Saturday, November 11, 2017

Reflections on Home Education - Part V, Post 1, "Is the Kindergarten the best training-ground for a child?"...

I've been thinking a lot about Kindergarten lately since I have a 5-year old. As a result, I recently posted some Thoughts on Kindergarten based on my experience. Today, I'd like to share some thoughts on Kindergarten based on Charlotte Mason's writing in Vol. 1, Home Education. We are currently studying Part V in my CM Study Group, which is broken into eleven sections. I aim to cover the first three sections dealing with The Matter and Method of Lessons and Kindergarten here.

It seems to me that we live in an age of pedagogy; that we of the teaching profession are inclined to take too much upon ourselves, and that parents are ready to yield the responsibility of direction, as well as of actual instruction, more than is wholesome for the children. (p. 169)
Miss Mason's opening words immediately resonated with me. So often when parents find out we home educate our children, they say things like I could never homeschool because I'm not good at math. My child has an excellent teacher and they are a professional.  Or worse, I couldn't stand to be with my kids all day the end of summer, I can't wait to send them back to school. Well, I suspect with an attitude like that, your child most certainly can't wait to go back to school either....ahem!

Interestingly, Miss Mason would be quite opposed to this modern manner of thinking as she goes on to say that home is the best growing-ground for young children and that mothers are the best Kindergarten teachers. Therefore, we ought not shirk our responsibilities, but rather, we must consider the three questions she poses:

1. Why must children learn at all?
2. What should they learn?
3. How should they learn it?


Just as we must feed a child's body, we must feed their mind. We must offer pabulum to nourish it, as well as "appropriate exercise".
...we learn that we may know, not that we may grow... (p. 172)
Lessons must furnish ideas...
The child must learn, in the second place, in order that ideas may be freely sown in the fruitful soil of his mind. "Idea, the image or picture formed by the mind of anything external, whether sensible or spiritual,' - so, the dictionary; therefore, if the business of teaching be to furnish the child with ideas, any teaching which does not leave him possessed of a new mental image has, by so far, missed the mark. (p. 173)
Ideas vs. Information
...give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information; for the child who grows up with a few dominant ideas has his self-education provided for, his career marked out. (p. 174) 
We must provide the highest quality books. We should not talk "twaddle" or dumb down to the child. Charlotte gave four tests to apply to our children's lessons...
We see, then, that the children's lessons should provide material for their mental growth, should exercise the several powers of their minds, should furnish them with fruitful ideas, and should afford them knowledge, really valuable for its own sake, accurate, and interesting, of the kind that the child may recall as a man with profit and pleasure. (p. 177)
However, before applying these tests, she advised us to remember or review six points she previously considered...
(a) That the knowledge most valuable to the child is that which he gets with his own eyes and ears and fingers (under direction) in the open air.
(b) That the claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child's right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.
(c) That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes - moor or meadow, park, common, or shore - where he may find new things to examine, and so add to his store of real knowledge. That the child's observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis of scientific knowledge. 
(d) That play, vigorous healthful play, is, in its turn, fully as important as lessons, as regards both bodily health and brain-power. 
(e) That the child, though under supervision, should be left much to himself - both that he may go to work in his own way on the ideas he receives, and also that he may be the more open to natural influences. 
(f) That the happiness of the child is the condition of his progress; that his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are greatly to be deprecated.  (p. 177-178)

What and How?

Miss Mason suggests that mothers have the needful tact, sympathy, common sense, and culture to be the best suited Kindergärtnerin, which is German for infant teacher, kindergarten teacher, or nursery-class teacher. She further states...
Indeed, the machinery of the Kindergarten is no more than a devise to ensure the carrying out of certain educational principles, and some of these it is the mother's business to get at, and work out according to Froebel's method - or her own. (p. 179)
Charlotte goes on to say... the Kindergarten the child's senses are carefully and progressively trained: he looks, listens, learns by touch; gets ideas of size, colour, form, number; is taught to copy faithfully, express exactly. And in this training of the senses, the child is made to pursue the method the infant shapes for himself in his early studies of ring or ball. (p. 179
Charlotte further cautions us against a field of knowledge that's too restrictive, circumscribed by giving exact ideas rather than real knowledge. For example, telling or teaching the child about a tree, rather than letting them go out and explore it for themselves. By only reading a book about trees, we are giving exact ideas or telling him what to think about the tree. By taking him outside to see, feel, smell, and possibly climb the tree, he develops real knowledge for himself. This goes back to something Miss Mason said in Part II of Home Education, that a child learns through things, while adults learn through words, and that his sense of beauty comes through early contact with nature. We must allow our children those opportunities to assimilate real knowledge as much as possible in the early years without contriving.

Continued habit training, as in Part III, of Home Education, is also referenced in this section...
Training of a Just Eye and Faithful Hand the home a thousand such opportunities occur; if only in such trifles as the straightening of a tablecloth or of a picture, the hanging of a towel, the packing of a parcel - every thoughtful mother invents a thousand ways of training in her child a just eye and a faithful hand. (p. 180)
'Sweetness and Light' in the Kindergarten ...Do not treat the child's small contumacy too seriously; do not assume that he is being naughty: just leave him out when he is not prepared to act in harmony with the rest. Avoid friction; and above all, do not let him disturb the moral atmosphere; in all gentleness and serenity, remove him from the company of the others, when he is being what nurses call 'tiresome'. 
On the whole, we may say that some of the principles which should govern Kindergarten training are precisely those in which every thoughtful mother endeavors to bring up her family; while the practices of the Kindergarten, being only ways, amongst others, of carrying out these principles, and being apt to become stereotyped and wooden, are unnecessary, but may be adopted so far as they fit in conveniently with the mother's general scheme for the education of her family. (p. 181) 

After reading and re-reading this section, I sense a bit of wit and sarcasm in Miss Mason's writing in regard to society's reverent indebtedness to Froebel. For she says,
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. "Thoughts beyond their thought 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. (p. 185)
Charlotte calls us out as parents. She encourages us to study a variety of educational thought, in order that we may decide for ourselves what is right and just for our children, rather than letting government, state schools, and any one pedagogy rule the education of our children.

Charlotte further credits Froebel for raising an altar to the enthusiasm of childhood upon which the flame has never since gone out. She then warns us not to throw caution to the wind, pointing out some flaws in Froebel's philosophy...
Our first care should be to preserve the individuality, 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 pleasure of its owner. But a person 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. (p. 186)
Let us not forget Principle 1, Children are born persons. Here, again, we see Charlotte advising us to 'preserve the individuality' of our children, remembering that they are made in the image of Christ, holding the highest form of life. She also says we should not 'supplement Nature', but rather to leave children as much as may be to Nature, and the Most High God. Later in this section, Charlotte calls 'Kindergarten' a false analogy because to figure a person by any analogy is dangerous and misleading, as there is nothing measurably equal with that of a person.

Miss Mason goes on to write...
...I am inclined to question whether, in the interest of carrying out a system, the charming Kindergärtnerin is not in danger sometimes of greatly undervaluing the intelligence of her children. (p. 187)
More than once in this section, Charlotte anticipates her audience wondering what is wrong with all the pleasant and happy things in Kindergarten. To this she says...
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.
Most of us are mislead by our virtues, and the entire zeal and enthusiasm of the Kindergärtnerin is perhaps her stone of stumbling. (p. 188)
Many parents are sucked into this thinking. Kindergarten is cute. It's fun! There are bright colored plastic toys and games. There are other kids to play with. Therefore, kids will like it. Miss Mason also references the songs and stories often made up for children in Kindergarten as being twaddle and self-serving the teacher. She says, 'Everything is directed, expected, suggested.' Society says our children should attend kindergarten. Hence, they must need it. However, after reading Charlotte's thoughts, I liken Kindergarten to cotton candy. It is a delightful treat, but too much gives a tummy ache.
Even apart form this element of charm, I doubt if the self-adjusting property of life in the Kindergarten is good for children. (p. 189)
The bright pink fluffy charm of cotton candy is enticing at first, but after a period of time, it has it's ill effects. It's certainly not the best form of nourishment in the long run.

Keeping on with further lures to Kindergarten, Miss Mason brings up a very important point regarding socialization. This seems to be a main concern for folks pondering home education. I have heard many parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and the like worry over the possibility of home educated children being unsocialized. Charlotte addresses the idea of socialization negatively in respect to children spending day after day with peers, when they have not even begun, let alone to master, the task of self-government. She suggests that 'the society of his equals is too stimulating for a child.' I couldn't agree more. Instead of children being solely with peers day in and day out, she suggests....
The clash and sparkle of our equals now and then stirs us 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. (p. 191)
Now, if the thought of home educating your child seems too much to bear, keep this in mind...
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 habit, 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. (p. 192)
Mason calls us to sow opportunities and get out of the way, until a guiding or restraining hand is necessary. I would also encourage you to start educating yourself in the meantime. It's very empowering!...but that's for another post.
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. (p. 193)
In closing, I would like to say dear mama, you are your child's best early childhood teacher! Mothers are vested in their children. A mother knows and loves her child like no other. Taking the next step to begin formal education, can and should be a very natural process. Provide opportunities, give living and real ideas through Nature and natural play. Then step aside.

Finally, Charlotte makes an alarming accusation against American Kindergarten... 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. (p. 197) 
If you are still reading, I thank you. I will leave you with the same final thought Miss Mason wrote on page 199, "Is the Kindergarten the best training-ground for a child?" I say not!


  1. Love your thoughts here, Melissa. I think Mason hits the nail on the head when she calls out our love for kindergarten (and unit studies, and other *cute* forms of education LOL) as being much more about the teacher than about the child. I can see the appeal to the kindergarten teacher who has created her classroom just so, and written her curriculum just so, and guided her children through it all just so, until they have produced these cute little crafts that come out just so... And it's especially ironic that she sees it as having taken especial hold in America, when we consider ourselves marked for rugged individuality. ;) But the truth is that our modern educational system is designed to produce anything BUT individuals, and it all starts in those early years. Thanks for this thorough write-up of the reasons why! :)

  2. Thanks and you're welcome Celeste!...I couldn't agree with you more about the teacher's love for kindergarten vs. the student. I myself fell in to the same trap home educating our oldest. I went all out for the program with all the bells and whistles. It was totally school at home and thankfully I didn't kill her love of learning, but unfortunately, I did with the second child :( It takes many more years to cultivate a lost love than to lose it in the first place.