Parenting and Homeschooling Thoughts for the Day

Something Old:
Notes from The House and Home, A Practical Book, Volume 1, Published 1894-1896

A compendium of information and ideas from many authors

Kate Douglas Wiggin, author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Mother Carey’s Chicken’s (one of our favorites) has a chapter on “The Training of
Children.” Wiggin was a devotee of Froebel, the father of the kindergarten. Charlotte Mason appreciated and used some of his ideas, but rejected others.

Wiggin says:
Children should be… loved, not coddled; led, not driven, respected as
an individual… guided to walk freely on directed paths; to slay
caprice and to liberate will; to kill selfishness and to conquer self;
helped by the shining of your steady light to a vision of the
relationship between the world of nature and the world of the spirit…”

“The child is the Columbus of an undiscovered world in you; in your
heart, that goes without saying, but in your mind as well. Dress up
your half-digested knowledge, your disconnected facts, your shallow
evasions, in a few rags of conventionality and offer them to a child.
See the unsatisfied soul look out of his questioning eyes. It makes one
think. A child’s Why?” always brings one back to first principles…
But we teach nothing and worse still we learn nothing, if we trust to
blind instinct, to chance, to caprice, to the casual impulse of the
hour. No one of these things gives us a clear view of the road we have
traveled or throws any light on the path we are to tread, and thus the
great principle of continuity is lacking and our education of the child
becomes a farce, or still worse, a tragic failure.

Then Wiggin quotes Plato:
“Now, I mean by education that training which is given by suitable
habits to the first instinct of virtue in children; when pleasure, and
friendship , and pain, and hatred are rightly implanted in souls not yet
capable of understanding the nature of them, and who find them, after
they have attained reason to be in harmony with her. This harmony of
the soul, when perfected, is virtue; but the particular training in
respect of pleasure and pain, which leads you always to hate what you
ought to hate and love what you ought to love from the beginning to the
end, may be separated off, and in my view, called education.”

Wiggin goes on to explain that her ideas on general training of children
come from the study and experiences she’s had of Froebel’s educational
philosophy. She recommends him as a source of “insight into child
nature, for a vision of the ideal *relationships* your child should
sustain toward all created things…” (emphasis mine) She says that
Froebel’s great distinction was that he was the first to apply the
theory of evolution to education and practiced it, and that the “details
of actual practice are the outcome of sound psychological principles.”
she also says that many others recognized the value of play in early
childhood- Plato, Quientetian, Luther, Fenelon, Locke, Richter-” but
Froebel alone recognized its true evolutionary meaning.
Froebel, according to Wiggin, was a proponent of development through the
training of the faculties (Charlotte Mason objected to this notion, and even asks if we really have ‘faculties?”).

He wanted the children to exercise their minds (or rather, for the
teacher to do this for the children- as opposed to Charlotte Mason who didn’t want
the teacher coming between the children and the books), but it must be
the right exercise at the right time, and the mind exercises must grow
continuously higher and more varied in character, growing naturally out
of preceding stages. Froebel, Wiggin, and Miss Mason all want to avoid
isolated facts unrelated to one another, and like Mason, Wiggin quotes
Wordsworth to support her premise.

Wiggin says that observation and discovery is not enough, the learning
should work up into the very self, and children and adults should uses
knowledge as a means of higher and more complete life. This doing will
call into activity more and more thinking power.

Froebel, and thus Wiggins, does, like Miss Mason, stress nature study and art.
Wiggins also says that “Besides exercising faculty,… the child should
gradually and continuously come to feel and to see that laws underlie
all organic formation” The purpose of art is “to awaken ideal side of
human nature and produce in the child a feeling and perception that, in
all beauty there is a perfection of the thing after its own kind,
another experience of the beneficient results of law and harmony.”

Other principles Wiggin gets from Froebel:
Evolution (again. Wiggins mentions it often), strict correctness of
procedure, and self-expression through creative activity.

Charlotte Mason rejected this emphasis on self-expression. She says we do not need to encourage self-expression as the child has little to express and few skills to
express it, rather we give them lots of ideas so that they will have
things to express and ways to express them. In our own family, we have found that little encouragement is required for ‘self-expression.’ On the contrary, all that is needed is not to squelch it. Our young individualists are only to ready to express themselves.

To continue, Froebel and Wiggins stress that education should appeal to the child’s love of beauty, include nature study, involve productive occupation and organized play, a unique use of stories, a unique system of object lessons to arouse the
senses [which are organs of the mind], and the insistence at every point
that the child be regarded and trained as the child of nature, the child
of man, and the child of God, a being capable, at least, of devout
feeling, high thinking, and noble doing. Wiggins was a staunch
supporter of evolution but did not believe that man is no different than an animal, morally speaking.

She says we should look at parenthood as a science, an art, a
profession, a vocation, a sacred office, as something at least beyond an
accident or a social custom, so that parents would give a tenth of the
time to a preparation for it that they give to medicine.. or typewriting. Miss Mason also encouraged mothers in particular to consider parenting as a vocation, a calling, and to educate themselves with an eye toward fulfilling their responsibilities well.

Wiggins says we too much look at children’s things as little or small, and
that the mind and heart of God never makes arbitrary distinctions between
great and little things and that Christ’s teachings were certainly an
exaltation of the little things.

She said that one can develop spiritual insight through withdrawing *the mind from its accustomed channels* and dwell more upon the things of the spirit, and
live a little closer to nature.

She uses the phrases “child culture” and “mother play.”

She stresses the importance of story-telling, selecting carefully,
choosing fairytales with sweet and healthy rather than coarse in grain
morals. “Also not good are the flotsam and jetsam of the holiday
publications, aimless, worthless, gaudy, silly books that seem to have
been written as well as printed by machinery. There is in them no style
and no matter.” Charlotte Mason would agree.
OTOH, she says “the story that gives you something to think about is not
likely to be suitable for the little person at your knee.” I think here Charlotte Mason would disagree.

Wiggins says “Nature’s playthings the best for the soul. The child learns to see by
wholes, “feels a dawning sense of his *relationships…* when his
preludes to the printed book are the green earth.. a friendly
intercourse with animals… trees, birds, and insects.
(emphasis mine) A childhood in which sermons are found in stones and
books in running brooks gives one an abiding sense of peace and
completeness found in no other way” It is a source of simplicity hard
to duplicate in town living.

She stresses that importance of the “first feeling of kinship with all
created things” (Miss Mason says that Education is the science of relations) and says that Froebel believes “the mind moves on from its perceptions and love of *nature’s symbols* to a realization of the truth symbolized.” Charlotte Mason rejected this notion, I believe, when she says that children should be playing with real things, not with symbols.

Froebel seems to have believed that the play of children was all
symbolic of something else, and that the things they played with were
important as symbols. Perhaps Charlotte’s disagreement was one of terms rather than practice, and she was simply saying they are important for themselves, they are *real,* not merely symbols?

Wiggins also says that children should have pets not so much becaus they are pets, but because they are responsibilities. I suspect CM would think pets if worth having would be worth having for themselves.
Along those lines, Wiggins says, “Kindergarten games are a systemized
sequence of human experiences, in which the child interprets more and
more clearly to himself his own life and the life of mankind toward
which his is growing. Charlotte Mason thought the kindergarten games typical of the time were too stultifying, too precious and cloying.

Other Wiggins quotes: It is our practised virtues that marshal themselves when
the tug of trial comes.”

In another section of the book (The Education of Women by Lyman Abbot)
Mr. Abbot says some things that made me think of Miss Mason:

He suggests that on keep a journal “to cultivate the habit of concentration of attention”
but be sure it is concentrating attention on the worthwhile- what you
have seen, heard and read, writing it in the page writes it in the
memory. The act of formulating knowledge give it clearness. The pen
precipitates knowledge which before was held in solution.”
He quotes Lord Bacon as saying “Reading maketh a full man, conference a
ready man; and writing an exact man.”

Mr. Abbot also makes it clear that he believes in evolution, yet also
says that the newspapers are a record of God’s work in this age, “and in
no age has His own work been grander or human progress more rapid.”

At this time it was commonly thought that evolution was the great idea of the age, and that evolution governed spiritual progress as well as physical and that there had been some sort of explosion of spiritual progression in their age, similar to the explosion in the fossil record of the Cambrian era. There were a good many nobleminded, thinking people who really thought human beings were growing progressively better and better, and who clearly expected some sort of heaven on earth to be ushered in within their lifetimes. I feel so sorry for them when I read their writings. What a dreadful shock WW1 must have been.

Mr. Abbott also says that “the most natural and congenial diet for growing minds is the record of other minds” and he recommends the reading of Plutarch’s Lives as invigorating.

Another passage I found very interesting (but I have forgotten who authored that section, and I didn’t write it down in my notes) tells of a lady who once entertained several teachers attending a nearby teacher’s institute.
The lady was surprised at how little literature they knew. Authors she supposed universally familiar they only vaguely recognized as someone whose work was perhaps represented in the fifth reader. “All literature… was to them not a familiar world, but a remote region from which samples had been brought, to be displayed, as in a museum, in some part of the series of “readers.”

Miss Mason, of course, recommended whole books rather than samplers.

And Something new: Other interesting homeschooling posts this morning

Dewey’s Treehouse, where Mrs. Squirrel talks about toys and play.

Bona Vita Rusticanda, where Tim’s Mom shares some very interesting insights into education which she gleaned from a teacher’s website.

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