The video discussion will be posted as soon as it is available.
Part V: Lessons as Instruments of Education, Cont.
III. Further Considerations of the Kindergarten
The Childhood of Tolstoy:
Charlotte says that if we adults were to draw a map of childhood, most of it would have to be labeled as “unexplored” because we assume the minds of children are as small as their bodies and we make little effort to discover otherwise.
“But if one of us do, by chance, get a child revealed to him, he is startled to find that the child has by far the keener intelligence, the wiser thoughts, the larger soul of the two.” (Pg. 182)
She uses Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood, Youth as an example of the tender conscience of a child, in which a he explains writing a letter to his grandmother and says she is as wonderful as his mother. But as soon as he read it aloud he felt guilty because he didn’t really mean it. No one could compare to his mother, not even his grandmother.
When we take a closer look at the spirit of a child, it’s striking when we find what Charlotte calls their “exquisitely delicate organ of truth,” something we are familiar with because we once possessed it too.
“... the recollection should quicken our reverence for the tender consciences of children.” (Pg. 183)
The Story of a Child:
Charlotte goes on to mention another book, The Story of a Child by Margaret Deland, which includes a poem that encapsulates what we all feel as humans, but perhaps children feel it more keenly.
“Each in his hidden sphere of joy or woe
Our hermit spirits dwell, and range apart,
Our eyes see all around in gloom or glow—
Hues of their own, fresh borrow’d from the heart.”
We all live in our own world of happiness or sadness, and we’re all lonely, separate from one another. And we see the things around us as happy or sad, depending upon the current mood of our heart.
Charlotte goes on to say that the only way we can truly understand our children is to remember our own childhood.
“Just so irrational, tiresome, to the grown-up world were our own impulses in that long ago, on which we look back with tenderness, but seldom with complacency.” (Pg. 184)
If it’s possible for us to get in touch once more with our inner child, our own children will be the better for it. Remembering both the tender joys and the uncomfortable moments of our own childhood can help us to empathize with our little ones. And while our children will probably be fine if we don’t give our very best effort to understand them, Charlotte says, “one of the saddest things in life is the issue of splendid child-material into commonplace, uninteresting maturity, of a kind that the world seems to be neither the better nor the worse for.” (Pg. 184)
We don’t want to take so much care in following all of the “guidelines” set out by “experts” in child rearing, that in the process we cause our children to lose the magic of childhood and the quirks that make them each unique. Charlotte stated herself that there is no one way to raise a child. Understanding what makes them tick is of invaluable importance.
What We Owe to Froebel:
Friedrich Froebel was a German educator who invented the Kindergarten. He believed in play as the greatest expression of child development and encouraged learning through nature.
Charlotte says we owe a lot to Froebel for raising “an altar to the enthusiasm of childhood upon which the flame has never since gone out.” (Pg. 185)
Requirements of a Person:
However, Charlotte mentions her reservations about viewing children as plants in a garden (Kindergarten means “children’s garden”), and she disagrees with the idea of creating an artificial, cookie cutter environment in which children should grow.
“Our first care should be to preserve the individuality, give play to the personality, of children.” (Pg. 186)
Nature as an Educator:
Charlotte warns against parents and educators taking too much power in a child’s education.
“A little guiding, a little restraining, much reverent watching, Nature asks of us; but beyond that it is the wisdom of parents to leave children as much as may be to Nature, and ‘to a higher Power than Nature itself.’” (Pg. 186)
Danger of Undervaluing Children’s Intelligence:
Indeed, when we take the time to really watch how children interact with their world and find they are much more intelligent than we give them credit for, it’s unlikely that we’ll feel “that physical, mental, and moral development waits, so to speak, upon Kindergarten teaching.” (Pg. 187)
Charlotte gives the example of an adult attempting to talk to a three year old girl about “pretty baa-lambs,” but the adult is taken aback when the young girl states how dreadful it is that pigs should be slaughtered. Of course we’d hope that our children wouldn’t be exposed to such things, but this young girl “made as effective a protest against twaddle as would any woman of Society.” (Pg. 187)
When left to themselves, children play out real dramatic stories like Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island, with all of their adventure and grit. Even toddlers will try to keep in step with their older siblings during these games.
“And, if the little people were in the habit of telling how they feel, we should learn perhaps that they are a good deal bored by the nice little games in which they frisk like lambs, flap their fins, and twiddle their fingers like butterflies.” (Pg. 187)
We All Like to be Humored:
But, we may argue that children do all of these pleasant little games without protest in Kindergarten. Charlotte says, however, that it’s in human nature to allow ourselves to be managed by people who take the time and trouble to play upon our good nature.
If even we adults allow ourselves to be managed by others, how much more so will children? This doesn’t mean the children don’t have deeper thoughts and ideas than those fluffy ones presented to them.
Teachers Mediate Too Much:
Charlotte says there are probably still Kindergartens where much twaddle is presented in song and story by a teacher who feels she needs to make all of the poems and pictures herself in order to fulfill her function. But, Charlotte says, this leaves no room for the children to initiate their own education. They are with their teacher too much!
Danger of Personal Magnetism:
In fact, Charlotte says, the charisma of a teacher may be the worst thing for her students. This is because “we lose vigour and individuality under this sort of influence.” (Pg. 189)
The artificial environment created in Kindergartens cannot replace the fullness and richness of a home environment, because home is more multi-dimensional… a place where real life happens.
Kindergarten a False Analogy:
No doubt, Charlotte says, intentions were good when the idea of a “child garden” was first derived. The idea appeals to orderliness without spontaneity or movement. “Culture, due stimulus, sweetness and light, became the chief features of a great educational code. From the potting-shed to the frame and thence to the flower-bed, the little plant gets in due proportion what is good for him. He grows in a seemly way, in ordered ranks; and in fit season puts forth his flower.” (Pg 189)
However, this analogy is misleading! There is no creation in nature that can compare to humans. The result of an education formatted in this perfectly structured way completely disregards and even snuffs out the natural and spontaneous development of God’s creation, our individuality as humans.
Mother-Games too Strenuous for a Child:
Charlotte discusses the natural relationship between mother and child and the baby’s keen awareness of his mother’s emotions. They have a strong natural bond marked with just the right amount of development and learning through their seemingly ordinary interaction. The baby is naturally stimulated by his mother’s tender playing and then falls asleep when he’s had enough.
However, we’re made to feel by “educational specialists” that our babies need these ordinary moments to be filled with intentional learning in order to advance their education at even this earliest age. The problem is, we are putting too much pressure onto their little brains to develop faster than what Nature intended! The result is that some of his joy in life is taken from him and what would have been a joyful process has now zapped him of some of his energy to put toward his own individuality and giftedness.
The Society of His Equals too Stimulating for a Child:
Charlotte argues that too much time spent only with children their own age has negative implications for our children.
“... for everyday life, the mixed society of elders, juniors and equals, which we get in a family gives at the same time the most repose and the most room for individual development. We have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the said child in school life.” (Pg. 191)
Danger of Supplanting Nature:
When we supplement Nature to too high of a degree, we run the risk of depriving a child the space he or she needs to grow organically and to the full. Always telling a child not to do this or not to do that at every turn suppresses their natural curiosity and process of learning. Children should be given space to “run and jump, leap and tumble, lie on his face watching a worm, or on his back watching the bees in a lime tree. Nature will look after him and give him promptings of desire to know many things…” (Pg. 192)
Importance of Personal Initiative:
As mothers we may feel it’s hard to let go and allow our children too much free space to explore independently, afraid that they will develop bad habits. But, Charlotte says, “we must not make a fetish of habit; education is a life as well as a discipline.” (Pg. 192)
So much positive development is the result of freedom and curiosity in the out of doors. “The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer’s day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention of the mother’s part, but of much masterly inactivity.” (Pg. 192)
Parents and Teachers must Sow Opportunities:
The problem with our thinking is that we believe too much in mediators… we expect that someone should be guiding and directing a child at every moment. However, child Nature is a built in mediator, constantly providing opportunities for development. Our part is only to facilitate and then step away, allowing our children the room to initiate on their own, stepping in only when we are badly needed.
Mothers would be wise to understand that “letting alone is the chief thing asked of them, seeing that every mother has in Nature an all-sufficient handmaid, who arranges for due work and due rest of mind, muscles, and senses,” (Pg. 193)
So what about the ‘only’ child? Wouldn’t they benefit from the stimulus of a Kindergarten? Charlotte argues that having a couple of young friends would probably be better. If given the opportunity and provided the skills, an ‘only’ child will teach himself all number of things, from painting, painting, weaving, building, even reading, writing, and math. And Charlotte says he’ll do these things because he wants to, provided that a “standard of perfection in his small works be kept before him.” (Pg. 194)
The Child Should be Allowed Some Ordering of His Life:
Charlotte says that family life offers just enough adult-controlled order, but also allows the child the opportunity to control and make order of the rest of his time. The overly structured format of public schools where lessons look like play are a cheap and lacking substitute. A child wants and needs the opportunity to craft and order his own play.
An example of the power of natural development over any too carefully organized system would easily be the story of Helen Keller. Helen lost her sight, hearing, and speech at 19 months old due to a severe illness. For years she was trapped in her body and mind without any means of communicating and growing ever more bitter and angry. It wasn’t until her ‘miracle worker,’ Anne Sullivan came to be her instructor that the doors of her mind and heart were opened through one of the only senses she had left… the sense of touch. The first word that unlocked her mind to countless other words was water. The first word that unlocked her heart to the fullness of life was love.
“... it is not too much to say that this imprisoned and desolate child entered upon such a large inheritance of thought and knowledge, of gladness and vision, as few of us of the seeing and hearing world attain to. The instrument in this great liberation was nothing more than the familiar manual alphabet, followed in course of time by raised books and ‘Braille.’” (Pg. 195)
Miss Sullivan on Systems of Education:
It’s interesting to read Miss Sullivan’s own thoughts about systems of education:
“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think, whereas if the child is left to himself he will think more and better if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things, and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences.” (Pg. 195-196)
The Kindergarten in the United States:
Charlotte uses the United States as an example of taking Froebel’s idea of the Kindergarten and running with it full steam ahead without question or hesitation.
“It is in America… that the Kindergarten has become a cult, and the great teacher a prophet. But the impulse has worn itself out; any way, it is waxing weak.” (Pg. 197)
Mr. Thistleton Mark on the Kindergarten:
A man named Thistleton Mark wrote a paper called Moral Education in American Schools in which he said that even those most loyal to Froebel’s initial idea of Kindergarten will eventually need more in order to provide a full education. In the United States, Charlotte says, the Kindergarten looks less and less like Froebel’s Kindergarten, and has become a more broad and generic representation it. While Froebel’s Kindergarten was too narrow, the Kindergarten in the United States is too generic.
Dr. Stanley Hall on the Kindergarten:
Dr. Hall believed that while Froebel’s intentions were good, the application of them had been watered down over the years, resulting in bland and mundane educational programs with little value left for the children. In his opinion, Kindergarten had become marked by oversimplified lessons, passionless music, and mediocre pictures… dumbed down resources for bored children.
With these thoughts in mind, Charlotte closes this section by asking what we are all thinking— Is Kindergarten really the best learning ground for young children?