from ancient history, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrims Progress, Tanglewood Tales, Heroes of Asgard and other books of the same caliber should be his diet until he is eight. The most important things to remember are that he should only have books that are children's classics, and, once he has the right book, it must not be diluted with explanations or lectures, and it shouldn't be broken up with comprehension questions. It should be given to the child as good, healthy mind food in portions that he can handle. We must trust that his mind is capable of dealing with the nutrition it needs by itself.
By eight or nine, a child is more ready to tackle more serious books, but we're talking in this section about what a child less than nine can narrate.
Readings should always be in consecutive order and from a carefully selected book. Before the day's reading, the teacher should talk a little and discuss with the children what happened in the previous lesson. Then she can say a few words about the current lesson, just enough that the children are eager in
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anticipation. But she should be careful not to explain too much and, especially, she shouldn't take too long to get into the reading itself. Then she can read two or three pages, enough to cover a complete episode. After that, she can call on the children to narrate. If there are several children, they can take turns. The children narrate with enthusiasm and accuracy while still retaining a sense of the author's style. It isn't a good idea to nag them about their mistakes. They may begin with a lot of 'um's' or 'and's' but they soon stop doing that on their own, and their narrations become good enough in style and composition to publish in a book!
This kind of narration lesson shouldn't take more than 15 minutes.
The book should always be very interesting. When the narration is over, there should be a little bit of discussion where the moral points are brought out, pictures can be shown to illustrate the lesson, or diagrams drawn on the blackboard. Once the children are able to read well and easily, they can read their own lessons, either out loud or to themselves, knowing that they'll be expected to narrate. Where a book needs some editing for content, such as the Old Testament or Plutarch's Lives, it is better for the teacher to read the lesson aloud before the children narrate.
A lot could be said about teaching writing, but I only have a few hints to offer. First of all, the child should feel the accomplishment of doing something perfectly in every lesson, even if it's just one letter or even a single stroke. The lesson should be short--no more than five or ten minutes. Being able to
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write easily comes with practice, but that can be saved for later. For now [speaking of a child 6-8 years old], it's more important to prevent sloppy, careless writing habits, such as humpy m's or blocky o's.
A child should practice printing before beginning to write. He can print the simplest of the capital letters first, the ones with straight lines and simple curves. When he can do the capital letters with confidence, he can go on to the smaller letters. He should print in an italic style, but straight up and down rather than slanted. He should write as simply as possible, and large.
The straight stroke used in making letters should be learned first, then the curved stroke as in an s curve. Then letters with a large, simple curve should be learned--n, m, v, w, r, h, p, y; then letters that combine curves such as o, a, c, g, e, x, s, q; then looped and irregular letters--b, l, f, t, etc. One single letter should be formed perfectly in a day. The next day, a similar letter that uses the same elements should be learned so that the element becomes familiar. Then three- or four-letter words should be copied, connecting letters already learned, such as man or aunt. The goal of each lesson is to write the word one time where every letter is flawless. At this stage, it's better to use chalk and a blackboard instead of paper so that he can erase to his heart's content until what he's written satisfies him.
Little needs to be said about later stages. If the child begins by making only perfect letters and is never allowed to make flawed ones, he will do the rest himself. Don't worry about beautifully styled handwriting. As he writes, his own individual character will personalize his handwriting style. But his character isn't developed yet.
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Put only neatly written work in front of him to copy from, and make sure he copies the model faithfully. His writing lesson shouldn't be a full page of copy, or even a set number of lines. Instead, he should be assigned one single line, copied exactly, character for character. It may take quite a bit of writing before he gets one line that's perfect.
If he writes in (or copies from) books with fancy copperplate headings, they should be selected carefully. Better yet, they shouldn't be used at all. Many of them have bad examples of text and are adorned with flourishes that make him work harder to copy, but add nothing to his skill at handwriting. Don't rush a child to write small, but, at the same time, he shouldn't work too hard writing giant letters. A medium size should be used until writing comes more easily for him. A child who writes small may easily get into a habit of irregular scribbling that is hard to break. As in everything else, the teacher's job is not only to teach the right thing, but also to prevent bad habits.
A few years ago I heard about a lady who was working out a system of beautiful handwriting to teach to children. She was basing it on her study of old manuscripts, Italian and others. I waited patiently with eagerness for this new kind of copybook to be published. There is a need for this kind of book, because the 'commonplace' copybooks currently in use may be clear and meticulous, but the text is unrefined. But now
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the lady, Monica Bridges, wife of poet Robert Bridges, has finished the project and this book, A New Handwriting, will be a resource for teachers to teach children a style of writing that they will want to learn because it is truly beautiful. [The handwriting taught in the book is what we know as Italics. See page about that here] Children take to this new handwriting surprisingly quickly, even those who have had ugly handwriting.
Monica Bridges' purpose in writing the book can be understood by reading from her preface, 'The ten plates included are meant for those who teach writing. They need a few words of justification and explanation. I've always been interested in handwriting. When I saw sixteenth century Italianized Gothic, I changed my own handwriting to look more like it in form and character. Other people liked my handwriting, and I was asked to make them some samples. Teachers asked me to write a book so they could teach it in their schools. One is never quite satisfied making models for others to copy, but these plates are close to what I wanted. Due to my lack of experience, some of the plates have suffered in the reproduction . . . A very young child must first learn to control his hand and make it obey his eye. To learn that, any handwriting form will work. One might argue that the model which is used is irrelevant since the skill of coordinating the hand muscles for writing can be learned by copying bad models as well as good ones. But that isn't true. An ordinary copybook, whose goal seems to be to simplify the individual parts of each letter, can't train the hand as well as a greater
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variety of shapes can. And the streamlined efficiency of the simplified letters strips them of any beauty, which makes them less appealing to look at. Variety and beautiful form are nice to look at, even for little children. If something is interesting to them, they will be more likely to want to copy it. And they will be more satisfied with their results after copying something nice than they will with copying the same monotonous shapes. But I don't know whether copying pretty or boring models helps to learn to write a quick, legible cursive. Perhaps the variations that make the letters more interesting contribute to sloppiness when done quickly, and sloppiness is the worst fault of bad writing. Some of the best examples of English handwriting today are as quick, legible, and yet beautiful as anyone could wish for. But such handwriting is rare and shows character, and a person with such character probably would have had nice handwriting no matter which system he learned with. The average handwritings of most people, learned from old copybook models and scrawled quickly, seem to have in common the ugliness of those old copybooks. And when those writers have a reason to write something beautifully, they find that they can't, which shows that their bad handwriting isn't just the fault of writing too fast.'
What we find works best when teaching from Mrs. Bridges' book, is to practice each letter example directly from the models, first on the blackboard, then later with pencil, and finally with pen. After a while, the children will work up to transcribing little poems and things in a nice Italic style.
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The best way for eight or nine year olds to learn to write is not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, done slowly and beautifully. Monica Bridges' A New Handwriting works well for this, although some of the more ornate letters should be left out.
Transcription [copying text word for word] should be a child's first spelling lessons. Children should be encouraged to look at a word, imagine a picture of it in their mind with their eyes closed, and then write it from memory.
Children will enjoy their work and take more pride of ownership if they're allowed to choose material for transcription. Choosing one verse from a favorite poem is better than writing the entire poem because the child may get tired of the exercise [and the poem!] before the project is finished. But they will enjoy a book of their own filled with verses they've chosen themselves.
Double-ruled paper should be used at first [to encourage children to write larger letters]. Children are eager to write very small, but once they've gotten into the habit of writing small,
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it's harder to get them to write well. Feeling a sense that their handwriting looks nice, and that the text they're copying has literary beauty will help them to enjoy transcribing. No more than ten or fifteen minutes should be spent on early writing lessons. If they are any longer, the children get tired and their writing gets sloppy.
When writing, children should sit so that the light source is at their left. Their desk or table should be at a comfortable height.
It would be good if children learned from the beginning to hold their pencil between the index finger and middle finger, using the thumb to keep it steady. This way prevents the uncomfortable strain that results from the usual way of holding a pencil. When the student is older and has more writing to do, this could cause writer's cramp. The pen should be held in a comfortable position, close to the point-end, fingers and thumb bent a little, and the hand resting on the paper. The child can lay the left hand on the paper to support himself. He should write in an easy position, with his head bent, but not with his body stooped over. Since children tend to make scratchy, spidery marks if the nib of the pen is held sideways, they should use the flat of the nib. In all writing lessons, the blackboard should be available to model and practice.
The best desks I know of are the ones recommended by Dr. Roth. They are single desks that can be raised or lowered, moved backwards or forwards, and they have
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seats with a padded backrest and footrest. There may be others available that are just as good, or even better, but these seem to be sufficient in every way.
For little children, it's a good idea to have a table just the right height made by a carpenter. The top of the table should have two hinged leaves that open in the middle to reveal a box instead of a drawer. The leaves of the table-top make the lid. It's easier for children to keep their books and writing materials neat and organized in this kind of box than a drawer or ordinary box.
Of all the troublesome subjects that students spend hours on, dictation is probably the most troublesome, at least the way it's usually taught. People don't realize that every school subject rests on some kind of philosophic principle.
Generally, the teacher dictates a passage phrase by phrase. She repeats each one three or four times because the students ask questions and ask her to say it again. Every line of the students' work has one to three spelling errors. The teacher, trying to be conscientious, marks the errors with red ink. The students use various methods to correct their mistakes. They might exchange work and grade each other's paper, correcting errors by copying the correct spelling from the blackboard. A few unenlightened teachers still make students copy their errors, with the correction written three or four
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times to learn it, and then spelled out loud to the teacher. The teacher is surprised that, with all her painstaking effort, students continue to make the same mistakes again and again.
But the truth is, the ability to spell depends on the person's ability to see the word and stamp a photographic image of it on their mind. This is a skill and habit that must be developed in children from the beginning. When they read the word 'cat,' they must be taught to try and see the word with their eyes closed. This same technique works equally well with big words like 'Thermopylae.' Imprinting words on the retina seems to be the only sure way to become a good speller. Once an error is made and corrected, there will always be doubt as to which image is the right spelling, and which is the wrong one. Most of us are never quite sure whether 'balance' has one l or two, and that's because we saw both spellings when we corrected it. Once the eye sees a misspelled word, the image is imprinted for good. If there is also an image of the word spelled correctly, we will never be totally confident about which image is the correct one. That's why the common way of doing dictation almost guarantees bad spellers. Every misspelled word makes an image in the mind that even the correct spelling can't obliterate. Therefore, it's the teacher's duty to prevent wrong spelling in the first place. And if an error is made, she must cover it quickly before the image gets fixed in the student's memory.
Dictation lessons done the following way usually result in good spelling. A child of eight or nine studies a paragraph; older students study one page, or two or
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three pages. The students prepares for the lesson by himself. He looks at any word he isn't sure of and tries to see it with his eyes closed. Before the dictation begins, the teacher asks him which words he thinks might give him trouble. He usually knows, and she can write them on the blackboard. She asks him to look until he has a picture of the word in his mind. Then she erases each word one by one. If he still isn't sure about a particular word, she should have him attempt to write it on the blackboard from memory. She must watch closely so that, as soon as he begins to add the wrong letter, she can erase it before it lodges in his memory. When the word is on the board correctly, the student again tries to make a mental picture. Then the teacher dictates the passage, a phrase at a time, and only repeating once. She reads expressively enough to make punctuation evident, and students are expected to include correct punctuation. But she should not say, 'comma,' or 'semi-colon.' After students have spent maybe ten minutes preparing for the dictation as outlined, there are rarely any spelling mistakes. If there are any, the teacher would be wise to cover them with adhesive paper or white-out to erase the wrong spellings from the student's mind as much as possible. At the end of the lesson, the child should study that word from his book until he's sure he knows it. Then he should write the correctly spelled word on the adhesive paper, or over the white-out.
Children cooperate enthusiastically with this kind of lesson because they feel like they have a part in it. It also prepares them for the second thing necessary to be a good speller, which is lots of reading with a trained habit of making a mental image of words as they are read.
Bad spelling is usually a sign of not much reading,
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or, sometimes, reading so fast that words are skimmed over instead of really seeing each word.
Spelling must not be overlooked and lost in the rest of the curriculum, but children also shouldn't be nagged to spell. It's good to write long, difficult names on the blackboard as they come up during history or geography lessons. When the children say they've made a mental image of the word, it can be erased. The secret to good spelling is visualizing words from memory, and students must learn how to do that by visualizing words as they read their other lessons. Children do enjoy learning to spell this way.
Amelia [Vanity Fair] praised a teacher's good sense in seeing the talents of her beloved George. 'He says that George can be whatever he wants, lawyer, or senator. 'Look at this,' and she opened a drawer and pulled out a composition George had written as a boy. His mother had saved it. Here is what it said:
Of all the faults that degrade human character, selfishness is the worst and most hateful. Too much love of self leads to the most monstrous crimes and causes the greatest tragedies both in governments and families. A selfish man will leave his family in poverty and bring them ruin. A selfish king brings ruin on his people and often leads them into war. An example is Achilles, in Homer's poem. He caused a thousand woes to the Greeks. The
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selfishness of Napoleon caused lots of wars in Europe, and was the cause of his own death on the miserable island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.
'These examples show us that we shouldn't consider just our own interest and ambition. We should also consider the interests of others. --George Osborne.
Athene House, 24 April, 1827.
'Think of it! Only ten years old and writing so well, and even quoting Greek stories!' his delighted mother said.
And she should be delighted. Wouldn't any mother today be proud of such a literary work? Then why is Thackeray poking fun at it? Maybe he is giving us this little essay to make a point?
Thackeray was a great moral teacher. He is challenging an educational misconception that is still accepted today: it is useless to extract original compositions from children. A young student's mind is in the process of collecting material on which to make generalizations all of his later life. If he is asked to write an essay on some abstract theme, two wrongs are done to him. First, he is set before a brick wall and expected to do what's impossible for him, which is discouraging for him. And, even worse, morally speaking, since he has no thoughts of his own yet to offer on the subject, he's forced to throw together bits of common thoughts that he's
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heard. He offers this as his 'composition,' but it's a strain on his conscience and offends his ego. These days, teachers don't demand so much of students. But maybe, without realizing it, they give the ideas that a clever student uses to stick into an essay he doesn't want to write. Some teachers do even worse--they deliberately teach children how to build sentences and bind them together.
Here's a sample from a series of 40 exercises designed to help students write an essay about umbrellas. This is from a current favorite textbook by a respected publisher:
1. What are you?
2. How did you get your name?
3. Who uses you?
4. What were you once?
5. What were like then?
6. Where were you bought or found?
7. What are you made of?
8. From what sources do you come?
9. What are your parts?
10. Are you made, grown, or fitted together?
I am an umbrella and I'm used by many
people, both young and old.
My name comes from a word that means a shade.
The stick probably came from America and is
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very smooth, even, and polished so
that the metal ring can slide easily up and down the stick.
My parts are a frame and a cover. My frame consists of a stick about a yard long, wires, and a sliding metal band. At the lower end of the stick is a steel ring. This keeps the end from wearing away when I am used in walking.
Now replace I, have, my, and am with it, is, and was.
Now write your own description of it.
And this is work intended for elementary-aged students! This kind of thing is the final literary effort expected from young children!
The two volumes (what I quoted from was near the end of the second, more advanced volume) are not examples of the worst texts. A few years ago, the appalling discovery was made that composition was terribly deficient and, therefore, badly taught both in elementary and secondary schools. Since then, many books have been written, most of them similar to the one I quoted from. The respected publishers don't realize that authorizing such emotionless, harmful books by putting their name on them is an insult to society. The law protects a child's physical body, but his intellect is allowed to be destroyed with this kind of starvation diet and
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no one says a word! Worst of all, in every case, both authors and publishers seem to think that any well-intentioned attempt is not only excusable but to be praised. They don't realize that every effort towards educating children needs an intelligent conception of children, and a well-informed idea of what education means.
As a matter of fact, when it comes to 'composition lessons,' there should be as many as there are snakes in Ireland: none. Children under nine take care of their composition instruction by narrating. Narrations can be varied with simple exercises like writing about a walk they took, or a lesson they studied, or some simple matter they know about. They might write part of it and tell part of it. Before they are ten, children who are used to using books will write good, lively English easily and freely. At least, they will if they haven't been frustrated with instructions. It's best to not even teach them about punctuation until they notice them in their books. Our job is to provide material by way of their other lessons, and let them handle that material themselves. It's hard to believe, but composition is as natural as jumping and running to children who have been allowed to read lots of books. If they narrate first of all, they will compose sooner or later, but they should not be taught 'composition.'
We tend to think that children will be bored with
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the Bible unless it's watered down and translated into cheesy simplified English [much like this modern CM paraphrase. :-) ] Here's a story from the Autobiography of Mary Howitt that suggests something else. She mentions the childhood of two little Quaker girls. One day one of the girls, age six, found her way into a lumber room and caught sight of an old Bible with yellowed pages. She turned some pages and saw the first chapters of Luke and the last chapters of Revelation. Although her family read scripture each morning, these chapters were new to her. The wonderful image of the Savior's birth, and the beautiful description of the New Jerusalem filled her with a rapture that she said no novel she ever read later could match.
And a boy of five is also mentioned: 'The children read the events of the Holy Week with me every day. Z is so reverent and interested that he seems almost excited.'
We have no way of knowing how receptive children are to religion. But we know that they have the capability to understand the deep things of God, and therefore we must be careful and reverent in the way we teach them religion. As even any Darwinian can tell you, a child's feelings and attitude are the most determining factor in his education.
Between ages six and nine, children should be familiar with quite a bit of scripture. They should have read the simple Old Testament stories that are appropriate, and maybe two gospels.
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There are a few reasons why scripture from the Old Testament should be read aloud to children, but they can read gospel stories themselves once they can read them smoothly and beautifully. Paraphrases shouldn't be used; children like the wonderful, musical sound of King James English. They will probably always remember their first images of the Bible stories and even the very words they first heard them in. Such memories are worth having. Half of the glib comments we hear these days, and the anxiety just under the surface of it, come from total ignorance of what the Bible actually says. Bible criticism is presented out of context until the first thing people think of when they hear the word 'Bible' is talking donkeys and the sun staying still for Joshua.
But if children can store the visions of the stories in their imaginations, and feed their minds with the words of scripture as it gradually unfolds, then they will have a panoramic 'big picture' where people and events fit in their appropriate places. Little by little, they will see the world as a play where God's goodness is in a constant struggle with man's willfulness. Some men are heroic and take God's side, but other foolish, stubborn men fight against Him. Children will become inspired with enthusiasm to choose their side without anyone prompting them or having to feel a spiritual experience.
What about questions of whether certain Bible stories are myths, or whether specific parables actually happened? Children have sincere minds and these kinds of questions don't affect them
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because they have nothing to do with the main issues. During readings, it's fine to discuss the most current scientific or archaeological discoveries with children. The more we share these things with them, the more real the Bible stories will seem. But what we shouldn't do is disturb children by raising questions about how much of the Bible account is really factual, any more than we challenge their readings in English history. Let them hear stories such as Adam and Eve without critical commentary. Even parables like the man who went fishing and found a valuable pearl should be read at face value. In both stories, it's the essential thread of truth embodied that's important, not the minor details of when and where it happened. It is possible that the 'pearl of great price' was newsworthy then and on everyone's mind, and maybe Jesus used the opportunity to illustrate essential truth. Believe it or not, children's minds may be more fit to grasp and handle truth than our own. Eventually they will realize and perhaps reject the chance circumstances that the truth is wrapped in. But we should be very careful what we say. Remember that neither we nor our children can bear the stark white light of truth. If we're successful at exposing the wrapping of the first fall--the tree, the fruit, the serpent and the woman who succumbed--then we're left with nothing to wrap the fundamental truths of responsibility, temptation and sin. Without some kind of wrapping that we can latch onto, we can't hold onto the truths themselves and they slip away.
We don't need to worry about choosing
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between essential truth and the accuracy of the story's logistical details when we teach our children Bible stories. Essential truth interprets our very lives, but circumstantial details only matter to the story itself. The children are able to discern for themselves which is essential and must be kept. Whatever is incidental will slip from their memory. Children's minds should be well-stocked with Bible text from the Old Testament and the gospels. But be sure they are read in a way that's stimulating and fun, so they don't get tired of them. Children get bored quicker than grown-ups. Many children rebel because scripture is constantly drilled into them, day in and day out, even before they reach school age. Remember, we're not talking now about children's spiritual growth, but their academic education. Bible lessons as part of their school will impress upon them from the beginning that the knowledge of God is the most important knowledge there is, and that gives their Bible lessons top priority.
The way to teach Bible lessons is very simple. Read aloud a few verses, enough to hopefully cover a full episode. Read reverently and carefully, with interesting expression. Then have the children narrate using the original wording, if they can. They pick up the rhythm and dignity of the King James language surprisingly quickly. Then discuss the text in light of current research and criticism. Let the moral and spiritual lesson reach them, but don't tell them how to apply it personally. The best resource for teaching young children is Canon Paterson Smyth's Bible for the
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Young. Mr. Smyth brings up both modern criticism and the latest research. Children taught from his texts will not be disillusioned if they hear that the world wasn't created in six days. They will never doubt that the world was made by God. The moral and spiritual teaching is comprehensive and convincing. A good plan is to sometimes follow narration of the scripture text with his book, by reading one of his lessons aloud. Children are more apt to apply Bible lessons that aren't directly targeted at them. The teacher personalizes the teaching with her enthusiastic reading, pictures she uses to illustrate the lesson, and her own comments. [Read a sample of a Bible lesson book by Mr. Smyth.]
The Illustrated New Testament has pictures that are both accurate and reverent, which is a rare combination. An inexpensive copy of just the individual gospel they're reading is nice, but it would be good to put a nice cover on it for protection and honor. A trashed Bible isn't something children should see. The Holy Gospels with Illustrations from the Old Masters, published by the S.P.C.K. is good. Studying the kinds of pictures included in that book should be a part of every child's curriculum. The child will come to realize that the birth of Jesus and the wise men's visit filled the imaginations of the classical painters. They dwelt on every detail of the beloved Holy Nativity with so much awe and joy. You don't get that same impression from contemporary illustrations. The child who gets it when he's young will have a foundation of reverent emotions on which
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to build his faith. But the pictures should be allowed to speak for themselves. The children should look at the picture quietly for a few minutes. Then the picture should be removed [or covered] and they should tell what they saw in the picture. Children rarely miss a little detail of reverence or suggestive feature that the artist deliberately included.
The different RTS publications from the Bypaths of Bible Knowledge series will help the teacher illustrate modern research, especially Professor Sayce's Fresh Light from Ancient Monuments, and Budge's Dwellers on the Nile.
Children should start memorizing Bible passages as early as six or seven years. It is wonderful to have beautiful, comforting, inspiring scriptures stored in the memory. And who knows how this seed of scripture might grow and what kind of fruit it may yield? But long passages, like the story of the Prodigal Son, shouldn't be learned in a way that is a burden to the child. First, the whole passage should be read aloud with enough expression to bring out its beauty and tenderness. Then, day by day, the teacher should recite two or three verses of it, saying it three or four times until the children think they know it. Only then should they try to recite those verses. The next day, they can recite what they already know and add a few more verses until they've learned the whole parable.
Of all the subjects a young child learns, the most important one
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might be arithmetic. It's not so much that he needs to be able to add that makes it important, but using the skills he needs to come up with the sum has a beneficial part in the rest of his education. This is so true that those who want math emphasized and those who want language emphasized have pretty much had total control over education until recently.
We don't need to say how arithmetic has practical value for everyone, no matter what their station in life. But arithmetic's practical value is the least of its benefits. The main value of arithmetic and higher math is the way it trains reasoning powers, habits of understanding, quickness, accuracy, and being truthful intellectually. No other single subject benefits as much from good teaching as arithmetic, and no other subject results in such damaging results if it's taught wrong. For instance, a child multiplies but doesn't get the right answer. So he tries division, but that doesn't work, either, so he tries to see if subtraction works. He doesn't see clearly how the problem needs one process and only using the correct process will get the right answer. A child who doesn't know when to add and when to divide with a simple problem, hasn't been taught properly from the beginning, even though he may be able to finish pages of multiplication problems or long division correctly.
How do we get the child to understand what kind of problem he's dealing with? Give him simple word problems he can understand from the beginning instead of lists of multiplication problems. Young, enthusiastic teachers love to assign complicated long division problems that fill the paper and keep the student busy
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for a good half-hour. When it's finished, the child is worn out and wearied with work that serves no practical purpose. And, on top of that, his answer isn't even right! The last two digits are wrong and the remainder is too much. But there's no time to do it over and the teacher doesn't want to discourage him after all that work, so she marks it 'almost right.' But there is no such thing as 'almost right' when it comes to arithmetic. Instead of assigning such a long, complicated task which offers no variety in exercising the brain, and which tends to make his mind wander, say,
'Mr. Jones sent 607 apples to school, and Mr. Stevens sent 819. The apples are to be divided between 27 boys on Monday. How many apples will each boy get?'
The student must ask himself some questions. 'How many apples are there altogether? How do I find out? And after I do that, I have to divide the apples into 27 piles to find out each boy's share.' In other words, the child figures out which processes he needs to use to get the required information. He is interested, the work is done eagerly and the answer is found in no time--and it's probably correct because his attention was focused on the work. Problems should be chosen carefully. They should be easy enough for him to do, but challenging enough to require a little mental effort.
The next thing is to demonstrate everything that can be demonstrated. A child can learn his multiplication tables and do a subtraction problem without ever understanding the reason for doing either one. He may even become good at figuring and applying the rules but never understand when or why to use them. Arithmetic becomes the first step in doing real math only
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when every process is clear in the child's mind. 2+2=4 is pretty obvious even without proving it. But 4x7=28 can be proved by demonstrating with manipulatives.
The child might have a bag of dried beans. He can place them in four rows of seven and then add the rows: 7 and 7 are 14, 7 more are 21, 7 more are 28. How many 7's are there in 28? 4. That's why we say 4x7=28. And the child sees for himself that multiplication is nothing more than a shorter way to do addition.
He should use a bag of beans, buttons or other counters in all his early arithmetic lessons. He should be able to manipulate them freely, and even to add, subtract, multiply, and divide in his head, before he's ever given a list of problems to figure on his paper.
He might arrange an addition chart like this with his beans--
0 0 0 = 3 beans
0 0 0 0 = 4 beans
0 0 0 0 0 = 5 beans
and be practiced until he can tell without counting, and without looking at the beans, that 2+7=9, etc.
In this way, with 3, 4, 5, --all the way up to 9. As he learns each set of math facts, the 4's, for instance, he should practice with imaginary objects, such as 'four apples and nine apples,' or 'four nuts and six nuts.' Then, finally, he can work with abstract number symbols--6+5 or 6+8.
A subtraction chart can be worked on at the same time as addition. As he works out each line of addition facts, he can go over the same thing working backwards by taking away one bean or two beans instead of adding them, until he can answer readily, 'what is 2 from 7?' or 'How many is 2 from 5?' After working out each line of
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addition or subtraction facts, he may write that line on his paper with the proper symbols if he knows how to make them. It takes more mental effort to understand subtraction than addition. The teacher must be patient enough to go slowly--one finger from four fingers, or one nut from three nuts, etc., until he feels confident with it.
When the child can add and subtract freely up to 20, he can work out his multiplication and division tables with his beans until he gets to 6x12. At that point, he can break down the problem, such as 'two times six is twelve,' which he can see by laying down two rows of six beans.
When he's able to say quickly, without even glancing at his beans, that 2x8=16 or 2x7=14, then he can take 4 beans, 6, 8, 10, 12 and divide them in two piles. From that he can tell how many twos are in 10, 12, and 20, and then continue in the same way for each multiplication fact, working out division facts.
Now the child is ready for more challenging word problems, such as 'A boy has two baskets of ten apples. How many bags of four can he make?' He'll be able to work with a bigger variety of numbers, like 7+5-3. If he needs the beans, let him use them. But he should be encouraged to use imaginary beans as a way to get him closer to working with abstract numbers. Meticulously graduated teaching and some mental effort every day from the child from the very beginning might help him develop real ability in mathematics. And it will definitely help him develop habits of concentration and working the mental muscle.
When the child has no problem working with small numbers, he will face a challenge. How successfully he meets this challenge will
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determine whether he will appreciate mathematics as a science. On this rides his ability to learn from all the math problems he'll do from here on out. He must understand our system of notation [the written symbols we use to signify numbers and place value]. Here, just like before, it's best to begin with concrete, tangible objects. Let the child understand that ten single units is one group of ten, such as ten pennies in one dime.
Give him fifty-two pennies and point out how inconvenient it is to carry so many heavy coins around while shopping. So we use lighter money, such as dimes. How many pennies are in a dime? So then, how many dimes can he exchange for his fifty-two pennies? He divides his pennies into five piles with two left over and finds that fifty pennies are (or are worth) five dimes. If I buy two apples at twenty-one cents apiece, the clerk gives me a bill for 42 cents. Show the child how to put down the pennies, which are worth less, to the right, and the dimes, which are worth more, to the left.
When the child is able to work freely with dimes and pennies and he understands that the number two in the right hand column means two pennies and the number two in the left column means two dimes, introduce him to the concept of tens and units. Be patient and work slowly. Tell him about uncivilized peoples who can't count beyond five. When they want to express some immense number, they'll say, 'five-five beasts in the forest,' or 'five-five fish in the river.' But we can count as high as want, all day long for years on end without ever coming to the last number. That's because we only have a few numbers to count with and
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only a few symbols to express them with. We only have nine numerals and a zero. We can take the first numeral and the zero to express a new number: ten. After that, we have to begin again until we get two tens, then again until we reach three tens, and so on. We call two tens 'twenty' and three tens 'thirty' because 'ty' is from the old German word tig that means 'ten.' But if I see just a number, 4, how do I know if it means four tens or four ones? There's a simple solution. The tens have a place of their own. If you see the 4 in the ten's place, you know it means forty. The tens are always behind the units, at the left. When you see two numerals side by side such as 55, the left-hand numeral is the tens and the right hand number is the units.
Let the child work with tens and units until he has mastered the idea that the number on the left is ten times the number on the right. When he laughs at the idea of writing 7 single units in the tens column and making it look like 70, then he is ready to extend his understanding to hundreds. He will have no trouble with hundreds if he understands the principle clearly, that each place value to the left is ten times more. Meanwhile, don't give him lists of arithmetic problems to figure. Don't let him work with notation symbols larger than he's been taught. When he gets to the point of 'carrying' in addition or subtraction, make sure he says 'two tens' or 'three hundreds' and not just 'two' or 'three.'
If the child doesn't get a firm grasp at this stage, he'll never get beyond trying guess which rule to use. In the same
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way, he should learn about weights and measures first hand: by weighing and measuring real things. Let him use scales and sand or rice with paper bags. Let him put together perfectly measured bags of sand or rice in pounds and ounces. Although this exercise isn't arithmetic per se, it is very educational. It teaches the child to judge how much things weigh and it encourages neatness, skill in handling materials, and quickness. In the same way, let him work with a ruler and tape measure and draw up charts. Besides measuring the obvious things, let him try to estimate weights and measures. How many yards is the tablecloth? How many feet long and wide is the map, and the picture over the mantle? How much does he think this book would weigh if he wanted to mail it first-class? This kind of skill will serve him well in life and should be cultivated. While busy measuring and weighing, he will naturally come face to face with the concept of fractions, and 'half a pound,' and 'a quarter of an ounce,' etc.
Arithmetic is a great way to train children to be strictly accurate, but a bad teacher can encourage a disregard for truth. An inferior teacher allows copying, prompting, telling, helping over difficulties and working towards a solution when the answer is already known. Just as bad, she says that an answer is 'nearly' right, because just the last two digits are wrong, or whatever, and then she has the student work it over again. But a sum is either wrong
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or right--it can't be somewhere in between. And if it's wrong, it's wrong. The student shouldn't be allowed to think that what wasn't done properly the first time can just be fixed to make it right. There is no going back. But he can move forward. Maybe he'll get the next one right; a wise teacher will make sure that he does. She'll give him new hope. But the wrong sum needs to be left alone. Therefore, his progress should be carefully graduated. There is no subject like arithmetic where the teacher has a real sense of drawing out new power in a child from day to day. Don't offer him a crutch, he needs to be able to go in his own power. Give him short sums using words rather than figures. Excite him so that his enthusiasm prompts him to work more quickly and with greater focus. His mental growth will be as obvious as seedlings sprouting in springtime.
Instead of spending more time discussing elementary arithmetic, I'd like to recommend A B C Arithmetic by Sonnenschein & Nesbit. Their method is based on a passage from John Stuart Mill's Logic that says,
'The basic truths of the science of math rest on what we know with our senses. They are proved by seeing and touching objects, and figuring out naturally what numbers break down into. For instance, if you have ten balls, it's easy to see that they can be arranged in two groups of five, or six and four. All of the improved methods for teaching arithmetic work on that fact. Anyone who wants the
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child's mind to really understand when learning arithmetic, anyone who wants children to understand numbers and not just to work ciphers, is now teaching through the use of the senses [handling manipulatives].'
That's the only fault with this otherwise excellent book. It's true that the basic truths of numbers rest on the senses, but, after handling manipulatives for awhile, children do learn to associate numbers with objects so that they begin thinking in numbers instead of objects, which is the beginning of math. Therefore, I think that too many complicated manipulatives--an elaborate system of fancy cubes and props instead of simple tens, hundreds, and thousands, insults the child's intelligence by teaching more than is needed, and puts more emphasis on the manipulatives than on the numbers they're supposed to be illustrating.
But dominoes, beans, line graphs on the blackboard help children to grasp the concept of a large number by using a smaller number. Seeing a symbol of a large number is one thing. Working with that symbol is a different matter.
Except for that one minor flaw, which doesn't make the books any less effective, the books are delightful with their careful analysis of numbers and well-planned graduation of work so that only one difficulty is presented at a time. The examples and little word problems were written by someone who obviously knows and likes children. Anyone interested in teaching
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arithmetic should read Mr. Sonnenschein's paper on 'The Teaching of Arithmetic in Elementary Schools,' which is in a Board of Education publication.
In the 1840's and 50's, it was thought that continually being exposed to visible signs of geometrical forms would result in the inner mind developing mathematical genius, or at least developing an inclination towards math. But when educationalists of those days gave children boxes of geometric forms and taped cubes, hexagons, pentagons and other shapes on every inch of school wall space, they forgot one thing: we all tend to get bored, especially children. When something bores us, we feel repulsed by it. Dickens' Hard Times has an example of this in Mr. Gradgrind's schoolroom which included lots of outlined shapes. John Ruskin exposes the mistake in a more friendly way than Dickens did. He wrote that geometric shapes abound in nature, and children should experience them in the beauty of the living world. It's backwards to try to plant the image of a shape in a child's mind in artificial ways in the hopes that seeing the form of the shape will give him the idea of geometry. For
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a beginner, it's probably always the idea that begets the form, not the other way around. Only a trained mind could beget an idea just by looking at the form of a shape. I don't think children need any direct preparation to make them ready for math. If a child is allowed to think, and hasn't been pressured to cram for tests, he will be delighted with learning math when he's old enough. Mathematics are such a great subject because normal minds naturally love it and are able to study it. Too much elaboration, either by preparing or over-teaching, makes math less interesting.
As far as natural science, I will only repeat what I said in an earlier chapter. Nothing in a child's education is more important than laying a foundation of information from his own first-hand observation. All of his future scientific knowledge will be based on this. He needs to spend hours and hours in the open air, in the country, if at all possible. He needs to look and touch and listen. He needs to consciously notice every habit or structural aspect that sets apart each animal, bird, insect. He needs to take note of the way different plants grow and how they reproduce. He needs to develop the habit of asking why--Why does the wind blow? Why does the river flow? Why is a leaf-bud sticky? And don't be too quick to answer all his questions for him. Let him try to think through the problem for himself as much as he's able. And, most important, when you do step in with the answer, make sure it isn't some dry information you got straight from a textbook or encyclopedia. Let him have as much insight as possible
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and, in most areas of science, he can be brought up-to-date with current modern thought. Don't overwhelm him with too many Latin names. If he discovers by himself (or with the help of a couple of leading questions) when comparing an oyster and his pet cat that some animals have backbones and some don't, it's not as crucial that he know the word 'invertebrate,' as that he can sort the animals he knows about according to that difference.
There's an illustration of how this kind of education works in Evenings at Home, where 'Eyes' and 'No-Eyes' go for a walk. No-Eyes comes home bored. He didn't see anything and found nothing to interest him. But Eyes is burning to tell all about a hundred interesting things he saw. As I've already tried to say, it's inherent in the child to find out things for himself by nature. It's up to the parent to give him many opportunities of all different kinds, and to provide guidance to encourage and direct his observations so that, even though he doesn't know the technical scientific principles of classification, yet he's collecting what he needs to make such classifications without even being aware of it. It's not necessary to repeat everything about this from the earlier part of this book, but it's true that a child's future depends largely on how much real knowledge he acquires and how much he observes intelligently. Herbert Spencer asked, 'Do you think that an ignorant, dull mind can appreciate the poetic beauty of a round rock with parallel scratches in the same way as a geologist who knows that a glacier slid over this rock millions of years ago, leaving the scratches? The truth is, people who have never become interested in science can never appreciate most of the beauty that
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surrounds them. Anyone who hasn't collected plants and insects as a child, can't even dream of all the interesting things he can see in the local lanes and shrubs.'
Related to this, I'd like to recommend The Sciences by American Edward Holden. This book is what I have in mind. It is a suitable way to reach the sensible and intelligent minds of children. This is what I mean by a 'first-hand' book. Mr. Holden knows his subject and he understands children, and he presents information in the form of simple conversations between children. There are about 300 topics covered: sand dunes, dredging, hurricanes, echoes, prisms, the diving-bell, the Milky Way, and more. What makes this book so wonderful is that it's friendly and takes time to explain each subject naturally. Topics are divided into groups according to which scientific principle they explain. There are many simple experiments that children can do themselves. This quote from the preface is an invitation to teachers:
'The goal of this book is to provide reading at home or school that will broaden children's minds in the area of science and show how science is relevant in art and everyday life. It is
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not a textbook, although it does teach the fundamental principles of science. Its purpose is to help children understand the physical world around them.
'Everything that happens in nature is orderly, governed by a scientific law, not some kind of magic. Real people understand these things; why can't the child himself be one of the people who understands them? A child can't understand every technical detail about locomotives, but he can understand the principles of how they work in a general way. If someone explains the well-understood general law behind it, the child can understand how a locomotive is just one application of it in practice. The purpose of the book is to awaken the child's imagination, to explain useful information, to open his mind to wisdom. Even more, its purpose is to inspire children to want to observe things and to have a real, life-long interest in the world around them.
'Astronomy, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and geography are explained as thoroughly as possible and enhanced with examples from familiar things. In astronomy, for example, emphasis is on things the child can actually witness himself, and he is told how to do this. The rising and setting of the stars, the phases of the moon, and how to use a telescope, are explained in simple words. These things seem mysterious to a child, but they are not magical. Instead, his attention is drawn to deeper mysteries. Scientific phenomena are shown to be cases of scientific laws in action. And this is done, not just for astronomy, but other sciences.
'Common phenomena, such as steam,
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shadows, reflected light, musical instruments, echoes, etc., are explained by what causes them. Where experiments would help, they are simple and fully described and illustrated. They work as well in a schoolroom as in a home. This book was written because I believe that a lot can be done to help children understand the world they live in, and I want to be part of that help.'
I'd also like to mention a Parents Review article from April 1904 by H. H. Moore about educational pioneer Richard Dawes (part 2 of that article is online here) In 1841, while he was a Rector at Kings Somborne parish, he worked with uneducated and debased agricultural villagers. The whole story is interesting, but our current topic is science, which his school focused on.
This was Mr. Dawes' goal: 'I wanted to teach what would be useful and interesting to these children, knowing what kind of lives they would most likely live. I wanted to teach them about common, everyday things. They were shown how many of the familiar things around them were interesting, and how knowing about them would help them understand principles that could be applied to other natural phenomena. Also, understanding how things work and are constructed could have a practical use
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later. A practical application was given to everything they learned, nothing they learned was useless to them.' A list of some of the subjects he taught will be the best commentary on Dawes' method:
'Some of the properties of air, explaining how its pressure enables them to pump up water, having fun with squirts and popguns, to suck up water through a straw; explaining the principles and construction of a barometer, the common pump, the diving-bell, a pair of bellows. That air expands by heat, shown by placing a half-blown balloon near the fire, when the wrinkles disappear. Why chimney-smoke sometimes rises easily in the air, sometimes doesn't; why there is a draught up the chimney, and under the door, and towards the fire. Air as a vehicle of sound, and why the flash of a distant gun fired is seen before the report is heard; how to calculate the distance of a thunderstorm; the difference in the speeds at which different materials conduct sound. Water and its properties, its solid, fluid, and vaporous state; why water-pipes are burst by frost; why ice forms and floats on the surface of ponds, and not at the bottom; why the kettle-lid jumps up when water is boiling on the fire; the uses to which the power of steam is applied; the gradual evolution of the steam-engine, shown by models and diagrams; how their clothes are dried, and why they feel cold sitting in damp clothes; why a damp bed is so dangerous; why one body floats in water, and another sinks; the different densities of sea and fresh water; why, on going into the school on a cold morning, they sometimes see moisture on the window, and why on the inside and not
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on the outside; why, on a frosty day, their breath is visible as vapor; the substances water holds in solution, and how their drinking water is affected by the kind of soil through which it has passed. Dew, its value, and the conditions necessary for its formation; placing equal portions of dry wool on gravel, glass, and the grass, and weighing them the next morning. Heat and its properties; how the blacksmith can fit iron hoops so firmly on the wheels of carts and barrows; what precautions have to be taken in laying the iron rails of railways and in building iron bridges, etc.; which materials are good, and which are bad, conductors of heat; why at the same temperature some feel colder to our touch than others; why a glass sometimes breaks when hot water is poured into it, and whether thick or thin glass would be more liable to crack; why water can be made to boil in a paper kettle or an eggshell without its being burned. The metals, their sources, properties, and uses; mode of separating from the ores. Light and its properties, illustrated by prisms, etc; adaptation of the eye; causes of long and short-sightedness. The mechanical principles of the tools more commonly used, the spade, the plough, the axe, the lever, etc.'
'It may be a surprise that those subjects could be taught to rural elementary-aged children. But it's true, they were taught in Kings Somborne School, and they were taught so successfully that the children were interested in what they learned and made good use of what they learned. When Mr. Dawes hears that young children can't understand such complex subjects in science, he says, "What distinguishes science
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is how simple it is. It may take a genius to discover nature's laws initially. But once the laws are discovered and understood by scientists, they are within the grasp of a child. The principles of science follow common sense. If these principles are taught in a simple, common-sense way, then children can understand them easily and readily. Students as old as ten or twelve can still be taught to develop habits of watching carefully and asking questions". This is important to remember for those who decide which subjects to include in a curriculum.'
When we read about Dawes' experiment, we wish we all had access to someone like Dawes to teach our children. But at least he has shown us what children should know, and Mr. Holden has provided us with a great resource. Some chapters in Holden's book may be too complex for a nine-year old, but most of the book will be within their ability to grasp. But remember to do the experiments included. If Joyce's Scientific Dialogues can still be found, it describes many simple experiments that children can do themselves.
I think geography is highly educational, but not because it includes some scientific value. Geography has its share of scientific problems, and some very
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interesting ones. It provides some opportunities to classify things. But it's only physical geography that might be related to science, and even then it touches on several different sciences. It's not a science in and of itself. No, the reason geography is so valuable is because it gives an opportunity to furnish the mind with ideas, and to add pictures to the imagination. That's what makes geography so educational.
How is geography usually taught? The child has to memorize the capital cities of Europe, or the rivers of England, or the names of mountains in Scotland, from some miserably dull textbook. He has to learn how many miles long, or feet high, or population count, or find the names on his map, whatever his teacher assigns. Poor child! His lesson is difficult, but is it educating him? Is it developing his mental power or broadening his mind? No, he'd learn more by watching a fly walk up a window. But someone might argue, geography serves more purpose than just educational. Shouldn't everybody know the kinds of things geography teaches? Yes, but consider a classroom of children. Shouldn't their geography lessons teach them the kind of things that grown-ups would like to know? Consider how unreasonable we adults are. We would never read a travel book that wasn't interesting, lively and adventurous. Even when we go around with our Fodor's travel guide in hand, we skip the dry facts and figures and read the interesting descriptions of places. That's the kind of thing we like to know about and that we remember
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easily. But we refuse such interesting tidbits for our children. We don't let them have vivid phrases to dream about. No, we think they need facts, names and figures.
But, you might argue, although dry facts may be difficult to learn, it's useful later in life to know those things. Not true, and here's why. Those facts were never really received and assimilated by the mind. They never became more than unattached vague terms of short-term memory. Most of us have spent hours over the drudgery of memorizing geography lessons, but how much do we remember? We only remember the pleasant descriptions we heard from friends who visited Europe, or some things from The Voyages of Captain Cook, or some other adventure. And that's how children should learn geography. To be educational, the child's mind must be filled with ideas. His imagination must be enhanced with images. He must learn geography in a way that he'll remember. In other words, he should learn what's interesting to him. What's educational and what's practical both work together, and a child's geography lessons become his favorite part of school.
But where to start? First of all, children get their foundation for geography knowledge by observing natural science during all those hours of being outdoors that are so important, as I emphasized earlier. A pond that gets water from a creek in the woods will help children understand how a lake works,
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and will give an idea what a lake nestled in the Alps is like, or the big lake in Africa that Livingstone watched his children paddling in. In making these connections, there will be some pleasant discussion about real places, which might be thought of as 'pictorial geography.' After listening to that kind of interesting talk, the child will unconsciously pick up the names of great rivers, mountains, deserts, plains cities and countries in the world. At the same time, the child should be getting his first concepts of how maps work by seeing you make rough sketches as you talk with a few lines and dots on paper, or, even better, a stick in the sand or dirt. 'This squiggly line is the Rhine river, but you'll have to imagine the rafts and the island with the Mouse Tower, and the Nuns' Island, and the rest. These are the hills with their ruined castles on both sides. This dot is Cologne,' etc. Even more, let these talks be about the scenery at home and things you're familiar with. That way, when he later looks at a map of his homeland, he'll see lots of names he recognizes that will bring interesting landscapes to mind, places 'where Mom has been,' the wooded flowery banks of a local river, the rolling hills of the next town that are fun to run and roll on, the plains in the county across the river where berries grow. And always give him a roughly sketched map of the route when you take a trip.
Next, give him thorough, detailed knowledge of any country in the world, and some county or district near his home. He doesn't need to memorize 'the geography' of every country in Europe, or the names of the seven continents. Those are merely
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meaningless names to him for the most part. Even if he does learn them, he probably won't remember them. But if he can feel at home in any one region, if he can envision in his mind the people there working and having fun, the flowers and trees bearing fruit in their season, the animals that are common there, and if he can see it all sympathetically as an adventurous traveler, then he will know more than if he had learned all the names on the map. The way to accomplish this kind of teaching is simple and obvious. Read to him, or read to yourself and tell him back a little bit at a time, an interesting, well-written travel book such as Tropical World or Polar World, both by G. Hartwig, or Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella Bishop Bird. You may have to leave out a lot, but every anecdote or description that helps show something about the place will enhance the child's education. Here, as with everything else, it isn't how many things he knows about that counts, but how much he knows about each thing.
Maps should be used carefully. A map can be sketched during a trip and then compared later to a real map of the region. The teacher can ask the child for a description of a certain city or town marked on the map to see how much the child really knows about the place. This also helps the child to have intelligent ideas about physical geography. In his reading, he may find a description of a volcano, or a glacier, or a canyon or hurricane, and he'll want to hear more about it and ask how and why questions about it, or about whatever interesting phenomena
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has captured his attention. In other words, he'll learn in the same way that grown-ups prefer to learn themselves, although they rarely think to let children learn in the same pleasant manner.
If a half dozen well-chosen travel books have been read to a child between the ages of six and nine, he will have some idea of what people are like and what they do in every major region of the world. He will have collected some reliable, valuable knowledge about the world that will be a benefit to him all his life. And he will have developed an interest in books and the habit of reading. Books that cover too much ground like A Voyage in the Sunbeam by Annie Brassey should be avoided, because they can breed confusing ideas.
We are discussing lessons as tools in a child's education, and so far the kind of learning I've discussed here has been what a child might do at home in his free time. For school lessons, the best book I know of is The World at Home; or, Pictures and Scenes from Far-off-Lands by Mary and Elizabeth Kirby, for children aged 6 or 7. As they listen, they wonder, admire, imagine and role play all kinds of scenes. A child's first geography lessons about places should make him more observant of his own local environment. They should make him notice the features of his neighborhood, its hills and low places, where it's level, its streams and ponds. He should spend a lot of time outside seeing these things. He should be able to relate those things to generalized understandings of things, such as what a river is, or island or lake. He should be able to make one in the sandbox, or draw one on the blackboard.
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Definitions should be arrived at as he records these things. For instance, before he learns the definition of a river, he should have watched a stream and observed how it flows.
Children easily parrot facts, so the teacher will need to be careful that he isn't assimilating mere word definitions, but that he has worked out and understands what these things are from his own observations and experiences. For example, the child sees a wide stretch of flat land and his teacher explains something about it. Then he reads something about 'Pampas' of Argentina in his book, and about the flat land of Kansas, and little by little, he begins to understand the idea of a plain and can show what it's like in a tray of sand.
By the time he's seven, or even earlier, the child finds that he needs to know more. He's read about hot countries and cold countries, he's watched the seasons where he lives, and the rising and setting of the sun, he's repeated to himself,
"Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!"
He knows a little about the ocean and the sea, he's seen the tide come in and out, he's seen some roughly sketched maps and even made a few himself. He has probably noticed the criss-cross lines on 'real' maps. Now he is ready to learn about various things. There are some things about geography that he's been introduced to that he really wants to know more about.
The shape of the earth and its rotation are fundamental ideas, even though they are difficult for a child to understand. It will be easier as the child matures.
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In each case, the principle itself is simple. Children don't dwell on the magnitude of the universe and planet rotations and continents like adults do. Children have vivid imaginations and they can picture the way the Earth moves, what makes the seasons, and other things without needing to know how many exponential times larger the real things are.
Geography should mostly be learned from maps. Talking about landscapes and reading travel books is only an introduction to geography. When the child begins real geography lessons, he should be learning from maps. This principle is important. No matter how many interesting facts and anecdotes a child may know about Italy, if he isn't familiar with it on a map, then he knows nothing about its geography. So his geography lessons should begin by learning what a map is and how to use one. He should make a scale drawing of how his classroom is mapped out. Then he should sketch out a field, and then the plan of how his town is laid out. Gradually he should be made aware that these scale drawings are maps. An explorer finds a new land and measures it and uses the sun and stars to record where things are on the earth's surface, whether north, south, east or west.
Then he can learn that the lines on a map are latitude and longitude, and what that means. He will learn how water and land look on a map and how rivers and mountains are represented. He should already know which way is north, south, east, west and be able to use a compass. He will learn that maps are always made as if
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you're looking north, which will help him figure out some things about maps, such as direction, pretty quickly. The introductory ideas about geography and how to use a map will provide what he needs to learn geography in a fun way. He will think of geography as something he likes because of the wonder and amazement from books and talks, and map work will give him some mechanical knowledge that he will also enjoy. Geography lessons only seem dull to a child when he begins with dry facts and concise lists of things to learn. If we want our children to enjoy geography, it's worth trying to make their first experiences with it as interesting and fresh as we'd want them to be if it was us learning.
A lot of what was said about geography applies just as much to history. This is another subject that should provide the child's mind with a storehouse of ideas. History should enrich the chambers of his imagination with a thousand tales, both tragic and heroic. History should also form in him, without him being consciously aware of it, principles that he will use later to judge the actions of nations. The same principles are what he'll use to rule the 'nation of members' within himself. All of this is what he should get from his history lessons. But what can he possibly get from a pathetic record of feuds, battles and deaths that are presented to him as nothing more than 'a reign?' And this is even more distasteful because it goes along with dates to be memorized. He can't remember them right. He can get the last two digits, but the centuries get mixed up so easily. How
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is he ever supposed to remember which events go with which reign? As far as he's concerned, one king is like another and one period is like another, except for the dates. But he muddles through somehow. He reads in his friendly, chatty little book all about the reigns of kings, from William the Conqueror to William IV and back to the vague times of British rule. And what is the result? There is no better way to fill a child with blundering ideas and narrow prejudices than to have him go through this kind of course of English history. This is even more true if his history book has a religious or moral tone and tries to point out the moral lesson as well as record the facts. Moral teaching is learned through history, but one small textbook in a classroom can't possibly be broad enough to make any kind of judgment for the child.
It's a serious mistake to think that children need to learn an entire outline of history, or a simplified version of the whole history of a country. He can't cover the geography of the whole world. Instead, let him linger happily with the life history of one man living in a single time period until he's practically thinking the same thoughts as that man and feels a comfortable familiarity with that time period. Because, although he is learning the intricate details of one person's life, he is also learning about all the things that touched that person's life, so he's learning about the whole period of a particular country's history. It's okay if a child spends a whole year enjoying everything he can find out about Alfred the truth-teller, or William the Conqueror, or Richard the Lion-hearted and Saladin, or Shakespeare's Henry V. and his victorious
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army. Let the child know about great people and common people who lived during that time, and what the court was like, and how the crowds were. Let him know what was going on in other countries at the same time our country was doing a particular thing. If he decides that people from another time period were more sincere, more generous, more purposeful than we are in our modern world, or that people in another country used to be greater than we are, then he is fortunate. [Translator's note--In an age where everyone tends to be insular in their thinking and think that only what's happening now is important, it's healthy to have a sense that we can learn from those who came before us.]
When considering which resources to use for teaching history intelligently, avoid most history books written specifically for children. [Yet, when H.E. Marshall's books and Van Loon's Story of Mankind were published, Charlotte Mason recommended them, suggesting that perhaps when Charlotte wrote her first volume, no enjoyable history books for children existed yet.] Also avoid shortened summaries, outlines, and brief overviews. When you consider how important history is to a child's education, there is no place for vague abstract history texts. As far as history books written for children, there is no need for them. Children who have been brought up by educated parents are able to understand well-written, literary history. They won't be attracted by twaddly, dumbed-down books designed to try to make history easy for children. If some parts are skipped, and mothers paraphrase in the way they naturally do so well, then the children can hear the early history of their country from a well-written popular history book with nice pictures. While reading to them, it will be necessary to encourage them to ask questions, and to ask them questions, to keep their attention and to be sure they're getting the facts straight. This is the least of what will need to be done. Even better would be to give them more thorough knowledge with graphic details of two or three early historical periods.
The early history of a country is much better
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suited for children than more recent history because events move in a few broad, simple lines, like an adventure. If there is any statesmanship represented, it amounts to resourceful men doing their best to cope with their circumstances. Mr. Freeman [possibly E. A. Freeman, 1823-1892, who wrote William the Conqueror] wrote some interesting early history for children. Still, it's even better to get an eye-witness account if possible. When children are too young for exams and can afford to take their time, they should be allowed to get into the spirit of history. They should read at least one account written by someone who was there and knew first-hand what happened. These old books can be easier and more enjoyable to read than most modern history books, because writers didn't used to know that history was supposed to have a veneer of dignity. So they ramble along as pleasantly as a stream in the forest, telling all about what happened. They stir your heart with their telling of some great event. They give a lively version of a pageant or show, they give you personal details of famous people and introduce you to common people who never made their way into the history books. This is just right for children who are eager to find out about real people behind great events. They don't care about progress or legislation. They just want to know about the people. Children think of history as a stage for the action of the people. A child who has heard the account of one such old chronicler has a better foundation for future history lessons than he would have if he'd memorized all the names, dates and facts he might ever need for every exam in his future.
The oldest, and the most exciting one to read, is Bede's Ecclesiastical History of England. Bede wrote
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a lot about himself as early as the 600's AD. He wrote, 'I always loved to learn and teach and write.' Professor Morley says, 'Bede has left us an early history of England. It is concise yet often warm with life, business-like and yet childlike in its tone. It is practical and spiritual at the same time, honest and fair, and the work of a true scholar who loves God and man. A lot of the most interesting things we know about early English history are from Bede. In the 1100's, William of Malmesbury said about Bede, 'Almost all of the knowledge about past events died with him.' And Malmesbury should know. His Chronicles of the Kings of England is considered the most perfect of all chronicles. His most vivid and graphic accounts are about things that happened in his own time, such as the dreary civil war of Stephen and Matilda. And there is Asser, who wrote about his friend and fellow worker, King Alfred, saying, 'It seems right to me to explain more about what I heard from my lord Alfred.' He says, 'When I came into his presence at the royal villa of Leonaford, he received me honorably. I stayed at his court for about eight months and read to him from whatever books he liked and had on hand. That was his routine, along with all the other things he did both physically and mentally during the day and night. He would either read books to himself or listen while others read to him.' Asser was not at the battle of Ashdown, but took the trouble to get the story from eyewitnesses. 'But those who were there and would not lie
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say that Alfred marched up promptly with his men to give them battle. King Ethelred stayed in his tent for a long time, praying.' And then there are the Chronicles of the Crusades by Joinville and Villehardouin which tell about Richard Coeur de Lion by Richard of Devizes and Geoffrey de Vinsany, and Lord John de Joinville's account of the crusade of St. Louis.
It's not necessary to add more to this list because just one such text every year, or just the appropriate parts, will be enough to stir the child's imagination and fill his mind with ideas. He will have heard the words of people who were really there and saw and heard it all, and they give their accounts in the matter-of-fact way that children prefer. Forever after that kind of experience, it won't matter how many dull outlines of history a child is required to read, he will always be able to imagine history himself.
Every country has its heroic age before official history begins. If there were giants around back then, the child wants to know about them. He has every right to savor whatever classic myths our nation has. To start him with painted savages as his first introduction to historical people makes his vision of the past as harsh and stark as a Chinese painting. But what if we don't have any record of an age like Homer's Iliad and Odyssey? We can once again rely on those old monks who chronicled the dim, distant past. In the 1100's, while Malmesbury was writing his History of the Kings of England, a Welsh priest named Geoffrey of Monmouth was weaving the oral tales
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of the common people into an orderly collection called History of the British Kings. These go back as far as King Brut, the grandson of Aeneas. He claims to have gotten some of his information about kings that no other historian had heard of from a 'book in the British language that Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, brought from Britainy.' However he got it, his book tells us about Gorboduc, King Lear, Merlin, Uther Pendragon, and, best of all, of King Arthur. He makes Arthur sound many times greater and stronger than even Alexander the Great. His book is a treasure that children should be familiar with ten years before they ever read Idylls of the King. Parents should use caution when reading from Monmouth, though. His adventure tales are amazing and fun, but when he stops writing about wonderful stories and starts rambling on about historical facts and people, he becomes confusing. Many of these chronicles were originally written by monks in Latin, but are now available translated into English. But the mother should be aware that some parts may need to be edited as she reads. (Bohn's Antiquarian Library includes volumes by Bede and Malmesbury, and Dr. J.A. Giles' Old English Chronicles includes Asser and Monmouth.)
Jean Froissart wrote delightful chronicles and was tame when writing about the time he spent in Queen Philippa's court in England. His book is the best way for children to learn about the French wars. And the child should learn as much as he can about history this way. Whenever possible, the child should get his first impressions of time periods from first-hand accounts, not from
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modern historians who merely write commentaries and reviews. But mothers should exercise discretion when using these old chronicles, since they aren't all reliable.
In the same way, the best way to begin learning about early Greece and Rome is from Plutarch's Lives. Alexander the Great becomes more than just a name to children who read about him in Plutarch:
'When the horse Bucephalus was offered to King Philip for thirteen talents, the king went to the field with the prince Alexander and some others to see him in action. The horse seemed vicious and hard to handle. He refused to let anyone ride him or even speak to him, and would attack any groom who tried to approach him. Philip was annoyed that they had brought him such a wild, unmanageable horse. He told them to take the horse away. But his son, Alexander, who had been watching the horse closely, said, 'What a horse, and they're going to lose him just because they have nobody with enough skill and spirit to handle him!'
Philip didn't pay any attention to him at first, but the prince kept repeating himself and acting uneasy, so finally, King Philip said, 'Young man, you criticize your elders as if you knew more than they did. Do you think you can manage this horse better?'
'Yes, I certainly could,' answered the prince.
'If you aren't able to ride him, what penalty will you pay for being so rash?'
'I will pay the price of the horse.'
When they heard this, everyone who was there laughed. But the king and the prince agreed to the penalty, and Alexander ran to the horse, took hold of the bridle and turned the horse towards the sun. Apparently he had seen that the
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horse's shadow was visible to the horse and kept moving as he moved, and was spooking him. As long as the horse was agitated and fierce, he continued speaking softly to him and petting him. When the horse calmed down, he gently let his coat fall to the ground and leaped lightly on the horse's back and was safely seated. Then, without pulling too hard on the reins or using a whip or spur, he got the horse going. As soon as he sensed the horse's uneasiness decreasing, and felt that the horse only wanted to run, he put him to a full gallop and urged him on with his voice and spurs.
King Philip and all his court were worried for him at first and were watching in silence. But when the prince had turned the horse around and brought him back safely, they greeted him with shouts and cheers, except for his father, who wept for joy. Kissing him, he said, 'My son, find another kingdom that is worthy of your talents, because Macedonia is too small for you!'
Thomas North's translation of Plutarch gives a vivid impression that makes history seem as real and alive to children as the adventures of Robinson Crusoe.
Again, knowing as much as possible about just one short time period of history is far better than memorizing an outline of all known history. And children are able to understand intelligent ideas told with intelligent language. There's no reason to withhold the best that's been written about the time period they want to know about.
It's not easy to choose the right history books for children. Concise summaries of the bare bone facts should be avoided. We must be equally careful to avoid generalizations.
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A young child's mind naturally wants to gather information and group it for making the kinds of generalizations later that adults tend to make, and which is entirely appropriate and necessary [so long as we do it ourselves, thinking it through logically.]
But, too often, we lack the ability to reason through things on our own and we accept someone else's conclusions without question. Still, we should avoid giving young children final conclusions about history that are based on someone else's opinions. Children want all the details about what happened and about the people involved for their imaginations to work on. They start forming their own opinions little by little as they learn more.
Mr. York Powell has explained the kind of teaching for young children that I'm talking about. The preface of his book, Old Stories from British History, says, 'The author chose the kinds of stories that he thought would be enjoyable for his readers, and, at the same time, would give them some knowledge about the lives of their forefathers and how they thought. Therefore, he has not just written about important people like kings and queens and generals. He has also written about ordinary people, and children, and even birds and animals.' The book includes stories about King Lear and Cuculain, King Canute and Otto the poet, Havelock and Ubba, and many other brave, glorious tales. Powell's two books, Old Stories from British History and Sketches from British History, are perfect for our purpose because they are easy enough for children to read for themselves. The stories are written in good, plain English with a bit of charm, and lend themselves well to narration.
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It's interesting to hear 7 or 8 year olds tell back a long story from this book without missing any details and getting everything in the right order. Yet their narrations aren't merely parroted phrases from the book. When a child really enjoys something, his individual personality comes through in his exuberance at talking about it. With this book, the child tells back the story accurately, but in his own words while still retaining some of the author's style. By the way, it's very important to let children narrate in their own way. They shouldn't be coaxed and helped with cue words from the text.
A narration should have the child's unique stamp on it as evidence that the material has been assimilated and gone through some processing in his mind.
Narrations that are nothing more than rote memorizations are of no value to the child.
I've already talked about the kinds of old chronicles that should nourish children's minds. But often, these are too spread out to be used successfully for narrations. It's better to use appropriate short tales for narrating.
I'd like to mention two more books that children love. These encourage patriotism and lay a wide foundation for later history lessons. They are Tales from St. Paul's Cathedral and Tales from Westminster Abbey by Mrs. Frewen Lord. It's wonderful to take children on a trip to actually see St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in real life and let them find the actual places where their heroes are enshrined. The children know so many details and are so alive with interest that they inspire and teach even the grown-ups. Of course, there are many other historical stories for children, and some of them are very good, like Prisoners of the Tower by Violet Brooke-Hunt. But mothers should be careful. Choosing lesson books may seem simple, but it takes delicate tact and understanding with children, especially when it comes to history.
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Many children of 8 or 9 will be old enough to enjoy A History of England, by H.O. Arnold Forster, who is widely respected for his educational books. Besides being a skilled writer, Mr. Forster has a gift for seeing a defect and a way to fix it, and being able to spot what's missing and fill it in. He noticed that English children weren't learning about the things affecting their lives and the laws governing them. So he changed that by writing The Citizen Reader and The Laws of Every-day Life.
The History of England, or History, as the children call it, forgetting that there is history in other parts of the world besides England, was written as a collection of adventurous stories that don't necessarily have relevance to political and financial holdings. But, as Forster says in his preface, he was reluctant to use a title as unpleasant as A Summary of English History or An Outline of English History.
Those titles seem at first glance to imply that the books have none of the interest and romance that are always a part of what real people do, and that an elaborated chronological table has been used instead of interesting stories. But if you read English history and miss the interesting, sparkling episodes and
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dramatic incidents, then you've missed all the fun and most of the lessons history can teach if studied the right way. Forster succeeds and his book is as full of interesting, sparkling episodes as it can be, considering that he's writing to children who have no background in history. He gives a survey of all of English history in a pleasant, plentiful, well-illustrated book of about 800 pages. This example shows what I mean, and don't we all wish we could have learned about architecture from such a clear paragraph: 'On page 23 we have pictures of two windows. One is what is called a pointed window. All its arches go up to a point. It was built a long time before the Tudor period. The other arch was built in the time of Queen Elizabeth. In it the upright shaft, or mullion, of the window goes straight up to the top without forming an arch. This style of building a window is called the Perpendicular Style, because the mullions of the window are 'perpendicular.' Some of the most famous buildings in England built in Tudor times, and in the perpendicular style, are the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, and Hatfield House, where the Marquis of Salisbury lives, in Hertfordshire.' Mr. Forster has done for children and for the unread what Professor Green did for more advanced students with his book, Shorter History of England--he has shown many people that history is fascinating. This is a good introduction to real history, and it uses real information. The portraits [whether this refers to illustrations or biographies is unclear] are especially valuable.
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Children will need to have a sense that what they're reading has a specific time when it happened before their collection of knowledge gets too vast. To do this, make a century table, something like this timeline chart, only longer. [Perhaps what Charlotte meant looked like this?] To make one, divide a long sheet of heavy paper into twenty columns. Put the first century in the center and let the rest of the columns represent a century, either BC or AD.
Let the child write the names of people he reads about in the century they belong to.
At this point, children don't need to focus on exact dates, but this simple table of the centuries will give the child a graphic memory of when things happened. He will have a panorama of events pictured in his mind in their correct order.
History provides great material for narrating, and children enjoy narrating what they've read or heard. They also love to draw pictures. Some children who had read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar were asked to draw a picture of their favorite scene. The results showed how well children can visualize, and, of course, whatever can be visualized in the mind is a possession for life.
The pictures these children drew are interesting from a psychological point of view, too. They show what different and sometimes obscure details appeal to the mind of a child. They also show that children can enjoy figuring out mental challenges as much as educated adults. Admittedly, the drawings aren't perfect, but, like the art of primitive peoples, they tell the story directly and vividly. One girl, aged nine, drew Julius Caesar conquering Britain. He is riding in a chariot mounted on scythes [reaping sickles?] and he is wearing
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a blue robe, complemented with the blue in the sky. In the distance, a soldier is planting the Roman flag with a black eagle on a pink background.
In the foreground, a Roman and a Briton are engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Each has a very long sword. Other people are busy at various things.
In another picture, Antony is making a speech after the death of Caesar. The artist is an older girl and she shows more of the architecture. In her picture, you look through an arch leading into a side street. In the foreground, Antony is standing on a platform at the top of some marble stairs. He looks scornful and indignant. Below is a crowd of Romans in togas. Some are scornful, some are alarmed. In the back is Antony's servant wearing a uniform and holding his master's horse. Caesar is laying on the ground behind Antony and his royal purple robe has been thrown over his body. The best part of the drawing is that it tells a story.
Another girl, aged 14, draws a picture of Calpurnia begging Caesar not to go into the Senate. Caesar is standing fully armed and looks annoyed. Calpurnia is holding his outstretched hand with both of her hands and is kneeling before him. Her loose blue night-robe and long golden hair add color to the picture. Since this girl is older, her picture shows more artistic skill.
Another student draws Brutus and Portia, very dignified, in an orchard with a red brick wall with some shrubbery growing along it. Not much of the story is apparent in this picture.
Another student shows the scene in the forum. Caesar is sitting in royal purple. Brutus is kneeling before him and Casca is standing behind his chair with a dagger in his outstretched hand, saying, 'Hands, speak for me!' while Caesar is saying, 'Why is Brutus kneeling without his boots?'
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In another picture, Lucius is playing the harp for Brutus in a tent. Brutus is armed head to foot and sitting on a stool. He is vainly trying to read while Lucius, a pretty figure, is playing his harp. Two armed sentries are sleeping on the floor.
One picture shows Claudius at the women's festival. He is disguised as a woman. The ladies have wonderful eyes and are carrying flaming torches.
One spirited picture shows Caesar reading his history to the conquered Gauls. They are standing in rows on the hillside, listening to the great man patiently.
In all of these pictures, some of which are drawn by even older students, we see how different images are remembered by different children as they listen to a great work. This glimpse into the minds of children should convince us how important it is to nourish the mind with good material. The kind of weak, diluted resources that schools too often give to children do not stir their imaginations.
Narrating and illustrating aren't the only ways that children express the ideas that fill them when they are exposed to great materials. They will also role play their history lessons, dressing up, making up vivid, detailed episodes, acting specific scenes. Or they'll have a stage and make their dolls the actors, while they paint scenery and make them talk. There is no end to the creative ways children will find when they have something to express.
It is a mistake to think that nature feeds children's imaginations, or that their imagination works on a diet of dull children's storybooks.
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Let children have the kind of meaty material they need in their history texts and historical literature, and their imaginations will be stirred up without any help from us. The child will live out the intricate details of a thousand scenes that he reads, even when he only reads sketchy accounts about them.
I won't say much about English and Latin grammar here. First of all, grammar is the study of words, not things, and won't appeal to a young child. He shouldn't be hurried into learning grammar. English grammar, with its position and logical connection of words in sentences, is especially hard to understand. In this respect, Latin grammar is easier. It changes the form and shape of words to denote which case it is, so it's easy for children to see the difference visually. For that reason, it's more obvious to him than the abstract concepts of nominative case and objective case, like we have in English. So, if all he retains in Latin is declensions (noun/verb agreement and correct gender) and a verb or two, it's better than nothing because it illustrates how cases change even when English doesn't show it by changing the forms of words.
The best book I know of for 8-9 year olds beginning Latin is First Latin Course by Scott and Jones. Children seem to like it, which helps them in studying it. But it's still debatable whether it's best to begin Latin so young.
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English grammar is a logical subject. It is made up of sentences and where words are placed in the sentence, instead of being made up of words as single units and what their form says about them. So it's best for a child to begin grammar with the sentence rather than the parts of speech. In other words, he should analyze sentences before parsing. He should learn how to divide simple sentences into two parts: the thing we're talking about, and what it is we're saying about it, before he's lost in the confusing world of person, mood and part of speech. In this example, the sentence would be divided like this: The cat / sits on the hearth.
'So then I picked up the next book. It was a grammar book. It said remarkable things about nouns and verbs and particles and pronouns, and past participles and objective cases and subjunctive moods. 'What are all these things?' asked the King. The Queen did not know, but she said it would be very good for children to learn. 'It would keep them quiet.'
It is important that children not be as confused as this bewildered king and queen. So I'm including a couple of introductory grammar lessons. A single visual example can be more useful than many explanations.
When words are combined to make sense, we call it a sentence.
'Rice oats chair really good and cherry' is not a sentence, because it makes no sense--in fact it makes nonsense!
'Thomas has read his lesson' is a sentence.
It is a sentence because it tells us something about Thomas.
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Every sentence talks about someone or something, and tells us something about that someone or something.
So a sentence has two parts:
1. The thing we speak of;
2. What we say about it.
In our sentence, the thing we speak of is 'Thomas.'
What we say about him is that he 'has read his lesson.'
The thing we speak of is often called the SUBJECT. Subject just means the thing we're talking about.
People sometimes say 'the subject of conversation was so and so,' which is another way of saying 'the thing we were talking about was so and so.'
Words put together so as to make sense form a sentence.
A sentence has two parts: the thing we speak of, and what we say about it.
The thing we speak of is the SUBJECT.
Lesson I Exercises
1. Put the first part to these examples:
---has a long mane.
---cannot do his math.
---played for an hour;
2. Put the second part to---
That poor boy---.
My brother Tyler---.
The broken flowerpot---.
Bread and jelly---.
Mr. Brown's tool-box---;
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3. Put six different subjects to each half sentence in 1.
4. Make six different sentences with each subject in 2.
5. Say which part of the sentence is missing, and fill it in:
Has been mended
That little dog
Cut his finger
Ate too much fruit
My new book
The snowdrops in our garden, etc., etc.
Note: Remember to call the first part of each sentence 'the subject.'
Draw a line under the subject of each sentence in all the exercises.
We can make a sentence with only two words--the name of the thing we speak of and what we say about it:
We speak about 'John.'
We say about him that he 'writes.'
We speak about 'birds.'
We say about them that they 'sing.'
These words, writes, sing, sews, all come out of the same group of words, and the words in that group are
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the most important words of all, for this reason--we can't make sense, and therefore can't make a sentence, without using at least one of them.
They are called VERBS, which means words, because they are the most important words of all.
A verb always tells one of two things about the subject. Either it tells what the subject is, as--
I am hungry.
The chair is broken.
The birds are merry;
or it tells what the subject does, as--
The cat mews.
We can't make a sentence without a verb.
Verb means word.
Verbs are the most important words.
Verbs show that the subject either is something: He is sleepy; or does something: He runs.
Lesson II Exercises
1. Put in a verb of being:
Boys ____ rough.
Girls ____ quiet.
He ____ first yesterday.
I ____ a little boy.
Tyler and Gage ____ swinging before dinner.
We ____ busy to-morrow.
He ____ punished;
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2. Make three sentences with each of the following verbs:
is, are, should be, was, am, were, will be
3. Make six sentences with verbs of being.
4. Use a verb of doing in these sentences:
The boy with the pony ____.
My cousins ____;
5. Make twenty sentences about:
That boy in shorts ____
with verbs showing what he does.
6. Find the verbs, and say whether they are verbs of being or doing, in these examples:
The bright sun
rises over the hill.
We went away.
You are my cousin.
Gage goes to school.
He took his pencil.
We are seven.
7. Count how many verbs you use in your talking for the next ten minutes.
8. Write every verb you can find in these exercises, and draw a line under them.
French [or any foreign language] should be learned in the same way we learn English--not by studying its grammar, but as a living language. Training the ear to distinguish subtle differences in sound, and training the lips to reproduce French phonetic combinations is an education of the senses that should be started as soon as possible. All educated people should be able to speak
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French. Sir Lyon Playfair was once speaking at a conference of French teachers. He passionately lamented our lack in this area and, as a role model, talked about a school in Perth in the 1500's where Scottish boys were required to speak Latin during school hours, and French the rest of the time. England is the only civilized country these days to be so slow to learn to speak other languages. But it's probably because of the way it's taught rather than a natural inability to learn.
In learning a second language like French, two things are necessary: some vocabulary, and not being afraid to feel awkward pronouncing the new words. Both of these should be taken care of in early childhood. Children should never see French words in print until they feel as comfortable saying them as they do English words. The reason we have so much trouble pronouncing French is because we like to give printed combinations of letters the sounds they would have in our own language--when we see French words in print, we try to sound them out as if they were English. A child should add perhaps six new words to his collection every day so that his vocabulary is constantly growing. At that rate, the child could learn 1500 words in a year! A child who knows that many words and knows how to use them is a child who can speak French. Of course, his teacher will make sure that, as he learns words, he's also learning idiomatic phrases. And as the child learns more and more words, she will make sure that he uses them in sentences every single day to keep them fresh in his memory. If she keeps track of new words by writing them in a notebook, it will be very easy for her to do this. A young child hasn't learned to be embarrassed about pronouncing foreign words. He simply says them as naturally as if they were English.
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But it's very important that he acquires the correct accent right from the beginning. It's not generally a good idea to put young children under the influence of a French caregiver, but it might be possible for six families to get together to hire a French lady who could spend a half hour with each family every day.
There is a serious attempt to approach the study of foreign languages rationally, using science. Francois Gouin's book, The Art of Teaching and Studying Languages, is the most important attempt so far. It makes the scientific study of languages applicable to practical teaching. In fact, the reform we've seen in the way modern languages are taught is because of this book. The foundational concept that new languages have to be learned in the same way children learn their native language, is correct, even if the details of carrying it out aren't. For instance, the method of analyzing a language and dividing it into about fifteen exhaustive series, may not be right. We know that the ear, not the eye, is the physical part of the body that learns language, in the same way that the mouth, not the ear, eats food. If all Gouin's book did was to point out those two facts, it would be an invaluable contribution to educational theory. His third point is just as important--that the verb is the key to the sentence. It is the living bridge between thought and action. He also points out that children think in sentences, not disjointed words, and their sentences have a logical sequence. This sequence is ordered by time,
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such as the order of events in the growth of a plant, or in baking a loaf of bread. As the child realizes these events, he needs to express them. Then his ear seeks the words he needs to use, his mind remembers those words, and his tongue reproduces them so that he's able to say the thing he thought of.
Monsieur Gouin's method should be more successful than any other in steeping the student in French thought, or German, whether the student is a child or adult. If you spend all day trying to figure out how to express a sequence of events in French, then you will start thinking in French, and dreaming in French, and you'll end up speaking French. And now there's a delightful sense that finally we'll be able to teach all subjects in the new language. You can have any series you want--an Art Series, Bee Series, River Series, Character Series, Poet Series. All it takes is thinking out the subject and sequencing it, then finding the right verbs, nouns and phrases. Soon you can say short sentences and, by combining those with a connecting word like 'and,' you find that you can say everything needed to teach the whole subject. It's quite a surprise, like the child's game where you can find out the most interesting and obscure things just by asking a dozen questions.
So then, a language learned using Gouin's method is a liberal education in itself! It makes you realize that the ideas that the mind is aware of are really few and simple, and how few words are truly necessary to express them.
You really learn to think in the new language
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because, even in your native language, you only have vague impressions of these ideas, [but you've worked them out into the new language, so it's easier to consider them in the new language for which you've put words, than in your native language.]
You start ordering your thoughts in the new language and, once you've done that, you'll never forget those words.
Here is an example of an early level 'series.' It shows all the steps a servant goes through to light a fire. [The verb is italicized.]
The servant takes a box of
She opens the match-box,
She takes out a match,
She closes the match-box,
She strikes the match on the cover,
She lights the match,
The match smokes,
The match ignites,
The match burns,
And spreads a smell of burning over the kitchen,
The servant bends down to the hearth,
Puts out her hand,
Puts the match under the kindling,
Holds the match under the kindling,
The kindling catches fire,
The servant lets go of the match,
Stands up again,
Looks at her fire burning,
And puts the box of matches away.
But any attempt to quote the book gives an incomplete picture of Gouin's book.
Whatever else can be said about Gouin's methods, the way he arrived at them is undoubtedly scientific. He learned from a real child.
'Unfortunately, children have been a mystery up to this point, and we have never taken the trouble to solve or even examine the mystery . . . '
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'A child utters nothing that means anything at two years of age. But at three, he suddenly is fluent in a language. How does he do this? Is there some explanation of this miracle? Is it something we will never know? . . . Ask any child, he will tell you that the part of the body related to language is not the eye, it's the ear. Eyes are made to see colors, not to hear sounds and words . . . This constant stress, [of forcing the eye to be the tool for learning foreign language,] goes against nature, and is bad for the eyes.'
Gouin is referring to the challenge he undertook to learn German. He knew everybody's Methods, he memorized the whole dictionary, and found that he still couldn't truly speak even one word of German.
He returned to France after ten months and found that his nephew, who had been two-and-a-half and not yet talking when he'd left him, had accomplished in ten months what he himself couldn't do. 'What!' I thought. 'My nephew and I have both spent ten months learning a language. He did it by playing around his mother, picking flowers, chasing butterflies and birds, without getting tired of it, without even consciously trying! And now he's able to say whatever he thinks, tell about what he sees, and understand others. When he began, his intelligence wasn't even obvious, it was merely a glimmer of hope. And I, who am an educated, scientific philosopher with strong determination and a good memory, have learned practically nothing!'
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'My linguistic training has deceived and misguided me. The classical method of learning languages with grammar books, dictionaries, and translations, is a delusion . . . to find out Nature's secret, I need to observe my nephew.'
Gouin watched the child and his book was the result of his observations.
This method of teaching can be varied, partly because Gouin's method requires fluency in French and teachers who are reserved would rather use the conversational material in books with pictures. They think it's easier and just as effective, maybe more so. Still, Gouin had the fundamental idea for the method.
It is good to see the same principles we have talked about for so long finally written clearly in his book. For example, he writes, 'If a person learns to speak French without learning to read it, like children do, he will have no more trouble with pronouncing French words than he does with English words. You wonder about spelling? You would learn it the same way that French children learn it, the same way you learned to spell in English, which is ten times more difficult. And you'd learn it without losing your ability to pronounce the words correctly. Besides, bad spelling can be corrected, but bad pronunciation can't be. We have to choose between the two.' Gouin writes about the possibility of children picking up another language, perhaps even Chinese from a Chinese caregiver. His words remind me of a child I knew who
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had a gift for learning languages. I was speaking in public about three children, all three years old, from three different families where one parent was English and one was German. I said that all three of these children were equally fluent in both German and English and could fully express themselves in either language. After this meeting, a man came up to me and confirmed what I had said. He said his son had married a German lady and they were missionaries in Bagdad. Their three-year-old could speak three languages fluently--English, German, and Arabic! The child will most likely forget two of those languages, and I'm not arguing that babies should learn foreign languages, but it does prove that learning a foreign language shouldn't be an insurmountable challenge for any of us.
Training children in art should take two forms. A six-year old should begin to express himself creatively, and should begin learning to appreciate art. And he will be able to appreciate before he has the skill to accurately express what's in his mind or imagination. So it's sad when the only art children are exposed to is colorful illustrations in their picture books or Christmas music sheets. But some might say, 'Young children can't appreciate real art. The only thing that will appeal to them is something colorful and that shows something he likes. A bright picture of a birthday party or
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a little girl's broken doll is what they like looking at. So, nature has limited the sort of art that's suitable for children.' But, the truth is, the minds of children are just like the minds of adults. They get used to whatever they're around. If all children can appreciate is what's popular and stereotyped, it's because that's all they've been exposed to. Some nine year olds studied copies of six pictures by Millet during a school term. At the end of the term, they were asked to describe the picture they liked best. And they did, and they did a good job. One little boy said, 'I like The Sower the best. The sower is sowing seeds and the picture is all dark except high on the right side where there's a man plowing a field. While he's plowing, the sower is sowing. He has a bag in his left hand and he's sowing with his right hand. He's wearing wooden clogs. It's about six o'clock in the morning. You can see his head better than his legs and body because it's against the light.'
A seven year old girl prefers the Angelus and says, 'The picture is about people in the fields, a man and a woman. There's a basket next to the woman with something in it and there's a wheelbarrow behind her. The man has his hat off, it's in his hands, and they're praying. You can tell that it's evening because the wheelbarrow and the basket are loaded.'
At age six, when children begin formal school lessons, this sort of picture study shouldn't
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be left to chance. They should study one artist at a time, term by term, and they should quietly study six reproductions of his work in the term.
The children's quotes show that they learned about the pictures, but that's not the most important thing they gain. We don't know how much influence any artist might have on a child's sense of beauty, and his ability to see the common sights around him as if he's seeing a picture. He is enriched more than we'll ever know by looking at even one picture closely. Contrary to common thought, children don't need a lot of color in their picture studies. They can find color anywhere, and can be satisfied for a while studying form and feeling in a picture [that's less colorful.] And for hanging on the schoolroom wall, the best art I know of are the Fitzroy Pictures ['The Fitzroy Pictures engraved by James Akerman, such as 'Work' and 'St. George and the Dragon.'], especially The Four Seasons [try searching by name: summer, winter, etc.] which has beautiful lines and color, and poetic feeling. I also agree with John Ruskin that children should be familiar with Ludwig Richter's picture books for children, such as Unser Vater: in Bildern (Our Father in Pictures) and Der Sonntag: in Bildren (Sunday in Pictures). [Some images here.]
I am including notes from a Picture Study lesson given to children aged eight and nine by a teaching student at the House of Education. This will show how this kind of lesson might be given.
1. To continue the term's study of Landseer.
2. To get the children more interested in Landseer's works.
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3. To show how his knowledge of animals was important.
4. To help them to truly be able to read a picture.
5. To help them to be more observant and better focused.
Step 1. - Ask the children if they remember what their last picture-talk was about, and which artist was famous for painting animals. Tell them that Landseer was familiar with animals when he was very young. He had dogs for pets, and because he loved them, he studied them and their habits, so he was able to paint them.
Step 2. - Show them the picture 'Alexander and Diogenes,' and ask them to find out all they can about it themselves, and to try to figure out what idea the artist had in his mind, and what idea or ideas he meant his picture to convey to us.
Step 3. - After three or four minutes, take the picture away and see what the children have noticed. Then ask them what the different dogs suggest to them; the strength of the large, strong mastiff representing Alexander; the dignity and stateliness of the bloodhounds behind him; the look of the wise counselor on the face of the setter; the rather contemptuous look of the rough-haired terrier in the tub. Ask the children if they noticed anything in the picture that shows the time of day: for example, the tools thrown down by the side of the workman's basket suggesting lunch; and the bright sunshine on the dogs casting a shadow on the tub shows that it must be about noon.
Step 4. - Let them read the title of the picture, and let them tell anything they know about Alexander and Diogenes. Then tell them that Alexander was a great conqueror who lived
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between 356-323 BC. He was famous for the battles he won against Persia, India, and along the coast of the Mediterranean He was very proud, strong, and boastful. Diogenes was a cynic philosopher. Explain what a cynic is by telling them the legend of Alexander and Diogenes, online here. Let them figure out which dog represents Alexander and which represents Diogenes.
Step 5. - Have the children take five minutes to draw the main lines of the picture with a pencil and paper.
I have mentioned illustrations drawn by the children. It might be helpful to include notes from a lesson given by a student teacher from the House of Education to show the kind of help a teacher can give with this kind of work. But it is best to leave the children to themselves with their drawing.
1. To help children make clear mental pictures from descriptions and then to show that on paper.
2. To increase their imagination.
3. To help them learn about form and color.
4. To help them be more interested in the story of Beowulf by letting them draw a picture from the book.
5. To help them develop their concept of an unknown creature [by imagining and drawing Grendel].
Step 1. - To draw out what the children know of the poem Beowulf, and of Beowulf the hero.
Step 2. - To fill in points they may have missed
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in their reading so far (up to the death of Grendel).
Step 3. - To read the description of how people dressed at that time, and to read the account of Grendel's death (including three possible pictures).
Step 4. - To draw out the mental images that the children have formed from their reading, and then to re-read the passage.
Step 5. - To let them put their mental pictures on paper with brush and paint.
Step 6. - To show them George Harrow's picture of Beowulf from Heroes of Chivalry and Romance.
But, someone might ask, 'What about actual drawing lessons? Do you use oval blobs of paint made with the flat of the brush?' I think blobs can help give a sense of freedom with color. But, other than that, blobs allow a child to produce something like a flower that looks good, but that he hasn't really learned to draw. And he can produce such a picture without ever feeling anything for the flower. And feeling for a subject is the very soul of art. Giving a child tricks to make a picture that looks impressive damages his delicate sensitivity to approaching art.
John Ruskin said, 'If, while chatting with a friend, your eye merely rests on a rough piece of a branch that looks curious, then, no matter how unconsciously the eye rests, even after the conversation has been long forgotten and the specific memory of the branch is forgotten, yet forever afterwards, your eye will always take a certain
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joy in that kind of branch that it hadn't before. It will be such a slight pleasure and such a delicate trace of feeling that you will be totally unaware of its power. Yet no amount of reasoning can destroy it, and it will become a permanent part of who you are.'
And that's just what we want to give children when we teach them to draw. We want to make their eye rest, not unconsciously, but consciously, on some beautiful object that will leave a delightful image in their minds for the rest of their lives. Even children as young as 6 or 7 can draw budding twigs of oak, ash, beech or larch trees with such accuracy of color, tone and line that their crude little drawings are beautiful to see.
Just like lots of other things in children, we must have faith that art is there, or else we'll never find it. It's like a delicate Ariel that we can set free from bondage. So we set a twig or flower in front of a child and let him deal with it in his own way. He'll figure out how to get the form and color he wants. Our help should be limited to technical matters, like showing him how to mix colors. We don't want to interfere with the child's freedom, or inhibit the expression of the art that's inside him, so we need to be careful not to offer crutches like guiding lines and points. Also, we should make sure children have the easiest medium to work with--paint brushes or charcoal, not black lead pencils. Avoid cheap boxes of paint. Children are worth the best we can offer. A half dozen tubes of really good watercolors will last a long time and will produce quality color that will satisfy the little artists' eyes.
As long as we're discussing art,
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we might as well talk about clay modeling. Nice little birds nests and baskets of eggs don't help develop artistic skill and get boring. The main thing a teacher should do is to show the child how to prepare the clay to get rid of air bubbles, and give him the idea of making a platform for his work so that his creations will look more artistic from the beginning. Then, put in front of him an apple, or banana, or walnut. Instead of letting him take a lump of clay and squeezing it into shape, have him build up the shape he wants morsel by morsel. His own creativity will pick up on the pit in the apple, or the crease in a child's shoe--all the little individual differences that make art unique.
As I near the end of this section on subjects, I know that important subjects have had to be left out, and the subjects that are included haven't been covered as thoroughly as they could have been.
For instance, some subjects that have special educational value, like music, I haven't even mentioned, partly because of space limitations, and partly because, if a mother doesn't have some natural sense of art within her, nothing I can say as an outsider can produce in her what she needs in order to convey a feeling for art in her child. If possible, children should learn from real artists who love what they do. It's no good for a child's foundation for future art appreciation to be laid by mechanical teachers who aren't qualified and who can't kindle an enthusiasm for art. As far as singing, I'd like to mention the wonderful educational results from the Sol-fa method.
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With the Sol-fa method, children learn what seems like a magical way to make hand signs for sounds. They are then able to read music, and write notes for, or make hand signs for, passages that are sung to them. Thus, the ear and the voice are cultivated at the same time.
[John?] Curwen's book Child Pianist uses the same method, worked out with great detail. If a child learns music theory as he learns to make music, he won't be bored and tired of practicing.
There's not enough space to do more than mention two more important subjects: handicrafts and drill. But both should be a daily part of a child's life. For physical training, nothing is better than Swedish Drill, developed by Per Henrik Ling. A few of the exercises are well within the ability of young children. Dancing and various musical drills encourage graceful movement and are fun for children, even if they don't provide scientific training.
The best handicrafts for children under nine seem to be caning chairs, carton work, making baskets, weaving small rugs, Japanese curtains [?], carving cork, sewing pretty samplers, easy needlework, knitting with big needles and coarse threads, etc. The important things to keep in mind about children's crafts are that:
a. they shouldn't waste their
time making useless things like paper mats, or models constructed from
softened peas and toothpicks.
b. they should receive patient, thorough instruction so they know how to do the craft correctly.
c. sloppy work should
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not be allowed.
d. they should be given work well within the ability of their age range so that they are able to do it well and not sloppily.
In this short summary of the subjects a child should learn, I hope I have said enough to impress upon the mother how serious a matter her children's education is. Then she will think twice before allowing indiscriminate text books to be given to her children, and she won't trust unqualified people to test their own methods on her children.
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[The Kingdom of Mansoul is Charlotte Mason's way of explaining how we use our will to control our impulses and actions. The place that those things originate is within us, in our souls. So she calls this the Kingdom of Mansoul--the inner person within each of us.]
Now we need to consider a topic that's of extreme importance to every living being who is obligated to live a reasonable life on earth, and who hopes to go on to a better place after this life. I'm talking about governing the Kingdom of Mansoul. Every child who reaches a certain age will have this duty. It's up to his parents to teach him what's required of him and how to do it. Governing the Kingdom of Mansoul can be likened to governing a well-ruled state. Good government has three branches, each with its own function. But all three branches are ruled by one minister, not by a multitude of counselors.
Outside of the three branches sits the Will. Like a Roman guard, he has soldiers under his authority to command. He tells one to go, and he goes. He tells another to come, and he comes. He tells a third to do something, and he does it. In other words, the executive power is in the Will. If the Will has learned to have the habit of
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using his authority, then he gives commands in a tone that seems to expect obedience, and his kingdom is at unity. But if the Will is weak and unreliable, then his entire kingdom of Mansoul will be torn with disorder and rebellion.
I don't know exactly what the Will is. We can see its effects in all people, but nobody can define exactly what it is. Yet more harmful mistakes are made by educators in this area than any other. Therefore, it's worthwhile to see if we can consider what the Will does, and what its limits are.
First of all, the Will doesn't necessarily enter into any of the subjects we've already discussed. A child can reflect and imagine, be inspired to want to know, be driven by power, or crave attention, may love and admire, may form habits of attention or obedience or diligence or laziness, involuntarily. In other words, he can do all of those things without ever once intending or determining or willing himself to do it on his own. In fact, this is so true that there are people who live their entire lives without even one act of determined, deliberate will. There are people who are good-natured and easy-going who have only known smooth lives [so that no act of will is ever needed], and other poor souls who have never had one stroke of luck and have drifted so far from their homes that those they grew up with would never recognize them. Intellectual ability does not guarantee a strong will. For instance, Coleridge was intellectual, but he had such little power to control his will that others had to take care of him. His thoughts were as much out of his ability to control as his actions. People went to hear him speak great thoughts, but those thoughts
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were just disconnected ideas pouring forth, and only related to each other by association. Yet his mind was so splendid that his thoughts flowed forth methodically, all by themselves.
Everyone knows the dignity and strength of character that comes from having a determined will. In fact, character itself is the result of behavior controlled by a person's own will. We sometimes say, So-and-so has a lot of character, or another person lacks character. We could just as easily say, So-and-so has a strong will, or another person has no will. We all know of people who had talent and potential, yet their lives were ruined because they lacked a strong will to chart the course of their lives.
The will controls passion and emotions, directs desires to their proper channels, and rules bodily appetites. Note that passions, emotions, desires and appetites were already there. The will gains strength as it exercises its power by restraining and redirecting them. Although it's tempting to think of the will as a thing of the spirit, it works like any other part of the body in its need for nourishment and exercise in order to grow and become more capable.
In novels, the villain is an interesting person (at least in old novels!) because he always has a strong will, but, instead of using his will to control his violent passions, his will becomes an accessory in acting them out. The result is an evil being who seems to go against nature itself. And no wonder, because, according to natural law, the part
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of the body that doesn't do what it's supposed to gets weaker as a natural and logical consequence. Finally, it disappears altogether, or becomes practically invisible. The will is in the seat of authority. It can't transfer its power to the rest of the body. The chaos would be too terrible. It would be like a riotous mob attacking and taking over the government so that confusion is everywhere and there are shootings in the street and attacks on innocent people.
I feel compelled to draw your attention to the will's limits to do its own work, because parents all too often make the same mistake that authors do. They admire a strong, determined will, and so they should. They realize that if their child is going to influence the world, it will be by his force of will. So what happens? The baby pitches a fit because he wants to play with a forbidden object and the mother praises his 'strong will.' Or the three-year-old has a temper tantrum in the middle of the street and refuses to go one way or the other with his caregiver, and that is credited to his 'strong will.' He insists on having absolute run of the house, and monopolizes his sister's toys, all because of his 'strong will.' And then comes a conflict of opinion. On the one hand, the parents decide that the child's will must not be broken, no matter what, so his temper is allowed to rage with impunity. In another family, the parents are determined to break the child's will at all costs, so the poor little child is subjected to a sad series of punishment and repression.
But, all this time, nobody understands that the child's real issue is a lack of will. He is
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in a state of total willfulness. Unfortunately, that's the word we use to describe the lack of the will to have any power to control. A better word would be willessness, if that were a real word. It is this confusion between willfulness and domination by the will that causes parents to make harmful mistakes, even if the child isn't encouraged to be stubborn, or isn't harshly repressed. The parent's confusion makes them neglect to cultivate and train their child's will. The will is a gift of God and should be used to temper and direct every other gift into useful channels, whether beauty or genius or strength or skill.
If digging in one's heels by sheer will isn't what will is, then what is it? Look at it this way. If the bit and bridle are removed so that there is no means to control the child's appetites, desires and emotions, then the child who is let loose with his own personal tendency, whether it be resentment, jealousy, desire for power, or greed for things, will be just like poor Mazeppa, the Polish nobleman who was strapped to a wild, strong horse and hurtled along swiftly with no power to help himself. There is no limit to passions and appetites and their persistence, if the will, which was appointed to control them, is removed. It is the force and determination of appetites and passions that are called 'willfulness' and mistaken for exertion of the will. But it is really determination that is being manifested, not will. The child is being hurtled along by his passions and appetites with no means to help himself because his will, which should have been his bit and bridle to balance his character, has been left undeveloped and untrained.
The will has functions that are superior and inferior, or, moral and mechanical.
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If the will is neglected so that it's too flabby and weak to do its job in the higher moral offices, it may still be functioning enough to control such matters as coming or going, sitting or standing, speaking or being quiet.
Although it's impossible to attain moral excellence of character without a strong, determined will, the will itself is not moral. It is merely a tool. A man can call forth great strength of will to control his appetites and desires, and yet still be an unworthy man. For instance, a man can exert his will to keep his base passions in check because he has other more important yet unworthy motives, such as vengeance.
Although a disciplined will isn't necessary for salvation, it is necessary to develop Christian character. Gordon, Havelock, Florence Nightingale, St. Paul, could not have been what they were without a strong will. This is only one way in which Christianity reaches even the weakest souls. There is a wonderful painting in the Louvre, 'Magdalen' by Guido Reni. Her mouth has obviously never been set with any resolve for good or evil. The lower part of her face has a helpless look of just abandoning itself to the emotions of the moment. But the eyes raised to meet the gaze of mysterious eyes that are not in the picture, seem to totally transfigure the rest of the face. Looking at the eyes, it seems as if the whole face is aglow with a passion to serve, love and surrender to God. God's divine grace can accomplish this transfiguration even in weak, unwilling souls to enable them to do what they can. Yet their ability to serve
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will be limited by their past. But a child with a Christian mother whose priority is to train him to live a Christian life, won't have that problem. As soon as her child reaches an awareness that he belongs to God and serves Him, his mother can have him already prepared for that high service. He can be a warrior in God's army from the time he is young. He can have an effective will, one that can will and do His good pleasure.
Before we consider how to train the will, which is the 'sole practical faculty of man,' we need to know how the will works. We need to understand how it does the work of managing everything that is done and thought in the kingdom Mansoul. 'Can't you make yourself do what you want to do?' Guy asks poor Charlie Edmonston, in Charlotte Mary Yonge's Heir of Redclyffe. Charlie has never learned how to make himself do anything. There are probably some people who haven't even progressed far enough to want to do anything, but most of us do want to do well. The problem we have is how to make ourselves do what we want to. And this is what divides effective people from ineffective ones, the great from the small, and divides truly good people from well-intentioned, respectable ones. The more a man has the power to compel himself and control his impulses and his personal wishes, the more he can depend on himself and be confident of how he'll act in a crisis.
How does the ruler in the heart of a person behave? Does he force his members to stay in line with stern reprimands of 'thou shalt' and 'thou shalt not'? Not at all. Does he do it by applying his reason and mustering his motives? No. John Stuart Mill taught us that 'the only thing man ever does, or is able to do, with physical matter
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is to move one thing to another.' We shouldn't be surprised if great moral good comes from what seems like inadequate means. A little bit of experience in a daycare can show more effectively than words what the will can do. A baby falls, gets a bad bump and cries piteously. An experienced caregiver may not kiss the bump to make it better, or show any pity at all. She knows that could make things worse. The more she pities, the more the baby cries. Instead, she quickly distracts him by changing his thoughts. She carries him to the window to look at the horses, or gives him his favorite picture book, or most cherished toy, and the child stops mid-sob, even when he is badly hurt. The experienced caregiver illustrates the role of the will in a person. By force of will, a man can distract himself by changing his thoughts. He can transfer his attention from one topic to another, and he can do it with a burst of mental force that he's only vaguely aware he possesses. And this ability is enough to rescue a man. The power to make himself think only of the things he's already decided to think about for his own good can make him a man.
A man's thoughts might be wandering on some forbidden pleasure and keeping him from his work. But he gathers his wits and deliberately fixes his attention on the incentives that motivate him the most to keep working. Maybe he focuses on the relaxation and pleasure that he'll be entitled to after he finishes his job, or the responsibility that binds him to completing his task. His thoughts stay on the path his will determines them to stay on, and his works seems less burdensome.
Perhaps a man suffers a slight injustice that brings up a flood of resentment. The offender shouldn't
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have done it, he had no right, it was mean, and so on, going through all the bitter thoughts we replay in our minds when someone offends our precious self. But if the man has control of his own will, he will refuse to let this go on. He doesn't argue within himself by saying, 'This is not right, it isn't really his fault, after all.' He knows he isn't ready for that yet, the offense is too fresh in his mind. Instead, he forces himself to think about something else--a book he just read, an email he needs to compose, anything interesting enough to distract him. Later, when he allows himself to replay the offense in his mind, he finds that the bitterness is lessened and he's able to reflect on the matter with a more detached and cool head. This doesn't just work for rising resentment. It works for every kind of temptation we run across.
Suppose a man is bored with his work. The mundane sameness of his task, the weariness of doing the same thing over and over again, fills him with disgust and despondency and he begins to slacken his effort, unless he's a man who has control of his will and refuses to allow himself to waste time being idle while thinking of discontentment. It's always within his power to find something pleasant to think about, something outside himself. And he does, and the result is a happier frame of mind so that, no matter what his task is, it seems lighter.
It is useful to know what to do when we're overrun. Knowing how to use our will is the secret of a happy life, and it's worth teaching children about it. Are you irritable? Change your thoughts! Are you tired of trying? Change your thoughts! Are you craving things you're not supposed to have? Change your thoughts!
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There is a power within you that will enable you to turn away from thoughts that make you unhappy and tempt you to do wrong, by thinking of things that will make you feel happy and motivated to do the right thing. It's deceptively simple, but it's the one single secret tool that a strong-minded person has over his own self. It's the power to make himself think of what he decides to think about and forbidding himself to think about things that breed trouble.
One can see that the will has great power within its sphere, but when you stop to think about it, that sphere is a pretty narrow limit. It takes a lot of preparation and maintenance for a strong will to have power to control a person's behavior. For instance, the person must also have developed the ability to focus his attention. We've already talked about how important this is in earlier chapters. Some people are so scattered that they can't hold a connected thought for more than five minutes, even if they try or if they are pressured to. If they've never learned to devote all of their focused attention to a subject, then it's likely that no amount of determination, even if they had a strong will, could make them able to keep their mind on one thought, whether it's theirs or someone else's thought. And this is where parts of the intellect overlap. Ability to apply one's will implies that a person is able to focus their full attention when they choose. So, before a parent can train a child's will, the child needs to develop the habit of keeping his full attention focused.
We've already mentioned how an impulse to do good that isn't followed through can become a habit. Habit can be a helper or an enemy, and often frustrates the will. The desperate alcoholic might determine with all the will he has in him. He refuses to even cast his imagination
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on drinking. He forces himself to think of other things. But it's all in vain. His mind can't resist thinking of what it's grown accustomed to thinking. His habit is too strong and his will is too weak. We've all experienced how habit conquers our will in less important issues. All of us have some lazy, procrastinating, persistent habit that our reformed will struggles with daily. But I've already said a lot about the parent's duty to make their child's way easier by creating a path of helpful habits. It's not necessary for me to say any more about how habit can help or hinder the will.
A person's ability to reason has to be cultivated if his will is going to rule well. He must have some concept of why daily reading is useful, why orthodox faith is proper, why a citizen should do his duty. Otherwise, his will is going to be weak and inconsistent. It won't be effective, and, even worse, he might take up some incorrect or even cruel idea, and do a lot of harm, while believing that he's working up his will for some noble effort. A parent should attempt to make the child conscious of the power of his will only after the child is trained to use his powers of reason in a responsible way.
We'll consider another limitation of the will next. But first, once a parent has taken the trouble to prepare his child to use his will, how does he strengthen that will so that the child can depend on it to eventually control his own life? We've already spoken about
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how important it is that the child be trained to be obedient. But obedience is only valuable as far as it helps a child make himself do what's right. Any act of obedience that doesn't give the child a sense of conquering his own inclinations will enslave him. His resentment for the loss of his freedom may compel him to rebel at the first opportunity. That's why so many children who are brought up too strictly don't do well. But when you have the child's cooperation, and when he himself wants to do the thing, then his own will, not yours, is compelling him. And then he has begun the greatest effort and highest achievement of human life--making himself do what he needs to do. Let him know what a noble thing he has done. Let him enjoy a sense of triumph. Congratulate him when he is able to make himself bring his wandering thoughts back to his tedious math sheet, or when he makes himself complete a task he started, or forces himself to throw off a dark mood and change a sour look into a smile.
Then, as we said before, let him know the secret method of using his will. Explain to him that, by exerting his will, he has the capability to redirect his thoughts from what he shouldn't be thinking about, to whatever he wants to think about--schoolwork, prayer, chores. He can be brave and strong and make himself think about whatever he chooses. Let him try it out with some experiments on some minor thoughts. Because once he gets his mind on the right thoughts, everything else takes care of itself, and he'll be sure to do the right thing. If he feels irritable, and unkind thoughts come into his mind, the plan is to think hard about something else, something good, like his next birthday, or what he wants to be when he grows up. This concept isn't taught all at once,
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but little by little, a bit at a time as opportunities come up. Once a child gets into the habit of managing and controlling himself, it's amazing how much self-will and determination a young child can have. I once heard a lady tell her four-year old nephew, 'Restrain yourself, Thomas,' and Thomas did restrain himself even though he had been pitching a fit about some minor annoyance.
In all of this, the child's will is being trained and strengthened. He is learning how and when to use his will, and his will is getting stronger and more capable every day. I'll add one more comment from Dr. Morell's Introduction to Mental Philosophy: 'When it comes to shaping a person's destiny, educating the will is far more important than educating the intellect. Theory, doctrine, consideration of laws, is never enough to develop the habit of doing the right thing consistently. We learn to do by doing. We learn to overcome by overcoming. Every time we do the right thing because we've chosen to out of principle, whether because we've been told to, or because we're following someone's example, a greater mark is made in our character than all the theory in the world.'
But the will certainly doesn't govern Mansoul all by itself. The will has the final say, because we can only do what we will ourselves to. But there's something even more powerful behind the will,
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and the will only expresses what it commands. That something is the conscience, and it sits supreme in the inner chamber of man. Conscience is the one who gives the rules. It says 'thou shalt' or 'thou shalt not' and the will does what it says. It's also the judge. When the soul is guilty of some offense, the conscience calls upon it to give account. And, once the conscience has declared a verdict, there is no appeal.
'I am, I ought, I can, I will.' These are like four steps of the ladder that St. Augustine wrote about when he said we could 'go up on the stepping stones of the old, sinful man we cast off and are dead to, and ascend to higher things.'
'I am' means that we can know ourselves and understand what we're really like. 'I ought' means that we have a moral judge inside us. We feel like we're subject to it. It lets us know what our duty is and compels us to do it. 'I can' means that we know we have the ability to do what we know we're supposed to. 'I will' means that we resolve to use the ability we know we have to do what our inner moral judge has urged us to do. Resolve is the first step in actually doing. These four make a perfect, beautiful chain. Man is designed so ingeniously to carry out right actions, that we wonder how it's even possible for him to do the wrong thing. But the sorrowful mysteries of sin and temptation aren't for me to solve here. The reality is that no life is immune from ruin and loss. That's why I'm so concerned that parents do their duty to prevent that from happening to their children by using the information I share. Probably 99 out of 100 people whose lives are ruined can point to parents who never bothered to do anything about their habits of laziness, sensual appetites and stubbornness when they were young. Their parents didn't strengthen them by teaching them the kinds of habits needed to live a good life.
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We live in a redeemed world and God's divine grace and help assists us when we try to do something right in raising our children. But there's no reason to hope that divine grace will step in as a substitute for every area we choose to neglect when we don't have to. We don't expect miracles to make up for our neglect in the physical realm. If a child gets rickets because his parents neglected his nutrition, he'll have deformed limbs for the rest of his life, even if he has other blessings to thank God for. A weak will, bad habits, a conscience that hasn't learned to discern right from wrong, limit many Christians all their lives because their parents failed to do their duty, and the person didn't have enough power as a child to overcome the lack.
Where the conscience is concerned, parents who let children do whatever they want [and neglect to guide them] do real harm to them. The parents assume that their child is born with a conscience, and they hope his behavior will be checked by his conscience. Other than that, they don't involve themselves. The child will have to work things out with his conscience himself. Parents like this either assume that a totally mature conscience is something a baby is born with, or that it grows with the child like his hair and his legs, and doesn't need the kind of religious guidance that the spirit does. That kind of thinking assumes that the conscience is infallible. But believing that is a delusion when common sense and experience shows us clearly the kinds of erroneous things people feel are the right thing to do. The inconsistence of a conscience that hasn't been taught
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is so common that there are sayings about it: 'Honor among thieves,' 'Strain out a gnat and swallow a camel,' are about misguided conscience, and 'more wishful thinking than truth,' and 'none are so blind as he who refuses to see,' are about the even more common cases of those who knowingly trick their conscience into yielding.
Conscience is not a foolproof guide. It's capable of not even noticing the most outrageous wrongs, yet throwing the book at someone over some trivial, insignificant matter, like the Pharisees who tithed even their spices, but neglected to adhere to the more important laws. Conscience can be tricked and persuaded that evil is good, and good is evil. If the conscience is so prone to weakness, what use is it against man's natural inclination to be selfish? Is the conscience merely a figment of our imagination, or a creation of our own minds? Is it nothing more than my opinion of my actions and the actions of others? On the contrary! The fact that consciences can deviate might be the most convincing proof that it exists and has real power. As Adam Smith said, 'Not just the best men, but even the worst men, feel and acknowledge that the conscience is the supreme authority. Even those who try to present who they really are sincerely to the world, work hard deceiving themselves so as not to see their own character.'
For our practical purposes, it's not necessary to settle obscure questions such as what conscience is, or whether it lies in our emotions or reason, or outside of both. But we do know this--that conscience is as essential to our nature as
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affection and reason. Conscience is the spiritual sense that gives us knowledge of good and evil. A six-month old baby who isn't even speaking yet will show evidence of a conscience. A scolding look will make him look down and hide his face. If the mother experiments by giving the baby that same look when the baby is happy and not doing anything wrong, the baby will be confused. His conscience hasn't been instructed yet and makes him feel guilty. Until his conscience learns better, it will condemn him on someone else's word.
Incidents like this reveal what a serious responsibility the parents have. The child is born with a moral aptitude, a delicate sense that helps him to discern what's right and wrong. He also has a sense of delighting in good in himself and others, and being repulsed by badness. But the poor little child is like a navigator who has a compass and doesn't know what the letters N, S, E and W mean. He is born to love good and hate evil, but he doesn't really know what's good and what's evil. He doesn't trust his own judgment, but in his simplicity, he trusts in the guidance of others. It's astonishing that the God of the universe would allow imperfect moral parents to be entrusted with the making of an immortal being. But it's even more astonishing that parents take on that trust without considering how important their responsibility is.
If we look at the child's conscience as something that needs to be developed rather than a supreme authority, then we must consider how this immature guide can be educated to do its important job of giving the will information, and telling the person what to do. A badly taught
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conscience can make serious errors. A man can slaughter the faithful because his conscience tells him that they must die. On the other hand, nobody attains a godly, righteous and controlled life without being ruled by a good conscience. A good conscience doesn't just state right and wrong. It has been taught to know the difference between them. Many people can taste such subtle differences that they could qualify for a job as a professional tea taster, but that subtle discernment is a waste and useless to tea companies, unless he can train his tongue to differentiate between tea. Only then can he make a living from his talent.
When educating the conscience, what's gone on in the child's past will have some influence, just like it does with the will. You can't refine the conscience by staying ignorant. We can't understand the morals of savages who don't know God's rules. We don't know how the Sepoys of India could have let a mixture of pig grease and beef lard in rifles cause them to massacre so many people in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. (Read about it here or here.) Superstition and prejudice results when people let something other than reason dictate right from wrong for them. We can't accept the actions of others as right, no matter how convinced they are, unless those actions are reasonable and right in themselves.
So, before conscience can make a decision in any situation, the educated reason has to consider the pros and cons. Then the experienced judgment needs to balance the pros and cons and decide which makes a stronger case. The person must focus all his attention
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on the question. Habits of doing the right thing must prevent the person from acting on his feelings, and will make doing the right thing seem easier and more comfortable. The person's desire will try to tempt him, but his conscience will be informed about all the facts relevant to the case and will decide what's the right thing to do. Then the will does what the conscience says is right. A conscientious man is one who takes every decision before his conscience. You can be sure of the opinions and actions of such a man. These elaborate steps come more naturally to a person whose conscience has been taught, and is supplemented with a trained intellect. His mind is always ready to judge and counsel him.
This is a good reason to give a child some well-rounded training. He needs the highest culture he can get, and thorough training in good habits. That way his conscience will always be alert and supported by all of the mind's powers. Such a conscience is the most important element of a noble life. An instructed conscience almost always makes the correct decisions. But it isn't usually mature until the person is mature. No matter how right-minded and sincere a child may be, he will tend to make mistakes because youths tend to get fixated and obsessed on one particular duty, or one obligation, and neglect the others.
But even a child with an immature conscience and developing mind is capable of saying, 'I can't, it wouldn't be right,' or, 'I will do that because it's the right thing to do.' And once a child is able to
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decide to do the right thing when confronted with temptations, he is able to really live. His conscience will continue to mature and develop at the same rate as his intellect. Many facets of learning in different areas are necessary for the conscience to be the best it can be. But is there any way to train the conscience directly, any way to refine a child's spiritual discernment so that he is repulsed and rejects even the mere hint of evil?
This is the most delicate part of education, and the one adults are most prone to bungle. Everyone knows how frustrating it is to discuss any nice, moral problem with children. They quibble over insignificant details, come up with all kinds of bewildering side issues to evade the question, fail to be shocked by or to admire the things we expect. They play around with the question and refuse to take it seriously. Or, even more frustrating, they are too harsh and rigidly righteous. They casually and cheerfully dictate damnation. Parents are discouraged when they see this lack of conscience in their children, but it's not really their fault. Their conscience will mature as their mind does. But at a young age, both aren't fully developed yet. These kinds of discussions have no place with children, they shouldn't be encouraged to give opinions about questions of right and wrong. And they shouldn't be given little books that authoritatively declare that specific behaviors are always wrong.
It would be good if story books and history texts were as reluctant to offer commentary as the Bible. The child might hear an edited reading about Joseph from
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the Bible, which rarely adds commentaries or explanations. Nobody has to tell him what was done wrong and what was good. He doesn't need anyone to draw out the moral lesson in the story. If that was necessary, then the Bible would have been written in vain. Good and bad actions would have no witness on their own. A child should hear the whole Bible read consecutively, from Genesis chapter 1 to the end, but with appropriate omissions. Every time the Bible is read to a child, it should be a pleasant experience. Maybe he could be in his mother's room, or even on her lap. That fifteen minutes should be a peaceful time of calm and contentment. The child's whole attention should be free to take in the story without the distraction of moral teaching. The less talk, the better. The story will sink in and bring its own lesson, some now, and more little by little as he matures year by year and can handle it. Just one of these stories will plant a moral idea inside him that will continue to grow and bear fruit.
Appropriate parts of the Bible are the most important elements of teaching morality, but any true depiction of life helps a growing conscience, whether it's a tale of noble deeds, or the story of a flawed, struggling life. The child will get into the habit of thinking about conduct in these stories. He'll start off weighing actions by their consequences. But little by little, his conscience becomes more discriminating and he'll begin judging behavior on its own merit, regardless of the consequences. This silent, subtle growth happens best if there's no chatter about the subject to distract him, because, during this chat, your mannerisms and his curiosity and his simple joy in the discussion, can draw attention away from the moral idea that the story should convey to the
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conscience. It is very important that the child not be allowed to label people around him as 'bad' because of what they do. It isn't so much an issue of whether he's right or wrong, but the habit of criticizing and blaming will dull his conscience. It will deaden his sensibility to the command, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.'
What about the child's own behavior? Should he be allowed to analyze that? Yes, he should consider his actions and even his words. But he should never be encouraged to judge his motives. That can cause him to get into the bad habit of introspection. Also, as far as children considering their ways, we need to remember that a child's conscience is still immature. Adults are often baffled when they get a glimpse into the ignorance of a child's conscience, although that rarely happens because children, in spite of their constant chatter and open friendliness, keep their deepest thoughts to themselves. They'll often commit grievous offenses against truth, modesty, and love without even realizing how mistaken they are. Yet some trivial, insignificant matter will bother them deeply. Children will bite and hurt each other viciously, steal little things, and do other shocking things that convince their parents that they must have very bad natures. But that's not necessarily the case. It's just that their conscience still hasn't learned and doesn't see a clear line between right and wrong. So they make mistakes on both sides of the line. I once saw a twelve year old who was dying and was wearing herself out with distress because she thought she had committed the unpardonable sin. Nobody even knew where she learned that term. The sin that grieved her so much was that she had neglected to get up in bed to kneel while praying! Children's ignorance
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about the most common matters of right and wrong is really pathetic. Yet too often children are treated as if they knew all about right and wrong because of the fact that they possess a conscience. But a conscience is merely a spiritual part of the body that needs direction.
It's another matter when children do wrong intentionally, and I don't need to convince anyone that children sometimes do misbehave even when they know better. But that fact doesn't negate the need to teach them the right thing to do. This teaching can't be hit or miss. It needs to be regular and sequential. Kindness, for example, might be the topic for the week. There can be a talk about kindness with their mother, the kind of informal talk that they enjoy. It should be kept short. She might explain that kindness is love in action and word, or in a look. A pool of love in a little boy's heart does nobody any good if it's closed off and hidden. It's only when that love is allowed to bubble up like a spring and flow out that it becomes kindness. Then there might be daily short talks about specific ways the child might show kindness to his siblings, friends, parents, people in pain or trouble, animals, and strangers we can't even see who are in real trouble because they don't know Jesus. The child should be given one thing to think about every day and one nice example of kindness that will inspire him and make him want to do the same.
Jesus' parable of the 'Good Samaritan' is a good model to teach about morals. The story and little talks should make children want to be just as good. Then tell them the command to 'go and do likewise.' After presenting them with the concept of kindness and specific examples, end by giving them the command to 'be kind.' Let them know that
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this law of God's is for children as well as grown ups. Once their conscience has been taught, their emotions are recruited to want to carry out their duty. Then if the child has to be reprimanded, he will have no doubt what he did wrong: he broke God's law of kindness. Even his conscience will confirm that he is guilty. Don't give children bad examples of what not to do, because human nature might make them want to copy them. Instead, tell them stories of noble actions, great and small, such as those in Yonge's book Golden Deeds. Such examples will stir them to the battle of life like a trumpet call.
Be courteous, be sincere, be grateful, be considerate, be honest. There are enough specific attributes to provide weekly topics all the child's life. And during all of this time, the child is developing the concept of duty, and his conscience is learning and maturing. The mother is acting as a friendly, alert guardian angel, always watching. She isn't trying to catch the child in a mistake, she's trying to guide him into doing the right thing that she has already made attractive to him. We only learn to do something by doing it, and we get better at doing it over time. As the mother teaches and guides, she teaches the child to listen to his conscience as if it were the voice of God, and to obey it when it says to 'do this,' or, 'don't do that.' One might protest that we are placing higher value on a conscience trained by man than a conscience divinely implanted by God and untainted by flawed man. And that's true. In every aspect of life, both physical and spiritual, we are expected to put forth some human effort before God gives us power. Even a withered arm must be stretched forth before it can be divinely healed. We have every reason to believe that when
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a conscience is taught well and obeyed faithfully, God will help by giving divine illumination and understanding.
We have not yet touched on the heart of things, or, as Wordsworth wrote, 'the very pulse of the machine.'
We have gone into the inner depths of the life of a child and investigated habit, feeling, reason and conscience. These all act on each other--but what acts on all of them? Maurice (John Frederick Denison Maurice?), who has searched into the deep things of God, wrote, 'Our spirits cry out for a King to guide them, discipline them, unite them together, and give them victory over themselves and the world. Our spirits cry out for a Priest to lift them above themselves to God the Father to make them partakers of his nature, co-laborers and true witnesses that He is both Priest and King of Men.'
We have seen that conscience is only effective when it is stirred from within the deepest part of the inner man, the holy of holies whose secrets are known only by God, the high Priest. He 'needed not that any man should tell Him, for He knew what was in man.' But we need to think about the bits we do know about this innermost chamber. We need to collect the information we can find and lay out what we know is true because even this, the heart of
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the child, is within the parents' power. They have the capability to enthrone the King and induct the Priest in their child's heart. Every human heart yearns for this.
We toss around the term 'living soul,' as if we take it for granted that every soul is living and fully developed. But our experience and scripture say otherwise. It was said about a poet (we don't know how true it was) that if ever a human being had no soul, it was him. He had reason, imagination, passions, the kinds of desires that intelligent people have. Yet he didn't seem to do any of the things one would do from their soul. What are the things that are done from the soul? St. Augustine said, 'The soul of man is for God in the same way that God is for the soul.' The soul hungers for one thing: the things of God. It wants one thing: to know God. It has one joy: being in God's presence. The soul repeats the words from Christmas Day and Other Sermons. It says, 'I want to live in the glow of God's face, which is always smiling on me.' The soul directs itself upward, but acts [in love] towards mankind. The language of the soul is prayer and praise. Its right hand is faith, its light is God's love. These are what the soul does. This is the only life it can know. If it doesn't find itself in God, it can't find life somewhere else. The conscience, the will and reason
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are useless until they are nourished with the kind of sustenance they need. It's the same with the soul. Its room is unkempt with cobwebbed doors and dirty windows until it is awakened to its purpose. It isn't totally empty, though. The germinating soul with all its potential is there, lying dormant. Its awakening might be the sudden miracle of conversion, or, if the parents are conscientious and knowing, it can be gentle and sweet, like the gradual unfolding of a flower. Some souls are idle and sleeping, but they're still living. Some souls are weak and sick, but they're still alive. And some souls are so hardened that no spark can ever awaken them.
So, what is the life of the soul? Is it something that's transmitted, like a flame that passes from a fire to torch? Maybe. But it's more than that. It's more intimate, more mysterious. 'I am the life.' 'In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.' 'Abide in Me, and I in you.' It's too holy and unspeakable to explain, except in the terms given in scripture. But, at the very least, it means that a living soul doesn't live a solitary existence in its room inside the inner man. Its room becomes the temple of the Living God. 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How dreadful is this place!'
But, seeing how holy and mysterious the union between the soul and its God is, parents may feel unqualified to meddle. What can they do? How can they help? What if they meddle--and muddle? Parents should take confidence in knowing that nourishing and encouraging the spiritual life of their child
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isn't a choice they have to make. It is a duty and obligation from God. It doesn't really matter how well the parent meets his child's physical needs, moral sensitivity and mental culture if he neglects or fails in his duty to develop his child's spiritual life. What can a parent do? Only this and no more: he can present the idea of God to the soul of the child. Just like in the rest of the universe, God carries out His will through imperfect, inadequate means. Who would ever think that a bee could produce apple trees? Yet a bee flies from an apple tree laden with pollen from apple blossoms, and then unwittingly deposits it on the stigmas of flowers on the next tree it comes to. The bee flies on, but the pollen stays behind. It's nowhere near the immature ovule, but that doesn't matter. The ovule can't reach up and take it, but the pollen sends out a tiny tube within the length of the style to reach the ovule. The seeds are pollinated and the tree bears apples with seeds that may become new apple trees. Understand that the parent is not much better than the witless bee. His role is to deposit some fruitful concept of God within reach of the child's soul. The child's immature soul isn't able to reach out to the idea, but God's living Word reaches down and touches the child's soul. Then, there is life. There is growth, beauty, flower and fruit.
I'd like you to try looking at these divine mysteries in the same way, philosophically, that we've looked at all the other capabilities and functions of the child. It might be enlightening to look at life's religious
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mysteries from a different perspective, from outside of a religious context. Also, I want to have a smooth, unbroken path of logic to convince parents of their highest obligation in regards to their children's education. Here, the apple tree/bee analogy breaks down. The parents must not go blundering randomly as a bee flitting from flower to flower. This is the most important duty he has. It's also the most delicate. If he wants to introduce his child to God, and expose the concept of God to his child's soul, the parent will need faith, prayer, tact, discretion, humility, gentleness, love, and good judgment.
It has been accurately said, 'If we think of God as stingy, harsh and demanding instead of generous and giving, then we shall become stingy, harsh and demanding instead of generous and giving.' Yet that's just how God is presented most of the time--as a strict Pharaoh demanding his quota of bricks in the form of good behavior and good deeds. Parents deliberately present God that way to pressure their children when their own authority is weak. They speak for God, threatening punishments that they wouldn't utter on their own behalf. Children may hear a caregiver yell passionately, 'God can't love you, you rotten kid! I hope he sends you to that bad place!' And those two images of God--as demanding and punishing--are often the only images a child receives of God. What fruit can possibly come of this? Most likely, the child will be repulsed by the idea of God and turn his face away from God the Father. But, what if he were taught instead of the 'all-forgiving gentleness of God'?
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These are only two ways that tender children are often put off about God. The mother who realizes that her child's heart may be permanently turned against God if he gets the wrong ideas when he's young, will understand the need for giving this matter serious, careful thought and resolve. What teaching should her child receive about this all-important subject? She might forbid anyone from even mentioning God's name to her children, except for his parents. She will have to explain that it's only because she's so concerned that her children only receive the correct impressions regarding this great matter. It's better that her children have only a few vital concepts that will encourage their souls to grow, than that they have a lot of vague, incorrect teaching.
How do we decide which few vital thoughts to teach about the Infinite God? It's not as difficult as it might seem at first glance. To begin with, we must teach only what we know in our hearts to be true, not just what we know with our intellect. Of all the doctrines, teachings and traditions out there, we'll find that there are only a few that we have accepted so deeply that we can live by them. It's individual for each person, some accept more, some can accept only one. Whether it's one or a few for us, those are the ones we should teach our children because those are the only ones that can sincerely come from our hearts with the kind of enthusiasm that conviction brings, the kind of enthusiasm that is so compelling that it's hard for others not to catch, too. The best way to make children take their faith lightly is to use phony, dead words
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about the best things. Our artificial seriousness in tone and manner substitute for the living meaning that real conviction would bring. If a parent only truly believes one thing with all his heart, then let him teach his child just that one thing. By the time his child needs more, the parent may know more with certainty.
Some concepts about spirituality are more suitable for children and more relevant to their lives. The joy Jesus gives means more to a child than the God of All Comfort.
And there are other concepts that are the daily bread of the soul. Without them, life and growth aren't possible. A lot of teaching can wait until the child has a need for it, but some ideas are vitally necessary for spiritual life. A child who isn't taught those things will go out into the world with an undeveloped soul in spite of any theological knowledge he may have.
Knowledge of God is not the same thing as morality, although being good will result from knowing God. But don't put the cart before the horse. Don't nag and preach at a child about being good as if he owes it to God, without first giving him the information that will change his heart so he can be good.
That doesn't leave us with a lot left to teach. Working within these limitations eliminates a lot of the kinds of things that children are commonly taught in their religious lessons. The question is no longer how to decide between all the things we could cover, but, what is so vital that we don't dare leave it out?
The next thing the mother needs to consider is when and how
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to teach her children about God. It's better for her instruction to be rare and therefore more esteemed, than to be so frequent that children tune it out. It would be better for a child to get no religious teaching at all than to hear it so often that he gets tired of it and the mere mention of anything religious turns him off. Yet he does need to be built up in his faith. He should be getting training regularly and progressively. Finding the right balance depends on the mother. Like the beautiful scent of flowers carried on the breeze, spiritual teaching should depend on which way the wind blows. Every now and then a teachable moment will arise. The mother and child will be together and they will both feel that it's a holy moment. That's the perfect time to make a deeply felt, softly spoken comment about God. It shouldn't be too wordy, and there should be no pressure or urging to act on anything. There should just be a flash of conviction from the mother's soul to her child. Is the concept of God as a loving, protective Father the concept to offer the child? After just a few words, it will only take a look from the mother to relate that concept to lots of manifestations of God's Fatherhood. That concept will grow and become part of the child's spiritual life. That's all it takes. There doesn't need to be any weekly lesson plans. The child doesn't have to dread a lecture, which smothers the fire of his sacred life. To keep from over-doing it, the mother will have to exercise great restraint. Many opportunities will seem to appear, but she'll have to let them pass, even while keeping in mind the earnest purpose and plan in her heart of building her child's faith. And it goes without saying that she should pray. She will need wisdom from above to enable her to do this task.
A word about
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reading the Bible. We often make so many comments and practical applications about scripture, that the scripture itself is buried. And I don't think it's a good idea to pick out specific verses and hammer them into a child. That will only make those verses lose their meaning for him, which doesn't help his spiritual life. God's Word is full of living power and it can take care of practical application on its own. A spiritual seed as light as thistledown will waft into the child's soul. Its roots will reach down into the child's soul, but its fruit will reach outwards. Our duty as parents is to instill in our children a love for God's Word. The most delightful part of a child's day should be when his mother reads him scripture. She should read the wonderful Bible stories with tender understanding, and with reverence and joy in her voice. From time to time, one of those holy moments mentioned earlier will occur. The mother will pass her own conviction about something to her child, and it will go into his soul, where the life of the Spirit is. The child should grow so that,
'New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven,'
are something to look forward to. When he names the day's blessings, this should be among them. Most importantly, don't read the Bible as a way to make him feel ashamed of his faults. It's the Holy Sprit's job to convict of sin, not ours. He is able to use His Word to do this, without risking offense or hardening of the heart like we might with our clumsy handling.
The way to work out this divine teaching will come from each mother's own personal conviction. I'll only try to mention one or two of the vital truths that sustain spiritual life.
'Our Father, who art in
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heaven,' might be the first concept of God that a mother will present to her child. God is our Father and He makes us glad with the blessings He gives us every day. 'What a happy birthday our Father has given to my little boy!' 'The flowers are coming again; our Father has taken care of the plants all through the cold winter!' 'Listen to the skylark! It's amazing how our Father can put so much joy into the heart of one little bird.' 'Thank God for making my little girl so happy and joyful!' From this concept comes spontaneous, free prayer from the child. The child's heart will well up in thanks for all the little blessings of his day rather than petitioning God just yet. It doesn't matter what words are used, they just need to be words he can understand. To God, any time the heart of one of His children rises to Him, it's prayer. From this concept also comes obligation and duty. We're glad to acknowledge our debt to such a gracious and kind Father. He isn't a Parent who threatens us into obedience at a sword's point. His children are glad to obey.
The second concept that children need to know is that Jesus is our King. This concept will let loose the treasures of loyalty, love, faith and imagination that are locked inside a child's heart. The very essence of Christianity is personal loyalty. We are passionately loyal to our wonderful Master. Some people have tried to lay foundations of regeneration, sacraments, justification, works, faith, or the Bible. These may be necessary to salvation, but if they're over-emphasized, they can become a religion about Christ, but without Christ. A time of sifting has come in our day. Many thinkers claim to know nothing about our religious systems. They declare
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that all of our orthodox beliefs aren't knowable. Maybe this happens because they think so much about salvation that they've forgotten Who saved them. But no one who has ever truly known Him can forget Him. If the very concept of Jesus is life, then the mere thought of Jesus, once it touches the soul, will rise up as a living power, independent of all the mind's mere formulas. Let us pass the torch of Christianity to the next generation by bringing them into allegiance to Christ the King. But how? Well, during the English Civil War, how did the old Cavaliers bring up their children to be passionately loyal and reverent to earthly princes who weren't very honorable? They did it by example. Their own hearts were filled with loyalty, their lips spoke reverence, their actions declared their service. The style of clothes they wore, the ring of their voices, even the pride with which they held their head proclaimed unlimited devotion to their king and to his cause. That war, whatever else it did or failed to do, left a lesson for Christians. If a Stuart prince could command that much loyalty, shouldn't Jesus be worthy of our loyalty? After all, he's 'the Chief amongst ten thousand, the altogether lovely One.'
Jesus is our Savior. This concept should be presented tenderly to the child while he's sorrowing over a misbehavior. 'My poor little boy, you've been so naughty today. Couldn't you help it?' 'No, Mommy,' he sobs. 'No, I guess you couldn't. But there's a way of help.' And that's when the mother tells her child how Jesus is our Savior because He saves us from our sins. It's debatable whether a child should learn about Jesus' death on the cross too early. It might be fun to start with Moses and the prophets. Then, throughout the Old Testament, the child could see the gradual unfolding of the Messiah's work and
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character. Then, when his mind is thinking about the Hope of Israel, they could see the mystery of the birth in Bethlehem, and the humiliation of the cross. Yet, maybe what they might gain from the freshness of this novel presentation wouldn't make it worth missing the opportunity to grow up with the knowledge of Calvary and Bethlehem always in their minds. One more thing--it's not good to let children be careless and casual with the name of Jesus. They shouldn't sing hymns that don't use a reverent tone. 'Ye call Me Master and Lord; and ye say well, for so I am.'
Jesus living in us is a concept very well suited for children. Their simple faith doesn't stumble at the mystery. Their imagination is ready to accept the wonder that the King Himself should live in their hearts. 'How will I know He's there, Mommy?' 'When you're peaceful, kind and happy, it's because Jesus is in you.
'And when He comes, such joy you'll wear
Your friends will know the King is there.''
I won't even try to list any more of the vital truths that a Christian mother might present to her child. Have patience until those truths bear fruit in his soul and his heart is like a beautiful garden blessed by God. But don't forget that this requires prayer.
** Twaddle is idle, trivial chatter, or witless drivel that tries to talk down to a child.