III. Further Consideration Of The Kindergarten

III. Further Consideration Of The Kindergarten

The Childhood of Tolstoi––There is possibly no known field of research in which so little available work has been done as in that covered by the word 'children.' The 'fair lande' lies under our very eyes, but whoso would map it out must write 'Unexplored' across vast tracts. Thoughtful persons begin to suspect that the mistakes we make through this ignorance are grievous and injurious. For example, are not all our schemes of education founded on the presumption that a child's mind––his 'thinking, feeling man'––begins 'very small,' and grows great with the growth of his body? We cannot tell if this is indeed the case. The children keep themselves to themselves in a general way, their winning ways and frank confidences notwithstanding; 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. When genius is able to lift the veil and show us a child, it does a service which, in our present state of thought, we are hardly able to appraise; and when genius or simplicity, or both, shall have given us enough such studies to generalise upon, we shall doubtless reconsider the whole subject, and shall be dismayed at the slights we have been putting upon children in the name of education. Count Tolstoi gives us, in Childhood, Boyhood, Youth1, unmistakable child-portraiture, a miniature in which a mother may see her child and recognise what and how much there is in him:––

"Like our own dear mother," the little fellow writes, in the verses he makes for his grandmother's birthday; and then, when the verses come to be read, ah! The humiliation of the soul he goes through, and how surely he expects father and grandmother to find him out for a hypocrite. "Why did I write it? She's not here, and it was not necessary to mention her; I love grandma, it's true; I reverence her, but still she is not the same. Why did I write it? Why have I lied?" This is the sort of thing there is in children. We recognise it as we read, and remember the dim, childish days when we, too, had an 'organ of truth' just so exquisitely delicate; and the recollection should quicken our reverence of the tender consciences of children.

"The Story of a Child."––I should like while speaking of this subject to mention another book which contains the self-revelation of a child,––a child that once was summoned, to give evidence, out of the dark abysm of time. This is the sort of study of a child that is really precious, because it is to be had on no other terms than by harking back to our own childhood, vivifying it, reproducing it, by mere force of imaginative power. This is absolutely the only way to get into sympathy with a child, for children, with all their frank confidences and ready chatter, are quite inscrutable little persons, who never tell anyone the sort of things that read in this 'Story.' There is no need to tell each other, for other children know, and, as for telling the grown-ups, children are fully persuaded that no grown-up, not even mother, could understand; Otto might, perhaps, and confidences will be poured into the ear of a dog which the loving mother lays herself out for in vain.

   "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."

And this is even more notably the case with children than with ourselves. It is a law of our nature with which it is absolutely useless to contend, and our only means of true intimacy with a child is the power of recovering our own childhood––a power which we are apt to let slip as of no vital importance. This, Miss Margaret Deland helps us to do: we recognise our old selves, with a difference, in Ellen. Just so irrational, inconsequent, loving and heroic, and generally tiresome to the grown-up world were our own impulses that long ago, on which we look back with tenderness, but seldom with complacency. If we rise, after reading, The Story of a Child1, a little more humble, a little more diffident, ready to believe more than we see, why, it will do us no harm, and should bless and help the children. From one word of the author's we should like to differ. Miss Deland thinks that it may be wholesome for the elders to understand children better, but for the children, why, she thinks that most of us grow up wonderfully well in spite of this and all other difficulties. In a sense this is true, but, in another sense, one of the saddest things in life is the issue of splendid child-material into common place, uninteresting maturity, of a kind that the world seems to be neither the best nor the worse for.

Tolstoi's childhood and that of Miss Deland's little heroine would appear to be a far cry from the 'Kindergarten'; but as a matter of fact these two revelations of what children are bring our contention to a point. We are told that, "but yesterday, in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the Faculty was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other day his successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the University to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject that were no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: 'Take every text-book that is more than ten years old, and put it down in the cellar.'" So far as education is a science, the truth of even ten––much more, a hundred––years ago is not the whole truth of to-day.

   "Thought beyond their thoughts to those high seers were given";

and, in proportion as the urgency of educational effort presses upon us, will be the ardour of our appreciation, the diligence of our employment, of those truths which the great pioneers, Froebel and the rest, have won for us by no less than prophetic insight. But, alas, and alas, for the cravings of lazy human nature––we may not have an educational pope; we must think out for ourselves, as well as work out, those things that belong to the perfect bringing-up of our children.

What we Owe to Froebel.––We reverence Froebel. Many of his great thoughts we share; we cannot say borrow, because some, like the child's relations to the universe, are at least as old as Plato; others belong to universal practice and experience, and this shows their psychological rightness. Froebel gathered diffused thought and practice into a system, but he did a greater thing than this. He raised an altar to the enthusiasm of childhood upon which the flame has never since gone out. The true Kindergartnerin is the artist amongst teachers; she is filled with the inspiration of her work, and probably most sincere teachers have caught something from her fervour, some sense of the beauty of childhood, and of the enthralling delight of truly educational work.

Requirements of a Person.––And yet I enter a caveat. Our first care should be to preserve the individuality, to give play to the personality, of children. Now persons do not grow in a garden, much less in a greenhouse. It is a doubtful boon to a person to have conditions too carefully adapted to his needs. The exactly due sunshine and shade, pruning and training, are good for a plant whose uses are subordinate, so to say, to the needs and pleasures of its owner. But a person who has other uses in the world, and mother or teacher who regards him as a plant and herself as the gardener, will only be saved from grave mistakes by the force of human nature in herself and in her child.

Nature as an Educator.––The notion of supplementing Nature from the cradle is a dangerous one. 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."

Danger of undervaluing Children's Intelligence.––Those of us who have watched an urchin of seven making Catherine-wheels down the length of a street, or a group of little girls dancing to a barrel organ, or small boys and girls on a door-step giving what Dickens calls 'dry nourishment' to their babies, or a small girl sent by her mother to make four careful purchases out of sixpence and bring home the change––are not ready to believe that physical, mental, and moral development waits, so to speak, upon Kindergarten teaching. Indeed, I am inclined to question whether, in the interest of carrying out a system, the charming Kindergartnerin is not in danger sometimes of greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children. I know a person of three who happened to be found by a caller alone in the drawing room. It was spring, and the caller thought to make himself entertaining with talk about the pretty 'baa-lambs.' But a pair of big blue eyes were fixed upon him and a solemn person made this solemn remark, "Isn't it a dwefful howid thing to see a pig killed!" We hope she had never seen or even heard of the killing of a pig, but she made as effective a protest against twaddle as would any woman of Society. Boers and kopjes, Russians and Japs, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday, the fight of Thermopylae, Ulysses and the Suitors––these are the sorts of things that children play at by the month together; even the toddlers of three and four will hold their own manfully with their brothers and sisters. 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.

We all like to be Humoured.––'But,' says the reader, 'children do all these things so pleasantly and happily in the Kindergarten!' It is a curious thing about human nature that we all like to be managed by persons who take the pains to play on our amiabilities. Even a dog can be made foolishly sentimental; and, if we who are older have our foibles in this kind, it is little wonder that children can be wooed to do anything by persons whose approaches to them are always charming. It is true that 'W.V.,' the child whom the world has been taught to love, sang her Kindergarten songs with little hands waving in the 'air so blue'! but that was for the delectation and delusion of the elders when bedtime came. 'W.V.' had greater thoughts at other times.

Teachers mediate too much.––There are still, probably, Kindergartens where a great deal of twaddle is talked in song and story, where the teacher conceives that to make poems for the children herself and to compose tunes for their singing and to draw pictures for their admiration, is to fulfil her function to the uttermost. The children might echo Wordsworth's complaint of 'the world,' and say, the teacher is too much with us, late and soon. Everything is directed, expected, suggested. No other personality out of book, picture, or song, no, not even that of Nature herself, can get at the children without the mediation of the teacher. No room is left for spontaneity or personal initiation on their part.

Danger of Personal Magnetism.––Most of us are misled by our virtues, and the entire zeal and enthusiasm of the Kindergartnerin is perhaps her stone of stumbling. 'But the children are so happy and good!' Precisely; the home-nursery is by no means such a scene of peace, but I venture to think it a better growing place. I am delighted to see that an eminent Froebelian protests against the element of personal magnetism in the teacher; but there is, or has been, a good deal of this element in the successful Kindergartner, and we all know how we lose vigour and individuality under this sort of influence. Even apart from this element of charm, I doubt if the self-adjusting property of life in the Kindergarten is good for the children.

'Kindergarten' a False Analogy.––The world suffered that morning when the happy name of 'Kindergarten' suggested itself to the greatest among educational 'Fathers.' No doubt it was simple and fit in its first intention as meaning an out-of-door garden life for the children; but, a false analogy has hampered, or killed, more than one philosophic system––the child became a plant in a well-ordered garden. The analogy appealed to the orderly, scientific German mind, which does not much approve of irregular, spontaneous movement in any sort. 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.

Now, to a figure a person by any analogy whatsoever is dangerous and misleading; there is nothing in nature commensurable with a person. Because the analogy of the garden plant is very attractive, it is the more misleading; manifestations of purpose in a plant are wonderful and delightful, but in a person such manifestations are simply normal. The outcome of any thought is necessarily moulded by that thought, and to have a cultivated garden as the ground-plan of our educational thought, either means nothing at all, which it would be wronging the Master to suppose, or it means undue interference with the spontaneous development of a human being.

Mother-games too strenuous for a Child.––To begin with the 'Mother-games,' a sweet conception, most lovingly worked out. But let us consider; the infant is exquisitely aware of every mood of his mother, the little face clouds with grief or beams with joy in response to the expression of hers. The two left to themselves have rare games. He jumps and pulls, crows and chuckles, crawls and kicks and gurgle with joy; and, amid all the play, is taught what he may not do. Hands and feet, legs and arms, fingers and toes, are continually going while he is awake; mouth, eyes and ears are agog. All is play without intention, and mother plays with baby as glad as he. Nature sits quietly by and sees to it that all the play is really work; and development of every sort is going on at a greater rate during the first two years of life than at any like period of after life––enough development and not too much, for baby is an inordinate sleeper. Then comes in the educator and offers a little more. The new games are so pretty and taking that baby might as well be doing these as his own meaningless and clumsy jumpings and pattings. But a real labour is being put upon the child in addition to the heaviest two years' work that his life will know. His sympathy with his mother is so acute that he perceives something strenuous in the new play, notwithstanding all the smiles and pretty talk; he answers by endeavour, great in proportion as he is small. His nerve centres and brain power have been unduly taxed, some of the joy of living has been taken from him, and though his baby response to direct education is very charming, he has less latent power left for the future calls of life.

The Society of his Equals too stimulating for a child.––Let us follow the little person to the Kindergarten, where he has the stimulus of classmates of his own age. It certainly is stimulating. For ourselves, no society is so much so as that of a number of persons of our own age and standing; this is the great joy of college life; a wholesome joy for all young people for a limited time. But persons of twenty have, or should have, some command over their inhibitory centres. They should not permit the dissipation of nerve power caused by too much social stimulus; yet even persons of twenty are not always equal to the task of self-management in exciting circumstances. What then, is to be expected of persons of two, three, four, five? That the little person looks rather stolid than otherwise is no guarantee against excitement within. The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs up to health; but 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 same child in school life.

Danger of supplanting Nature.––Danger lurks in the Kindergarten, just in proportion to the completeness and beauty of its organisation. It is possible to supplement Nature so skilfully that we run some risk of supplanting her, depriving her of space and time to do her own work in her own way. 'Go and see what Tommy is doing and tell him he mustn't,' is not sound doctrine. Tommy should be free to do what he likes with his limbs and his mind through all the hours of the day when he is not sitting up nicely at meals. He should 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; and somebody must tell as he wants to know; and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the way; and to be many things, naughty and good, and somebody should give direction.

Importance of Personal Initiative.––Here we come to the real crux of the Kindergarten question. The busy mother says she has no leisure to be that somebody, and the child will run wild and get into bad habits; but we must not make a fetish of habit; education is a life as well as a discipline. Health, strength, and agility, bright eyes and alert movements, come of a free life, out-of-doors, if it may be and as for habits, there is no habit or power so useful to man or woman as that of personal initiative. 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 on the mother's part, but of much masterly inactivity.

Parents and Teachers must sow Opportunities.––The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators. Now, Nature is her own mediator, undertakes, herself, to find work for eyes and ears, taste and touch; she will prick the brain with problems and the heart with feelings; and the part of the mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted. Mothers shirk their work and put it, as they would say, into better hands than their own, because they do not recognise that wise 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.

In one way the children of the poor have better chances than those of the rich. Poor children get education out of household ways; but there is a great deal of teaching to be got out of a wisely ordered nursery, and their own small persons and possessions should, as I have said, afford much 'Kindergarten' training to the little family at home. At six or seven, definite lessons should begin, and these need not be watered down or served with jam for the acute intelligences that will in this way be brought to bear on them.

'Only' Children.––But what of only children, or the child too old to play with her baby brother? Surely the Kindergarten is a great boon for these! Perhaps so; but a cottage-child as a companion, or a lively young nursemaid, might be better. A child will have taught himself to paint, paste, cut paper, knit, weave, hammer and saw, make lovely things in clay and sand, build castles with his bricks; possibly, too, will have taught himself to read, write, and do sums, besides acquiring no end of knowledge and notions about the world he lives in, by the time he is six or seven. What I contend for is that he shall do these things because he chooses (provided that the standard of perfection in his small works be kept before him).

The Child should be allowed some Ordering of his Life.––The details of family living will give him the repose of an ordered life; but, for the rest, he should have more free-growing time than is possible in the most charming school. The fact that lessons look like play is no recommendation: they just want the freedom of play and the sense of his own ordering that belongs to play. Most of us have little enough opportunity for the ordering of our own lives, so it is well to make much of the years that can be given to children to gain this joyous experience.

Helen Keller.––I think what I have said of natural development as opposed to any too carefully organised system is supported by a recent contribution, of unique value, to the science of education––I mean the autobiography of Helen Keller1.

When she was nineteen months old, Helen had a severe illness, in which she lost sight and hearing, and consequently speech. She never recovered the lost senses and here, we should say, was a soul almost inviolably sealed, to which there was no approach but through the single sense of touch; yet, this lady's book, written with her own unaided hands (she used a typewriter), with hardly any revision, should rank as a classic for the purity and pregnancy of the style, independently of the vital interest of the matter. How was the miracle accomplished? Of her childhood Helen says herself that, save for a few impressions, "the shadows of the prison-house" enveloped it. But there were always roses, and she had the sense of smell; and there was love––but she was not loving then. When she was seven Miss Sullivan came to her. This lady herself had been blind for some years, and had been at the Perkins Institute, founded by that Dr Howe who liberated the intelligence of Laura Bridgman. But Miss Sullivan is no mere output of any institution. She is a person of fine sanity and wholesomeness, trusting to her personal initiative, and aware from the first that her work was to liberate the personality of her little pupil and by no means to superimpose her own. "Thus I came up out of Egypt," says Miss Keller of the arrival of her teacher, and the voice which she heard from Sinai said, "Knowledge is love and light and vision"; and then follows that amazing and enthralling epic which tells how it was all done, how the one word water was the key which opened the doors of the child's mind, while the word love opened those of the closed heart. Thenceforth, many new words came every day with crowds of ideas; and 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.'

Miss Sullivan on Systems of Education.––Like all great discoveries, this, of a soul, was, in all its steps, marked by simplicity. Miss Sullivan had little love for psychologists and all their ways; would have no experiments; would not have her pupil treated as a phenomenon, but as a person. "No," she says, "I don't want any more Kindergarten materials . . . 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, 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." It is a great thing to have a study of education as it were de novo, in which we see the triumph of mind, not only over apparently insuperable natural obstacles, but over the dead wall of systematised education––a more complete hindrance to any poor child than her grievous defects proved to Helen Keller.

The Kindergarten in the United States.––This question of the Kindergarten, as the proper place for the education of young children, is so important that I should like to recommend to parents and teachers the examination of the subject contained in the Special Reports published by the Board of Education1.

We must go to the United States to witness the apotheosis of educational theory; I say theory rather than practice, because the American mind, like the French, seems to me severely logical as well as generously impulsive. A theory arrives, is liberally entertained, and is set to work with due appliances on a magnificent scale to do that which in it lies for the education of a great people. To say, educational science in America appears to be deductive rather than inductive; theories are translated into experiments with truly imposing zeal and generosity. An inductive theory of education is, on the other hand, arrived at by means of long, slow, various, and laborious experiments which disclose, here a little, and there a little, of universal truth. The Americans have chosen, perhaps, the easier way, and in the end, they too experiment upon their theory. The Kindergarten system illustrates what I mean; notwithstanding its German name, the Kindergarten is not a common product in the Fatherland; it is in America that the ideas of Froebel have received their greatest development, 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.

Mr Thistleton Mark on the Kindergarten.––According to Mr Thistleton Mark––whose able paper on 'Moral Education in American Schools' offers matter for much profitable reflection––"Even a stationary Froeblian is driven to have some better holdfast than the ipse dixit of the great reformer. The word Kindergarten is no longer a proper noun signifying always and everywhere the one, sole, original, and identical thing. It is a common noun, and as such is assured of a more permanent place in American speech." That is to say, educational thought in America is tending towards the broad and natural conception expressed in the phrase 'education is a life.' But I wish that educationalists would give up the name Kindergarten. I cannot help thinking that it is somewhat of a strain to conscientous minds to draw the cover of Froeblian doctrine and practice over the broader and more living conceptions that are abroad to-day. Even revolutionised Kindergarten practice must suffer from the memory and habit of weaknesses such as are pointed out by Dr Stanley Hall in the following words:––

Dr Stanley Hall on the Kindergarten.––"The most decadent intellectual new departure of the American Froebelists is the emphasis now laid upon the mother-plays as the acme of Kindergarten wisdom. These are represented by very crude poems, indifferent music and pictures, illustrating certain incidents of child life believed to be of fundamental and typical significance. I have read these in German and in English, have strummed the music, and have given a brief course of lectures from the sympathetic standpoint, trying to put all the new wine of meaning I could think of into them. But I am driven to the conclusion that, if they are not positively unwholesome and harmful for the child, and productive of anti-scientific and unphilosphical intellectual habits in the teacher, they should nevertheless be superseded by the far better things now available2."

"Another cardinal error of the Kindergarten is the intensity of its devotion to gifts and occupations. In devising these Froebel showed great sagacity; but the scheme as it left his own hands was a very inadequate expression of his educational ideas, even for his time. He thought it a perfect grammar of play and an alphabet of industries; and in this opinion he was utterly mistaken. Play and industry were then relatively undeveloped; and while his devices were beneficent for the peasant children in the country, they lead in the interests of the modern city a child a very pallid and unreal life." With these important utterances I must conclude a superficial examination of the very important question,––Is the Kindergarten the best training-ground for a child?


1see Appendix A