THE KINDERGARTEN AS A PLACE OF EDUCATION
The Mother the best Kindergärtnerin.—It is hardly necessary, here, to discuss the merits of the Kindergarten School. The success of such a school demands rare qualities in the teacher—high culture, some knowledge of psychology and of the art of education; intense sympathy with the children, much tact, much common sense, much common information, much ‘joyousness of nature,’ and much governing power;—in a word, the Kindergarten method is nicely contrived to bring the child en rapport with a superior intelligence. Given, such a superior being to conduct it, and the Kindergarten is beautiful—‘ ’tis like a little heaven below’; but put a commonplace woman in charge of such a school, and the charmingly devised gifts and games and occupations become so many instruments of wooden teaching. If the very essence of the Kindergarten method is personal influence, a sort of spiritual mesmerism, it follows that the mother is naturally the best Kindergärtnerin; for who so likely as she to have the needful tact, sympathy, common sense, culture?
The Nursery need not therefore be a Kindergarten.—Though every mother should be a Kindergärtnerin, in the sense in which Froebel would employ the term, it does not follow that every nursery should be a regularly organized Kindergarten. Indeed, the machinery of the Kindergarten is no more than a device 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. For instance, in 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.
Field of Knowledge too circumscribed.—But it is possible that the child’s marvellous power of obtaining knowledge by means of his senses may be undervalued; that the field may be too circumscribed; and that, during the first six or seven years in which he might have become intimately acquainted with the properties and history of every natural object within his reach, he has obtained, exact ideas, it is true—can distinguish a rhomboid from a pentagon, a primary from a secondary colour, has learned to see so truly that he can copy what he sees in folded paper or woven straw,—but this at the expense of much of that real knowledge of the external world which at no time of his life will he be so fitted to acquire. Therefore, while the exact nicely graduated training of the Kindergarten may be of value, the mother will endeavour to give it by the way, and will by no means
let it stand for that wider training of the senses, to secure which for her children is a primary duty.
Again, the child in Kindergarten is set to such tasks only as he is competent to perform, and then, whatever he has to do, he is expected to do perfectly. I have seen a four-years-old child blush and look as self-condemned, because he had folded a slip of paper irregularly, as if found out in a falsehood. But mother or nurse is quite able to secure that the child’s small offices are perfectly executed; and, here is an important point, without that slight strain of distressful anxiety which may be observed in children labouring to please that smiling goddess, their ‘Kindergärtnerin.’
Training of a Just Eye and Faithful Hand.—The Kindergarten ‘Occupations’ afford opportunities for training in this kind of faithfulness; but in 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. Nevertheless, as a means of methodical training, as well as of happy employment, the introduction of some of the games and occupations of the Kindergarten into the nursery may be allowed; provided that the mother does not depend upon these, but makes all the child’s occupations subserve the purposes of his education.
‘Sweetness and Light’ in the Kindergarten.—The child breathes an atmosphere of ‘sweetness and light’ in the Kindergarten. You see the sturdy urchin of five stiffen his back and decline to be a jumping frog, and the Kindergärtnerin comes with
unruffled gentleness, takes him by the hand, and leads him out of the circle,—he is not treated as an offender, only he does not choose to do as others do, therefore he is not wanted there: the next time, he is quite content to be a frog. Here we have the principle for the discipline of the nursery. 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.’
Once more, the Kindergarten professes to take account of the joyousness of the child’s nature: to allow him full and free expression for the glee that is in him, without the ‘rampaging’ which follows if he is left to himself to find an outlet for his exuberant life. This union of joy and gentleness is the very temper to be cultivated in the nursery. The boisterous behaviour sometimes allowed in children is unnecessary—within doors, at any rate; but even a momentary absence of sunshine on the faces of her children will be a graver cause of uneasiness to the mother. On the whole, we may say that some of the principles which should govern Kindergarten training are precisely those in which every thoughtful mother endeavours 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.